Well, let’s just be honest. His plans are better.

I woke up this morning with a hungry heart that was so eager to dive into the word.

This is profound because during the whirlwind of my 345,023 adjustments and readjustments, my almost overbearing love for the word dwindled to a flickering daze. I wish I could say the past six months have been the best months of my life. They haven’t. They’ve been full of heartache, soul searching, identity crisis(s) [do we want to get into the TJ Maxx meltdown story? Nope.], and grieving the losses of many dreams, rights, and comforts.

I really feel like the Lord wanted to speak to me today through Matthew Chapter 1 and my Chris Tiegreen devotional. This morning’s message was on love and obedience and how the two are intricately woven to perfectly reflect the condition of our hearts. Tiegreen said ultimately we cannot love God without obedience and we cannot (for long) obey Him without truly loving Him.

The same theme stuck out to me in Matthew 1:24, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife…”

Wow, Joseph’s love, confidence, active trust, and faith in the Lord was huge! Preface: Joseph has this fiancé Mary. She ends up pregnant before their wedding and he is NOT the father [I said that in my head like the Maury show…]. An angel of the Lord came to Mary and told her she’d give birth to the promised savior. So, that’s how she’s pregnant. Joseph, being a righteous and merciful man, wants to quietly break off the engagement to help keep her honor as well as his. But an angel visited him in his dreams and said this is a special child, Mary’s not lying, take her as your wife, this child will save people from their sins.

Okay, can we just be honest for a second? Joseph laid a lot down. We give Mary a ton of credit, especially around Christmas, and I’m not trying to be rude but she didn’t have much choice. Hers was a more passive obedience. Joseph, on the other hand, laid down his honor-which living in this society in Senegal, I’m beginning to understand the weight of that. He laid down his plans and dreams to a normal, honorable life as soon as he woke up. There was no hesitation. He heard the plans of the lord and obeyed. Why? Because He knew and loved the One who asked him to be a part of the eternal King’s plan to redeem the world.  As an act of worship, he lovingly laid down his will for one that was greater.

So, how does this relate to me and the past six months of my life? No, the past six months haven’t been the best months of my life. Yes, there has been heartache. Yes, there have been innumerable losses in regards to relationship strains, hopes, dreams, and desires. Yes, there have been meltdowns over the puzzling questions, “Who am I and where do I fit?” But I can say with full confidence, the past six months have been the most challenging, liberating, insightful, and maturing in regards to my walk with the Lord.

I am learning what it looks like to lay aside, time and time again, my will for something greater that more than likely will take sacrifice. I am learning to let go of things I have a tight grip on (ie: past, present and future things) and they them down at His feet. I am learning to trust Him in all things, even when they are painstakingly difficult. I am learning what it means to live a life of grace, love, and truth. I’m learning what it means to persevere and fully depend on the Lord to get me through each day. I’m learning how to abide throughout hurts and disappointments. I’ve learned what it feels like to step back from the Lord and to feel His faithfulness, and steadfast love pursuing me. Those are sweet highs that I wouldn’t have been able to learn without the necessary lows.

I may not have had an encounter with Gabriel in my sleep and give me prophetic messages straight from the God of this universe, but He showed up this morning with a very special message that has stirred my heart with love for Him. It’s not about me and His plans are better.

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Chipping Away At The Polished Exterior

One thing I’m learning is how much I fall short. I’m not sure if this lesson is actually coming from ministry work or if it’s just coming as I’m getting a deeper and more full understanding of grace.

This whole week I’ve been putting all of my responsibilities on hold. I really can’t tell you the reasoning behind this. I know I need to continue support raising, finish my Doctrinal studies, and finish 4 books, but there has been a heavy exhaustion over me. I am learning that I ran the race well in some parts, but I’ve not finished well. I got caught up in what I thought I was capable of doing (not relying on God) and what I expected from others. When others weren’t meeting that expectation, I was getting bitter. Tonight there was a sin that God revealed to me, and I’d been fighting it for a few days. Without going into too much detail, it really was a heart issue that stemmed from a lack of trust in God and my own self-seeking pride.

I sat down tonight and picked up my Chris Tiegreen The One Year: At His Feet devotional and got hit in the face with some biblical truth. And as God is sovereign, it applied directly to my heart and my situation. It was over Mark 7:14-23:

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 

After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable.  “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them?  For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them.  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

“They (Pharisees and religion) all attempt to reform the visible result of sin without treating the internal condition. Jesus is the only remedy that cleans a person from the inside out, if we will let Him.”- Tiegreen

My heart is the issue here. I’m pretty capable of living within the “American-Evangelical Christian boundaries.” The polished exterior isn’t the issue. It’s truly what’s on the inside that counts. I have this circular effect/flow model going on in my mind. What I do, or my will, affects my heart, but my heart determines my will. What I mean by that is if I choose to deliberately go against God’s will or promptings through the Holy Spirit, my heart begins to become calloused, hard, and cold. Before this act of disobedience, my heart was probably not in the right place and it was not aligned with God’s. My heart was more than likely focused on self gratification, praise, and satisfaction and self-worth in other things other than the Lord Himself which resulted in my actions of going against God. Therefore, then, my actions of sin pulls me further away form Jesus which affects my heart which snowballs into a big mess.

How much smaller and less devastating would it be for us (preaching to myself) for us to catch the snowball before it starts taking off of the top of the hill? Humbling myself before God in repentance and asking Him to not only forgive me but to continue to change me to be more like Christ is the answer.

“The problem many of us have faced (or continue to face) is that we can restrain our outward behavior while retaining all of the evil thoughts within us. What we’ve changed is our appearance, not our hearts… (The solution is) the habitation of Christ Himself in our hearts by faith, and our constant, conscious reliance on Him (and cooperation with Him) to change us from within.”- Tiegreen

I can’t imagine what we would all look like if we didn’t restrain what we were entertaining in our minds and hearts. I can’t even begin to tell you what a mess I’d be, let alone how many times I’d be married. (You girls know what I’m talking about!) If God looks at our hearts, what does it say about my heart that I am entertaining these resentful attitudes towards fellow believers and not repenting of it? How can I just not “act out” my attitude and claim to be well? I am still struggling with the flesh, therefore, I am not well and am in a constant state of needing God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness (Luke 5:31).

I’m learning more and more that when I see something critical/harsh come out of my mouth it is an overflow of what’s going on in my heart (Luke 6:45). That is a sign that I need to check my heart and see what’s going on in there. Also realizing that my desires are to reflect God and honor Him and if they aren’t, again, heart issue.

So, I’ll leave you readers with this song. It’s super sweet because it was the first worship song I ever learned, and it carries so many precious memories alongside of it. And here’s the last bit from Tiegreen. Sorry this is so long and messy. Again, I am human and in need of grace just as much as the next guy. I appreciate the grace you’re giving as you read this. Please be praying for my heart and my attitude.

“If this is your struggle-and you are not alone- resist the way of the flesh. Do not be content with covering the outward manifestation of an unclean heart. Invite Jesus to do an inward work, conforming your heart into His pure image-not just once, but constantly. Believe that He will, and see what happens.”- Tiegreen

The Heart of God

About a month ago my friend Emily* said something along the lines of, “My boyfriend thinks my rules are silly.” She was talking about the physical boundaries she’s set to glorify God in their relationship. She’s a believer and has been saved for a little over a year. I’m left to assume that her boyfriend thinks they are silly because he’s not a believer. There are several things about this conversation we had that left me scratching my head, but the thing that bothers me (still) is that the boundaries the sets to maintain a pure relationship are called “rules.”

First off, don’t get me wrong. I think boundaries are wonderful. If you don’t set boundaries and maintain them, you will fall. It’s so easy to be entangled in the mess of sin, especially sexual sin. Secondly, I’m not trying to be judgmental in this post. I’ve struggled with legalism for a long time. I’ve even had my list of boundaries written on a numbered list, probably even titled “Dating Rules.”

My problem when referring to boundaries (or things you don’t do because they dishonor God) as rules is that it really turns your life into a do’s and don’ts list. It says, “okay, so for in order for me to be a Christian I must follow these rules.” That’s legalism. That’s the law. That’s putting yourself under a yoke of slavery of works. Do this, don’t do this. When we do act as if we have laws to follow we become so concentrated on the “rules” that we lose focus of the heart of God.

I was talking to my friend Bonnie once about how her parents raised her. She’s an amazing woman of God. She’s been a mentor and example for me since I first became a believer. I asked her how her parents handled things, especially when it came to her purity, because I thought they did such a great job raising her. And she told me, “We talked about the heart of God and His desire for me.” And I remember thinking, that’s it? Really? That’s ALL?

When we become enthralled with the Lord, in love with the Lord, and consumed by Him, there is freedom. There’s forgiveness. There’s a desire to honor him in all things without being slain by legalism. I haven’t even begun to skim the surface of who God is or what His heart is really like, so I’m sorry to tell you I can’t tell you every attribute of His love. I do know that He wants the best for us, He longs for us, and He sent His only son to die for us.

Today’s devotional in Walk With God by Chris Tiegreen said this,

“What does it [the word becoming flesh] mean to you? When you read your Bible, does it make a difference that the Word is not just telling you what to do, but offering to re-create the fundamental nature of your spirit? when you worship God, is it better to do so with a transformed heart than a slavish obedience to an unknown diety?Does it matter to you that instead of simply being religious as best you can, you relate to a Person-a Person who lived in the same kind of body you have and yet is still powerful and wise enought to be your God? Are you glad your faith is this.. well, personal?”

I’m really excited that God wants a personal relationship with us rather than us earning our way to heaven. He wants a relationship with us. And that’s awesome. He wants to reveal Himself to us and wants to reveal His heart to us.

So, if you want to I’d appreciate if you’d pray for me to further learn the heart of God. And I’d also like to challenge you to learning more about how God shows His heart in the scriptures. 🙂

Here’s an amazing video from an AMAZING pastor! Enjoy!

Freedom in Christ

Good news: Today was my first full day of feeling back to normal! Chicka-what! Praise the Lord for deliverance! Thank you Lord for that! I can’t describe to you how much better my day was than yesterday (and the many days before that). Such a blessing!

Well, I think one thing God has shown me today was how controlling I am. Yesterday, I mentioned to my bible study leader that this summer I was so confident in my ability to do overseas missions. And yesterday, I wasn’t feeling too confident in myself. She agreed with me. I think she’d rather see me do a stateside internship. Today I was looking at the application for Campus Crusade‘s STINT program. STINT is a Short Term International Internship. I had to have four references, one of which had to be my current bible study leader. My initial thought was, “Crap! I can’t put A.L. down! She won’t support me going.” This was me controlling the situation. This was me saying, “God, I know you’re calling me to Africa, but I need to try to control this area of the application so I’ll get accepted.” Wrong. If God wants me to go, He’ll make it happen. If I don’t get accepted, it wasn’t His will for me to go. I can rest assuredly knowing My God is bigger; my God is in control.

Chris Tiegreen has an amazing passage in his devotional. It says

“He is the Master of our circumstances; there is no need for our guile. The opportunities He wants us to have will be opened before us. The people He wants us to know will come into our path. No manipulation is necessary-or even welcome. All that He requires from us is our willing obedience to His plan.”

I am finding that I frequently put on the yoke of slavery that Paul warns us about in Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The cool thing about this verse is that Paul says, “… do not submit..” This implies that we have the active choice. Christ has set us free, for freedom. We are free. We, as free people (consciously or subconsciously) put ourselves under the yoke of slavery. That is not from God. Me trying to control everything is slavery to my own limitations. I cannot, but He who is in me can!

Motivation to Check My Motives

I read a really great devotional (Yes, it was Tiegreen’s!) that addressed something I’d been struggling with all summer. I have a tendency to forget about building the kingdom of God. I get into this mode of either just doing things thoughtlessly or intentionally doing certain things to make me look better. This summer God really showed me that there is no room for me to be building my own kingdom. I am here solely to worship Him and build His kingdom. Psalm 16:2 says,

All a man’s ways are innocent to him, but motives are weighted by the LORD.

I am trying to really weigh what my motives are behind the things I do. Keeping in this in check is such a hard thing for me. Hopefully, I can continue to do things for the glory of the LORD and not to be building my own kingdom. I feel like doing this parallels dying to self. If I’m not daily dying to myself then my selfish ambitions are going to come through. I’m sinful. I’m fallen, but He restores my soul for His name’s sake. Not mine.

Mercy and God’s Faithfulness

My devotionals blew my mind this morning! The Tiegreen devotional I mentioned two posts ago made me think about how little I really understand God’s mercy. I think I’ve come to expect His mercy instead of realizing that I don’t deserve it. I deserve condemnation, but God, so lovingly and so freely, gives us mercy. Often times, I find myself holding onto that mercy instead of extending it to others.

Having been abundantly blessed with God’s mercy-the unmerited grace and forgiveness we’ve received for our rebellion against the Most High-do we stand in judgement of others?- Tiegreen.

This is me. I fail to extend the same grace that has been so sacrificially given to me. As hard as it is to see my sin, it is humbling to know I’m not perfect. And this summer I’ve both hated and thoroughly enjoyed being humbled! As much of a pain as it is, God is able to work wonders in the meek and humble.

For the other part of my quiet time I go through a Psalm and one chapter of another book (right now it’s Ecclesiastes). It was so funny how God orchestrates how often the Psalm study and Tiegreen’s devotional to correspond with one another.

My favorite verse of Psalm 40 was verse 11,

As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!

Mercy again! 🙂 I wonder sometimes if I miss what God has to say to me. Today is one of those days where I know I’m in tune with Him. And that’s awesome because what God has to say is awesome!

Mercy is extended from God. He alone saves. He is faithful to do what He’s promised because of His steadfast love for us. God’s steadfast love for us is the reason why Jesus was sent. And that is a beautiful thing.

Caitlyn, Jasmine and I had plans to go to the water hole today, but it was raining so instead we watched Monsters, Inc. Slightly childish I know, but there was something super sweet about all of us cuddling up on the couch in our pj’s to watch a Disney movie. After the movie, we went to Aretha Frankenstein’s. That’s seriously one of the most amazing breakfast places to eat. They specialize in freakishly large pancakes. 🙂 If you’re ever in the ‘Noog you should eat there! After Aretha’s we went to The Knitting Mill.

Here’s some pictures from today. Enjoy them!

Scary much?
too excited!