Commitment, Faith, Obedience, Perseverance, Sanctification, Spiritual Battle, Surrender, Trust, Victory

Chomp Chomp

“May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!” Psalm 20:5

Recently, my husband and I spent the weekend in Gainesville, Florida visiting our oldest son, Sean.  On Saturday we made our way to the UF football game. Traveling by foot through campus in the human current of orange and blue we passed some professional tail-“Gators” anticipating the sure victory over Colorado.  However, the majority of fans were, like us, eagerly speed-walking to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, nick-named “The Swamp.” It was the second hottest (and I’m guessing the most humid) game-day on record for the Gators. Regardless, we all rose up the ramp in ant-like procession. Everyone was so excited — joyful even — as they took their seats.  Although fans (literal paper fans) were waving, no one complained about the heat. Apparently Gators don’t sweat.

Soon, the band played and everyone cheered as the team streamed onto the field. Then it happened. Thousands of arms lifted, right over left, elbows locked, and moved up and down, like an alligator’s mouth. At the same time ninety-thousand voices shouted,”Go Gators!” Go Gator’s is their battle cry but there is something about this chomp, chomp motion that motivates both fan and player. It gives them a sense of belonging — a confidence because they know they are part of a winning team. And (chomp, chomp) they wanted their opponents to know it.

Wow! This kind of community is inspiring! I’m not even a football fan and I enjoyed it. However, this experience made me question my own approach to the spiritual battle we find ourselves in as Christians. We too are a part of a winning team. However, we are not always excited to gather together. And even though we have the best quarterback, coach and manager in the universe we don’t always trust Their judgement. We may have a rag-tag team but because of Jesus – because he resides in us – we are victors! What is our intimidating war cry? “Jesus lives!” and our motto, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” Romans 8:37. What is our uniform? “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience Colossians 3:12.

Do I believe Jesus has secured the victory? Do I act like it? Do I confidently endure all things by faith? Struggles, like conflict, pain, heat and injury, are expected by the football player. But, he doesn’t overcome these obstacles alone. He stands on that battlefield as part of a unit. We too are part of an enormous community. The “great cloud of witnesses” cheer us on because they already know the outcome.  The individual Christian is encouraged while doing his part as the sure victory unfolds because God provides us with a team called the Church. Instead of The Swamp we have The Sanctuary and instead of a war cry we have praise. Instead of tailgating we have fellowship and instead of a winning season we have salvation by grace, through faith in our leader, Jesus Christ. So, this Sunday put on your game shirt and cheer on your “team” while raising your hands and shouting with joy! Chomp, chomp!

“For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me.” Psalm 18:39

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

Confession, Faith, Grief, Overwhelmed, Pride, Rebellion, Repentance, Restoration, Sanctification, Surrender

Messy Me

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV

Anyone who knows me (by this I mean anyone who has seen my closet) would tell you that I am not tidy.  Ok, they would tell you I’m pretty messy.  For some reason I am unable to work on a project unless all the inner workings of the project are exposed.  For example, when I’m writing I have hand written notes and several books surrounding my computer; when I cook I have everything out on the counter; when I get ready in the morning my bathroom counter is cluttered with makeup, lotion, hair product and jewelry and my bedroom is usually littered with clothes I am “in the process” of  cleaning, putting away or deciding whether or not to keep.

However, this way of living has consequences.  Sometimes when I come home I am overwhelmed by all the “little” messes I’ve made during the week.  Dishes, crumbs, papers, books, clothes, oh my!  How did this house get so messy?  Answer: A little at a time.  Similarly, when we find ourselves in a spiritual mess of our own making, suffering the consequences of a mountain of small rebellions, we too are overwhelmed.  How did my heart get so hard?  Answer: A little at a time.  Surprisingly, the solution to both problems (messy house and messy heart) are the same.  How is my house going to get clean?  By repentance, or turning 180° away from the direction I was going (bigger mess) and into the opposite direction (putting things in order).  How is my heart going to be cleansed?  You guessed it — Repentance!

Of course, some people may object to this observation because they know they have been fully forgiven when they accepted Christ as their Savior, which is true.  However, in the same way I fail to clean my messes until I recognize the chaos all around me, we do not bring all our heart messes to God until we recognize they exist and are overwhelmed with grief and Godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  Because of the blood of Jesus we are already forgiven but not restored.  David understood this to be true.  His little messes turned into a mountain of rebellion when each decision David made in opposition to God caused chaos in his life and the lives of those around him.  Because of this, his heart was hard and his attitude harsh until Nathan, God’s messenger, confronted David. Only then did he recognize the overwhelming mess.  David’s 180° turn away from his sin led him straight into the arms of God where David appropriated God’s gift of forgiveness. Through it all his relationship with the LORD was strengthened and his heart forever changed, which is testimony to God’s faithfulness and redemptive heart toward His children.

Psalm 51 was birthed from David’s repentant heart.  I’ll leave you with the beautiful reality of our gracious God who longs for intimacy with every one of His “Messy Me’s” as He turns our messes into milestones of His grace and intimate love for you and me.

Psalm 51 

A psalm of David.

When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

(Psalm 51, New International Version)
Commitment, Faith, Love, Submission, Surrender, Trust

Brothers & Sisters

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

Hebrews 10:19-22

Reading Hebrews 10 is like drinking from a firehose.  Here Paul assures us that we can draw near to God with confidence because the Way was made possible through Christ’s death and resurrection.  We are no longer guilty but cleansed and washed by blood and water.  The Old Testament sacrificial system was a shadow of Christ’s atonement and could never take away sin.  But God, from before the foundation of the world, provided all we need for life and Godliness.  But, this promise was directed to a community of believers; a family of “brothers and sisters” in the faith, whom Paul assumed would read his letter as they gathered together as one body.

Therefore, we can conclude that community is an important part of our walk as believers.  Without it we are prone to the harsh elements of this world as well as single-minded interpretations or conclusions based on our own feelings and experiences.  To illustrate, this past January, after leaving a case of water in my car overnight in three-degree temperatures, I discovered that only two of the water bottles were frozen.  Only two out of  twenty-four froze because only two were separated from the rest.  They had somehow popped loose of the plastic wrapping and were leaning out of the casing, no longer touching the other bottles.  They froze because they lacked the insulation the “community” of water bottles offered. Disaffected, distanced and divided from the group, the water in the bottles hardened because they were vulnerable to the affects of the outside world just like the human heart.

In the same way,  we can become cold and hard hearted when separated from a community of “brothers and sisters.”  When our family first moved to New England from Oregon it took an entire year before I plugged in to a local church.  During that time I was angry with God and felt sorry for myself. “What were You thinking moving us across  the country without providing a church family?”  My heart was hardened to God’s timing and sovereignty.  However, not being connected to a community of believers allowed me to indulge in self-pity.  Eventually, my jaded attitude led to a divine spanking in the form of a Poison Ivy rash all over my body, my very first EVER sinus infection because, what do you know, I’m allergic to New England, and finally, walking pneumonia with chest-burning coughing spells during the worst winter in who knows how long that included a Nor’easter which dumped three-feet of snow in one day.  It does seem like God was trying to get my attention.

However, in God’s defense, He did provide a Mother’s of Pre-Schoolers (MOPS) group and a loving Christian neighbor.  Unfortunately, I was too distracted by my expectations to notice His provision and chose to pop out of the plastic wrapping and freeze.   Not only will I never forget this experience, I also share it with others in the event that they are tempted to “give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.”  Whether you are planning to move, taking a second job or just don’t want to commit to being a part of a church, I beg you to pause and consider the consequences.  Don’t allow your heart to harden to God’s love for you which He demonstrated on the cross and is experienced through His church.  You were made for community to “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:23).   See you at church!

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” 

Hebrews 10:23-25

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

Faith, Holiness, Love, Righteousness, Surrender, Uncategorized

What to Wear

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:12-15

Outfit snafu’s have been common occurrences in my life and usually happen at weddings.  I’ve accidentally worn the same color as the bridesmaids, overdressed and underdressed and once almost fainted from the heat because my dress was too hot for an outdoor, summer wedding. (It was almost one-hundred degrees outside!)   I struggle with what to wear on a daily basis too.  (It doesn’t help that most of my clothes don’t fit but that’s another topic.)  What colors should I wear?  What style looks best with by shape?  What is my shape?  Does curvy mean short and 25 pounds overweight?   Not only does it not come naturally to me to put an outfit together but I don’t even know what is appropriate for certain occasions.  (Google is my friend.) Sometimes I feel that way relationally too.  I ask myself what I should say or do in certain situations.  It can be confusing, especially during conflict.  However, Paul makes it very clear what we are to “wear” as God’s children on every occasion.

In Colossians 3:12-15 Paul starts by telling us our body type.  We are, “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.” We have inherited God’s characteristics as His children. Therefore, we ARE holy because God is holy! Now, put on the “clothes” that suit your body type, reflecting who you are in Christ: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, long-suffering, forgiveness, love  and peace.  I want to dress like that!  But, it seems unattainable. It’s like someone telling you to look like an airbrushed picture of a supermodel on the front of a magazine who has a personal trainer, plastic surgeon and stylist working with her on a daily basis.  Well, no matter how much I exercise I will never look like Gisele.  (I didn’t have her parents!)  But, the attributes Paul asks us to put on are spiritually genetic, passed down form my Heavenly Father.  I am a beloved child of God and I do have His Holy Spirit who is all of those beautiful things in me.   You see, we too have a personal trainer; someone to help us get dressed and walk out onto the runway of life showing off His magnificent design.  So, with pleasure I take off my old self and put on the new at His request, surrendering to my Designer.  This outfit always fits perfectly!  So, as we walk down the red carpet of life and people ask, “What are you wearing?”  Say, “Jesus.”

“…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  Ephesians 4:22-24

 

 

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

Obedience, Sanctification, Submission, Surrender, Trust, Uncategorized, Victory

Do Not, But Be

be-transformed

Romans 12:2

Obedience.  It’s what loving parents teach their children, to be obedient for their own good. In fact, we tell our children what to do and what not to do ALL THE TIME because children, left to their own devices, are foolish.  Likewise, in Romans 12:2 our Heavenly Father gives us two imperatives; Do not, but be.

The first command, “Do not be conformed to this world,” is a powerful statement.  It implies danger and choice.  I remember when, as a toddler, my youngest son, Ryan,  was trying to see what was on top of the stove while I was cooking.  “Don’t touch the stove,” I warned,  “It’s hot.”  But, instead of backing away he plopped his hand on top of the stove and burned himself.  I didn’t tell him he would get hurt but I did tell him not to touch the stove.  Yes, his disobedience led to pain but he never did it again.  Ryan tells us today that he knew right from wrong growing up.  “You were good parents,” he told us.   “I chose to do things I knew were wrong at times because I wanted to do them.”

Isn’t that like all of us?  We are not ignorant of God’s Word, we just want to do what we want to do regardless of the consequences.  So, when God says, “do not be conformed to this world,” what does that mean?  What is it that we are not supposed to do?  Well, I believe the answer is in a previous chapter of Romans.  Romans 1 lays out a blueprint for what not to do as a child of God.  It’s a “how to” manual for rejecting God, the One who loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you.   It says, basically, don’t do whatever you want to do, acting like God doesn’t exist, or if He does He isn’t Holy or loving or even The Righteous Judge.  Don’t be deceived, don’t be sexually immoral, a drunkard, etc. But more importantly, don’t turn your back on God and worship the created (yourself or anything else) rather than the Creator.  In short, don’t try to be satisfied with anything other than Me.

The second imperative in Romans 12:2, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,”  is mysterious until you dig into the statement.  “But be transformed” means  “to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure,” from the Greek word metamorphoō (Strong’s G3339).  Think butterfly.  How are we to change into another form?  By the renewing of our minds!  This is our sanctifying cocoon.  Instead of being someone who is pulled toward the world, wants our own way no matter what the consequences, desires to be fulfilled at the expense of other people, indulgent and disobedient to God,  we can be transformed into an other-centered person who loves God and is compelled by His great love to a life of obedience, denying fleshly desires, and following Him even when we don’t fully understand.

This happens when we allow ourselves to be exposed to God’s promises and choose to believe Him over our impulses and feelings.  Even though, as Christians, we are no longer caterpillars we can choose to stay in the cocoon even after God has given us wings.  Or, we can choose to press in and allow God to do the painful work of sanctification in order that we may burst out by faith, trusting that He has given us new life and the ability to “fly” by His power.  We no longer have to let the world pull us down, keeping us grounded in defeat.   We can live in the reality of our new life in christ.  The story of the Ugly Duckling is a perfect illustration.  In the end the “duck” realizes he is a swan.  He has been a swan.  He belongs to a beautiful family of swans and no longer has to try to be a duck or feel ashamed that he is not accepted by the ducks because he doesn’t belong to the duck family anymore.  He is something new altogether.  So are you if you have received the gift God has given us in Jesus.

 

Why do we still choose to walk around on our little caterpillar legs eating milkweed when we have wings and can drink the nectar of fruits and flowers?   God has given us His Word so we can live in freedom today.  Not in Heaven only but right now.   I can hear God saying, “I love you so much I chose to take all the pain and suffering of disobedience.  I want you to live in reality.  I want you to fly and glorify Me as the sunlight bounces off your wings.”  You are free if you have believed that God exists and Jesus has died for your sins and rose again from the dead, proving He is the Son of God.  If you don’t believe it then you are thinking like the world thinks and God is calling you to renew your mind with His Word.  Sit at His feet.  Meditate on His promises.  Read the Gospels, shedding tears of joy because, “If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed!”  John 8:36

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