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.

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When You Can’t See the Ending.

The rain falls softly, dribbles of drops battering the downspouts as a sort of back-rhythm to the melancholy of damp dusk. In the distance I hear the lonely whistle of a train and I wonder where he is.

My son.

He graced us with his first visit this weekend, driving two hours to spend the night at home.

It made me giddily happy to see him pull into the driveway.

A little over 24 hours later he is back on the road, accompanied by his mama’s prayers and words of wisdom from his father. His car is loaded with clean laundry and a fresh supply of snacks to stash under the bed in his dorm. I’m thankful he is driving ahead of the rain and will have dry roads until he arrives.

I’ve thought a lot about God’s heart toward us this week as we have adjusted to the new normal. How often did God, though He knows the beginning and the end all at once, want to intervene when toddler Jesus teetered at the top of the steps? Or when he played with Joseph’s tools and nearly sliced off a finger?

How about when he was desperately hungry after forty days of fasting and the enemy slunk into the picture, determined to wreck the plans for God’s redemption of the world that had been in place before the beginning of time? Or as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey and the cross stood ready, a certain destination of torturous death for the spotless Lamb of God?

The unknown often gives me pause and drives me to my knees when I think about my childrens’ futures. But God? He does not experience the unknown. It is all known to Him. Good, painful, wonderful and exruciatingly horrific…He saw it all coming and chose to let it play out to the fullest extent necessary until His pupose, His eternal tapestry that we on this side of the veil can only see from the backside, was complete and the last knot securely tightened.

If I could see what was coming, and see how it all would end, would I be able to step back and let it play out? Or would I still be tempted to swoop in and rescue my babes from danger and trauma, even knowing that the suffering was part of God’s plan for their lives?

Oh, the conflict of a mother’s heart!

College, for me, is the most recent great unknown. We sent my oldest off at his request to experience life as an adult, independent and determined to follow his dreams. In a town I have only visited as a tourist, surrounded by people I do not know, influenced by authorities I probably don’t trust he now lives and is having to put to practice…or not…the things he has been taught from birth. Right vs. wrong, godly vs. ungodly, constructive vs. destructive…endless choices all await him now.

And the only thing I can do is pray.

Truly.

And what does that say about my faith when I say I can “only” pray? Isn’t prayer the most powerful tool we have been given by our gracious and merciful God?

Do I believe? Really?

Let me tell you, launching your firstborn son will make you put more stock in prayer and cry out to God on their behalf with more desperation, more faith, than you ever thought possible.

The result of all that tearful, sloppy prayer? Peace. When I am leaning in and storming the gates of Heaven on behalf of anyone, especially my kids, the Lord never fails to settle my heart and remind me that He is the perfect Father and knows how this is all going to end one day. That I can trust Him and that He loves my boy…in fact, both of my boys and all three of my girls…perfectly, completely, and with a love that allows suffering, hardship, and even failure to mold them into the image of Christ.

Which, after all, is the ultimate goal.

So let the rain fall. Let the storms come. My God, who did not spare His own Son, has every detail under control and I’m going to choose to trust Him with the unknown. What a gift to know He has my boy’s back. What a blessing to remember the faithfulness He has demonstrated since that day, over 19 years ago, when that seven pound baby was placed in my arms. I can, and must, trust Him.

Endings and beginnings.

I took my dog for a walk this morning, noting the silver slug trails scribbled across the sidewalk. The light of dawn made them shimmer and become almost beautiful. For the first time in several weeks, I felt inspired to sit down and write.

The flowers in the South are in full bloom, knockout roses scenting the air and daisies standing tall behind the monkey grass edging the flower beds. My potted plants struggle to survive due to my occasional neglect and I find myself flooding them in order to rescue them from the wilt. I have great dreams of gardening in the Spring when the weather is cool which quickly wither in the oppressive heat of Summer.

I haven’t written a thing since my retreat in May. It was three glorious days of driving through incredible scenery along the Ocoee River and through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I finished my novel (yay!) and wrote whatever crossed my brain in the moment. Pages upon pages were laid down-my way of figuring things out, straightening what had become crooked, and reconnecting with God in the quiet of a sheep farm in Georgia. It was heaven on earth. Then, I came home and hit a creative wall. Oh, I’ve started a few posts, scrolled mindlessly through social media and shared a few memes and photos, but nothing of substance has been produced due to various circumstances.

First, I started back to school and I’ll just tell you, College Algebra is hard. I’m a writer, not a math brain, so it is stretching and challenging me in a myriad of ways. Not all of them constructive. I have sighed, cried, and sought every way I can imagine to get out of taking this class, but the fact is it is a basic requirement of a bachelor’s degree and it is the only general studies course I didn’t take back in the early nineties. It’s been a long, long time but it has to be done. Thank God for my brilliant husband who remembers all of this stuff! He has saved my academic life!

Second, Summer has been busier than I would like. Last year I felt like we spent endless, luxurious days by the pool, reading and splashing and meeting neighbors. This year has been filled with appointments, camps, preparing my oldest to transition to college, a trip to the beach…and math! All of these things are good and necessary but I find myself just wanting to be home, curled up on the sofa with a good book. (But, I really need to catch up on laundry.)

Third, we had to say goodbye to our beautiful, majestic, tender-hearted German Shepherd. What we thought was an ear infection turned out to be advanced cancer. We didn’t have time to wrap our heads or hearts around it but we had to put him down. I can’t describe the heartache of holding that huge head, looking into his soulful eyes and telling him what a good boy he was as he succumbed to the anesthesia. We all were there, weeping, as my husband read a prayer over our dog and we let him go. Grief has hit in waves and our yard feels so empty without his 120 pound presence. He was a big boy with an even bigger heart and we hurt.

Fourth and finally, in our grief we couldn’t be satisfied with one little dog who was lonely and lost without her best friend. We watched Hollie mope around and lose all of her mojo and we knew we needed to bring joy into our family quickly. Yes, we got a puppy(!) and that has been good and right therapy. She is a Cavachon-a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel/Bichon Frise mix. Like someone told me who had recently lost a beloved dog, if I have to be sad, at least I can be sad with a puppy. We named her Clara June and she is a sweet, soft bundle of snuggles who is healing our hearts and teaching our Hollie about playfulness and the fun of pouncing on a toy once again. Hollie isn’t sold on her just yet, but she is making baby steps that direction. Hollie gives a killer side-eye, though. Her shih-Tzu expression is consistently sour mixed with a healthy dose of annoyed at this new little sister who is full of puppy energy. We have laughed a lot this past week and I am grateful for that. Puppy breath is good therapy.

So, here I am. I still intend to write about my retreat back in May. I have incredible pictures to share and stories of how God met me there but today I just wanted to stop by and say hi. I wanted to share a bit of real life that has been happening and just check in with you as July dawns and we in the South hunker down to endure the summer heat. I hope you are able to enjoy some long mornings. I, for one, have to get up early to enjoy my devotionals outdoors or else I end up being driven inside by the humidity and bugs!

God is faithful. He is near. He is moving in the good and the hard and I’m grateful to be reminded of that. I have felt more dependent on him in recent days, even in the midst of massive struggles to form coherent prayers at times. But He reminds me to cast all of my cares upon Him for He loves me.

I think we could all stand to be reminded of that, don’t you?

Happy 4th of July (if you are in the United States)! As we celebrate the country in which God has ordained us to live, may we be good stewards of the freedom we enjoy and use it for the glory of God and the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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.

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.

The Great Mercy of God

Rain fell softly as we waited in line among ten-thousand of our neighbors from the Nashville area. Music was promised inside Bridgestone Arena. Music different from what normally is heard in that huge venue. Music that would reach out and woo the seeker, hopefully, into surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ.

My daughter and her friend were all smiles, excited to see artist whose music they loved to sing along with on the radio…Mandisa, Danny Gokey, The Newsboys, Rend Collective, etc…while my friend and I enjoyed their bubbling excitement.

I had dropped them off at the entrance so they could get a place in line while I parked the car two blocks away. I walked quickly in the rain, the hood of my raincoat pulled over my head. As I spotted my friend waving from near the front (yay!) I noticed a loud yelling coming from my right. I turned to find the source and my heart sunk as I realized what was going on.

Two men, dressed in black and white, one standing on a platform with a megaphone to his mouth and the other on the ground beside held large signs with red and black letters reading “SIN NOT” among other messages urging people to turn to God.

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But nothing about the way these men were evangelizing would ever be effective.

There was so much anger.

“DO YOU PARENTS NOT FEAR THE LORD? DO YOU NOT TEACH YOUR CHILDREN THE FEAR OF THE LORD?”

My friend shook her head as I joined them in line. “Do they not realize we are taking them to a Christian concert?”

But I knew they did. Unfortunately, I knew the place from where these men spoke…and sang.

Oh, yes, one was singing. He screamed out, like a curse, “Oh how I love Jesus, because He first loved me.” I never dreamed that song could sound angry or vicious, but somehow this man managed to make it so. Over and over, his voice grinding in anger and hatred, he screamed every word of every line to the crowd who, for the most part, ignored him.

We finally got inside and found good seats, spending the next four and a half hours hearing one band after another share their gifts and their stories. Stories of brokennes, redemption, and hope. Stories shared in humility with the desire to see the young people in that arena grasp the life-giving truth of God’s perfect love. Stories that caused hands to raise in surrender and eternities to be forever changed.

And I thought, as we left singing and smiling, that is the difference between legalism and grace.

I grew up in a legalistic tradition. Rules were expected to be upheld in order to achieve salvation. One wrong move and, poof, you were back to square one and you’d better confess and repent or else.

I went to sleep at night afraid. I prayed God would forgive me for anything I didn’t know I had done wrong on top of all the things I was aware of. I saw God as an angry old man “up there” who was checking off my sin-boxes as I committed them. One after the other the list of my sins piled up and I knew I would never measure up.

Might as well give up.

Oh sure, I went to church each Sunday just in case that would help. If I died in a car accident on the way home at least I’d been in church, right? I did not understand how God could love me.

I didn’t even like me most of the time.

But He did, and He does.

Truth flooded my heart when I was twenty-one years old. The realization, at last, that Jesus had paid it all and that I was free would completely change my life.

It would take more than ten years for me to shake the bondage of legalism, though, and I admit I still struggle with it as I raise my kids because, well, that is our fleshly default. We like things to look “right” because if the appearances are good we can pretend that everything is in alignment in our lives even when what is under the surface is so very confused, possibly even lost.

But you cannot force the heart.

You cannot fake faith.

Screaming and yelling hellfire and brimstone will only change behavior. It will never save souls.

I wish I could have spoken to those men. I know they did what they did out of concern for that crowd. I wish I could have explained to them a life changed, a heart set free, a holy calling gladly pursued out of gratitude and love for the One who died for me. I wish I could have explained to them that legalism only breeds sin. I wish I could lead them here, to Romans 8:1-11, to read for themselves God’s heart for them so they could be set free to lead others to Christ in love, humility and grace, trusting the Holy Spirit to change hearts and lives instead of their own angry, accusatory screams.

Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit. For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you. (Emphasis mine)

Should we fear God? Absolutely. In the great words of C.S. Lewis, “He is not safe but He is good.”

Is there consequence for sin? You bet. God is love and out of that great love he disciplines us. Without acknowledging Him as Father and Savior we are hopeless and lost in sin. He does not want anyone to perish, and gives every human being opportunity to know Him, even on a mustard-seed level. But a healthy fear of God leads us to the throne of mercy. It is surrender, it is the realization that we need Jesus, that without Him we cannot overcome sin, serve God and impact this world for Christ. It is ALL on Him. We are only vessels.

He who raised Christ from the dead is the one who brings us to life through His Spirit who lives in us. The first step is inviting Him in, giving Him the reins, stepping back and asking the simple question…”What now, Lord? I’ll do whatever you want. Just speak, for your servant is listening.”

And the Law? It will remind us of our great need. It will give us the boundaries within which we can live. It will frame our understanding of all of Scripture. And as we learn and grow in faith we will be brought to our knees in gratitude more and more for the One who perfectly fulfilled the Law because we simply could not.

His righteousness is exchanged for our sin.

His grace, for our failures.

His life forever traded for our death.

And from that place of mercy we cry out praise to the One who loves us completely. We share our stories of redemption with the world who desperately needs hope. We humbly take the hand of our friend and say, will you come with me? Will you let me lead you to the feet of Jesus?

“Oh, how I love Jesus…because He first loved me.”

(If the video doesn’t load, just click on the words above. You’ll be glad you did.)

 

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.

Who Moved?

The sun was low in the sky as my son and I made the early morning drive to our appointment. He was already grouchy from having to be up “so early,” (poor, spoiled homeschooler!) so he lowered the visor to block the bright light, hoping to catch a few more zzzz’s during our half-hour commute.

I veered right onto our exit and he twisted in his seat.

“Ugh! Why did the sun move?” He impatiently adjusted the visor, squinting against the sun’s rude assault.

I laughed, enjoying the little-boyish reaction from my big, burly teddy bear.

“The sun didn’t move, we did!” I said.

Flick.

It was the Holy Spirit, practically in the back seat giving me a whack on my head.

Did you catch that?

I repeated the phrase I had just spoken over and over in my mind. Chewing on it, processing it. The sun didn’t move, we did.

The SON didn’t move, we did.

The world you and I live in is vastly different from the one in which many of us grew up.  Not only has society changed, but the accepted teachings within the church at large have even changed.  

Change is not always good.  In fact, it is often very bad.

There is a pervasive, dangerous movement within modern Christianity to discredit the Bible. We are told it is evolving, subjective, that society has changed and, therefore, what God called “sin” isn’t actually that big of a deal in today’s world. Apparently God realized that we evolved to the point of figuring out how to sin well so He is a-ok with it now.

Friends, this is scary, scary stuff with eternal ramifications.

When well meaning and Biblically literate believers try to shine the light of Scripture on these issues they are met with anger and defensiveness.  

“Who are you to judge?”  

“That is not my truth.”

“That’s not what my Bible says.”  

“God is love. Jesus loved radically. We are to love one another and accept everyone.”

But what we must understand is that the truth of Scripture, the Word of God on which the Church has stood for two millenia, has not changed. There is not one word of the Bible that is not relevant to our lives today. The standards of obedience to God and holy living remain, regardless of the technology we enjoy or the “enlightenment” we have attained.

There is only one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and He alone has the authority to dictate what is acceptable within His kingdom. He did that.  In His Word.

Without going into a list of controversies here, because that is not my point, I want to share an illustration I heard recently on Alisa Childers’ podcast. Alisa is an incredible apologist and one from whom I have learned much in recent months. She, along with the Mama Bear Apologetics podcast and Ravi Zacharias (there are, of course, others…but these are my three favorites), has given me a vocabulary for articulating truth and taught me to think logically, better filtering what I watch on the news or hear on the radio (and in the pulpit!) through the lens of Scripture.  

Alisa shared a story while speaking at a conference.  In her introduction, as she told the audience about her family, she showed a picture of her daughter.  The audience oohed and aahed, then Alisa went on to the point of her lecture.

At the end of her talk she referred back to the picture she had shown of her daughter.  She said that they need to know that the girl she showed earlier wasn’t actually her daughter, but a picture from the internet of a child who looked a lot like her!  The silence in the room was palpable.  She went on to explain that, had the audience known her well or been part of her family they would have immediately recognized the error.  Why?  Because they would have known the picture she had presented was not her daughter due to having a personal relationship with Alisa and her family.

Do you see where I am going?  There are countless false ideas circulating about who Jesus is both within and outside of the church, but God has not moved, friends.  Society has barrelled forward in a concentrated attempt to leave God behind but He is still there, right where we left Him!

So how do we protect ourselves from following a false Jesus?  We do it by dedicating our focus to the REAL Jesus.  We do it by drawing close to the Father, (HIS Father, our Father!) studying the Bible for ourselves and spending time in focused prayer…cultivating intimacy with Him. We lean in, listening for the whisper of the Holy Spirit and weighing everything we are taught by pastors, teachers (and podcasters!) against all sixty-six books of the Bible.  

In the words of the legendary Bob Warren…if we can’t filter a teaching through all sixty-six books and have it still say what we think it says, then we are interpreting wrongly.  God’s word will NEVER contradict itself.  The Bible is our standard, not society, not the church, not tradition.  Every word of the Bible is true.  All of it.  We can, and we must, stand on it.

The world around us appears to be crumbling under the weight of permissiveness/universalism/progressivism (just to name a few). The church either falls into these traps or buckles under legalism and biblical illiteracy. The only way to survive as a modern follower of Jesus Christ is to stand on the ancient truths of the whole counsel of Scripture.

I do not claim to be a scholar, but I am learning. I am relying on the Holy Spirit to teach me and correct me when I am wrong. He will, and He does. Often. He is showing me facets of Himself, evidences of His power and love that I never knew were possible. He is stripping away the legalism of my childhood and, if I’m honest, my first two decades of life as a believer, and illuminating scripture like never before.  He has broken and is recreating me into the image of Christ, and that comes through recognizing and dealing with my own weakness, error and sin. The Word truly is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of MY soul and spirit, joints and marrow.  It discerns the thoughts and intentions of my heart which have often been wrong at best, sinful at the worst. (Hebrews 4:12) Without being a student of the Word of God and really seeing Jesus as He is, this simply cannot happen.

The sun has not moved, we did. But it’s not too late to go back.

Let’s go back to where it all began, recognizing the truly awesome power of God and operating within that power for His glory and the sake of the nations. He is the same yesterday, today and forever and that is a GOOD thing.  THAT is where we find security and stability as believers!  Because He does not change we can trust Him and devote our lives fully to Him, believing He is who He says He is and that He WILL do what He says He will do.  

That is true security as a believer.  That is the source of unshakeable joy.

 

PLEASE READ…

John 4:24-God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

2 Timoty 3:1-7-But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

2 Timothy 3:12-17-Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The entire second chapter of Peter.  

When You are Overwhelmed by the Mess.

I cleaned out a child’s room last week. “Clean” being the understatement of the century. I purged. Extreme, thorough and complete. I washed every article of clothing, not knowing what had been worn or simply tossed in the piles. I scrubbed, sanitized, and sang.

Yes, you read that correctly. I sang.

It was glorious, the transformation. What had been a source of both my frustration and theirs became a haven of peace and light. The sun seemed to stream more brightly through the tall windows. Worship music poured from the little speaker on the nightstand and I gently screwed a bulb into a new lamp because the old one no longer worked. I sang praises for this messy child, prayed for angels to perch in every window and light in every dark corner. I threw away every shred of trash and replaced what was broken, worn-out, or missing. I put every single item this child owned in it’s proper place.

And then that child came home.

The shock was palpable, as was the relief.

You see, the task had become overwhelming. This sweet one didn’t know where to start. Pushing things under the bed or into the closet got things out of sight, but not out of mind. Hopelessness had set in and asking for help felt humiliating.

No one likes to admit defeat.

But the hard work was done without them even knowing what was happening while they were away. Now, there is nothing hidden. With my arms around their shoulders and my face in their hair I reminded them that asking for help in the small messes will prevent big ones from piling up and becoming overwhelming again.

Has the cleanup of your life ever felt like an impossible task?

Dear one, do you see what God has done? You trashed your life. You made decisions you regret, did things you swore you would never do. Then, in shame, you attempted to hide them under the bed or in the closet. But they cried out for your blood from the darkness, threatened your very sanity from the hidden places. You believed the lie that said you needed to clean things up yourself. You refused to seek help because it meant facing the piles head-on and sorting through the trash one piece at a time and you certainly didn’t want anyone else seeing what you had stuffed away.

But God…

(Two of my favorite words are, “But God.“)

But God intervened before you even knew He was there. He saw the piles that you thought were well-hidden, and He was not deterred by them in the least! He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to sweep every inch of your life clean. The trash has been discarded, what was broken has been replaced and shame has been washed away by the blood of the Lamb. You, Beloved, stand pure before the Lover of your soul. Oh, how He loves you.

He no longer sees the clutter, He sees His daughter. He is not deterred by the mess you created. He has dealt with it all before you even realized He was there. He has cleaned out all your messes and, now, He invites you in…

to LIVE.

Will you do it? Will you walk through the door into the spotless, beautiful space He has created for you? Will you surrender and allow Him to make YOU new as well? For that is what He does best…He transforms.

Redeems.

Purifies.

And the maintenance? I certainly won’t say it is easy because even maintenance is not possible in my own strength. I too easily let sin pile up in my life. I must remember the daily task of coming before the Father with my messes, allowing Him to take them and replace them with purpose and vision for my life. It is a constant choosing of Jesus above all others, fixing my eyes on Him and walking in the calm amidst the storms around me. It is a determination, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to flee from sin and push back against the darkness one song, one prayer, one act of obedience at a time.

Jesus makes all things new. Your heart is just the beginning. The work is finished. Now walk through that open door and live.

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

1 Peter 2:9 (The Message)

Preparing for War

I took my life into my hands and waltzed into Publix on Saturday with the goal of buying a smallish turkey and spiral cut ham (with all the trimmings, of course!) Wandering the aisles in no hurry, for once, I browsed the choices and compared prices.  Too many leftovers would only sabotage all the hard work I have done this year to get into shape.  I determined to refrain from making a huge pan of dressing because, first of all, I don’t need the carbs and, second, my kids won’t touch the stuff despite all the years I have set it before them.

I’m sure it’s a texture issue.

We have dear friends joining us on Thanksgiving day, along with my beloved mama and daddy.  I could not be happier that I will have a table bursting with food and laughter and ten kids running all over my house.  It is going to be delightful.

Delight-full!

I chose a smallish turkey (about ten pounds) and placed it carefully in my basket, moving on to the next aisle.  It should be enough and I can make bone broth from the leftover bones.  That is always a good thing as winter approaches.  As I turned the corner, though, there was a case of huge turkeys awaiting my eyes.  My mouth dropped open and I stood there, momentarily stunned and unsure of how to proceed.  I looked at the little bird in my basket, then up at the huge ones piled up in the freezer case.  I lifted one up and felt it’s weight, more than double the one in my basket.  My mind immediately imagined our table with this as the centerpiece, golden and seasoned and surrounded by sweet potatoes, cranberries, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole and all the pies we have planned.  I looked at this turkey and realized what I held in my hand.

A weapon.

I heard a quote by C.S. Lewis this year at Hutchmoot, on the first night as John Cal invited us to partake in the feast he had spent all day preparing.

“Feasting is an act of war.”

I returned the smallish turkey to it’s former home and replaced it with the huge one.  It is way too big.  (Remember, I also bought a spiral cut ham!) We will be tired of leftovers before it is all consumed.  I will have made soups and sandwiches ad nauseum and, still, it will take up half of my refrigerator before I throw it in a big pot and boil it down to smithereens.

But it will stand, glorius and golden after many hours brined, basted and baked.  It will bless eyes and bellies and surely put us all into a food coma.

And we will fight together, friends and family, against the darkness, pushing back once again as we rehearse for the Great Feast that is to come, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.  Fight hard and fight well!