Why blog?

It's therapeutic... specially for dorks like me who communicate better when they have the chance to process their thoughts, select their words, and write precisely what they want to say. As much as I'm a "talker", I stumble, stutter, and don't always say things right. English as a second language might have something to do with that (unfortunately, I don't think I could blog in Spanish... I lost my grammar in that language). I like to pour out my thoughts and leave it out there in the cosmos (or the world wide web) for other people to mull over...

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Word!

As I am blogging, right now, I have no title for this blog.

I am just grateful that God is speaking to me. He's showing me things in His Word. He is encouraging me. Every time I read the Bible or go to church He will highlight things for me to take note of; to apply to my life, internalize, personalize... My faith is growing as I read. For example:

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock [that is, the confession that Jesus Christ is the Living Son of God and the Savior] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it.
No army has ever marched on the offensive bringing their gates and their doorposts with them to war. So many people have used this Scripture as an illustration that the church will stand tall in the midst of opposition. But apparently, it's not the church that is just standing tall. It's hell (hades) that is standing, with their gates up, on the defensive. Which leaves us with the only alternative -the church is supposed to be on the OFFENSIVE. We're supposed to be marching, conquering... I know it sounds aggressive, overbearing, and it can feel rude to some people. But the Bible also says that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal", and "we do not wage war against flesh and blood, but against principalities and demons..." So it's not conquering other cultural groups or actual people, but the demonic forces (which you may or may not believe in) that enslave these people; addictions, depression, fear, abuse... Poverty, injustice, racism... The things in the spiritual realm that can make believers (and unbelievers) miserable and wretched.

Psalm 107:10-16
10 Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
and broke away their chains.
15 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
16 for he breaks down gates of bronze
and cuts through bars of iron.
We can march forward past the gates of Hades because the Lord is strong enough to "break down gates of bronze" and He "cuts through bars of bronze". Even the hardest, most addicted, most rebellious heart has the hope of being... well... redeemed! I love this piece of Scripture because it reminds me that even if I'm paying for my own sin, even if I DESERVE the pit and the slavery because I ignored His commands and acted in rebellion, His love is still unfailing! He still does wonderful things for mankind! He still desires to deliver me. He is that good! And I can trust Him not only when I'm in darkness, and in chains, but when my loved ones are as well.

Psalm 138:7-8
7 Though I am surrounded by troubles,
you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
and the power of your right hand saves me.
8 The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
Don’t abandon me, for you made me.
I can't read this and not be encouraged. I pray that you are encouraged too. God is good in the midst of our trials. I trust Him - even though I'm not excited about where I am in my life. I know with all of my heart that God wants more for our family than this one bedroom itty-bitty apartment that has no heat in the winter and the pipes leak all summer. More than the cigarette smoke that comes in through the heating vents, than the mixed smell of urine and alcohol of the homeless people that sneak into our unit and sleep in our hallway. But He promised, He will "work out His plans for my life, for His faithful love endures forever". He gave me that Scripture (and you too!) so I can believe He's saying it for me!

I guess that's the point of the Bible. It's way too many words for any of it to go to waste into randomness. All those words (and that book is thick!) is for me. To teach me, correct me, encourage me. He left it all in writing, from the beginning of the world till it's end, for ME to know what He is like, what He has done in the past, and what He can do for me. See, the more I read about Him, the more I come to know His character. He loves me, and wants me to really know Him.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I love going to church!

I have gone to church since I was about 15 years old. Most people would think I go to church because it's how I was raised, or because it's part of my religion. While I'm not discrediting these aspects, I have to elaborate on why I love going to church so much.

For the most part, my faith doesn't exclusively require me to go to church; I'm supposed to be practicing my faith Monday through Saturday as well. So as far as the requirements of my faith (read my Bible, prayer, being in fellowship with other Christians, and serving others) I can do that all the other days and in any other setting. So I don't go to church on Sundays out of some sense of obligation.

The reality is that church is there for MY benefit. I am blessed when I go. It enhances my understanding of the Bible for future reading, it has me join with others in prayer, it has me sing and worship with others who love God like I do, and provides an opportunity for me to serve.

I don't know if I can put into words how I am blessed by going to church, or how much of a difference it makes on the rest of my week, but I can try...

I love how at church, I'm no less important or smart than the person next to me. In a society that is so "title" driven, it's so easy for me to feel of less value or competency when compared to my bosses who have degrees or even the next person that went to college for a little more training than me. It's actually pretty frequent to feel "less than" everyone else compared to education, money, cars, homes... But then I walk into church and I'm reminded, by everyone that talks to me and by the Holy Spirit, that I am of infinite value. I'm a child of God! He loved me and considered my value and died on the Cross to redeem ME. And how He walks with me, helps me, guides me is no less for me as it would be for the Pastor or the person with a nicer car in the parking lot. In light of God's economic view, I'm no less wealthier than anyone who can call on His Name. In light of the knowledge of God, He has revealed Himself to me the same way He would to anyone that wants to get to know Him. I never feel "less than" at church. And as long as we're all studying the same Bible I don't know less than anybody else.

It's refreshing to worship with other people, who are as excited about singing and dancing and praising God as I am! It brings me relief from the stress of the week... It gives me joy! God said in His Word that He is worthy of praise... and I don't know of many settings out in public where I can raise my hands or sing at the top of my lungs or dance around to my God and people wouldn't think I was crazy... Mind you, I have no fear of dancing or singing anywhere else, and the awkward stares from non-Christians when my family blesses their food at a restaurant is something we're quite used to. There's just this relief where this kind of expression is the NORM and not the oddity.

I could see how, from the outside, singing and clapping for the Lord can feel awkward. It may not feel like it's part of your personality. But (and this is something you won't understand until you are at this point) it won't matter! When you are in a relationship with Jesus Christ and also have come to know and be loved by His people, you are less aware of yourself and more aware of how good He is! Then expressing love for Jesus in a congregational setting isn't awkward at all. It becomes the most natural thing you want to do when you go to church on Sunday morning.

I love being prayed for, prayed with... I love going and being reminded by the preaching of God's Word and by the testimony of God's people that He is able! That He is strong! And that He cares! And the more I hear of God helping His people, the more I have faith to believe that He'll help me! The more I have the faith to pray for... the more hope I have. So it becomes this cycle of encouragement and hope that works the opposite to the viciousness of addiction; it builds you up instead of tearing you down. It re-energizes me.

I feel God's presence at church. I'm not saying you don't or can't anywhere else. But I really do experience Him at church. He brings light to Scripture in such a way, as the pastor is preaching, that speaks to me. It's like, the Pastor will read a verse outloud, and we are all looking at the Bible, and God will say to me, "See Maria? This is what I wanted you to understand this week. Remember when *insert example here*? I wanted you to trust Me through that circumstance. I know that you are dealing with *insert another example here* and I'm telling you, through this verse right here, that I will take care of it." There is a peace that washes over me, a joy that gets into me...

Most people would think that after spending all morning at church my tank would be full. Quite the opposite, actually. I get home wanting to sing more, to pray more. To read more of my Bible. To go back in the evening or sometime mid-week. Church doesn't drain me, it fills me. I could get into all the theology and scriptures behind the church some other time. Right now I'm trying to keep it simple; church is GOOD!

Some people get saved and then they start going to church. Others start going to church and then they get saved. Either way, glory to God! I pray that everyone who may read this may have a church they can go to where they feel their batteries recharged, so to speak. And I pray that if you are not going to church, that it won't be something intimidating or scary for you. But I just had to share what an awesome experience it is for me... and my kids are really enjoying it too!

Regardless of whether you do or don't, God is always there for you. He's waiting to hear you pray, and He is in the rescue business. He wants to meet you right where you are at and be with you. He wants you to come just as you are. I don't ever want you to feel that if you need God on Thursday night you have to wait till Sunday morning to get it right with Him. Turn to God on Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday... and then come to church on Sunday morning and be loved on, encouraged, and lifted up!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Gray Clouds Finally Moving On...

Actually, as I type it's getting gray-er outside (LOL) because it's rainy. But it feels pretty good, actually. The air is cool, it smells like rain outside (which I love)... Natural rain has a way of reminding me that God can wash away all the icky stuff off me too, and nurture me, and refresh me. Which is what I feel He has been doing this week.

But metaphorically speaking, those gray clouds are finally moving on! I finally feel like I can breathe, soak in a little bit of sunlight. It took some lashing out, and some prayer from people that love me unconditionally... a lot more patience from the ones who were close to me.

Unfortunately, some people walked away. I was prepared for those consequences. I take responsibility for my part, but at the same time... I don't feel I'm responsible for it all. I definitely don't feel guilty. And as it turns out, those who walked away did so because I did not fulfill their expectations, so it was probably best... I don't think I could ever measure up or pay back to their standards what they seem to have been hoping I would.

It took walking away on my part to find out everything that was going on behind our backs. That's when I came to see how some really felt, and it wasn't pretty. Some of those accusations were even false. I guess I always had the option of fighting that battle and chose to surrender to it instead. They can believe and say whatever they want. I'm not saying anything back. I can't control what others believe of me, so the only thing I can do (which gives me a sense of control, actually) is walk away.

Reminds me, in a sense, of the book of Job. There was Job's story, his friend's story, and God's point of view... everybody was wrong! Job's friends accused him unfairly but Job didn't exactly have it all together either. Which is why when God steps into the scene in the last few chapters, Job says, "I have no understanding. I shouldn't have spoken at all... as it is, I spoke too much, God. I'm sorry." (Paraphrase mine). Only God sees the whole picture and I'm committing it to Him. We really don't know how to judge "right" and "wrong" here on this earth as perfectly as He does, so its best in some matters for us to shut up and leave it alone.

My mother-in-law sent me a book by Corrie Ten Boom, called "I stand at the door and knock". It is described as some of the best devotionals on forgiveness that this woman ever wrote. And she's a pretty darn good source for it! In case you have no idea who she is, she is a godly Christian who went through and survived a concentration camp during WWII for helping Jews. She had german guards do horrible things to her on a daily basis. She didn't just walk away from that camp to say, "Screw you all! I hope you burn in hell!" She walked away with true victory... she forgave! There are testimonies of guards that years later have asked her for forgiveness, and she has hugged them and sincerely forgiven them. She had made her mind up to forgive them while she was still in the camp; many of those same guards heard her pray for them every night. I think it would be a very appropriate book to read right now.

All in all though, I've been praying, and I can't say I've heard God say anything back - rather, He's sat there in the silence with me and put His comforting arms around my shoulders. That's the best way I can describe it. There's nothing in my circumstances that has fixed anything. But in my despair, and when I needed Him the most, He showed me by the power of the Spirit that I'm going through this valley with the Great Shepherd. It means more to me than getting everything I want. I hope others get to experience what I'm talking about right now:

He loves me. I'm not the prettiest or nicest right now. I'm actually quite icky inside. But I'm completely helpless. I don't have any way to bribe God to stay by my side. I lack convincing arguments and I'm past promising to change. I have nothing to offer Him. And I may throw temper tantrums along the way. But He still loves me. And He is willingly, lovingly walking with me. There's nothing I can do to make Him love me more. There's nothing about me that has made Him love me less.