Saturday, August 20, 2011

Whose Self-Righteous? Not me... Why are you looking at me?

Last week at church Rod spoke over self-righteousness. Ouch. The week before, he spoke on forgiveness. Double ouch. The Lord gives us these tough lessons to sift us, break sin away from our lives, but ultimately to refine and bring us closer to Him. I have so much sin in my life... we all do... but I realized mine is more dangerous but it is covered up by "good qualities". My holiness can actually be what drives someone away from the Father. Of course, then it wouldn't be holiness. Let me start from the beginning...

We read the well known parable of "The Prodigal Son". In Luke 15:11-32 the story is presented by Jesus. This parable illustrates God's redemptive grace and mercy. It is a beautiful story of His unconditional love and forgiveness. It shows that God pursues and seeks sinners. If you don't know it here is a brief overview.

A man had two sons. Jesus tells about the youngest son coming to his father to ask for his inheritance ahead of time. The youngest son would only receive one-third of the father’s inheritance but he still wanted his share; this was showing the highest disrespect possible. He takes the inheritance and runs off to spend it "living it up" (the ESV refers to it as reckless living). After he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in the country. He was reduced to hiring himself to work in a pig pen. For a Jew, to tend to pigs was the height of humiliation since they were deemed unclean according to the Old Testament dietary laws. Even the pigs ate better than he did and he realized that his father's servants lived better than the conditions he was in. The young son was humbled beyond belief, and reached the end of his rope, and decided to return to his father's household and beg to be hired as a servant! In verse 20 it says "...and while he was still a long way off the father saw him, felt compassion for him, got up and RAN to his son and kissed him!" His father did not only except him, he ran to hug him and forgive him. Not only that but he called to his servants to bring the finest robe, a ring, sandals, kill the fattened calf and prepare a feast for his son that had returned to him!

Here comes the self-righteous part. The older brother heard the feast going on and asked a servant what the occasion was. The servant told him that his brother had returned and the feast was in honor of his safe arrival back. The brother was livid. He had stayed. He had obeyed. He had worked hard and continuous. The young brother was selfish. The young brother squandered their father's money and was disrespectful. The father comes out to invite the elder brother in and the brother unleashes his anger on the father. His father answers with tender violence (a way to scold yet love). He answers his oldest son, "Son, you were always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But it was fitting to celebrate and be glad at your brother's arrival. For your brother was dead and now is alive; he was lost and now he is found!"

This parable is a great illustration of our relationships with Jesus (the father). We are the sons. Some of us go out and have lived a crazy life. Some of us have lived according to the commandments and the laws. Whether we relate more to the younger son or the older son, this reminds us that the Lord pours out and lavishes this wayward son (and his brother) with grace and forgiveness. A misconception that everyone has is that we think that sin= breaking rules. However, it goes far beyond that. Good behavior may be the most damaging and damning thing a person can do. You see, the younger son can see that he isn't righteous and worthy before God. But the older brother is blinded by his "good deeds" so, in turn, he can't see the unrighteousness he posses and how his "good behavior" is as disgusting to God as his younger brother's "bad behavior".

We get in our heads, "I read my bible, I serve in church, I give monthly, I love, I do what I am suppose to... and THIS is what God has done for me." We need to get something through our heads real fast. We are always getting better than we deserve! Just because you do what you're suppose to doesn't mean you are holier than another person. Both of the sons cared more about themselves than God. One went into the far country and one's heart went into the far country. Even though outwardly the older brother seemed to have it together he didn't. The older brother didn't just need an attitude adjustment, he needed to be saved!

But there is good news. The Lord doesn't just run to the prodigals, he runs to the self-righteous as well. I realized that I am the big brother. It made me sick to think that I might have been the reason for some people being turned away from the Lord. However, the Lord loves me so much that He revealed this to me so that I could turn from my self-righteousness and run into my father's arms. My righteousness doesn't matter on my own because I posses no righteousness without Jesus.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

One Month Down.

Exactly one month ago I arrived back in the States after being in Africa for 2 weeks. I feel so many different emotions going on right now. There is sadness because of the horrible conditions I left these babies in. There is emptiness due to the longing I have to hold these children again. There is confusion that I have when I think "why am I so blessed to live in good conditions and they are not?" I was going through my Africa journal and this is what I wrote on my flight home...

July 11th

"We are on our 9th and final plane ride home. We are about an hour away from Dallas and I am anxious to get home. I have mixed emotions... as one would when their heart is on two different continents. Lord, this has been two of the most difficult weeks of my life (and I am not exaggerating saying that). Father, I didn't doubt but you showed up in so many huge and evident ways to not only me and my team, but to the orphans, the pastors, the workers and the people of Uganda and Kenya as well. Some of those times we saw/felt you were: -- T-Shirts at 2nd prison, -Police stop late at night, -Eldoret hotel situation, -Gas station late at night, -Catching planes to Kenya and to Ethiopia, -Visas (enough money to get them after they went up overnight) to get into Kenya. God I know there were so many other times I didn't mention but those were ones that stood out to instantaneous answers to our prayers. Thank you for loving me so much that you chose not to only use me as a tool on his trip, but that you would also give me an opportunity to draw closer to You and have a clearer vision of You and Your Kingdom. By simply revealing Yourself clearly to me, I have this new and heightened sense of love and desire for You. Let me not lose that vision and focus. Allow me to use this experience to not exalt myself, but to exalt You! God let these stories and pictures point to Your love and grace! As I go back let me remember how to rely on You even though situations aren't always going to be as uncomfortable as what I have experienced here. Don't let my focus turn to guys or other insignificant things. Let my heart be surrounded with things not of this world. Let me RADIATE you when I return. My heart will yearn and hurt for these babies I left in Africa, however, let me not be burdened by their circumstances, but by their salvation. It doesn't matter where they live now if they don't know You and won't live eternally with You. It doesn't only need to be a concern on how they're being fed physically but spiritually as well. Burden me to be on my face that ALL of these babies' needs (physical, emotional and spiritual) are being met. God let me never, ever forget everything You have taught/showed me and Your incredible Universal Love!"

2 weeks of being in Africa. 15 days of loving on people who don't know what it looks like. 342 hours spent thinking about someone other than myself. 20,520 minutes of being outside my comfort zone. And 1,231,200 seconds of being led and completely relying on the Lord.

Gosh that puts my entire life in perspective. Just think if that happened more often what kind of impact we could have on these people groups and the world.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What Can I Do?

I tossed and turned all night. Images and circumstances I experienced in Africa were overtaking my dreams. I was so distraught I literally began to sob in my sleep. So overwhelmingly that I woke myself up. My heart and mind were going thousands of miles away without me telling them to. They were fleeing to the babies I held a few weeks ago. The ones I loved. The ones who would hang on me, cry out to me and cling to me as I tearfully told them I had to leave. My heart was searching them out. I got on to check my email and my attention was drawn to this article about the famine in Africa. Anything Africa interests me, so I clicked on it and when I did I saw this...

Clicking through the pictures I began to sob again. I am not saying this lightly. My heart was hurting so badly that I was sick to my stomach. These beautiful people are not just people to me. These are my babies. These are the ones the Lord has placed in my heart. These are the children that taught me how to worship whole heartily. These are the blessed ones who showed me what true reliance on the Father looks like.

They are hurting-- dying--and I am sitting back in my nicely air conditioned apartment in the United States and doing nothing. I use to try and justify myself.... well I sponsor a child in Africa. And? What else? I don't think in James 1:27 it says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.... (and after you go on a mission trip and sponsor a child or two you are excused from this!)"

I read today that 9 MILLION people die a year from hunger or hunger related causes. All this is going on as I throw half of my breakfast away because I don't feel like finishing it. Or as I go out to eat for the 6th time in one week. As I complain about how I am gaining weight and wish I could lose a few pounds.


What can I do? How can I make an impact? I feel so helpless. The most severe drought and famine in 60 years is occurring in Somalia and Kenya and threatening the lives of 11 million people--a majority of those are children. I just got back from Kenya... that means my babies are endangered. So what can I do? I can help through organizations with the means to make something happen. I sponsor kids through an organization called World Vision. They are in Africa and there is a way you can donate to help out these hunger pains.

So you only get to eat out twice a week. So you can't go to a movie every weekend for a while. Do you realize if you simply with held going to the movies every Friday for two months (Sept. and Oct.) that would be $85.50. If you get candy and a drink every time that would be about $144.00. One hundred and fourty-four dollars... that simple. When you look and see that we are the "wealthiest country" it should be hard to say no. Do you know that if you own a car you are wealthier that 93% of the world?

We should feel guilty not helping. It doesn't take a lot to make such a huge impact. Donate and or sponsor a child. You could save a life. A precious child of our most high God. A brother or sister.

and help end this horrible famine that is stealing the lives of this precious people group!

::Lord I pray you burden our hearts to love your children. I pray you burden our hearts to get on our faces for these people. God you are bigger than any drought or famine. You can speak it to be and rain can come flooding down from the heavens. Father give us faith and a desire to intercede for this people group and pray on their behalves. Lord I ask for you to allow food and nutrition to get to them. I ask for help. I pray that your people are fed and healed not only physically but spiritually as well.::

Monday, August 1, 2011

He has plans to HELP you... to give you HOPE and a FUTURE!

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to HELP you and not to harm you, plans to give you HOPE and a FUTURE!" -Jeremiah 29:11

If you grew up in the church, then chances are you know this verse. It was embedded in our "church lingo" early on and repeated to us over and over throughout the years. "Stephanie, don't forget..."The Lord has plans to HELP you and not to harm you... He has plans to give you HOPE and a FUTURE!" But what about when bad things happen? What about when situations occur that hurt? What about when my heart gets broken--or even chipped-- how is that beneficial to my future?

These are all questions I have asked... some I have been wrestling with this week. I sit alone, with my overwhelming thoughts, trying to figure everything out. And you know what I learned through the sweet whispers of my Beloved? I learned that sometimes situations happen as a testing of our faith.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4
James is all about trials and situations where our faith is tested. This isn't the Lord being spiteful. This isn't the Lord being rude and having fun with His 'puppets'. This is the Lord loving us so much, wanting the absolute best for us, and trusting our relationship confidently that He allows Satan to put this into our lives. Nothing passes by the Lord's hands unknowingly. He doesn't sit helplessly and wish He could do something. He is all powerful and all knowing. The outcome is in His possession before the situation even presents itself.

The Lord allows these situations to ultimately bring us closer to Him. To refine us. To make a teachable moment out of it. Or to simple stretch and strengthen us for the future. Our God is GOOD! Our God is BIG. Our God is POWERFUL. Our God is the preeminent LOVER, PROTECTOR, and SUSTAINER. Our God is BEAUTIFUL. Our God is MATCHLESS. Our God NEVER FAILS!

So when you read Jeremiah 29:11 for the thousandth time remember that His plans are good. His plans are beneficial to your life. He chose you and that means you are His. He hasn't brought you this far to forget about or give up on you! He's got your life planned out so perfectly that you cannot even imagine everything He has in store for you! Trust Him... because when you do you will see the HOPE and FUTURE He is orchestrating!