Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stop worrying and keep moving

This last year+ has been an exercise in faith building for me. I've been a Christian since I was 13. I've been through many stages of faith and belief. But never have I been required to learn such faith and patience in financial matters as I have since leaving California. When we lived in California, I never trusted God with "my" (our) money. I never thought there would be enough and I was always hoarding it in my heart...even trying to control and keep it away from my own husband. The funny thing is that I didn't have a reason to try to control our money! Yes, life is excruciatingly expensive in Southern California, but we had a good paycheck to count on. We were never without and we didn't have a lot of expenses. On top of all that, my husband's family, who tends to be quite generous when they know there is a need to be met, lived 5 miles away from us!

Thinking back on it, I'm really not sure why I worried so much.

When we left California, we left our steady jobs, our family, our home and any allusion of financial stability we may have had. We were doing what we knew God wanted us to do. We were moving back to the place He'd called us, trusting that He would provide what we needed as we needed it.

And he has done just that. But I have not lived believing He was doing that until the last few months. Since making the decision this time last year to put Bella in preschool so I could work, we struggled with making tuition payments every month, as well as paying for her to be in dance class (which drained every bit of extra money we could have had...for those of you who don't know, DANCE IS EXPENSIVE). I can't say that I consulted God about dance or schooling, or believed in his ability to provide beyond our circumstances, but once I got us into it, we made it the skin of our teeth!

When I started praying about a summer job, God orchestrated a meeting with friends of mine who wanted me to work for them. That wasn't the job He had planned for me, but that was the meeting that made me trust that God was preparing something for me past what I could see. After all, he had provided jobs (MANY jobs) since coming back a year earlier. I didn't really have a reason to believe He wouldn't continue to provide. Topher has found favor at his job, and God is providing for us through that. Right now, Bella is not enrolled in pre-K, I will possibly have the opportunity to work two jobs starting in September, and I don't have a consistent caretaker for my daughter.

I trust that God is going to provide what my family needs. If Bella is to go to school, it will be provided. We won't have to pay for it because that's going to put us in too much of a bind. If she's not supposed to go to school, then we'll trust that I'm supposed to be spending more time at home this year. We're taking a break from extracurricular activities because we can't do it right now. I'm not going to live beyond our means anymore. I'm knocking on every door that I see in front of me because God has reminded me that, although He is happy to provide for me, sometimes I've got to be the one to seek it out and do the work. He has something waiting for my family. Something greater than what we've found already. Not just with finances, but in matters of faith and matters of life and His Kingdom.

But He has to come first. Feeding our faith has to come before feeding our bank account. The glory of His Kingdom has to come before the glory of my family or the building of a personal empire. It's not about me. It's about Him. And He is good.

"Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you."

"Taste and see that the Lord is good."

"The Lord longs to be gracious to you, and he waits on high to have compassion on you. The Lord is a God of justice; how blessed are all those who long for him."

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good and his love lasts forever."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

God is that big...and yes, I am that small

As a young person, my view of God and practice of Christianity bordered on the judgmental and self-righteous. I judged both myself and the world around me through very critical eyes (I still do), but I translated that criticism into my faith. I was plagued with guilt and a desire to make restitution for anything I thought I did or thought wrongly. There was little real hope in my practice of faith because I was caught up in being "right" or "righteous". I thought I could be good enough. I thought I truly could be like God. That came to a screeching halt when I entered into a relationship where all my thoughts about how "good" I was came tumbling down.

I know better than to blog the sordid details of past mistakes, so I will continue on, trusting that many of you have been in those kinds of relationships or circumstances--in which everything you thought about yourself was called into desperate question. That's where I was.

I began to see my propensity for selfishness in the deepest levels of my heart. I began to understand that if I can truly be like God, or if I thought I was close to being like God, maybe God isn't that great or worthy of my trust. It wasn't until a few years later that I read a book that diagnosed my condition.

I was arrogant in my faith. I bought the lie that I had all the answers and I understood the mind of God because I'd read the Bible. I honestly believed that faith was a simple equation and that I deserved God's grace because I was a good person and liked to tell people about Jesus. How wrong I was. In actuality, my condition was more symptomatic of the problems in Christianity today than it was evidence of the greatness of a fathomless God.

I understand God's ways and thoughts less and less as the years go by. I understand His grace and goodness more and more. As I study and follow Him, He becomes an even greater mystery to me. He is that big. No longer am I under the impression that I am like Him. I am not. I am like you. Whoever you are, whatever you've done and whatever you think of yourself or me, I am just like you.

Oh, and in case you're wondering what the book was that helped me understand all of this a little better, it's called The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. Don't read it if you want to believe anything good about yourself. Read it if you want to understand how good your God is to you and how unworthy of any of it you are.

It's good news. Trust me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ezra and the "gracious hand of the Lord"-thoughts

This morning, I was reading about Ezra. Ezra was an old school scribe (not prophet) who worked in the 400's BC. My assumption is that his relationship to the King of Persia (Artaxerxes) had to do with him being a scribe within the Kingdom of Persia, writing down laws, edicts, and basically whatever he was told to write. However, when he's mentioned in Ezra 7:6, we're told that, "he was also well versed in the law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given to the people of Israel," and later in verse 11, that he was also a priest.

He was a Jewish man, technically a priest within the line of Aaron, with an education who was respected and trusted by the highest authority in a non-Jewish country.

Here's a bit more context before I continue with all this:

It was during this time in history that we hear about the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Ezra wanted to be a part of the rebuilding and we're told that, "the king gave him everything he asked for, because the gracious hand of the Lord his God was on him." This wasn't the first time God had accomplished his purposes through the generosity of the kings. Kings Cyrus and Darius both gave wealth and materials for rebuilding Jerusalem (which was NOT a part of the Persian kingdom) and the temple of God. But this is the first time I can remember reading that "the gracious hand of the Lord" was upon an individual in the presence of the King to ask for supplies, laborers, etc., and to receive all that he asked for.

Back to the point.

After I read "the gracious hand of the Lord was on Ezra" twice, I started wondering why. Quite frankly, I wanted to know how to get the gracious hand of the Lord onto my life. I'd just gotten done praying about God's favor in my job. I want to, very literally, go before the authorities in my life and be able to get anything I ask for. Don't you? Well, when I read in verse 10 that it was "because Ezra had determined to study and obey the law of the Lord and to teach those laws and regulations to the people of Israel," it was slightly disappointing.

Like many others, I want to be told that simply because I am a Christian and I go to church, or because I call on the name of Jesus when it's convenient , I will be shown favor and given anything I ask for. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for Ezra, and that's not going to be the case for me or you. Ezra was given favor because his heart was about the business of glorifying God. He had mastered the discipline of boasting that I wrote about a few days ago. Once the King answered his requests favorably, look at what he says...

"Praise the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who made the king want to beautify the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem! And praise him for demonstrating such unfailing love to me by honoring me before the king, his council, and all his mighty princes! I felt encouraged because the gracious hand of the Lord my God was on me."

Ezra wasn't asking for a promotion within the Kingdom of Persia. He wasn't asking for more money or wealth for himself or his family. He wasn't trying to build trust funds or pay for college tuition. He wasn't even trying to pay rent. What he wanted was for the God of Israel to once again be honored in his Temple in the Holy City of the Jews. He wanted (and had determined) that the people of Israel would learn the laws of the Lord. He didn't want them to know Ezra. He wanted them to know their God.

This is echoed by another follower of God later in the Scripture. In Philippians 3, Paul writes:

"But whatever was to MY profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, NOT HAVING A RIGHTEOUSNESS OF MY OWN that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."

Everything that was to my own profit I now consider trash in order to know that greatness of Christ and to be like him in his death and resurrection.

I think if Ezra were Paul's contemporary, he could have penned those exact words. And I think if Paul were my contemporary, he would speak the same words to me...

"Leanne, do you understand that your best is nothing compared to the righteousness of God? Do you not know that His business, His Kingdom, His Glory, is worth your entire life? In fact, your life is not enough to show His worth. But try. Keep being about God's business in this kingdom that you live in. Nothing you thought was good is good in light of God's goodness. But by His grace, He has accepted you and let you be a part of what He is doing. And He will direct the heart of Kings to be a part of what He is doing. But not because of you, and not for your benefit. For His."

Like the title of this blog admits, these are only thoughts. There is no clear direction or motivation behind my writing today. It struck me that I'd just prayed for favor and God immediately shows me a man who was shown God's favor because he was unashamedly about the business of God's glory. How that fits into finding favor at work, I don't know. But what I do know is that I should continue to seek God first and only in all matters of my heart and world. If His glory is my first priority, then at least I'm looking in the right direction.

I hope this finds you looking in the right direction today, even if what you're looking at seems a little blurry.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A discipline of boasting

In my reading this morning, I came across an ancient directive: "The person who wishes to boast should boast only of what the Lord has done." Then I decided that I wanted to read the directive in the original context, so I went back to first mention of it and this is what I found:

"Let not the wise man gloat in his wisdom, or the mighty man in his might, or the rich man in his riches. Let them boast in this alone: That they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who is just and righteous, whose love is unfailing, and that I delight in these things."

According to, to boast means

"to speak in exaggerated or excessively proud terms of one's possessions,skills, or superior qualities; brag".

Then I thought that maybe I need to think about what I'm speaking in proud terms about, even if I'm only speaking to myself. Some things that come to mind that I boast about are my husband (I really do think he's amazing and quite capable, and sometimes even better than other people's husbands), my own common sense or "wisdom", my ideals and abilities as a parent, the people I've known in the past and their "high" opinion of me, the way I've chosen to live my life, although not perfect, it has kept me safe from a lot of hardship, and the list goes on and on. I am not without the allusion that I am the one who has brought good things to my life.

But that's not true. Although I have wisdom and riches (and FYI, if you live in the United States, you have riches even if you think you're poor) and strength, my boasting is not to be in those things. I need to practice the discipline of boasting in the fact that I know the Lord. I need to be unashamed to speak proudly of my God and the things I have seen him accomplish. My voice should be lifted up to tell people that my God loves justice and goodness and unfailing love. He is a God who saves and redeems. He is a God who works the impossible and shows patience.

He is a God who has changed the generational lineage of my family from faithless to faithful. He has called my generation to himself and to His ministry. He has broken behaviors and habits and ugliness and continues to do so within my brothers and sister...and He will continue to do so in the coming generations (he promises that he would be with the generations of those who trust him for a thousand generations).

He is a God who has instilled justice in the hearts of many and has taught me right from wrong. He loves justice and mercy, and He wants his people to live in unfailing love instead of judgement and hatred.

My God has redeemed the sin of a family I know. He has brought beauty and salvation to their household and chosen them to show justice and love to an orphaned child. Only the one true God can work that kind of change from deep betrayal.

My God loves everyone. He is the originator of NO H8 (whether we are comfortable with that or not).

My God is the God who can work miracles...still today...whether I struggle to believe it or not.

My God protects me.

My God knew when we left New Orleans in 2006 that He would bring us back and continue to bring personal change to our lives. He is still changing us today and making us into the people He wants us to be.

He is beyond any good thing I could ever do. My "best" is like trash compared to what He is and is capable of.

My God has a plan for my life, for my family's life and for my children's lives. He is a faithful leader, a tender friend and a worthy confidant.

He is good and his love lasts forever.

And that isn't even tapping into all that is good and true about Him. I wish my mouth and mind were more open to speak His praises, and perhaps with practice, I'll become better at it. But for now, this is where I leave it.

I encourage you to think of the good things God has done. Let's stop thinking about ourselves and hat we've done or what we think we will do. Even if you don't have a "good" relationship with God, you can still give Him credit for something good. Anything good. After all, he is the giver of all good gifts.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


"Now, dear brothers and sisters, I appeal to you by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so there won't be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose...Can Christ be divided into pieces?"

This was written two thousand years ago by a man named Paul. Paul was a persecutor of the Church and encouraged, if not participated in, the killings of countless Christians--he was called "Saul" at that time. Then he met Jesus (FYI, Jesus had already gone back to heaven). The story goes that he was struck blind, and this man who was so prideful and powerful, was at the mercy of his God (he was a devout Jew). It was in that time of blindness that he is recorded as hearing Jesus ask him, "Saul, why are you persecuting me?"

You see, Saul was serving the same God as the Christians...but he didn't know it. His God, Yahweh, was the same God who had planned from the beginning to send Jesus as a bridge for his people to get back to Him. He just didn't get the Jesus part yet.

I wonder if in those words he penned to the Corinthians, he felt a pang of guilt as a one-time persecutor of Christ and divider of the one true God. He thought he was doing the right thing by persecuting God's people. He wasn't, and luckily, God thought Him worthy enough to point out the error of his ways.

And I wonder how many of us can see and understand, if God deems us worthy enough to show us, the ways in which we have "divided Christ" in our own lives. Have we spoken against an ex-church? Or ex-church member? Or the methods of a certain denomination? Have we argued about unimportant things (especially having to do with buildings or rules instead of people)? Have we looked down on those who follow strict rules as a part of their faith? Have those with strict rules looked down on those who live in the law of freedom and moderation? I've done all of those things.

Do we forget Christ? Do we get so lost in our pitiful, limited, human ideas of who God is and who the true Church is, that we lose the story? Because it is a beautiful story. It is a story of separation and loss. A story of forgiveness and redemption. A story of love and sacrifice. A story of grace and beauty. When we divide Christ, we take away from that story--God's story.

To be united in thought and purpose is what will cause God's Church to rise up among the noise. Let me encourage you today, along with the words of Paul, whether church leader, church member, or churchless, to seek out Unity under the veil of Christ. Seek people who seek God, who seek peace and who seek unity with fellow believers.