Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

Maybe (Just Maybe) It’s Not About You

 

            A few hours ago a friend and I were musing about the difficulties we’ve experienced in our lives over the past year. “I wonder if God is taking a nap,” may have been uttered. Both of us have been through our fair share of suffering, but if it was a contest I’d have to say she is the winner, hands down. So in a lot of ways I remind myself that as bad as I think my situation is, it’s certainly not as bad as it could be (don’t we all try to make ourselves feel better with that statement?). Our conversation sort of ended with a, “Well, life sucks, time to go take a shower now.”

            As I’ve been doing a lot lately, I stood in the shower after our talk and stared at the wall, thinking, praying, complaining, questioning…and finally I just had to ask, “Why does it have to be like this, God? I mean, why does it have to take thirty years for someone to find out they’ve been married to a monster? Why has it taken me over a year of suffering without any answers or diagnosis? Why, if we have to suffer, can’t it just be quick? Why couldn’t she have found out about her spouse a year into her marriage? Why couldn’t I have gotten a diagnosis last year when this all started instead of being turned away time and again by doctor after doctor? Why, why, why?”

            Of course I know better than to ask “why,” but for some reason I chose to go that route with God anyways. And as it happens when things like this are going on, God has been strangely silent during my prayer times. But this time (maybe He’d heard enough whining?) He chose to speak to me. He said, “What if it’s not about you?” And that was it. He allowed me to stew on that one for a while. So I stood there staring at the walls, having just received a verbal crack upside the heart with a truth so simple yet so profound I couldn’t even respond.

            Then I thought of Job, how he probably suffered more than any human being in the history of humanity (besides Jesus), and how he never had the privilege of knowing the “why” behind his tragedy. Not that he didn’t ask, but God never answered him specifically (at least, not on this side of heaven). And then I think of how many people throughout the course of time have been helped because of Job’s story. How many people have suffered and turned to the pages of that book to find the answer to their “why” only to stumble across chapters 38-42, and realize they probably won’t ever know their “why” either, but somehow gaining a measure of hope from his story.

            Then I think of how much my friend has suffered, and I consider how much my spiritual life has grown just through knowing her, and as a result of watching her suffer. Maybe, just maybe, my suffering isn’t about me at all. You know, we say it all the time (and I hate hearing it, honestly) that “God is just teaching me a lesson right now, I’m trying to listen to what He’s saying” as if God is some cosmic sadist getting some sort of pleasure out of causing us pain, just to teach us a lesson. That is not the God I know from the Bible, my God isn’t a sadist. My God came to give me life to the full (John 10:10), not cause me misery in order to teach me something. But, that doesn’t mean pain or suffering isn’t a part of the process of life, in general. And who am I to presume to know the plans and purposes of God, anyways? How do I know what God is doing in someone else’s life as a result of my suffering? The truth is, I don’t know, and neither do you. We don’t know who is watching us or being ministered to through our pain. We don’t have a clue as to what God is up to about 99% of the time. We only know what we wish He were up to, or what we expect Him to be up to, and most of the time (at least in my experience) he rarely delivers as expected (I find He delivers far better than expected).

            I sit here and think of all the people who have influenced me in my life, and many of those people suffered a great deal. A lot of what God taught me had to do with watching them respond to their circumstances. And all of this gives me pause. Because if my suffering isn’t even about me, that means God is using me for some greater purpose in someone else’s life, even if I’ll never know who, what, or why. Who am I to be used by God? All of a sudden my “why” turns into an “Oh, thank you, God, for choosing me!” Not that I am happy about suffering (who is?) but knowing all of this actually has nothing to do with me gives me some measure of peace within the ugly process of hurting.

            Throughout the past few weeks God has brought a verse to mind repeatedly, and it’s worth noting here, “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” Ephesians 5:16, NLT. The reality is we are all going to suffer. Some of us will experience great loss. Some of us will die younger than we had thought. Some of us will be considered “Modern day Jobs” by our friends. Some of us won’t really suffer much at all. But one thing we all have in common is that from the moment we take our first breath, we are already beginning the process of losing time and dying. So as William Wallace shares in the movie Braveheart, “All men die, not every man truly lives.”

            Within the process of suffering a pathway to true living exists, through embracing the pain (not with a giddy, happy, la-la kind of feeling, but in an embrace of surrender) and trusting that God is choosing to use us in His master plan in ways we won’t be able to comprehend. That maybe this journey we’re on isn’t even about us, it’s about Him and seeing how intricately he fits the pieces of our puzzles together to bring ultimate life abundant to us and others, all for His glory. Like Joseph was able to say to his brothers, “What Satan meant for harm, God used for good.”

            Then again, maybe none of what I’m saying here makes sense to anyone but me. I don’t know. I just know that at least in my suffering, I am gaining a bit of relief in knowing it’s not about me at all. And I’m finding a way to be thankful in it, even excited about it, because I know God is working something incredible out. And whether I know what it is on this side of heaven or on the other, I will understand it eventually, and when the final picture is brought together, I know I’ll be smiling as Jesus looks at me and says, “It hurt, but it was worth it, don’t you think?” Yeah, it is, Jesus, it is.

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95,000,000 Shades of Success

95,000,000 Shades of Success

 

The 2012 earnings reports were in and no shocker here, E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, was at the top with over $95,000,000 earned in 2012. Yeah, you read that right, all of those zeroes are supposed to be there.

As I watched the news program I found myself having a little talk with Jesus (or, more like a whine-fest), “Why is it like that, Lord? Why is it that a book like that sells like that? Why is material like that so successful?”

But Jesus is good about bringing me back to the truth when I get all worked up over injustices, because it is an injustice. It’s an injustice when people—including many Christians—are more willing to spend money on a message about sex than on character building, encouraging, hope or healing. The demand is high for escape-ism, and painfully low for truth and reality. Sex and erotica are perfect avenues of escape into more me-ism (that is, the study of making ME happy, because I’m all that really matters) and those are avenues that earn writers (in those markets) a lot of money.

As great as having financial success sounds, it’s not what I am about. I don’t write Christian devotionals and articles and Bible studies because I want to be rich and famous. And if that was my motive, God wouldn’t bless it anyways. The more paychecks I’ve earned over the past year (and I use the term “paycheck” loosely), the more God has purged my heart of improper motives and given me multiple opportunities to bail on this whole writing-for-publication-in-the-Christian-market thing.

But you wrote a book, Rebecca, you’re an author. Surely you have some financial success in that regard?

Well—the truth is, my last (and only) commission check for my self-published Bible study was a little over $10, and that was for selling nearly 50 copies over nine months’ time. I make about $0.24 per book sold. So, contrary to popular belief, being a writer/author is not synonymous with money or glorious stress-free days of sipping mochas while watching the bank account grow with each online sale.

paycheck

(The above is a photo of a recent “paycheck” I earned)

Of course, there are exceptions to this. And I’m not saying all writers (namely, Christian writers) are simple folk like me. But I’m pretty sure if you talked with those “successful” writers, they would all say the same thing: If you want to make a living as a Christian writer, be prepared to work hard, sacrifice much, and make some investments of time and resources long before you’re earning that much desired “nice” paycheck.

I know this post is coming across as whiney but I am not whining, I’m merely sharing my heart as I’ve wrestled with this issue. A lot of you who read my blog are writers as well, or are involved in another Christian ministry of some kind where you’re tempted to judge your “success” in that area (heck, I am even tempted to judge my “success” as a Christian parent). I’m here to tell you right now, you can save yourself a lot of frustration and disappointment if you let go of your expectations; I mean really let them go—your expectations for money, success, or even how many people will be helped in whatever ministry you do.

In His response to my prayer, Jesus made it clear that there is only one shade of success as a Christian writer, or even as a Christian in general, and it is measured by how I choose to apply in my own life (live out through my behavior and my words) the following:

•Seek His will above my own (Matthew 6:33)

•Give all my expectations/rights to God—they were never mine to begin with (Job 38-42; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

•Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit by making this about ME; it’s about Him and the fact that He really does know what’s best. Make it my goal to listen to Him and follow Him wherever He leads (1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Timothy 6:6)

•Seek peace and pursue it (not the hippy, new age peace, but the inner personal peace that comes through living out my God-given purpose), and I’ll find that the success I was after was already a gift I’d been given (Psalm 34:14-15; 1 Peter 3:11-12; Psalm 119:165; Philippians 4:7) 

You Think YOU Have Waited a Long Time?

“[Elijah] went a day’s journey into the wilderness…and he requested that he might die; and said, ‘It is enough now, O Lord, take away my life.’” 1 Kings 19:4 (KJV)

Elijah was one of the greatest prophets who ever lived, yet even he had unanswered prayers. After being assured by Jezebel that his life would come to an end, Elijah ran for the hills. He was so weary, so discouraged, he was ready to throw in the towel, give up the fight, and be at rest in the arms of God.

God did not see fit to answer this prayer, nor has He ever answered it. The book of Second Kings records how Elijah was taken by a flaming chariot into heaven without experiencing the physical death he had wished for.  So—end of story, right?

Wrong.

Skip ahead a few centuries and we find in Revelation 11 that God has remembered Elijah’s prayer and answered it.

“And when [the two witnesses] have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war with them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city…” Revelation 11:7-8

And who are these two witnesses? According to Malachi, one of the witnesses is Elijah.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5-6

Elijah’s prayer was heard and will be answered—he only needed to wait a few thousand years. I don’t know about you, but I get antsy after waiting a day or two for an answer to my requests. In fact, just two weeks ago God answered a prayer I had been bringing before him for over a year. It happened in a most unexpected way (which seems to be the case most often), and even today I marvel at the circumstances surrounding His answer. But there is a big difference between one year and a thousand. I can’t say for sure, but I probably would have given up believing a positive outcome was possible if a few more years had passed.  And yet, I have other requests that have been waiting for an answer for many years. Will I choose to trust God?

Understanding Elijah’s plight gives me great hope. God does not forget my prayers, even if it seems like He has decided not to answer them. The fact is, I only see the steps in front of me but I don’t see (or understand, usually) the big picture. Maybe my unanswered prayer has a greater purpose for another time—perhaps even decades or centuries from now.

Today I will continue to lay my requests at His feet, knowing He hears, He cares, and He will answer one way or another in His perfect time.

“I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God: incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech.” Psalm 17:6

1000 Days: The Ministry of Christ by Jonathan Falwell

Jonathan Falwell, vice chancellor for spiritual affairs at Liberty University and senior pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church, has written a detailed account of the life of Jesus during His earthly ministry in 1000 Days: The Ministry of Christ. Falwell does an extraordinary job chronicling the life of Jesus in an interesting, thought-provoking way. But this book isn’t just a list of activities; it delves the depths of Christ’s motivations, feelings, and experiences walking this earth in human flesh. The reader is not only informed, but challenged to apply spiritual truths to their own lives—to adopt the mission of Christ as their own.

“Jesus did not promise us a life free of trouble. He is called the God of all comfort—and if there were no troubles, He would not need to be called by this name. Jesus does not promise freedom from all problems, but He does promise that we will never face situations alone.” –1000 Days: The Ministry of Christ by Jonathan Falwell (pp. 9-10)

1000 Days addresses not only the ministry of Christ but the impact His ministry has for every person claiming to be a Christ-follower, both past and present. The text carefully walks through Jesus’ mission along with His expectations of those who follow Him. I particularly appreciated chapter four which walks through the first several verses of the Sermon on the Mount. He answers some important questions regarding this passage like what do the “beatitudes” really mean for you and me, and how did Jesus display them in His life? This chapter alone merits the purchase of this book and is something I will be referring to many times over.

Falwell also addresses the subjects of hypocrisy among believers, the doctrine of hell, dealing with temptation, authentic worship, pure motives, and what it really means to be a “Christian”.

“What does He mean that apart from Him we can do nothing? Jesus was not talking about what you and I can accomplish on a daily basis, what tasks to perform, what skills we can exercise, or how fast we can tick off our to-do lists, He was saying that we will accomplish nothing of eternal value unless what we do is based on the resources God gives. Without the life of Jesus flowing through us, our accomplishments don’t amount to a hill of beans.” (pg. 150)

Overall it is a phenomenal read and I highly recommend it. 1000 Days left me encouraged, motivated, inspired, and challenged to know and reflect the life of Christ more. Questions are also included at the end of each chapter for personal or small group study.

(I received 1000 Days: The Ministry of Christ by Jonathan Falwell from BookSneeze in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to give positive feedback and every opinion expressed here is my own.)

To purchase 1000 Days: The Ministry of Christ Click HERE.

Many are the Plans…

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans…

I’ve waited patiently for three years (ok, not so patiently) to enroll in Bible college. I’ve wanted to transform myself from the uneducated hack to the educated hack. It’s taken this long for the finances and timing to be just right. Finally I was able to enroll at Liberty University in a two-year program to receive a diploma in Biblical studies; I also decided to take a hermeneutics elective. Once the transaction was completed, confirmation in hand, I was overwhelmed with excitement.

Then the door-bell rang.

Oh right, the home-school curriculum for my daughter arrived.

As I pulled out the books, manuals, instructions, and lesson plans I was overwhelmed. “Many are the plans” sang ominously through my head. Indeed. I was planning on spending the day finishing my other year-long course in journalism. I had one lesson left and was super-pumped to complete it. Searching through the instructions, guides, manuals and products-to-buy lists included in the box of curriculum materials, I realized it would take at least 3-5 days to sort through it and develop an organized lesson plan. Whoever thinks home-schooling is easy, or lazy, or whatever, they are sadly mistaken. It’s like being a “real” teacher minus the pay (when done appropriately).

Many are the plans…

On top of home-schooling and being a student myself, I was reminded of all the things I still had “to do”. The list was endless.

A 45,000 word manuscript to finish before Novemeber’s conference; 6 books to read and review in the next month; articles to write for two different websites (besides this blog); a backyard landscaping project; church ministries and other activities…my head was spinning. Oh, and I almost forgot, there is approximately 500lbs of dog poop (a rough estimate) in the yard calling out to me, “Scoop! Scoop!”

So so so many are the plans…

But—it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. I can make all the plans I want, I can sign up for every ministry, activity, conference or course but it is only through God that my plans prosper. If indeed they are HIS plans. Otherwise, I don’t have a prayer.

So, this morning I found myself taking a step back. Instead of attacking my “to-do” list, I listened to Psalm 118-119 on audio, read from Isaiah, and spent some quiet time with God asking Him what HIS plans were.

My new plan consisted of listening to the Holy Spirit as he guided each step of the day. I pray the Lord’s purpose prevail in each moment of each day of my life for His glory and my freedom.

Lord, I want your plans and purposes for my life. Thank you for providing wonderful opportunities, answering prayer, and giving me the desires of my heart. Keep my eyes focused on you every minute of every day. Let your plans alone prevail over my life.

Why Do We Need Christian Writing?

Our world is infiltrated with lies and deception; we need a new generation of truth-seekers to spread the light of God’s word to a hopeless, desperate world. It isn’t hard to see what is popular in today’s reading market. A simple glance in your average waiting room will uncover an abundance of magazines like Rolling Stones, People, and Cosmopolitan.

Out of curiosity I picked up a Cosmo magazine and noticed articles regarding sex, wealth, and beauty. Cosmopolitan is listed as 13 on a top 25 list of best-selling magazines. This shows us what the world is reading (along with many Christians). Do articles such as these actually help people or do they teach a counterfeit happiness? The enemy would like us to believe lies about what our role is in society (Jn. 8:44, Eph. 6:12, 1 Pet. 5:8) which is why we need spiritual people spreading spiritual truths that transform lives for eternity.

Secular media will encourage one to seek sexual satisfaction, but the word of God teaches: “Each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and acceptable.” (1 Thess. 4:4) Many articles will list “10 ways to get rich now” but the Bible gives wisdom regarding money: “Command those who are rich in this present world neither to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth.” (1 Tim. 6:17) Beauty is also a popular area for secular media, but God’s word guides accordingly: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment…Rather; it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Pet. 3:3-4)

What the world really needs is a lasting hope that gives purpose to life. A great example of writing that can change one’s life is from Neil T. Anderson, founder of Freedom in Christ Ministries (www.ficm.org). I recently went through his workbook, The Steps to Freedom in Christ, and cannot adequately describe the spiritual transformation that resulted. Our hope should be in the Lord (Psa. 130:7) and we need truth to transform lives of brokenness and bondage into soaring freedom and purpose. (Jn. 8:32, Psa. 119:32) Perhaps we would see less depression, substance abuse, and violence if there were more truth-seeking lovers of Christ sharing their experiences of freedom with those around them.

Whether it’s a magazine article, blog, newspaper, or a social networking site, there are many opportunities for the transforming truth of Christ to be shared. This can only happen if there are God-fearing people behind the God-given message.

 

(This is an article I had to write for my courses with The Christian Writers Institute. My instructor liked it, so I thought I’d share. I also searched for an appropriate picture of Cosmopolitan magazine to include. Sadly,  I could find none appropriate due to overt sexual content which I will not promote on this blog. Truthfully, visiting their website was tantamount to online pornography and I wouldn’t recommend it. ~Rebecca)

The Fame Game

“He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30

Suggested reading: John 3:25-25

What is the essence of glory? I was recently struck with this question and wanted to find a suitable answer. The obvious reaction is something like, “God should get the glory,” or “All praise is God’s” and other pious Christian-ese. If you actually sit and think about it, what does “Give glory to God” really mean? Just because I pray, “All glory to YOU” doesn’t mean I am glorifying God. Just because I say, “I want to give God glory” doesn’t mean I am glorifying God.

First I googled “What does it mean to glorify God” and the answer (gotanswers.org) popped up, several paragraphs long. It mentioned several of the above statements, using verses that talk specifially about glorifying God. They were great references but they still weren’t satisfying my curiosity on the issue. I wanted to know what it looks like for ME to give God glory. Is it singing hymns while scrubbing toilets? I could do that out of duty, not love or adoration.

As I sought the Holy Spirit’s guidance, John 3:30 came to mind. “He must become greater; I must become less.” Now that seems like the essence of glory to me; answering the question: who is getting the credit?

It begins with an argument. John (the Baptist) had his own disciples who followed him around, faithfully supporting his ministry. They got wind of something they thought John should know. You see, there was this Man who had the nerve to take over John’s ministry of baptism! John’s disciples were warning him that this Man was getting all the attention, in fact people were flocking to Him in unprecedented numbers.

How would I react if I had a nice little ministry with people flocking to me for answers and counsel, then all of a sudden someone else comes along and steals my thunder? My first reaction would probably be jealousy. Knowing my luck, that person would probably be more beautiful and desirable in every way, knocking me a few more notches down on the self-esteem pole. Figures. Guess I’ll have to give up and find somehwere else to be superior. Heaven knows I can’t share the spotlight with anyone. (Let’s face it, we all think like this from time to time.)

John replies much differently. He is not threatened, jealous, or angry at the Man bull-dozing the ministry he developed. Quite the contrary, he is encouraging this Man! He goes on a 9 verse diatribe of the greatness of this ministry and those God has chosen to complete His purpose. Whether or not John is in the spotlight, he is completely content knowing God’s will is being accomplished. He says, “The one who comes from heaven is above all,” and “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hands.” (vs 31, 35).

What does it mean to glorify God? The name of Jesus increasing and my name decreasing.

I had a Pastor say to me, “You have some mad skills” after playing a difficult piano piece with the worship band. Although I was greatly encouraged, I also tried to remember where I came from and how hard I had worked just to master that piece. In fact, mastering it is something I would definitely not claim, it needs a lot more work. Point being, when someone  hears what I play, or marvels at a glorious photo I’ve managed to shoot, I want them to be pointed to Christ. I want them to think, “That’s amazing, God!” or “Thank You for that gift, Jesus“. These are the praises that went through my mind recently when I attended a concert. There was a symphony of musicians from a multitude of churches in our area. These people were crazy talented! When I left that concert I remember saying to my friend, “I think it’s amazing how people so talented are completely content with serving God in this way, rather than pursuing professional contracts or success in the secular market.” You see, throughout this concert Jesus’ name was increased through the beautiful music, while the musicians were merely tools to lift high his Name.

As I reflect on what “gloryifying God” means for me, I am motivated to spend more time on my knees seeking new ways to keep the spotlight on Him.

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” Psalm 29:2