Monday, April 4, 2011

It's No Secret - Week 1

I'm doing this online bible study hosted by Melissa Taylor & the name of the book is called "It's No Secret" written by Rachel Olsen. Both ladies are a part of Proverbs 31 Ministries. **On a side note, if this post intrigues or inspires you in some way, it's not too late to join.**

**********

I wanted to share some things that I've learned this week & some of my answers to the Bible study questions at the end of each chapter.

Chapter 1: Always RSVP: Revealing the secret to responding to God.

I RSVPed to God's call in 1989. Then about 3 years later I decided to take a trip into the "far country" (see Luke 15:13). I finally returned to God in 2004 (you can read some background story at this link).

In the 1st Bible study question, Rachel asks us to read the parable about the man throwing a feast (Luke 14:15-24) and we are to list the excuses that people made for not being prepared to attend. Then, she asked what excuses we have made for not responding to Christ, or not being "dressed and ready".

Well as I mentioned above, I did respond to Christ in 1989 & again in 2004 after 15 years of back-slidding. But that is not all that He asks of us. Once we are saved, we must continue on in our walk with Jesus in order to be ready for his return. Sometimes that is easier said than done. In Matthew 26:40, Jesus states that the "spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." And, I can confirm from my own experiences that this statement is so true. As much as I want to read my bible & spend quiet time with God each day, the concerns & worries of this world seem to have taken dominance in my life. I also become self-absorbed at times in my hurts, feelings, & wants instead of focusing on God & what He wants of me.

Question 2 asks what Revelation 19:6-10 says about the bride (church) and her wedding dress? The NKJV says in verse 8 that, "...to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints." My pastor has stated many times that when Jesus returns, he is looking for a church that is "without spot or wrinkle". He's also said that if no one wants to see a bride that looks like she's been drug through the mud, then how much more true should it be for the bride of Christ. (I'm paraphrasing there because I can't remember the exact quote). We need to be "dressed & ready" for His return & the only way we can do that is by the saving grace of Jesus. It's through His shed blood that we are redeemed (Ephesians 1:17)


Chapter 2 - Know When to Pay Retail. Revealing the Secret Cost of Following Christ.

This was a powerful chapter in that it talks about the cost of following Christ.

THE TREASURE

She gave an example of the parables of the Hidden Treasure & the Pearl (Matthew 13:44-46)

In Verse 44 Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. The man hid it again & sold everything he owned to get the treasure. Then, in verses 45-46, Jesus compares the kingdom of Heaven to "a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!" (NLT)

Here's a couple quotes that really stood out to me of what Rachel had to say about both of these two parables.

"The difference between these two parables is that in the first, the man simply stumbled upon the treasure... He's an everday guy who happened upon the treasure and realized its worth." (p. 46)

"The field buyer's story tears down my tendency to think living sold out for God is only expected of monks, scribes, nuns, pastors or missionaries. Nope, this sold-0ut living - and the treasures it brings - is for any and every Yahweh Sister. It's for each gal willing to pay the price in her daily life to follow Christ." - Since I'm an just your average sister in Christ, I must be willing to pay the price in my daily life to follow Christ. "The pearl merchant, unlike the field buyer, actively searched for his treasure." - I must be actively searching Him & his will. "Both of these characters recognized the worth of the treasures they encountered and literally dropped everything to obtain them." (p. 47) - Since I know the true worth of what Jesus did for me, I must also be willing to drop everything to follow Him.

THE COST

"...there is a great price to pay to lay full hold of the treasures of God's kingdom. I consider it the price of abandon." (p.47)

"He wants to disciple us and show us the way to the treasure, but that requires some focus and a surrendered commitment on our end. In other words, we must abandon ourselves to Him and sell out to the one true thing worth selling out to." (p. 48) Wow. I love that statement. Jesus paid the ulimate price for my sins on the cross and, do I believe that is definitely worth selling out to. Absolutely. So, I need to make it my goal to daily abandon myself to go 'all out for Jesus & not be wishy-washy about it. Because I'm either in or I'm out." (Another paraphrase from my pastor)

Another parable she discusses is the one about the rich, young ruler (Luke 18:18-23).

"Jesus essentially says to him, If you really want to enter into true life, sell out to Me with careless abandon. Give up your allegiance to all your stuff and your power, and content yourself in walking daily with Me." ... "Only he didn't recognize it. He didn't have the eyes to see it's worth. He misjudged the value of the kingdom of God and settled for his stuff - a counterfielt pearl." (p. 50)

In Luke 18:24-27, "Jesus points out that weath provides a sense of security, comfort, and pride that can cloud our spiritual vision, causing us to miss the worth of the kingdom of God." (p. 50-51) Rachel then goes on to say that, "This shakes me to my core when I get honest about how much time I spend pursuing creature conforts instead of the treasure of Christ." - Wow. I could totally relate to that statement. Since l know that I can't take my "stuff" with me when I die, why do spend so much time trying to accumulate things that don't last. When I think about all the times I've wasted sitting in front of the TV watching re-runs of shows & movies I've seen a 1000 times, instead of spending that time pursing God in His word & through prayer. I feel bad.

But I love what Jesus says next. After the disciples & witneses wondered aloud who could be saved if this rich, young ruler couldn't be, "Jesus assured that salvation will always be impossible for man to earn, but God will give it to those who yeild it to Him.... then Jesus let the disciples know that even more will be given to those who not only yield, but wholeheartedly sell out to Him with abandon." (p. 51)

In Luke 18:28-30, Jesus promises that whomever has given up everything to follow him will be repaid many times over in this life as well as receiving eternal life... I love it, because that is a wonderful promise to hang on to. Anything that I have to give up to follow him will be worth it.

Rachel states next that, "This motivates me to examine my heart and see if I'm barely yielding, or really abandoning myself to God. Am I the pearl merchant, or the rich, young ruler?" - This were 2 great questions that I also need to ask myself as well.

"Through these parables, Jesus reveals the paramount worth of the kingdom of God, and the secret reality that anything we give or lose as a result of following Him is more than a bargain for what we'll receive in return." (p. 52) - I'll say "Amen" to that!

"I'm a die-hard bargain shopper, but Jesus has taught me that one thing is worth my all, worth paying retail for: the kingdom of God and its King, Jesus" (p. 53) - I'm also a bargain shopper as well & prefer to buy most stuff when it's on sale. But I agree that the kingdom of God & it's King, Jesus are DEFINITELY worth paying retail price.

The 1st question that Rachel asks in the Bible study is, "What character do you identify with most: the stumbling field-buyer, the searching pearl merchant, or the rich, young ruler?"

If I'm honest, I think I'm a mix of the searching pearl merchant & the rich, young ruler. On the one hand, I want to live completely sold out for Jesus and live my life with total abandon. However, because of a prideful & selfish spirit, there are still areas that I'm struggling to leave at the altar. I guess you could say that I'm sort of a control-freak when it comes to certain things and because people I were close to have let me down in the past, I have a difficult time trusting God with those same things. It's really hard, but I'm slowly starting to trust God and know that He truly does have my best interests at heart.

**********
Well, I could probably go on, but it's getting late and I know this post is LONG enough. So, in closing, I wanted to share a video I found on YouTube. The song is, ironically called, Souled Out and it's by Hezekiah Walker. We sing this song in church & I started singing it to myself while reading this chapter. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. :)

My favorite part of the song goes:

My heart is fixed, my mind's made up
No room, no vacancies, I'm all filled up
His Spirit lives in me
- and that's the reason - I'm Souled Out!



Saturday, April 2, 2011

My 6 word story

PRODIGAL DAUGHTER. RETURNS HOME. FORGIVEN RESTORED.

She Reads is also giving an opportunity to win a scholarship to the She Speaks conference in July.


The Prodigal "Daughter"

(Image provided by http://www.heartlight.org/)

The story of the "prodigal son" (Luke 15:11-32) was the main theme of my church for the past several days & there is a great reason for it. See, we started a spontaneous revival last Monday night & the condition was that if one person got saved, we would go the next night & so on, until no one gets saved. Well, by God's tender grace & mercy, we've had over 200 precious souls give their life to Christ. We've also witnessed marriages & relationships restored. People are being healed, delivered, set free & most of all, “prodigal sons & daughters” are coming home!! Glory be to God!!

Well, the original purpose of this post is for me to step out of my comfort zone, be vulnerable & share my heart. So, if you'll bear with me for just a few moments, I'm going to do just that. The reason I decided to start this post off with what's been going on with my church - well, not only do I think it's awesome & deserves to be shared - but because the story of the 'prodigal son' has been weighing heavily on me lately. You see, I was once a 'prodigal daughter'. And, I promise I'm going to give you the “reader's digest” version - as my pastor likes to say. LOL!

I was 15 years old when I got saved. I had invited my friend to church one night & that evening, we both decided to get saved together. After that night, I continued going to church but the only time my bible saw the light of day was during a church service. The majority of the time it collected dust on the shelf. So, even though I understood what it meant that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, I never took the time, outside of church, to develop a personal relationship with him.

My official journey into the '”far country” (Verse 13) began about 3 years later when my parents separated and I quit attending church. Then, by the time I turned 21, and was still living at home with my mom & younger brother, I started rebelling. I was going out on weekends with my co-workers, hanging out in bars to drink & sing karaoke.

It was during this time that I ended up having a “very short” affair with a co-worker who was about my dad's age. I never thought I would do such a thing, but it ended up being more “emotional” than “physical”. I was still very vulnerable & was dealing with some heavy emotions over my parent's separation & divorce that I think I was looking for another 'father figure' type.

Soon after our affair had ended, I met a guy who was a regular at the bar my co-workers & I went for karaoke. He would also later become my boyfriend with whom I'd live with for the next 7 years. Not only that, but the kicker is that I knew his mom & he knew my dad before we even met. When my dad left, he ended up staying in the same apartment building that my new boyfriend's parent's lived in. Then, about 2 years later, his mom became my trainer at my new job - the same one with the co-workers I went with to sing karaoke. Too weird.

OK, since I'm trying to write the “short” version here, I won't go into all the details of our relationship because I could literally write a book about everything that happened. But let's just say that if I thought the affair was bad enough, then that was just the tip of the iceberg. Because, not only was I entering a relationship with someone without being married (fornication), but he was also an agnostic, which means that my relationship with God would became even more distant. On a side note, I would like to make it known that even though I had become distant toward God, He never left my side. He always sent me little reminders to let me know that He was there.

By the time I finally did go back to church & saw my sinful nature reflected back at me through the mirror of the 10 commandments, I was SO ashamed. In over a 10 year period, I had pretty much broken every single one of those commands - I've lied. I've stolen. I've taken God's name in vain. I've coveted what other people had. I've also created idols of the people & things around me, consulted tarot cards (divination) & worshiped angels through new age practices. By the way, even though I'd never “officially” murdered anyone, I did have a lot of anger towards my dad & other people. Which, according to Matt 5:21-22, is akin to murder. OUCH!!

I was a complete mess. I kept thinking to myself, “how could God ever forgive me after all the things that I had done?”. It was in that moment when I completely understood what Jesus did for me (and you) on that cross. (Romans 5:7-9) And, in November of 2004, I repented of my sins, rededicated my life back to Christ & was baptized. The forgiveness & restoration that God as shown me during that time is just scratching the surface of what God's been doing in my life up until now & I hope I get the opportunity to share more of it with you soon. :)

In closing, I just wanted to say that no matter what you've done, or how far in the country you've ran, it will never be far enough that God's love can't reach. It's there for the taking. All you have to do is reach out & take His hand. If you do, I promise, that it will be the most exciting adventure of your life.


*******

The purpose of this post is because Ann Voskamp of A Holy Experience is giving readers an opportunity to win a scholarship to this years She Speaks Conference in July. She Speaks is an annual conference for speakers, writers & ministry leaders & is brought to us by the lovely women of Proverbs 31 Ministries.
"The She Speaks Conference is about women connecting the hearts of women to the heart of our Father God and that your heart is to serve Him and His daughters, as He leads."