Control, Faith, Holiness, Hope, Humility, Obedience, Perseverance, Pride, Righteousness, Self Righteousness, Submission, Surrender

Finish Well

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.  Because you have rejected the word of the LordHe also has rejected you from being king.”  1 Samuel 15:23

Crossing the finish line after a grueling marathon must incite a feeling of overwhelming relief and accomplishment.  I say “must” because I am not a runner.  However, I can imagine the feeling, having “finished” other things that seemed impossible and required perseverance to endure (like raising teenagers).   Unfortunately, King Saul did not finish well.  In fact, I would say he is one of the most prominent cautionary tales in the Old Testament.  Anointed the first king of Israel, as a young man King Saul was humble in his own sight.  However, as he grew in power he also grew in self-reliance and pride.  Therefore, by the time Samuel admonishes Saul in 1 Samuel 15, he is rebellious, prideful and distant from the Lord.

Personally, finishing well gives me great satisfaction and joy; especially since completing a project or achieving a goal is not my strongest attribute.  So, when it does happen I feel great, especially if God was glorified.  Even greater will the joy be when, at the end of my life, I finish the race, running across the finish line straight into the arms of Abba who says, “Well done!”  Still, the question remains, why didn’t King Saul finish well?  How did this tall, handsome, humble man become a king  with a hard heart?  Most importantly, how did this anointed King fall out of favor with God?  1 Samuel 15:10-11 tells us: “Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.’ And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.”

Most assuredly, the answer is pride.  Saul had decided in his heart that he was just as capable of making “good” decisions as God.  Little by little Saul recessed into the bowels of self-absorption until he no longer honored God or His prophet, Samuel.  Self-absorption and hard-heartedness are stones that build a path to spiritual calamity.  We are all prone to the idea that we know better.  Romans 9:20a says, “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?”  The word translated “talk back to” is the Greek verb antapokrinomai.  It means “to contradict in reply, to answer by contradiction, reply against” (Strong’s G470).  Which prompts the question; am I talking back to God in any area of my life?  It can be a subtle slide into spiritual fatigue as we log the miles this side of Heaven.  I want to encourage you to finish well, as many have spurred me on in the race of life.  If you don’t already, surround yourself with Christian encouragers who are running with perseverance.  More importantly, be that encourager to someone else, thinking little of yourself as you “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24) so we may all finish well as we break the ribbon between heaven and Earth.

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”  Acts 20:24

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, Humility, Overwhelmed, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Uncategorized

Look Up

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:5

Imagine a well-lit stadium full of enthusiastic believers before a Casting Crown’s concert. Now imagine a “no sense of direction” me trying to find my seat in a sea of people when finally, an usher brings me to “my” seat but in the wrong section.  I was overwhelmed and confused because my husband was not there and was texting, “Where are you?” when I thought I was in the right place.

“I’m lost,” I explained to a different usher, handing him my ticket.

“You’ll need to go all the way up the stairs and around to the next section,” he said, while handing the stub back to me.  I must have looked pretty pathetic because he immediately said, “I’ll take you,” and bounded up the steep stairway.

Just then the stadium went dark and, trying to follow him with two water bottles, my purse and my phone in my hands, I tripped on the concrete steps and fell, dropping the bottles and my pride somewhere in section N.  Disoriented and embarrassed, I looked up and saw the light.  The usher was holding his iPhone with the flashlight shining down the stairs so I could find my way up to him.  Just follow the light.  Walk in the light.  Thankfully, I arrived at my seat without further incident.

A bit shaken, It took me awhile to start enjoying the concert but the genuine love, patience and grace shown by the usher moved me.  This is God’s heart.  His light is always there for us to follow.  He waits patiently for us to get up when we fall.  He doesn’t make fun of us or even chastise us for looking stupid or being late or making a mistake. When we are confused He meets us in our confusion and orders our “steps.”

In many ways this experience had a profound effect, changing my way of thinking about walking in the light as well as living in a state of humility.  In the dark we cannot see and WILL have an accident, be disoriented and lose our way.  However, if there is light, any light, and we focus on it, it serves as a calibrating force in our hearts and minds, pulling us to safety.  Humility, though, is really a sense of selflessness where you find it easy to “look up” and follow God because you are consumed with neither pride nor shame, only Jesus, the Light of the World.

So, although I was embarrassed at first, when I looked up and saw the literal light I chose to follow it instead of hide in utter humiliation.  Now, to be honest, thoughts did swirl through my head like, “Everyone must think I’m drunk, or stupid or clumsy or…” but that kind of thinking is self-focused and not even based in reality.  The fact that everyone was actually watching the concert and NOT me was evident but I felt like they were judging me! Capturing my thoughts was no less awkward then retrieving the rolling water bottles but, like living water, so worth it!  Because God’s light is there for me (both physically and spiritually) I was able to walk out of the darkness by faith one step at a time.

Compare these two Psalms:

“For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.” Psalm 40:12

“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” Psalm 5:3

The first Psalm reveals a self-focused heart heavy with guilt and shame.  The second a God-focused heart full of love and faith.  Although my tripping may seem like a “silly” example, there are all kinds of ways we trip and fall; some more severe and painful then others.  The circumstance doesn’t really matter because the principle is the same.  God is there for you.  He is patient, kind, loving and gracious and waiting for You to… look up.

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12

Control, Hope, Humility, Obedience, Pride, Rest, Reverence, Sanctification, Self Righteousness, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Uncategorized, Victory

From Tantrum to Trust

“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  Galatians 5:24

“I want it! I want it! I want it!” echoed through the Target checkout area as a little boy sat screaming in the child seat of a shopping cart, his hands out stretched, tears streaming down his face.  Fascinated by the audacity of the child; I stared, curious to know what he wanted so desperately.  Alas, the moment he’d been waiting for arrived.  The item was placed in his chubby arms as he greedily clasped the large, round toy with his little fingers.  Then I realized, as I watched mom trying to keep her little guy from chucking the toy out of the cart onto the floor, that what he wanted wasn’t the toy at all.  What he wanted was his own way.  What he wanted was to be in charge. What he wanted is what we all want…control.

Now, I don’t have physical temper tantrums (too often) but I do communicate, “I want my way!” all the time.  In her book Altar’d, Jennifer Kennedy Dean writes, “Flesh is proud, possessive, demanding, grabby, angry, envious, wants to own and manage and manipulate and get its way.” [Altar’d, Day 1, Page 16]   Ouch!  My sights can be locked on something as small as a chocolate chip cookie and as big as wanting the Universe to revolve around my every whim.  And, like the toddler, if I get what I want then the target of my desire immediately changes.  Never satisfied, flesh destroys contentment, peace, love and relationship.  So what’s the remedy?  It is to live in denial.

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'”  Luke 9:23

Deny myself?  How often does that happen?  Honestly, I rarely deny myself; but the choice is alway available.  The “if” in Jesus’ statement in Luke 9:23 implies choice and sacrifice.  To put shoe leather on this statement I’ll share what it would look like for me to personally deny myself and take up my cross daily:
  • If I would come after Jesus I would deny myself large food portions, exercise daily, and surrender to the Spirit’s leading to take care of the body God gave me in order to glorify Him like Jesus did.  
  • If I would come after Jesus, I would deny myself of sleeping in or browsing Facebook and take up my cross of laboring in prayer for family, friends, my church and our nation daily like Jesus did.  
  • If I were to come after Jesus I would deny myself taking offense to something someone said or did.  Instead I would forgive daily, nailing all offenses to the cross like Jesus did for me.
Why is this so difficult?  Because we want to be elevated. Like Adam and Eve we want to be like God.  However, we know that there can only be one master.  Mom needs to be in charge for things to go well for her toddler’s future.  God needs to be in charge for things to go well with your future and mine.  The good news is that God is always in charge and never gives in to our whining!   But, for me to be at peace with God (Not have a rift in our relationship) I need to acquiesce to God’s authority over my life.   Foundational to walking in freedom is the understanding that God is God.  Once that’s established then everything else falls into place.   Whether you struggle with same sex attraction, a critical spirit, smoking or overeating the solution is the same.  Jesus knows best and I will follow Him.  There may be times we don’t like what that means.  There may be times when we are tempted to yell. “I want it!”  But thanks be to God He will never give in.  We have to literally deny Him (instead of ourselves) to get something we want when God says, “No.”  Jesus is not a weak, sleep-deprived mom who just wants us to be quiet.  Jesus is the mighty King, holy and righteous who sovereignly dictates His loving boundaries because He loves us.  He has given us Himself.  We have everything we need for life and Godliness in Christ.  We are the children of the King, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1, and the Bride of Christ, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22.  The way up is to kneel down in a heart posture of humility.
Through this filter, picture the child in the shopping cart, eyes fixed on his momma.  He’s watching her every move.  He knows she loves him and will give him what is best for him.  He knows by experience that she is good, loving and generous.  He also knows that she is just and disciplines him when he needs it.  He is secure and at peace.  Anticipating good things, he smiles when she says, “I bought a gift for you.  When we get home we can play with it together.”  Then, he laughs and claps his hands in joyful expectation and says, “I love you, mommy.”
This is a picture of resting in Jesus and the work He has accomplished for us.   “I want it!” transitions to, “nevertheless, not my will but Your will be done.”  I encourage you to write out your own snapshot of hope as the Lord “is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13   What would your reality look like if you set your eyes like flint on Jesus, believing He is who He says He is?  What would your moments look like if you were living in the reality that you are healed?
“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.”  Isaiah 53:5
Commitment, Covenant, Hope, Humility, Love, Obedience, Submission, Trust, Uncategorized

Laser Focused Bride

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:22-24

A wedding is a wonderful snapshot of hope. It is a picture of the covenant promise God made to His bride, the church.  This past week we were blessed to witness a covenant being made that mirrored God’s unconditional love and commitment.  Watching a beautiful bride allow herself to be tucked under the wing of her husband to be nourished and cherished by him gave me hope for our future wedding feast with Jesus Himself.  When we were born again we were united to the Bridegroom   We are now set apart for Christ alone, tucked under His mighty wing.

Because of this, we enjoy complete freedom in Christ, which can also be mirrored in marriage.  Emotionally, spiritually and physically, within this covenant, there is opportunity for intimacy.  Furthermore, God calls us to love Him with all our hearts and serve Him wholeheartedly.  This sounds to me very much like being subject to a husband by choice. In other words, we enter into a relationship of submission in marriage trusting our husbands to nourish and cherish us.  We are not to have divided hearts, looking outside of marriage for protection and romance. In the same, way we are not to look outside of Christ’s love for our identity or fulfillment.  (We should not even look to our husbands to fulfill the role only Christ can satisfy.)

The song, “I Only Have Eyes for You,” by The Flamingos, is a lyrical reminder that we are called to be a laser focused bride.  We are only to allow one man to meet our needs.  Therefore, entertaining the offer of another man’s affection is out of the question because we relate to our husband’s on an intimate level as “alive” and any other man as “dead.”  This is a picture of our faith walk with the LORD!

Having an undivided heart means denying others (including ourselves) for the love of One whom God has given us to meet all our needs.  This laser focus keeps us abiding in Christ AND faithful in marriage.  Why?  Because when we join our minds, hearts and wills with Christ,  we then allow the Holy Spirit to proclaim, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” Genesis 2:23a

“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9

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, 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!

Hope, Humility, Love, Sanctification, Trust, Uncategorized

Other Than

Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:23-26

Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus never started a quarrel? This strikes me as remarkable. This isn’t the only way Jesus is different from you and me. His values are so far removed from the world’s it’s a miracle that we notice him at all.  I was recently talking with a friend about how most protagonists in the bible are described as being good-looking. But, unlike them, Jesus was described as having “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” Isaiah 53:2b.

How “other than” Jesus was and is!  He is so non-fleshy it’s shocking when recognized.  He didn’t just not sin, He loved when it was humanly impossible to do so.  He humbled himself in so many ways. He came as a baby in the flesh to a poor family and was not even considered handsome.  On top of that He was raised in Nazareth, a small town with little worth in the eyes of the ancient world.  In essence, Jesus personified humility to humanity.  Thankfully, this ability to die to oneself was given to us by Jesus when He deposited His Spirit in our hearts. The actual power to never quarrel was placed securely within His temple. Wow! This is not to say that Jesus never had conflict, rather, Jesus lived what Paul is teaching to Timothy.

My heart broke as I read Paul’s words because the memories of so many stupid arguments are fresh in my mind.  It was only about six weeks ago that I pummeled our oldest son with my point of view, degrading him in attitude if not in words for having a different opinion on something that seemed so clear to me.  Really? What is the point of that? Division and distrust were not things I strived to cultivate in the relationship with my son.  There are no parenting books that I’m aware of that recommend verbal jousting. In the end I realized it was not only destructive but just stupid.  Not the conversation or the conflict but the argument that led to a quarrel.  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful…”  This, my friend, does not come naturally to me.  There are some things that trigger a mighty destructive quarrel bullet, like when I feel demeaned or dismissed or am made to feel stupid.  Also, I can be kind, but to everyone?  This is truly impossible without Christ.

Therefore, when I feel hopeless about measuring up to the standards of 2 Timothy I recite John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”  Isn’t that true?  Apart from Christ we cannot live at peace with others, not even our loved ones.  Apart from Christ I cannot NOT get into stupid arguments.  Apart from Christ I cannot be kind to everyone.  Like a branch that is dependent on the vine for life I remember that He is “other than” the world and cling to Him for His glory.