Thursday, February 28, 2013

Take Advantage

I love when I wake up early, full of energy, and get to spend that unexpected and unscheduled time with God. For those of you who know just how much I love sleeping, this probably sounds completely out of character - and generally, you would be right. This morning, however,  it's how I feel.

I went to bed late last night, and then I woke up much earlier than usual this morning, unable to go back to sleep for those last couple of hours. Surprisingly, I didn't mind. Instead of fighting to go back to sleep, annoyed that I wouldn't get my full 8 hours, I found myself full of things to talk about with God and full of energy so that I could get up and start the day. The house was quiet, my earlier-than-scheduled walk to campus was virtually empty of people. I felt like it was just me and God.

By the time I got to my campus office, two hours earlier than I had planned when I set my alarm last night, I had gotten up, gotten dressed, gotten ready for work, done my devotions, and spent some serious time in prayer and it was only 7 am.

Often, having fibromyalgia means dragging myself out of bed after at least 8 hours of sleep - preferably more. But, sometimes, the sleeplessness that comes with my disease means a day of wakefulness that starts early, giving me the opportunity to carve out a larger chunk of time for God and still check things off my to do list.

Having fibromyalgia means taking advantage of the opportunities God blesses me with whenever possible. It means finding the silver lining in only 5 hours of sleep, using it for worship and good work, rather than wasting it trying to will myself back to sleep.

Are you taking advantages of the unexpected opportunities God is giving you to connect with him?

Today's Verse
Psalm 5:3
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

False Humility

Humility is something God calls us to have, but it is a virtue that I often hear defined in terms of what it is not.  I hear it talked about in contrast to false humility and pride. When people talk about false humility I tend to picture pride. I tend to think of these two concepts as synonymous. I think of people who do things for others but with an attitude of martyrdom. I hear, "Look how humble and selfless I am being, isn't it great?" Today I discover that false humility is NOT pride. Instead, false humility is the extreme opposite of pride. Where pride is feeling superior, being conceited, and arrogance, false humility is thinking poorly about one's self and feeling inferior. True humility (not boasting, being ready to serve, being teachable) is found in between these two concepts on the humility/pride continuum.

For me, the line between true humility and false humility can be so hard to see and so easy to cross. I find it common for me to think negative thoughts about myself. I excuse those thoughts, telling myself that at least I am being humble, at least I am being realistic. The little voice inside me that tells me I am not good enough is also the one that tells me that humility means realizing I am not good enough and accepting it. It tells me that humility means accepting that I don't belong, that I never will, that no one would ever like the real me, that even God doesn't like the real me. But this little voice is not my conscience, it is not the truth, it is not the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit teaches, Satan condemns. Where the Holy Spirits convicts us about our sin, Satan attempts to convict us about ourselves.  Satan attacks the sinner, not the sin. Satan wants us to be falsely humble, God wants us to adopt the humility of Christ.

When I find myself believing negative things about myself, things that have nothing to do with my actions and everything to do with the very fabric of who I am, and when those things are in direct conflict with who God says I am, it isn't humility. I don't need to fear that God thinks I'm unlovable or crippled or that I will never be of use. Humility is not self-loathing. God doesn't want us to loath ourselves, he wants us to rejoice in who he has made us to be. We are no longer defined by our faults and failures. We don't have to accept a negative view of ourselves in order to be humble. Instead, we attempt to be like Christ, who humbled himself for the good of all, knowing exactly who He was and being intimately aware of His value to God.

What does that little voice tell you? Ask God to show you who He believes you are.

Today's Verses
2 Corinthians 5:16-17
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When Christ is the Cornerstone

On Sunday night at bible study we discuss the idea that Christian community should have Christ as its cornerstone. defines cornerstone as ‘a stone that forms the base of a corner of a building, joining two walls’ and as ‘an important quality or feature on which a particular thing depends or is based’. We ask ourselves, ‘If Jesus is truly the cornerstone of a Christian community, what would that community look like?’ If we were to base our community on Christ, to depend on Him, to build our community with Him as our foundation, what things would characterize that kind of community?

For me, the answer to that question kept coming back to one concept: grace. A community with Christ as its cornerstone would be one full of grace: Grace for ourselves when we mess up or embarrass ourselves, grace for others when they mess up or annoy us. This community would be one of peace, of respect. Ephesians 2:17 says that Christ came and preached peace to those who were near and far. He preached peace to those close to Him, and to those who were far from Him. I wonder if I am doing that, if I am preaching peace to those close to me and far from me. I think about whether I preach peace to myself. Do I think about things peacefully, do I extend myself grace when I fail to live up to my own expectations?

To me, peace and grace are intrinsically linked. When grace is present, so is peace. When we extend grace to others, we live in peace with them. Their faults and foibles are less important to us when we extend grace. When we extend grace to ourselves, in our own hearts and minds, the fears and insecurities that leave us vulnerable and prone to lashing out at others are lessened. If we are at peace with ourselves, if we treat ourselves gracefully, we can do the same for others.

It’s true that the grace of God is not something that can be fully understood. As humans, full of faults and imperfections, we are incapable of extending grace in the consistent and unconditional manner of God. But we can try. We can make an effort to put Christ first in our lives, to accept His grace and love. Then, following His example, we can make an effort to see others the way He sees them, to treat others the way He treats them: with grace and peace.

Today’s Verses
Ephesians 2: 17-20
He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Monday, February 25, 2013

What Do I Do Now?

Do you ever reach a point where your plans for life take an entirely new turn and you are left confused and fumbling around, trying to figure out where you are going? Or maybe, like me, you find yourself still walking the path you planned to walk, but you are no longer sure where that path is heading.

I no longer know what I am doing or where I am going or how I am supposed to get there. Yesterday I was feeling totally at sea, as if I were on a boat that had gotten halfway to its destination only to have the wind and driving force simply disappear with the horizon nowhere in sight. Then I went to church, only to have God really speak and force me to face the flaws in how I've been thinking about my life. Our pastor came straight out and told us to 'stop trying to accomplish God's goals your way."

Wow. Once again, God shows me that knowing is not enough. Knowing what I fear hasn't been enough to conquer those fears, and knowing what God wants for my life isn't enough to make it happen. I've been seeking after God's plans for me and what He wants from me, but once He has revealed those things to me I have not been concerned with how He wants to accomplish those things in my life. Instead, I've said 'Oh, great, thanks for the heads up! I'll go out and make that happen for you." But that is NOT the way He wants it. He wants our eyes to stay on Him, even when He reveals His goals and tasks for us. He never intends for us to do it alone, because we can't. Only He can accomplish His goals in our life, we can never do it without Him or before He intend for it to happen.

By the end of yesterday's service I could hear God asking me two things. The first was 'Why must you rush ahead?' He said, 'Please just WAIT for me! It will go so much better for you if you keep your eyes on me and wait." The second was 'Do you TRUST me?' I heard him saying "I am faithful and I honor my promises. But you must wait on me, and waiting requires trust. Do you truly believe I will accomplish these things? Keep your eyes on me.'

So that's the answer to 'what do I do now?' I keep my eyes on Him. I put Him and His will before my own. I wait.

Today's Verses:
Isaiah 64:4
 Since ancient times no one has heard,
    no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
    who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. 

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding; 

 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Simple Sundays: Famous Bread

Sundays are supposed to be Sabbaths - does that mean no blogging? I'm not sure about that, but I am sure I want to keep my Sunday posts simple.

Today I want to share my recipe for what a friend calls my 'famous bread.' It isn't actually famous, but apparently people like it. It's also not actually mine. I found the recipe here:

I've made a version with basil, oregano, and garlic kneaded into the bread that I then dusted with parmesan cheese, and I've also made a version with cinnamon and sugar kneaded into it which I then sprinkled with more cinnamon and sugar.

The best part about this bread is how easily you can split it into smaller portions. I've made one whole loaf but I also divided it into three loaves, and even four smaller loaves. Also, because its a braided bread, you don't have to worry about having loaf pans!

Twisted Herb Bread
This bread recipe produces a large loaf of fluffy white bread with a fine crumb. If you prefer a chewier, crustier bread just substitute your favorite recipe for the ingredients listed here. The main attraction of this bread is the different herbs added to each rope of the braid. I used fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano.
preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
yield: 1 loaf
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon snipped fresh oregano
1 Tablespoon snipped fresh thyme
1 Tablespoon snipped fresh rosemary
3 Tablespoons butter melted
Parmesan cheese, fresh grated or powdered
1) In a large bowl, dissolve yeast, sugar, 1/4 cup warm water and set aside for 10 minutes (until foamy.) Stir in the 1 cup water, the Tablespoon melted butter and salt. Beat in enough flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to make a slightly sticky dough.
2) Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead in enough of the remaining flour to create a dough that’s smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes.) Shape into a ball. Place in a bowl that’s been lightly coated in extra virgin olive oil, turning once to cover the surface of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for one hour or until doubled in size.
3) Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 3 portions. Knead one of the fresh herbs into each of the portions so you have a rosemary ball, an oregano ball, and a thyme ball. Place back in bowl, cover and let them rest for 10 minutes.
4) Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Shape each portion of dough into a 20 inch long rope. Braid, pinch ends together and tuck each end under the loaf. Cover and allow to rise for 45 minutes.
5) Brush the top of the loaf with the 3 Tablespoons butter and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. When the bread is done it will sound hollow when it’s tapped on the top. Immediately remove bread from baking sheet and transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Being Thankful

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says to "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 

Today it is difficult for me to be thankful in my circumstances. I wake up with a splitting headache and my whole body hurts - from my neck to my toes, I am in pain. I'm not unfamiliar with this, I've had fibromyalgia longer than I can remember, I am always aware that I could wake up any day, feeling just like this. But what is there to be thankful for when I can't move without wincing? 

The answer is in the small things. Thankful in my circumstances doesn't have to mean thankful for my pain. It means finding other things, smaller things to be thankful for. Today I am thankful for a friend who had me over and cooked me dinner. I didn't have to stand in the kitchen or wash dishes. I just had to show up, and for that I am thankful. I am thankful that God has placed people in my life who care for me, who insist that I eat actual food, even when I don't feel like it, and who cook it for me.  

Today's Verse 
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18   
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Turning into the Skid

A wise woman I know presents the idea that, when driving, accelerating and turning into a skid is the best way to correct and recover (turning away, overcorrecting, are our first instincts and they are incredibly dangerous). She wonders if God wants us to accelerate and turn into the very things that frighten us, in order to recover and correct our paths.

I have spent the last several months discovering the things that I truly fear. My deep-seated, insidious fears about myself, my life, and God are slowly coming to light.  But maybe awareness isn’t enough. Maybe just knowing what I fear and even discussing my fears with God and others isn’t enough. Maybe I should accelerate and turn into those fears, throwing myself on God’s mercy and trusting him to handle things.

I’m not sure what that looks like, but I have a feeling it means accepting God’s help when I face uncomfortable and fearful situations. It means trusting God to go before me, trusting that my first reaction, to turn in the opposite direction, is what I shouldn’t do. Instead, I should go with it, go with God. 

Today's Verse 
Romans 8: 28, 31 
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose… What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I am Ordinary, and That’s Ok

On Monday night I have a discussion with some people from the Cru grad student ministry at Penn State about Peter and John and their experience before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4.  The men of the Sanhedrin noticed that Peter and John were ‘unschooled, ordinary men’, implying that they were unqualified to speak about God and be used by Him.  Then they realized that these men had been with Jesus. This made them qualified, this meant that their lack of schooling and ordinary lives weren’t holding them back or keeping God from using them. Our group leader asks us to name the characteristics that we ascribe to ourselves that keep us from feeling like we can be of use. What are our ‘unschooled’ or ‘ordinary’ characteristics? What holds us back?

Then he reminds us that God called Peter and John in the midst of their ordinary lives. They trusted Him to work through them, regardless of the fact that they were uneducated and ordinary. I realize that it all comes down to trust. Trusting the Holy Spirit to move, trusting that it’s ok to get out of the way, give up control, and let God work. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom – freedom from those things that make me ordinary and unqualified. Freedom from fear that God won’t want to use me, that I will fail, that those I reach out to will reject me. When God moves, when the Spirit moves, I am free from all those things – free to do exactly what He has called me to do and be exactly who He has called me to be.  

Today's Verse 
Acts 4:13 
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.