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

Faith, Love, Obedience, Surrender, Trust, Uncategorized

Obedience Equals Love

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him and He will help you”  Psalm 37:4-5

These verses were lived out before my eyes this weekend and I really want to grab someone right here in the airport and share God’s faithfulness!  

“The Lord is gracious.” Psalm 145:8 is written above the slider in our prayer/sunroom. Everyday I am reminded of where I was when God found me and how He has shown me grace over these past nineteen years.  In the same way, when our oldest son, Sean, graduated from Wheaton College on Mother’s Day I was overwhelmed with God’s grace once again. 

Now, while contiplating the “what ifs,” I know my reality is so altered from the path I was on before God saved me.  Back then I was headed for divorce, single parenting, possible poverty and definitely depression and hopelessness.  Fortunately, I was attending a local Mother’s of Pre-Schoolers group where I heard the Gospel many times. Then, one rainy night, alone with my babies, I was made new. The Lord graciously gave me what author Jennifer Kennedy Dean calls a Blood transfusion; new life in Jesus Christ!  It was that fast – a blink of an eye and I was forever changed.  The best part was the cleanness I experienced that filled me with unexplainable joy. I was forgiven! 

Yes, it was painful being born again. The Lord brought to mind so many sins, things I had done that hurt others and offended God and my utter helplessness to change because I was dead inside. I was heartbroken and mourned the ugliness of it all. But God did not reveal this to me to condemn me but to forgive me. He literally gave me a New Spirit, life in Christ! Because He lives I live also!

Since then, over the past nineteen years, I have traveled some bumpy roads, made many mistakes and shown weakness and a lack of faith when it came to my children. Yet, God is faithful!  In spite of my weakness He has carried us through to a fruitful end.   

Still, obedience has never come easy for me. (Fortunately, God is constantly changing that too!) But, the love God has for me and the love I have for him manifests itself in obedience. In other words, obedience is the way I express my love for the Lord. The more I understand how deeply He loves me the more I want to obey Him. “The Love of Christ controls me!” 2 Corinthians 5:14.In retrospect, the celebration of our son’s graduation is like an Ebeneazer stone. It is a reminder of how very faithful, sovereign and good God is and how He blesses even clutzy obedience.  I know God’s ways are best even if I do not understand. I know God loves my children WAY more than I do because His motives are always pure.  My prayer is that, knowing who God is, you and I will continue to bend our knees in obedience, surrendering to the One Who loves and knows best, forever and always, Amen!

“For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:19

Anxiety, Control, Faith, Hope, Idolatry, Love, Trust, Uncategorized, Worry

Know Love

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”  1John 3:1a

When our son started another 20+ hour road trip to Florida last Friday I was worried. Will he be okay driving by himself?  Will he get enough to eat?  What will the weather be like?  As questions like these swam through my mind I came to this conclusion: Most future details we cannot “know” for certain.  Unfortunately, it is usually these little unknowables that cause me to feel vulnerable and ignite worry in my heart.   I confess my preoccupation with the surety of future details regarding our grown children.  Even though they are both doing well it is difficult not to worry about them because I desperately want to keep them from experiencing pain whether it be physical, spiritual or emotional.

Because of this I’m convinced God providentially arranged for me to study the book of First John.   It happens to contain 37 accounts of the word Know and 41 of the word Love. Apparently, it was important to John to convey that we can know and love for certain in Christ.  He wanted believers to know God, love God and love each other.  In other words, to Know Love or to experience God’s benevolent love in an intimate way at all times.  This profound revelation means that trusting God in all things, abiding in His love, keeps me from being deceived and distracted.   (Yes, worry is the result of deception.)  Just like a branch is grafted into a vine I am intimately bound to Him or in Christ.  Therefore, I can have the mind of Christ; trusting God in all circumstances.  My thinking no longer has to stem from my fears but is now filtered through God’s love for me AND for my children.

Oh, how I wish God would promise that my children would always walk in the Light and know His love!  However, the real crux of my anxiety isn’t that our children won’t walk with the Lord but that they will somehow have to suffer because of a bad decision or because of circumstances outside their (or my) control.  In essence, I hate my inability to protect them from inevitable pain. This is why the last sentence in First John sends chills down my spine. “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21.  How easily I turn from the light!  Just like a dumb sheep that wanders away from the shepherd who loves him, I too trot into the darkness of faithlessness and idolatry, putting my offspring on the throne of my heart.

Truthfully, I want all circumstances to be in my control. Fear and anxiety compel me to cry, “I want my way!”  But I KNOW perfect love drives out fear.  So what does that mean?  Am I not loved perfectly?  NO! God is love.  He cannot be imperfect.  God always loves perfectly. So why the fear?  Because I was not allowing His perfect love to control me (2 Corinthians 5:14).  I refused to walk in the light, abide in Him, nestle under His wing or stay near the Shepherd. Then, just like the lonely sheep, I was devoured by the wolf of insecurity and fear.  So, if perfect love drives out fear then willful rebellion invites it over for dinner.

Fortunately, as His rod touched my back I turned around and trotted  toward the Good Shepherd. I asked God to forgive me for not trusting Him.  With loving arms He nestled me close to His heart, assuring me of His everlasting affection.  With bended knee and a submissive will we are just the right size to be scooped up and held intimately close and know love.

Love, Obedience, Trust, Victory

Living in Victory

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” Romans 8:35-37 NLT

Living in New England, surrounded by avid sports fans and successful profession teams, it’s easy to live in victory when it comes to our regional identity.  But, I have to confess, most of the time I don’t care who wins or loses a sporting event. (Don’t hate me Patriot’s fans.) However, when one of my sons is playing I really want their team to win.  So, knowing that we are ALL on God’s Son’s team and that the victory is certain, I can also rest in my identity in Christ.  Jesus secured the victory and we now get to join Him by taking our place on the field day by day.  There is no condemnation if you drop the ball or strike out.  In the end, we are all going to celebrate.

Nevertheless, the empirical force unbelief sometimes has on me is crippling.  My fist holds tight to what I’ve experienced in the past when my heart longs to be free from the pain of living in a pool of insecurity.  Negative self talk from the enemy chokes creativity and convinces me not to try. “Why bother?  Nothing will come of it,” he hisses quietly.  “You aren’t that good so why would God use you?” or “You certainly don’t know what you’re doing.”  Then, to cinch paralysis, “You will be rejected, it will be painful and it’s not worth it.”  There it is, the crippling lie that “I’m unloveable” lurking under the feeling of inadequacy.

Having said this, I know, from experience, that my experiences do not define me.  Even still, I expect rejection and defeat because, growing up, that’s what I learned from  human relationships.  Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?”  Because of this truth, the best weapon the enemy of our souls is armed with is the ability to convince us that we are not loved by God and He will not use us.  He first thrusts us to the edge of doubt before pushing us over the cliff of unbelief.  If we take the bait then we are taken captive by the enemy, bound by a fortress of lies.  The lies are effective because, in reality, we have blown it, experienced hardship and suffered rejection. The seen reality has told us we are unloved, worthless or unlovable.

But, God tells us clearly in His Word that He loves us so much He died for us.  He also tells us that He will never leave us, has good plans for us, has given us Himself and we have the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit within us to do whatever God calls us to do.  We shrug our saved shoulders and say, “Uh, okay?” This unbelief becomes a nagging injury that can only be healed by God’s truth.  God really will NEVER leave you or forsake you.  He really does, at all times and in all circumstances, whether you are cranky or having a bad hair day, deeply love you inside and out.  You are gifted and have a role to play, not on your merit but because Christ is in you and you were chosen.  If we could all live in the reality of the victory we have in Christ we would have complete freedom to love and be loved!  So, let’s believe in the unseen reality that we will never be cut from the team and play with confidence because our uniforms are red and white, a picture of the victory Christ secured for us all.

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, 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.

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.

 

Control, Hope, Love, Obedience, Trust

Joab-ish

“And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John 1:6

Do you ever feel like taking things into your own hands?  Not only have I felt this way but I have also felt justified in doing so.  I call this “acting Joab-ish.”  If you’re not familiar with Joab you’ll at least remember that he was the commander of the army of Israel during David’s reign and the one who withdrew troops at David’s command so that Uriah the Hittite, husband of Bathsheba, would be killed.

Joab’s  autobiography would be called, ‘I did it My Way.’ He acted as if he had no regard for David’s authority or God’s will.  The accounts in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings portray Joab as a man controlled by self-righteousness and jealousy. He never considered whether or not the actions he took aligned with God’s Word or the King’s will.

The list of Joab’s most violent deeds include, but are not limited to:

  • The murder of Abner in secret as an act of revenge. (David cursed Joab when he found out.) 2 Samuel 3
  • Ensuring Uriah died in battle after King David sent orders to do so. 2 Samuel 11
  • Murdering Absalom, disobeying the direct order of King David. 2 Samuel 18
  • Murdering Amasa in order to regain his position as commander of the army. 2 Samuel 20

Surprisingly, the only time Joab obeyed is when it didn’t interfere with his own agenda.  He did not trust his king to judge rightly and lived by his own rules.  Ironically, there are times I find myself arguing Joab’s position.  After all, Absalom was usurping the throne.  Come on! Give the guy a break!

In the same way I argue my own position. “Really God? That’s not the way I would do it.” or better yet, “Okay, let me try this first and I’ll get back to you.”

Thankfully, God doesn’t give us a break when we run a marathon of willful rebellion, making a mess of our lives and relationships while tripping people along the way.  “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent..” Revelation 3:19.  The interesting thing about Joab is that he was never really disciplined until the end of David’s life. That’s when the judgment came and he was “terminated.”

“Now you yourself know what Joab son of Zeruiah did to me—what he did to the two commanders of Israel’s armies, Abner son of Ner and Amasa son of Jether. He killed them, shedding their blood in peacetime as if in battle, and with that blood he stained the belt around his waist and the sandals on his feet. Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace.” 1 Kings 2:5-6

Therefore, it’s a blessing to be disciplined when we are acting in our own strength.  It is a sure sign that we belong to God and are His precious child.  He is faithful to make us aware of disobedience by shining light into the dark, cluttered closet of self-will. Also, please remember, just because something looks like it aligns with God’s will doesn’t mean it is God’s will for you.  Be discerning and pray about everything.  There are many good things, even fulfilling things, that we can do but our motivation may be self-serving. For example, something you choose to do may be motivated by the sense of value and approval you receive rather than by His prompting by the Holy Spirit for His glory.  Therefore, rest in His plan for you even if it is resting! Trust in His perfect plan even if it means risk. Above all, love like you mean it by walking in obedience and surrender to Christ alone.