Friday, February 28, 2014

Total Surrender- Part 3


In the past two posts, I shared with you that I had been convicted of a sin through a webcast video on a blog I read regularly and then I shared responses Christians have to sin once it has been revealed.

I left those two posts intentionally general as they are the beginnings of any one's repentance no matter what the sin is.  But this post is to share specifically my story with you.


As a Christian who was raised in church, I have sung the hymn "I Surrender All" numerous times.  And have even committed myself to living a life for Christ saying that yes I surrender my life, my dreams, my singleness and dating(when I was single), marriage, my parenting, my son- all to Jesus.  And though there are snippets of trying to take back control I am aware that I made these commitments and therefore strive to prayerfully honor God by giving him complete control.  Sounds great... but here comes the soul punch- I watched a webcast recently featuring Clare Smith, a Christian fitness instructor, who talked about how some people surrender their hearts and lives to Jesus- but not their health- POW! I got a punch right to the soul... and the heart.


She went on to say that we need to give those cafe mocha's and salads and all those choices we make to the Lord.  It doesn't mean that He will say we can't have them, because He may say we can, but the issue is that we haven't asked him.  And I realized that I haven't been seeking his will in this area of my life, plain and simple.

I remember surrendering my dreams in my early twenties saying, "God my life is all for you, wherever you call me to go then You will be with me and that's where I want to be."  Similarly, when I was single, I committed to follow God's leading and wait for the person He chose for me even if that meant I would be single for years or if it meant I was destined to be single.  Because being in God's will and following His calling is most important and a life outside of his will is much less than what it could be with Him calling the shots.  I made these commitments yet I had not surrendered my health to him. 

Why? Well, I didn't realize that He wanted it. I strive daily to represent Jesus well on social media, in how I dress, how I interact with people at work, and in everyday life. But I didn't realize that my health was something I was holding on to and not surrendering.  Hear me tell you that this is not because I am unhealthy.  This has nothing to do with numbers on a scale or on a clothing tag and everything to do with my heart.

See a few years ago, I was running and losing weight and I can honestly say that I was kicked into gear because I realized that God wasn't getting the best of me. That I could be much more affective for the kingdom if I was healthy and in shape... but I never actually surrendered my health to him then.  Food and exercise was then, is now and has always been an idol in my life.  There has always been a focus on it, whether it's I need to be doing it this way and guilt because I'm not, or the complete opposite of that with a focus on everything I ate and all the exercises I did with counting and measuring and tracking.  Trying to get faster and be better.  The problem with both of these is that they are off focus because the one thing I need to be focused on is Jesus.

It's a gray area in our lives because it looks different for different people. But the same can be said in marriages and parenting and finances, etc. But because I have surrendered each of those to the Lord, I read His word, I seek out books or articles from trusted Christian authors on the subject and I pray.  And I should be doing the same thing with my health.
"My encouragement to you, is just to press into the Lord. It's the exact thing I had to do when I was in all those murky areas like finances and things like that- what would God want me do in this." ~ Clare Smith, peak313.com
So, the battle is just beginning.  But the first step was to acknowledge that by not surrendering my health to God it had become an idol in my life and therefore, sin. The next step was my response to the sin, which was confession and repentance.  And now, step 3 of this total surrender is praying through this daily struggle to give up control of what I think I should be eating, how much exercise I think I need, whether I should take vitamins and to focus on Jesus and what He wants me to do in this area of my life.

It won't be a fast fix.  But I am thankful that God pointed it out to me because it's not just my health that I'm responsible for, but also the health of little man. And I believe as parents we will be held accountable for the example we set for our children, the instruction we give them, and the things we allow them to do from the time they are born until the day WE die.

What about you...

Have you surrendered your life to Christ, including your health?

Are your thoughts consumed by things other than Christ, so that you need to refocus your vision back to Him? 

And I would very much appreciate your prayers for me and I would love to pray for you if you too are beginning a journey of total surrender.  You can email me at coveredlifeblog@gmail.com.

Love in Christ,

Alyson

*Update- Sorry, totally forgot to add the scripture verses that I am praying through:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. ~Romans 12:1


Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (ESV)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Total Surrender- Part 2

In the last post, I talked about the fact that I was punched in the soul by reading a blog.  What I mean by soul punch is that the Holy Spirit convicted me of sin in my life. Sin is disobedience to God, and as a Christian, even if we don't know all the Bible, we still have an inkling of what sin is.  And fortunately, we have the Holy Spirit that guides and directs us and also indicates the sins in our lives.

But once we realize there is a sin, what then.  Part two of this journey to total surrender is response. And I believe there are 3 responses a Christian can have when they have been confronted with their sin.

One response is to ignore it. This is usually the response of a person who is already far from God. This person basically thinks that the current sin is too good to give up right now.  This person usually avoids church, Bible study, and Christian friends, because they don't want to be confronted with their sin. And usually they deny that what they are doing is wrong accompanied by the thought that God doesn't really care about this. "What fools are they who, for a drop of pleasure, drink a sea of wrath."~ Thomas Watson

The second response I see to sin, is the rationalization of it.  This response could be a comparison of  your sin to another sin or even another person's sin and deciding that your sin isn't really bad because at least it's not those sins.  This response can also be a rallying of other's opinions who validate your sin as something not actually bad.  This can be dangerous though, as it can be accompanied with misuse of scripture. And in some cases people actually start believing that God condones their sin.  An example of this would be saying that because God loves us, surely He wants us to be happy and since I'm happy then it must be okay.  But this is so dangerous because we are saying things that are completely untrue and putting those lies on God. I think this response is the most prevalent, though, as we have allowed the world to affect how we view sin even though it is contrary to what God's word says.  But God's word is the authority and sin is sin. No matter how many people you can find to justify your actions, if God's word calls it sin, then it is wrong.

And the third response to sin, is confession and repentance. Not that it's as simple as two words make it, but true remorse for the sin and remorse for fact that because of said sin, you are not in close fellowship with God truly affects the heart.  And this leads to the confession of the sin before God and heartfelt repentance.  Repenting means that you lay it at Jesus feet, accept God's forgiveness and prayerfully walk completely in the opposite direction of the sin.  I say prayerfully, because it can be a process.  Not a cut and dry I'm done- sin be gone! But a real battle, everyday against the desire of your flesh for that sin.  This is most evidently seen as addiction.  But addiction doesn't have to be for alcohol or drugs.  Addiction can be to porn, praises from others, sex, money, food, etc. and addiction can be overcome with the strength of God.

Once a sin takes root in our lives it is difficult to cut out and remove.  I think that's why so many people choose one of the first two responses.  But the problem with those responses is that to live in sin is to be separate from God.  And as John tells us in 1 John 2:4-6: "Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." 

"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.' "1 Peter 1:14-16

I will tell you that for me, over the years, my response to various sins has been a combination of the above responses with the added thought that God doesn't really care about *fill in the blank with one sin or another*.  But God does care about sin, very much.  So much so in fact, that He sent his only son to DIE to pay the debt caused by sin.  And when I am reminded of that fact, I desperately want to confess the sin that I have allowed to take root in my life and to continue on the painful path of repentance as I prayerfully remove the sin and the affect it has had on my thoughts and my actions and lay it at the feet of Jesus. 


What about you, have you been ignoring or rationalizing sin in your life when you really need to confess and repent?

Have you been avoiding church and Christian friends saying it's because you don't want to be "judged", when actually guilt and sin has been keeping you away?

Believe me when I tell you, there is freedom in confession and repentance.  And Jesus is better than any sin you have in your life right now. Stop ignoring or rationalizing the sin and settling for less than God has planned for you.  Totally surrender your life to Christ.  Confess your sin, lay it at Jesus feet, accept God's grace and forgiveness and experience the closer relationship with God you will now have through the repenting of your sins! 



And glory to God, there is freedom in confession and such joy- this I know because with each of these posts, I am sharing my journey with you that I am on right now.  But my story of total surrender doesn't end right here...there's more.


Love in Christ, 

Alyson


Monday, February 24, 2014

Total Surrender- Part 1

For many years now I have been a blog reader.  The blogs I read are written by Christian women and cover an assortment of topics.  Some are food blogs that talk of food ministries and various recipes for all occasions.  A few are about everyday happenings in the life of the writer.  A few are geared to marriage and others are for moms.  And then there are ones written to all Christians that though written about their experiences whether struggles or lessons learned are all the while challenging me in my own walk with Christ.


Now all the blogs are entertaining, which is why I follow them in the first place.  And I have learned things from all of them.  But the ones that continue to be my favorites are the challenging ones... even though after I read them sometimes I feel like they are a soul punch. But these blogs are why I felt led to begin a blog myself. Because as a Christian I enjoy a close relationship with Jesus and as such I enjoy strengthening that relationship through reading his word (first and foremost), learning from others who are following Christ and teaching/discipling others.


This is the main reason that I wanted to begin a blog.  Because I wanted to encourage and challenge others in their faith.  And so they could see that the journey of a Christian, though rewarding and amazing can be a difficult one.  Because there is a hope and a joy and a peace beyond understanding that is part of the Christian life.  But there are also refining fires and ridicule and spiritual battles that we as Christians face. For every hardship that I have endured, for every test of faith I have withstood, for every sin I have had to face and repent of, I have been made stronger in Christ because his power is stronger in me so I can give more glory to God.

I wanted to share all of that backstory with you, because I hope to share just such an experience with you that I have come face to face with as a result of a blog that I read. It's something that I can't quite share the before and after with the lesson learned, because I am even now praying and struggling through it.  And the "it" is total surrender.
 
To keep this from getting too long, I'll explain more in the next post.


Love in Christ,

Alyson


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Music To My Soul


I am a musical person.  That doesn't mean I have a lot of musical talent though.  I took piano lessons for a couple of years and played the flute through school for five years, but it was only through lots of practice that I was able to play songs.  I never had an ear for picking our songs on the piano or learning chords.  I can read music somewhat, thanks to those lessons of old and that is helpful in singing music.  And I LOVE to sing!

But not only do I love singing, I love listening to music. I like hip hop, rap, country, contemporary, pop, classical- so many different styles. (Styles as in musical instrument playing not genre.)  But what usually distinguishes a song as a favorite is the lyrics.

Songs have a way of saying exactly what I'm thinking, when I have no idea how to articulate it myself.  And they help boost my mood, or pump me up while running, or lead me to worship because they point me to Jesus.  Which is why the majority of my time is spent listening to Christian music.  Because believe it or not, what you listen to can affect where your thoughts go and how you feel.  And I enjoy focusing on Jesus and his sufficiency, supremacy, and strength.


We're told in Philippians 4:8 where our thoughts should be focused and music is a big part of that for me.  We will save the topics of what we read and watch for another post at another time... though if they don't fit in with that verse, maybe there are some boundaries that need to be set.

So because this post is about music to my soul, I want to share with you a song now that absolutely gets my heart beating and my soul worshiping!

The song is "Victor's Crown" by Darlene Zschech.  Here is the video, I hope you can see, and the lyrics below it.  And as a side note, my husband is a talented musical person and our son seems to have picked up this love for music we both have.  A couple of nights ago, he was fussy in the back of the car and because he is still rear facing I couldn't reach his paci, so I started playing this song and he quieted down.  I thought he had gone to sleep until the song was over and he started fussing again!  What can I say, my baby knows good music when he hears it!

Enjoy!
     


          


"Victor's Crown"

You are always fighting for us
Heaven's angels all around
My delight is found in knowing
That You wear the Victor's crown
You're my help and my defender
You're my Saviour and my friend
By Your grace I live and breathe
To worship You

At the mention of Your greatness
In Your Name I will bow down
In Your presence fear is silent
For You wear the Victor's crown
Let Your glory fill this temple
Let Your power overflow
By Your grace I live and breathe
To worship You

Hallelujah
You have overcome
You have overcome
Hallelujah
Jesus You have overcome the world

You are ever interceding
As the lost become the found
You can never be defeated
For You wear the Victor's crown
You are Jesus the Messiah
You're the Hope of all the world
By Your grace I live and breathe
To worship You

Hallelujah
You have overcome
You have overcome
Hallelujah
Jesus You have overcome the world

Every high thing must come down
Every stronghold shall be broken
You wear the Victor's crown
You overcome
You overcome
[x4]

At the cross the work was finished
You were buried in the ground
But the grave could not contain You
For You wear the Victor's crown

Hallelujah
You have overcome
You have overcome
Hallelujah
Jesus You have overcome the world

Every high thing must come down
Every stronghold shall be broken
You wear the Victor's crown
You overcome
You overcome
[x6]

Love in Christ, 

Alyson

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Root of All Sin


A couple of days ago, my husband hurt his knee and now has to wear a brace for two weeks which he doesn't have yet.  So last night his leg was hurting and he needed to walk as little as possible... and this next part is embarrassing, but helpful in demonstrating my point... Our 9 month old son is now very mobile.  Before last week, he would roll around and scoot around, but now he is crawling and curious about everything!  So last night, I was constantly up and down moving him back to this side of the room, taking daddy's shoes he was chewing on away, chasing the ball that escaped under the chair, and wrangling a sleepy yet fussy I-don't-want-to-give-in-to-sleep baby. Up down, up down... selfish me wanted to sit in the recliner with my feet up, playing a game on my iPad watching TV.  And after the 10th, okay honestly after only the 2nd time (which is the horribly embarrassing part) I was feeling a bit resentful of my husband's injury.  It was a very selfish night I had and one that led me to write this post in the first place.  My pride wanted me to leave out these details because they put me in a bad light.  But I think most people would say, oh you were having an off day, and it's okay to feel upset when your time is interrupted, or you deserve some "you" time.

But the problem with those thoughts are that they are not Biblical.  But more and more we easily brush off the sin of pride because it's become so rampant in our lives and in shaping our thoughts and actions. 


Every day I struggle with the sin of pride in my life.  I was born with this sin nature and even though I am a Christian now, every day is a challenge.  Jesus says in Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (emphasis added)

Every day we are to deny ourselves, which means we are to not give in to our sin natures, and we are to take up our cross and follow Christ. Daily, as in every day.  Once we are saved our sin nature doesn't just go away, but the desire in our hearts has turned to a desire to be more like Christ and in doing that we put that sin nature to death each day.  Paul says it better in Galatians 2:20 when he says,
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Everyday, I struggle with pride.  I get frustrated when I'm driving down the road and a car cuts me off, or tailgates me, or drives too slow in front of me, or won't get over, or... I think you get the picture.  But it's pride, the thought that I deserve to be respected, that causes me to be frustrated and sometimes get angry which usually causes me to wish they'd get pulled over by a cop, or even say (or think) words that are completely non-glorifying to God.  So daily, multiple times a day, I have to humble myself and think of others before me which takes a lot of prayer.  A tip for doing this while driving: picture that the people have emergencies they are rushing to get to when they drive crazy, or think of the person who drives slow as a reminder to slow down, look at the sights, turn on the radio and enjoy the drive. Remember that you may be stopped in traffic because there is a wreck ahead and someone could be seriously injured.


See, I don't struggle with "big" sin issues like drugs or alcohol (though God weighs all sin the same so there is no such thing as big or small sin).  My sin is in the every day interactions I have with the world. And the scary thing is that at times, I can act in a prideful way and not even notice.  I can get huffy with the person who just took my parking spot, or roll my eyes when I see people dressed in ways that I deem inappropriate, or rant to my husband about something someone posted on social media that I disagreed with.

My pride keeps me focused on the wrong actions of others while I fail to see the consequences of the things I do.  My pride expects people to treat me how I want to be treated and if they don't treat me fairly then I can treat them how they treat me... but the Bible doesn't say that.  The Bible says, "As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them." (Luke 6:31) It doesn't go on to say, "if they don't then you are off the hook." Actually, the next verses say, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same."  Being a Christian means being set apart as different.  It means we love the unlovable and do good to people even when people aren't doing good to us.  If this is tough for you, then maybe you too have a pride issue.


The gift of salvation that we have received should create in us a new heart.  No longer can we act how we want to and say, well "I was born like this" or "it's just my nature"- because when we are saved we put our old selves to death and we rose in newness of faith in Jesus Christ.  We are called to daily take up our cross, and I don't know about you, but the cross of Christ is much harder to carry when I am still holding on to my pride.

 In Philippians 3:2-8 we see a challenge for Christians:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And there it is.  Ouch.  I am a Christian and as such, I am called to be like Christ.  And Christ was far from prideful.  Actually, He was the epitome of humbleness.  He came to earth and served. Are we serving with joyful hearts or begrudging the time it takes us away from "me-time"?  Are we putting others' needs before our own?  Are we loving the lovable and unlovable? Or are we looking for selfish gain and focusing on what's good for me?

My prayer is that God opens our eyes to the pride in our lives. That daily we will focus on Christ and how he lived, patterning our lives after him by humbling ourselves and serving him by serving others.


Love in Christ,

Alyson

Friday, February 7, 2014

Uninhibited Worship

On Tuesday night I had the privilege to attend a banquet for Pastors, Deacons and their spouses.  As the "entertainment" the Ugandan Thunder choir sang.  I put entertainment in quotes, because to call what they did entertaining would be shortchanging the experience.  Because it was much more than mere entertaining through singing and dancing, these kids were worshiping Jesus and I felt honored that I was allowed to witness it.

Ugandan Thunder
Photo courtesy of Pennies for Posho website.
The Ugandan Thunder is a choir from, you guessed it, Uganda, Africa.  The choir is made up of orphans aged 8-13 from the Royal School Orphanage and Morning Star School. You can read more about them and see some videos at the Pennies for Posho site.  These children are orphans from Africa who travel across the Eastern US raising money so the children at the orphanages can eat.  They sell beautiful handmade goods to raise their money.  Also, you can make donations by visiting their website or you can sponsor a child for only $9 a month- That's like one meal eating out, surely we can sacrifice one time going out to eat a month so a child can eat 3 meals a day for the whole month!

Because many of the orphans in Africa are malnourished. They have had hard lives. They have experienced things I can't even begin to fathom but still they have hope and joy.  One little boy shared his testimony, saying that life had been hard, but because he knows Jesus, how could he not have joy and hope.  Because he knows Jesus, how could he not sing.  And sing they did!  Oh the harmonies were wonderfully blended and the dancing was perfectly choreographed.  They sang familiar hymns with such passion that it brought tears to my eyes.  And it was explained to us before they started that they worship with their whole bodies... and let me tell you, they were never still!  They worshiped the entire time, passionate, joyful uninhibited worship.

I was so convicted. See, I was raised in a Southern Baptist church and I thought worship was just a noun, the time after Sunday School in big church with preaching and songs and prayer.  And that time is often called our worship service, but worship itself is so much more.  As I've matured in my faith, worship has become a verb. And no, it's not because I'm raising hands, though I may, or dancing, or jumping, but it's because worship has become something I do with my heart, not just a service I attend.

But even though I actively worship Jesus, there are times that my focus is skewed and my worship is nonexistent.  And this is why I was so convicted after watching those beautiful children who by society's standards shouldn't have much to be happy about let alone joyful.  But they are because they know Jesus. When was the last time in my life that I had uninhibited worship, free from worry but with total focus on Christ?

Their faces shown with such love.  They sang of the blood of Jesus that saved them and of God's amazing Grace and they glowed with gratitude.  They sang "It Is Well With My Soul" and you could tell that they believed every word.  It wasn't just because they danced the whole time with such free abandon, though that was amazing to behold, but because their hearts were overflowing with every word they sang.

See worship isn't something we attend or something we save up for Sundays, worship should be constant.  A constant outpouring of love, gratitude, and praise to God- every day!  Even if we don't get the "blessings" we think we deserve or we're going through hard times, we should be worshiping God. Even if there were no other things He had done for us, though there are many, we should be worshiping God just because HE IS GOD.  But add on to that, that He saved us from eternal death and separation from him through Jesus- that right there ought to have us worshiping this very minute and every minute from here out!

So from here on, I pray that my heart is overflowing with worship like the disciples in Luke 19:37-40.  The Bible says that the disciples began to praise God and the Pharisees wanted Jesus to rebuke them but Jesus said, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”  And I for one, don't want God to only receive worship from the stones of the earth.  I want to worship God every day AND at church with my fellow brothers and sisters.  

Will you worship with me?


Love in Christ,

Alyson


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Update on One Word

So in this post from about a month ago, I shared that instead of resolutions, I had chosen one word to focus on for the entire year.  (There is much more in depth explanation about what that means in the One Word post, if you want to read that first, I can wait here...)



To start the year focused on grace, I am learning what grace means.  This word is used many times throughout the Bible and there are various definitions of the word. Merriam-Webster defines grace several ways. For my purposes, I am not talking about the blessing before a meal or the way one carries themselves but more in this way, "unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification", "a virtue coming from God", "a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace", "disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency."  And then there is this one, "a temporary exemption: reprieve."  And while thankfully God's grace is not temporary, it is just that an exemption or reprieve.  

When I was in ninth grade, my high school had exam exemptions.  The way to be exempt was to keep your grades up, do your assignments, and not be absent from school.  (Standardized tests were the exception, you had to take those no matter what- just in case you were about to call foul.)  But to be exempt from the exam relied on you, the student.  You had to put in the effort throughout the semester and at the end you were rewarded because you earned it.  But we can't earn God's grace because it's a gift!

Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."   We don't have to "put in the work" to become exempt from a life separated from God.  Jesus did the work already!  We have to have faith, and through that faith in Jesus Christ, God extends grace and cleanses us from the sin and mistakes we make.

We have it all wrong if we think that we have to live our lives pleasing to God and then we expect him to give us grace.  Grace comes first, then we choose to obey- and not because we are striving for more grace, but because we are so thankful for God's grace to begin with!

Grace is a gift.  There is nothing I did to earn it when I first believed.  There is nothing I do to earn it currently.  And there is nothing I can ever do to deserve it. 

And the more I have been focused on extending grace to others in my life when they really don't deserve it, the more thankful I am to God for giving it to me.  But more on that later.

For now, I'll leave you with lyrics to the song that has been playing in my head the whole time I've been typing:

Grace Greater Than Our Sin
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary's mount out-poured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
threaten the soul with infinite loss;
grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
points to the refuge, the mighty cross.

Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.
What can avail to wash it away?
Look! There is flowing a crimson tide,
brighter than snow you may be today.

 Grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God's grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!

Love in Christ,