Saturday, June 13, 2015

The LORD has given the victory into your hands

Last fall, my friend invited me to join her in a community Bible study group. It was so refreshing to participate in Bible study with women of all ages, backgrounds, and styles, yet united in heart with a desire to know the only true God and the one whom he sent, Jesus Christ (John 17:3). I was hesitant to join the Bible study group for different reasons. I resisted the idea that I should join simply for the connections I could add to my network of potential "supporters".  However, my decision came down to a prompting I believe the Spirit gave me to recognize that this may be one way God is answering my prayers. I have been praying that God would lead David and I to share our ministry with the people he has chosen to support us, prayerfully and financially.  I felt if I walked away from the opportunity God clearly was offering me, could I ask him for another (perhaps less blatant) option?
My participation in this Bible study primarily blessed me because it turned my mind toward a book of the Bible I don't often investigate. The group studied the books Joshua through 2 Samuel, but the book that captured my interest was Judges. In the back of my mind, I wondered how on earth this book would bear fruit in my walk with God right now. It has been an amazing discovery. This year David and I have been reading through the Bible in chronological order. Once again, we are reading Judges. Every section of the book reminded me of God's sovereign ability to hand victory to whomever he chooses. When discipline is required because the Israelites have disobeyed his covenant, God gives a foreign nation control over his people.  The Israelites' disobedience is so cyclical (and depressing) that it offers repeated occasion for God to demonstrate his power and control over the situation. Time after time, God raises up a man or woman to deliver Israel from their oppressors. Each situation proves how little the Israelites' freedom depended on their human deliverer. No, "The LORD has given the [fill in the blank with a variety of enemies] into your hands". These judges or deliverers are not impressive to me. The only credibility they have is the Spirit of the Lord that comes upon them to empower them to do God's will.
Like the war heroes and failed leaders of the book of Judges, I have been chosen by God: to be his child, experience his power, and do his will. Still, God's love and faithfulness is not demonstrated to me because of who I am. I am no more worthy, more obedient, more faithful, more sanctified than any other person. I have a choice to live worthy of my calling (Eph 4:1) and to demonstrate my love for my Father through my obedience (1 John 2).  But, God chose me simply because he wanted to and he will be glorified when victory is gained through my obedience.
I love the phrase that repeats itself in Judges 7 as Gideon steels himself and his army of 300 men (again only those whom God chose) to join in battle with thousands of enemy warriors. "The LORD has given the [fill in the blank with a variety of enemies] into your hands".  They went into battle so aware that God was the only one capable of turning this battle in their favor. In fact, the deliverers God raises up in these historical accounts all speak of the victory as already having happened. "The LORD has given the [fill in the blank with a variety of enemies] into your hands".
The LORD has given the enemy into your hands. Jesus already defeated sin, death, Satan and his armies. The victory is accomplished; God's will is as certain to happen as if it is over and done already. The victory does not depend on my might, my strength, my faith, my leadership skills, my obedience, or my power but on my all-sufficient, all-powerful God. Praise the LORD!

Friday, June 5, 2015

I Could NEVER do that!

I have heard a lot of different comments on the lifestyle David and I have adopted recently. Most of them start with this phrase.... "I could never do... ... like you."

I've shared some of the wonder and amazement that our friends and family have expressed in their comments.
"I could never travel for months on end..."
"I could never live on the road, moving from home to home as guests of friends or family.."
"I could never manage to eat gluten free or give up dairy...."
"I could never travel with my dietary restrictions and living overseas is even more unimaginable." 
"I can't imagine not having a Vitamin Cottage or Whole Foods store available."
"I could never leave my family to live in another state or another country..."
"I could never ask people to donate to support my family or my ministry financially..."
"I could never tell my family about my relationship with Jesus...."
"I could never..."

Ironically, I started out this year thinking many of these thoughts. I didn't want to travel for 12 weeks continuously. I didn't know how I was going to eat gluten, dairy, and egg free in states that don't have a Vitamin Cottage, Whole Foods, or Chipotle! I couldn't imagine staying in other people's homes with my sensitivity to fragrances (air fresheners, laundry detergents and softeners, cleaning supplies, hand soaps and shampoos).   I cringed at the awkwardness of asking people to consider in prayer how they might financially support my husband and I.  I dislike answering the questions, stares, innocent inquisitions  "Do you work, Allison?" or "Why aren't you in Ohio yet?"   I have grown so attached to my family: my mom, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, my cousin and her family. I love my church home and close fellowship in small group and with our church staff. How could I leave such an amazing gift?
Let's just say there are plenty of things I can NOT imagine myself doing but what I could NEVER imagine is being distant from God again. I've been there. I've done that. I don't want to walk that road again. Do you know that feeling? Distance between myself and God is the result of disobedience, rebellion, sin in my life because I want to tell God how my life should go and what I will or won't do.   I may still choose disobedience on occasion because my sinful self is still fighting to be in control of my life. But I NEVER will experience the fullness of separation my sin once caused, because Jesus Christ experienced that moment for me on the cross. He cried out in anguish, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?!!!"    How could I desire to walk in such a way to bring back those painful memories to my Savior?
I love this passage in 2 Corinthians 5 because it resonates with every choice I will make to pursue obedience to my Savior. 
"Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. 12 Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart. 13 If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. 14 Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. 15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.

16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ."

I think there are quite a few decisions I can and will continue to make that will surprise even myself.  But my "self" has been changed by the incredible grace of God. My old life is gone; a new life has begun and with that new life, new choices are being made. I am eager to no longer live for myself but for Christ who died and was raised for me.  I'm sure some of the people I've talked to in the last 5 months feel the same way. They just may not realize the things they "could NEVER do" are changing as God changes them into a new person.

What unimaginable and surprising life is God asking you to live for Christ?