Endings and Beginnings

I have so much I could say, but it is ten o’clock on Monday evening and this mama is dog-tired. I’ll try to keep it short 🙂

My oldest child graduated from high school yesterday. Finis. They say not to blink, and I’m glad I didn’t because I watched his life flash before my eyes countless times over the past weeks. Ceremonies and send-offs and speeches, oh my. My heart is full and my tears are bittersweet, for this boy I cradled in awe is now a man and the Lord has His hand all over him.

Praise be to God.

He will head off to college in the Fall, thankfully only and hour and a half from home so he can easily visit. Lots. And I will join the ranks of mamas who rejoice when all their chicks are home in the nest because we remember those sweet, sweet days when they were little and we all just had so much fun.

Yes, it’s an ending, but it is also a very exciting beginning. One that we have raised him to be ready for. One that will bring challenge and maturity and will make my boy into a man. I pray he will be a godly one. I believe he will.

An ending and a beginning. A new season of family life with one down, four to go, and mama is finally having a little time on her hands.

So I have to tell you, recently an internet searched ensued and, the next thing I knew, I was going back to college! Yes, me. At 46 (almost 47!). What am I thinking?

Well, lots of things, but mostly about the need for women to be educated in the things of God, to combat the lies permeating our culture and womens’ ministries, and for me to write out of a place of training and deeper knowledge so that, together, we can discern truth and discard the dangerous false teachings that seem to be absolutely everywhere these days.

I’m going back to school with the long-term goal of completing my once-abandoned bachelor’s degree and writing for the Church in some form. I will be using Liberty University Online, which will give me the flexibility I need to even begin to take this on, and majoring in Religion with an Apologetics Cognate.

I am excited, and I am nervous because, y’all, I have to take MATH. College Algebra, to be exact! I am beginning this week so, if you think of me, will you pray? I am getting Math out of the way first so I don’t spend any more time dreading it. I still have much homeschooling ahead but I believe I can fit in one class. I’m not in a hurry. I have no idea what to expect time-wise so I’ll take it one class at a time until my kids are grown. It will take a few years to finish, but I am looking forward to the process and what I will learn in those years. I’ll share with you as much as I can but, I’m sure you understand that I probably won’t be here every week. I’ll be writing my fingers off and this sweet little internet home will have to take a back seat. I’ll post here when I am able, and I’ll be sure to let you know when I do.

Thank you for praying and thanks for understanding that I’ll be a bit more sporadic for a while:) Something’s got to give, right?

The Truth about Truth.

How many times have you heard the phrase, “That’s my truth” or “Well, I believe…” and cringed?

How often do those words feel off, somehow, but you don’t know how to articulate why?

The church is in trouble, friend. There are so many false gospels, weak Jesuses, and works-based religion disguised as Christianity infiltrating the church that we hardly recognize it any more.

Or do we? Maybe we do recognize truth, but choose to ignore it.

Around the world, in countries where believers are persecuted and imprisoned or killed for merely owning a Bible or sharing Jesus with a friend, the church is thriving and growing at an exponential rate. But here in the US?

Boy, we have it too good.

We are so comfortable in our freedom and luxury that we have time to sit around and think of new ways to jack things up. We have watered down, tainted and twisted the words of the Bible so much that, unless you are a committed student of the Bible and understand what is at stake, church has become irrelevant…nothing more than a club of people who like the idea that Jesus loves them and want to do nice stuff to make others feel good so that it makes their version of Jesus look good.

But their version of Jesus is not Jesus.

We have lost our first love. We have allowed ourselves to be so distracted by what others think of us and how we practice our faith that we have begun to incorporate the practices of religions that are abominations to God, practices that were expressly forbidden, and cloaked them in a “Christian” robe to make them palatable.

It’s like putting a tiny bit of poop in a pan of brownies, all fun and games until you realize what you have eaten.

Spit it out. Spit the whole thing out. Go back to the basics of who God is, who Jesus is and who the Holy Spirit is. We need them. All of them. Without one of them we do not have all of God. He has told us how He wants to be worshiped. We must stop adding to what He has given us! God is simple in his expectations, we are the ones who make things complicated!

In 1 Samuel 15, Saul was given clear instructions by God to destroy the Amalekites. When God said destroy, he meant it. He wanted there to be nothing left…complete annihilation.

Saul went to work, but began to tweak the plan.

What could be wrong with capturing the king and making him suffer a little? And what about those fat, robust cattle and sheep? Wouldn’t those be great to use as an offering…sure would be a good reminder to God and the people of all that Saul and his men had accomplished, right? There were a lot of nice things among the Amalekite possessions and it would seem wasteful to destroy all of them.

But God had said they were to destroy everything and everyone, to completely wipe the Amalekites from the face of the earth. He knew what would happen down the road if even a remnant was left to survive…trouble that would resurface time and again. Samuel did most of what God asked, but did not follow completely through and God’s response is very telling. In verse 10 he actually says he regretted making Saul king because Saul had turned away from him and not carried out his instructions.

But wait, hadn’t Saul done most of it?

Sure, but most is not what God had asked for. He wanted ALL of it.

When Samuel confronted Saul about his neglect, Saul was defensive. “But I did obey the Lord!” he answered in verse 20. “The troops took sheep and cattle from the plunder-the best of what was set apart for destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

Then in verse 22 Samuel said to Saul,

“Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? Look, to obey is better than sacrifice. To pay attention is better than the fat of rams.”

Then Samuel said, “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and defiance is like wickedness and idolatry.”

Let that sit and stew for a while.

Not following through with the complete instructions God had given him was like Saul trying to write his own ending to the story. His defiance and determination to shape things to his liking was wicked and idolatrous…a type of self-worship.

Isn’t that what is happening in the church today? We play with “new” ideas, like mindfulness and meditation, hoping it brings us closer to God. But we are told to take every thought captive (never to empty our mind) and we are told to meditate on scripture, not try to achieve some ethereal state. We even take God’s command to love one another and turn it into accepting the hedonistic lifestyles that have filled our streets and computer screens, going so far as to call them holy and acceptable to God when practiced within the (arbitrary) boundaries of the (new and improved) church. Love brings in the sinner, yes, but it never stands by and endorses what will surely bring death and destruction to the very people we have been called to reach. Satan’s first lie was “Did God really say?” and, today, many Christians still march to the beat of that drum. We don’t like being told “no”, “wait”, or “not like that”. We want our way and we will twist whatever Bible verses necessary to get it. But we are only going to be successful under the sun for a little while for when we stray from what we have been clearly instructed to do we are inviting the enemy of our souls to come on in and have a seat whether we like it or not.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the devil any where near me.

Now we can say, “Well, for me it’s different”, “That isn’t my truth”, or “It’s just who I am” but it really doesn’t matter. God’s truth is the only truth. Who God says you are is who you are. Truth is true whether we believe it or not. Seeking an experience or identity outside of the umbrella of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit then trying to Christianize it is dangerous and leading countless people (including Christians who have been believers for decades!) down a path of New Age Spirituality, Eastern Mysticism, Progressive Christianity and even to Agnosticism and Atheism! We have everything we need in the Bible. God has been crystal clear and we must stay laser focused on Him and the calling He has placed on our lives.

You might think this is legalism, but that is not what is happening here. God wants obedience from his children. We would be wise to take him seriously and love our brothers and sisters enough to encourage them to do the same. Loving as God loves means we will have to stand for truth. It means we will not be popular and likely accused of being a “Jesus freak” or judgemental. But God’s love never fails. It is the only one that can change hearts and lives and the only love that can save and secure a soul for all of eternity through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection!

Truth is true, whether we believe it or not.

Stopping to Smell the Roses

It’s an intense season. I’ve been immersed in all things “end of school” and barely have time to breathe, much less write.

My firstborn graduates from high school in less than two weeks, which does not seem possible since he just started Kindergarten five minutes ago. But, alas, it’s true and we are about to launch a child into this world. Scary, exciting, emotional…I’m feeling all the variety of feels right now! (I’m ok. Really.)

My self-imposed therapy has varied…reading, writing when I have time, and long walks through our beautiful, Spring-cloaked neighborhood. The sun has browned my shoulders a bit and my feet are readjusting to the feel of flip-flops. Finches grace the new bird feeder out back and the roses are blooming. Creation declares His glory and it is outdoors I go when I need to be refueled. A long walk or run, podcast or music in my earbuds and a prayer on my lips as I commune with my Father is truly the best medicine.

So, this week is different. I have a post I’m working on that I’ll share soon but I feel the need to just enjoy the beauty of Spring today. I haven’t edited these photos at all, just posting them straight from my iPhone.

No filter needed.

Just unfiltered worship to our God who created the beautiful seasons.

Enjoy:)

My wake up each morning. Best alarm clock in the world.

The first rose of the season. Made my kitchen smell lovely:)

My daughter and Danny sitting with me as the day warms.

Horses in the pasture grace our front yard and, after a year and a half, I still want to pinch myself when I realize I get to see this every day. So thankful.

Self-imposed Misery

You may not consider this a “joyful” post, but bear with me. I believe what I have to say is important for us to understand.

Over the past few weeks I have been working my way through the Bible with the intent of reading it cover to cover by the end of summer. Yesterday I finished the book of Judges and thought, ‘Whew, I’m glad that is over.’

I told my husband it read like a horror movie at times, just one miserable story after another. A vicious cycle of sin, consequences, crying out to God, his mercy, then the people forgetting and starting the whole thing over again. Sometimes I read a story, certain that I was misunderstanding it…that surely God would not expect them to do that.

Take, for instance, Jephthah in the eleventh chapter of Judges. He thought it would be a good idea to “make a deal” with God in order to ensure victory against the Ammonites.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

Judges 11:30-31

Note that this was instigated, not by God, but by Jephthah.

So Jephthah wins the battle and Israel conquers the Ammonites. All is well and good until his only child, his daughter, comes out of the house with her tambourine. Dancing.

I’m sure his heart exploded in terror as he realized the vow he had made. He had expected to sacrifice an animal.

Not his child.

It is hard for us to fathom following through on a vow such as this as Jephthah did, especialy through our Western filter. But in that time, and in that culture, such things were commonplace among the Pagan religions and idolotrous worship practices and it appears Jepthah had allowed his theology to be influenced by his surroundings.

Sound familiar?

Note, again, that God expecting Jephthah to follow through is not mentioned. Jephthah dug this hole. Jephthah made this bed. He had even trained his daughter, as well, to the point where she apparently did not question his decision. She grieved that she would die unmarried, but accepted that she would be sacrified.

What in the world?

How is this possible?

But look at our world, friends. Every day, children march into battle toward certain death because they have been taught from infancy that to die for their god is honorable and will be met with great reward. It happens in Africa and the Middle East and it happens here, in America.

Children are sacrificed and sent into war, as collateral in trafficking and abuse, and through abortion. Sometimes they are aware of what they are being asked to do but have been brainwashed into accepting it. Often, though, they have no idea why they are facing abuse or death at the hands of those who should be protecting them. The place where they should be the most safe…among their families, in the home or in the womb…is where their lives come to a tragic end.

Jephthah made a vow, one that God did not ask of him and, I believe, one on which God did not expect him to follow through. His misery was self-imposed because he had added to the rules God had already put in place.

Jesus plus nothing equals everything. That is as true now as it was back then. Every time God’s people decide to add to their status and “holiness” by keeping extra rules or striving beyond their neighbors to win the heart of God they fall…and fall hard.

The reason for this is simple. As children of God, those who have accepted His Son as our savior, we already have His heart. We are holy, chosen, and dearly loved. He goes before us and fights for us because we are His and He has promised to do so. We do not have to bargain with Him and would be wise not to try because we will only heap misery upon ourselves by doing so.

I believe God had already planned to give Israel the victory over the Ammonites. It was part of the story He had written before Jephthah was even born, the saga of the unbreakable covenant made with Abraham when God stopped him from doing the very thing Jephthah thought he now had to do. In making the vow, Jephthah put his own hand on the wheel, seeking a modicum of control over the outcome.

The result was disaster.

A daughter, dead at the hands of her father.

This was but one tragic end to a story wrought with terrible decisions for years leading up to this point and that would continue for millenia.

We rebel, we suffer, we fall.

We cry out for mercy and our God gives it knowing full well we will forget and repeat the sin-cycle all over again.

But we must understand that only Jesus can stop the cycle. Only the Lamb that was slain can conquer death which relentlessly hunts us down. And only the Risen Lord can deliver us from our self-made graves into life everlasting.

Praise God. Praise God for His patience because, y’all, we have got to drive Him nuts.

Do we ever learn?

For the sake of the next generation, I pray so.

But I’m not holding my breath.

 

Everyday Resurrection

A few short weeks ago the nights felt so very long. Bare trees reached for the sky and we zipped our jackets to ward off the nip of frigid evening breezes.

We longed for spring.

Before long, buds fattened on the limbs, daffodils shot green hope straight up through the faded mulch, and mist danced atop the distant ponds as the morning sun warmed the surrounding air and the promise sprung forth in bright reality.

Just look around us now. All of Tennessee is ablaze with beauty. Lush new leaves, so young and fresh, adorn the hills with the brightest greens and the morning sun warms my skin as I spend early mornings watching it rise. Robins and Cardinals visit the feeders until they are chased off by the Red Winged Blackbirds who are so rude in their domination of the black oil sunflower seed.

Just this morning I heard the chirping of chicks in a nearby nest and I smiled for in the darkest of winter days we knew this would happen…this greening and teeming of life, this joyful emergence from winter’s grip that would fling our windows wide open.

The promise of spring, of resurrection.

Easter was full of celebration. With smiles we declared the risen Lord then went to work as usual on Monday morning forgetting, for the most part, what we had spent forty days anticipating and a holy week recreating. I, for one, spent long hours going through nearly twenty years of photographs to select a precious eighteen or nineteen to somehow document the life and journey of my oldest son who will soon be graduating from high school and leaving for college. I thought I was handling it well…until I opened his baby book.

So many years. So much joy and so many failures and celebrations and hard days laced with tears and laughter. So many things I would do differently but others that I wouldn’t change for a million dollars. We walked through a winter of sorts when I feared the promise would never see the light of day but the Lord never wavered.

He never withdrew His promise.

Spring still came in the form of a young man who is showing evidence that frontal lobes do, in fact mature. It came in reaching up to hug the neck of the boy who I once cradled as a newborn with tears of gratitude streaming down my face. It came tonight, as I sat in a church enveloped in darkness and silence, remembering the nights between the crucifixion and resurrection, when the ones who knew Jesus best hid themselves away in shock and fear for nothing had turned out as they had thought and I realized how that story repeats itself in us, over and over.

We make plans and pray for them to be blessed, but God goes even further. He hijacks them completely and often turns them on their head. Jesus’ friends thought they knew how things would end, then they thought it was all over…no hope. But nothing had ended except a season. The fulfillment of the promise was just beginning. The match was struck and light chased away the darkness.

The resurrection changed everything and it still does.

Every time we face a winter of any sort we are tempted to forget what always comes next. When we feel like we have lost all hope, that the water under the bridge has reached flood levels and the bridge, itself, is splintering into a thousand pieces there is One who IS the bridge.

“Behold, I make all things new.”

He speaks resurrection truth to us in countless ways, reminding us that the end is just the beginning. That what is, presently, is not indicative of what will be. That He has already worked out the ending, we only have to trust Him in the midst of our story.

Tonight, Andrew Peterson shared a profound truth as we wiped tears from our eyes and rejoiced anew: We are a resurrection people. How beautiful and beautifully true. We are a peculiar race, set apart to live abundantly in the Kingdom of God. We are not of this world. No, we are the part longing for the whole. Every time we enter a new season of life, especially the hard ones (and aren’t they all hard in some way?), we can remember and proclaim that Christ has come, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again!

My son will leave, but He will rise…as a man, as a student, and as a follower of Christ. My heart will grieve the ending of this season, but it will rise as I see God do what only He can do and learn to trust Him even more for it. Mid-life is a strange and beautiful thing. So many things ending yet, still, so much promise ahead.

Resurrection. Always resurrection.

The stories are true, friends. You can bet your life on it. I have.

Jesus makes all things new.

Rejoice.

(I have quoted, loosely, lyrics from both the Bible and the Resurrection Letters, vol. 1 & 2 albums recorded by Andrew Peterson and available through rabbitroom.com. I highly encourage you to visit their website and dive into the riches offered! Sorry, not sorry, that you will have to make space in your budget for what you discover there.)

The Ninth Hour

“Mama, what does ‘the ninth hour’ mean?”

My daughter is good at throwing random questions at me, out of nowhere, when I am driving.

“You mean when Jesus died?” She nodded. So, I explained how he hung on the cross for three hours, from the sixth hour to the ninth hour (which is three in the afternoon). How he suffered, having already endured countless hours of torture, being beaten beyond recognition (Isaiah 53:5). I described the cat of nine tails, the whip with stones embedded in the tips so the flesh tore away as the whip gripped and pulled back. Agony. Blood.

So much blood.

The water that poured from his heart when he was pierced, because he had been in agony.

We talked about the sacrifices in the temple, how for centuries all the world looked forward, hoping and praying for the Messiah as they sacrificed one spotless, perfect animal after another. How the blood must have run in rivers from the temple. How the sacrifices had to be made every single year because and animal cannot forever satisfy the holy requirements of justice.

Behold, the Lamb.

And I looked at my daughter, this one who is peeling yet another layer back on her childhood faith. She wrestles and asks the hard questions and I do my best to answer, all the while praying to create wonder in her heart for this Savior who has literally crossed oceans and continents to accomplish his perfect will in her life. She loves him, has since she was seven years old, since the day she wept and said, “He wouldn’t get down off that cross,” surrendering her little heart to him even before she understood the ramifications of her decision.

She just knew Jesus loved her and had refused to quit. He did what he had to do for her and she loved him back because of it.

And isn’t that the crux of it all?

He intentionally made faith simple. We are the ones who make it hard, who think adding anything to the finished work of Christ could possibly be a good idea.

I looked at my daughter, tears filling my eyes, and spoke through the lump in my throat..

“When you realize what he went through, doesn’t it change everything about how you see Easter?” She was quiet for a long moment, then nodded again, turning over the mental images of her suffering savior in her mind.

Easter is about so much more than bunnies and eggs. It’s about a real God who really came down and took on flesh, and really did the unthinkable: dying for a crooked and lost people…whom He happened to adore.

He loves us, friends. He loves us, not because we are good…

but because HE is good.

Good Friday is good, because his death meant we live, no longer burdened by the weight of sin.

Easter is bright and joyful because He conquered death and rose from the grave…ensuring you and I will also rise again and live with him forever!

It doesn’t make sense. We had done nothing to deserve his love, much less his suffering on our behalf. Yet suffer, he did, beyond anything we can imagine. Even while we were lost and running from him in rebellion.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

What better time than today to give your life to Jesus? Can you imagine a more perfect celebration of his resurrection than recognizing your need for a savior and surrendering, once and for all, to him? Oh, I pray you will do just that. And if you do, please let me know! I want to rejoice with you and walk alongside you as you begin the beautiful journey of faith.

Celebrate this Easter as a fully loved child of the King. Let nothing hold you back. Lift up your face with the assurance of hope for he is risen…

he is risen, indeed!

Beautiful One

Our neck of the woods is so beautiful. Tennessee has hills and trees as far as the eye can see and winter’s dull landscape is quickly being replaced by the brightest, tiny green leaves you have ever seen. Spring is here. The last threats of frost seem to be past and the garden centers are bursting with an abundance vegetables and flowers just begging to be taken home and planted in my garden or perched on my front porch.

Yesterday I walked outside, barefoot. The sun was shining and the grass was cool and soft under my feet. I took a deep breath, noting the sweet scent of hyacinths still lingering and the Cardinal in a nearby tree sang his song for me.

“Thank you, Jesus,” I whispered. “Thank you, God.”

Nasturtiums popped up from the soil, awakened by the warming sun today. A couple of squash seeds have poked their happy heads up as well, a perfect accompaniment to the Roma tomatoes that will rise within the steel cages. I’ve often read that one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than any other place on earth. I don’t know if that is biblical but I do know a garden was man’s first home. It’s where we were intended to be. Our hearts long for soft soil and green leaves. Dirty fingernails and scuffed knees are the hallmark of a happy gardener, of which I am one.

And in the breeze I hear Him whisper. Not audibly, exactly, but almost so. He allows me to feel His pleasure through no work of my own and gives me respite from the hectic pace of this season of life. My children laugh from upstairs and I’m sure I heard my daughters singing.

Dear Solomon, surely you were consumed with love during the early days of Spring…

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.

Song of Solomon 2:10-14

Why is it so hard to be still? Have you ever set a timer, intending to pray for ten or twenty minutes? It seems the second we try to sit our minds race with all the things we “should” be doing and we struggle to focus, much less commune with the Lord. A million distractions surround us, sucking hour after hour from our one short life, yet we cannot talk to God for more than a few minutes without growing restless.

Yet we must. We must stop and, literally, smell the roses. We must say “no” to the distractions and put away the things that rob us of intimacy with our Maker. Taking the time to be still and let the knowledge that HE is God, that He is the Lover of our Soul and there is no one else like Him, seep into our very bones is absolutely vital. He deserves nothing less. It is a battle worth fighting and fight, we must.

Because we cannot live…truly live…without Him.

Take a walk. Go for a run or even sit in quiet with the Bible open and nothing else to distract you. Determine to develop the discipline of daily stillness before the Father and watch as your heart tunes better to His. Listen as His whisper grows easier to discern and enjoy the refreshing this time will bring to your relationship with God. It will affect everything, especially your interactions with friends and family for we can only offer what we already posess ourselves.

My kids know, if they awaken early, where I will be. They will steal into the room and grace me with a kiss before padding downstairs to eat breakfast or, sometimes, they will sit quietly as I finish my time with the Lord. But it took years for me to develop the discipline to do this consistently. I finally did, though, and I’m so grateful. I’ve learned to steal moments throughout the day, listening to music (The Rabbit Room being my favorite source of life-giving music) and podcasts to train my mind and direct my thoughts toward things of the Kingdom because, if I don’t, I will find my thoughts directed everywhere else.

And, now that it is Spring, I go outside. Barefoot. I watch the hills come alive and the rebuds bloom, knowing the God who created every beautiful thing also created me.

You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you.

Song of Solomon 4:7

Your Father calls you his “beautiful one.” Live forward into that truth, for that is who He says you are.