Saturday, October 25, 2008

Family Worship

We mentioned in our last newsletter that we would be doing a blog entry on Family Worship. A friend was telling us recently of a pastor that was interviewing for a position at a church. The Senior Pastor asked him if he was in a regular routine of leading his family in daily worship. His thought was the same as mine. When I think of worship, I typically think of singing. But that is not what the pastor meant.

Recently Dave and I listened to a Familylife radio broadcast that featured a pastor named Voddie Baucham. He talked about the importance of fathers being the Prophets, Priests, Providers, and Protectors in their home, and the responsibility of fathers to disciple their families - not the churches responsibility, but fathers. There will be situations where the father , for reason, is absent (whether in body or in spirit), and in that case it would be the mom. The point of this post is to encourage families that the responsibility of discipling our children comes from home, and we should not leave it up to others (i.e. the church)to do.

We listened to the program on a CD in the car while we were traveling form NC to GA. Dave expressed his heart to me about the conviction he felt to lead his family in worship on a daily basis. He has taken this task very seriously. I will share some simple things we have done, but ultimately would love to hear from others what you have done. We would like to hear thoughts, ideas, what you do, or even some frustrations you may have had in this area. If you are like me, you need ideas. What you do will depend on the age of your children, so we would love to hear from families with children of all ages. Nothing is too much or too little. Some of us need to start out small, so please share.

The way we started out was just picking a topic, verse or book of the Bible to read through and discuss. (Voddie talks about the 3 points he uses - can't remember them exactly, but the gist is, read the verses, discuss what the verses mean, and then talk about how you are going to apply it). We have been going through the book of Philippians, and dissecting it verse by verse. We have a time of prayer, and sing a few worship songs, which we usually let the kids pick. One day, Dave just asked the boys if anyone had a particular verse they wanted to discuss, and Samuel said, "Yes, John 1:12", then proceeded to open his Bible up to the verse and read it out loud - then we all discussed it. Next week, we are going to take turns having the kids lead the worship time. I'm sure tears and frustration will be involved. : )

One thing we have been meaning to do for years (see, you're not the only one who procrastinates) : ) is the "Family Nights Tool Chest" that is put out by Focus on the Family. These family game nights are set up as a devotional/game night, that include hands on activities to help your children remember the lesson. I pulled the book out last week so I can prepare for a lesson. This is something we would like to do once a week, but if we can even do it once a month, I know it will make a big impact. One example is on the tongue and the power of your words. There is a whole lesson with Bible verses included, but the activity is this: have your kids squeeze an entire tube of toothpaste onto a paper plate. Once it is all out, tell them to now put it ALL back in. of course they will tell you that is impossible. In which you would reply, "Yes, and it is the same with our words. Once they leave your mouth, you cannot take them back."

Another good resource that is simple but will have great long term rewards (especially for kids 12 and under), is a book called "Big Truths for Little Kids", by Susan and Richie Hunt. This book has great stories, and goes through the catechisms. A catechism is a set of questions and answers learned or memorized to teach a body of information. This book uses questions, answers, stories, scripture and prayer to help you communicate the character of God. It is fun for us as well, because we learn them too. I tested a friend on some basic questions and she failed. She felt the need to get the book herself to learn the right answers. : )

Click HERE to access audio or written transcript of Voddie Baucham's program.

We just ordered Voddie's book, that talks more about raising our kids is this culture we live in today. It is called "Family Driven Faith".

Our family has so much to learn, and having these times of worship with our boys is bringing out some of those things. We have had a great opportunity to hit some serious heart issues, and talk to our boys about the responsibility we have as believers in Christ, to prepare our hearts for God to do the work that only He can do. Some hard truths have come out, and it has given each of us an opportunity to examine ourselves, to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5), and talk about the Cost of being a disciple of Christ (Luke 14;26-33).

We look forward to hearing from you...

Praying the Lord will bless every effort you put forth to bring Him the glory and honor He is so worthy of...

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Journey Continues

I wish we had been better at keeping our blog updated. I have many things written in my journal, and we have shared snippets of things we have learned between the blog and our monthly newsletters (available on our website), but unfortunately we have not tracked enough. Dave & I have experienced some things spiritually over the past year that have pretty much rocked our world. We have seen God in a way we never have, and we have truly been challenged in what it means to live the Christian life - the crucified life. frankly, it is quite scary. Scary because I know our eyes have been opened to see the truth of God's Word, and am afraid for so many that have never been shown the Word of God for what it really is. I am ashamed to say that for many years I thought I was
OK spiritually because unfortunately I compared myself to those around me and thought I was just like every other Christian I know.

I am grateful that the Lord brought circumstances in my life that I truly could not handle in my own power and caused me to seek Him out of desperation for His power just to make it through with some kind of success, lest I look foolish for screwing it all up. I am afraid my motives were not always so pure and I did not even see it.

About 2 1/2 years ago, I wrote an e-mail that I placed in my journal because it had great significance of the realization of where I was at spiritually. I recognized for the first time in my life that I was not living the Spirit filled life that I read about in the Bible. The Bible says "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you", and I felt I was very far from that power. I did not believe it was anything mystical, nor did I feel that i would go around healing people or speaking in tongues like they did at Pentecost. I wasn't really looking for anything magical, but I knew I was missing something. In fact, something that concerned me was when I would talk to others about it, they would engage me funny and not seem to know what I meant. they would ask questions like why I didn't feel I WAS walking in the Spirit, yet when I asked them if they felt they were, the answer was typically, no. That kind of bothered me especially coming from people I looked up to spiritually, people that are leading in our church. I wasn't looking to judge ANYONE, yet when I looked at others, I felt they didn't really have what I was missing either. I wasn't even quite sure WHAT it was supposed to look like, but there was a great gnawing in my heart, and today it is evident that God was piercing me. He had so much to empty me of and to teach me, and I was so blind - so prideful. I will never say I am not blind. As I was learning of my spiritual blindness, the Lord began to open my eyes to see like I never saw before. I began to read scripture in a new way - a way that is so real and alive. As I read all the verses in the New Testament about blindness, i saw the
correlation between the physical and the Spiritual. In John 9:35-41, I saw that I was much like the Pharisees. And unfortunately as I talk with others around me, people are not quick to admit that they are blind (spiritually). Here are the verses.

35Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"

36"Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him."

37Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you."

38Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.

39Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."

40Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?"

41Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

So many think they are on the right track as I did. I was so much like a Pharisee in many ways. As I began to really study the Word, it became a mirror to me - seeing myself in light of who God is, and what HIS standards are, as opposed to
comparing myself with others, and their standards. Now I read the Word and see how Holiness is what God requires, and His Word says, "without holiness, no one will see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14)- that is a sobering thought.

Over this past year, many challenges have been brought our way, and we came kicking and
screaming through some of it - especially when it came to protecting my rights against being hurt and rejected. I am such a people pleaser and I want so much (too much) for others to be pleased with me. I do not handle rejection very well, and much of that has come my way over the past 15 months - more than I can handle at times. As I cried out to God many times, He challenged me on those rights and made it very clear to me that I did not have any. I remember one day sitting in our school room and crying in prayer about how hurt I was over a situation and God gently showed me how I was making it about me. I questioned Him and asked if I had the right to be upset over how I was treated. His answer was very gentle yet very firm - "No, you do NOT have any rights. the day you gave your life to me, you gave up those rights". I have to say that I did not repent right then and turn from my wicked ways. I battled for some time (and am still struggling with this reality). But God showed me something that day that was new to me - something I think that is new to many. And I say that because EVERY person I have shared that story with (and it has been many), have all had the same response, "Well, you do have the right to be upset". I know, it sounds good, but it is not the life that Jesus lived - not the crucified life where we are told that in order to be Christ's disciples we must "Deny ourselves daily, take up our cross and follow Him". (Luke 9:23). I wanted so much to hold onto these rights, but frankly the hurt came so often that i was tired of being hurt. I came to realize the attacks were not going to stop, and in fact it may get worse. the only thing to do was to deny myself, deny my rights, so I can have freedom FROM the hurt. taking up our cross daily means to crucify the flesh daily, and that includes crucifying our rights - especially seeing the example Jesus gave as He held onto to NONE of His rights and He is the ONLY one that deserves to keep them.

I heard a great quote once that my friend shared with me years ago, and today I see it as reality in my life. It goes something
like this:

inoculate me from the praise of man, He baptized me in the criticism of man, until I was no longer under the control of man."

This quote means so much to me now, and I am beginning to feel that freedom. It still hurts, but I no longer try to protect those rights. I know they do not belong to me.

One thing God has revealed to both Dave and me - and my husband has taught me a lot in this area, is that everything, EVERYTHING that we do, every circumstance that comes our way is for the purpose of bringing glory to God. The attitude in which we have in our hearts toward God and toward others during the most trying of times truly tells of our character and relationship with Christ - a reflection of where we are on our path towards holiness. God has convicted me many times of the condition of my heart, even though outwardly I went through the right motions. He has shown me how my righteous acts are like filthy rags to Him, and ANYTHING I do in my OWN power cannot bring Him glory. Then how CAN I bring Him glory, as it seems I do so much in my own power? This is what we have been learning this past year - to surrender our hearts fully, wholly to Christ, so He (and only He can) change our heart, so the power of the Spirit can flow and do what only He can do. What my hearts feel is a good tester of how much of "me" is still in there.

This journey we continue to travel comes with much hardship, but we rejoice in the fact that the Bible assures us that every believer will face hardship. Because of the desire to bring glory to God, we are challenged to embrace these difficult times with fresh hearts and healed eyes. Of course we continue to submit to our flesh more times that we want to, but when we put our heads on the pillow at night - even through tears at times - we truly thank God for the circumstances that He continues to bring our way that are refining our hearts to shape them into the image of Christ.

We have more trials to face, ones we see and ones we don't see. The next challenge in our journey that we face is Dave stepping down from his current job, in order to start raising support full time. this is a HUGE (somewhat scary) step for us to take, as we will have to finish our support before a certain time, where as before we were not under that pressure.

This change will take place within the next couple of weeks, and we will take some time to visit with family and take the kids on a much needed short vacation before we head up to NY to raise support there. there is no telling of what that will look like, but we are trusting the Lord to continue to guide us every step of the way. He has provided a place for us to stay already and we are so grateful for that. it will be small and our family will become very intimate (or perhaps enemies) : ) The Lord's continued provision for us has been unbelievable. And I say unbelievable, because we have never trusted Him in this way before because we have typically made our own plans of how we do things. Trusting God in a radical way can bring much fear as you are no longer in control, and now we do things HIS way. I don't know why we ever doubted that He would provide this way, but it was perhaps because we weren't willing to have what HE wanted us to have as opposed to what WE wanted us to have.

Since the selling of our house and getting rid of so much stuff, we realized how much we have accumulated our own desires and then expected God to provide for them. Dave continues to tell people that we are "Happily Homeless." We laugh because in part that is true - we do feel very free, but on the other hand, we do look forward to settling into our own place and getting back into a normal routine. We will try to make the next couple of months a fun adventure for the boys and we trust that this time will be a great Spiritual marker for all of us, as we continue to be stretched along the way.

By His grace, and for His glory.....

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just some updates

Wow! I just realized I have not posted anything in 5 months! It's a good thing Dave has done a couple - I have been slacking! We are in the midst of packing and boxes everywhere. We have moved several times before but we have to be very strategic in our packing this time. We have to pack with the idea that we may not see some of this stuff for a long time. I have also noticed how attached I can be to things. I didn't realize it until it was time to part with it. Even after the 2 van fulls of boxes we sent to my neighbor's for a yard sale, I still feel like we have too much stuff - and we probably do.

Well, our closing is scheduled for Monday (as of today. It seems to change frequently ) :) - so our plan is to move out on Saturday and clean for the new family on Sunday. David spent the past 2 nights at his friend's house and he came home this morning before breakfast. He looked in the pantry (that has about 4 items left in it) and said, "Mom, can you make muffins?" I said no because I packed all my pans. Then he opened the freezer and said, "Can I have waffles?" And I said no, because I packed the toaster. So I told him to have cereal. Then he opened the cabinet to get a bowl and, well, you guessed it, I packed the BOWLS! OK, so I wasn't totally thinking, but I have my ways. I found a container of cool whip in the refrigerator and cleaned it out for him. : ) David's imediate response was, "Arkansas is ruining my life" : ( It was pretty sad that he said that, just because his breakfast plans were not as usual, but with David, and his typical srtuggle with anxiety, this is something that would normally put him over the edge. he handled it pretty well, but it gave me a glimpse of how the next few months may go for him. He has come a long way in a year! We talked about it for alittle bit and he has a pretty good perspective of what's to come, I think he's just tired of the interum - aren't we all?

There are still so many lessons to be learned along the way - and life seems to throw us some curve balls, but nothing happens that God doesn't allow to happen and we are being challenged more than ever to be sure we bring Him glory in all things. When things do not go our way, this is a great challenge not to think of ourselves, so we continue to confess our selfishness in this area and God continues to change our hearts.

Please pray for us over the next few months as it will be very outside the norm for our family, and we are trusting God to provide our needs and grow us more into the image of Christ every day.

To God be the glory in all things!

Psalm 115:1
Not to us, O LORD, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dave Strikes Again!

Wow, the world was so shocked to see a post from me, that the whole blog was silent for 3 months! I guess I'll have to post again!

Well, things have certainly been eventful! We have a buyer for our house, and we should be closing at/around the 15th of July. We will be staying with Christina's sister for a month or two, and, if all goes well, we will be heading up to New York in the Fall to try to finish up our support. Exciting times!

Support raising has still been a bit slow, but we are praying that we are turning a corner. We know that God has his perfect timing, and, unfortunately, it rarely lines up with ours. (Well actually, that's probably fortunate, because it will be much better in His time, than ours...) We are so thankful for those who have been faithfully supporting us over these last months, and are eternally grateful for those who go above and beyond to "go to bat" for us with people they know, or hold small group gatherings in their home with people that we would probably never have the opportunity to share with otherwise. THANK YOU!!

God has continued to bless in a myriad of ways. He is continually refining us and convicting us of our sin. We realize more and more as each day goes on how utterly unworthy we are to even be allowed to live, let alone live eternally in heaven with Christ. Our God is an Awesome God!

I will close with a sobering quote from Charles Spurgeon:

"Christ will be master of the heart, and sin must be mortified. If your life is unholy your heart is unchanged; you are an unsaved person. If the Saviour has not sanctified you, renewed you, given you a hatred of sin and a love of holiness, the grace which does not make a man better than others is a worthless counterfeit. Christ saves his people, not in their sins, but from them. 'Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.' 'Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.' If not saved from sin, how shall we hope to be counted among his people. Lord, save me even now from all evil, and enable me to honor my Saviour."

To God be the Glory!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Message From Dave...

I had to put that in the title, because anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that Christina is the one who does the posting. I have on several occasions wanted to put something up here, but work and other commitments have kept me from it until now.

I am more excited today in my Christian life than I have ever been!! At our church last Saturday, we had a conference called "Transformed", and I don't think I have ever been to a more aptly named event! It was put on by an organization called "The Way of the Master" and you can find a link to their website in our favorite links on the left. One of the speakers, Kirk Cameron, many of you will remember as "Mike Seaver" on the classic sit-com "Growing Pains".

For the most part this was an evangelism conference, and I was most definitely challenged to be more bold in sharing my faith, but even MORE so, I was challenged to live a HOLY life! I believe that the church in America today waters down the message about the horribleness of our sin, and emphasizes the message of God's love and forgiveness. Don't get me wrong, our God is infinitely loving, and His forgiveness knows no bounds, but we treat our sin as if it is no big deal. We continue on in sins that we consider "acceptable". We criticize the drug addict, while we stuff our faces during Holiday dinner. As if drugs were more sinful than gluttony. We explode in anger, justifying it with pithy little sayings like, "That's just how God made me", or "God's still working on me, it's a process, of course..." Well, yes, we are not going to be perfect overnight, or quite honestly, until the day we try on our glorified bodies. However, how long are we going to hang on to the same old sins? How long before we realize that we are offending to Creator of the Universe with our lame excuses? One of the conference speakers, is named Ray Comfort. In addition to speaking at the conference, Ray also preached the sermon on Sunday morning at our church. He gave the following illustration (I am paraphrasing, as I don't have a transcript): "A young boy lived in a house on a lake with his father. He asked his father one day if he could go fishing on the lake. His father told him that he didn't want him to take the boat out by himself on the lake, as there were many alligators in the lake, and he didn't think it was safe. The father told the boy, that if he wanted to fish from the dock, then that should be fine. The boy happily agreed, grabbed his pole and bait, and headed over to the dock. After fishing for a while, the boy got a little bored. He felt that it just wasn't as fun when you weren't out in the boat. He thought that it would be more exciting out in the boat, with the alligators swimming around him. Besides, he would be completely safe in the boat! So he got in the boat, and pushed off from the shore. He was having a great time. He was having fun fishing, and every so often, he would see one of the huge alligators swimming near him. Everything was great until one of the alligators swam too close to the boat, and his tail hit the side, capsizing it! The boy immediately panicked and screamed at the top of his lungs. The father, hearing the noise from the house, ran down to the lake, and without hesitation, leaped into the water, and pulled his son to safety. As the boy struggled to calm himself down, he noticed something alarming... His father's legs were a mangled mess! An alligator had clamped down on his legs while he was pulling his son to safety. Blood was everywhere. Now, how would you feel toward this young lad, if he then stood up and said..."Look, Dad, I really appreciate you pulling me out. That was pretty scary! But it WAS really fun out on the lake, and the alligators WERE exciting to see up close. If you don't mind, I'm going to head back out in the boat. See you later!

You would say that this kid has no appreciation, or understanding of his father's sacrifice. He might as well have ground his father's blood into the dirt.

Guess what... That is EXACTLY what we do, when we knowingly continue to sin after accepting Christ. It IS a process, but the process should be more of God revealing new sin to us over time, not taking years to give up the one's we know about!! For my entire Christian life, I felt sorry for my sin because I knew that I shouldn't do it, but I never fully realized what I am saying to God every time that I sin. I am saying that his sacrifice doesn't mean much to me.

James 4:7-10 (NLT) says: "So humble yourselves before God, Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up in honor."

My challenge is this: Let's hold each other accountable. Let's get rid of the logs in our eyes, so we can see clearly to help remove the specks from other's eyes. Let's take seriously Matthew 5:48, "But you are to be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect." Cast off the sin that so easily entangles, and race to get the PRIZE!!



Friday, February 29, 2008

Unless A Kernal of Wheat falls to the Ground and Dies...

My friend called me last week and asked me this question, "Christina, when in your life (or if ever) have you ever experienced the resurrection power of Jesus Christ?" My friend is always great for making me think. WOW! That was a deep question - one I had to really think about. The first verse that popped in my mind is the verse that talks about how the same power that raised Christ from the dead also lives in us. Have I known that power? My mind went in every direction over the past 2 years of how I have been on this journey of knowing that power. I wrote about it in my last post. I so desperately want to live in that power, to live knowing it is not my strength but God's. In my Spirit I knew there was so much more, and I prayed, and dug into the Word and listened to the Lord's voice as He led me through (often times not as quickly as I wanted to go).

The very next verse that came to mind was :

John 12:24
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

I cannot even explain the process of how God worked in my heart, but in about 15 minutes I began to journal the whole process over the course of 2 years of what God was up to in all the difficulties that we have gone through - and the difficulties have lasted much longer, but my desperateness to experience the power of the Spirit to overcome the difficulties was more in the past 2 years. As I thought about that verse, it was so clear to me what God had been doing. I knew all along that it was for a purpose, and I knew I needed to surrender my rights, my frustrations, everything.....But I wasn't sure how. The process TAUGHT us how. I cannot explain it any other way. I couldn't have chosen it to be different. I had to learn it. Dave & I both had to learn it.

This verse is explained so perfectly in a book that was recently given to us, called Brokenness, by Lon Solomon. He talks about the process of how God has to break us in order to use us - I mean FULLY use us. he quotes, "Our self-life and all of its out-workings - self-trust, self-reliance, self-wisdom, self-will - are the things that increase our resistance to the Holy Spirit's movement in and through our lives." Yes, this is what I want. Not just to tap into my own strength and be useful, but operate out of the power of the Holy Spirit because I have died to myself - my self-rights, my self-reliance, my self-will. I honestly don't know how anyone gets to that point without God breaking us. I could never choose to be so dependent on my own. That has always been my desire, but one day God just hit me with the truth that I was not, and I was powerless to be where He wanted me to be and I just desperately sought Him for the answers - often times wanting formulas. Another thing Lon Solomon talks about in his book is that God does not anoint programs, He anoints people. That really hit me too, because I'm always looking for formulas to make my situation better.

He goes on to explain the verse in John 12. "A kernel of wheat with its hard outer shell intact is useless. The wheat cannot sprout and grow. There is life on the inside, but it cannot be released. However, when the wheat's hard outer shell is broken and cracked open, then the life of the wheat can come out and grow and bear fruit and bring blessing to its world. The real issue is not whether there is life inside the kernel of wheat but whether the life that is inside can get out and make an impact on the world around it. And this depends on whether its hard outer shell has been broken. Jesus points to this truth of nature and declares that it is the secret to bringing forth 'many seeds' for God. So, Jesus says, a Christ follower is just like a kernel of wheat. When we give our lives to Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our innermost being. Just like the kernel of wheat, we have the Spiritual life inside of us. But every one of us still has that hard outer shell of our self-life. The result is that the life and power of the Spirit of God can't get out - it can't flow through us. Just like physical seeds, God must break the hard outer shell of every Christ-follower so that the life of God can pulsate through us freely and spill out onto the world around us."

One life he talks about is that of D.L.Moody. D.L.Moody was already in our eyes considered a great man of God before He was broken. It seemed He lived for Christ, but there were 2 older women that thought differently. They knew Moody was not living in the power of the Holy Spirit, and although he had a great love for God, most of what he did (they felt) was in his own strength. Oh that sounds so much like me. While Moody preached, they prayed. Moody did not get it - he thought their prayers should be directed towards the congregation and not him. But one day, the great fire of Chicago came and stripped Moody of everything. He found himself alone and devastated. but his spiritual hunger remained. Here, God brought Moody to the end of himself. Here, Moody suddenly saw how much of his work in Chicago had been propelled by his own energy, power, and drive. Here, Moody confessed that he had been like Moses in the early years of Moses' life. Here, quietly, Moody surrendered himself totally to God. Moody quotes, 'Before this, I was always tugging and carrying the water myself, Now I have a river that carries me!' " One thing that truly amazes me is that after this brokenness process happened for D.L.Moody he quotes, "I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different. I did not present any new truths and yet now thousands were converted...I would not now be placed back where I was before if you were to give me the world...It would be as the small dust of the balance." WOW! that strikes me hard as I am reminded that God does not anoint a formula but a person. I have often wondered why what I am doing is not working for me, even putting forth great effort. I am convinced now more than ever, to surrender my self to God. It is His plan, His agenda. The product of the process is so worth it!

There is so much more from this book I would like to quote, but if any of this is resonating with where you are at in your journey I highly recommend getting this book.

I pray that anyone who reads this blog, and is going through this brokenness process that you be encouraged! God's agenda is for us to be free, not feel the bondage we often do. So often we resist the things that God so wants to use to teach us - right down to the small stuff. It starts with the small stuff. If there is a circumstance in your life that you seem to run away from because it is too hard, maybe a relationship you avoid because it is too difficult, I would encourage you to pray hard before you make that choice. You may be missing out on living a Spirit filled life. So many choices I have had to make in my life were the more difficult choice, but I knew the product would be worth the process. And it so is! I have so far to go and I am excited to see what the Lord does next....

Galatians 6:9
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Somewhere in the Middle

Dave bought me the new Casting Crowns Cd for Christmas. It is awesome - they are my favorite! As I was in the van the other day (by myself which was unusual), I caught the chorus to one of the songs, called "somewhere in the Middle". It wasn't the first time I had heard the song, but for some reason the Chorus stuck out to me and I had to go back to the beginning to hear the whole thing again. The reason why this song was so awesome on that day was that it completely wrapped up all the thoughts I had been having over the past several weeks. What a battle my flesh and the Spirit within me were having.

I'll backtrack a little. In several of my posts, I talked about surrender. The Lord has had this word on my heart for probably a few years now. I knew that there were things I needed to surrender to Him, but wasn't quite sure how. (I am sorry, I can feel a long post already - but then again, do I really know any other way to do it) : ) I could LITERALLY feel the battle within. the Bible talks about this battle in
Ephesians 6:12

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

I felt this battle going on inside, and if you have never felt it, it is completely overwhelming. Your mind cannot rest. Your soul cannot know peace. Your heart cannot know joy. That frustrated me because if I do not feel rest, joy and peace, then there is something wrong in my Christian journey. The Lord promises only these things. He does not promise life to be easy but He promises peace and joy. I felt in bondage to something I could not figure out. I know the lord disciplines those He loves as He says in
Hebrews and I count it joy to know that I am one of His, that He loves me enough TO discipline me. I know all hardship is for a purpose, so I embrace hardship. I don't question God for the whys I just accept there is a reason. One particular area that I felt in bondage to was in my parenting. particularly with David, as there are still so many behavioral issues to work on. This has been an area of struggle for over 10 years. Yes he is getting better and I am getting better but there was still a missing ingredient I was not getting.

Back about 2 years ago, I e-mailed my sister who was living in Ecuador at the time. I shared my heart with her as to how I was feeling. I felt at that point in my life, I had known Spiritual growth, I had known God better than I had ever know Him. My desire to know Him and please Him was at a place it had never been all my life. yet there was something more. I knew the Lord was working in my life; I saw the places He was working and I felt His presence so many times. he gave me comfort during times no one else can, and spoke so clearly through His Word on so many occasions. Yet there was still something missing - I knew there was something missing. I shared with my sister how I knew what I was missing was the
Power of the Holy Spirit. I knew the Spirit lived within me, but I did not feel I was moving in the power of the Spirit. I felt so many things I was doing was in my own strength. As I type this, I am rejoicing over those tough times where I sat and cried, as it was because of those times that brought me to where I am today.

As I continued in the Word, to get to know God - the only thing I knew to do, I kept sensing the same thing from God. Over and over it came up. I know I have a post on this somewhere, but I kept hearing the Lord tell me to sow to the Spirit if I want to reap from the Spirit. While all along I would continue to question what I was doing wrong that resulted in the frustration that I felt in my heart over these issues I felt I had no control over. I wanted so badly to reap form the Spirit and did not know how to get there - how to surrender myself so the Spirit could work through me. I cannot tell you how many times in my quiet times in the mornings I just camped in Galatians. The one verse that jumped out at me every time was
Galatians 3:1-3

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

As I took this seriously and continued to sow to the Spirit (by prayer, reading the Word, and making choices that would invest in eternity as opposed to the world), I continued to ask myself the question (at times) "What am I doing wrong?" It wasn't everyday and it was oh, so subtle. It usually popped up in the area of parenting because, well, when you have a child with a disability of some sort, the problem doesn't seem to really fade that much on a day to day. You have good days and bad ones. You can even have more good ones than bad ones, which is how it was for so long. But that nagging in the heart that tells me on those bad days, my responses are only getting better because the circumstance is getting better. I learned not to be so angry, so I guess I looked at that as growth, but I still did not fell
free from the anger altogether. I wanted to be free. I wanted to enjoy homeschooling as opposed to just saying "This is what I am called to do, so I'll do it until God leads me elsewhere." I did not have joy in homeschooling. I wanted joy in homeschooling.

Over the past year, another struggle became very apparent to us and that was in the area of finances. We've had our struggles but we always pulled through. We had bad weeks and good weeks. The only debt we ever incurred was due to our own mistakes. It was never an issue of lack of provision on God's part. When we went through those periods of struggle we accepted that as the Lord's discipline and once again looked at "What we are doing wrong" and try to "Work on it". Well for the first time we have gone through a season where things did not seem to be "Working out". For awhile it was so easy to trust God, and simply say, "We'll catch up - God will provide". But the provision wasn't there. Week after week, we would not receive a paycheck. Week after week we would borrow from one bank to pay another. Shifted debt. Is this the Lord's plan? "What are we doing wrong?" The question would eventually come. We have known hardship so we don't get bent out of shape easily, but one year of struggling and going into debt was starting to get annoying.

About a month or so ago, as I was praying, I literally wept with joy as I realized for the very first time in my life I wanted to
know God more than I wanted something from Him. That was good - that was a good place to be. I felt I was learning a big lesson here. Almost a kind of "Surrender" I felt in my heart. That I didn't need to worry or control the money thing because God had bigger things for me to learn. Maybe I felt at that time the money would come. Maybe I learned the lesson God wanted to teach me. But I didn't. The money still did not come, and debt continued to incur. I kep thinking "Is this really God's will? I don't think God really wants us to be in debt. I think He wants to provide for us. So we MUST not be getting something here."

Last Friday morning I woke up at 5am (I normally go walking with my neighbor at 5:30, but chose not to that morning because we were going out of town that day and needed the rest for the long drive). I felt awake, so I thought I would go to the computer and see if we got a paycheck. We did, but it was $160.00. The week before was $4.24, the week before $100.00 and such has been the pattern for awhile, with a big check every once in a while. So that morning, I kind of had my own little meltdown. I was so frustrated with not being able to have money to pay our bills each week and shifting debt. I cried and prayed and cried some more. Finally I decided my anxiety was not very beneficial so I would stop thinking about it and go back to sleep. I did. When I woke up again I had a flood of thoughts and I felt the urgency to spend some time with the Lord and journal, but I did not have time. The boys needed to be home schooled, I needed to pack for our trip and leave our house by 1:30.

Our trip was just an overnight field trip with the boys to Sea World in Orlando, so we came back the next day. On the way home, I had an incident with David that really made me angry. I confessed my feelings to my friend who was in the car with me. I was even more frustrated with myself for the way I was feeling
towards David.

The next morning I asked Dave to take the boys to church so I could have some time alone to pray and journal. I knew the Lord had given me thoughts on that Friday morning and I knew I needed to meditate on them, but I honestly couldn't remember what they were. So I began with prayer, and then just started journaling asking the lord to reveal as I write, what He wanted me to know. I wrote
TWENTY SIX pages in my journal that morning. I don't journal often, and I never journal that much, but God had some things for me to see. As I wrote, the Lord reminded me of some things I had been reading in a book that Dave bought me for Christmas called "Dangerous Surrender" by Kay Warren. Just not to reiterate what I already wrote in our January newsletter,(If you don't receive our newsletter you can get it from our website on the side bar, "Cooke Family Website") the abbreviated version is that God convicted me of my legalistic view, that some how I can incur His blessings based on my performance. He reminded me that when I say things like "What am I doing wrong", the focus is still on myself and not on Him. Isn't that what I learned from the verses in Galatians? But I didn't think I can earn my salvation, but my actions were proving that I thought I could earn His blessings.

What God wanted was my heart. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had taken up my cross, and I had followed Christ, but I had not denied myself, in many areas. Even the motives of my heart were exposed. So much of what I do is wrapped up in what others think and I didn't even realize it. I allowed myself to be burdened by others thoughts, ideas and opinions without even being aware of it. When someone would give their opinion of someone else's parenting, blaming the parents for there children's behaviors, I would feel more pressure. The problem with me is this is how my flesh thinks. So as the Spirit began to work and steer me away from this thinking, I could go right back to it with one simple comment from someone else. I knew it was not right, but then you get with people you respect, and they feel the same way my flesh does and I pick those thoughts back up again. I felt I was on the verge of surrendering this area for some time, but was afraid that I would appear to be not doing my part somehow. What would others think?

This Friday morning, for the first time in my life, I felt I surrendered these areas to the Lord in the only way I knew how. My first commitment was to deny myself, second was to take up my cross (to embrace my circumstances, not just accept them) and follow Jesus. My prayer was, "Lord that is all I have to offer you and I pray it is an acceptable sacrifice." I actually even wrote in my journal that I was not fully convinced that what I was doing was right, but I knew since these thoughts kept coming up, that I must try this route. The other way was not working for me, so I will give it up, and knew if I was not on the right path, that the Lord would steer me back on course.

So as I am driving in my car the other day, I hear the chorus to this Casting Crowns song, and it hits me again like a ton of bricks:

Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender without losing all control...

I went back to listen to the whole song again. It so summarized how I have been living my life.

Somewhere between the hot and the cold
Somewhere between the new and the old
Somewhere between who I am and who I used to be
Somewhere in the middle, You'll find me

Somewhere between the wrong and the right
Somewhere between the darkness and the light
Somewhere between who I was and who You're making me
Somewhere in the middle, You'll find me

Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender without losing all control

Fearless warriors in a picket fence, reckless abandon wrapped in common sense
Deep water faith in the shallow end and we are caught in the middle
With eyes wide open to the differences, the God we want and the God who is
But will we trade our dreams for His or are we caught in the middle
Are we caught in the middle

Somewhere between my heart and my hands
Somewhere between my faith and my plans
Somewhere between the safety of the boat and the crashing waves

Somewhere between a whisper and a roar
Somewhere between the altar and the door
Somewhere between contented peace and always wanting more
Somewhere in the middle You'll find me

Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender without losing all control

Lord, I feel You in this place and I know You're by my side
Loving me even on these nights when I'm caught in the middle

Wow! that is how I have lived my life. Somewhere in the middle. i always wanted to be sold out for the Lord. that is my hearts desire. But I was so caught up in a legalistic mindset. And if I wasn't fully convinced of my surrender last Sunday, I am today. Not only did this song confirm that "My efforts" were just a way to keep control, I went to a women's conference Fri. eve. & Sat. that confirmed everything so beautifully. I would love to write more on the conference, but I will save that for another post - I think this one is long enough.

In the past couple of journal entries I have written, I have mentioned how I can taste Freedom. Today I can honestly say, I
feel freedom. How can you feel freedom when you've lost all control? I fully admit I don't have a clue in so many areas, and I thought having the answers proved my maturity somehow. If not having answers makes me immature, then that is what I am. But I feel free. And I believe that is how God wants me to feel. I actually feel more energized to serve Him, and more equipped to serve Him, because now, I no longer rely on the resources that I have, but on what He does through me. This next verse will remain my motto for awhile.

Galatians 5:1
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Oh, Lord, I am overwhelmed by your grace. it is so hard for my sinful flesh to accept that you love me like you do, and expect no duty to perform any task to earn anything from you. What a gift. All you ask for is me. I give you all I've got. Do in me, what only you can do!

To the God of grace who is able to keep me from falling........

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Live Nativity

Since our website is not allowing us to add pictures for some reason, I am putting them on the blog for now. The following are pictures from the "Live Nativity" that our family did for Cornerstone Kitchens. (I couldn't figure out how to get the top picture below the others....but it's cute enough to be on top). That is my nephew Caden. He really wasn't supposed to be baby Jesus, but he just happened to fall asleep so we "placed him in the manger". : ) More pictures to come....