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Burning the Fields

Do you ever feel like you’re getting burned by God? Not in a literal sense but that He is letting you walk through the intense heat and flame of trial in order to refine you? I do! Times of refining build our character, make us more like Jesus and teach us how to depend on Him. Times of refining activate our faith because we have to trust God in the midst of painful circumstances. Often we need to spend more time seeking Him just in order to “survive” the refining.

The Refining Time
Every year after harvest farmers must clean away the left over debris from their fields to prepare them for planting. Many farmers set fire to their fields in order to burn the debris. One agriculture website says: “Fire is used to minimize pests and weeds, to remove residue after harvest, and to prepare the field for the next growing season. When used as a management tool for growing certain crops…it rejuvenates the plant and helps it grow healthy and strong.”

Makes me think of these verses on how God refines us:

For You, O God, have tested us;
You have refined us as silver is refined…We went through fire and through water;
But You brought us out to rich fulfillment. Psalm 66:10, 12

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more.” John 15:1-3

When God is bringing the refining fires into our lives we can trust God to:

+Make the fire just hot enough to burn up the internal debris but not too hot that it will consume us.

+Bring us out on the other side into a stronger and healthier place, prepared for the next season.

Blog title comes from a song of the same name by musician Mitch McVicker.

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Are You Filling Up On Junk?

Every now and then I buy a bag of real potato chips. Since it’s an occasional treat I find that it’s easy for me to overindulge. The other morning before breakfast I thought, Mmm there are potato chips in the pantry! I’ll just eat a few to begin the day. I ate way too many felt full; so much so that when I made my standard healthy oatmeal I didn’t even want it. I had to force myself to eat it because I knew it was healthy, but since I had already filled up on junk food there wasn’t as much room in my stomach for the healthy food.

If we’re not disciplined it’s easy to do the same thing when it comes to spiritual matters, isn’t it? When I get up in the morning the first thing I want to do is turn on the news. I love current events and like to keep up to date. I’ll just watch the headlines, I think to myself, then I’ll turn off the TV and read the Bible and pray. If I’m not careful, some days “the headlines” turns into several hours of mindless TV, then I have to run off to my commitments, then I get home late and need to make dinner and if I get around to it I’ll read a chapter in the Bible before I go to bed, thinking, tomorrow I’ll spend more time with God. Uh…not if I turn the TV on first thing…

Giving God Our Left Overs
There are lots of days that I spend lots of time with God and choose Him first before anything else; worshiping, praying, listening, reading, seeking Him. Time with God isn’t just a box to check off my ‘to do’ list. He refreshes and renews me; encourages me and gives me insight….LIFE….when I am in that focused time with Him. I need it to thrive. And it’s a choice. But there are also days when I make the decision to put other things first; things that aren’t nearly as important; things that can wait. I fill up on the “junk food” and if God’s “lucky” I give Him my little bit of left over time late in the day.

When I start my day with God, I find that I feel more at peace and full of joy throughout the day. Tasks are easier to complete with a good outlook. When I start my day with junk and give God the left overs, my outlook and attitude are often junk, too.

What Do You Meditate On?
What are we listening to, thinking about, talking about, watching, reading, and spending our time doing? Are they things that honor God and help us toward honoring others?

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

It matters what we are putting into our minds because it goes into us and ends up in our hearts. And then that comes back out of our mouths, for better or worse.

“What you say flows from what is in your heart.” Luke 6:45 NLT

 

So…
When we fill up on everything else but God why do we expect to be full of God? Do we assume the fruit of the Spirit will easily flow out of us when we are filling up on life-taking things rather than the Life-Giver? This week join me being intentional about filling up with God, not with junk. I think we’ll be surprised how much better we feel and how much more the intake of godly things produces a greater outflow of the Spirit through us!

 

 

 

 

 

Are You A Disciple Or A Spectator?

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Have you ever climbed to the top of a steep mountain or hill? It can be tiring and daunting with potential hazards along the way. It takes time and it also takes a commitment to not only start the climb but to keep climbing all the way to the top, even when it’s difficult. At times our faith journey can feel like a long, steep upward climb, can’t it? But we can trust that if we’re following Jesus up the mountain, He will bring refreshing and that something beautiful will result from the difficulty of the climb.

Something like this happened in Matthew 5:1-2: “When Jesus saw His ministry drawing huge crowds, He climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to Him, the committed, climbed with Him. Arriving at a quiet place, He sat down and taught His climbing companions.” 

Crowds Don’t Always Mean Commitment
Jesus was aware that His ministry was drawing large crowds. The people had heard that this Jesus from Nazareth healed sick people, cast out demons, spoke with authority, and a large number of the people wanted to see this “show”. Most probably wouldn’t and didn’t want to make a radical commitment. They just wanted to hang around. Others were there in desperation to seek out healing and deliverance from Jesus—they wanted something from Him and then would return to their normal life. A smaller amount of people were there who were genuinely committed to being Jesus’ disciples, or apprentices. They were in it for the long haul.

Before He delivered one of His most talked about teachings to this day, I think Jesus wanted to see who was really with Him. He probably knew only the truly spiritually hungry would follow Him anywhere, even up a hill. The others—the less devoted—would just wait around for Him at the bottom. Wait for “the show” to resume when Jesus came back down. Those who were committed climbed with Him.

Worth the Climb
When you make a decision to go the distance with Jesus, to follow Him through the obstacles, rough patches, continue even when it’s a difficult climb, He brings you to a place where you can sit down and rest with Him and hear Him tell you something only the faithful followers got to hear. I think Jesus also wanted to get above the noise of the crowd, to a quieter place where the people who genuinely wanted to hear Him could do so without the distraction of the non-committed stragglers.The revelation from Jesus’ mouth and the time spent resting with Him was worth the momentary hardship of the climb. 

So…
Are you the committed disciple of Jesus, the spectator who wants to see a show, or somewhere in between? Are you willing to go the distance to get to that quiet place with Jesus, where you can more easily hear His voice above the din of the jostling crowd? I encourage you this week to take time to “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at Me, your High God….above everything.” (Psalm 46:10). And if you’re in the middle of a difficult stretch of the mountain…just keep going! One foot in front of the other, trusting that God will meet you there with the wisdom and refreshing only He can give.

Help! I’m an Introvert with Extroverted Spiritual Gifts

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Hi, my name is Rayni and I’m an introvert.

I used to attend Introverts Anonymous, but usually no one would show up and if they did they didn’t want to talk. (Okay, that was joke). But being introverted is a serious business that many people don’t understand. In college I lived in a dorm on the top floor. Many mornings I chose to walk down the seven flights of stairs just so I didn’t have to say hello to anyone in the elevator. Today, if I see you in the grocery store and you haven’t seen me first, I will most likely immediately turn and walk in the opposite direction with great gusto so I don’t have to talk to you; even though I may like you.

What I’ve just shared probably sounds a bit odd or even mentally ill to all of those bustling extroverts out there. But I know the introverts are tracking with me. So, what is an introvert to do when God has clearly given you spiritual gifts that require interacting with people? You know, those “pesky” gifts like teaching, counseling and leadership that require you to be in front of or with people rather than behind the scenes?

Take Short Trips Out of Your Comfort Zone
After college I worked for two years at a church as a Campus Pastor. Looking back it is my favorite job I’ve had but at the time it was a bit overwhelming as an introvert. I regularly interacted with college students, led services and preached sermons when the pastor was away; and mentored, counseled, and prayed with students. It was a great growth experience but I found that I was continually living outside of my comfort zone with all of this “other people required” interaction.

I’ve learned that it’s a good thing to sometimes step outside your comfort zone, especially when God is leading you to.That’s where you grow. But if you constantly live outside your comfort zone its easy to go into survival mode rather than abundant life mode. Learning how to have healthy boundaries in this area will help you to live fully in the gifts God has given you.

Fill Up on God’s Strength
It’s no joke that God is full of limitless strength (Psalm 147:5) and that He wants to partner with us in using the gifts He created in us. God is glorified when we are authentically who He created us to be. I continually rely on God’s grace and strength to help me step through any fear associated with using my gifts. I invite God into the situation, ask Him for wisdom, guidance and help. He always comes through. He’s reliable like that. And it’s for His glory anyway. So, don’t be afraid to step out with God to use your gifts even if you’re feeling weak. God’s not weak. And I seem to remember some guy named Paul talking about how God’s grace is sufficient in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

It Is What You Make It
If I let myself get psyched out about walking up to someone new at church and striking up a conversation, I will probably make a last minute turn into the restroom to avoid them. But if I just relax, don’t think about it too much and simply say hello, more times than not it turns out just fine. In my heart I want to reach out and be welcoming. Sometimes I let my introvert tendencies get in the way, and often I reach out anyway.

I am always glad when I get past my issues and do the things God has placed in my heart to do. You can talk yourself out of doing something good or you can just step out and do the thing. It is what you make it. That goes with walking in the other extroverted gifts God has given me as well. As soon as I surrender it to God, and take that first step through the fear, my heart comes alive with doing what God created me to do. There is much joy in that. And there is much triumph in trusting God enough to make that first step.

Jesus is Coming and He’s Bringing the Bean Dip

Several years ago I was browsing through a store in Southern California where I saw a ceramic chips and dip bowl with the following phrase painted on the side:

“Jesus is Coming and He’s Bringing the Bean Dip”

I was horrified.

It seemed irreverent and mocking toward the second coming of Jesus. However, time has passed and these days if I saw that bowl again I would buy it. Let me tell you why.

Jesus is Holy But He’s Also Fun
The Bible tells us that Jesus was fully God and fully human on earth. The fully human part means He experienced, well…..being human. He got hungry, tired, filled with joy, mad, tempted….basically He experienced the things we experience in all of our humanity but unlike us He didn’t ever sin. Reading through the New Testament I see all of those facets of Jesus’ personality, and more. He’s holy. He the Savior. He’s the King of heaven and earth. Everything created was made through Him. Glory, honor and reverence are due Him. But there’s one more thing. Based on what I read in the Bible and my experience of God, I think that…

Jesus is also FUN! (…gasp…)

The Gospels record many of Jesus’ miracles but they also give us a glimpse into His friendships. Jesus welcomed those who came to see Him and He lived life with them. The day-in and day-out kind of life that gets messy sometimes but is also filled with fun and joy. He spent a lot of time around the dinner table eating, drinking and sharing life with His friends. Much of that time included being with people who the self-righteous Pharisees thought were unworthy and unsavory–people like lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors. These “unsavories” were people who needed a Savior. They were people like you and me.

Do you think these dinner parties were filled with a somber-faced Jesus spouting a bunch of “thees” and “thous”? I don’t. As a friend once said, you know there had to be times when Jesus and the disciples were eating dinner and they laughed so hard that someone had wine shoot out of their nose. Because that’s what happens when friends are together. They have fun. Remember…God created friendship, joy and laughter in the first place.

Am I being irreverent? I don’t think so. I think Jesus really was that real, fun and likable.

Love, Love and More Love
Now, Jesus didn’t spend time with people just to have fun, although that’s an important part of life. Jesus had a purpose—to love people and transform their lives. He was not legalistic like the Pharisees but He did speak the truth and call people to turn from their sin and live a holy life. Jesus was straightforward in getting to the heart of the matter and yet sinners were so drawn to Him. This shows me that He was also so kind and full of genuine grace and love that it made people want to change. That is really something! That’s how we should be.

When we wear our righteousness on our sleeve, critically pass judgement and try to stuff our view points down people’s throats, love tends to get lost in translation. Jesus, on the other hand, was so full of grace, so full of love and care for the regular people He came in contact with. He was so willing to meet them exactly where they were and share His life with them….and guess what happened? When He spoke the truth to them, they actually felt loved, felt accepted and were moved to become the people God created them to be in the first place.

Christians Should Be the Most Fun People You Know
Everyone has their own definition of fun, and there are clearly worldly things some people think are fun that God calls sin. Having said that, I really do think that Christians would do well to take a page out of Jesus’ book and lighten up a little. We are graciously redeemed by God and are supposed to be filled with overflowing peace, joy and love. We should be laughing the loudest and enjoying life the most out of everyone we know. Shouldn’t we? When we are truly living out the abundant life that Jesus says He came to give us (John 10:10), it’s attractive to others and draws them to Jesus.

As For the Bean Dip…
In certain circles I happen to be known for my seven-layer bean dip. I know…what a great thing to be known for. It has always been a party favorite and highly requested. Most people love a party, because it’s fun to spend time with friends and to celebrate. And most people like a fabulous bean dip. That’s why I’m confident that if Jesus was still living in human form on earth today, as His holy and fun self, He would totally be coming to my party and He would definitely be bringing the bean dip.

(Note: Tom Edwards is the man who makes the dip bowl pictured above. For the record, he says the phrase “Jesus is Coming and He’s Bringing the Bean Dip” isn’t meant to be offensive. In fact, he says he felt relieved after it made a group of nuns giggle at an art show.)

Five Marriage Lessons From A Newlywed

I’ve been married just shy of two years and I’m about to offer you some marriage advice. I can almost guess what you might be thinking….Well, that’s sweet but what does a newlywed who is supposed to be perpetually lost on a puffy white cloud of wedded bliss truly know about being married anyway? While I will surely learn much more, a few things have clarified in my short time as a wife. Whether you have been married for two weeks or 40 years, these lessons relate to every relationship. So, please indulge this silly newlywed for a moment while I share five important lessons I have learned so far from marriage.

Lesson One: Be Willing To Get Counsel
Marriage counseling can be so important to the health of a marriage. Whether you had pre-marriage counseling or not it’s essential for both spouses to willingly acknowledge problems as they arise and to learn to work through them in a healthy way. Sometimes that means taking time to meet with a godly and trusted counselor to help you work it through. It does not mean “complain about your marriage to all your girlfriends and get their two cents.” Godly counsel will help you grow to be more like Jesus and will help you apply and live out biblical wisdom in your marriage.

Lesson Two: Learn to Communicate Well
Men are often given a hard time about being poor communicators. But the same can be true of women. We may talk more but it’s not always in a constructive manner! I am blessed that my husband is open to communicating and working through issues in a mature way. When we have a disagreement we don’t scream at each other and throw things. Rather, we talk about it and work through it together as a team. I’m open to him speaking into my life, and the same is true of him. Even if you or your spouse aren’t the best communicators, you can learn to communicate well. The first steps to learning are humbling yourself and admitting that there is room to grow in this area.

Lesson Three: Choose Respect
Because of God’s grace in helping me to become more emotionally healthy before I got married, I am able to show genuine respect to my husband. He also shows respect to me by listening to and valuing my opinions. When we are mad at each other or feeling emotionally hurt, we give the other some space and then talk it through. Many years ago my normal anger default would be to yell and say something mean-spirited. But even when I am tempted to do that now, I hold my tongue. Why? Because my husband never yells or says mean things to me so I want to show him at least the same amount of respect that he shows me. If you want to show respect for your spouse, you have to grow up. Take name-calling and spiteful behavior out of the equation. Remember, respect is a choice.

Lesson Four: Serve Your Spouse
When both people in a marriage regularly look for ways to serve the other then each person’s needs are regularly met. You and your spouse both have genuine needs. Some of those needs only God can meet. Other needs are meant to be met by your spouse. If one person is consistently giving while all the other does is constantly take, making it a one-sided experience, trouble will arise. But if both of you are regularly giving and receiving, each will have what they need from the other to be content in the marriage.

Lesson Five: Always Put Your Spouse’s Best Foot Forward in Public (and in Private!)
It’s universally awkward to hear someone say something mean or embarrassing about their spouse in public, even if they are “joking”. Often their spouse is not present but sometimes they are standing right next to them. This can only bring harm to a marriage. Make it a point to be your spouse’s biggest cheerleader…to everyone! This extends to family life as well. Compliment your spouse in front of your kids, to your extended family, to your friends. When you are alone together regularly tell your spouse how special they are. This goes a long way in showing love and respect and in bolstering your relationship to withstand difficult times.

One Size Does Not Fit All
Everyone has their own marriage experience…mine may be quite different from yours. Before I was married a friend told me, “Marriage is hard. It’s mostly working through difficult issues and every now and then you get a moment of enjoyment, but most of the time it’s hard.” Contrast that with another friend who told me, “If you feel like you have to work at marriage then you’ve married the wrong person.”

Hmm….talk about conflicting advice! While each marriage is different, I believe putting into practice the five lessons I shared with you can make every marriage happier and healthier. If you are married and haven’t already been practicing these suggestions, make a decision to begin. Even if your spouse isn’t on board yet you can start by being intentional about doing your part in making your marriage a better environment.

I Want God More Than I Want His Gifts

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Yesterday I was talking with God and I told Him that I want Him more than I want to use the gifts He has given me. And I would like for that to be my desire for the rest of my life. I “want to want” God more than anything and everything He gives me.

I want Him.

Now, don’t misunderstand…I do want the spiritual gifts God has given me and I do want to continue to use them. God gave them for a reason: to bring glory to His name, to draw people to Himself and, amazingly, to give us a way to partner with Him in all of this. These gifts He has given us are good things to be used for good purposes. I whole-heartedly encourage you to use your gifts, like I wrote about in my last post.

But….

Sometimes our priorities can get out of whack, can’t they? Sometimes we desire to use our spiritual gifts more than we actually desire to know God or to spend time with Him. Maybe we are unconsciously working for God’s approval…when we already have it because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Perhaps we enjoy the attention we get from using the gifts. Or maybe we feel exempt from ministering to hurting individuals we meet on a daily basis because we use an “important gift” in a large group setting on Sundays. Whatever the case we need to return to the joys of walking with God in the cool of the garden. As one of my pastors asks, “Did you marry God for His money?” Did I marry God because I love Him and delight in Him or am I in this relationship because of the stuff He gives me?

In the midst of those questions, these sentences from Paul call out to me:

“God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what He has done, collecting a following for Him. And He didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center—Christ on the Cross—be trivialized into mere words.” (1 Corinthians 1:17, Message)

And then this verse dropped into my heart:

“My question: What are God-worshipers like? Your answer: Arrows aimed at God’s bull’s-eye.” (Psalm 25:12, Message)

All of this confirms to me that God heard my genuine heart’s cry of wanting Him more than gifts or status or fame or stuff. He alone is worthy of my praise.

“God-friendship is for God-worshipers; They are the ones he confides in.”
(Psalm 25:14, Message)

So…If you are a God-worshiper, you are aimed at God’s bulls-eye (which I take to mean the center of His will and purpose). Also, if you are a God-worshipper, you are a friend of God and He wants to confide in you.

Isn’t that brilliant!? God is awesome in the true sense of the word!

This week as we lead up to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, our Messiah, let’s take some time to evaluate our heart and our priorities. Have we turned away from our True Love? If so, just turn back to Him…He is lovingly waiting.