Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Endless Thanksgiving...

As this month of Thanksgiving winds to a close, and we head into the Christmas season (with all its joys and stress and celebration and depression, depending on who you are)... I've had it on my heart to share a reminder of what really matters.

You see, most of us have a tendency to get completely side-tracked this time of year. Some of us (like me) are working overtime to meet deadlines at work and gather money for gifts I want to give. Others are stressed out by a list of names and pressure to buy something for each one. Others are resentful of the merchandising of the season...some even allowing themselves to get bitter over it. Still others get depressed because of lost love ones and broken relationships.

So what if today was March? Or July? Do we not still have the same things to be thankful for? The sun? Fresh air? Warmth in our homes? The computer we're using right now?



I am part of the Compassion Bloggers, and we've been given an assignment. I think it's timely, in a round-about way.

Compassion has begun something new. It's called Missions in Action, and it's an interactive web series that was created with the purpose to make a difference around the world. It's a way to get a glimpse of what Compassion is doing and the environment they're working in, so that those of us who partner with Compassion (or who want to) can actually see and understand more of what we're involved in. I like that.

Anyway, here is the first "episode." If you followed the last Compassion Bloggers trip that I followed, then these places will sound familiar. But whether you did or not, whether you sponsor a kid, want to sponsor one, or don't want to... please watch this.

Then celebrate that there is a Jesus who offers the joy you see on their faces. Celebrate the fact that there are things in life that are so much more important than shopping. Celebrate that what is most important... the joy that is deeper and more meaningful than anything else... is available to you.

Do you want an assignment? Pick one:

1) Begin your own list of 1000 gifts and see if it changes your life.

2) Lower your gift-giving budget and give the difference to Compassion's Christmas fund. The sponsors and workers who Compassion networks together are currently ministering to 1.2 million children... and Compassion tries to give a gift to every single one. That's right, 1.2 million gifts for children who will not roll their eyes, or stuff the gift in a closet, or take it back for something else. Or, if you are already sponsoring a child, give that difference as a family gift that might make a permanent difference in their lives.

3) If God's been nudging you to sponsor a child (or another one), then be obedient and go pick one.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Faith, works, & victory...

Two weeks ago, we had a guest speaker come to our church. This man is one of the preachers and teachers that I respect the most. I respect him for his knowledge of the scriptures, for the revelation on those scriptures that the Holy Spirit has given him, for his willingness to talk honestly about problems in the church, for his humility, and last-but-not-least, for the way that all of the above is shared with so much love.

He said something two weeks ago* that ties in to the "more" I mentioned in my last post.

He said:

Without knowing it, we try to interject the law into our faith. We don't think of it in that way, but we try to act this way, do this, do that, and don't do this to energize our faith....

You can't bring works in any way shape or form into your faith. The way you live or conduct yourself may change your relationship to the devil, but it doesn't change your relationship to God. Your sins have been paid for and washed away.

That doesn't mean we don't have to make things right. See 1 John.

But the fact of the matter is that we receive everything that the Bible says is ours through the Blood, the Word, and the Name... by grace through faith.

Faith is not the currency of heaven. If we say that, then we're implying that we have to use our faith to try to attain and get...[what] already ours! 

As I was writing that last post, God was not only pointing out what happens when we let our focus get on our circumstances, but He was also pointing out to me how futile it is to focus on ourselves!

Maybe you haven't heard (and done) as much of this as I have, but without any effort at all, I can think of things that we Christians frequently say, think, and dwell on when we're facing adversity.

"I'm believing!"

"I'm praying!"
"I'm standing on ___ verse."

We tell others, and sometimes we are told:
"You must have faith."
"You must believe."
"You must pray."

I'm beginning to see how, so very often, if our focus isn't on the adversity, it's on us!

Note that I am not saying that we should not pray or trust or believe God. Those statements, in and of themselves, are not wrong. We should and we must pray and believe and stand.

But that cannot be the basis of our hope. 

Are we hoping for healing because of how we've prayed and which verses we're standing on? Or are we hoping for healing because of who our God is? Are we believing we will be healed because we have used our authority or because we're exercising our faith? Or are we instead believing and focusing on the power of the God who gave us authority, who gave us whatever measure of faith we have, and who has a much more complete grasp on the situation than we do?

Are we waiting for 11th hour provision because we've tithed, because we've trusted, and because we've obeyed to best of our ability? Or are we trusting that it will come because He is a God who will never go back on His promises? (Heb 6:17-18)

Do you see the very subtle difference?  God did give some promises that are dependent on things that we do. Many more were blanket promises given to those who have been adopted and grafted in.

But even when we are waiting on fulfillment of a promise that is dependent... even then, we will not ultimately receive that promise because of what we did. Even then, the only reason we will receive is because of who He is. The only reason He gave the promise is because of who He is. The only reason we were given the grace to obey was because of who He is!

We trust Him because of who He is. He is not the I Am because we are trusting Him!

The test is this: when we are in that difficult position when we have not received what we have asked for, what is our response? If we find ourselves thinking we didn't believe enough, or we didn't pray enough, or we we didn't do xyz, then that's the red flag that our focus is on our own efforts (works) rather than on Him.  We have fallen into what the quote above is talking about, and we've brought works into our faith. (And yes, faith without works is dead...but that's because works are supposed to be the natural result of faith, not the thing that makes faith real or causes our faith to grow.)

The only focus worth putting on ourselves is the spotlight that searches our hearts. Have we been obedient? Have we repented of what He has exposed inside of us? And have we truly made Him our Lord?  If the answer to those is yes, then the focus needs to go right back on Him.

The only reason my prayers are effective is because He has made me  righteous.

Even when I don't know how to pray, His Spirit prays for  me!

Because He set me free, I can praise Him.

Because His grace has enabled me to obey, His promises stand in my life.

Again, it's all about Him! 

We have to be oh-so-careful, though, because I can guarantee that, no sooner will we put our focus back on Him, than the devil will whisper, "Look. God's not answering your prayer. You're not focusing on Him enough." And before we know it, he'll have enticed us to turn this whole focusing-thing into another work that we have to achieve or else.

The fact is...we will never pray "enough," believe "enough," focus "enough," or do anything enough to guarantee anything. But that is as it should be, because He is the One who Is, and Was, and Always Will Be. And if we could do it, or if we did know what we always needed (and when), then we wouldn't need Him.

And He delights in us needing Him!

"Why so downcast, oh my soul. Put your hope in God!" -Ps. 42:11

*Note: If you'd like to hear the message this guest speaker shared two weeks ago, click this link to download it.
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