Faith, Insecurity, Surrender, Trust, Unbelief, Uncategorized

Who Am I?

“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Numbers 23:19

My father told me I was Italian.  Growing up in Las Vegas our family would go to the local Italian-American Club and eat Italian food with the other Italian families.  My father spoke Italian and competed in Bocce Ball tournaments.  But, although we had dark skin and dark hair, we were not Italian. It was a lie.

My true identity was revealed right before my wedding, seven years after my father’s death. Having been estranged from her brother for thirty-years, my father’s sister, Aunt Lee, traveled to Oregon from Rhode Island to attend my wedding. We connected after my father died but had never met.  Aunt Lee told us that my father left their family as a young man, cutting off contact with them for reasons too sordid to explain here. In spite of the circumstances she was excited to meet us and asked all kinds of questions.  Photo albums from our childhood and newspaper clippings of my dad playing in Bocce Ball tournaments were sprawled on the table. It wasn’t long before her brow furrowed in confusion as her dark eyes darted from picture to picture.

“Do you think you’re Italian?” she asked.

“Yes. We are Italian. Why?” I answered.

“Because you’re not, she beamed,  You’re Portuguese!”

Aunt Lee’s brown eyes were laughing as she spoke; then her round face revealed a smile.   She was amused but I was not.  It was shocking. This statement changed my perception of myself and of my father.  My earthly father lied to me about my identity.  What else did he lie about?  Later in the conversation Aunt Lee told us they grew up on a little farm, not in Reno, Nevada like my father claimed, but in Fall River, Massachusetts.  We also found out he had been married twice before and had three other children.  Why all the lies?  We may never know my father’s motives but, either way, he was not who he said he was and I am not who he said I was either.  My father defined me with lies.

So, who am I?  This identity crisis is one many struggle with even after coming to know Christ.  We are all targets of well aimed, fiery arrows launched from the enemy’s bow carrying messages that are meant to define us and undermine God’s Word.  They are all lies too.  The problem is they seem to to be true because of life experiences.  For example, when the “You are not wanted” arrow comes flying overhead it can be difficult to argue against if we’ve suffered rejection.  We may even let it pierce our heart because it’s what we know.  Therefore, believing God’s Word over any other source is key if we are to live in true freedom.  If we know what it says about His character and how He defines us as His children we will be able to recognize lies when confronted with them.   You know, the ones that start with, “Did God really say…” Our defense is to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and soul, believing Him above all else, which is faith.  But how can we truly know and love someone we don’t spend time with?  His word is His love letter to each of His children and His character is defined by the cross, not our circumstances.

Let’s be thankful to the Lord today that he is “not a man” and for His Word which is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Only He defines you in truth and love.  May we open His love letter, allowing God alone to answer the question, “Who am I?”

But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name,  He gave the right to become children of God.     John 1:12

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

 

Anxiety, Control, Idolatry, Insecurity, Obedience, Pride, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Unbelief, Uncategorized

Chokehold

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'”  Mark 10:21

One Sunday morning in October I saw a young girl with her dad walking toward the Children’s Museum in our small, New England town.  The legs of a stuffed Pooh Bear dangled beneath her right arm, his head peeking over the top of her chokehold.  All three crossed the street together.  The little girl’s left hand was securely tucked into her father’s right as she trotted to keep up with his pace.  My first impression was of the sweet picture this portrayed of our daily walk with Jesus; our secure, surrendered life of following Him.  My second thought concerned the Pooh Bear.   This little girl wasn’t content just holding daddy’s hand as she followed.  She needed Pooh to make her feel secure.

Of course,  I have one or two Pooh Bears under my arm of control for security too.  While I know in my mind that Jesus is enough there is a tendency to cling to other things while trying to follow Jesus.  “Pooh Bears” like savings, good health, ministry and family make me feel safe and secure.  However, anxiety rushes into my heart whenever I fear they may be slipping away.  My grip tightening with every anxious thought, I hold on to what I perceive as essential for my security by its furry little neck.  This happened a couple of weeks ago when we received a large but expected bill.  Emotionally spinning because it was outside my comfort zone of spending, my mind started flipping from asking, “What were we thinking!”  to “Why is this service so expensive!”   My Pooh Bear (savings) was in danger!

This incident was so revealing because I didn’t even know I had a chokehold in this area.  It took a few days of unpacking for God to reveal the content of my heart.  Using the key of confession (I’m sorry Lord that I don’t trust You to take care of me and believe I have to protect myself) and repentance (I choose to believe You over my feelings of insecurity, accepting Your forgiveness and choosing to walk in the truth that You will never leave me or forsake me and You have given me everything for life and Godliness) God opens the door freedom.   When I choose to look up and see that my Father has my hand and will never let me go there is an overwhelming sense of peace and security.  My  Pooh Bears, I realize, are only gifts to enjoy.  Like a carrot in the hand of a child feeding a horse they are meant to be held with an open palm lest my fingers get nipped.  His love enables the open hand.

In addition, although there are times when I am totally surrendered, walking in lock-step with God’s glorious pace, admittedly there are also times when I do insist that Jesus “follow me.”   Instead of holding other things in my grip for security I try to get hold of Jesus ’round the neck and choke out the sound of His voice, refusing to surrender to His life in me.  The result is mental chaos and feelings of isolation.  No longer walking in The Light I grope around in emotional darkness.  Insisting on my way while stumbling across the dangerous terrain of rebellion until He brings me to the end of myself.    Here, again at the altar of confession and repentance,  He restores my soul while I allow Him to wash my feet, getting me ready to follow HIM once again.

So, whether the sin revealed is idolatry or rebellion He is waiting to heal every dark place.  The key is recognizing when you are stuffed with other things or getting ahead of Him.  How can we know?  The answer is in Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.”

If you ask Him He will search your heart, revealing any unclean thing and, with His righteous right hand holding yours, lead you in the everlasting way. His path is straight.  We can follow Him with confidence, joy and peace, trotting all the way to Heaven with His good gifts held loosely in open hands of praise. \O/

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”  John 8:12

Commitment, Insecurity, Love, Obedience, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Uncategorized, Victory

Be Intentional

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  

Jeremiah 29:11

Intentional: done in a way that is planned or intended  (merriam-webster.com)

This word has been haunting me for the past several weeks and last night I woke up with the phrase “Be intentional” impressed on my heart.  Since I am an accomplished procrastinator and life floater I know this wasn’t from me.  Prior to its haunting, the word first came to me in May while attending Sean’s college graduation.  I was talking to another mom who shared how she purposed to have a conversation with her son.  In essence, she gave him permission to move on, letting go of the parent-child relationship and freeing him emotionally to leave and cleave.  I said, “You are so intentional in your parenting.”  to which she replied, “I try to be.”

The next morning at breakfast while talking about books, our son, Sean, said , “I like to finish stuff.”  He shared that whatever he starts, even if it’s not extremely enjoyable, he likes to see it to completion.  Between the two conversations I was convicted.  If I were to write a parenting book it could be titled Wing It or Raised by Grace.  (Maybe I will write the second one because it does sum up how my kids were raised!)  The opposite of intentional, my conversations with Sean and Ryan were usually spontaneous and even compulsive.  If you were to ask them (embarrassing) they would probably say I preached or lectured more than listened with intentionality.  And, as far as finishing stuff, let’s just say Sean didn’t get that trait from me.  It dawned on me that God is intentional. He planned everything from the beginning and is very intentional about following it all through to completion!  Thank God that He is not like me or many of us would be sitting on a shelf only half completed!

Unfortunately, not finishing projects is an old pattern in my life.  Usually, I feel like whatever I’m working on isn’t good enough to complete, and there is some merit to knowing when to cut your losses.  However, because I have allowed distraction to steal my minutes, most of the time my inability to complete something has more to do with not being intentional.  In reality, not planning and not being disciplined enough to eliminate distractions and set goals has been a safety net to avoid failure.  However, it also allows for the enemy to steal blessing and steal the joy that comes from doing things well for God’s glory.

For example,  while cleaning out some drawers recently I found photos and a blank photo album intended for Sean’s high school graduation memories.  The 2012 ribbon was still there, neatly rolled up with the extra pages I knew I would need to finish the project.  I had good intentions but I was not intentional.  Things happened, time went on and I put everything away in a drawer (probably because company was coming) and forgot to “finish stuff.”  I missed the blessing of being creative and Sean missed out on the joy of knowing I cared enough to intentionally create something meaningful for him.  And, of course, most importantly, it was a way to reflect God’s intentional love for His child.  I want to relinquish this pattern.  Perhaps it’s time to allow God to change me into something more Christlike; something less chaotic and more…finished.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. For He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His presence.  In love.  He predestined us for adoption as His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will…”  Ephesians 1:3-5

Idolatry, Insecurity, Pride, Sanctification, Self Righteousness, Submission, Surrender, Uncategorized, Works

Nothing but the Blood

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10

No matter how many times I skim the surface of the water or how much debris is retrieved from the bottom, the pool is never perfectly clean.  It’s not the leaves or the bugs that elude the net but millions of microscopic particles that scatter throughout the water only to gather in mocking, dirt piles on the bottom of the pool.  This job clearly requires something outside my abilities.  In the same way, you and I can NEVER clean ourselves up to the point of purity.  It is a futile task to try to be “good enough” for God to accept us.

This was a lesson I learned the hard way many years ago when I was “doing” well in meeting my standards of the Christian life.  1. Read the bible everyday.  “Check!” 2. Pray for my family and for the lost.  “Check!”  3. Serve in ministry.  “Double check!”  I graded myself an A+ and anything in me that seemed subpar was, of course, someone else’s fault. In other words, after Jesus reached down into the murky waters of my sinful heart and cleansed me from all unrighteousness  I insisted on keeping my own heart pure by using the Christian to-do list.  It didn’t work.  Instead, microscopic particles of sin scattered into mocking piles of pride and self absorption.  Unnoticed because of the stealthiness of self-righteousness I survived for years without much conviction.

Lovingly, God led me to a discipleship class He knew I needed. During the second class there was a lesson on Performance.  It shed light on the error of using the patterns of this world (i.e. A good performance = a good person/reward; What I have and do defines me) and applying them to Christian living.  Being that it was my first time hearing this truth I had questions like:  Trying to earn the approval of God and others by doing the right thing is sin?   The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”    Jesus finished the work, He paid the price, and we are to live accordingly. Our identity comes from Jesus alone, not from anything we have done (good or bad) or will do in the future (good or bad) or from our family (good or bad) or from our past (good or bad).  Furthermore, trying to earn or deserve the “goodness” label is the opposite of  Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  and Romans 15:16 b: “I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit.”    The difference is not in the outward appearance but in the motivation of the heart.  What I was doing was for self glorification, not for God’s glory and definitely not compelled by His love for me but by my love/hate relationship with myself.

Boy, did I have a revelation!  I would love to tell you that I fell to my knees in repentance when God revealed the idolatry of works within my heart.  In actuality, I was angry with God.  After all, I was an A+ christian, right?   Sadly, instead of running to God my pride kept me away from Him.  I stopped reading the bible, stopped praying and, in essence, gave God the silent treatment.   My heart was isolated and cold and Jesus’ warm, sacrificial love was unable to flow through the icy vessel of self. But God… Thank God for the precious blood of Christ!  David knew that only God could create in him a clean heart, purifying him from sin (Psalm 51).  The same is true today.  Only the Holy Spirit can make us holy as He is holy.

When I finally confessed what I believed in my heart – that His grace was not enough – the cross was not enough – the blood was not enough – that I was trying to add to what Jesus did – then the power of pride that dominated my life was broken.  Instead of unseen particles, the piles of dark sin were revealed and obliterated by adding the blood to the pool of my heart.  I still struggle with performing for the wrong reasons, finding myself wondering if it’s good enough, if I’m good enough.  That’s where God’s Word brings freedom when the enemy desires condemnation.  “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Romans 3:10 and Romans 8:1 “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”

Now I see that anything He calls me to do is for His glory.  It’s not about me! His burden is light because He does all the work!  He equips those He calls.  He gives rest when needed.  He is the power source.  I am already accepted to the fullest degree so there is nothing to earn even if I blow it.  His love is deeper and more complete than I could ever imagine and, in the Spirit, it compels me forward to good works because I get to, not because I have to! He is a living Savior and His blood covers all sin. No debris in my flesh is missed!  He will complete what He started.  So, the question now is, “What can wash away my sin?”

Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my cleansing this I see—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
For my pardon this my plea—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Nothing can my sin erase
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Naught of works, ’tis all of grace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

This is all my hope and peace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
This is all my righteousness—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

 

 

Hope, Insecurity, Trust, Unbelief, Uncategorized, Victory

Un-Bee-Lief

“..and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”  1 Peter 2:24

In 2001, after purchasing a two-acre lot in Maine, my husband and I decided to walk the property with our two little boys in search of the best place to build. However, during our trek we accidentally disturbed the ground nest of a bee colony.  They quickly swarmed around our children, chasing us off our own land!  That’s exactly what the enemy does.  He gets us to believe that we cannot inhabit the land that God has given us or that it is too difficult and too painful.  He chases us away shouting, “It’s just not worth it!”

Recently, the Lord has asked me to walk another kind of property.  This acreage is emotional and requires the use of my iPhone.  “Siri, remind me at 5:00 P.M. that my husband loves me.” As you know, this is not the typical Siri request.  It is, however, part of a reprogramming strategy to renew my mind; to exterminate the fundamentally flawed belief nested in my heart that “certain” people cannot be trusted.  This belief has grown into a colony of bees causing confusion and pain in my relationships, including Godly ones.  Unfortunately, my husband, Marty, experiences the consequences of this distrust more than anyone.  For example, last week Marty was sitting on the bleachers at a baseball game while I was returning from the restroom. He turned and smiled at me as I approached. Immediately I slowed my pace, trying to discern if his smile was happy or sarcastic.  Without realizing it I created a protective barrier to keep my ego from harm.  Seeing this unfold Marty said, “I’m your husband who loves you, remember?” He told me later that I looked at him suspiciously. All this happened while I was completely unaware!

Of course, as a child of an alcoholic father I learned to tread lightly around my dad.  Even if he was in a good mood, seemed happy and there was no evidence of alcohol consumption, I practiced self defense.  The result was insecurity, fear and loneliness.  Understandably, using emotional martial arts as a Christian created the same result.  This is because, even after Jesus redeemed me and made me a new creation, I decided to continue in unbelief when it came to my own security.  After all, I experienced rejection and pain at the hands of my own father.  Don’t I have the right to make sure it never happens again?  No, I don’t.  Because Jesus died for me in order to free me from the bondage of sin, unbelief in His resurrection power to heal the wounds of my past and bind up my broken heart is not an option.  Did He not say, “It is for freedom sake that I have set you free?”  And yet, I allow the thoughts that foster insecurity to “swarm around me like bees.”

As you can imagine, our boys never wanted to return to our bee-infested property. But we did return.  Marty killed the bees, reclaiming our land, and we built a beautiful home for our family.  In the same way, I am determined to allow God to exterminate the un-bee-lief that keeps me from living on my own spiritual and emotional land which He has already secured.  Indeed, scripture is the ultimate lie exterminator.  On the road to assured victory I will continue to battle insecurity and unbelief with God’s Word, prayer and a little help from Siri.

“They swarmed around me like bees; they blazed against me like a crackling fire.  But I destroyed them all with the authority of the Lord.   My enemies did their best to kill me, but the Lord rescued me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.  Songs of joy and victory are sung in the camp of the godly.  The strong right arm of the Lord has done glorious things!  The strong right arm of the Lord is raised in triumph.  The strong right arm of the Lord has done glorious things!  I will not die; instead, I will live to tell what the Lord has done.”

Psalm 118:12-17