Friday, April 27, 2012

Welcoming Distractions

Let me just say, I am a FOCUSED person. Maybe not always driven, but definitely focused and detailed.
When I start a task, I want to finish it.
I get totally wrapped up in it. When I'm doing something, I don't want to be distracted.

You could say that I focus to a fault. I am very good at tuning out everything and just concentrating.

Distractions are usually unwelcome. Very unwelcome. (Unless it comes to Calculus or Physics Homework. Any and all distractions are met with open arms then.)

This trip to Africa has taught me much about flexibility. You never know exactly what will happen each day. The pace of life is slower.
You must embrace change.

I am realizing that change is the way of life. As a Christian, I should be changing. My faith should remain solid, of course, but my life should change every day.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory which far outweighs them all. We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 
~2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Distractions, problems, issues, are all like a wake-up call. They are growing experiences that should be welcomed. If I can use my ability to focus on the unseen, the seen issues that interrupt my "routine" won't matter any more. Troubles become light and momentary.

I have found that some days, I kinda just sleepwalk through. Distractions wake me up!

Usually when an issue comes up, I easily get annoyed. I wonder why on earth I can't just complete my task.
If I am trusting that God knows what He is doing, I can take distractions as they come. I can have perspective and realize that any troubles that come in this life are light. They last but a moment in eternal perspective.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

another reccuring theme

Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will be raised with him in glory.

It is really uncanny how my devotional book lines up with what I've been thinking about. Last night, as I drifted off to sleep (okay, I was really tired, so really just right before I conked out) I read Colossians 3.

I love that chapter. I have used that chapter to combat many doubts and temptations. When you feel utterly out-of-sorts, here is an anchor: set your heart on things above. Set your mind on things above.

On Sunday, the pastor at the French-English church I've been going to preached about a very very basic part of the Christian faith: belief in the resurrection of the dead.

He hammered the point. There is an eternal hope that we look forward to.
He reiterated this point.
I struggled to pay attention to this sermon, it was on the repetitive side. But I know that it is an important thing to know, especially for new believers.

So it was an hour of repetition and reiteration of the same point. I have a hard enough time sitting still for a lecture as it is.

I thought, I got it. One day we will all be raised to be with Christ in perfection.

But then conviction came.
If I really believe that Christ has been raised from the dead, if I believe that someday I will be raised, perhaps my life should look different.

Perhaps it should look like this:
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. ~ I Corinthians 15:58

That is what Paul states at the end of his writing in I Corinthians about future resurrection. As a result of true belief in that doctrine, the above should be happening.
Standing firm.
The wholehearted giving of oneself to God's work.
Knowing that what you do serves a purpose.

It is one thing to know that one day Christians will be raised, it is another thing to act on it.
If I act like I believe that there is a future hope, little worries and details shouldn't get me down.
My life, the essence of who I am, should be hidden with Christ in God.

To contemplate what kind of life that should be is exciting, it's daring.
It is exciting because it means NO FEAR.
It means that God is in control and that he can use the one surrendered to Him to do great things.
I know that on my own, I simply can't do things for God. It's really sad, the times that I've acted out of my own volition to do a good deed. Without doing it as obedience to God, it just feels… empty.

The times when I have prayed, Just use me, Lord. Whatever you have for me to do, I will do.
He has answered! Opportunities come, and I find a joy in doing them. They are usually things that I find happiness in completing, things that suit my talents.
So I encourage you, if you are not already, to remember that there is a future hope, a future excitement, and that if you surrender to God, He will use you in exciting, fulfilling ways.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A little more than useless

Have you ever felt useless?
...like what you're doing has no impact?
...like you don't know what on earth God has got in store?

Well, today I got a word about this.

A word that came at just the right moment, when I was feeling ever-so-slightly this way.

Isaiah 49:4
"But I said, "I have labored to no purpose;
I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing...."


While I haven't felt quite that down-and-out, I have had the feeling that comes every so often of, "I'm not really making an impact...I'm... what am I doing here?"
I can be utterly exhausted from effort, and what do I have to show for it?

But (yay!) the verse goes on to give hope:
"...Yet what is due me is in the LORD's hand,
and my reward is with my God."


But remembering that all I do is all for God, no matter what, makes all of the difference. It is a matter of the heart, the intent.

I love to remember this verse:
Colossians 3:17
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

I felt I should post this today.

God sees what you're up to, and He has got the reward. Even if it feels thankless, He knows

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Isaiah

So encouraged by Isaiah 41:


8 “But you, Israel, my servant,
   Jacob, whom I have chosen,
   you descendants of Abraham my friend,
9 I took you from the ends of the earth,
   from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
   I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
   do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
   I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

No randomness in His Plan

A huge point:

There is nothing random in God's kingdom or plan.

God works all things out for the good of those who love Him.

ALL THINGS.

You may think something unexpected has come up, but God is going to work it out for good. He knows He has a plan.

Crazily enough, in the past few months, I have been searching for the plan. I have had foggy moments where I feel like God is saying nothing to me. But really, I think He's telling me that the plan is already here, right in front of me.

I guess what I've been expecting is a map of my life to just fall out of heaven, with every detail planned out to a T.
Something would happen so I would know what it is I'm supposed to do.
I would know for sure how I could best serve God.
…but no map has fallen out of the sky.

While I have been given a guidebook, and while it doesn't say such details as what I should major in, who I should date, where I should live, etc., it does give the big picture.

  1. First, follow Christ.
  2. Be cleansed of sin.
  3. Restore a relationship with God.
  4. Run the race of life with endurance.
  5. Do everything in the name of Christ Jesus.
  6. Do so much good that when others look to accuse, they can find no fault. Encourage one another.
  7. Love God first, above all else.
  8. Love others deeply, as much as you love yourself.

That's just a bit of the lessons God has been teaching.

I've been struggling with the how.

How am I going to do that?

…but the cool thing is that I don't have to do it. Really, I just have to surrender to God. I have to listen to the Holy Spirit.

While God isn't going to give me a mapped out, detailed plan of my life, I can know what the end result should be.
He lets Christians use creativity to get there.

He gives free will.

But, paradox!

He knows. 

 He knows every detail. He is going to take those details, even the ones that at the moment seem immensely frustrating, and turn them into something good.

So, if there is something that's annoying you, getting you down, making you feel like pulling your hair out… take heart!
God has got the details. Don't try to take control. Love Him, and keep living for Him.
I have tried this, and the peace that comes is amazing.
I have tried working out the details myself. I have tried taking the steering wheel, and let me tell you, it is not a fun path.

I've learned to just let God do His job, and I'll do mine of living for Him. It's much easier and enjoyable that way.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Eyes Opened

Africa is eye-opening.
I realize how spoiled I have been while  growing up in America. So many things I took for granted are hard to come by here.
Little luxuries like fast internet, computers, and constant electricity become bigger luxuries once you live without them for a while.
Even indoor plumbing is a pretty huge deal here. Where I am, the water is off and on without explanation. 
In the states, people take it for granted. Of course there's electricity and water! Not so here.

When you go to a restaurant, there are no health inspectors checking out the kitchen…you never know how that food was prepared...

When you even eat nutritious food, you're better off than many.

If you must go to the hospital, heaven forbid. The hospitals here can do little to help. Pray that you don't need surgery, because you don't know where the surgeon's hands have been or when the equipment was last sterilized.  Treatment can be costly, and they actually keep you at the hospital until you can pay…some children have grown up in the hospital. There are clinics from outside countries.

When you are somewhere where the luxuries are considerably less, you realize how blessed and well-off you are.
This became a spiritual allegory too, in a way.
I have grown up in a Christian home. I expressed the desire to be a Christian when I was 6. As terrible as it is, I have grown used to some of the blessings I have in Christ.
But as I thought about the luxuries that I so easily take for granted in the USA, I started to consider the luxuries that God has promised:

I waited patiently for the LORD;
He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock,
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.
Psalm 40:1-3

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9

If you are one of God's people, rejoice! He has called you, you are His.

He has blessed you immensely, innumerably.

He has saved you from the muck and mire.

Though sometimes I take it for granted, today I am going to recall just how much God has done and is doing in my life.

It is comforting to know that there is One who will never leave or forsake you, and One who has got the plan.

I have found that when I start to focus my eyes on Him and what He has done, everything else, every problem and worry, becomes less.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Four important commands

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,

but you would have none of it.

Isaiah 30:15

I consider myself as stressed out and "normal" as the next person. I have nothing, absolutely nothing to boast about. …and I'm not boasting about not being able to boast. I can only boast that Jesus has made all things well with my soul, and that He can make all things well for anyone.

One thing I have learned by going overseas is that it does not automatically make you a 'super-christian'.

It is a fantastic experience, and I think that everyone should spend a few months in another country so as to get a better perspective on life…but upon starting some volunteer work, no halo appeared above my head.
…I am the same me, but God is stretching me out and molding me to become better.

Today I read Isaiah 30:15:
In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it. 

Key actions: repentance, rest, quietness, and trust.

According to God, these are important to salvation and strength.

These words are in response to stubborn Israel, who refused to hear that God was extending forgiveness, if only they would repent.

They were childish, pretty much covering their ears and singing, "la la la!"

…though I can't say that I haven't acted that way when I am convicted that I am doing something wrong.

I think of this verse as a four step process:

1)Repent of sins. It's like washing your hands, and it's a necessity to having a good communication line with God.

2) Rest. After you've laid your burdens and sin down before God, take time to just relax in the knowing that He has forgiven. The worries of this life should erase. What is more important than knowing that the LORD God of the UNIVERSE has forgiven all your sins and loves you unconditionally? I think this should bring some great peace.

3) Be quiet before Him. To simply be still is something that is much harder than it sounds. To free one's mind from all other distractions, well, for me, is very difficult. Today, I spent time dwelling on the wonderful attributes of God. When you take time to think about how excellent He is, it changes the perspective of everything. When you focus on God, it's just…wow!

4) Finally, trust. Knowing that God has got you and he never lets His righteous fall, should be the ultimate source of courage. You can't fail if you're trusting Him!

God has been giving me a lot to munch on lately concerning my service to Him. I've been learning that I need others to have the endurance to serve, and that the quality of my service is so much more important than the quantity. Really, it's all the same lesson, but it is being repeated in different ways.

Those Israelites refused to repent, rest, be quiet, and trust.

God longs to be gracious and loving. He wants to give you strength! But of course, He gives you the will to choose.

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
He rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!

Isaiah 30:18

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

on the encouragement of others

Hebrews 3:13 
But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.


Picture this: I'm running. I'm sprinting. In Africa, of all places, the land of the super-runners.
I feel humble. Here I am, a little muzungu (white person) doing my best to run. I'm sure I'm red-faced and sweaty.
The Johnsons live on a loop, a perfect track for running.
It's shaped like a horseshoe, and it has a killer hill. It's also unpaved, so one has to be careful not to twist one's ankles on the big rocks.
It has been hard running, but lovely.

The other day, something happened.

Let me set this up by saying that everyone here who has valuables has a wall. And guards. And barbed wire.
So, every house looks like it could potentially be a prison.

The guards usually sit outside the gate.

So as I run past the guards, I wave and shout out a greeting. Ni Sawa?, Bonjour!, Sava? Ama Horo! or something of the sort.
They respond and smile.
I feel good about this, because if I were ever to have a stroke while running (my mind goes to such places when I'm feeling utterly worn out), they would at least know I was the red-headed muzungu who just waved and smiled and maybe they would help me.
Anyways, as I'm jogging along, feeling like sitting down for a rest, an old man yells out, "courage, courage!" [in a french accent]
It is amazing how those simple words boosted my morale.

My spirit was renewed.

It made me consider how I need that in real life, too.

Let me be totally honest: while I have been here, I have had some down moments. I have been discouraged. I've been sick. I have wondered what the plan is.

I have been learning how intrinsic the encouragement is to doing any sort of work for God. For even trying to function without words of support is nearly impossible for me!

I found Hebrews 3:13: Encourage one another as long as it is called today. 

Hey, guess what? It's always today.  ...I think that's the point.

When I have felt down, I pray that God will help me out. And he has sent the best encouragement. Friends have sent me sweet messages, and I remember that I am not alone in this.

It is amazing how encouragement has come just as I'm about to have a meltdown.

I have had 1 Corinthians 10:13 replaying over and over in my mind:
"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear..."

When I am tempted to have a meltdown or a pity party or whatever, God sends just what I need: a loving word from a sibling in Christ. As I run this race, I need others to shout out, "courage, courage!" to me. And I hope that I can do the same for them. 


So my dear friends, take courage! God has got you. He has a plan. He knows what you can bear. He will give you endurance to run your race for Him.

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