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

 

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

 

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
Life, Rest, Sanctification, Submission, Uncategorized

Rise Up

“From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.” Psalm 113:3

My son says I am the queen of metaphors.  So, imagine my delight when I woke up this morning to the colors of the rainbow smeared across the sky.  This stunning scene got me thinking about the sun.  It sets and rises simultaneously every second of every day somewhere in the world while constantly bursting forth life giving light.  We can see the sun’s beauty revealed as it sets and find joy in the warmth of its rays, especially after a cold day or a long winter.  More importantly, we enjoy life through the sun. It is essential for our very existence.  In other words, the earth, bound by the glory of the sun, would have no life without it.

(Metaphor alert) As Christians we too are sustained by The Son.  Luke 22:70 says, “‘Are You the Son of God?’ and Jesus said to them, ‘Yes, I AM.'”  Also, Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”  Jesus, therefore, is the giver of life and, as we “spin” on our fleshly axis bound by this world and our physical bodies, the Son rises within us everyday.  Jesus also referred to Himself as The Life (John 14:6), The Light of the world (John 8:12), The Giver of Living Water (John 4:10) and The Bread of life (John 6:35;48) which are all forms of vital sustenance.  Therefore, what determines good fruit like joy, love and hope is purposefully soaking up The Light so He can shine through our brokenness.

Unfortunately, the last few days I have been scattered, anxious, distracted and overwhelmed because of the lack of time I have to complete my to-do list.  This myopic focus stole my joy and, quite frankly, made me unpleasant to be around.  I found myself stuck in a dark cave of self-imposed “to-do’s,” unable to see the distant future or focus on God, Who is the Light of the world AND The Giver of life.  Instead, I determined to master something I had absolutely no control over and fell into a well of hopelessness.  I needed a Son-bathing session which God graciously gave me this morning.  He gently “set my mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2) re-calibrating my mind to His as He warmed my cold heart with the light of His Word.  After realizing this “light” deficiency in my spirit the following list of questions was birthed:

  • Am I allowing the clouds of hopelessness to be blown aside by the Holy Spirit who fills me with the hope of the glory of God that does not disappoint, today? (Romans 5:2-5)
  • Did I soak in the loving, healing rays of my LORD, Jesus, today?  (Psalm 147:3)
  • Has my spiritual skin been changed by His Word to the point where I literally glow for Christ, today?  (Matthew 5:14-16)

My hope is that these questions will help you experience the amazing hues of God’s love for you on a daily basis.  So, the next time you see a gorgeous sunrise let it remind you that we are not bound by this world.  Rather, the life we have is in the eternal, powerful, magnificent, RISEN, Son of God!

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.  For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

Obedience, Rest, Submission, Trust, Uncategorized

Crowd Control

“At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place.” Luke 4:42a

After spending a December weekend in New York City I have a new appreciation for the crowds Jesus experienced, being surrounded by multitudes most of the time.   While on the streets of New York there were throngs of people everywhere.  It was exhausting!  Even so, Jesus purposed to move from one crowd to another showing Himself to be “The Holy One of God.” (Luke 4:34)  However, He didn’t have a nice hotel room as a retreat like we did.

In Luke 4:23-29 Jesus is speaking in His hometown of Nazareth when the audience tries to kill Him. He then leaves for Capernaum to teach yet another crowd of people where He frees a man from demon possession. After that, Jesus left the synagogue to rest at Peter’s house but found Peter’s mother-in-law was sick so Jesus took the time to touch her as well.  However, by sunset there was another swarm of needy people at the house.

 Jesus was pressed, busy, sought after and needed but verse 42 starts with, “At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place.”  Oh what a joy to know that Jesus needed His time alone with God and that it is not only okay but necessary for us to make time to rest and pray.  The end of verse 42 tells us that it wasn’t long before the crowds started looking for Jesus again, even trying to keep Him from His mission to “proclaim the Good News to the other towns as well.”

Our LORD and Savior prayed in isolation with His Father and purposed to do God’s will regardless of popular opinion.  However, when I pull away many times I say, “I need to decompress.” So, instead of praying I may watch an old movie or the cooking channel. Then, when the crowds come, I wonder why I’m overwhelmed.  The reason?  My armor is lying on the ground. I ceased to pray in the Spirit and I am weak and vulnerable.  In essence I become spiritually dehydrated and have nothing to offer that will quench the thirst of those seeking Jesus.  Furthermore, I lose track of my purpose. What is God’s will for this day?  How will I know if I refuse to take the time to ask?

In His wisdom the LORD brings crowds into our lives so we may pour out what He pours into our hearts. He also gives us opportunity for quiet times of rest to pray and be refreshed.  This is when we are ministered to by Him, being filled with His Spirit, loved on and equipped.   Intimacy with Jesus is found in this, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Be still, quiet, alone, engaged and relaxed. While staring into the eyes of Jesus Christ we are made new.  You are the bride of Christ and, just like in marriage, in order to maintain intimacy you must spend time alone with your Bridegroom so you know that you know that you know that you are not alone!

River City

Like rushing water the sidewalk still 

MoVeS

For throngs of souls make way.

                                      Foot

                                               upon block

                                                                    upon stone

                                                                                         upon walk,

Rumbling through the waves.  

The River of bodies bobs up and down

Hits rocks and brush of stone.

Rushing here and there and nowhere at all

Yet they are all

ALONE.

Marlene McKenna 12/26/2015