Illuminate.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.

Isaiah 9:2

The concept of light is all over the scriptures.

You are the light of the world. (Matt. 5:14)

Light shines in the darkness. (Psalm 112:4)

Shine your light. (Matt. 5:16)

Moses glowed with the glory of God after meeting with Him on Mount Sinai. Jesus radiated light when he was transfigured in the presence of Peter, James and John. Adam and Eve began life in unimaginable beauty. They existed for who-knows-how-long in the perfection of Eden. No sin, no sickness, no death. They lived and loved and ate and drank and walked with God in the cool of the morning. All was well until the serpent slunk his way into the picture and bent Eve’s ear with half-truths and suggestions, to which she listened and succumbed.

Then suddenly, in an instant that could not be undone, they lost it all. We lost it all.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.

Genesis 3:7

What happened? Why the sudden awareness of a state that, until that moment, had been perfectly acceptable?

I recently learned a theory that I believe to be entirely plausible. When you see the consistency with which unbroken, face-to-face fellowship with God results in the human radiating His glory, it is not a stretch to realize that this is exactly what we, you and I, were created for.

Adam and Eve were created to radiate, to glow. They literally shone with the glory of God, reflecting it to the earth around them. But when they sinned, the glory left them.

Suddenly they were naked. Bare. Exposed.

As a result we (and, dare I say, women?) would spend the rest of time trying to dress ourselves up, covering the dullness and finding our worth too often, in our appearance. We would no longer walk in the beauty of God’s radiant perfection. His light upon us went dim and we are ashamed.

But there is such hope for us! Jesus died for the very sins that robbed us of His Father and the light of His glory. He rose from the dead, ensuring that those who put their trust in Him will, too.

And you know what really blows my mind? When we receive our resurrected bodies, we will be as God intended us all along…radiant in His presence.

Friends, we will GLOW. All of us. Every nation, tribe and tongue.

Every race.

We will reflect the glory of God from brown, black and white skin tones. We will stand side-by-side, hand-in-hand as justice is served at last and we finally live fully as brothers and sisters, children of the living God, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. There will be no division, no prejudice, no sense of superiority. Our lights will shine together, uniquely yet the same with God the Father being the eternal source.

My goodness, what a day that will be! Until then, we must remember who we are and whose we are, living forward into who we will be. We must fight against injustice and division here on earth, preparing this world for what is to come. We must build bridges and love one another well, regardless of zip code or shade of melanin. We were created to shine.

Might as well start now.

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.

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.)

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.

 

The Loving Thing to Do

A few days ago I had a conversation with one of my daughters about what I have been learning in my study of the Bible. We talked about the origins of the earth and the human race, how we can know there is a creator and how we can know that creator is our God…the one true God. We also talked about salvation; the necessity of faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus to satisfy the penalty we would have had to pay for our sins and give us victory over death to live with Him forever.

I looked at her, this budding, bold child who is taking one big faith-step after another as she learns to lean in and fall in love with Jesus. She is still a little girl in some ways but I almost daily see glimpses of the woman she is becoming. Oh, how I pray for her heart to be solidly His.

She has walked through some hard things in the past couple of years. There have been days when it felt like her world was spiraling out of control but God always, gently, reminded us He was there and still at work even when we couldn’t see Him. She has matured and is finding her voice, treading the waters of boldness and testing the call to be a leader among her peers.

Still, though, she struggles as we all do to speak the truth in love. We live in a world that is not friendly to the message of the cross. The name of Jesus is sure to bring hostility and accusation if wielded openly. Speaking the truth in love is hard for most of us, I would say, and especially so in a culture that equates truth with judgement and being “holier-than-thou.” When asked direct questions even the most committed Christians can step back a bit and hedge their answers out of a desire not to offend and lose opportunity for relationship.

Sometimes, when the issue is one that does not have eternal consequences, hedging is the kind thing to do. (I try to minor in the minors) But what if asked, point-blank, if you really believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven? What if that person is a dear friend or family member that you know is a “good person” and really sincere in their personal beliefs?

Think about it…

What if your toddler, who just rode her tricycle into the middle of the freeway, sincerely believes the car rounding the curve and heading toward her at 75 miles per hour won’t hit her? In fact, she sincerely believes the car is not even there. Do you run out and grab her? Do you risk her being upset with you because you ruined her fun?

Or do you risk it all to save her life?

I looked at my daughter, and asked her a hard question…

“If we really believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven, why do we hold back? If we really believe people who do not trust Jesus as their savior will go to Hell, what is the truly loving thing to do?’

Her eyes widened as the lightbulb came on.

“You have to tell them, Mom.” She shook her head a little, clearing her thoughts.

“It would be wrong not to tell them, wouldn’t it? To let them go to hell because we didn’t want to make them mad or think we are judging them…?”

“Yeah, wow. I had never thought of it that way.”

Truth sets us free. Knowing the truth of Jesus Christ, realizing the incredible, undeserved love the Father has for us, is the key to everything. He made a way for us! He made it simple enough that a child can understand; that just a mustard seed of faith will forever change where we spend eternity. Many religions attempt to control behavior and offer the possibility to attain life after death (if all goes well and you satisfy the requirements of that particular god or prophet), but only faith in Jesus Christ takes care of the root of the problem plaguing all of humanity…sin…every single time. Without fail.

So I’m telling you now, because I do love you and want to be sure you are ushered safely home when your time on earth is over, that Jesus is the way…the only way to Heaven. You will not find eternal security anywhere else. Through faith in Jesus, God will redeem you and transform you. He will open your eyes to the sins you thought were hidden or no big deal (along with the things you were convinced weren’t sins at all) and systematically deal with them, making you more and more like His Son every day. He will fill you with the Holy Spirit and give you understanding of things that had before seemed to be mysteries as you read and learn the Bible. It will come alive and He will make you new.

Call me narrow. Call me small-minded. I am no longer content to sit back and watch person after person fall to the false teachings that have flooded the world. My dear friends, you are loved with an everlasting love, you only have to surrender.

Now you may not want to acknowledge this, but you are, in fact, already surrendered to something…either Jesus or the other “little-g” gods that surround us. (religion, wealth, position, gender,and race to name a few) The little-g gods will enslave you and leave you in bondage. The God of the Bible? Well, He is the complete opposite. He will set you free and, by faith in His Son, you will, indeed be truly free.

I pray you will surrender. I pray you will recognize your need for a Savior and repent of your sins, trusting in the death of Christ to pay the penalty you could not pay and receive the life He offers through the power of His resurrection. Please let me know if you do! I want to celebrate with you and encourage you as your find your footing in this new life.

Without Jesus you are in grave danger.

I love you too much to let you stay in the street.

Digging Deep: Defending the Truth in a Culture of Lies

As the world continues to change at breakneck pace, more and more Christians are caving in to doctrine that is destructive at best, heretical at worst. Everything the church once held as sacred is up for grabs…marriage, family, morality, and the sanctity of human life are only a few of the issues being questioned and trampled beneath the snowballs of modern religious (or anti-religious) thought. As I have watched these changes gather strength I have often lamented the world in which I am raising my children. How do we combat such strong worldly influences when so much competes for their attention? Social media alone has changed everything regarding how the world thinks, interacts, and even how we parent.

The arguments against faith are many and varied. Sometimes I have no problem identifying the flaw in logic but there are other occasions when, though I know the idea presented is wrong, I haven’t been able to articulate why. “Because the Bible says so” simply is not effective when speaking to someone who does not believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

Book after book is being published that pose real danger to the hearts and minds of women. They boast catchy titles and carry messages that make all kinds of promises that my friends are too often falling for…hook, line and sinker. Christian leaders hedge their answers on important topics and leave room for the uneducated lay person to fill in the blanks with what seems right to them, which is extremely dangerous and unbiblical.

A year, or so, ago I read an article that piqued my interest and led me to a podcast by Alisa Childers which completely changed how I would spend my (precious few) free minutes. All of a sudden the world of apologetics was accessible to this average small-town girl! I have had an insatiable thirst for more ever since. Not only have I found verbage to help me answer questions I hear from my teenagers and their friends, I have experienced an incredible increase in faith as I have learned logic and evidence for the accuracy of the Bible and fallen deeper in love with the Savior who changed the entire course of my life when I was twenty one years old.

In case you are unfamiliar with the term, Apologetics is defined as the discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse. It is knowing why you believe what you believe and being able to defend it using logic and reason. In my opinion, the study of apologetics is extremely important and worthy of pursuit by all believers, no matter our level of education. We need to know what we believe and WHY.

When I think of apologetics, C.S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias are the first to come to mind. Good apologists ardently defend the faith, refusing to bend to the societal trends of their time and striving for excellence in everything they write and teach. Biblical literacy and knowledge of truth are the most important skills we can acquire and, really, the only way we will successfully stand against the lies that are flooding our culture.

In other words, my dear sisters, you have GOT to read your Bible. Make it happen, whatever you have to put aside, but DO IT.

We have to stop depending on celebrities (including celebrity pastors) and media to define truth. There is only one way to the Father, and that is through his son, Jesus Christ. God is holy and, through Christ, we are made holy. That means we are different, set apart. That means we live by a high moral standard, even if it steps on the toes of those around us, because we know who we would have been without the Cross. It means we deny ourselves and follow Jesus, even when that results in being labeled as intolerant or narrow-minded because we refuse to bow to the gods the world offers. And it means we speak the truth, in love (always in love) but we speak it, nonetheless. Because the truth sets us FREE.

Take the time to learn the Bible for yourself. Let the Holy Spirit be your teacher. Seek the wisdom of God and don’t settle for books “about” the Bible. Stop letting your ears be tickled by teachers who refuse to address the problem of sin and depravity and choose to pursue excellence in the study of God’s word. Yes, I know that sounds overwhelming. I know you may have little kids running around your legs all day long or a boss who has placed time-consuming demands on your waking hours but you must make the time to educate yourself on the things of the Kingdom. What are you willing to cut out in order to pursue deeper knowledge of God? I am sad to admit that, even when I claimed I could only steal 5 minutes to read a devotional (rarely opening my actual Bible), I had no trouble keeping up with my favorite TV series or scrolling through social media. It is all about priorities. He is worthy of our sacrifice of time and effort!

If you don’t know where to start, I have a few links to share with you:

Alisa Childers (alisachilders.com)

Mama Bear Apologetics (http://mamabearapologetics.com)

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (rzim.org)

The FreeMind Podcast by Seth and Nirva Ready with Stephen Robles (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/freemind/id1448136168)

All of these are either podcasts or have podcasts available along with their written blogs. You can listen to them while you are busy doing other things. (My favorite type of multitasking!) They will help you think through current issues and arguments and drive you straight into studying God’s Word with the intent of finding answers and not just checking off an item on your to-do list. They are not a replacement for Bible study, but will give you direction as to how to read the Bible with an eye for context and culture. If you have apologetics sources/blogs/podcasts you would like to share please do! Just post the link in the comments either here or on the A Life of Simple Joys Facebook page. (Link is in the margin)

The world around us is completely upside-down, exactly as God said it would be. (2 Tim. 4:3) Our only defense against the lies that swirl around us is knowing the truth; HIS truth, not our fanciful version. Sisters, please, lose the fluff and dive deep for the sake of Christ! There is so much richness awaiting us in the depths of His Word. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot of lost time for which I need to make up. There is no better time to start than right now.

 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  (Ephesians 5:6-17)

When Quiet Won

It was so quiet that I could hear the fluttering of the birds’ wings. Newly filled feeders had invited them near and in droves they came, red-winged blackbirds, nut-hatches, cardinals and sparrows all vying for position and dominance over the provisions that had been carefully hung from hooks and branches.

The sun shone in all it’s glory, framed by a baby blue sky and not a single cloud. The distant pond’s surface rippled gently, a deep and dark blue disguising the teeming life swimming beneath.

I almost missed it. I almost stayed inside, turning on the TV because spring is wreaking havoc on my allergies. Sniffles and nosebleeds and coughs, oh my! I almost let a sinus headache win, but I didn’t and I’m grateful, for what is more healing than the sun?

What better antidote to a cold or the blues than bright skies gently beckoning our eyes upward and onward?

What is more lovely than the scent of hyacinths breaking through the most clogged of noses as they open green arms wide and declare the glory of God in the deepest of perfumed purple hues?

“In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

I have a hard time with the “quiet” part of that verse. My days are filled with bustle and noise and when it all dies down my mind struggles to find a spot to sit. It runs in circles and tries to fill the silence with whatever is close and convenient.

But today the quiet won and as I sit on my porch, the colorful garden flag fluttering in the gentle breeze and the turquoise windmill that my daughter insisted we snag at Lowe’s spinning in delight, I hear Him whisper.

In the beauty of creation he reminds me that I am his beloved.

In the stillness He smiles upon me and fills the long pause with the laughter of a child in the distance, wafting across the pasture with last season’s tall grasses waving their golden stalks and the little horse shelter awaiting the summer wildflowers that will surely come.

A distant dog barks a friendly warning as a bumblebee whizzes by and there it is again…the laughter of a child.

Unbridled joy.

Are You Drained?

It has rained cats and dogs here in Tennessee. I believe I speak for everyone when I say we are all “over it.” My yard is a mucky mess and our German Shepherd, who loves a good roll in a puddle, leaves body-shaped mud prints on my hardwoods every. single. day.

Behind our house sprawls the sixth fairway of a golf course dotted with ponds. When the sun rises one of my favorite things to observe is the colors of the sky reflected in the water. Ducks and geese frequent the area and fish occasionally leave concentric circles as they dance just under the water’s surface in the morning light.

As the rains have fallen (and fallen) this week, I have watched the ponds carefully. The levels have risen slightly, but many friends in the area have creeks and ponds busting out of their banks and threatening their homes. I have been very thankful that our ponds were built with drains along the edges that direct the overflow safely away from our neighborhood.

Which got me thinking…

We often think of drains, especially in our lives, as a negative thing. If something is ‘draining’ it generally means it is sucking the life out of us. But what if there is another meaning, one that is life-giving or, at least, life-preserving?

As I look at the ponds behind my house I realize that even something so beautiful and necessary as clean water can be destructive if not controlled and directed to where it is needed. In an age of busy, busier and busiest we tend to fill our lives up, going at breakneck speed from pre-dawn until the late night hours, in order to accomplish the elusive “more.” If a little is good, a lot must be better (or so we believe). Activities, responsibilities, ministries, disciplines and commitments leave us full to bursting and we begin to spill over in exhaustion, ugliness, frustration, and anger.

We are drained, bursting out of the banks of order because we are not using our God-given drains that will keep the waters of our lives at optimum levels. We seek relief from the excess in unhealthy ways, trying to redirect the overflow and relieve the pressure we constantly feel. Our culture has forgotten how to rest. We deny the fact that we even need it.

But we do. Desperately.

Psalm 23 says it best:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy
[e shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell
[f] in the house of the Lord
    forever.
[g]

Read that again slowly. Notice the emphasis on rest, on who is doing the actual “work” and leading, guiding in this passage.

Hint…it’s not us.

Remember, we cannot do everything well all the time. We cannot take on unlimited tasks without bursting out of our banks and possibly losing all that we have worked so hard to gain. In nature, water is necessary for life but too much water can result in death. In the spirit, balance can only be found by intentionally installing a drain that will keep our “levels” healthy and at their most productive.

And what, exactly, is that drain? It is choosing God first above all the other demands on our lives. His voice is so quiet that we easily ignore or dismiss it, but it is the one we must heed before all others. Just as the pond behind our house is dependent on the drain to keep the waters at a safe level, I am absolutely dependent on the Spirit of God to keep me from filling up my days with busyness and pushing myself to the breaking point, becoming ineffective in the Kingdom of God because I have nothing left to offer. I had to start setting my alarm and waking up early to spend uninterrupted time with Him, treating it as necessary for my survival…because it is. You may set aside a different time each day but you must carve out time with the Lord just like you do for bathing or brushing your teeth! The fact is, if it is truly important to you, you will do it.

No more lip service. No more doing things because they are accepted as “Christian” or “good.” No more overcommitting and bursting at the seams because we are driven by a pressing demand for our time and attention. Seek Him first. If something that appears “important” has to be put aside in order for your relationship with God to be nurtured and fed, then by all means, do so.

Our families and work will be much more likely to thrive if we are. If I am drained of all that makes me a joyful and loving mother because I have failed to lean on my relationship with God for strength and wisdom, then my family will suffer as well. I am not doing them any favors by making them into idols and forsaking Jesus because we signed up for yet another activity and I’ve left no time in my day to connect with my Father.

Maybe you are in ministry or work outside the home. You may or may not have children, but the principle is the same. You can only minister out of the overflow of your relationship with your Creator. He intended this to be the order of things and we must recognize it in order to truly make a difference for Christ. There is no shame in stepping back and recognizing your need to be immersed in the rejuvenating waters of the Holy Spirit so that you can venture back out again in His strength and love. Take that needed time. Let Him drain away the excess so you can operate within the boundaries of your calling, invigorated and energized because God is the one taking on the burden and getting the glory…

which is the whole point, anyway.

Are you drained? I certainly hope so.

Winter’s Promise

In the midst of Autumn I was on my knees for hours. Several bags were strewn haphazardly atop the fading mulch as I dug hole after hole. One hundred fifty tulips, daffodils and hyacinths were all nestled carefully, spaced just-so and put to bed for the winter in the hopes that they would reward my efforts with colorful bouquets dotting my gardens come spring.

As winter progressed I would study the ground with a frown. It just hasn’t been that cold. Winter began with frost but quickly warmed and, well, I just haven’t needed my heavy coat that often. It’s been cold and dreary, but not freezing. Don’t bulbs need six weeks or so of below-freezing temperatures in order to be triggered to grow and bloom?

January came and went and I still didn’t see evidence of life. I feared all my planning and digging had been for nothing but mole-food. The flower beds, hosting spent seed pods and straggly bare rose branches that didn’t quite take hold last year, stared back at me with forlorn emptiness. The gray days trudged on, one after the other.

In the words my favorite singer/songwriter:

“..and the sky in Nashville, it can bend you low ’cause the winter here is gray, without a trace of snow.”

“You Came So Close” by Andrew Peterson

Sigh.

As February arrived I began to peer more closely, daring even to move the mulch around a bit with my foot in hopes of uncovering a green shoot. Sure enough, in the back yard near the fence, I finally spotted a bit of green sticking up about an inch above the mulch. Once I laid eyes on it I picked up more dotting the bed around the base of the dormant redbud. I smiled and clapped my hands like a little girl. Spring is coming! It’s really coming! And if I can keep those dumb rabbits from eating them all (because the battle is ON now) I might just have tulips blooming along the front sidewalk! (Any advice on rabbit-proofing my front flower beds is welcome.)

I never get over the significance of the changing seasons: The dying of winter, the dormancy of cold months and the waiting, longing for warmer days, the fear that the promise will not be fulfilled until the moment the first shoot pushes through hard, dry winter ground and fresh green spears of daffodils stand in bold rebellion against the monochrome gray of winter’s landscape. Spring is light pushing back the darkness, hope’s refusal to be silenced, life conquering death.

Spring embodies everything that is the gospel. I, for one, do not believe that is a coincidence. God has planted his message in the very fabric of creation. During the most dreary and dark days of winter life is awakened and emerges triumphant, heralding the lush beauty that is soon to follow. Even when the sun is setting at 4:30 in the afternoon, there is movement and intention underground as the earth prepares, once again, to declare the glory of God with vibrant spring color and summer blooms .

Spring reminds us that what we are living now is only temporary. We have cause to hope because, in all of history, there has not been a time where winter did not turn into spring. Not one. Even the Ice Age eventually gave in to the greening. On the darkest of days God is faithfully preparing the fulfillment of his promises, out of sight but ever near. Spring is His reminder that we can trust Him.

And don’t we need that reminder now, more than ever? As the world spirals deeper into darkness and the headlines read worse by the minute, are you tempted to lose hope? Take a look around. Move the grayed mulch aside and peer closely. There it is, my friend.