about blessings and curses

Paul, in Ephesians, talks about not giving the devil a foothold by going to bed angry. True, of course, but the idea of a foothold goes beyond that. I’ve noticed in recent months how easy it is for negativity to snowball in my mind or heart when I give the devil a foothold, so to speak.

Anytime I take my focus off of Christ and put it on myself, the world, or others, I start to slip like Peter in the ocean. Each sin not only injures my relationship with God at that moment, but also manages to give Satan a foothold with regards to the time after the sin. The devil uses it to tell me that if I sinned once in a certain area, I’m bound to do it again. I might as well just face it and give in, acknowledge my sin and give up. He uses it to cause guilt and condemnation and shame, none of which are in any way godly. I beat myself up over things for days, weeks, even years knowing how my disobedience to God has hurt him, unable in my human mind to forget the sins Christ has already forgotten and Satan has just begun to use against me.

My biggest struggle is anxiety. I once heard a powerful sermon that anxiety and fear are doubt in God that he’s capable of working things out. Henry Blackaby would say that my anxiety says more about my faith in God than about myself. If I was to be completely honest, I’d say it’s a pride issue. It’s faith in my own ability to get things done or work things out. God routinely checks me on this, and I’m thankful for the humility but only after I’m through the lesson. In fact, this is not at all my point in this post, but he’s used sickness and other unforeseen circumstances to show me again and again that our church is God’s church and not Rebecca’s church; our small group is God’s small group and not Rebecca’s small group; my life is now the life of someone with Christ living inside her, not Rebecca’s life. The church still functions even when I’m not around, the small group still functions when I’m not around, and as for my own life? It’s so much better when I focus a lot less on myself and a lot more on Christ.

But I digress.
Example time. Last week, I hadn’t done my quiet time first thing in the morning like I usually do because I had so many other things that I “needed” to get done first. Focus on the I. I realized it was just over a month until our wedding, and instead of being excited, I was overwhelmed. Like I mentioned in the previous post, I flat-out hate this mono crap because I spend a lot of time lying down, thinking about everything that needs to be done. So getting stuff done for the wedding, getting stuff moved in and settled and cleaned in our new house, and getting stuff done for work were all these foreboding clouds of doom I couldn’t get out from under. And it was the foothold issue again. As soon as I let anxiety about one very small thing–in this case trying to afford groceries for both the house I live in and the house I will live in next month–sneak into my mind, the devil shoved his foot in there, pried open the door of my mind, and took off running into my head. I ran one more errand and drove home, already in tears and only half-praying because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.

I sat down, pulled out my Bible and journal, and said, “Okay, God, let’s start this over. I can’t do all this.” And, without missing a beat, the Holy Spirit instantly brought to mind one of my recent memory verses, John 15:5: “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

Eek.
All of these things–wedding/marriage, house, work–are things God has given to me as gifts, as blessings. But when I took him out of the picture, or at least let him blur into the background, they were quickly becoming curses.

I often thank God repeatedly for my fiancé, knowing that (next to that whole free gift of salvation thing) he’s the greatest gift God has ever entrusted me with. We have kept God a prime focus since before the start of our relationship, both individually and as a couple, and his blessing is all over our relationship and our upcoming marriage. Same thing for our house. God blessed us with a house that is perfect for us, a house we love, and a house that worked out so flawlessly for us from the beginning that it could only be a supernatural gift. My job has always been, since Day One, God’s very specific plan for me at the moment, to both use me and grow me, to minister to me and through me. Each of these things, these huge blessings in my life, are all intended to glorify God AND to work together for MY good.

And of course I can’t do everything or anything to make these things thrive, to make weddings and houses and churches run successfully. Of course I can’t be effective for them, not apart from him.

I’d like to say that the past two weeks since the nice Holy Spirit wake-up call have been smooth, anxiety-free sailing. They haven’t, of course, but there’s always improvement. Gradual, baby steps, but improvement all the same. And when I do screw up, and I do allow the devil that foothold into my thoughts, I at least have ammo to respond to the lies he tells me and the lies I tell myself. Apart from Christ, I can do nothing. And to be honest, after knowing Christ the way I do, I don’t want to do anything apart from him.

about that empathy with paul

I love the epistles, the letters that compose a good chunk of the New Testament. I love them because they’re so applicable, so much more in reach at times than the Old Testament prophets and commandments and sacrificial laws. Don’t get me wrong—I love the Old Testament. I love the whole Bible, reading it, applying it, watching it continue to work itself out around me. But there’s something about the Old Testament that is either too vague or too specific. For too vague, read some of the prophets who speak of impending doom and a coming Savior with a lot of code and double-speak and, by the way, anytime the Old Testament mentions a “whore,” it’s usually talking about a country. Or a town. Or foolishness. It’s never about the skanky girl on the primetime TV show. For too specific, read through Leviticus and parts of Numbers and Deuteronomy and see how doing this one action on this one day of the year deserves this one method of punishment for seven days outside the city. And that’s probably what they needed then, but in America right now, cutting off the hand of a woman who grabs some guy’s junk while he’s fighting with her man is not exactly legal.

It’s the letters that always grabbed my attention the most growing up, because I could take comfort in them and learn self-discipline from applying their wisdom. They’re easy to memorize and applicable in daily situations. It’s good, practical advice and, by the way, when the epistles mentions whore-like behavior, it’s not talking about a country or a town or foolishness. It’s talking about the skanky girl on the primetime TV show and what happens when we start acting more like her and less like Christ. See, that I can actually understand.

James was always my favorite growing up, the letter James wrote to Jewish believers of Christ. It, like the other letters, reaffirms the gospel. It encourages, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (1:12). It also corrects, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (1:26). For someone like myself who was born with the habit of talking before thinking, reading verses like that is lovingly correcting and, while I still talk way too much and pray about it more than you might think, I’m aware that it’s a situation that needs to be addressed. All of the letters are this way.

Many of them are Paul et al.’s letters to the people of Galatia or Corinth or Thessalonica. Sometimes Paul is commending the churches’ behavior. Sometimes he scolds them. Always he says how much he misses them, how much he longs to see them, how much he prays for them. He references hearing reports from people he’s sent on ahead of how the churches are doing and how encouraged or discouraged he is by their reports. He mentions bragging on specific churches and people, telling others how much God is moving in their lives. All of this takes up significant portions of each letter, and I always felt they were just formal niceties that didn’t mean anything, and I’d skip over them. Until last night, when I finally understood all these things Paul has been talking about.

Having mono has been one of the worst experiences of my life. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s hard to put into words how hopeless the whole thing is. There’s no treatment, there’s no ETA for getting rid of the stupid thing, and there’s no way for me to work through it like I have everything else in my life. Normally my life is multi-tasking: eating while working while watching a TV show on mute and listening to music. And now I lie awake because I can barely sleep but I don’t have the strength to move, and I think over and over about everything I’m not getting done for work, for our upcoming wedding, for our new house, etc. But that’s another post for another time, because God has already shown me many things from this whole unpleasant ordeal.

Our LifeHouse is our small group of about twenty 20- & 30-somethings who aren’t married. We meet once a week to share about what God is doing in and around us and what we learned from the previous week’s sermon. We discuss how it does or doesn’t apply to our lives. We pray together and we leave. I’ve been participating in or leading a LifeHouse since probably September of 2007. But for some reason, this particular group we have now is seeing a move of God like I haven’t seen in a small group before. People are openly sharing their struggles and encouraging one another, building each other up, supporting each other through very serious problems. I love being a part of it. And then, suddenly, the mono strikes and so far I’ve missed about a month’s worth of meetings. I really hate it, but at the same time, I continue to hear about what’s going on through my co-leader or through my fiancé. They tell me stories from LifeHouse that, even though I wasn’t there, still encourage me. Because I know the people in that group and I have a deep love for them. I pray for them and I brag about them to everyone I can, and more than anything I marvel at the way God is moving in them.

The past two weeks I’ve sent out emails to the group with their prayer requests and keep feeling more and more like Paul. Finally, I understand all those things from his letters that I thought were obligatory comments and formal niceties. I tell them how much I miss them, how much I long to see them, and how much I pray for them. It seems a little silly, maybe, because I often feel a lot closer to the Saul-before-Paul than to the Paul who wrote those letters. But it’s an encouragement to me that God has used this time to help me understand the complete love, passion, and compassion Paul had for the people of these churches. It alters ever-so-slightly the way I view the epistles, as not empty letters filled with good advice from a spiritual authority, but rather as heartfelt outpourings of love and encouragement from an equal brother in Christ who genuinely wants to see the churches grow and wants more than anything to know how God is continuing to minister to and through them.

I love how those things Satan intends for evil, God works out for good. I feel like this whole stage of having a ridiculous, nonsensical illness is one of those things intended for evil. But, like I said, this isn’t the first thing God’s used to mono to teach or remind me, and I doubt it will be the last.

about the potential for revival

Monday nights at our church we have an hourly prayer gathering. Everyone is invited to attend and join us from seven to eight to worship and pray. I’ve been going to it longer than I can remember and have watched it grow, and grow, and grow. I’ve heard countless words from God at Monday night prayer. Sometimes I’m angry at God and we battle it out. Sometimes I’m overjoyed and in awe of God and spend the entire hour singing his praises, either aloud or silently. Sometimes I’m desperate for someone or something and come to him crumbling, and he always pulls me together. It’s a powerful time for both me personally and for our church.

Last week it was hot. Very hot. We were all sticky and sweaty, but it was an afterthought in our minds. The band played, the people worshiped.

I had my head down, praying, singing only occasionally, in a state of reverent praise. Sometimes I don’t feel like opening my mouth, but I know he hears me. I looked up, sat back, and discovered half the room was on its feet, arms raised or hands clasped to their chests in adoration of the One who came to our rescue, the One whose name is lifted high. At that point, in our calm setting with quiet music and fluorescent lights, I felt an earnest passion for God in the room. I felt, “This is what heaven will be like. This is all we need. When we can join with the angels around the throne, forever praising his name, forever lifting his name high, giving all glory to him who is holy, holy, holy, who was and is and is to come.” This is all we can ask for.

I caught a vision of what this city would look like if everyone in Lubbock was on his feet, arms raised or hands clasped to his chest, praising with an earnest passion for something more. It would be revolutionary. It would be a revival.

But here’s the thing. The word “revival” has always had negative connotations to me. It seems fake, ungenuine, fleeting. It’s like going to youth camp, falling and weeping at the altar call every night, coming back home “on fire” and “pumped up” and prepared to storm the city, and then fizzling out within a couple weeks, or–most likely–a couple days or even hours. Just until getting home and realizing that not everyone in your household is aware of what you just experienced, much less ready for the life-change you’d prayed they’d experience.

The problem is: what we need is passion and that’s not passion. That’s emotion. Emotion says, “I feel God, so he must be here.” Passion is desperate. Passion says, “I know what God has done in my life. I recognize I can’t get anywhere or be anything without him. Whether or not I feel him, regardless of where I am, I will praise him and I will give him everything because it’s all I can do to show him gratitude.” Emotion only exists when God seems the most tangible. Passion exists when God seems the most intangible, the most holy, the most high and lifted up. When feelings fade, emotion falters but passion remains the same.

So the concept of revival I have in my head has been changing. I have this belief God is storming several key cities in America (and the world) with his spirit. I very strongly believe Lubbock is one of them. I very strongly believe this God is the God of this city and a mighty change is on the way.

[As a side note, I started this post about four times in the past week, each time with a separate and unfinished tangent. I eventually got frustrated and decided to give up and just post what I had so I can move on in my trains of thought. Thus, my scattered efforts resulted in a rather disjointed post about a variety of beliefs all shoved under one nice little category.]

about that scripture memorization

Sometimes I wish God would give each of us a Ouija board. We could close our eyes, rest our fingertips on the little indicator, and He’d spell it out for us.

“Am I going to be able to pay my bills this month?”
“YES.”
“Is dating this guy Your best for me?”
“NO.”
“What does it take to get to heaven?”
“B-E-L-I-E-V-E.”
“I really screwed up again and feel horrible. Will You ever forgive me?”
“I-A-L-R-E-A-D-Y-H-A-V-E.”
“How am I ever going to make it through this?”
“G-I-V-E-I-T-T-O-M-E.”

Instant discernment, that’s what I’m wanting.
Okay, so if I know if I had a God Ouija board and asked it what I really need most, I’m sure it’d say, “P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E.” Sometimes everything seems so imminent, and if I don’t get that sudden burst of wisdom or inspiration, I start to panic. “God, I have to know what to tell these people when faced with this tomorrow.” Or “There’s this deadline coming up and I don’t even know where to start and I don’t have the time to get it done.” My timing is always so much more pressing than God’s time. You’d think He’d understand that by now. But no, He’s always so laid-back and chill, up there drinking some fruity drink with an umbrella in it while I’m down here running around, yelling at Him because surely if He just knew the weight of the situation and the time-sensitive nature of it, He’d have to help me out on my time, right? Because there’s always a bill due next week and there’s always a big decision to be made tomorrow and there’s always a difficult situation I find myself stuck in and if I don’t get some serious relief from it, like, NOW, I’m going to spontaneously self-combust. Seriously. I need immediate, continuous answers or I’m not going to make it minute-by-minute, much less week-by-week or year-by-year.

So where’s our Ouija board? Okay, sure, the Bible is a much more efficient tool for discernment. Not only does it have every answer to every question in the history of the world (except, perhaps, the age-old questions I’ve struggled with since fifth grade: “Did OJ do it? What’s with the glove?” and “Was Tonya Harding really behind the hit?”), but it’s all right there, right at my fingertips. The answers I’m seeking have already been laid out time and time again.

“Am I going to be able to pay my bills this month?”
“And He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?’ They said, ‘No, nothing.'”

“Is dating this guy Your best for me?”
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

“What does it take to get to heaven?”
“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”

“I really screwed up again and feel horrible. Will You ever forgive me?”
“You who are God’s children…your sins have been forgiven through Jesus.”

“How am I ever going to make it through this?”
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

I know all this.
I really, really do.

But that takes time. You’ve got to flip to the concordance and pick out a word or a concept. You’ve got to look it up, read the notes, cross-reference the same passage in the other three gospels, flip back to Isaiah for context’s sake, and re-read the corresponding psalm that David wrote when he was going through the scripture Jesus was referencing when he explained that one parable to the disciples because they couldn’t understand it without the footnotes either. When the deadlines are looming, the bills are knocking, the complicated relationships are calling, the issues are piling up, and hearts are breaking, who has time for a crash course in seminary?

Except.

I know John 16:33.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

I know Psalm 33:22.

“Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in You alone.”

I know Exodus 14:14.

“The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

I know Romans 8:38.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”

I hear “memory verses” and I think Sunday school. I think felt boards with characters from Bible stories. I think coloring sheets and brightly colored tables and chairs. We’re taught to remember John 3:16 when we’re young, and we could recite it to you backward and forward but could never actually tell you what it really means to be loved by God or to make a sacrifice or to even be in need of a Savior. As a kid, I thought memorizing Bible verses was like memorizing the capitals to South American countries—I’d probably never use the information, but it’s impressive to others if I know it.

And yet, that’s it. Memorizing scripture, that’s our best tool. That’s our Godly Ouija board. That’s when we let the Word come alive in us. And the comfort I get from knowing the Word is indescribable. It comes up at the most appropriate times. When I don’t know what to think or how to feel or how to pray, there’s always a verse I can fall back on. It’s like a trampoline, a blanket, and a bear hug all rolled into one. The more verses I learn, the more I want to learn. Honestly, I wish I did have the whole Bible logged away in my head to cross-reference instantly at will. But until then, I have to trust that God will continue to lead me to the verses that will be most applicable to me—not only currently, but also in His plans for my future. And even though God doesn’t always tell me everything I want to know exactly when I want to know it, I can trust in the fact that He’s already told me everything I need to know and it’s available to me any time I need to know it.

That, to me, is pretty incredible.