11.27.2011

Exceedingly Abundantly

I find it hard to buy gifts for some people. Either I don’t know them well enough, or they don’t have any specific hobbies or interests that stands out. That’s when gift cards are so priceless. There are times, however, when I’m forced to scour a store’s shelves for something appropriate. Usually, I end up walking away from the register with a “that will do” attitude. Shopping done, I’m headed home with my mediocre gift.

When I put myself in God’s shoes and consider all the millions of prayer requests He has to fill, I start to think cheap. What would be the most time efficient, least expensive method of filling those orders? I definitely would settle for a gift certificate. I can picture the sky filled with gift cards as they rain down on humanity below my heavenly realm. Orders filled, I’m ready for some relaxation.

Much to the world’s relief, I am not God fulfilling the desires of people’s hearts. They can be thankful that God doesn’t treat they’re “gift requests” with my method. Instead of settling for the basic, least expensive product, He’ll take it a notch above their expectations.

Ephesians 3:20 & 21 says, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

I am a testimony of that “exceedingly abundantly.” A year ago I put in my request to God for a rent house in town. I had been living in a trailer outside of town and was ready for a change. I patiently waited, thanking God every day for providing a new place to live for the price I needed. No stress involved – just a peaceful confidence that something would open up. Shortly after, I was approached with an offer to sell me a house belonging to one of our church members. Now that was totally out of my personal expectation! I had dismissed the idea of buying a house because I was sure I couldn’t afford it. Obviously, God thought different. Not only was the house within my budget, it was already painted on the inside with colors that complimented my d├ęcor and furniture. How could it get any better?

God doesn’t deal with our needs like an obligation or a basic order that has to be filled. He takes our needs personal because He is our Father. He loves us and wants the best for us. Even His plan of salvation is more than we deserve when He sent Jesus to pay the price for our sin. He could have stopped there, content with the effort of seeing Jesus’ blood spilled; instead, He added extra “benefits” to the package that provided for more than just a home in heaven. It also provided for a fulfilled life on earth with healing, provision, peace, and protection. That’s “exceedingly abundantly” – a gift that tops any human effort.

As I think about my gift-giving habits, I’m challenged to follow God’s example. Will convenience inspire me to serve and give just enough, or will a heart of love push me to do more than is expected? With the power that is working in me, I believe I can follow God’s example. A surprise gift will be ready to exceed someone’s expectations!

10.25.2011

Dumpster Diver

The very thought of crawling into the dumpster behind my house makes me gag. Most of the time, I just chunk my stuff over the top and go on my merry way. A few times, though, I’ve had the pleasure of observing what’s inside. It isn’t pretty. In fact, I’m not sure I want to share details on the leaky bags of filth, dirty diapers, moldy leftovers, and gruesome slime smeared on the sides of the massive garbage container. No amount of urging could persuade me to go digging for my recently thrown thrash.

I wonder how many times God’s watched us go back and try to find the inferior things He’s instructed us to throw away. We go digging into the dumpster of our past, choosing to remember rather than forget the things that are behind us.

“Brethren, I do not count myself as to have apprehended, but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13)

The things behind us could be many things. A colorful past, a broken relationship, a bad habit, or a dream God never intended for us to pursue. Whatever it is, in God’s eyes, those things are trash. They were sent to the dumpster with the rest of the counterfeits, with the intention of never being seen again.

Like most human beings, though, we get excited about the new stuff, but later begin to wonder if the old was better. What if we missed out by throwing the old away? Maybe we still needed to hold on to the old “just in case” the new didn’t work out. So we dive into our dumpster and dig through all the trash to find that long, lost “treasure.”

God’s instructions on that are clear: “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road to the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18, 19)

Whenever He wants us to send something to the dumpster, it’s to make way for something clean and fresh. The challenge is for us to trust that His new is so much better than our old. If we believe that and press on toward the future He’s mapped out for us, we will reach our prize. It won’t be a bundle of dirty diapers or moldy leftover noodle casserole, either. It will be more like an oasis in a desert.

9.17.2011

Squish, Squash

At one time I used to depend wholly on my dad to rid my world of these things called “bugs.” When crickets began their annoying symphony under my bed at midnight, guess who I called from the comfort of my mattress? When a spider decided to make its descent from the ceiling above my head, guess who was the exterminator? You guessed it. It was my hero – Mr. David Heider and his shoe.

I soon discovered that when you live on your own, it’s not very convenient or polite to call home every time a cockroach meanders across the dining room floor. So I learned to squish the villains myself (preceded by about ten minutes of psyching myself up for the challenge). Then when I moved from my apartment to a trailer in the country, a whole new world of bugs was opened to me . . . in the form of giant, furry wolf spiders. My first encounter required about twenty minutes of prep time, even though my weapon was a bottle of Raid from about five feet away. Yes, I was a big girl now.

After dealing with bugs, a dead mouse, and a loose baby bird in my country home, I finally came to a grand conclusion – I am bigger than them all. Why should I be frightened by something so minute compared to my five foot, two inch stature? One little sweep of whatever was closest and – squash – it was over for the creature. (Okay, I didn’t squash the poor bird.) What empowerment!

Applying the “I’m-bigger-than-them-all” principle to life’s challenges, though, is a little different story for most of us. We come face to face with our “bugs,” and suddenly we don’t have what it takes to be the victor. We start thinking like the ten spies in Numbers 13:33 who came back to Moses with a negative report: “There we saw the giants . . . and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

Without an understanding of Who lives on the inside of us, our challenges can seem huge – like an eight-legged wolf spider ready to pounce. But I John 4:4 declares: “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

We can very easily shrink back from the giant looming in front of us and say, “I feel like a grasshopper compared to this!” The truth is that we are anything but a miniature grasshopper. God sees us as “more than conquerors” through Him (Romans 8:37). It may seem that the giant insect is glaring down at us as if we are so small, but its misconceived opinion doesn’t matter compared to the reality our size. Our size is based on the size of our hero, the One who holds the power over everything. It’s not us against Mr. Wolf Spider; it’s God against the enemy. No longer do we have to decide our strength based on the size of our shoe, the potency of our Raid, or the force of our trap. It’s now dependent on the strength of the One who lives in us . . . and His strength is endless!

7.30.2011

One Bad Apple

God created a perfect world from the very beginning. He didn’t keep it to Himself, however. He passed it on to His two prized creations, Adam and Eve. They had everything! It was a free Bahama vacation and all its perks for the rest of their lives! Most of all, they had a close relationship with the Creator of that garden. Day in and day out, they could bask in the peace and beauty of the One who gave the world to them. It didn’t seem possible that something could mar such an amazing gift, but temptation still found its way to the world’s first humans.

Satan came slithering into the garden in the form of a snake, eyes gleaming with a plot to overcome God’s most recent masterpiece. He went straight for innocent Eve, beautiful and unsuspecting. Feigning care and concern for her well-being, he challenged God’s motives. “God’s keeping one tree from you?” he basically spat. “Woman, don’t you know you’re being cheated? He’s keeping His best from you!” (Genesis 2)

Eve fell for his lies, thinking she was missing something beyond what she already had. Discontent set in and she took a bite of what God never intended for her to touch.

I can picture God crying out in anguish as He watched Eve take a succulent bite of her death sentence and then pass it on to Adam. These were His children! He had given them so much. No one could have possibly topped His extravagant life and perfection. Yet they had chosen something so inferior. One piece of forbidden fruit looked better against the backdrop of shimmering, flawless fruit.

We think, “How could Eve be so dumb?” But how many times have we done the same, giving up a beautiful, wide variety of God’s blessings for one bad item in the devil’s bag of choices? The choices come in a variety of shapes, colors, and flavors, yet not necessarily appearing evil. The job at the most popular business in town looks alluring for its enticing pay check. The variety of cool programs at the biggest university in the state appears right up our alley. A romantic relationship with the best-looking person at school is so tempting. What’s wrong with all that?

When considering our options, we think God is holding out on us. At first glance, the options look like they could only be good. God, on the other hand, sees more than we do. He sees the floundering finances of the store at the mall. He sees the negative influences that would trip us up at the state university. He sees the deceitful heart of that charming student at school. Whatever the options are in our lives, when God gives a decisive “no” to our desires, it’s because He has something better in mind.

Psalm 84:11 says, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

God is not going to keep “good things” from us – if we are open to follow His instructions to receive them. Just as God wasn’t trying to squelch Adam and Eve’s pleasures, He’s not trying to keep us from the best in life by steering us clear of the rotten counterfeits of the world. He wants to open our eyes to a garden created just for us and invite us to take a bite of His goodness…and His best.

6.27.2011

Make My Day

Since I work full-time at my church and am not much of a shopper, the most common place for me to rub shoulders with the world is at Wal-Mart. Every so often I’ll get the chance to witness to the cashier who is ringing up my purchases. Sometimes I end our conversation by praying for them. Sometimes they receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Regardless of their response, I walk away quite happy!

One day at the check out I didn’t feel like I needed to witness. Instead, I simply said to the woman, “I’m a Christian. Is there anything I can pray with you about?” She said she really didn’t need anything, so I asked if I could pray a blessing over her. She agreed and I prayed a simple prayer over her life and her day.

Most people just say “thank you” and I move on to let the next person in line check out their stuff. This time, though, I got a more meaningful response. “That just made my day,” the cashier said with a smile. “That just made my day!”

As I left the Wal-Mart parking lot, I couldn’t help the joy that bubbled up inside me. I’m sure anyone looking through my window and seeing my goofy, big smile would have thought I was crazy when no one else was in the car with me. I didn’t care. I had just made someone’s day!

I haven’t seen the woman since, but I hope her day – and her life – was impacted in a way that drew her closer to Jesus. Various other times I’ve prayed for strangers in public, the prayer I prayed or the encouraging word I gave was exactly what they needed. At the time I didn’t have a clue what was going on in their lives . . . but the Holy Spirit did.

Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will be watered himself.”

You can never go wrong “watering” someone else’s life. Only God knows what circumstances might be causing them to feel bone dry, in need of some life-giving refreshment. We’ve all been there, and have always appreciated a kind word or prayer from someone else when we least expected it.

We might even feel that our “watering can” isn’t full enough to share with anyone else. We’ve got trials of our own that have made the soil of our lives cracked and hard. At times like these, though, our can contains more than we think. We have the ever-flowing “rivers of living water” (John 7:38) bubbling on the inside of us – whether the sky in our lives is shining glorious blue or dropping giant rain drops from gray thunderclouds. That water is there, not because of the absence of circumstances, but because of a Holy Spirit who has promised to be there at all times (John 14:16).

Whether we feel like it or not, emptying our watering can onto someone’s parched soil will always cause us to be watered ourselves. It’s the principle of “give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). Listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit has great rewards. When he says, “Pour some water on this person,” He has a watering can of refreshing joy waiting to pour on us!

5.22.2011

Chosen

We all like the feeling of being chosen. It’s exhilarating to hear our name announced as the winner of a prize or the recipient of a great honor. Even as a child we’re excited when we’re selected for a sports team, or invited to attend a friend’s birthday party. Suddenly, we’re special!

When I read the book of Esther, it makes me wonder if Esther felt the same way. Did stand tall with pride when she was announced as the chosen one? Or did she shiver at the thought of filling such a huge role? Perhaps she did what many of us do – forget what made us acceptable in the first place.

Esther 2:3 tells us what the qualifications were to even be considered as a candidate: “‘And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather all the beautiful young virgins to Shushan the citadel, into the women’s quarters, under the custody of Hegai the kings’ eunuch, custodian of the women. And let beauty preparations be given them …’”

To be beautiful was expected. Yes, young would be nice, but what really jumped out at me was the word “virgin.” Not only were they expected to be pleasing to look at, they were required to hold the gift of purity.

Esther was “fair and beautiful” (Esther 2:7), but what if she had not been a virgin? No amount of beauty could have qualified her then. She would have been bypassed, unfit to be chosen. We would have never seen her name in the Bible, never rejoiced in her heroic accomplishments. The honor would have been given to someone else.

“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.” 2 Timothy 2:20

Purity is honorable. God is looking for honorable people who will choose to live a life set apart for His use (Romans 12:2). He wants to do so much through us for His glory, but if we are bogged down by the impurities of the world, our use is limited. If our vessels are cracked, tarnished, and soiled, we cannot contain His glory.

Proverbs 22:11 says, “He who loves purity of heart and has grace on his lips, the king will be his friend.” Purity begins in the heart. It starts with a heart that is fully devoted and in love with its King. It holds a pure willingness to do whatever it takes to honor Him, regardless of the cost. It’ll give up any impure thing in order to see the King’s will accomplished. That is the heart that the King is seeking.

Like Esther, our desire should be to be found fit for our assignment, without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27). We should be so focused on making ourselves beautiful for His use, that when the day comes to enter His courts, we are ready and waiting for His call.

3.30.2011

More than Enough for Me

Some time ago, I sat bemoaning that I didn’t have something I wanted so badly. It was one of those dreams that seemed to take forever to manifest. “Haven’t I waited long enough?” my carnal mind demanded. Surely I didn’t have enough patience to last another day.

But then I remembered Hannah’s story from the Bible (I Samuel 1). Hannah came to a place in her desire for a child that she had gone into mourning, crying and refusing to eat. Her unusual behavior snagged her husband’s attention: “Then Elkanah her husband said to her, ‘Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?’“ (I Samuel 1:8)

Poor Elkanah! He was a faithful, dutiful husband to Hannah, favoring her and giving her more than she needed. Yet to Hannah, he seemed to be fall short. He wasn’t able to make her happy in the way she wanted. His demonstration of love wasn’t good enough for her.

That’s when God, through my sad pity party, said to me, “Christa, is my love not enough for you?”

Elkanah was a man who was limited in showing his love. But God is not, and never will be, limited in His love. He showed the greatest love by sending Jesus, which meant He was giving us everything. There was nothing lacking in that gift. It held everything that we needed and everything that we could ever desire.

Like Elkanah, I could sense God’s grief when my sadness overwhelmed my appreciation for His love. He had already done so much by forgiving me of my sins and providing the extras that seemed so trivial compared to that. With or without the desires of my heart, He was truly enough for me.

The beautiful ending of Hannah’s story is that God was gracious and granted her request. But it didn’t happen immediately. It was after a “process of time” that she saw her dream come true (I Samuel 1:20). She learned to wait some more because no dream is healthy if born prematurely.

Waiting has never been easy. But it can be beautiful if we’ll remember the love God has for us, and all that love contains. Jesus will always be more than enough . . . and in the end, He’ll lavish us with the desires of our hearts if we truly make Him our first love.

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

2.27.2011

I Cry "Jesus"

Amarillo, Texas had just been buffeted with a rare ice storm, leaving the streets slippery and glass-like. Traffic was slow on the smaller, residential streets, but as I got onto the interstate, everyone seemed immune to the recent climate change. They flew by with regular speed, anxious to get to work on time like I was. I shook my head in wonder. Crazy Amarillians! They never know how to safely drive in the winter!

Though a few cars sped passed me like their tails were on fire, I maintained a slightly slower pace. But it wasn’t slow enough. Suddenly, my blue Ford Explorer hit black ice, and I spun out of control. No amount of frantic hand or foot work would slow my crazy plunge toward the overpass railing – my only barrier between me and the access road below. All I could do was scream, “JESUS!”

As quickly as I had lost control, I came to a screeching halt in front of the railing. My heart pounding, I got out to examine my predicament. To my amazement, my Explorer’s bumper wasn’t even touching the railing. No scratches, no dents. Just proof that something greater than ice had stopped my impending decent to the street beneath me.

I have no doubt that my desperate cry for deliverance in the Name of Jesus had saved me from going over the railing that day. Under normal circumstances, an accident between me and another oncoming car was more than likely. But no railing or oncoming car was a match for the power of Jesus’ Name that day.

Psalm 91:14 says, “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high because he has known My name.”

God is looking to “set on high” – to protect and deliver – those who love Him and understand the power of His name. It’s so much more than having someone to frantically call on in a desperate situation. It’s a life-style of staying close to our Protector in everything we do. Instead of being our last resort in a pinch, His Name is the first cry from our lips.

1.30.2011

The Most Beautiful Face

I’m a regular supporter of the Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that supports and ministers to the persecuted Church all around the world. For over a year I’ve received their monthly magazine. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing pictures of burned down homes, separated families, and destroyed Bibles as a result of a person’s faith in Jesus. But the picture on the front of the most recent publication demanded that I take a more heart-felt look.

It’s not a picture you would expect to see on the front of your average magazine cover. It’s the type of photograph that will literally take your breath away and make you turn your eyes toward something more pleasant. The whole page is covered by the face of a young Indonesian woman whose features are disfigured and scarred by burns. Even after several plastic surgeries, her face is still discolored, making her look like a character out of a horror movie. Her missing eye adds yet more authenticity to the cruelty that was done to her.

Tears filled my eyes as I looked at the pitiful face. How could someone justify burning someone’s village at the expense of this girl’s life? How could so much hatred fill someone that they would rejoice in a young woman’s disfigurement? Didn’t they know the pain and embarrassment that she would have to endure the rest of her life?

We don’t see this kind of persecution in America. We should all be grateful. But this photograph made me realize how vain we truly are. We get frustrated over acne scars and a hair cut gone bad. We feel abused if we’re not wearing the latest styles from the mall. We pout when Dillard’s is out of our favorite make-up or perfume. That we even have a face doesn’t inspire our gratitude when we fall short of having these things. What’s truly most important and beautiful is totally forgotten.

In God’s eyes, there’s no other face more beautiful than one given for the sake of the Gospel. This Indonesian woman’s outward scars are a testimony of her inward love and devotion to God. Though it cost her pain and a face that looked like the rest of us, she was willing to give her all to the One who allowed His body to be scarred for her freedom.

Most of us would buckle under a situation like this, our joy suddenly snuffed out because of the hardship. But this young woman’s face is anything but depressed. Though her smile is disfigured, and her lips incomplete, her countenance radiates with the joy of the Lord. It is a shameless smile that says she would do it again, grateful to be counted worthy to suffer for Him (Acts 5:41). It’s a smile that, despite everything else, inspires me to cradle her face in my hands and say, “You’re beautiful.”

And they overcame him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony,
and they did not love their lives to the death.
Revelation 12:11