Friday, January 29, 2010

Perfect People

This song by Natalie Grant really socks me in the gut. It is one of my least favorite parts of the Body of Christ. We are here to serve and help others. Yet within the church so many of us try to "tell the world you've got it all together..... and never let him see what's underneath." We hide away the hardest things. We cover up our foibles. We try to deny our sinfulness. But those things are the VERY things which minister to others most! People need to know they are not alone! People need to know it is possible to struggle with the ick of this world and still trust Jesus. People need to know it is okay to scream and cry and kick and think "THIS SUCKS!"

The other day I was driving down the street and this song came on, and I just started bawling. Here's why: I am so hard on myself. I am such a perfectionist. When things in my life don't line up to the image I have in my head of "perfect," I feel evil, flawed, worthless. As I drove down the street it was like Natalie Grant was screaming it JUST for me:

There's no such thing as perfect people
There's no such thing as a perfect life
So come as you are, broken and scarred
Lift up your heart and be amazed
And be changed by a perfect God, yeah

NONE of us are perfect! NONE of us have a perfect life! EVERYONE has their trials, their struggles, their failures. So don't let your messy, sinful, shattered life keep you from God. Take your broken, nasty nonsense right TO Him. Lie in His arms and be changed. Spend time at His feet and be amazed. Satan wants your shame to drive you from your Father. God wants your failures to drive you to Him.

I hope you'll let the words of this song wash over you today. Remember there is NOTHING you've done He can't forgive. NOWHERE you've been He can't lead you back from. NO WAY you could EVER make Him stop loving you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Though None Go with Me

The other night John and I watched Though None Go with Me. I have been trying ever since to find the words to describe this movie: life altering, affirming, encouraging.... all these apply, but yet it was MORE for me. I recommend this movie as highly as a movie can be recommended by a human being. You NEED to see this movie!

The movie tells the story of a woman who follows Christ all her life in spite of NUMEROUS and devastating struggles. I cried harder then I have cried since my mother-in-law gave us a copy of the EVIL and despicable movie The Christmas Shoes.

John and I have been through our share of struggles, especially as of late. Because of this, I have wrestled long and hard with the concept of why Christians faces trials.... sometimes trials of GARGANTUAN proportions. Here's what I have come up with (because I don't want to be a spoiler I'm not connecting any of these reasons to Though None Go with Me... you'll have to check it out for yourselves to figure out which reason is from the movie).

1. The Eve effect - In the garden, Eve took the fruit. She made a choice to disobey God's instructions, and she reaped the logical consequences of her actions: banishment from the garden. Sometimes Christians suffer due to reaping the logical consequences of their own actions. There are times in our life when we go through a hardship that is simply just the outcome of a choice we made.... a choice to speed may get us a ticket, a choice to commit adultery may ruin our marriage, a choice to steal may end us in jail... That is just the way of natural consequences.

2. The Job effect - Job suffered TERRIBLY, but his suffering was not a result of his sin. It was a result of his righteousness. God gave Satan permission to test Job because God had FULL confidence that no matter what Job would stay faithful. Sometimes Christians suffer for that very reason, because God has confidence in their ability to stay faithful. Over the past few months, John and I have said quite frequently (and only half-jokingly), "Gosh I wish God didn't trust us so much!" This testing I guess should be considered an honor.... But it's not always easy to put on the glasses that see it that way.

3. The Kathi effect - I'm naming this one after my momma, because she recently shared it with me. Many of you who know me via Facebook have heard that my grandmother has been struggling with some debilitating health issues the past few months. Recently, my mother had a conversation with her about why she had to suffer so much. My mother told her, "Sometimes our suffering is not about us at all. Sometimes our suffering is for what other people can get out of it." There are times when we suffer so that others can see Jesus. So that people can see the strength of our faith in action. So that others can be witnessed to or encouraged or convicted.

How then to face our struggles? Should we sit around evaluating them from every angle trying hard to figure out why we are going through what we are? I really don't think that is the answer, mostly because I don't think it will get us anywhere. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (I Corinthians 13:12) Many things we experience on this earth will not make sense to us until we get to Heaven.

Therefore, I propose another way. Perhaps I'll call it the "Cover all your bases" way.

1. When you suffer, search your heart and ask God to reveal any sinful ways. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24) If any of your suffering is due to a sin you have committed, God will reveal that to you so that you can repent and turn away from it.

2. When you suffer, STAND strong!!! Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13) If your suffering is because God has full faith that you will stand the test, then be careful that you STAND! You do NOT want to give Satan a victory. Prove God RIGHT! Gird up your loins and just STAND!

3. When you suffer, focus on others. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (I John 3:16) When you are struggling, look around you and see how you can "lay down your life" for another. The benefits of doing this are two-fold. It benefits those you focus on, but it also benefits you by getting your eyes off yourself and your suffering for awhile.

Trust me, I know hardships. I know struggles. I don't know how much of my "suffering pie" is allocated to reason number 1, 2 or 3 of suffering, but I do know that searching my heart, STANDING strong, and focusing on others has been a good way for me to get through the struggles I have faced. I hope it helps you too. [Oh, and GO SEE THAT MOVIE!]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

People get ready....

[Just as an aside: Satan did NOT want me to post this blog this morning. The second it started forming in my brain: Hannah woke up early, the cat tried to attack our breakfast, got locked out of my office, the cat messed up my Internet settings by walking over my keyboard, the cat clawed me trying to get away from Hannah, Hannah stepped on the power cord switch shutting off my computer, Internet went down... PHEW! This must be a good one, and someone MUST need to hear it. So get ready!]

People get ready
Jesus is coming soon we'll be going home
People get ready
Jesus is coming to take from this world His own.

My children are so "other-worldly" minded it sometimes scares me. Whenever we see a triangle-shaped object, Noah will say, "Look mom! Father, Son, Holy Spirit!" When we see anything in the shape of a cross, they will shout, "A cross! Just like Jesus died on!" And when we see the sunlight streaming through a break in the dark, cloudy sky, they will say, "Hey mom, doesn't it look like Jesus is coming back?" That's what I want to say to all of you today. "Hey blog readers, doesn't it look like Jesus is coming back?"

Lord I'm ready now.
I'm waiting for your triumphant return. (You're coming so soon.)
This world has nothing for me,
I find my peace and joy solely in You. (Only in you.)

I awoke this morning and found the news of a second earthquake hitting the already devastated island of Haiti. Last night I read about an earthquake hitting the Cayman Islands. For the second time in just a week, I had this weird sense of, "This is the book of Revelation occurring in front of my eyes." Now please do not get me wrong, I am NOT a doomsdayer or rapture junkie. I did not lose my mind during Y2K, and I have no trepidation about 2012. However, I wonder does anyone else see an eerie resemblance to book of Revelation here? It's not just the abundance of earthquakes right now... it's the evil all around me that calls my mind to the final book of the Bible. Yet these earthquakes really get me thinking.... "He's coming soon!"

There's a day that comes
When we will be divided right and left.
(For those who know Him and those that do not know.)
And those who know Him well, will meet Him in the air.
Hallelujah! (God is within us.)
And those that do not know, they will hear, "Depart. I knew you not."
For my friends you see,
There will be a day when we'll be counted.
So know Him well, know Him well.

Are you ready? That's what I want this blog to lead you to today. Are you ready? Getting ready is SO simple. A child can do it. In fact, all of my children have done it. Really just a few things to do:

1. Realize that you are a sinner deserving of nothing but death. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) How far back in your personal history do you have to go to admit this is true? You are a sinner. Me, I don't have to go very far at all. Just a short little jaunt back to that above-mentioned list of roadblocks Satan put in my way this morning, and WOOPS! Halt right there! Jami sinned. She lost her temper and was NOT godly in meeting those challenges. I don't know exactly how far you have to go, but I do know this: you have sinned. At some point in your life whether you are fifteen or fifty years old, you have sinned. Just like the Bible says, ALL have sinned... I also know that the punishment for sin is death. For the wages of sin is death... (Romans 6:23a).

2. Next you have to see that Christ made a way for you. See God knew the punishment for sin was death, but when sin entered the world, He saw that He could not STAND the thought of eternity without His precious, beloved children. So He made a way for us. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) When Christ died on the cross, He died for your sins to pay the price required for sin so that you could be forgiven and so you could spend eternity in Heaven.

3. You have to ACCEPT the gift! It's yours already. It's sitting there on your shelf, in your dresser, in that corner of your closet. It's like the treadmill in your basement that can help you drop those unwanted pounds or the Ab Rocker you have that can give you a 6-pack. You possess this gift, but you have to take the next step with the gift and ACCEPT it. That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

People get ready,
Jesus is coming soon we'll be going home.
People get ready,
Jesus is coming to take from the world His own.

If your one of His already, rejoice along with me! Soon & very soon we are going to see the King! If you are not, STOP right this second. Don't waste one more breath. Get ready! He's coming whether you're ready or not. So why not just BE READY!

Love to all of you! Praying for your hurts and pain. Praying for the devastation in Haiti. But most of all PRAYING that these things get your attention and help you GET READY! Because He IS coming SOON!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The yarn tangle....

It started before Christmas. We were talking with the kids about how it would likely be a tight Christmas. Jeremiah said, "Maybe you could give me something you made yourself! Like a sweater!" We chuckled about that because I am in NO WAY capable of making a sweater, but then I started thinking. I used to know how to crochet. It can't be that difficult to pick up again. I set out on an adventure crocheting scarves for the children. It morphed into crocheting scarves for my step-daughters and their boyfriends, and then one for my cousin's baby and my sister. By Christmas I had crocheted 11 scarves!

I realized that in this season of my life crocheting is very good for me. It is very therapeutic. There is something about the repetitiveness of it that is soothing. It also makes me feel productive at the exact same time I am sitting still getting some much needed rest and relaxation. Finally, it actually relaxes me so much that it puts me to sleep. John has made fun of me several times for actually falling asleep sitting up in the recliner with my crocheting in my lap. He says I am SO an elderly person now.

Well, always one to think a little more highly of me than I deserve, my husband returned home from work one day and asked, "Can you make my boss a scarf by tomorrow?" I laughed and said maybe I could get one done in two days but not by the next morning. I asked what color and he said, "Navy." Navy.... oh navy....

I picked up the navy skein of yarn I had in my yarn box and started on the scarf; however, just a few rows into the project, I encountered a tangle of epic proportions. Now to my knowledge I am not aware of anyone rolling around in this particular skein of yarn, so I have NO idea how it got so tangled, but it was BAD! I spent all of my crocheting time for about two days trying to untangle this thing. It was frustrating. It was hard. Several times I wanted to just give up and toss the thing in the trash. But I was DETERMINED not to let this yarn tangle win. So on I fought.

I kept thinking surely as I get closer and closer to the end of this escapade it will get easier... surely if I just get a little more untangled I will be able to breeze through the last bits of the tangle. But no dice! From the beginning of that struggle all the way through to the end it was ARDUOUS! That tangle was like the monster tangle from hell itself. I have never felt relief like I felt when I finally got through the end of that thing and was left with just a neat little ball of yarn. I had conquered the tangle and the heady feeling of accomplishment was a great high.

I've been thinking about that yarn tangle a lot lately. Struggles in life can be a lot like that monster yarn tangle. They can be HARD! Sometimes we think if we can just get a little further through that bad boy, it will get easier. Or maybe we get irritated with ourselves, "Surely I should have this down pat by now. I've been dealing with the intricacies of this struggle for so long. I should be able to plow through this." But guess what sometimes struggles are just a BEAR! No matter how long we have been at them, they are just as tough as they were in the beginning. Some trials we face just don't get easier to handle with time. Some things we have to make it through are just tough 100% of the time. I LOVE the Casting Crowns song Praise You in the Storm. For almost 4 years now this part of the lyrics has been hitting me SQUARE in the chest:

I was sure by now, God, that You would have reached down
and wiped our tears away,
stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
and it's still raining....

There are struggles in our life that seem to go on forever. We get tired of fighting through them. Sometimes I feel other people even get tired of hearing about them. They (and we) think, "Come on! Get through this already! It should NOT be taking this long!" But God's timing is not our timing, and His ways are not our ways....

These never-ending type struggles, for whatever reason, don't seem to be any easier years down the road then they were when they first started. They are just as tangled and knotted as they were when we first encountered them. But guess what? There is an end! Even if it is not in sight. There is a way! He can make it. Eventually (even if it's not until you make it to Heaven) you will get through that tangle and make it to that neat little ball of yarn. And OH the triumph, oh the glory, oh the feeling of accomplishment when that struggle is behind you!

So don't give up! Fight on! Be a stubborn little brat. Cling to your fight like a 2-year old clings to the sucker her brother is trying to steal. Be tenacious! Who cares how long it takes? Who cares if others don't want to hear about your struggle anymore? You focus on God and buckle down and fight through that tangle with all you have got! I promise you, there IS a reward waiting at the end, and no matter how long it takes you to get there, you will be BLESSED for not giving up.

Happy untangling!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My heart for missions....

Sunday at church the message was called Give3 - Part 2 in a series entitled Give & Go. It was about missions, about three different ways we should give: financially, spiritually, and physically. While the sermon was delivered about foreign missions, the application of the Word to my heart was slightly different. I'm not saying that starving children in Ethiopia don't tug at my heart strings. I will admit tears streamed down my face over the story of the Indian orphan being put to bed on a mattress-less bed of wooden slats. Yet my heart for missions is a bit closer to home. My heart breaks over the mission field I see right in my backyard: hungry families in my community, broken children right here whose families are torn apart, confused teenagers at my local high school who are trying to navigate the stormy waters of this thing called adolescence. They need Jesus. They need food. They clothes to wear to school. They need their broken hearts soothed and their murky minds made clear. While the suffering of ALL people lies heavily on my heart, the people right in my backyard are those who are indelibly imprinted on "my heart for missions." I don't know what people group is most heavy on your heart, but it doesn't really matter. The need to give of ourselves financially, spiritually, and physically applies to every part of the mission field.

We need to give financially out of our assets. I always find it interesting to observe the discomfort whenever a message is delivered which includes a commission to give financially. People are so uncomfortable with this! From the person delivering the message to the those hearing it, discomfort abounds. Why?!?!?! Why do we cling so tightly to our stupid STUFF?!?!?! That amazes me. From the perspective of someone who has no money and very few tangible assets available, I can tell you that money is NOT important. I can also tell you that God doesn't need your money to move. He doesn't need you to tithe and give in order to do something miraculous. You wanna know why? HE ALREADY OWNS IT ALL! Your money, your house, your cars, your toys.... they are ALL His. The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; (Psalm 24:1) You know why God needs you to give of your tangible assets? It is NOT for His benefit. It is for YOURS. When you give your assets, YOU ARE BLESSED! That's why God wants you to give! He doesn't need your stuff! He wants you to be blessed.

We also need to give spiritually. It made me think, "What am I doing to give of myself spiritually?" There are so many ways to give of yourself spiritually!

1. Pray! John and I have this habit. When we tell someone we will pray for them, we try very hard to STOP and pray right then. I think sometimes people are a little taken aback by this, but our rationale is if we don't pray right that moment, we might not remember to pray at all. If you are not comfortable praying out loud for someone, then right away after hearing of a need stop and pray silently for it. But PRAY! It is the BEST way to give of yourself spiritually.

2. Share! You can give of yourself spiritually just by sharing what God is doing in your life. When God blesses you with an answered prayed, tell the WHOLE world about it! When God reveals something to you through your reading of the Word, share it with someone. When you hear something amazing in church, tell someone. When I was a little girl, we had this Christian songbook, and my FAVORITE song in that book was Pass it On. The lyrics went: it only takes a spark to get a fire going.... and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing.... that's how it is with God's love... once you experience it.... you want to sing... it's fresh like spring... you want to pass it on.... That's all we're talking about here... pass it on! Pass the love of God on to others by sharing what He says to you.

The final encouragement is to give physically. Basically to get up and DO SOMETHING! Make a meal for a family in need. Invite that new person in your neighborhood over for dinner. Offer to clean the house of the woman at church who just had a new baby. For me I heard this as a poke in the fanny to get back to FAITHFULLY blogging. I have been SO remiss about writing lately. So many tell me that the words God gives me to blog minister to them, yet I have let the busyness of life crowd in and I have NOT been blogging very much. Blogging is a way I can physically DO something to spread God's word. As scary as it is because I am terrified the second I type it I will fail, I am committing right here, with my blog readers as witnesses, to blog at least every other day! Yikes! I'm not sure how I'll keep up with that standard, but I am going to give it the old college try.

I hope this blog made you thing about giving of yourself. Whether your heart is drawn to starving children in Ethiopia, to hungry families in Hartford, or to confused college students on campus, give of yourself materially, spiritually, and physically to that cause.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's underneath?

I moved VERY slowly this past weekend. I had some nasty bug that settled in my chest and was REALLY tiring me out. My "to do" list was completed over the course of three separate days. It went kinda like this.

Friday: Somehow in spite of my exhaustion and illness, I was able to get the kitchen floors sparkling clean, did some laundry, and CLEANED the basement. I came upstairs from finishing the basement to find a HUGE spill on the sparkling clean floor. SERIOUSLY?!?!?! That wasn't even clean for an hour! Saturday: Cleaned my closet, bathroom, and bedroom, did some more laundry. Sunday: Cleaned the kids' bedrooms and did some more laundry. Then Sunday afternoon, I crawled into bed and really didn't get back out. By Monday morning the kids' rooms were TRASHED! The dishes overflowed in the sink. There was more laundry to be done. I was feeling so discouraged. I started lamenting my sorrows to John and here's what I came up with: When you have small children, the point of cleaning is not necessarily to have a sparkling, perfectly clean house. The point is to know that underneath the clutter and chaos there lies a floor that won't kill your child if they eat something off it. This calmed me down a little. Looking around things didn't look very orderly, but I did have the peace in my heart of knowing that underneath it all, that floor has been "mop & glo'd"... those counters have been sanitized.... the dust has been wiped from those shelves.... all mites, cat hair and other heebie jeebies have been vacuumed out of that carpet...

[Disclaimer: I wonder if I might lose y'all on this application. In some ways I feel like it's a stretch, but it's where God took me. Hope it ministers to someone.]

It's kinda like my life. On the outside it looks all clutter and chaos. I FLY from task to task. I'm homeschooling and working and cooking and cleaning and mentoring and loving and AHHHHHHHHHHH! This past year the STRESS has been laid on my shoulders, and I am not proud of some of the things which have come out. (In fact my latest shame is the dirty word that is Hannah's newest favorite word. Ugh! Guess who's lips she heard that one from?) But on the inside, underneath the stress of too many tasks to do, behind the worry of how we're going to pay the bills, beneath the shame of my falling short, guess what you'll find? Deep in the center of my heart, at the very core of my being, regardless of what the outside looks like, you will find a STRONG and FIRM faith in God. You will find the hope that 2010 will be a jubilee year for the Kastners to make 2009 pale pitifully in comparison. You will find the assurance that no matter what Satan throws at me I will stand....just stand. You will find a deep and abiding love for my Jesus. Isn't that what truly matters? Not whether the outside, visible things are perfectly in order, but the knowledge that on the inside all is right.

Have hope today. It is okay if your life doesn't look perfect on the outside. Those extra gray hairs you found this morning, the added jiggle you noticed on your backside, even the steam you blew off at the one you love the most.... Those aren't as important as what's on the inside. Get your inside cleaned up, and then no matter what craziness leaves it's stain on your exterior, you can rest in the peace that underneath it all is order.

But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
I Samuel 16:7

Sunday, January 3, 2010

An open Thank You to all of our Christmas Angels

This Christmas, the one which closed out the most difficult year in the history of the Kastner family, was the best Christmas we have EVER had. Thanks entirely to the generosity of God's Christmas Angels, the Kastner children had a better Christmas then they have ever had before.

As Christmas approached, John and I started to realize that we might not be able to give the children any Christmas gifts this year. God was so generously providing for our needs during this time; however, we weren't sure presents would qualify as a need. So many had given us generous gifts, and we were sure God would get us through the rest of this trial with food in our bellies and a roof over our heads; however, we did not at all anticipate the "cherry on top of the sundae" He would provide. We gently began to prepare the children for this reality. Jeremiah so wise beyond his years said, "That's okay mom. I have everything I need in this wonderful family."

But then in a gesture designed solely to show us how much He loves us. In a totally unnecessary and purely lavish act, God impressed upon Christmas Angels to bless us. First from New Mexico arrived the presents Santa "accidentally delivered" to the wrong place. Then the cafeteria ladies from John's building sent home a ridiculous amount of loot for the children. Finally, we were contacted by our church and told a family from the community would like to provide presents for our Christmas. And of course there were the typical GOBS of presents the children are always blessed with from Oma, Poppa, and Riri. We were blessed beyond measure with an AMAZING Christmas. While I am eternally grateful for the smiles on the faces of our children and the joy in their hearts over all the Christmas presents they received, it is for the intangible, everlasting gifts that I am most grateful. Our children learned lessons of generosity and kindness that I do not think they will ever forget. Through the gifts of our Christmas Angels, our children learned that God doesn't just care for their needs He cares for their wants too. Through the gifts of our Christmas Angels, our children were inspired, and they are already saving some of their allowance for next Christmas so they can bless a family just like we were blessed.

John and I were humbled to the point of tears over the charitable gifts we were given this Christmas (and actually since the beginning of this ordeal), but it is not for the tangible things that I am finding myself most grateful. I am finding myself most grateful that my children know, I mean REALLY know, that God will always provide for them. That they have learned to depend on Him and Him alone for all their needs. That they have learned to be humble and generous and to always look for ways to bless others. Truly this brain surgery, this entire year.... what Satan had crafted to be the destruction of this family and our faith has become our greatest triumph. We are stronger than we were at the beginning of 2009 and we will NEVER let go of the faith that got us through all of this.

Thank you to ALL of our Angels (Christmas, Fall, rent, and food Angels). We are truly blessed because of you.
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