Thursday, September 26, 2013

John Community Group Chapter 7: The Facts (Guest Blog)

This week I am so excited to hear from one of my dearest friends, Twila. She has been a close friend of mine for about 5 or 6 years, and she has spoken so much wisdom into my life during that time. I'm thrilled that she would take the time and bless us with her thoughts and what the Lord has spoken to her on Chapter 7 this week! I am positive you will be blessed by her heart that desperately chases after the Father. I pray that I can be more like her some day! Now, from Twila:

Who am I? That has been my life’s question. What is my identity? Am I Kenneth and Peggy’s daughter or Rowdy’s sister? Am I Donnie’s wife? Am I Micaela and JD’s mom? Can any of these titles really define who I am? Can they fill the void in my soul that aches to understand why I am here? I can say I have tried to make them fill that void and failed. So where is the answer to the question of my life? I see it in John chapter 7 in the way Christ shows who He is.

Here it is sometime in September or October and Jesus is with his brothers discussing The Feast of the Tabernacles that was about to happen sometime in October. Now the word does not say that Jesus and his brothers were discussing that fact that people wanted to kill him, Jesus did mention it, but rather the main topic was that his brothers believed he should go public at this feast that this should be his time to become a public figure. However, Jesus said this is not my time and I will not go yet. He did go but later and He went quietly not to make a statement about whom he was but to let those know whose he was and where he came from.
He was secure in his identity. He knew he was the son of the Most High God and he did not allow men, even his own brothers to move him before his time. Oh, how I wish I was that secure and patient. There have been so many times that I stepped out before God and then messed up things. God’s timing is perfect.
So how do I find my identity from this passage? I see it in understanding more about Christ and who he chose to listen to when the voices were loud. He chose to hear His Father over the voices speaking questions and cuts. He listened to his Father and chose to receive what the Lord spoke into Him.
I have been the girl who chose for so many years to listen to the negative chatter and even thought it was truth. I have believed my value was less than what God says it is because of pride. I heard someone say that low self esteem is a form of pride. I did not understand that until God dealt with me on this very issue. I was so focused on me that I could not focus on God and his calling on my life. The “I” focus is the pride. It is all about me whether negative or positive. I still land there from time to time and God still deals with my heart on the matter but I praying that it is less often than it used to be in my life. What changed? I had to change and it required more of God and less of me. It required trading out some things I liked so I could have more room for Him in my life. I am an auditory learner. So what I hear has major affects on me and my life. I knew God asked me to exchange secular music for music with Christian lyrics and themes. I submitted by resetting my radio stations at home and in my car. It really was a small change because I was not in my car that much and was not listening to my stereo that often at home. However that small change gave God room in my life where He could speak over me and into me. It became His time and we talked there.
I have learned through the years since then that I need His word to battle the lies that are spoken to me and over me. I need to remember that He gave it all that I could be called “Child of the One True King”. I am redeemed. So for me John 7 shows Jesus resting in His true identity, being bold in His true identity, and revealing His true identity to those around even when others wanted something else. I want to be defined by God and not by man even when men will not receive what God has revealed to me in His word.

Peace of Christ to you,

Thursday, September 19, 2013

John Community Group Chapter 6: Throngs

This post will no doubt be scattered and possibly hard to follow! (Hey, I'm Cara who is scatter-brained lately! Glad you could stop by to read along today!)  ;)

A couple of weeks ago Matt and I went to an outdoor concert that he'd bought tickets for back in February. I'm sure that when he planned the weekend, he knew he'd have months to find out all the intricate details and plan each step of the way as he usually does. But he didn't exactly plan on May 20th going as it did. After our summer, we looked forward to this particular weekend, hoping it would be a nice get away and could quite possibly be the best concert of our entire concert career!!

Well, part of our family's trauma from the tornado is my husband's mental capacities being grossly affected (mine too), but it shows more on his end because he is the natural planner in our family--you know, the one who sets the timers, alarms, calendar reminders, scours maps, routes, itineraries...

That sort of didn't happen for our weekend! So we arrived on Saturday at noon to the outdoor concert venue, thinking the band would be playing very soon because the booklet printed months ago said 12 pm. It was also going to heat up to the high 90s that afternoon, by the way. When we arrived and stood in front of the stage with maybe 200 other people so far, I thought, this won't be too bad. Everyone seems to be giving me enough space to stand comfortably. It's hot, yes, but the band will play in an hour or so and we'll be distracted by great music, right?

Oh boy. Wrong. We heard from others that the band would not appear until after 8:00 that night! Matt didn't want to give up our ridiculous spot of ground right in front of the stage; it was going to be a killer view from where we stood. But this girl was not going to stand there for 8 hours solid just to see a band play. No way. I'd signed up for a romantic weekend away, not a sweat contest. I thought of the incredible bed and breakfast that sat waiting for us a mere 30 minutes away. And here we sat--thick with sweat and bad tempers. But I wanted Matt to enjoy this concert, so I spent $50 on a stinking blanket out of desperation for something to sit on, bought two strawberry smoothies for $14 that melted in 5 minutes flat, bought a dinky little umbrella for $20 to get the sun off my body...

Let's just say none of that helped, or worked, or fixed any of the problems that were suddenly giving me a panic attack! The decision was made to leave, MUCH to my appreciation. This meant we'd lose our incredible spot, but Matt decided having a happy wife was of greater value than a stone's throw view of one of his favorite bands. I believe he mentioned something about Proverbs and a leaky faucet...not sure what that was about! ;)

We came back a few hours later, closer to the actual concert time, and I saw the largest throng of people I've ever seen at one time. The estimation was 35,000. We carried our blanket in and found a patch of ground in the stretching shade--prime real estate! I was in a much better mood at this point, what with the sun no longer beating down my back, a gentle breeze whispering in, and the ease of knowing I had only another hour of waiting left rather than eight! So I had some people-watching time to kill.

Many of these people were already drunk, by the way, so much of their actions were ludicrous at best. I have rarely felt as out of place as I did in that moment. Not so much the alcohol, but just the completely different type of people. Most large gatherings I've attended were something to do with God, so there usually are not intoxicated people present! I sat on the blanket and gazed out at all the different people before me. There were some seriously different-minded people, but we were all there for the same thing: music. I thought of this very story of Jesus feeding such a large throng of people as we sat there. And I wondered how all the people felt and how they related to one another as they waited to hear Jesus speak. How far had they come? How determined were they to stick it out even if it was hot, and they were tired and thirsty and hungry?

Now when I read about Jesus feeding these 5,000 people, I may always think of this outdoor gathering that we experienced. I wonder if the people were as hot and sweaty as we were, if they were as cranky as I was! I gave up in the middle of the day because it just wasn't worth it. But would I have stuck around in the same conditions if it were Jesus I was waiting to see? These people were crazy, I decided. They would sit for an entire day in nearly 100 degree heat to see a band. Yes, I know, a band who happens to be a pretty big deal, but you get what I mean.

Do you think we'd sit for hours on end, bathed in sweat, with no food or water, closed in by thousands of people--all for a chance of an encounter with Jesus? I wonder if I would. I got pretty cranky as it was, and I was afforded the option of bowing out or buying something cold to drink! I'd love to hear what you ladies see in this chapter. This week has been very crowded and strangely difficult for us, so I knew my post this week would be different! Thanks for bearing with me and reading along!

And let me give a heads up on next week! We are going out of town for a MUCH appreciated and needed family vacation, so next week the post will be by a guest blogger, one of my closest friends over the years. This woman has so much wisdom and a tender heart toward the Lord, and I can't wait for you to hear from her! :)

Peace of Christ to you,

Thursday, September 12, 2013

John Community Group Chapter 5: False Waters

When we started this study a few weeks ago, I looked forward to when we'd talk about this particular chapter because I've always loved the story of the healing at the pool. I like a lot of things about this story--the history behind it, for starters. I'll let you ladies include the history and brilliant symbolism about this story in your comments if you'd like!

But I want to zero in on something the man said to Jesus. (You thought I was going to zero in on what Jesus said to the man, didn't you? :) ) I do like that Jesus asks him if he even wants to get well, but the part that won't leave me alone is the man's response to Jesus...because it's much like my own response many times.

"When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, 'Do you want to be healed?' The sick man answered him, 'Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me" (John 5:6-7 ESV).

This poor man had been through a lot, apparently for a long, long time. I imagine him sitting there, his weak eyes focusing desperately on the waters as they are stirred, his heart trampled each time he is not carried closer toward his only chance of healing. Hopelessness was setting in thick and heavy. And suddenly, here stood someone asking if he would like to be healed. Of course he wanted to be healed--that wasn't the issue (well, not in this blog post anyway). The issue was how to be healed. He knew exactly how it was done, right down to what the perfect timing of lowering into the water was and all. If only this man standing before him had shown up a few minutes earlier, he could have carried him down to the pool and all would be well. Jesus could have picked him up, yes, and carried him down the steps. Or maybe he could have brought some of the water up to him--a sort of healing in bed kind of deal!

But that's not how Jesus wanted to heal him.

No, Jesus would not be dipping this man's frail, limp body into the false waters of Bethesda. He came to unravel this man's plans, his dreams, his last hope. He came to, in one instant, change everything he knew about healing: who could do it and how it would be done.

Do you ever find yourself trying to tell God how to do something? I sure do. Recently, some events began unfolding that I was just certain God would use to bring someone I love into a relationship with Him. It was the perfect set up. Everything seemed to link beautifully together; all the details were in precise alignment. How could this not be how God would reveal Himself?

But it turns out, that's not how God wants to do it.

And I have to realize that He has a better way than my way. My carefully laid plans are false waters as well, and I need the one and only Jesus to reveal Himself another way. His way. My hope and prayer for this season of waiting on those I so anxiously want to know Him is that I am patient and let Him work in His timing, not my own, and not my way.

Peace of Christ to you,

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

John Community Chapter 4: The Work We Did Not Do

I grew up on a farm with cows, a horse, and a fair sized garden that birthed squash, peppers, okra, onions, radishes, sweet corn, and my favorite--tomatoes. Big tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, medium tomatoes. We gathered them in the cool evenings or the dewy mornings in the hot months. You had to take care in plucking them just before they would fall from the vines because if they had any time at all on the ground, other insects and animals would feast on our harvest. Sometimes we'd pick them a bit before they were fully ripened to avoid losing them to farm critters. I recall watching as a little girl while Dad would haul out his plow at the beginning of the season and destroy the dirt, churning it back and forth. I wish I had paid more attention to what he added to the soil to create such a rich bed that brought forth the sweetest tomatoes. It was something his dad had taught him on past long days, with soil under the nails and splinters in the flesh.

Work. Hard work.

Work that, at the first tiny bloom on a breezy morning, brought rich joy swelling from the deep of his chest. The stiff back, the raw palms, the cracking knees were all somehow worth it with this first bloom that promised so much. And that promise was what moved him year after year to repeat such laborious movements. He knew it would all be worth it.

In Chapter 4 of John, Jesus and the disciples were traveling as usual, and they got hungry. This was one of those perfect moments where Jesus liked to teach them something deeper, so He related their physical hunger to spiritual hunger. His was to do the will of the Father, He said. That was why He labored tirelessly--to see a harvest of people following after the will of the Father. Jesus told the disciples in verses 36-38, "Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor" (ESV). The "others" who labored were the Old Testament prophets. They worked the ground, sowed the seeds, yet they didn't live long enough to reap their own harvest on earth. But here the disciples get to do just that! They get to pluck the fruit that has grown out of another's sweat.

Now Jesus didn't say that the sower will not reap at all. Looking at this story in light of the prophets of Old, they will indeed reap one day alongside the disciples--and you and me--in heaven. Honestly, that's kind of unfair, isn't it? I mean, they laid the foundation for us, and we get to bask in the celebration right beside them? You can read about other greats who paved the way for you and me to be blessed with now-common things that were then-unheard of things, like owning the scriptures for ourselves. When I stop and think about that, let it truly sink in how others went before me so that I can have such a privilege, it amazes me.

Sown by men who did not get to reap their harvest.

We just moved into a new house (well, new to us). And here's why I absolutely love that. In our backyard, there are three sections of plants--one at the back of the yard in a corner, one surrounding a giant Pecan tree, and one along the east side of the fence. Surrounding the Pecan tree are about 40 garden onions and a host of herbs. Along the east fence is a four square planter filled with tomato plants. My parents were visiting last weekend and Dad noticed that the tomato plants have blooms on them! "Those will give you some tomatoes in a couple of weeks," he smiled. We sit in the yard and pecans fall on our heads, and I pluck onions from the dirt to cut up for savory dishes.

Yet I did absolutely no work.

As I washed an onion to cut up for the lasagna I made last night, I let it wash over me as well--that I was reaping someone else's sowing, literally consuming their labor. I wonder which of the previous owners did the work--the old man or his wife, or both. I was told they moved away to retire, to relax and enjoy the fruit of their lives' hard labor. I'm so glad they left behind some of that fruit for me to enjoy, and I wish I could tell them how appreciative I am of their hard work. It almost feels sacred to partake in someone else's planted dream. I love legacies, and I feel as if I'm holding one.

But something much more sacred is the work Jesus did on the cross for our salvation that we have no hand in, no shovel, no calluses, no stiff back. Jesus did it all. Yet we get to enjoy the harvest and feast with Jesus. I hope I remember this with each tomato I pull from the vines I did not plant, with each pecan and with each onion I pull.

He did the work for me. He did the work for you.

Let us reap it together.
Peace of Christ to you,