Thursday, March 31, 2011

The passion of the flame within

Thinking about this whole topic of heart's desires this week has reminded me of a Proverb that I've often thought on from Proverbs 13:12 (NIV):

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Like everyone else, I've had those experiences where I've really wanted something and not gotten it. Experienced the deep disappointment and frustration.

But I've also been blessed many times over through the course of my life by God giving me the desires of my heart. Between those times of receiving and those times of not receiving I've noticed that same pattern that David talked about in his post on Monday; when I've sought after what God wanted for me, I've received it. Seems to me that if I want to approach this whole thing strategically, that what I need to do is look for what God is doing and join in His work.

But all of life is not a game of strategy. I'm a typical woman in that I'm heart motivated. So I guess for me I need to seek to let the Holy Spirit till the ground of my heart so that my motivations can be His. As of now the practical ways that I know to do my part in this process are to spend time in the Word, mediating on it and to be in constant communication with God. Also to be open as the Holy Spirit uses life situations to make changes in me; to cooperate in that process rather than fight it.

Some of the basic heart desires that God's so graciously blessed me in are my husband and sons. A big part of my whole motivation in life is to be a good wife and mother; sounds simplistic but we all know that it's anything but easy. Yet God in His goodness has blessed me over and over in these relationships. Teaches me daily how to more loving and effective.

Another heart's desire that I've had since my teen years has been to work in a capacity that makes a fundamental difference in the lives of people. God has blessed that desire as well. He's blessed me with letting me work with problem youths, brain injured people, developmentally disabled people, and mentally ill people at various jobs through the years. Sometimes I've worked in a direct care capacity, sometimes I've been a line supervisor, and sometimes I've (at least theoretically) run the show. But in all those capacities I got to spend my work time investing in people and making a difference. A couple of weeks ago I was at a job interview where the man commented on how impacted he was during the interview by my passion for my work, that he was attracted to that passion and found it gratifying to encounter. Isn't it like that when God puts us right where our heart is at? When we get to do what makes our heart well up within us? God is so good!

But, a side note here, even in the blessing of God there is so much I do not understand. A perfect example is that very same interview. That interview went super well, they both said how much they liked me and that I would be invited back for the second round of interviews, and it's now been two weeks and I've heard nothing. The point I want to make through this life example is that I don't have the big picture. None of us do. But God does, and at this point in my life I'm grateful that I can rest in Him, know that His will really is best.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fulfilling My Sole Purpose

I disclosed last week that Jo-Jo liked sin but Jo-Jo had a life long desire to please God.  I have a few friends who once had that desire who are now atheists. I honestly can't wrap my head around how that happens.  For me, it's always been all about Jesus.

I've also been pretty candid about my desires.  In fact before I went to look at what I had already said about desire, I was going to post that song again.  I didn't use a video last time, so if you want to hear about that burning desire I have, To Be Used of God, click the link.

Yesterday, I was contributing to a conversation on Facebook. She was commenting on a Charismatic classic, Prison to Praise by Merlin Carothers.  It's been a very long time since I read the book.  It's message is to praise God in all thing.  Sometimes I'm not so good at that.  I tend to be more like Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof.

Being like Tevya is real.  Lament is scriptural.  However, in my comments on Facebook, I said, we were created for one sole purpose, to worship and praise God.  My desire is to be better at that. My desire is to fulfill my deepest purpose, to be a worshiper.
Hebrews 13:15 Through Him, therefore, let us constantly and at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name

Monday, March 28, 2011

Heart's Desires vs What I Want

I have dreamed of many things over my life time. Americans think, well we can be whatever we set our minds to be. For sure, many of us could achieve more if we worked a little harder - well maybe a lot harder. Some of it is tied to success, some to entitlement and whatever is left over seems to be up to God.

This week the faithful are going to write about their heart's desires, the ones that they are praying through even now.

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD;And He will give you the desires of your heart.

If you are like me, you have lots of desires, dreams and ambitions. Even if you are not, I am sure you have some wants in your life. If you could obtain them, they would become blessings.

I have dreams of retirement where I can walk the beach with my wife, travel on short-term missions as I please, write when I feel inspired, take photographs as I feel the creative energy, and exercise without jamming it into an already overstuffed schedule; and Lord willing, maybe have grandchildren (in retirement, not next month!).

I was thinking to myself, why is it that some things I want, I can't have, and other things seem to fall in my lap? I have delighted in the Lord - I mean really been passionate and engaged - it didn't seem to make a difference. It seemed random, some days I was really blessed, and others, no matter what I did, prayed, didn't do, tried to do, sought help from others to accomplish, it didn't happen for me; even though I desired it.

I used to be involved in franchising business opportunities. We had lots of people that wanted to make a fortune in the DOT COM explosion of the 90s. This was a season in which the average person could easily succeed because they didn't have to compete with the big corporations because there weren't any. Our team did a presentation outlining what we would teach them to do in a three-day seminar.  Just about all of those that got into business failed. Why? Because some things are hard work even if you know what to do. Others that saw our presentation started their own businesses and succeeded. Why? Because they got out there an did it. They took an outline from the presentation and turned it into success.

Achieving desires is some times hard work.

Recently I was able to unlock that secret to success for David. you can read about it HERE. Now that I have found what true success is for me, I am working on the next step: that is asking God to give me (implant) His desires for me. I am not going to be asking God to bless my plans any longer. I have finally realized that I don't have the best plans for my life (yeah, wow!), and what God may want for me may not be what I want for myself. As I look back on those things that worked out, became a blessings, or turned into something wonderful, it was when I was in communion with God.

In my early days of Christianity, it was about things working out that way I wanted them too. From here on in, it is about wanting what God wants regardless of how I feel about it. I want to be in the flow of the Spirit, not in some place that fits my emotions. It's as bold as Paul being in prison.

Now all I need is some godly desires, and the peace of God that come with it!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Can I tell you what God has done in my life?

Have you had this moment? I have...and it hurt really bad.

Disobedience to God by nature is sin. Defiance is blasphemous. I've made no secret about the fact during my time on Kingdom Bloggers that I'm unfortunately guilty of both in my past.

Only by the grace of an almighty God through an absolutely free  pardon of those past sins can I peacefully rest at nights. But, it is only through the realization that this fact has everything to do with God and nothing about what I've done can I even write about it.

Giving my testimony was very counter-intuitive for me right after I stopped running from my Father. Most of that stemmed from the massive burden of guilt I carried around with me all the time, and the epiphany that God was under no obligation to take me back into His fold. Only after hours upon hours of Bible study and re-examining the lessons I had been taught from God's word while growing up did I truly and fundamentally understand that God's grace had been extended to far worse transgressors than me...from a worldly point of view.

Sin is sin to God as I understand things. David listed a pretty heavy line-up in his post Monday that included murderers, thieves, adulterers, and blasphemers. All saved by God's grace and used for His purpose. How do we so often overlook the complete story of David...or Paul? Word didn't travel in the first century at the blinding speed it does today. Can you imagine one of the first churches Paul visits to counsel? Wouldn't there be a degree of uneasiness and distrust initially toward a man noted to persecute and kill Christians? Could changing just the first letter of his name have that profound of an effect?

No...but God sure did.

Talking about past sins is uncomfortable business for most folks. Me included. But, I think that stems, to a degree, because our flesh seeks after acceptance from our peers. Cliche as it may be, we are also creators of habit, and habits die hard. Hiding sin is a common habit we all share.

19 Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God.  1 Chronicles 22:19a (NIV)

That's David instructing the leaders of Israel to prepare to help Solomon build the temple. The same David that had committed atrocious acts of selfishness. Acts that hurt a great number of people and even resulted in death. The same David that only with his faith in God had single handily defeated the undefeat-able and saved his people, yet somehow managed to forget that fact later in life. A man God never gave up on and not only placed on an earthly throne of rule... but set in place for him to became the direct ancestor of His greatest gift of all.

That's how big God's grace can be. All I need to do is follow the wisdom of David's advise in Chronicles and let God do the rest. Not so hard when you think about it. After all...I'm already His child.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

So, sin can be a good thing???

God uses all things, even my sin, ultimately for my good.

When I think on this, Matthew 5:3 comes to my mind. I’m especially fond of the way it reads in The Message paraphrase:

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.

Guess that’s what I can say is the biggest way God has used even my selfish, stupid sins for my own good; my sin and the results have made me realize that I really am nothing. That it’s only through God that my life has value and meaning. It’s only when I’m in connection with Him that the gifts, personality, and talents that He created me to use for His glory flourish.

I could relate to Joyce’s post this week in that I grew up in church and was a total goody two shoes. One of the good things about that is that I stayed out of trouble, one of the bad things is that it can be easy to see others as mess ups. But in my twenties, thirties and even my early forties I had more than enough of my own mess ups. I had this intense need to be loved and valued; unfortunately I looked for the fulfillment of these needs in people. So of course I was never satisfied. It wasn’t until after two failed marriages, and untold heartache that I really begin to learn, on more than a head level, that the love my heart so hungered for, and the value I so earnestly sought after, could only be found in my relationship with God.

So, would I say that my sin was a good thing? No, I can’t exactly say that. But I can say that God in His grace and mercy took something as yucky as my own sin and used it to change me into someone better. Used it to bring me to a place where I desired Him foremost. Used it to bless me.

Isn’t God good?!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Call Me Jo-Jo

Sin, huh?  That subject can go a lot of different places.  When I was a kid David Wilkerson and his Teen Challenge Ministry were just getting notoriety in Brooklyn.  For a short while, some of the staff and recovering addicts came to the Norwegian Pentecostal church where I grew up.  I suppose the calmness of Pentecostal worship or the feeling that perhaps only Norwegians were truly welcome there led them to go elsewhere.

When I was just shy of a teenager we went to another more lively church, Calvary Tabernacle pastored by Dr. Benjamin Crandall who is now on staff at Times Square Church with the famous David Wilkerson.  I loved seeing more lively worship.  It seems the Teen Challenge staff and recovering addicts were now sitting in the pews of this church.

It was there that sin became very attractive to me.  Oh I dabbled in smoking and learned to swear – these were big sins in the Pentecostal church.  I also wore make-up another major sin.  Movies were added but that didn’t seem as “sin-like” since it was something my parents added as well.  Cards were still frowned upon but we played gin with Rook cards so as not to sin.

No those weren’t the sins that attracted me.  You see, in those days, recovery addicts were glorified.  Yes, hallelujah, I really mean that, no sarcasm – hallelujah they were set free.  However, for a good little church girl whose biggest sin was swearing and trying to smoke it seemed if you were good, no one cared.  Even so, I carried a lot of guilt.

But the need for attention overrode the guilt.  Lying began to be an option.  Fortunately fear and God kept me from doing the things I claimed I did.  A game of “stump the youth pastor” became the main vehicle for attention. 

Calvary had a youth pastor.  It wasn’t as common in those days for a Pentecostal church to have one – oh maybe a youth leader would occasionally emerge, but a youth “PASTOR” was rare.  A young couple became the youth pastors of our new church.  The wife’s sister had been engaged to my brother at one time.  She now was married to someone else and on staff at Teen Challenge.  The two sisters were part of a well-known musical ministry family from Massachusetts.

The youth pastor and his wife seemed very genuine.  Ahhh, they were the perfect prospects for the “stump the youth pastor.”  A friend and I would conspire and make up stories to tell our respective youth pastors.  We would tell them of our sins.  Most were made up.  I asked people to call me Jo-Jo as it sounded Brooklyn like, better than Joyce.

Drugs, sex, alcohol, all manner of evils were conjured up for a form of confession.  I remember one time the wife of my youth pastor crying over me as I had told her a salacious story of my sins – all untrue.

I still feel bad about “stumping the youth pastors.”  They were good people.  What I did was sin.  That sin led to my parents believing these lies as well.  It led to being moved to Missouri.  My life was forever changed and altered as we moved away from Brooklyn.

The truth of the matter was that I loved God through all of this.  I just wanted to be like those people who had a “testimony.”  Now my testimony is that yes, while I have always been pretty much of a goodie-two-shoes on the outside, on the inside I cried for attention through sinning.  My testimony is that God loves me and has forgiven me.  My testimony is that through all the twists and turns of my life, through an abusive marriage, poverty, abandonment, and such, all things have worked together for good.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Is Loving God Enough? I Mean That Should Count for Something!

How can a drug addict, or a person who has committed a felony get into heaven? Is it different if you didn't become destitute, or didn't get caught? What about a pedophile, or one of these female teachers that has a sexual relationship with an underage student? Oh sure there are less heinous crimes and actions. Sin is an often elusive task master. What about the ones that we can't even remember, or that were so long ago, we sort of forgot about them?

Your Kingdom Bloggers are no strangers to sin, but we have received that grace of God, and the forgiveness of those sins. And the bast part? God is not using if for our own good.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

So what is it that God works for the good of those who love him? Everything! Many Christians get caught up in doing stuff for God, and somehow that service is meant to equate with loving God, and His ability to make some blessings happen on our behalf. I guess it could be that, but God loves everything about us!

My take is that God uses everything that we have ever done - everything! That means our sin too. If God can let a murderers into Heaven (Moses, Paul and David to name a few), then a good question is how does he use our sin for the good of the Kingdom?

The simple answer is testimonies. We were once lost and now we are found - that sort of thing.

My own journey includes plenty of bad stuff - but because the new man runs my life most of the time, some people find the missing old man a miracle.

It is interesting that I spent half my life trying to break addictions to booze, drugs, cigarettes and the like. Every so often I meet someone at church that is going through what I went though 30 + years ago, and God moves. Each one of us has made bad decisions, and sometimes that path, as hellacious as it is, is the very one that lands us in the arms of a loving Father.

How about you, has God used your bad decisions and mistakes - yes your sin - to glorify His name?

Friday, March 18, 2011

The victory's already been won...but there are still battles to fight.

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the fellow pictured here over on Tony C Today (click here).  It was a tongue in-cheek piece about Church Guy, a fictitious alter ego I'm accused of playing from time to time by my better half.

She didn't find it so funny, apparently...

While the post was in fun, there were some fundamental truths about me sprinkled throughout. First, my wife is extremely vital to me and compliments (and tolerates) my demeanor very well. Second, I am a pretty laid back guy who has mellowed with age. Third, I don't hold a grudge. Well, at least not for very long.

But the most telling truth about me from the post can also be seen, some times subtly and some times not, in my post here on Kingdom Bloggers. I honestly try to live my life by the greatest commandments according to Jesus (Mark 12:30-31).

Does my focus on loving God and loving others make me weak and vulnerable to attacks by Satan? I personally don't think so and use Jesus as the ultimate template for how I conduct my philosophy. Joyce mentioned the full armor of God in her post Tuesday. I've always found it interesting that the spiritual battle gear doesn't have anything protecting the wearer's back. There could be a number of reasons for this fact, but as a former Marine, I like to think there's nothing protecting our backs because God wants Christians always on the attack!

So while I can focus on my love for God and my love for my fellow man, I can still be a mean, nasty soldier for God when it comes to Satan. God has helped me find perspective and balance in my life for this too. Make no mistake...without God I would be defenseless and devoured by evil in the blink of an eye! But keeping God close in my life and always in focus gives me the strength I need to wage daily spiritual warfare.

Does that mean Satan never wears me down or wins a battle from time to time? Absolutely not. But those times I can directly correlate to times I'm not focused on what I should be. While it all seems fundamentally simple, Satan is a most worthy adversary and will win his share of battles. My job is to keep my eye on the eternal prize God has promised, and to reach out to as many souls as I possible can with His love.

Not very often have military commanders gone into a battle knowing the ultimate outcome ahead of time, and in all the cases I'm aware of where they did...God had shared His plan with them well  in advance..

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The battlefield of the mind

Most of my experience with spiritual warfare have centered in the mind; centered in my mind. There's been two main types of experiences I've encountered; one is what I call the late night assaults, and the other is lies.

I don't know if it's because I get physically tired, or because the hardships of the day start to take the toll by the end of the day, or what, but I've often encountered what I used to think were intense emotions toward the end of the day. I've since come to see these intense emotions as spiritual attacks; those feelings of loneliness, failure, and hopelessness absolutely do not line up with the Word of God, so I know they are not true.

Joyce made a really good point in her post yesterday about how we need to be prepared, so that when attacks come, we can experience victory. As I'm faithful to read from the Word each morning and meditate on scripture here and there through out the day, two things happen. I store up resources, and the Holy Spirit uses God's words to transform the way I think. Both of these are helpful because when those assaults come at night, because of the Holy Spirit's transformation of my mind, I can now recognize them for what they are. There was a time in my life when I would believe these emotions. I'd get into thinking about how friendless I was and how lonely I felt, or contemplate all the ways I'd failed in life, or just have a great big there-is-no-hope fest. But now I'm able to recognize these as attacks of the enemy and to sometimes quote God's word back to these thoughts. Or if I'm just too weak for even that, I can at least speak the simple fact aloud that just because I feel something, does not make it true. That emotions are transitory and I chose to base my life on the unchanging Word of God. I can call out to God for help. Then I can do the very practical thing and go to bed. I don't need to get more done that day, my body needs rest.

Late night assaults are different from lies because lies aren't as emotionally charged, but they just might be more insidious. There are lies all around me in our culture and lying thoughts that sometimes come to my mind; it really is a battlefield. I think that's why, when God describes His amour in Ephesians 6:10-18 , one of the pieces listed is the belt of Truth. In the King James it actually says to gird your loins withTruth. I've always found that interesting since procreation comes through our loins; so it protects me to create from Truth.

What about you, have you ever felt assaulted by intense emotions or lies?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Demons, Dungeons and Dragons

When we think of spiritual warfare, we tend to conjure images right out of Dante’s Inferno.  We see demons rising up to grab us.  If you’ve ever been to one those Christianized Halloween spook houses where the demons in black turtlenecks and tights slither in to take the unrepentant soul to hell you know what I’m talking about.  Scary stuff!  The hosts of heaven and the hordes of hell vying for your soul as the hounds of heaven chase you.

As I thought about this topic for this week, I thought, hmmm, chasing demons.  I know more about that then I ever wanted to know.  We’ve lived in houses with all sorts of “issues.”  Believe me, it’s real and it’s scary.  I’ve walked through houses with the Bible reciting out loud prayers and scripture followed by lots of anointing oil. 
While I do believe in this stuff, I think sometimes we get so diverted by the sensational that we forget that when the Bible talks about spiritual warfare, it talks about putting on the armor of God.  The emphasis is not just on the battle, but the preparation. 
There is something about watching the horrific events in Japan* that makes me think of spiritual warfare.  Like the earthquake, the need to “battle” often comes unexpectedly.    Life is going at a reasonable pace.  Life is good.  God is good.  The flowers are blooming and the birds are singing.  Then seemingly out of nowhere the earthquake comes.  It might be a small tremor of doubt, fear, disbelief, discouragement, or depression that grips the heart.  Sometimes those smaller tremors do serious damage to the soul. 
Or like the dreadfulness in Japan, it may be a major earthquake.  Those times when nothing in your life makes sense and you barely exist.  You see death and destruction everywhere – it might be physical, it might be emotional.  But it is real!  You wander around confused, scared, and in shock.  You are like the walking dead.  We are hard pressed on every side … perplexed … persecuted… struck down (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). 
Spiritual warfare is like the Japanese earthquake experience in another way, preparedness.  The earthquakes of life are going to come.  The tremors may seem unrelenting.  There may be a major shift in your life that changes everything and leaves you feeling pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.  
I’m reminded of the parable of Jesus.  Maybe you sang the parable when you were a kid.  It’s the one about the wise man and the foolish man - the one where the wise man builds his house upon the rock and the foolish on sand.  You can read it here or enjoy this delightful video about the parable. 

The Japanese were wise.  They’ve built buildings to withstand the inevitable earthquake.  They have a plan for survival.  I suspect that they will ultimately fare much better and recover faster because of it.  Rather than focusing on the demons, dungeons, and dragons, it is wiser to focus on preparedness.  Putting on the whole armor of God is a good place to start.  Remembering that the part of the scripture that I quoted from 2 Corinthians is not the full story – here is the full story:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
The key to spiritual warfare is preparedness.  The last line of the Sunday School song based on the parable of the wise man and the foolish man is this – SO BUILD YOUR LIFE ON THE LORD.  That’s where the emphasis should be, building yourself up in this most holy faith.
Jude 1:20-25 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.  To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
* I am in no way implying that the earthquake in Japan is a result of demonic activity.  While I never discount the supernatural, earthquakes are natural phenomena.  Prayer, aid, and acts of mercy are the appropriate response. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spiritual Warfare: Staying Up When the Chips are Down

Like Job, there are lots of calamities that God can allow the adversary of our souls to inflict upon us. After all Satan went to God to ask if he could attack Job and try his faith. The only skills on his resume, are theft, murder and destruction.

This week your Kingdom Bloggers are going to tell you how they hold the shield of faith in the face of the Devil's fiery darts and survive spiritual attack.

I have heard it preached that the mind is the battle ground of Satan, and for sure it is one of the fronts that he works on to discourage us. As I read Job this morning, the passage about the clay pots and boils made my skin feel itchy. The death of family members and all the loss that he sustained, it made me sad. However; I think there is more to the story. Before I give Satan all the credit, consider this passage:

Luke 20:18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.

Apparently there are two choices, be broken, or be crushed; pick one. I will take broken for $100. In the very same way the fragrance was released from the alabaster box by breaking it, so the spirit of God is released from you and me. It is not released through our own skill, talent, ability, or confidence, but in our utter dependence on the Lord - you know, when we are weak he is strong - that sort of thing.

What does that have to do with spiritual warfare and having our heavenly clock cleaned by the enemy of our souls? Everything. Paul said that our faith was a shield that could extinguish ALL the fiery darts of the enemy. (Ephesians 6:16) Jesus said that there is violence in the Kingdom as well. (Matthew 11:12) The writer of Hebrews assured us that we are not those who shrink back. (Hebrews 10:39) And certainly we know that letting the sun go down on our anger is a foothold for the Devil. (Ephesians 4:27)

So who is this spiritual giant of the Bible that responds to this sort of biblical truth? Not me.

Here is how that translates in David's life. For many years I have desired to serve the Lord - more than I care to admit. It seems that each time I step out, there is a significant demonic backlash. (I have written a 4-part series on the demonic HERE) Getting to Brazil for a mission trip was one of those times. (HERE is that story.)

I have had enough interactions with the demonic realms to know they are real, but the toughest and most common of the Devil's wiles, are the subtle ones. They are the everyday emotions that don't line up with biblical truth. They are connected to the roller-coaster of thoughts the day I have a review at work, or someone from leadership calls and leaves a message: "We need to talk.." They come on strong when I haven't held my tongue with a family member, or I say something to a co-worker without thinking. Even the stress that I feel during the commute, none of it is God. I know, pathetic, right?

As I start to look at the root of some of these things, I see all sorts of negative shaping, and lifetime of wrong responses. Then, when the chips are down, I have a plethora of old movies to play; I am overwhelmed. That's when I read Job and I feel a little better. This morning I was pondering why God would have picked him. Here is what I found:

Job 3:25 What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. 
26 I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.”

What I found interesting was that he feared, past tense. Before any of this ever came to visit his life, he feared it would happen. Otherwise he would have said, "I don't know where this came from, it was totally unexpected!"

As much faith as I have for certain things, I also have some fear. Fear is not of God, and like Job, it can be an open door for spiritual attack. When I act on that which is NOT the truth of God, then I am just asking for trouble - and I have often found it. The good news is that even when I fail in the battle, God uses that for my own good - but more on that next week!

How about you, how do you stay in the battle? Do you have fear?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bill Gates might make a great Sunday School teacher...

Over the years, daily devotionals have been a struggled issue for yours truly. Not only do I understand the importance to me spiritually of spending a few minutes daily in God's word, I'm constantly reminding the young people at church how crucial that time is within their own spiritual walk.

So why is it sometimes such a struggle?

The paradox of free will is that the exercise of choice is very much separate from the state of intelligent, educated conscience. For example- I know that my post-40 physical being is much more fragile than my younger time-framed body, yet I continue to consume the traditional Southern foods known to be unhealthy for me (we deep-fry everything). My choice under free will despite the probable conclusions of medical consequence. Why?

I firmly believe we are creatures of habit. There's a good blog series on Psychology Today's website from a strictly secular viewpoint (of course) on the subject matter. Very insightful and very applicable to your spiritual life as well. It really boils down though to self-discipline, and spending time daily in a devotional is no different from spending time daily in prayer or reflection.

Still I struggle...

15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   2 Corinthians 4:15-18 (New International Version)

Paul's letter to Corinth points to the treasure in jars of clay that God bestows upon us,  the light of knowledge that can only come from Him through Christ. I cannot lean upon my own understand to break free of old habits...I need God's help.

That may seem like a vicious circle going nowhere to some of you. It did to me at a point in my own life until I let the arrogance associated with my own knowledge be humbled by the true power of an almighty God. I began to pray for strength, humility and perseverance...and God answered. Believe me, it wasn't the answer I was expecting (or even wanted), but I did get an answer.

So how do I tackle the daily devotional issue today? I touched on my efforts a few weeks back in a post about the creative ways I spend time with God daily. I spend a lot of time each day, seven days a week, in front of my computer's screen. What better place to incorporate my spiritual disciplines into my daily routine. Praying and spending time with God daily wasn't a problem for me, but I would often forget prayer request from others (a matter I take very serious) and then there were daily devotionals.

Low and behold...the Age of Information (per God) provided! Now I keep a couple of widget on my desktop that I see each and every day. One is a constantly changing prayer list I can update from my Blackberry any time, any where, and the other is a widget from Bible Gateway that updates to a new Scripture daily. Another prayer answered!   

Of course, it's still up to me to spend a few minutes reflecting on the verse(s) and applying them to my own real life situations...but the widget has made it so easy to get started, I feel guilty when I don't follow through. That habit thing works both ways you know...  



Thursday, March 10, 2011

A little Word goes a long way

God is my everything and I find my heart often on Him. Find myself praying frequently, or just whispering thanks throughout the day.

But my head is a problem. I constantly have to work to keep my mind renewed to God's ways instead of my selfishness. One simple way I do this is to take a few moments to read from the Bible each morning.

For me, this puts life for that day into perspective.

As I mentioned the other day when we were talking here at Kingdom Bloggers about our devotions , I often will find myself reading the same verses for a few days. It's like it takes a while for it to sink in deep. Then there will come a point when I feel a release to move on. I find that those verses I meditate on for a bit each morning become apart of how I think, how I approach situations in my life.

I'm so grateful for the Word. I never cease to be amazed at how relevant it is. Never cease to be amazed at how God's spirit opens up familiar passages to me in a new light as I look to Him.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Have Passion

I could probably just write "ditto" to David's blog yesterday and that would pretty much sum it up.  Like David, my daily devotions aren't really daily.  I've gone through periods of some serious devotion where I do the Daily Office.  I hope and plan to do that for Lent this year.  It's a good discipline.

David used the analogy of his relationship with his wife yesterday.  I think that's better than the analogy I was thinking of but I'll share mine anyway.  I don't have the best eating habits.  I sort of grab food on the run.  It's not the best for my health or digestion.  My husband on the other hand is very disciplined.  He eats by the clock.  I eat when I can and when I'm hungry.

I don't eat breakfast until I am hungry which is usually 3-4 hours after I get up.  I've already drank a pot of coffee.  Often lunch and breakfast sort of merge together.  If I didn't have to fix supper for both of us, I may or may not eat it.  I might eat a late "lunch" at 4 p.m. and then a snack before bed.  Or I might not eat lunch and grab supper at 6 p.m.

My husband on the other hand has to have breakfast.  Usually it is oatmeal on week days and eggbeater omelets on the weekend.  He always eats lunch.  Supper time is pretty fixed at 6-6:30 p.m.  There is little divergence and when there is, he gets grouchy.

It's sort of the same with our daily devotions and spiritual discipline.  I am a lot like David.  My mind is on the Lord most of the time.  I often put on the music and worship.  When I get on my exercise bike, I jam with Jesus.  I might catch some prayer time in the car.  There's little order or discipline to my daily devotions.

My husband on the other hand gets up every morning and before that bowl of oatmeal, he spends about 20 minutes praying and reading.  NOTHING would stop him from this ritual.  It is downright annoying at times because there is no such thing as hurry up and let's go.  Poor man has to have a good hour and half to get ready in the morning.  It doesn't matter if we have to catch a plane and be at the airport at 4:30 a.m. or if we have a leisurely morning - he's going to pray and read before he does anything.

Sometimes I feel bad about my undisciplined ways.  I think I should be more disciplined.  I think I should be more like my husband.  Maybe it is a cop out or an excuse for laziness but it's just how I am.  I honestly think if more of us were honest, we'd tell each other that while we love the Lord and have constant communication with Him, we just aren't too good with the daily devotions.

I think it would be good to take the condemnation out of relationship with Jesus.  Relationship isn't always about rules and rituals.  If my very ritualistic husband were to tell me I had a half hour every morning for his attention and that was all I could have for the day, that wouldn't be much of a relationship.

If you are someone who is very disciplined in your devotions, please don't stop.  It's probably just how God made you to be.  But if you are like me and could use a little more discipline, worship and pray and read when you can, where you can, and as often as you can.  Pursue Jesus with passion without guilt.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Time is the Currency of Relationship

Looking out over the Hudson River, the hardwoods ablaze with color, crisp fall air gently pushing back the warmth of the sun on the veranda, I connected with God. It was such a beautiful afternoon. We went in for dinner and one of the monks read from the Screwtape Letters. After Vespers, I lay in bed reading the Bible by the light of a small lamp and fell off to asleep.

I awoke to a knock at the Abby door. "I trust you slept well, sir. The Lord be with you."

"And also with you." I replied. I lay there thinking about what sort of devotion these monks had to their Lord Jesus. The Spirit of God was so gentle, so inviting, that I nearly missed morning communion. Maybe if I spent more time in devotions, I thought...

This week the faithful are going to talk about what their daily devotions look like. I am sure that we are no more pious than than the average believer - we shall soon see. If you missed our series on Creative Ways to Spend Time with God, check out some of the posts.

If you've been following along either on Kingdom Bloggers, or Fire & Grace, you know that I am not a typical Christian. I assure you there are many molds that I don't fit in.

I guess I would like to start by saying what I don't do. I don't have a set prayer time, I don't have set Bible reading time, and I don't have a regular fellowship. I am sure that I would be the target of a sermon during Lenten devotions. I work 9 hours a day plus two more hours commuting each weekday. I go to the gym twice a week. And on the weekends I like to relax.

Sad, maybe even pathetic, huh?

Interestingly I spend a lot of time with the Lord each day. Except for the commuting where I am spending  my spiritual currency by the handful, and the gym where all I can think of is pain, I have a lot of contact with Jesus. Some days I am up early enough to pray. As soon as I get to work, I turn on soaking music, and at the end of a day at the office, my spirit is alive. I pray a lot while I am doing my work. I enjoy praying in the spirit.

Each night I play my guitar, and use the music to commune with God too. Certain types of music are very meditative for me. It is even possible to prophesy with an instrument, and every so often, I do. (1 Chronicles 25:1)

On Saturday morning I get up and head downstairs to my home-office with a cup of fresh brewed coffee, where I write one or more blogs. (I do four a week). Each Sunday I have about an hours ride to church, and I pray all the the way there. I often pray on the way home too.

When it comes to reading the Bible, between blogging, teaching and writing a book, I do probably a dozen word searches a day, plus I look things up in Greek and Hebrew. I confess I rely on 35 years of past teaching, books, tapes, sermons, Christian Radio and my favorite, the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

I think of daily devotions like I do my marriage to Mary Anne. I plan a few times to be with my wife each week, but more often, I catch her in between the rest of my life. Because I desire to be with her, and she with me, we make the most of a quiet moment in the kitchen, a goodbye kiss, a text message, a phone call or holding hands while watching the news. I don't have a perfect marriage, and I don't have a perfect relationship with Jesus.

I guess in the end, the Lord is on my heart almost every waking hour. I don't know what I would do if I had a job where I couldn't listen to Christian music, but I can always pray wherever I am.

I did a little study of how I spend my own time - sobering.

How about you, are you able to carve out a daily routine with Jesus, or are you like me where you fit him in around everything else?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Active listening is a spiritual necessity...not a talent.

When I first recommitted my life to God after years of wandering aimlessly through life, I struggled trying to find His will for me. Don't mistake what I just said in any way to reflect on God's ability to effectively communicate said will...the problem was all on the receiving end.

God had been continuously communicating with me even through my dark pilgrimage, but I had forgotten how to listen. Still, I was fired up with motivation to amend for lost time serving my Father, and I got busy doing instead of praying for direction. Goes back to last week and my post on longing for the spiritual gift of message of wisdom.

There's a lot of  useful insight to the idiom about spinning your wheels in one place. Sure, you can exert a tremendous amount of effort and energy, but you still don't really get anywhere. The word go appears almost 1500 times in the King James version Bible. Now, I don't want to come across Yoda-like, but go obviously is inferring both movement (action) and purpose (direction). I don't know how many times the word try appears in God's word, but I can't think of a single verse off the top of my head.

So does that mean God won't bless us for trying? Well that's not really the point here. We can easily get what purpose God intends for each of us by first asking then taking the time to listen. Keep in mind, the latter part is on His schedule...not ours.

Back to my situation. I was doing a lot to try to serve the Lord, but I'm not sure how effective I was in doing so. More importantly, I don't think I was doing what He was intending for me. As I prayed and studied, I kept coming back to the point where my own spiritual wheels had come off. I was in college when it mostly began. Not a stretch because statistics show seventy percent of young people leave church around that age.

Finally I realized what God was impressing on my heart. Talk to young people about your plight. My pastor said in his sermon a few weeks back that everyone should  feel comfortable telling their own personal story about what God had done in their life. After all, nobody knows the subject matter any better. Right?

Makes a ton of sense now. So , I set out with the purpose of preventing as many young people as possible from being in the majority of aforementioned statistic. Finally, a peace fell over me. Not the you have done well my child kind of peace. No. More along the wow you finally got what I want you to do kind of peace.

Could God change my spiritual destiny? Of course He could. But as long as I feel His hand upon my efforts, I will stay on this path. I humbly pray daily that any and all glory coming from the process be reflected upon him...

If you haven't already, I encourage you to seek your spiritual path too. When you see the destiny God has set in motion for your life if you are just obedient to His will...your excessively high electric bill from last month takes on a complete different perspective. That goes for a lot of other things too.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What's next?

When Dave shared the topic for this week I felt stumped because, in terms of the specifics, I have no idea what's next for me. Of course I know that I'll always be called to be a wife to my husband John and a mother to my sons; that will always be a huge part of my what's next.

A big part of why I'm stumped is because I've encountered some challenging situations these last couple of years. Situations that have felt like I've had the proverbial rug pulled out from under me.

I lost a career job and felt like I'd kind of lost my place in the world. As I've shared before, I've applied and applied and applied for a job, and participated in some interviews, only to meet rejection after rejection. I'm currently working in a situation that makes less than half of what I used to make and that's something I did back when I was pregnant with my now 16 year old son. Yet, there is always a bright side; I do feel like I get the opportunity to serve in this position. They repeatedly let me know how happy they are with me at this job. So my stance is that I'm trying to seek God and do my very best where I'm at, while I continue to be out there researching and applying for jobs. I'm seeking God about this whole thing, while trying to ensure that I'm doing my part so to speak.

A couple of years ago I started a small Bible study group in my home that has never grown past 4 participants. I guess that could seem like a lack of success. But I will say that we've all become close and been there for each other through a lot of really tough life experiences. For myself, I greatly treasure the experience of going through life together with these women of like faith. Yet, even though I love my local church, it's not perfect. One of the things I'm uncomfortable with is the emphasis on numbers; and of course that emphasis on numbers emphasizes my "failure" with this small group. It can also feel sort of bad because sometimes I'll be all ready and all of the participants in this group will call at close to the last minute and cancel. My kids look at me like I'm nuts; I got the house ready and drinks out and a fire in the fireplace and no one is here. I tell them that I'll just take awhile and pray for the ladies in the group; that who shows up to a certain extent is up to God, not me. I sure hope I'm at least modeling faithfulness for my sons.

I've also shared before that one of my three sons is not seeking after God. While he has not denounced his faith and will freely say he is a Christian, and because of this stance, will follow some moral guidelines, he's not seeking after God. Instead he's pursing the pleasures of the world; popularity and partying, having a good time. I continue to seek God's wisdom daily and earnestly for how to best deal with him. God's put His faith and assurance into my heart that this son will wake up and return to Him; I just pray that this happens SOON.

The point I'm trying to make by telling you so much about my challenges this year, is that the things by which I would have measured success in the past, are not present in my life right now. Right now seems to be a season in my life of waiting on God. Of trying to learn to be with Him in all situations and have my contentment come from Him alone.

So, as to what's next, I've no idea. But I do know that God loves me and has a plan for my life. I do know that I can look to Him each day, and look for doors He's opening in that day for me to share His love with others - and then step out.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Considering the frustration I shared last week, it's a little hard to answer where I think God is leading me.  Of late I think that God likes to lead me by keeping me in the desert or the wilderness.  I am sure I probably exaggerate my plight a bit but that is how it feels to me.  I wonder sometimes, how much more does He have to change in me?

Beware, Joyce is going to get real again.  Last year I took the Strength Finders test.  My number one strength was "ideation."  I wouldn't have guessed that was my strength but when I thought about it more, I thought yep, that's me.  Throughout my life, I've had lots of good ideas.  I mean really great ideas, even money making ideas. Many years ago when I lived in Hallsville MO they had no daycare.  I wanted to rent the other side of the duplex we lived in and start a daycare.  My husband yawned, my mother scoffed.  I persisted but as with many things, alone I eventually gave up.  Three months later a woman opened one down the street.  She did well. On top of that my mother praised her since she knew her from church.  I kept thinking, that could have been me.

Joyce's Chai Blend
That story is the story of my life.  Trust me, I have plenty of examples.  Usually I am left to bang my head against a wall and wonder why.  I've thought at times that maybe it was that I needed to trust my own instincts and/or leadings and just do it.  Well, I did.  I started a coffee shop that morphed into a deli and tried all sorts of marketing tactics.  I had amazing and inexpensive menu items.  Imagine, fresh cooked eggs to order, fresh made breakfast potatoes with onions and multi-colored peppers, meat of choice, bread of choice - and if you ordered a biscuit, you got homemade sausage gravy with it as well.  Served fast and fresh for the low price of $3.99.  Add to that a $ .50 cup of bottomless fresh coffee and you had a great meal for under $5.  Or you could add a Milky Way latte, an Almond Joy cappuccino, a fruit smoothie with real fruit in it or a steamy creamy chai latte made with my own chai mix that had fresh spices I ground myself for $3.99.  And the weekend omelets were to die for - eventually we lost more money than I care to think about.  Not to mention the blow to the ego.  It was location but nevertheless, another idea gone bad.

Then there was the church.  God told me to start a church.  I did.  Twice.  The spirit of the Lord showed up big time one morning.  The worship leader had a vision.  He saw us all in the start gate of a race.  He said that I was on a horse.  I had been waiting a very long time.  I was dying to get out of the gate.  He said that gate was opening.  Yippie Skippy Glory Hallelujah - within two months I found out I was going to South Dakota.  Not exactly the gate opening I had in mind.  Not exactly a place I flourished.  But oh the things I learned in the process.

Okay, I don't want this to be a downer.  I suppose this has sort of been Joyce's morning lament. I don't want this to be so real that you think I have no faith.  I do have faith.  I do have hope.  I have so much hope and faith that at an age when most people are planning or experiencing retirement, I'm working on a doctoral degree.  The high school drop out welfare mom who no one thought was worth anything, is now a doctoral student.  I'm plugging away with a research study on the use of computer mediated social networking (Facebook) for the purpose of Christian community.  That's what God has led me to do.  That's what I'm doing.  I hope it doesn't end up like all my other good ideas.  I hope it benefits the Kingdom.  But one thing I've learned, results do not mean success or failure.  Success is all about obedience and the process of becoming like Jesus.