Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Blessing of God's Discipline

I had been struggling. For the last three or four days, I had been near tears. Things were out of control, and I was drowning. As bad as that was, worse than that was knowing I knew better than this and still not being able to get my footing back. It was like being at the beach, and each wave knocking over me and filling my mouth and nose with stinging salt water as it rolled over me. I knew there was a ground to stand on, but I still kept falling over. What was the problem?

I might know everything, but I know Who does. I went to the Lord and said, "This is not of you. I'm doing something. What is it?"

Clear as a bell, His voice rang through the mayhem. Relieved and thankful, I rejoiced. Father God had set me free from my own devices, my own thinking, my own answers. He had moved me from my limits to His abundance.

With one simple statement from the Lord, I knew what I was doing wrong, corrected my position, and was back on my feet. Instead of knocking me down, waves rolled by while I stood strong.

When I told my friend about it, excitement and gratitude poured out of me. God is so faithful. He's so merciful. He answered me when I called to Him, and He set me free. How amazing is our God!

Quiet filled the air. Finally, she said, "See, that is a difference between us. God corrects you, and you get excited. God corrects me, and I feel like caving into a ball."

My turn to be silent. Cave into a ball? The God of all the universe just took time to hear my prayer and set me free from what had me imprisoned in chaos. Yeah. I'm excited.

However, her voice didn't just lack excitement, it was filled with hurt.

"Why do you think that is?" I asked.

She tossed around several suggestions. In the end she summed it up, "I'm not like you. When God corrects me, I think He's mad and will punish me. When He corrects you, you think He is doing some great and is really doing it so you can have something better. I dread it. It fills you with joy."

That is a huge difference.

Since that conversation a few days ago, I've spent some time with the Lord to understand the differing views of discipline.

For most of us, most "correction" came in the form of punishment. The definition of punishment is "any pain, suffering, or loss inflicted on a person because of a crime or offense." Punishment is driven by revenge--revenge for making someone look bad, revenge for daring to disobey, revenge for being a bother or inconvenience, revenge for a bad day or stress at work. Correction had little to do with correction and a lot to do with venting of anger and controlling through fear. It isn't about making you a better person. It's about making you a non-entity, one that does not require attention, one that keeps you in line without having to actually deal with you.

Unfortunately, punishment not only affects behavior. It affects identities.

Punishment tells a person he is a bother. It says a person is not worth the effort of correcting, only silencing. It strips a person of value and opens the door for shame and rejection. It is often unjust, cruel, and demeaning. The goal is to invoke fear and create thoughtless submission.

Exactly what part of that fits into the picture of God as love?

That is what the Bible says. "God is love (1 John 4:16)." So what part of fear, devaluing, shame, rejection, acting unjustly, or cruelty fits that picture of God?

Let's understand this "God is love" thing. We are talking about a God who put His own Son on a cross to die so people would not perish. What more could He do to scream, "You are valuable beyond anything you can imagine"? Where did Jesus ever respond to someone who came to Him and asked for forgiveness or healing by making them feel ashamed? When did someone reach out for Jesus or call out to Jesus and He reject them? When was Jesus ever cruel to anyone?

Now, some of you may be asking about the Old Testament and the judgment there. Have you ever really read the Old Testament? Have you ever noticed that when someone turned to God, even in the Old Testament, God responded? For instance, Nineveh which was known as a horrible, godless place, repented, and God responded. Hezekiah was going to die, but he turned his heart to God, and God gave him fifteen more years. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho, but because she believed God, He saved her and even put her in the lineage of Christ.

Look through the Bible and find a place where God rejects someone who tried to repent. If you find it, share it with me. I won't hold my breath.

So if God isn't about punishment, what is He about?

Discipline.

Discipline is "the treatment suited to a disciple or learner; education; development of the faculties by instruction and exercise; training, whether physical, mental, or moral."

What a difference in outlook! Punishment sees people as a bother, but discipline sees people as learners in need of development through instruction and exercise. Punishment sees people as a liability, but discipline sees them as a valuable potential. Punishment teaches people to hide and be unseen, but discipline teaches them how to rise up and excel.

That means when God corrects someone He does it because He sees a valuable person with incredible potential who simply needs to learn a different way of doing things, maybe needs to develop a new way to deal with a problem. He doesn't see a problem. He sees an answer. He sees someone worth investing in, someone He believes can do better.

I fully believe the Lord disciplines us with joy because He knows each new thing we learn develops His character in us, and when that happens, we are freer, more joyful, and more productive.

When my children help around the house, whether that be in the kitchen or in the yard, I give them directions, not so they can be ashamed of what they don't know, but so they can learn something new, so next time they can be more efficient, safer, or more adventurous. My goal is not squelch their spirits but to give them freedom to move beyond their limited thinking or faulty solutions.

If I understand that is my role as a parent, how much more God?!

God's discipline is not cruel or devaluing. On the contrary, because He values us and sees value in us, He wants to free us from our limited thought processes and our broken ways of doing things. His purpose is not to invoke fear but to give freedom.

Yeah, I like God's correction. It means my life will be better, the heritage I leave with my children will be better than the one I received, I'll know how to relate to others better, the world will be better because I am revealing more of Him in it, and I will like me better, too. How could it get better than that? But then, that is how the blessings of God work, even the blessing of His discipline.
Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Birthday

I lied. I admit it. And it wasn't even a "sort of lie". This was a big fat "I know I'm lying" lie.

My family asked what I wanted for my birthday, and I told them I really didnt' know. But I did. I not only knew what I wanted, I wanted it a lot. However, I couldn't tell them that, so I lied.

However, now, I have to tell you the whole truth about it because--no lie--it was amazing.

The week after Christmas I turned 41. Note the candles. Four blue and one green. Great idea by the Man of my Dreams. Kept him from going through all the matches we owned, and the fire department didn't have to come check out the glow over the horizon, and I didn't have to hyperventilate trying to blow them all out.



In the past my birthday hasn't been a big deal. It comes a week after Christmas and right after New Year's. Folks are still trying to convince themselves to finish off the turkey leftovers and wondering why they stayed up to watch that crazy ball in New York. Really, it has just never been that important.

Until this year.

And that is what makes it so very important.

When I was growing up, there was a person of significance in my life that told me multiple times over several years that they* wished I had never born, that their life would be easier without me, and in fact, the world would be a better place if I weren’t in it.

I now know statements such as that are called “word curses” because they steal, kill, and destroy. They steal identities, kill dream, and destroy destinies. They are lies from the pit of hell, and they can only be overcome with the Truth of God. Thankfully, over the years, I have come to know the Truth.

The Truth is I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Before the beginning of time, the Lord already had plans for me. His plans for me are always good, and they entail hope and a future. He plans to do me good and not harm. I am here, not by some cosmic freak accident, but because the God of the universe deemed it so, because He has things planned for me to do. According to His Word, all He made is good, and as one of His creations, I am good. He delights over me with singing. His love for me is beyond my wildest dreams, and His greatest desire is unity with me.

I know this. This is the Truth.

And yet, when the bravado drops, honestly digs deep, and I answer the question of what I really want, I sheepishly confess I want to know the world is better because I’m here. I want to know I am sharing the important part of me, the God part of me, the only part of me that matters. I want to know my being here makes a difference because of the difference He has made in me. It isn’t enough to simply take up space and do no harm. I want to know whatever realm I enter is better when I leave than it was when I arrived. I want to know people’s lives are richer because He put me in them…because He is in mine.

The fact is I have a pretty ordinary life. I am a wife and mom, which I love. I don’t take big trips. I don’t do glamorous things. When I write the family Christmas letter, I have a hard time filling up a paragraph about my life. When people ask what I’ve been doing, there really isn’t much to say. As I said, a pretty ordinary life. Can an ordinary life really mean that much? I wanted to know.

How does one ask for such a gift?

Does one dare? Is that shallow? Is it immature? Is it…dumb? Unsure, I lied and told my family I didn’t really want anything in particular, and I told God my heart.

A few months ago, my friend Rhonda Harkin told me the Lord always gives her a gift on her biological birthday and her spiritual birthday. I had been asking for a promise for the year to come for several years, but I had not asked for a birthday present…until this year.

I try to never put parameters on God’s gifts. I miss things when I do that. Sometimes I’m so busy looking for one thing that I don’t see the wonderful gift He set before me. This year, I was brave in that I told Him I wanted a Word, the kind of Word that rips off lies that dangles over my life and affects me in ways I don’t always realize. I wanted the kind of Word that I could go back for the rest of my life and say, “This is what God said.” I wanted a Word declaring destiny, something that screamed, “This is how amazing I declare my daughter to be,” and I wanted to not miss it.

But, knowing God is infinitely more wise and amazing than I can imagine, I left it up to Him.

But…in my heart of hearts, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be utterly cool to get a mailbox full of cards from people telling me I make a difference to them and their lives are better because of me?” Really, though, how likely was that to happen?

On the morning of my birthday, I got up before the rest of the house and enjoyed my quiet time. I waited to see if God had anything big to say. Nothing. And yet, I felt He had a smug smile and a sense of anticipation, like He had something planned and was just waiting to yell, “Surprise!”

When my family got up, they made me breakfast, gave me pens and books. The perfect gifts for me. But what struck me were the cards.

Each one had given me a card, and in each card were words that said, “Mom, my life is amazing because you are in it.” “My wife, my world is better because of you.” “Mom, you are so important to me.”

Words I had requested in secret lay before me. I read them allowed, letting them soak the atmosphere, letting them soak my heart. The Lord had heard my heart’s request, and He had given me these gifts. I sat amazed.

The Man of my Dreams let me know that there was another gift, but it was coming in the mail, so I had to wait. I didn’t care. I had what I had asked for. It hadn’t been the mailbox full of cards, but it had been cards full of the exact words I had said I wanted to hear. And I was so thankful.

A few hours later, I sat in the same chair with another box in my hands. Although it was brightly wrapped, it was obviously a shirt box. However, when I shook it, it didn’t sound like clothes. In fact, I had no idea what it could be.

I carefully pulled the tape, unwrapped the box, and folded the paper. Then I lifted the top.

My breath caught.

The box was filled with envelopes. In each envelope was a birthday card.




At first I looked at each envelope, the writing, the return address. Friends for decades and friends for only a few months. Cards from all over the United States.

A box full of them.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Back in November, I borrowed your computer and got email addresses from your sent items list. I emailed everyone, told them about your birthday, and asked them to send a card. I had them send it to (our neighbor’s) so you wouldn’t know. I feel bad because it really isn’t anything I got you, but I hope you like it.”

How does one say, “It is perfect,” and not sound cliché?

But it was. It was the exact thing I wanted, the thing I had no words…or courage…to ask for. There it sat in my hands.

For a full half hour or more, I opened envelope after envelope. Again, I saw my words lying before me. “My life is richer because you are in it…You have made such a difference to me…The world is a better place because you are here.”

There were a variety of material gifts tucked in as well, and I liked them, but they weren’t the real gift.

A few hours later, a friend stood at the door. She held out a card and a gift, but I knew. She was the gift. Her time. Her thoughtfulness. Her sharing my day. Everything she said by what she did. That was the gift.

That night I sat in the quiet of my study with a box of cards in front of me. The perfect gift. And yet, I knew that wasn’t the real gift. The real gift was the people who had filled the box, the ones who fill my heart.



Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Wondering about the gift the Lord gave me or what He said? He said I’m so important that even before I knew what I really wanted, He was already putting it together. In fact, before Rhonda had told me about her birthday gifts, He was already working on mine.

I think the greatest gift He gives me, other than salvation, is His ongoing expression of love. I am in awe of His intimate observations of me, not as an omniscient God, but as a devoted friend and Lover. I am forever amazed at the details He makes into important things...the ways He makes me important.

He overwhelms me.

I am left in awe of how important my ordinary life is to such an extraordinary God. And knowing that makes all the difference...in everybody's life.

That's the Truth.

Copyright Jerri Phillips 2010

(For all those who were part of this amazing gift, please know you have made a difference in my life, and I am so very thankful for each of you. The cards, goodies, and kind words are so deeply appreciated, but YOU are the real gift. I love you.)



*Please note, I do know I am talking about one person and am aware that “they” is a plural pronoun. I have chosen to be gender unspecific on purpose.









Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fasting--What I Get

Despite having grown up in church, I didn’t grow up with the discipline of fasting. No one I knew ever mentioned fasting. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned about fasting as a discipline for modern times, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I understood it wasn’t just a religious requirement that could be used to impress God and convince Him to see things my way or do things my way.

Fasting isn’t ominous or mysterious, and it isn’t a way to manipulate God. The fact is fasting is pretty practical, easy to understand, and does nothing for God whatsoever.

Honestly, for a long time I thought fasting was just another requirement God threw at us so we could prove our devotion to Him by being miserable. The fact is fasting is something God offers as a means to grow closer to Him by giving up dependency on ourselves or other things and learning to focus that dependency on Him. Sounds lovely and theoretical, doesn’t it? Let me make it a bit more practical.

About five or six years ago I was going through a time when I really wondered how committed I was to the Lord. I am blessed with a pretty nice lifestyle, and I honestly wondered if I would be willing to be uncomfortable or even miserable for Him. Could I give up my comforts and still praise Him, or would I blame Him? Being a simple person, I simply asked Him, and He answered, “Fast all food for three days.” Huh? What kind of answer was that? That’s all He said, so I did that.

I fasted all food for three days. When it was over, I asked, “Okay, are you going to tell me now?”

He answered with a question.
“Were you ever hungry?”
Yes.
“How did that feel?”
My stomach hurt, like cramped and ached. I got dizzy sometimes, and I really didn’t feel too good.
“Then why did you do it?”
Because I wanted to know if I was willing to be uncomfortable for you.
“Were you?”

I suddenly knew. Yes, I was willing to be uncomfortable for Him. How much so, I didn’t know, but I believed if He could give me the ability to meet the discomfort He asked of me then, He would give me all I needed to meet the requirements He had later.

On another occasion I had been praying for our family, and I had been asking the Lord to knit our hearts together and unite us. In response, He said to fast the TV and computer. We don’t watch trash TV or play questionable games. Surely Dora wasn’t bad, but fasting isn’t about what’s bad. Fasting is about finding out what is better. And I wanted better for our family than what we had.

I sent my friends a message that I would be offline and only taking emergency phone calls for two weeks. I turned off my computer and started counting down to the answer He was going to give me.

It took all of about three days for me to realize the fasting was the answer. Instead of spending time on mindless things that isolated us, we spent our time playing games, reading together, and going for a walk. We found each other again, and we loved it. When the two weeks were up, my son looked at me sadly and said, “I don’t want to have to turn the TV back on. I want us.”

Now we make a habit of no electronics so we can enjoy each other.

This year the Lord has asked me to again give up the electronics, but that isn’t all. I am to give up all blogs, social sites, and electronic media, along with all written material such as books, papers, or magazines, that I use to meet my spiritual or emotional needs.

At first, I thought I was hearing incorrectly. The Lord always allows Christians to encourage one another. Why would He cut that line? He corrected me. That isn’t what this is about. He is not trying to alienate me. He is endeavoring to focus me.

When I’m having a bad day or am struggling with some kind of mental or emotional turmoil, it is easy for me to look for solace in one of the Spirit-filled blogs I read. They hear from God, so I trust them. God wants me to make the effort to hear Him for myself and to trust He cares enough to say something. Frankly, that is sometimes more my problem than believing He talks. I know He talks, but knowing He still cares about the mundane life of a human being takes a lot of faith. He wants to build mine.

It’s easy to let folks in my social networks affirm me and validate me. It is also easy to become a target for lies about how little value I have or how unimportant I am if I am not validated or affirmed enough or at the right time. The Lord doesn’t want me living in that trap. He wants me to be affirmed and validated by Him.

When I’m facing a problem and I feel overwhelmed, it’s always nice to let my brain rest in a good book, but a book is not my hiding place. Only my Lord is.

As the Lord began to share these things with me, He spoke clearly, “I’m asking you to give up your idols. Those things aren’t bad, but your heart toward them is.”

Wow. Who knew Oswald Chambers could be an idol? He would be mortified.

The Lord did not ask me to fast those things because they are bad or because He likes to see me give up things I love. He doesn’t sit on His throne and think of ways to make me miserable. Instead, He thinks of ways to answer my prayers. My recent one has been, “Lord, get rid of anything that keeps my heart from you.” How much love He must have to answer so quickly and with such clarity.

As I said, fasting does nothing for Him, but it will get rid of the band aids I use and force me to look to the perfect Comforter, the real Counselor, and the only true Refuge to meet my needs. I’m giving up stuff, and I’m getting God. That is what fasting does.

Copyright 2010 Jerri Phillips

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"It's not the wind in our hair that makes us free. It's the movement of the Spirit, the growth of our invisible side." --Amber Haines

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My simple life plan: To live the kind of life that when asked, "If you could be anybody, who would you be?", I'd choose me.

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