Saturday, October 31, 2009

Incredible Days of Listlessness: Living without a list

When you read this title did you picture yourself lying by the pool with a Strawberry Daiquiri in your hands? That would be nice too, but the kind of listlessness I’m talking about is days without making a list. God has called me to fast from list making for the next two months – through the holiday season no less – and I am both excited and terrified.

What began as a release from a spiritual stronghold in my life has become a challenge from the Lord. One that I anticipate will bring me to a new place of freedom and growth. But, as is true with all freedom, it will take a battle to get there.

God has recently revealed to me that Satan had a stronghold on my life through the avenue of fear: fear of real or perceived rejection. I had to ask for God's forgiveness for allowing this to have a hold on me. Then I began arming myself with scripture to combat future attacks in this area. That’s when God surprised me.

“I want you to fast from making a daily to do list,” He spoke to my heart.
Having just spent two “listless” days in the aftermath of completing a book, I knew that this might be a good thing to do for another day or so. “Okay God, how long?” I asked.

“For the rest of this month and through November and December.”

I blinked. I had already made my list for the day and I was willing to let it go. But two months? “Lord, you realize that’s through the holidays, don’t you? What if I forget something vital? How will I get everything done?”

I could feel His benevolent smile, “Do you trust me to lead you? Will you look to me instead of your list?” The only concession He made was that I could jot down appointment reminders and a list of what I am purchasing for Christmas and birthdays (perhaps so I don’t have to go on a two month fast from overspending in the New Year).

God showed me the connection between my daily list and the stronghold of fear of rejection. From my teenage days on I have planned every detail of my days in order to prove that I am worthy. I believed what I accomplished was evidence that I had value, because I was doing things and crossing them off. I realized I was trying to earn the approval of God, others, and myself. When I was rejected by the one I loved more than anyone, the need for a list became even more pronounced in my life. I even wrote things down after doing them so I could cross them off my list and feel good about myself.

At first the idea of going for two months without a list filled me with raw fear. In fact, I first coined this article “The Terrifying Days of Listlessness” until God reminded me that in Him there is no fear. Now, I am beginning to look forward to the incredible things He is going to do in my life during these next two months.

No longer will I make my list for the day and show it to God asking for His stamp of approval. Instead of constantly referring to it throughout the day to tell me what to do, I will be looking to my Father and asking Him. My self worth will not come from what I do and how many items I have crossed off, but from God’s Word and His assurance of unfailing love for me. Neither will there be the circled items to testify against me at the end of the day that I didn't "earn my keep." No piece of paper saying that I have failed and must do more to be worthy of love. And when someone calls I won’t hurry through our conversation like it is an “interruption” to my day. I can relax and go with the flow, knowing that people are always first in God’s agenda.

God is calling me to be free of the tyranny of the ought’s and should’s, the if-only’s and what-if’s. He is inviting me to rest in His presence and simply be. This is not to say I won’t be doing all the things I normally do. The difference is, I hope to be doing them at my Lord’s direction, simply for the joy of serving Him and others, and not to impress or “buy” approval from anyone.

This will definitely be an adventure. I’ll try to keep you posted and if I forget, ask me how it’s going. I would love to hear from you too. Where do you get your sense of self-worth? What is your weak area and how do you combat the lies of the enemy when he comes to steal, kill, and destroy the truth of God’s love for you?

~ (c) Beth Vice, January 2010

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What I'm Learning About Letting Go: Giving children to God

My husband and I froze in terror as the conversation with our eighteen year old daughter turned from a normal discussion into an audio car wreck. We stared at each other with wide-eyed fear listening as screams, squealing tires, and unidentified noises emanated from the speakerphone. My husband kept our daughter talking until the driver came to a stop and the kids had calmed down enough to inspect the damage. The phone was our only link; we weren’t willing to let that go.

What a helpless feeling! The minute they’re born, our children begin the process of autonomy and range further from our reach. We raise them to be independent, but wish we could protect them from all harm. The hardest part of parenting is realizing that ultimately, we cannot save them from accidents, illness, the hurts others inflict on them, or the consequences of their sinful choices.

Seeing the movie Taken shook me. In it, two recent high school graduates travel to Europe where gangsters who drug and sell young women into prostitution, kidnap a young girl and her friend. During the capture, her father listens helplessly on his cell phone. As a former government spy, he has access to equipment and know how, plus the physical strength needed to rescue his daughter. However, I don’t have any of that at my fingertips. Or do I?

My most fearful yet faith-building parenting moments were when my oldest daughter traveled a total of 16 months with a mission organization. She lived in primitive filth in Samoa; thieves in Africa stole her ATM card and money; and she spent Christmas sick, poor, and alone in Rome.

Anxiety about her situation gripped me night and day. I wanted to go to my child, but was unable to help her. So I reached out to the only One who could. God answered my prayers. He sent caring people to help her and gave her the courage she needed to make it. God also gave me the kind of peace only He can give. I knew no matter what happened, He would be there for her.

Why does God allow us to feel so helpless? So we’ll learn to depend completely on Him. When we realize we can’t do anything to control the situation anyway, we run to Him more readily. There are only three things I know I can control:

* I can dedicate my children to God, acknowledging they are ultimately His. He gave them to me and He has a plan for their lives.
* I can point them to God. I can tell them, and show them by the way I live, that God and His Word are the answer for every dilemma they face.
* I can entrust them to God, releasing them in prayer for Him to direct, rebuke, heal, or comfort according to His will. God loves them even more than I do and is always working for their ultimate good.

I wish this shielded them from experiencing pain. Yet sometimes, pain is a necessary element to help my children see when they’re headed the wrong way. I have to let go of the illusion that I can make them choose to do the right thing, or even the smart thing. I have to let go when their behavior is unwise, or rebellious, or impatient. I have to let them grow and mature and succeed in their own time, in their own way.

The blessing is that even though I must let go of my children as they grow up, God never does. His angels can surround them with peace, protection, and guidance. His Holy Spirit can speak to their minds and hearts to bring forth miraculous transformation and blessings. And the Father’s arms can usher them forward, pull them back, or hold them close no matter where they are.

~ (c) Beth Vice 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

Halloween: A Cheap Imitation

Imitations Always Follow Originals
We live in world of copies. Rolex watches have morphed into sidewalk knockoffs. McDonalds now serves specialty coffees that mimic Starbucks. Designer look-alikes are available at every department store. You can get non-fat, calorie free ice cream, beverages, and everything in between. We buy cheap imitations because we want the look, the taste, and the feel of the real thing, but aren’t willing to pay the price to get it. That can be a good thing if you’re trying to stay within a budget or lose a few pounds, but in the spiritual world it can be lethal.

God is the Only Original Designer
Satan can’t create anything new; all he can do is copy and distort what God has already made. He’s out to steal God’s customers, so he presents a product that impersonates what God offers. However, his goal is not customer satisfaction; Satan’s goal is to completely destroy mankind. One of his most effective weapons is to make us think we’re getting the real thing when we settle for his cheap imitations.

Our God Loves to Party
Contrary to what Satan would have you think God invented the whole party concept. He created us with a need for rest and fun. That’s why the Bible lists nine different feasts throughout the year that God wanted His people to celebrate.* On those holidays God said: take a day off, get together with friends, play music, dance, eat, and give to others in need. Be thankful for all the good things I provide for you. In America we celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and other holidays with good and honorable themes, mostly faith based.

So what do you think about Christians celebrating Halloween? Halloween is the high holy day of the year for Satan worshipers. It glorifies death, fear, darkness, gluttony, and the occult, which are directly opposed to the message of Christianity.

Please consider.

Halloween is Not Just Harmless Fun
Look at the news during Halloween. The focus is on the newest thriller, witchcraft, and an increasing amount of occult related crime. Just recently, a friend of mine was walking on the beach with her daughter and they came across a coven of witches in black capes. They were in a circle around a crystal ball and stack of rocks. They were getting ready for a ceremony. My friend looked up the symbols she saw there where she got home and it all had to do with Satan worship and witchcraft. This is really going on in our communities today; it is not just fairy tale stuff. And they are actively praying against Christianity!

What do former Satanists say? They say Halloween lures us in with the fun of dressing in costume and eating candy, but behind that cover up is great evil. (check out the movie Halloween: Trick or Treat? from Jeremiah Films and the book, The Annals of a Satanist by Frank Alvarez III). Plus many other books and articles written by those saved out of the occult and living in the light of Christ.

Look at What Scripture Says About Halloween Themes:
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he? 1 Corinthians 10:21-23

The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:11-12

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22

Be an Original
Instead of participating in a cheap imitation, let's use this season of the year to fight against evil and celebrate what is good. Are you willing to be different and follow God’s original design for party fun? Did you know that November 1 is the original Christian holiday? It's called All Saints Day and the early church fathers set it aside as a day to honor all those Christians who have died for the sake of Christ. Do you think it is any coincidence that very few Christians even know about this holiday?

Martyrdom is not just a thing of the past, either. More Christians are being persecuted around the world than ever before in history. Approximately 200 million Christians are currently being persecuted for their faith - they are burned to death, shot, stabbed, imprisoned, starved, and buried in mass graves.

Tomorrow we are having an All Saints Day party - with a potluck dinner, games and prizes - "Who am I?" in Christian history and "Who Said This?" (quotes from Christians throughout history), and watching a movie about a brain surgeon that God raised up from poverty and delivered from uncontrollable rage to peace in Christ. This is partying you can feel good about, that promotes God's message and feeds your soul with courage to do His will. What are you going to do?

Stay with what you heard from the beginning, the original message. Let it sink into your life. If what you heard from the beginning lives deeply in you, you will live deeply in both Son and Father. This is exactly what Christ promised: eternal life, real life! 1 John 2:24-25, Message

*The feast days in the Bible are: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Weeks (Pentecost, Harvest), Trumpets (Later called Rosh Hashanah – New Year’s Day), Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), Tabernacles (Booths, Ingathering), Sacred Assembly, and Purim.

If you are interested in learning more about what the Bible says, here's a few great verses to read on your own. May God lead you and your family to honor Him in all things.

Choose Life, Not Death
Psalm 16:11
Proverbs 8:35-36*
Isaiah 25:6-9
Ezekiel 18:32
John 10:7-10
1 Corinthians 15:55-57

Choose Faith, Not Fear
2 Kings 6:16
Psalm 23:4; 27:1; 34:4-5; 46:1-3; 91:1-6
Isaiah 41:10, 13
Jeremiah 10:1-6*
Luke 12:4-9

Choose Light, Not Darkness
Isaiah 5:20*
John 3:19-21
2 Corinthians 6:14-18
Ephesians 5:8-17*
1 Peter 2:9
1 John 1:5-7*

Choose Giving, Not Greed
Matthew 23:25-26
Luke 12:15
2 Corinthians 8:7; 9:6-15*
James 4:1-7

Choose God’s Power, Not Demonic Power
Deuteronomy 18:9-13*
1 Kings 18:25-39* (my favorite!)
2 Chronicles 33:1-6
Luke 9:1-2
Ephesians 3:16-21; 6:10-13*

#godlovesaparty #puttingGodfirst #beoriginal #halloweenandchristianity 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Music in the Rain: Peace when your heart is broken

One Sunday afternoon a few years ago, I was enjoying some much-needed solitude. My girls were gone for the evening and I was able to let down and recharge after a busy week.

A few months earlier I had gone through a sudden and unwanted divorce. We had been married for twenty years and I had been looking forward to sharing a soon-to-be empty nest with my husband. Then, in the span of five months, my marriage, my dreams, and my whole way of life disintegrated. The months that followed were full of fear, anger, shock, and unbearable pain.

God kept me from despair by awakening me to the little blessings of life. Color lifted my spirits; music expressed my mood and fed my aching soul. I learned to cherish soft textures and the smallest touch from family and friends.

This warm May evening, I opened the windows to let in the scent of lilacs and fresh mown grass. Just as I curled up in my favorite chair to read, I heard the soft patter of rain. I glanced up to see the setting sun radiating through clouds still white with light. Incredible peace embraced me.

Soon, a new sound blended with the rain. The neighbor behind us began to strum his guitar softly on their patio. There was no particular melody, yet it was soothing and harmonious. Tears of joy spilled down my cheeks as I laughed and praised God. Who else could have brought this all together? My neighbor had never played his guitar on the patio before and I never heard him again. This concert in the rain reassured me God still cared and that He loved me.

~ (c) Beth Vice, September 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Protecting Your Integrity

Several years ago my dad and I went woodcutting together. It was incredible! He taught me how to use a chain saw at a time when I desperately needed a boost in self-confidence. It was empowering to wield the noisy machine and slice through the felled tree on my Aunt’s property.

We worked from opposite ends to cut the tree into eighteen-inch chunks. Then he showed me how to look for a crack in the core to place the wedge and hit it with a sledgehammer to split each round. After I split each one, he chopped the rest into firewood with his axe and we stacked the wood in the truck.

“Shouldn’t I split it more than once for you?” I asked.

“No, once you’ve compromised the integrity of the wood, it’s not hard to break the rest of it down.”

Wow! I knew what he meant by integrity: unimpaired, sound, whole. But my mind immediately jumped to the common definition of integrity: upright, honest, trustworthy, and faithful.

That’s exactly what the enemy does. He looks for our weak spots where he can set his wedge and hammers away until we break. If we give in, and our integrity is compromised, it will be much easier to succumb to temptation the next time, and the next, until we’re completely broken. Once we give in it can become the road to a tragic end. I’ve found that the best way to protect my integrity is to be aware of my weaknesses and constantly rely on God to be my strength.

Whenever I become so sure of myself that I think I’m invincible, that’s when I’m sure to blow it! God promises we’ll never be tempted more than we can bear, and when we are He will show us an escape route. All we have to do is ask.

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Co. 10:12-13

Chopping firewood that day with Dad not only warmed me twice, when we did the work and when I enjoyed toasty fires that winter. It also warned me twice, by reminding me how easy it is to compromise integrity and by giving me an illustration I’ll always remember.

~ (c) Beth Vice, August 2009

Praying Like Pooh Bear: What is your prayer character?

I don’t watch a lot of cartoons these days, but the few times I have caught part of a new show, I sigh with longing for the days of Winnie the Pooh. I used to tape episodes and save them to watch with my girls at lunchtime or on family night. My husband and I enjoyed them as much as our girls because of the humor and genuineness of the characters. Each one embodies their own brand of foolishness, but the friends stick together. Relationships are mended, problems solved and joy continues in Hundred Acre Wood.

I don’t know what made me think of it the other day, but as I was praying, I suddenly realized how much I sounded like Eeyore. While I love the little gray donkey, I know that he is not a good model for prayer. The more I thought about it, I decided that Pooh is really the only character I would want to emulate. He is whole-heartedly devoted to Christopher Robin and his friends and the hero of every story, yet he manages to make a mess of things with consistent regularity. Christopher always forgives his little bear for his bungling efforts to solve problems on his own, and gently chides him for not calling for help sooner.

Can a cartoon be so rich in spiritual application, or have I just watched too many of them? I can see so many of my own prayer-sins fleshed out in this group of friends. I have a feeling, however, you will too.

Eeyore: The Faithless Prayer
When I pray like Eeyore, it goes something like this: Oh Lord, I’m having an awful hard time here (not that anybody cares, mind you). I wonder if you might help me out a little. I hope you decide to answer me, but I know it will probably take days, weeks, months…who knows how long.... before you get around to thinking about me. Hope to hear from you, but I’m not holding my breath.
Jesus had an encounter with a man with some Eeyore tendencies. The disciples had been unable to cast a demon out of his son that had controlled him since childhood, so he went to Jesus for help. His request? “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
Jesus answered, “'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith."
Then the boy's father cried out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:17-24)

Sometimes I find myself saying this same kind of prayer, in a mournful, Eeyore voice and Jesus answers me much the same way. “What do you mean, if I can? Have you forgotten who I am?” He reminds me that He is the all-powerful Creator, the ultimate Healer, and my loving Savior. He not only can help me, but He wants to and will if only I will believe. So my prayer becomes, “Help me overcome my unbelief!”

Rabbit: The Controlling Prayer
Then there’s Rabbit, the Controller. I imagine his prayer would go something like this: Oh gracious God of heaven and earth… there are a few things I need to talk over with you. Here’s my list of the items I thought you might want to take care of. I am having trouble with those pests who are destroying my garden and I want you to get rid of them for me. With regards, your most humble and gracious servant, Rabbit.

When I pray Rabbit prayers, they have the guise of honor, but in reality are ‘to do’ lists for God. I want Him to get rid of the pesky pests that eat the fruit of my labor and sneak into my abode, but I offer no praise or love. It’s not a prayer of relationship, but a consumer attitude for my own pleasure and comfort.

James talks about this kind of prayer, saying, “You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2-10) He points out that the problem with this kind of praying is pride. The solution is submission to God and His will. Not an easy task. Yet I find that when I pray out of a desire for intimacy with God, I come with a blank page ready to write down His ‘to do’ list rather than reading Him mine.

Piglet: The Anxious Prayer
Poor little Piglet, so timid and afraid: Dddear Father, I’m afraid that there is such terrible danger lurking nearby. I’m such a very small animal and you’re such a great and awesome God. I would like to be bbbrave, but you know that I am not very strong and the world can be such a scary place. I have heard there are heffalumps in the woods that might eat me up, so I think I will just stay here with you and not go anywhere dangerous today.

This cowardly attitude is one of the things God said would happen to His people if they forgot about Him. “…Those of you who survive in the lands of their enemies I will make so fainthearted that, if leaves rustle behind them, they will flee headlong, as if from the sword, though no one pursues them; stumbling over one another as if to escape a weapon, while no one is after them.” (Leviticus 26:35-37) When I take my eyes off God, fear and worry about everything that might happen takes over.

Psalm 37 is my all time favorite cure for the Piglet sin-drome. The writer pats my little Piglet hand and tells me not to fret, to trust in the Lord, and that even though it may look for a moment like evil is winning, God will conquer in the end. Trust, do good, delight, commit, be still, and God will rescue His faithful ones. Even those of us with very little strength of our own will stand firm to the end when we make God our stronghold and place of refuge.

Tigger: The Self-Centered Prayer
I love Tigger, don’t you? He is so full of energy and enthusiasm. But he can also be annoyingly self-centered. I can hear his prayer now: Hullo God! Hey, I want to thank you for my beautiful stripes and for making me such a fun and bouncy guy. Hoo hoo hoo! It’s great to be the only one of my kind, ya know. Well, I guess that’s all. TTFN, ta ta for now! And off he goes to do what Tiggers do best, which is whatever he feels like.

I have been guilty of bouncing into God’s presence all full of myself and then bouncing off to do my thing without once pausing to listen to what He has to say. I thank Him for this or that and ask for more stuff to make life fun, but it’s all about me.

Instead, Jesus gave us an example of the kind of prayer that focuses on God and our relationships with those around us. He said, " Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13, New Living Translation)

Roo: The Immature Prayer
Then there’s little Roo. He’s innocent and easily enthused, but very young and ignorant. His prayer might sound like this: Hey God, Tigger invited me to go heffalump hunting and I’m going to be the first to have one mounted on my wall! Won’t that be cool, Lord? Mama doesn’t want me to go cause it might be dangerous, but Tigger says he’s got that all figured out. Well, bye God.

There must have been little Roo’s even in Solomon’s day, because he wrote: “Without knowledge even zeal is not good; and he who acts hastily, blunders.” (Proverbs 19:2) When I pray with great enthusiasm but no wisdom, God must shake His head and smile saying, “Here we go again.”

Maturity in prayer only comes from spending time in the Bible, getting to know what God says about heffalump hunting, or any other endeavor we might get excited about. Enthusiasm is great, but running fast in the wrong direction still gets you nowhere.

Kanga: The Status Quo PrayerBeing a mother, I have to admit that I have always kind of favored Kanga. However, I realize that she can be a bit of a stick in the mud. Her prayer would be cautious and anxious for the safety of those close to her: Oh Lord, my son is so fired up about this hunting expedition with Tigger, but I just don’t know that it’s safe. We’ve never gone to that part of Hundred Acre Wood before. I’m afraid that it just might be too dangerous for my little Roo. Maybe when he’s older...

I hear a lot of that kind of prayer coming from my mouth when my loved ones or church leaders start talking about plans that sound risky or daring. To be honest, it scares me. I’m comfortable with the way things have always been done and it makes me nervous when people start talking about new ways to reach people for God.

However, Jesus praised the woman who risked going beyond the status quo to touch Him. “A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, ‘If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.’ Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, ‘Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.’ And from that hour the woman was cured.” (Matthew 9:20). I want to be so desperate for God that I am willing to go outside my comfort zone and see miracles of healing take place.

Pooh Bear: The Trusting Prayer
Finally, we come to our pudgy friend and the Pooh Bear prayer: Good morning God, I really do love you. Your Word is like HONEY! I love being here with you; you are the best kind of Friend there is. I want to share your love with the others in Hundred Acre Wood, but, oh bother, I always make a mess of things. Will you help me?

Here is Pooh - with a head full of fluff, who struggles with honey addiction, continually fails in his attempts to do the impossible, and generally creates disaster wherever he goes. However, Pooh’s heart and motives are pure and he always asks for forgiveness when he does wrong.

This is what God loves. He says, “If my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my presence and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14) That’s why I want to pray like Pooh Bear, because it pleases my heavenly Father. God hears that kind of prayer and responds to it with forgiveness and blessing.

~ (c) Beth Vice, August 2009