Anxiety, Faith, grace, Hope, Love, Overwhelmed, Rest

Crazy Grace

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  James 1:19-20

Christmas is a time to reflect on what’s important and express gratitude for the precious gift of God’s Son.  “Peace on Earth, goodwill to men…”  If this is true, why are we so angry and impatient?  Between traffic and long lines to “prickly” relatives, Christmas seems to bring out the worst in people.  Why is it that we all seem to be somewhere on the spectrum of insanity during the “most wonderful time of the year?”  Could there be a dark spiritual campaign that ramps up every Black Friday to blur the vision of the grace God bestowed on humanity by becoming a man for the sake of our eternal salvation?

Personally, I have to admit that my focus is not on the coming Messiah during Christmas, rather, the coming company or Christmas meal that needs preparing or the gifts that need buying and wrapping and sending.  Insanity is the only word for it.  We all go a little crazy during the Christmas season.  It is fitting, then, in our culture of out-of-control “doing,”  that Christmas is followed so closely by the New Year.  Around the corner it comes with optimistic newness, forgiveness, if you will, for our December sins.

Because of this, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is my favorite week of the year.  Everything stops (except for basketball which is one more reason empty nesting is awesome).  There is time to rest, reflect and look ahead to a brand new year, God willing.  Instead of angry and impatient we feel optimistic and hopeful.  This is crazy grace.  The fact is, God not only sees us through our imbalanced, imperfect celebration of His Son’s birth, but also showers us with forgiveness and hope.  His love keeps us from being consumed by our fears, insecurities, failures and, yes, insanity.

In short, Lamentations 3:23 says, “His compassions never fail.”  His compassions (plural) never (that means never, ever) fail.  The word “compassions” reflects God’s heart for us in a powerful way.  It means God has the same affection for you and me that a pregnant mother has for the baby in her womb, “as cherishing the fetus.”  Regardless of our insanity level His grace is crazier still.  We can’t out-give God and we certainly can’t out “crazy” Him.  But for the grace of God we would all perish.

“Yet this I call to mind, therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,

for His compassions never fail. 

They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:21-23

 

Control, Faith, grace, Hope, Humility, Life, Submission, Surrender

Boxing Out

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

Boxing God out has been a common occurrence throughout my Christian walk.  Viewing Him as an opponent, with elbows out and my backside pushing against Him, I try desperately to keep him from getting the ball.  This is what happened on a Southwest flight in the summer of 2017 when my husband and I were sitting together in the aisle and middle seats.  Knowing the flight was not full I laid my jacket on the window seat next to me hoping no one would sit there.  (Yes, I did that.)  “Why is your jacket on the seat?” My husband asked, noticing the subliminal “Do not sit here” message I was sending.

“I really don’t want anyone sitting next to me so I put my jacket there hoping they wouldn’t ask.”

He replied, gently, “Uh, you should take that off the seat.”

So, while grudgingly removing my coat and sliding it under the seat in front of me, a young lady stopped and asked, “Is that seat taken?”

“No.” I whispered, letting her slide by.

Plopping in the seat next to me she promptly put her earphones in so she could listen to her music.  As she did my husband noticed the album cover on her phone.  “I love that band,” he said smiling.

Looking over at her phone I saw she was playing Christian music.  From that moment on Avie and I were flight friends.  In fact, we didn’t stop talking until we got off the plane.  As it turns out she was going into her Senior year of high school and in a dilemma regarding College.  She didn’t know if she should go to college or, if she did, where to attend or how she would pay for it.  Her parents were divorced and focused on their new families and spouses with little to offer for advice or money for education.   Avie had a heart for missions so I told her about Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and other options she hadn’t thought about.  At the end of our time together she said, “Thank you so much for talking with me.  I really needed to hear from someone other than my parents or my guidance counselor.”

Wow!  I almost missed it.  My comfort was the only thing I considered at the time and, in my narrow mindedness, forgot that God is so BIG that He could orchestrate a conversation to give a high school girl hope for her future.  He loves that much.  All I can think about at this moment is the waterfall of grace He has for His children.  Instead of calling “foul” He rolled around me and stole the ball.  I realize we are on the same team and all is forgiven, however, this encounter gives me pause for the future.  I resolve not to knowingly box Him out again and asked God to make Avie an Ebenezer stone for me; a reminder that God works in subtle, loving ways, running the plays of life through His children.

Lord, please give me a heart for those you wish to lavish with your love through this earthen vessel of mine.  Help me to remember.  I long to be compelled by your love and to live for Christ and not myself, keeping the Passion at the forefront of my mind.

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.”  Psalm 37:23

Faith, grace, Hope

Grace, the Final Frontier

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”  Acts 20:24

One of the most difficult things to comprehend as a Christian is that Christ is in me.  In my frail jar of clay dwells the holy God who created the universe.   And, not only does He dwell in me but He assigns me work (“…telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God”) for His glory.  He has given me a lot to tell!

Most recently,  on September 9th, 2017, my husband and I celebrated our 25h wedding anniversary by renewing our vows.  The theme, “God is Gracious,” permeated every aspect of the day.   From the sun piercing through the majestic clouds at the very moment we renewed our covenant to the abundant joy experienced throughout dinner as we celebrated God’s goodness, His grace was evident.  But, honestly, without God’s grace we would have been divorced twenty years ago because the first part of Ephesians 2 described us perfectly.  But God, being rich in mercy…

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10

True, we were “indulging in the desires of the flesh and the mind,” destroying our marriage in the process.  But, worse still, we were dead to God and His great love for us.  It was here, twenty-years ago, steeped in rebellion, pride and self-righteousness, that God broke into my house built on the grainy sand of perfectionism and shame and set my feet upon the Rock of Righteousness.  During this transformation I was overwhelmed by my own sin, confessing all to Him, and, simultaneously, freed from all guilt as the blood of the Lamb washed me clean.  The grace, like a shield, enveloped my heart and I knew I was forgiven.  In his song, Lord I Need You, Matt Maher confesses his need for God in the same way:

“Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You”

This profound grace is both a verb and a noun.  The verb:  “do honor or credit to someone or something by one’s presence,”  means God graces us with His presence (Christ in me).   In addition, the noun:  “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings,”  is the gift of grace.   In the opening scene of the movie The Prince of Persia, both the presence and the gift were depicted beautifully.  The King of Persia ventures into a village near his palace, gracing the peasants with His presence.  He then notices a poor orphan and takes pity on him. The king reaches down from atop his horse, takes hold of the orphan, hoisting him upon the royal stallion, and upon returning to the castle, adopts him as his own son and co-heir to the throne, demonstrating unmerited, unearned favor.  That orphan was me. That orphan was you too if you have accepted the gift, allowing yourself to be carried off by the King and adopted into His family (1 John 3:1).  This is here and now grace, both His presence and His gift.

However, the phrase, “so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:7) reveals the existence of a great frontier of grace that we have yet to experience… a joy-filled eternity with the King of Grace.

“And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God.  The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”  Romans 8:10-11

Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher

 

Faith, grace, Hope, Insecurity, Obedience, Rest, Sanctification, Surrender, Trust, Uncategorized, Victory

Spike Collar

“Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”  Job 5:17

“Use a spike collar on me Lord!” This was my prayer after reading day nineteen in Jennifer Kennedy Dean’s devotional book, “Altar’d.”  In it she describes Jan as a person who is easily offended, overly sensitive and self focused.  I am Jan.  Not with everyone but with certain people who I fear may hurt me or have hurt me in the past.  I label people as “safe” or “unsafe” and treat them accordingly.  Of course their every word is filtered through these perceptions as well.  Similar to the reaction some dogs have when they encounter another dog and the hair on the back of their neck rises up, I too stand wary of the unknown and protect myself.   For dogs, in order to avoid this conflict they need to be reconditioned.  Their minds have to be renewed. How do you convince a dog that another dog is not a threat?  Some use distracting techniques (treats) that reinforce the “good” behavior, training the dog to focus on their master rather than the other dog.   Some owners use more controversial methods like a spike collar to snap them out of their adversarial mindset that compels to protect themselves.  Metaphorically speaking, I need a spike collar.  (Note: This is not an endorsement of the use of spike collars on dogs.)  But really, I need to be made aware when I am acting instinctively in the flesh instead of being controlled by the Spirit.

Because I am an adult child of an alcoholic (ACA) I learned very young to focus on other’s behavior, body language and words in order to protect myself adequately.  I was programmed to take offense for survival’s sake.  Emotional rejection was so common I also learned to spend a lot of time in isolation.  If I wasn’t watching TV, reading or daydreaming then I was talking to my imaginary friend.  In short, I learned to withdraw from stress very effectively.  My two “safe” places were self protection and isolation.  Carrying these coping mechanisms into adult life and even into my Christian experience was natural to me.  At the time it didn’t dawn on me that this behavior wasn’t a part of the abundant Christian life God promised and desired for me.  Even though I was saved at the age of twenty-eight it was seven years later before I became aware that this way of living wasn’t healthy or productive and certainly wasn’t God’s perfect plan for a believer.

However, two things happened that brought healing.  First, God provided a safe group of women who wanted to grow in the Lord and who truly loved each other.  Here we were able to be emotionally “naked and unashamed,” sharing our deepest fears, confessing sin and loving one another in Christ to a place of healing rest.  For the first time in my life I had a loving family.  Second,  I went there.  Encouraged to take back what the enemy had stolen, I invited God to search my heart.  (Trust me when I say God will answer this prayer directly.)  Both of these things occurred after God brought me into the fold of loving Christian women through a discipleship class called “The Search for Significance.”  In our time together we dove into other books as well like “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend, “Abba’s Child” by Brennan Manning, “Making Peace with Your Past” by Tim Sledge and “Changes that Heal” by Townsend.  While God used all of these books to renew my mind, He did it within a loving, safe, community by the power of His Holy Spirit.  A family who was sensitive to hurts and committed to help me in the healing process, not exploiting weakness, was entirely new to me.  This was the starting point to true emotional healing and spiritual maturity.  Grace and truth in loving community.

Fortunately, we can never get to the end of God.  He always reveals more dross that He wants us to be free of in order to experience Him more deeply.  This is where I found myself when I prayed for a spike collar.  Down deep I like protecting myself.  It feels safer than trusting God.   I want to avoid pain and pretend like the experiences of my past do not control me…but they do.   So, I’ll take the precious treats that keep my eyes focussed on my master, Jesus.  But, I’ll also receive discipline with open arms because this is the only thing that snaps me out of my conditioned response to perceived threats, keeping me from loving others fully and from receiving love.  Yes, how happy is this woman whom God reproves, I will not despise the discipline of the Almighty! And neither should you.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”  Romans 12:2 NLV

 

grace, Hope, Humility, Love, Obedience, Sanctification, Trust

Lost Dog

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens-

A time  to be born and a time to die;

A time to plant and a time to uproot.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Our dog, Champ, struggled for quite awhile with arthritis, dementia  and accidents in the house so we knew it was time to let him go. After thirteen-and-a-half years of unconditional love we had him put down. Fortunately, I was spared the trip to the vet because of an out-of-town workshop but in all honesty I don’t think I could have gone anyway.  Champ’s sweet chocolate-brown face would have prompted me to wait “just one more week.”

In the same way there is a tendency to cling to our old, decrepit sin nature for “just one more week.” Instead of allowing it to lay down in submission to the death of Christ we entertain the thought that it’s really not that bad. Ironically, death is the very essence of life in Christ. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, follow Him, take up our cross and live in agreement with Him that our “old man” is dead.  So, like a seed, the only way to truly live is to die (John 12:24).

Also, if grief and love are experienced in relation to one another, the more I love my pet the harder it is to say goodbye.  In the same way, the more I love my flesh the more difficult it is to let it die.  The fact is that we ARE crucified with Christ and no longer live, but Christ lives in us. (Galatians 2:20)  The rest of the verse says, “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Because of this I believe that God is grieved when we allow ourselves to be separated from Him by not divorcing ourselves from sin. Allowing our loving God to meet all our needs in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19) is THE WAY God has given us to live in complete freedom. Because we are set apart for Christ as His bride we are to be continually set apart from the flesh, living moment by moment in the reality of its death.

Thankfully, though I miss my dog, I don’t miss my flesh and wish I could live every minute in freedom from it.  For now it’s dead weight but in eternity you and I will be completely free from the presence of sin.  Thank God for His perfect timing and for giving you the courage to let go of what He says is dead and cling to His promise of abundant life in Christ.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:11

grace, Hope, Love, Sanctification

Manuracles

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

When I was eight or nine years old my mother, sister and I would clean horse stalls in order to use the manure for our garden.  At the time we lived in Las Vegas, Nevada on Nellis Air Force Base in a duplex on a cul-de-sac.  We had a back yard but mostly the land behind our house was a dry, cracked, dusty desert.  In spite of this my mom managed to create a garden oasis.  How did she do it?  With horse manure, ground up eggshells and banana peels, straw and worms.  The result was a miraculous bounty of corn, okra, eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes amidst a parched landscape.

My children will tell you that I love analogies and use them every chance I get.  This one is just too good to pass up.   God turns waste into something beautiful!   A good friend of mine once said, “God takes the manure of our lives and uses it to make flowers.”  For me the waste was the broken pieces of my heart that were shattered little by little as a by product of growing up with an alcoholic father and emotionally broken mother.  For many years I wandered through life, scared of my own shadow while playing the victim well.  I was 28 with two kids and a broken marriage before God got my attention.  Then, He scooped up the waste my life produced and planted it in Christ.  In time He also miraculously resurrected my marriage, blessed our children with salvation at a young age and saved my dear husband.

These are what I call manuracles.  It’s not a real word but it reminds me of God’s redeeming work in my life and the lives of so many of my friends.  One of the sweetest things about being God’s child is that He continues to change us, making us more like Jesus, as long as we are this side of heaven. This has been my experience.  Anyone looking at my life today would probably not guess that my childhood was so dark.  That speaks to the fact that God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6). Praise be to God our Redeemer and the author and perfecter of our faith!  He not only shines through us but renews us day by day by lovingly scooping off the dross to fertilize yet another manuracle.

grace, Hope, Humility, Sanctification

The Last Petal

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” 1 Peter 1:13

Rain and sun are both foe and friend to the flower; giving life yet having the power to destroy.  However, the flower does what it was made to do regardless of the elements.  It brings glory to God whether it lives or dies.  God gave me this poem today as I was contemplating why I feel so beaten up at times and why I still struggle with strongholds of lies after so many years of healing:

A flower blooms in season,

Not fearing scorching heat

Nor does it close to raindrops’ pelting force.

It opens for one reason,

God’s glory will it meet

To serve its purpose, thriving in The Source!

Like us, in good conditions a flower thrives, getting renewed and sustained by both the sun and the rain.  In harsh conditions, though, it may look withered yet stands firm until the last petal falls.  We too are to persevere! God not only calls us to bloom but to persevere in His power through all circumstances.  In other words we are to believe Him at all times.  Believing “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;” (Romans 8:28-29). These verses are true, regardless of your past experience or current situation.

Therefore, no matter what, there is a “good” thing happening.  We are all being transformed into the likeness of Christ! So what do we focus on?  Certainly not our failures or irritations!  We are to set our hope on the grace that is coming!  (1 Peter 1:13)  We are to stand, “For the Lord GOD helps Me, Therefore, I am not disgraced; Therefore, I have set My face like flint, And I know that I will not be ashamed.” (Isaiah 50:7)  We are living in order to die for His glory and are to reflect His image not our own.  For someone like me who has experienced dysfunction, rejection and abandonment it is a daily battle.  Every conversation needs to be filtered through God’s truth; “taken captive and made obedient to Christ.”  But, every time I allow God’s chisel to chip away at my selfish, broken heart of stone He becomes clearer than ever before! Oh LORD, if I have to be pelted in order to die so that I may live, let the rain pour down on me! You are my Hope and my Salvation!