Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Formulas and Faith

I don't enjoy math. In high school I memorized formulas long enough to pass the test and promptly forgot them. But I've found myself looking for formulas in my walk with God.When I approach a problem or have a question I want God to give me steps A + B + C that will equal a calculated result.

For example: as a teenager I craved an abiding, constant relationship with the Lord. And in my mind, the way to get that was this:
read bible + pray more - sin = ABIDE
But the reality of an abiding relationship with the Father is so much simpler than that. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that we shouldn't read God's word, pray and resist temptation to sin. But those works alone do not achieve the end I desired. For years I tried to turn my faith into works and it got me nowhere. I thought, "If I only do these things more I will be the kind of Christian I want to be." I do... I will... I want... My motivation was myself. My trust, and ultimate disappointment, was in my own ability.

There is no formula for abiding in Christ. The relationship I have with Him now is not the result of anything I have done. I can't point to a certain time when a switch flipped and I "got it". All I know is that I grew desperate for Him. I stopped trying to figure out with my head how to walk with Him, and I just started seeking - unscripted. I cried out from the depths of me, humbling myself and coming to Him broken. And somewhere in that He met me. I can't point to one thing I said or did. I didn't "pray enough", "read enough", or "stop sinning" before He met me. It was all Him. I can't take any credit.. and now.. my desire to read the word, pray and resist temptation flows out of my relationship with Him.

If you've been a Christian for any length of time you know the agony of trying to "figure out Gods will" through formulas and plans. We want to make the decisions that please Him, so we pray, we fast, we wait, we lay out the fleece for His clear direction. There have been times in my life this process has paralyzed me with fear of stepping out of His will. We want the "audible voice" or the "handwriting on the wall". And sometimes He is gracious. He gives it. Sometimes "the formula" works (think of Gideon). But sometimes I think the Lord lets us have what we want and redeems it, for the glory of His name.

I've been reading in 1 Samuel lately where the nation of Israel asked the prophet Samuel for a king. They were tired of being ruled by judges and through prophets. This grieved the heart of Samuel but the Lord told him to give the people what they wanted. And we all know the end of the story. The people got Saul (who was good when he obeyed God), then they got David - the man after Gods heart. And eventually Solomon - the wisest king the earth has ever known. Gods name was made famous through the reign of these kings, and many after them. As long as a king submitted himself to the Lord, God got the glory due Him.

Gods "ideal plan" was to rule Israel himself through judges and prophets. But He gave the nation their king. And He redeemed them. During that time He made the nation of Israel a banner of His faithfulness. His Son came from the lineage of kings that were established then. I don't think anyone could say that this plan was "bad". If there was a "formula" in this situation for "the perfect will of God" the nation of Israel didn't follow it. But still God was glorified as long as the nation and its king submitted to Him. Does He ask any more of us?

I think I can say the same thing about my life. There have been times that I moved ahead and made decisions that may not have been "Gods perfect will" but they were not "bad" inherently. I cannot say I regret these things because He has so beautifully redeemed me. So I'm going to stop looking for formulas. I need to remember that His ways are not my ways. Despite my disdain for math, "my way" is to find the formula, to lay out the plan, to make lists and stay organized. But His ways are higher. I'm learning to trust Him. Sometimes that will mean He lays out His plan clearly. And sometimes it means I step out blindly, with only His light to illuminate each step of faith as I take it. I know the voice of my Shepherd and I can trust Him to guide me, even when I have no idea where I'm going. I don't have to know every step before I take it. And I've come to find that's okay.

I know I'm not the only one. Do you look for formulas?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Removing the Veil

I have another post in the works that I'll be putting up in the next few days. But this quote has been pinging around in my heart ever since someone shared it with me a couple days ago. I want to put it here if only to be able to easily reference it later. 

Let us remember that when we talk of the rendering of the veil we are speaking in a figure, and the thought of it is poetical, almost pleasant, but in actuality there is nothing pleasant about it. In human experience that veil is made of living spiritual tissue; it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole beings consist, and to touch it is to touch us where we feel pain. To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us, to make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free... The cross is rough and it is deadly, but it is effective. It does not keep its victim hanging there forever. There comes a moment when its work is finished and the suffering victim dies. After that is resurrection glory and power, and the pain is forgotten for the joy that the veil is taken away and we have entered in actual spiritual experience the presence of the living God.
- A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Removing the Veil

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beauty from Ashes

When I decided to publish my glass heart story I thought it would be easy because I am so far removed from the events that inspired it. And I've told it to countless young women in ministry situations. But the truth is that I hesitated this time. Because while this story illustrates one of the most awe-inspiring works God has done in me to date, it is still deeply personal.

The Glass Heart parallels the story of my first broken heart. I gave my heart away to the first frog that crossed my path. Gratefully, I didn't have to kiss him to find out that he would never be the prince of my dreams. I walked away from that experience broken and fearful. It took me quite a while to trust the Lord with my heart, and even longer to trust any person.

Even once I learned to trust Him again, I believed that I'd destroyed my innocence forever. I accepted that I would have to live with the scars on my heart - for which I was ultimately responsible. I wasn't resentful about it. In my mind, I was damaged and there was nothing to be done. This was the consequence of my sin. I never expected to know innocence again. I'd made my bed and had to sleep in it.

All of that changed one morning in my high school chemistry class. Sunlight streamed in the window behind me, I sat down, and sighed. When I exhaled a lock of hair that was hanging in my face blew back into place. In that moment a childhood dream was fulfilled. As a little girl who adored "The Little Mermaid" I'd spent hours in front of the mirror attempting to imitate this sigh-hairflip-combo that was Ariel's trademark. I never got it right and resigned myself to never being a princess as a result. I'd completely forgotten about it until my hair serendipitously floated out of my eyes that morning. My excitement was unconstrained! Because that moment represented so much more. My childhood innocence was returned to me, symbolized by that "dream come true". A little wind whispered a truth that echoes in my soul, "The author of all true fairy-tales is writing yours... It can happen."

Let me speak for a moment to the girl, the woman, or even the man who has been broken. Your body, heart, and mind has been shattered. You may believe that you are beyond redemption. You may have resigned yourself to never being whole again. You think you are unworthy of healing and may even think it unnecessary. After all, you've adapted. Learned to live with the scars. But I am here to tell you that Jesus Christ is capable of restoring all things.

I know personally that nothing is so big or small that He cannot heal. I thought my broken heart was such a small matter that He couldn't bother with it. But now I know that if He cares to restore something as "small" as my innocence, He can restore anything. He can heal and bring full restoration, no matter what you think you've ruined. There is no detail He does not care intimately about.

His patience is never ending. He does not force Himself on us. The Lord never pushed me to give him my heart. He waited until I'd surrendered every piece to Him, holding nothing back, before He began His restoring work. Before He can begin healing you must trust Him with every part. His hand transforms. My life - my heart - is tangible evidence of His faithfulness. He has made beauty from the ashes.

A few years ago I purchased a glass heart pendant (pictured above) as a tangible reminder of the redemption of God in my life. It's one of my favorite pieces of jewelry, and I get compliments each time I wear it. I usually accept them with thanks, touch it, and remember how I have been made whole. I can never forget.

Have you ever been broken? Has He made you whole? Tell me your story. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Glass Heart

This is the first of several personal stories that I'll be posting during the next few weeks. They are stories of Gods redemption in my life and I finally feel free to share them. A few of you may be familiar with this one of my Glass heart. I first shared it at a purity banquet several years ago.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a man loved a little girl. He watched over her as she grew and knew every freckle and curl. He was her Guardian, her hero and His presence was enchanting. There were many nights she spent curled up next to Him, learning His stories so well she could repeat them backwards.

It was on such an evening that the man presented a gift to the little girl who was now becoming a young lady. In wonder, she lifted an exquisite, hand-crafted glass heart out of the box. She marveled at its beauty and promised to treasure it close. Several times her Guardian offered to keep it safe for her, but she always laughed Him off, wanting the world to see the beauty in the heart He'd created.

As she grew older, the time spent with her Guardian grew sparse. There were occasional evenings she spent with Him and in those moments He would plead with her to let Him guard the heart, warning of its fragility. But she only held it tighter, dismayed that He would try to take something so precious to her.

It wasn't long until there was some distance between herself and her Guardian. Before she knew what was happening she was swept off her feet by a handsome young man. She was delighted by his exclamations of  her beauty. The young lady was convinced that when she showed him her beautiful glass heart he would admire its value. So, she gave it to him in hope of showing him how much she'd grown to love him. She trusted him to protect it for her.

The handsome young man accepted this gift with all the awe the young lady could've imagined. Dreams of forever began to fill her head. They were happy. For a while. Then, he got a little careless and the glass heart was chipped and cracked, but not ruined. The young man persuaded her that he would be more careful, and though she was disappointed, she let him keep it. But weeks passed and the cracks in the heart grew larger instead of being repaired.

The young lady eventually saw that her handsome young man had no intention of caring for her heart. She made a decision and determined not to be persuaded out of it - she was going to get her heart back and leave. So, she timidly approached the young man who had the delicate heart carelessly shoved into his pocket.
"I want my heart back." She said, while holding out her hand
He tossed it into her palm saying, "Take it. I have no use for this. What did you expect?"
Without responding the young lady closed her hands around the heart, turned and ran - until she could run no longer. She found a hiding place, fell to her knees and wept. Her palms opened to reveal bloody shards piercing them. In her haste to get away the glass heart was shattered in so many pieces. Only the skillful hand of the man who crafted it could make sense of the mess.

After her tears were spent she got up and began the journey back to the home of her Guardian. Her enchantment with the handsome young man had led her far from home. The last thing she wanted to do was show her Guardian the heart, broken as it was. She remembered all of his cautious words and could picture the disappointment in His eyes. On her way back she tried many things to put the heart back together. And some things would work. For a while. And then the heart would break all over again. Still she continued on.

Just when she got to the door of her Guardians home she panicked and concealed the pieces of her heart in her satchel, deciding not to reveal its brokenness. He opened the door and embraced her warmly. The young lady sobbed and muttered apologies for not coming sooner. She was taken in, cleaned up, and given her old room back.

For many days she rested, wondering what to do about the broken heart. The young lady and her Guardian went on daily walks where they talked about all manner of things, but He never asked about it. She knew He was waiting for her to explain. Many weeks went by, becoming months. Months that she couldn't bring herself to show Him the pieces of the once beautiful glass heart.

One evening they sat together watching the sunset in content silence. She sighed and leaned against Him, soaking up the last bit of the suns warmth. As the last rays disappeared on the horizon He leaned down and said close to her ear, "Beloved, it's time." Her heart accelerated and she nodded up at Him, knowing exactly what He meant. The young lady led the way to her room. There she opened a small chest that held the pieces of her heart and slowly laid each one on the desk like a scattered puzzle. They were there a long time while she cried and told Him the story of her broken heart. He looked at her with compassion then collected each piece, wrapping it in a handkerchief and without a word, slipped out the door. She slept peacefully that night, relieved she no longer had to protect the secret of her heart.

The heart was not mentioned and the young lady knew without asking that He would take care of it. Months passed, during which she spent time learning from her Guardian and talking with Him. She grew nourished and healthy. There were occasions when she wondered what became of the broken pieces but she never asked.

The young lady was studying one day when her Guardian came and pulled her aside. With a radiant grin on His face He brought a box from behind His back and held it out to her. She stared, open-mouthed. Slowly she reached into the box and pulled out a glass heart. Not just any glass heart. Her glass heart. It looked identical to the original, only without a chip, crack, or flaw.

As silent, joyful tears slid down her cheeks the young lady knelt before this man and held the heart out to Him saying, "This heart can only ever belong to one person. Its maker. You alone are worthy of its treasure. I love you Jesus."

The End is yet to come...

I told the back-story of this allegory after initially publishing this. You can read it here. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Summer Chronicles

I was recently recounting to a sweet new friend that almost every summer for the past 8 years has marked a move of God in my life. There is always a turning point. Without fail, it's a time of maturing for me. It's interesting how that parallels with creation. Plants come to full maturity each summer before dropping their fruit and leaves in autumn. In the same way, I've come to be expectant of fruit in the summer seasons. Bringing forth fruit is not always the easiest process. Often there has been much painful pruning involved. But each time I find myself transformed - and I know it's worth it. I want to share some of the stories of Gods faithfulness through these seasons...

The summer of 2006 was the first after we transitioned into house churches. We were high on newly discovered relationship - with God and each other. Someone got wind of Andrew Strom's "Personal Revival" message and it spread among us. In our group of friends the wave of personal revival began with Jordan. She had a life-changing revelation of the holiness of God. It soon spread to Lauren - whose testimony is still posted to Andrew Strom's website. Finally, God got a hold of me. I was purged of everything I'd ever known about who God is and how to approach Him. He was no longer this puppy dog in the sky who catered to my every whim. I saw Him in the beauty of holiness and He became more real to me than He'd ever been before.

Sadly, at the end of that summer, one of our best friends walked out of our lives. We went from perpetual sleepovers and endless inside jokes, to nothing at all. In all the growing we did that summer, there was much pruning. Pruning that left scars, but there is fruit in us today as a result. We learned a big lesson in obedience through suffering during that season.

My first summer at a full time job was in 2007. I did data-entry and form corrections every day with headphones on, listening to every Leonard Ravenhill sermon available on the internet. The young girls in the bible study we taught grew tired of my quoting him constantly, I'm sure. God lit a "fire in my bones" that summer. Jordan, Lauren and I practically memorized "The Revival Hymn". One night, when we were supposed to go see a movie together, we got into the car, and started talking about it. Before I could even buckle my seat belt tears poured down my face and all I could hear in my mind was this;

"We haven't spent half an hour with Jesus, but we'll stay two stinking hours in a movie house! And Paul says that's what the world is to me; It's a system of corruption and rottenness and vileness. It's anti-Christ from the word go!... Is the world crucified to you tonight? Or does is fascinate you?"
When I voiced what was going through my mind, Jordan and Lauren looked at one another and immediately said, "Me too!!" That night became the first of many prayer meetings we had that summer. It was during one of those prayer meetings that God told me to take off my purity ring for good. But that's a story for another time.

In the 2008 the growing and maturing was a lot more practical and tangible. That summer Jordan and I ended up moving out of my parents house together. We lived with a gracious single woman in the church who opened her 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment to us for very low rent. This was a fresh start for us. It held a lot of new challenges that taught us to rely more heavily on the Lord for our needs. He proved Himself faithful, as always.

Relationships were the primary source of change for me in 2009. My relationship to my parents was in the process of being re-defined, despite living apart from them for a year. One of the most profound changes was that our best friend, Lauren, was imminently moving away to college. She was dating Blake. There was a whole new dynamic to our relationships. God dealt with me personally a lot that summer. He put to rest some things that'd haunted me too long.

Last summer followed a spring that we'd spent in intercessory prayer. Beginning in March we met every week to seek God and pray that He would move in our lives and mold us to be more like Him. We prayed fervently for friends who were faltering. We prayed for renewed fire in ourselves. And that summer, God answered. Friends transformed before our eyes. I really believe the Lord mercifully poured out His spirit on us. We sought to hear His voice, and He spoke - through us. None of us had operated in the gifts of the Spirit with any regularity for years. Last summer God taught us to use the gifts again, with words of wisdom, knowledge and prophecy. Church function as laid out in 1 Corinthians 14:22-26 was tangible in our meetings. Peoples hearts were laid bare, causing them to cry out to God. I learned to hear the voice of the Shepherd again, in a completely new way than I'd previously learned it. In years before He had to set my heart racing to get my attention. This time I learned to hear Him in the still, quiet voice, and to act - immediately - on what He was telling me to do or say. He always confirmed what He'd spoken every time I stepped out in faith. And my faith grew by leaps and bounds.

As I've been reflecting on past summers, I'm looking forward to this one. Already a month in, God is moving and shaking so much in me. I feel as though I've been having a crisis of faith - questioning things in myself that I've never questioned before. Why do I believe what I do? Where do my values come from? Are they based on the word of God? What are my convictions, apart from what I've always been associated with?

I admit, as far as my core values and convictions go, not a whole lot has changed. What has changed is that my weak knees are being strengthened. I'm becoming grounded where before I was easily thrown off balance by others opinions of me. I have no idea what the rest of this summer holds, but I know there is a reason I've being firmly planted on the rock of my salvation.