Thursday, October 30, 2014

When Cracked Pots Leak

As I get older and reflect on the paths I've traveled, the detours and the rocky roads, the peaceful paths that were flat and were surrounded with beautiful scenery and free from obstacles, I can't help but wonder how many of them could have been different had the path before it changed.

Do you take the time to think about such things?

We could have been born in any time period, in any country, in any family but God placed us in this time, in the country or state or town we are in, in the family we are born into, for a purpose.  You didn't get to pick where you started out on this planet or the circumstances you were born into, but God did.

Some of us were born into really difficult circumstances.  Some of us never knew one or both parents.  Some of us moved around so often that any roots that started to embed into the ground never really had a chance to provide nourishment to our souls.   Some of us were raised around violence, some around addiction, some were raised around both.

We don't get to choose our start.

Some of us were born into affluence and privilege.  Some were born into very strict and religious families.  Some of us were born with no religious base.

We didn't get to choose our beginning.

Some of us have had, or still do have, a hard time reconciling how a loving God would let a child be born into the really hard stuff.  Really, what kind of God would do such a thing?

Some of us were born with behaviors that were normal to us, but to someone on the outside they are labeled as abnormal.

We didn't get to choose our design.

And yet, the Bible says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that God ordained  all the days for us before one of them came to be.  How does one reconcile that statement, especially the  part that says God ordained all the days of our lives when thus far, the days haven't been all that great?

Let's get rid of the word ordain and use a different word, one that is used in the Hebrew definition.

The Hebrew is yatsar - and the short definition is "formed."  Other words used to describe yatsar are fashion, formed, planned, potter.  It gives more a sense of design and creating like a potter making a beautiful vase, moulding it into a perfect form for a perfect use.

We, you and me, we are being formed by the hands of God, moulded into a beautiful vessel, placed where we are for the times we are in.  As His hands molded us as a potter holds soft clay in his hand, kneading and wetting it and placing it on a potter's wheel then placed in the kiln at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time, we are the vessel, designed by God.

So those painful days of your childhood when you wondered if anyone cared or those lonely days after your spouse left, never to return - those are the days formed for you forming you.  Those are the days the Potter already knew about and had already placed in His hands to mold into a beautiful vessel.

Maybe you feel like you are being kneaded a little too roughly, maybe you feel like the temperature of the kiln is hot enough thank you!

But the Potter, He's using the right amount of strength and water and heat to mold the vessel for its future use.  The Potter knows how long to knead the clay to get an even amount of moisture in the body of clay to make it more pliable, more moldable.  He knows how much air is in the clay that needs to be taken out so it can be shaped into the designated vessel.

The Potter knows how hot and how long the vessel needs to stay in the kiln to remove all the water from the clay so to strengthen and harden the permanent changes being made to the formerly unshaped clay form.  If the vessel isn't in the kiln long enough, it will not be able to serve the way it was designed.  It may crack, crumble, or just fall apart.  The decorations may cover the flaws but it will never serve well the purpose to which it was first designed.

I agree with you, it seems He likes to mould some of us a little bit longer than others.  Some of us seem to be in that kiln for more time than is necessary too.

But, do you want to be a broken or cracked or crumbling vessel, looking good on the outside but of no value for service?  Or would you rather see your life, your entire unchosen life as part of the Potter's gallery, not just to look at but to be used as it was intended all along?

Maybe when you were waiting for rescue as a child or crying those lonely tears night after night, God had His heart in your hand, moulding it, shaping it, giving it form to be a vessel of purpose.

That's where I choose to live.  That's where I choose to find my purpose and reason and the answers to the ceaseless whys.

Because.....God is the Potter of my heart and yours.

That's why.

Peace,
Ronda

Psalm 139


Photo by Rhonda Piper Photography


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Closed Doors and Battered Knuckles

"I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me." 

Those are the words of Jesus.  He did not desire or wish to please himself but to please the One who sent Him.

Wow.

Jesus did nothing but only what would please His Father.  He didn't go looking for ways to please himself, to put himself first, to make his name known, to get ahead in life, to do what was best for him.

He did not zeteo, he did not search for, desire, require, or demand that his own needs were met before meeting the needs of his Father who sent him.

How good are you at putting yourself last?   Not good?  Me either.  Me is who I always think of first.  Then when I'm done thinking of me, next on the list come my husband, my kids and grandson, then maybe, mayyyyybe God's pleasure fits in somewhere around line 9 or 10 of my list of those I try or find important to please.

The transliteration of the actual words Jesus used say this:

 not I seek the will of me but the will of the one having sent me.

Jesus didn't seek the will of me (himself) but the will of the one having sent him (God).  Ugh.  Jesus, really now, you're hitting too close to home here.  You're getting in my business a little bit too much.

His desire was to do what God wanted him to do.  He pushed aside the temptations to do what He wanted to do over and over again.  He was tempted in the same ways we are, yet he didn't give in to the temptations that were ever present to put himself first and his Father last.

What in the world does that look like?  How can we even begin to comprehend, let alone imitate such behavior?

Well, one step at a time.  One wish at a time.  One desire at a time.  One want at a time.

I knew someone once who told me that the way she prayed for God's will to be known for her was praying that no door opened that He didn't want her to walk through.  It was a real hard formula.  (wink wink). Just a simple prayer and a simple trust that God would open the doors He wanted her to walk through and close the doors He didn't want her to enter.

Now some of us will try and try and try to break down doors that are clearly closed, even getting bloody knuckles and sore shoulders from continued knocking and attempting to break them down.

When we believe God is telling us to do something and it's not just our will that is hoping God is agreeing with us that it would be a good thing to do, through my friend's example say something like this:

"Jesus, if it is your will for me, and I want your will to be done (I think I do anyway), not mine, Lord Jesus, if you want me to have or do ________ than I will not do anything until the door opens wide to have or do ________."

Even Jesus asked God for a different game plan than what he was facing.  Remember?  He said, if there is any way for this cup to pass, if you are willing, yet not my will but your will.  And God had him killed.

That was God's will.

Wanting God's will over our own will is not going to bring all sunshine and roses.  Some doors that open we will be certain they should have stayed shut.

Some doors that stay shut we will not be able to understand why they stay shut because we know what's on the other side of the door is not bad.  It's not evil.  It's not unholy.  It's pretty good stuff on the other side.  But when those doors stay shut it's not because they're evil or unholy, it's because they are not a part of God's will for YOU.

You may be able to hear the party and the laughter and the joy coming through the door, but if it's not God's will for you to be on the other side of that door, you shouldn't go in.

Stay on the side of the door where his will for you rests.

Make your every decision from here forward on this premise.  (Or something like it anyway). Lord, I want what you want.  I surrender to what you want for me.  I know what you want for me could be really hard and painful and even mean giving up some things that I really enjoy and bring me closer to you, but if you don't want me to have them, then I don't want them.  I want what you want.  I don't want to walk through any doors if you aren't on the other side.

Ugh.

Be careful what you pray for.  If you want a closer relationship with Jesus, He'll see to it that you get it, but it won't be in ways that you design.  The doors you thought he would open may remain locked tightly and the doors that do begin to open you may be a little apprehensive about walking through.  Butremember how faith works during times like those.....trust that He will keep you safe, He will be with you every step of the way.  And just start walking.  One foot in front of the other.

The footing will be unfamiliar, the light may be dim, but He'll be sure to carry you through whether you feel him with you or not.  He's there.  Cheering you on, reminding you that He has been where you are.  He fought and won the temptations to quit that you will face.  Nothing you will go through as you seek His will over your own will be too hard for him to carry you through.

Just trust Him.

Hold on tight, don't let go.

Begin seeking not the will of "me" but seek the will of Him.

He's so worth it.



Peace,
Ronda

John 5:30     Luke 22:42     Philippians 2:5-11     Hebrews 4:15



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

There's More to the Story

It's getting close to that time of year again.  I saw evidence of it in Hobby Lobby the other day and glimpses of it in Walmart too.  The sparkles are going up, the red and green and gold and silver are beginning to line the shelves.  I remember when I used to be so put out that "Christmas" was up for sale earlier and earlier each year, but now I feel better seeing Christmas in October.  I think we need the reminder of the story earlier in the times we are living in now.

See, the story goes that Christmas was celebrated because the birth of a baby, far away in a war torn country was born to save the world from its sins.  It's such a wild story, isn't it?  Over 2000 years ago, a baby, a baby for crying out loud, was born to affect me and everyone I know, here, now in 2014 and for all time before and after.

It's a wild story.  I understand why many don't believe it.  It's crazy.

But we got used to the story, we got used to those who poo poo the story.  Santa Claus got thrown into the story to at least take away from the main focus of the story, Jesus, so that those who don't believe THE STORY can at least benefit in some way from the reason behind the story.

And so it goes, around and around on the church calendar so that the retail calendars can have a piece of the story too.  The story starts getting unpacked around September and October and hangs around until December 26th at midnight where it all gets packed up again, or at least till the after Christmas sales are over.

I wish the rest of the story would be told.  Oh wait, that's Easter.

We know that story pretty good too, believer and doubter alike.  Jesus got crucified, placed in a tomb and rose from the dead three days later.

Got it.

It doesn't get the commercial effect that the Christmas story gets but we do have a bunny thrown in to get the focus off the star of the story - Jesus.

Did you know there's more to the story?

See, if you live your life between part A of the story -the baby - and part B of the story -the resurrection - with those the only highlights of your everyday life then you've probably missed it.

But there's more to the story.

It's the chapter that goes beyond a baby and a cross and heaven, but instead tells the story of faith and courage and bravery and hope and surrender  being possible all because of Part A baby and Part B resurrection.

See the rest of the story involves you.  You are, as Paul Harvey used to say, "the rest of the story."

The baby did come to die for you and grant you eternal life, but the baby also came to regenerate your life, to bring new life to it.  Life that has purpose and meaning.

He couldn't just tell you to be perfect like He was if He didn't first make a way for you to be perfect in His sight.  When that little baby grew up and lay his life down for me and you, yes it was for the awesome gift of eternal life, but it was also for the awesome gift of walking with Him now, not just when you die.

He made a way for you to be able to follow the teachings He taught while He walked on earth.  He made a way for you to rise above the inclination to do the opposite of what God wants and instead walk freely in what is His best for us.

God does it all so that we can be all we were created to be.

That's the rest of the story.  That's the part that's missing from Christmas to Easter and Easter to Christmas.

You are the "more" to the story.

You are.  Your life is the "more" to the story.  The life that has Jesus at the helm, not as a copilot but as the pilot.  Walking with you through everything that life throws at you, the good, the bad and the ugly.  The tedious, the small, the big, the heartbreaking. You were not meant to face any of it alone.  We were meant to face life as Jesus gave us the example to.  In deep abiding trust and willingness to surrender our ideas and plans and fears to the God who wrote the story, -Part A, Part B and everything before, in between and after.

I hope in this season when you are scrambling to plan meals and buy gifts and decorate and you find yourself looking forward to when it's all packed away, that you ask the question, "how do I fit into this story?"

You are the only one who knows what God has been trying to teach you all these years as you've muddled through the holiday season.  Only you can ask Him what the "more" to the story is.  Only you can ask to be shown how you fit into the rest of the story.  Only you can want to know the more.  I wish it for you, but I can't make you want it.  Only you can want to know more.

Do you?

Or are the two chapters of the story enough?  Are the two chapters helping you face the hardest thing you've ever faced in your life?  Are they getting all your questions answered?  Is your list of "whys" getting shorter each year as you go from Part A in the story to Part B?  If they are, great, this post isn't for you.

But if you're honest enough with yourself to say, "no", then know that God hears your call.  If you want to know the more, he longs to show you the more.  And if you don't, he's ever the gentleman and will continue to love you as He always has.

The story we've been told is beautiful.  I can't imagine my life having not known either Part A or Part B.  Please, Lord, let your story continue to be told, not just when the calendar and and stores say its time, but let the story blend into our story, our boring everyday life stories.  Show us how that baby and that cross and that empty tomb matter for our heartbreaks and disappointments, our joys and our sorrows.

Let us ginosko "the rest of the story."

Peace,
Ronda






Monday, October 27, 2014

I'm coming out of the closet

It's been 14 years ago this month that I made the choice to walk away from the visible church.  It had been a debilitating, often excruciating, many times soul-wrenching struggle to get to that point but it is a choice that I haven't regretted.  The circumstances that led me to making that choice make me sad at times, but never once have I regretted making the choice.

So, why did I leave?

Probably the simplest answer is the reasons you may give for staying.  "Because," you may say, "the Bible says we shouldn't give up meeting together."  Or, "it's not perfect, but what is."  Or, "if you're a Christian you should go to church and be among the body of believers."

Good answers.  Good reasons for staying.

I just don't buy them anymore.

I was raised in a very conservative church body that prides itself on separating themselves from others in the Body of Christ who don't practice/understand/believe certain behaviors and doctrines the same as they do.

Nothing new, and there are many many denominations who have such high standards.   Praise God for sound doctrine, praise God for men and women who devote themselves to the study of Scripture so that the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ is not watered down.

Remember, the Gospel says this:  Jesus Christ left His throne in heaven to live in imperfect human flesh, perfectly, in an imperfect world, laying down His life as a sacrifice for the whole world so that we are now reconciled to God, called God's children, and promised eternal life through the gift of faith given to us by God Himself.

That's the Gospel.

Anything added to that Gospel, whether it be how one practices traditions or sacraments or pious behaviors as a mark that one is truly a follower of Jesus Christ is a work.

And works don't save.

So the reasons for my leaving the visible church are difficult to discuss and convey.  Believe me, I've tried.  Again and again and again I have tried to reconcile the basis for practices that don't seem to line up with God's word or have not seen God Himself practice.   Sometimes the response has been anger, sometimes the response has been a shrug of the shoulders, but most of the time the response has been silence.

And the silence is deafening.

Maybe we are in an age of such selfies that there is no longer a desire to seek God's face, to desire His will for our lives.  Maybe it's just so much easier to just follow the crowd in religion, just like many follow the crowd in politics or the waves of sinful behaviors.

I don't know.  I don't really care why anymore.  I care that tradition and practice and we've-always-done-it-that-way-and-don't-even-think-about-doing-a-700-year-tradition-differently is more important than getting to know the God that did so much to have a relationship with me.

The first disciples of Jesus Christ, the ones who got to eat with him, walk with him, talk with him, camp with him knew that being in relationship with him was more important than anything else in their lives.  They left their livelihoods immediately when Jesus called them.  After they watched him suffer and die and then lay their own eyes on his empty grave, they never looked back at their old lives.  They were all about Him.

Not the Jewish traditions and practices they were raised in.  Not what their families thought about them.  Not what their neighbors called them.  They were all about Jesus.  They wanted Him more than anything else those things could offer.  And they were willing to give their lives in order to never go back to what they once were.

It's harder for us to grasp this concept, we who don't get to see the visible Jesus like the first disciples did.  Perhaps it was easier to follow something you could see, but following Him meant death in the end for all of them.  We're not quite there, at least not in the United States.  Yet.

So why did I leave?

Because Jesus Christ is better.

Don't get me wrong, the traditions and the practices of the visible church did point me to the Gospel.  But they didn't love me like the Gospel loved me.  There is good teaching in good churches.  There is bad teaching in good churches.  There is good teaching in bad churches.  But the lines of teaching and practices and behaviors are becoming so blurred that we've lost sight of the One of whom it's all about.

Jesus.

Not the story about His life and sacrifice and resurrection.

Him.  Not just the highlights of his life, the big events, but the things He did and said, the tone and manner in which he said and did them.  There's so much more to who He is then just the three big events of His thirty plus years on this earth and what the church calendar deems is the appropriate event to focus on.

The God who reached down to make a way for us sinners to fight the good fight with Him in our hearts, spurring us on, giving us hope, giving us friendship, giving us relationship.  Breath by breath relationship.

Not a relationship like a couple middle schoolers who talk through a mediator to find out "he likes you.  He says he likes you."

"Did you tell him I like him?"

"Yeah, he said he wants to go out with you."

"He wants to go out with me?"

"Yeah, he wants to go out with you and he wanted me to ask you."

That kind of relationship is not what God sacrificed His life for.

He sacrificed Himself so that He can be in your head, in your heart, in your body, in your soul moment by moment helping you overcome the world's toils and tribulations and temptations.

I think the visible church knows that, but I think the visible church only has the head knowledge, not the heart knowledge.  They (whoever "they" is) don't ginosko it.

I'm not telling you all this because I think there should be an end immediately to all churches.  God, no!  No, I'm telling you all of this to tell you this:

There is more to the story that religion and traditions and the visible church are not telling you.

If you are satisfied and fed and nourished and filled with joy as you leave your place of worship, then by all means stay and be the light God is shining through you.

But if after you leave, after you've confessed, after you've said the prayers and sung the hymns and  still you're spiritual stomach growls; if you leave stressed, if you leave anxious, if you leave sad, then it might not be you who has the problem but the company you keep.

That's why I left the visible church.

I kept looking for Jesus who was supposed to be on the stage but I had to go through so many stage curtains to find Him, finally, standing in the center of the stage.  The curtains were nice but they kept Him hidden, out of view.  The show had started, but the star of the show was hidden behind the curtains of traditions and practices and piety.

God started to feed me with nourishment from all parts of His body, not just the one I grew up in.  If I could direct you to one place in the world where I got the way I am, I couldn't do it.  There are too many invisible places that I could never point out to you because they are invisible.  Some of them came from visible, tangible buildings and places I physically walked into, but most of them came from unusual places, places one would never think to look because they are so unorthodox, so not where we'd expect God to be teaching.

I got some good teaching from some churches that didn't practice so well.  I got some good practices from some churches that didn't teach so well.

There is no one place that I can tell you to go because there were pieces taken from here, there, and everywhere!

If you read this, and after you get over being offended, pray. Pray for God to show you what He wants you to get out of this.  Not to shame you or guilt you or to humiliate you, but to grow you.  To free you from the bondage of earthly church into the realm of the invisible.

I love God's people.  Of all denominations and traditions and practices.  But they are not God.

God is God and only He loves me back and so much more than anything or anyone that wears His name will ever be able to do.

I wouldn't recommend doing what I've done if you're not serious about your desire to want Jesus only.  It's not fun.  It's heartbreaking to walk away not knowing if you'll ever be ok again.  It's scary to think of the consequences of walking away from the only thing you've ever known into a realm that has no play book, no plan, no one to walk with you (except Jesus, of course, but as my daughter said one time when we had moved and she hadn't found any friends and I said, "Jesus is your friend," to which she replied, "but I can't play with Jesus").  It won't be easy.  You'll be very lonely at times.  Until in your loneliness He reveals Himself to you in a way you would have never seen had you looked for him among the visible.

It won't be easy and I can promise you it will probably be the hardest thing you've ever done to leave everything and follow him and him alone.  But I can promise you, He's worth it.

No one loves you like Him.

No one understands you like Him.

No one is rooting you on like He is.

No one.

Your fellow Christians will be hurt.  They won't understand.  It will bring discomfort to your relationships.

But that's ok.

Jesus is the Master of relationships.

Let them do what God's called them to do and you do what God has called you to do.  It's all going to make perfect sense on the other side when we're all together, free from division and grief and hurt.  We'll share our stories of how we couldn't see a step in front us, but we knew somehow God was leading us.

It's all going to make sense then!

We'll share how we all felt when we heard his voice say those precious words whispered in our souls, "Well done, good and faithful servant."  We'll jump and shout and high five and cry tears of joy and relief when we realize that what was dividing us in the earthly realm was being used by God for the heavenly realm.  It's all going to be ok.

I'm pressing on for the prize, the prize God is calling me heavenward for.  The prize that is those words, to hear the sound of his voice, to see the smile on his face.

I may be crazy and you may be afraid to even read any words I share ever again.  That's ok.  It's not you I seek to see smile.  It's God's smile I'm after.

Peace,
Ronda







Thursday, October 23, 2014

Truth in Translation


I was in an antique store the other day, just browsing, killing some time and not really finding anything that jumped out at me.  As I walked around the quaint little store that was once a house I found myself in a former bedroom where all kinds of things you might find in a bedroom were - just the antique kind.  Hairbrushes, water pitchers and dry sinks, mirrors, etc.  There was a closet that did not have a door on it and it had several shelves that were packed with mostly linens and "fancy things" (a term I learned at my Grandparent's auction to describe needlepoint, cross stitch and anything hand made).

I rummaged through the shelves and the piles of blankets and quilts and pillow cases and in the back corner of a shelf about three down from the top were some books.  I'm always on the lookout for old hymnals so I thought that was what I might have found.

I had to move several items off the shelf and place them on the bed to get to the books, but when I did, I was pleasantly surprised.  I hadn't found hymnals, but I had found Bibles.  I believe to be written one in Swedish and one in Norwegian, at least that's what Google translate tells me.  One was published in 1905 and the other in 1951.  Not horribly old, but perhaps belonged to someone my grandmother's age and her mother's age.

It's intriguing to think about who they belonged to.

They are both fairly well read and both previous owner's liked to underline as there are many many red lines under some of the same verses that are underlined in my English bible.

The Word of God is what binds us.  The Word of God is what divides us.

Only the reader of the Word of God knows how the Word speaks to their heart.  I'd like to think that this man or woman holding these Bibles underlined them because they spoke so loudly to them in the darkness, like the Word speaks to me many times, that they wanted to come back to that spot over and over and over again. One will really never know, and it's really none of my business why a passage is underlined.

But it is intriguing to me that a person, who perhaps only spoke Swedish or Norwegian, was moved, for whatever reasons, by the same words that speak to me in English.

God's Word speaks to every language, every tongue, for all time.

Won't it be a beautiful thing in heaven when the language barriers are gone, the doctrinal divides are erased and we worship and praise with one voice, one tongue calling out to One Name.  The name that saves.

Jesus Christ.

Peace,
Ronda