God’s Forge

I was reading through Psalms this week and ran across this verse: “Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.” Psalm 105:19. We all know how Joseph’s story ends (he becomes second in command and reunites with his family), but I had never thought about all those years of his life that pass within the thirty seconds it takes to read in Genesis.

Here is a quick synopsis: Joseph was betrayed by his family. He was sold into slavery. He served as a slave. He was tempted. He was lied about and unjustly imprisoned. He watched others released from prison while he languished in that dark place for years.

As I thought about Joseph more, I put myself in his place: the heartache brought on by the betrayal of his brothers. The fear he might have had as he was handed over to the merchants for gold. Perhaps discouragement, yet a choice to make the best of things as he took his place as a slave in Potipher’s home. The split second decision to run when Potipher’s wife tried to seduce him. The disbelief when Potipher believed his wife’s lies about him. Then the kicker: thrown into prison for doing nothing wrong.

Joseph sat in that prison for years. He was totally surrounded by darkness, both physically and emotionally (at least I would be). All he’s known in his life are lies, betrayal, and hardship. He sits there day in and day out, facing a bleak existence. Perhaps he tries to hold onto the promised visions he’d had that God was going to do something great with his life, but he can’t see how that’s going to happen now as he stares at the dark dungeon walls.

Even darker thoughts may have invaded Joseph’s mind. Should he have given in to Potipher’s wife? He wouldn’t be here now if he had. Or could God be trusted? Why hadn’t God kept his promise? Why had God allowed him to be imprisoned? Maybe jealousy tempted him as he watched Pharoh’s cup-bearer leave prison. The deep, painful depression as he waits for the cup-bearer to keep his word and get Joseph out of prison, only to have days turn into weeks turn into months.

Until the time came…. God tested Joseph’s character.

I feel like I’m in God’s forge right now. When I picture a forge, I see a dark room filled with heat, sweat and pain. I see a hammer slamming down on a heated piece of metal. It takes the heat, sweat, and pain to turn ordinary metal into something extraordinary and useful. But the process can feel dark and painful.

When I read the verse above this week, things clicked for me. I put my name in that verse: “Until the time came to fulfill her dreams, the Lord tested Morgan’s character.” Yikes!

Now unlike Joseph’s dreams (which were prophetic and a promise from God), my dreams are simply aspirations of mine. I am a writer. And like most writers, I would like to be published. But is that God’s plan for my life? Is my “writing in the dark” a time when God is testing my character?

I think so.

I do not know what kind of future God is preparing me for (he certainly has not promised me a book contract). But I do know that he considers my faith “more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7). So into the forge I go so God can shape me into the woman I need to be.

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Writing in the Dark

I began writing about six years ago. Little did I know the steep learning curve that came with that particular “hobby” or the things God would teach me through the process.

At first I wrote scenes that came to me. I fiddled around with plots, never quite knowing where I was going. As I wrote, life continued to roll by. God move my family a couple times. I had a daughter, then along came the twins. When the twins arrived, I put writing away. My days were consumed with diaper changing, feeding children, and keeping the house from burning down (forget about cleaning it… Dan did that, bless his heart lol).

By this point, I came to realize writing is hard. I thought about putting the whole endeavor behind me. After all, when could I write with four little ones running around the house? But I could not shake the bug. I had to write. I had to finish the story inside of me.

When the twins were about one, I went back to writing. Sometimes only a hundred words a day. Sometimes I went weeks without writing because my family needed me. Life interfered again and my family found ourselves on the not-so-thrilling roller coaster ride of unemployment. It was then I started channeling the fear, heartache, and my deep search for God into my writing. I finally began to understand my characters. I understood their search inside themselves to choose the easy way or to choose God’s way: many times a path of hardship. I now had a plot.

We finished the roller coaster of unemployment (and lived!). By now I was half way through my first book. I was on a roll. I began to have goals of finishing the book and trying my hand at finding a publisher for it. Then I heard God speak. I knew in my heart he was telling me to wait an entire year. I balked at the idea and pushed forward with my own goals. God slammed back (note to anyone thinking about going through a door God is closing… don’t! He can slam hard lol).

I stopped fighting God and listened to him. I quietly put my goals of publishing away and instead continued to write. I finished my manuscript halfway through that year. I had two trusted friends critique it. They found all the things I knew in my gut I needed to work on with the story. I cried (yeah, its hard to work on something for years and find out you’re not quite there yet), then picked myself up by my flip-flops straps (I don’t wear boots) and began to work on the rewrites in earnest.

I learned a lot that year. I learned to finish a book. I learned to push through writer’s block. I learned to take criticism and use it to make my book better. And I was learning to put my work as a writer into God’s hand.

December came around again. Instead of my own plans, this time I asked God his. I felt his nudge to go ahead and start exploring the world of publishing. I signed up for the Mt Hermon conference. I tidied up my one page and pitch. And unlike last year, I totally felt scared about the prospects of publishing.

I met some amazing people at the conference. I had people interested in my manuscript. And I learned even more about writing. I came home refreshed.

During that year I also came to realize how much I had learned about the gospel through the writing of my story. Its not just about being saved from hell: it’s about being saved from something inside of us, something we cannot save ourselves from. It’s about God saving us and healing the darkness inside of us. What a beautiful picture!

The story of my writing is not done yet. No, I don’t have people knocking down my door wanting to publish my book. In fact, no one has knocked. But I felt God speaking to me again last week.

He is asking me to write in the dark now.

I can’t see where my story is going to go: I don’t know if it will ever be published or if it will only be something I leave behind for my children to read some day. What I do know is that I need to be faithful in the little bit of writing I do each day. And leave the rest to God.

(For anyone needing encouragement during their own writing in the dark, my friend Becky has done a series of posts this week. Check them out here:

http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/

Is Theology Important?

The new thinking in Christianity is to fall in love with Jesus. I totally agree with that. In fact, God agrees with that (“love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” Matthew 22:37). But at the same time, the concept of theology has become a bad word. Love Jesus, shun theology. Don’t talk about it, don’t bring it up. Only love.

My concern with this thinking is if you only love Jesus but never study him (after all, theology is “the study of God”), then you run the risk of falling in love with a Jesus that may not exist.

Without theology, we begin to shape a Jesus after what we want him to be. He is love, he is a good teacher, he is forgiving. Yes, Jesus is all these things. But as part of the Godhead, he is also holy, righteous, and just. I think sometimes those are aspects of God we are not comfortable with, so we choose not to associate them with Jesus.

It’s like saying you love your wife (or husband) very very much. But you don’t know her favorite color, her funniest childhood memory, or her deepest desire. You just love her, right? Can you really love your wife that deeply if you don’t know anything about her? I’d say go take your wife out on a date… nah, make that a month long vacation and get to know her more 🙂

In the same way, can we say we love Jesus if we don’t know who “he” is? Theology helps us understand who Jesus is. And love him as he is (God in all his glory).

Fall in love with Jesus. And through theology, discover him, so that you love him more.

Communion

Communion is a time of reflection and introspection. A time to remember what Jesus did for us and to examine our hearts.  But years ago, something crept into that moment of silence. Guilt and fear.

God is very clear that we are to take communion in a worthy manner. We are to examine our hearts and see if we are living in unrepentant sin or need to make amends with a fellow brother or sister before we participate in communion. This makes sense: if we are remembering the price God paid for sin, should we not make sure there is not a speck of unconfessed sin inside of us before we partake?

As I thought this over, I became burdened every time communion was announced at church. I would carefully look over my life, turning over every “stone”, searching for any sin committed that would make me unworthy to take communion. Even if I could find nothing, I felt there was something I was overlooking and therefore could not take communion. Instead of a celebration, it became a fear. I imagined God looking down with disapproval on his face unless I made sure I was thoroughly “clean” before taking communion.

Then God spoke. As always, his voice is quiet. And he told me “Morgan, you’re not perfect. But I am. That is why I died. That is why there is communion. Because you are not perfect.” In that moment, I realized he was right. I will never know the depravity of my heart. I will never fully understand the darkness of sin that cost Jesus his life. I am not, and will never be, perfect this side of heaven.

The burden of guilt and fear lifted.  I saw communion in a different light. God still says we should come to the table in a worthy manner. We should see if we are choosing our sinful ways over God’s way. And if there is a brother or sister we need to make things right with, we should. But we will never come to God’s table perfect. That’s why there is communion. To remember the price paid for sin. That God paid it willingly and lovingly for us.

Protecting Your Marriage

I was going to blog on another topic this week until I read the cnn.com article about Facebook and spouse cheating, I couldn’t get that topic out of my head. I read the article with horror and realized how desperately important it is to set boundaries in marriage. Not that I didn’t know that already, being married to a pastor and all, but those boundaries are for everyone, not just a pastor and his family.

Boundaries? you might be wondering by now. What do you mean? Let me explain by sharing boundaries of my own.

A)   I always tell Dan when a man wants to be my friend on Facebook. Why? It keeps me accountable to all the men who want to be my friend and makes me examine my motives on wanting this person to be my friend. It also lessons the reasons for Dan to be suspicious of me (which to my knowledge, he never has, but I do not want to give him reason either).

B)   Dan and I both have each other’s passwords to Facebook and email accounts. Not that we have anything to hide, but it gives a certain level of accountability.

C)   We have permission to question each other if something doesn’t seem right (this is done in a respectful and humble manner, not accusatory). I can’t tell you how many times this open honesty with each other has diffused misunderstandings between Dan and I.

D)   During times of frustration in marriage, it can be easy to go to another person and find understanding from them (especially through emails and Facebook). This is DANGEROUS when you go to someone of the opposite sex. You begin to find yourself attracted to that other person because they understand you while you and your spouse are at odds. Instead, pray, pray, pray, for your spouse. If you need to talk to someone, go to a trusted friend who you know will point you back to your marriage and God (not simply take your side).

E)   If you find your heart and mind wandering towards another person, take those thoughts captive! Spend less time with that person. Focus on your spouse. Be on your knees before God. Fight for your marriage!

A wonderful woman, Mary E. DeMuth wrote a great article about protecting her marriage. Although aimed at those in the Christian publishing world, her advice can be applied to all marriages. Here is the link www.christianfictiononlinemagazine.com/june-09-brilliant_real.html

Marriage is worth fighting for. The scary thing is, you might be fighting yourself.

The Scariest Words

We just can’t afford to keep you on.

I don’t love you anymore.

It’s cancer.

We’re not prepared for this kind of emergency.

Mom, I’m pregnant.

Some of these words I have heard, some of them I have not. They are scary words, filling one with the wish that they could go back in time and prevent them from happening. But let me share with you what words for me would be the most frightening to hear.

These words came to me a couple weeks before I went to a conference. They were not real, not yet anyway. But they lingered there in the back of my mind. At this conference, I was having dinner with a couple people and someone brought up the question: What is your goal in life? Being creative people with a sense of humor, everyone around the table began to say things like “Become dictator of the world,” and “Go on every roller coaster there is.” I smiled and laughed with the rest until it was my turn. Then I felt God urging me to share those words.

I took a shaky sip from my water, then put down the cup. I looked around the table, took a deep breath and began.

I do not want to get to heaven and have God say, “Morgan, you led a pretty good middle class life. Not many bad things happened to you, you had a nice house, nice car, nice family. But let me show you what your life could have been… if you had let me have my way with it.”

The mood at the table suddenly dropped a couple degrees. People shuffled their silverware around. Someone cleared her throat. I wanted to apologize, but those words were the true goal of my life. I do not want to hear God say those words. Those words would leave me feeling I had done nothing with my life. I lived, I died, and nothing came of it. I want my life to count for more. I want it to mean something.

Now don’t get me wrong. A nice life is not a bad thing. But if in pursuit of that life we miss hearing God’s voice, then we miss out on our lives being something amazing. What good is it to have a nice house, a secure job, a published book if in the end, it was all for me? No, I want my life to count for more. I want it to have maximum impact. And the only way is to hear God’s quiet voice, directing me towards his plans for my life.

And then having the courage to do it.

Lessons learned from a Guinea Pig

Vanilla and Butterscotch

Butterscotch and Vanilla. No, they are not flavors; they are the names of two guinea pigs I own. Vanilla is very vocal, he squeals whenever the refrigerator opens because he thinks I am going to get him carrots. He also loves to be petted and purrs loudly whenever I do so.

Butterscotch on the other hand is a very quiet pig. He looks around with inquisitive pink eyes and never lets his guard down. I can count on one hand how many times he has purred for me (and they were very quiet purrs).

As I was petting them one day, I realized something: how such small creatures had such different personalities. And it made me think of God. God could have made the whole world with only a few varieties of animals and we would never have known. But no, he created a vast amount of life, each unique.

Then I thought about how God could have given each animal a bland personality. You know, all dogs the same, all horses the same, all mice the same. But instead, he infused each animal with its own personality and quirks.  He placed his fingertip on each one and left it unique and special, all for his glory.

I stopped petting Butterscotch and Vanilla. Butterscotch looked at me inquisitively while Vanilla tried to position his body under my hand again.  I looked at them and felt such awe at a God who is so connected with his creation. Even the smallest detail never escapes his eye.

Amazing how God used two little guinea pigs to reveal Himself to me 🙂

In Darkness there is Light

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