R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

When someone becomes a Christian, one of the many gifts they receive is that of Priest in the Kingdom of God. For me, as a woman, that sounds and feels a little weird, I’ll admit. But, nonetheless, it is true…

and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 1:6 HCSB*

With that great assignment comes great responsibility. We are given full access to the Father through Jesus, the Son of God. That means we do not have to go through any man (or woman) in order to pray. When Jesus died on the cross God tore the curtain blocking the average man or woman from entering the Holy of Holies in two…from top to bottom like you or I would tear a piece of irrelevant mail…because in that moment the curtain was wonderfully and beautifully irrelevant. Jesus blazed the path and paid the price that would forever make worship and prayer a personal and intimate act between human and God, child and Father.

So what are we doing with this incredible privilege that was bought for us at an incomprehensible price? Are we being faithful to our calling as priests to God?

In Malachi chapter 1, God comes down on the priests for compromising the excellence He expected of them and attempting to satisfy Him with less than their best:

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of Me? says Yahweh of Hosts to you priests, who despise My name.”

Yet you ask: “How have we despised Your name?”

“By presenting defiled food on My altar.”

You ask: “How have we defiled You?”

When you say: “The Lord’s table is contemptible.”

“When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. “And now ask for God’s favor. Will He be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

“For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.

But you are profaning it when you say: “The Lord’s table is defiled, and its product, its food, is contemptible.” You also say: “Look, what a nuisance!” “And you scorn it,” says the Lord of Hosts. “You bring stolen, lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?” asks the Lord.

“The deceiver is cursed who has an acceptable male in his flock and makes a vow but sacrifices a defective animal to the Lord. For I am a great King,” says Yahweh of Hosts, “and My name will be feared among the nations.

Malachi 1:6-14 HCSB

Now, before I dive into this passage I want to remind you that we live under a state of grace. The requirements of the Law were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, therefore we no longer have to follow the Old Testament system of sacrifices, etc. BUT…the principles contained in these passages still stand today. No, we cannot earn the favor of God. Nothing we do makes Him love us more and nothing we fail to do makes Him love us less. It is out of love and a desire to serve our Father that we seek to learn from the Biblical history contained in the Old Testament and incorporate what we learn into our spiritual practices and disciplines of today.

That being said, how does this passage written nearly 2500 years ago have to do with us?

The first verse says, “A son honors his father and a servant, his master.” As a daughter of the King, this applies to me and to you. If I proclaim God to be my Father, then it would make sense that I honor Him as such in my daily life. If I am a servant, it would be expected that I would act respectfully toward my master (or employer).

So, what was the problem with the priests? Why did God accuse them of “despising” His name and saying that His table was “contemptible?” Doesn’t that seem awfully harsh towards someone who spends their life in service to Him day in and day out? Weren’t they better, more holy even, than the general population who had to depend on them to make the sacrifices and perform the required rituals at the temple?

But God was mad. Livid. He had standards and they were not even trying to meet them.

The Mosaic Law was very specific and sacrificing lame, blind, or sick animals was expressly forbidden. The purpose of the sacrifice, which pointed forward to the promised Messiah, was to cover (atone for) the sins of the people and only a perfect, spotless animal could do the job. The priests were offering to God what they wouldn’t have fed to any human ruler. What they offered God was not honoring to Him, but an insult.

It wasn’t like they had nothing else to offer. They had acceptable sacrifices in their flocks, but they were stingy. What they were saving them for, I don’t know. They were keeping the best for themselves, though, and giving God the leftovers.

God wasn’t having it. He reminds them in no uncertain terms exactly WHO HE IS.

For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.

Malachi 1:11 HCSB

In essence, God is setting them straight as to who deserves what in the pecking order of the Kingdom. It is HIS name that will be great among the nations. It is HIS name in which pure offerings and incense will be presented in EVERY place. Not the governor’s, not the priest’s, and certainly not the king’s. God deserves the very best because He is the Creator and Lord of all, including the lower level rulers that the Priests were probably hoping to gain favor with by offering what belonged to God alone…worship, honor, and the very best of their flocks.

My goodness, this is convicting.

How am I guilty of this? How are we, as a church, as women, as wives/mothers/friends guilty of this? This passage of Malachi is closely tied to one commonly read during most churches’ offerings but I think we do it a great disservice when we limit what it teaches to tithing.

How often do I give God my leftovers? I wake up early, grab my Bible and head to the porch with coffee in hand. I sit down…thirty minutes later I realize I spent half my quiet time quietly checking email or social media. My Bible sits open on my lap with my phone or I-pad resting on top. Ouch. I rush through reading and prayer because now it’s almost time for the kids to get up and we have a full day ahead, then I struggle to give them the overflow of God’s love and presence in my life because, to be truthful, I didn’t exactly get filled all the way up myself.

Friends, we cannot give what we do not possess.

How about your typical Sunday morning? If you are like me, it is prime opportunity to catch up on sleep. Our church has second service at 10:45, which means I can sleep until 8:00 and still get all the morning things done…hallelujah! We head to the service and arrive before it starts, often surprised by “the small crowd today” but wait…the worship begins, music and praise filling the air and the Holy Spirit igniting our hearts. Eyes closed, I realize the empty seat next to me is suddenly filled as are most of the ones around the room. When did all these people come in? The music ends and the pastor takes his place to give the sermon and I feel kind of sad for all the latecomers who missed the worship service. Is God not worthy of our taking part in corporate worship? I have a hard time believing nearly half of the congregation had an unexpected interruption to their Sunday morning which made them a good thirty minutes late. And this is not just in our current church…it has been typical of every single church I have attended since becoming a Christian when I was 21 years old. Every single church.

Now I am fully aware that the “order of service” is a more contemporary tradition than the way early Christians worshipped. I am not trying to be legalistic or have a religious spirit about quiet times or getting to church on time. What I am hoping to do is help you think about your “why.”

Why do you get up in the morning…or not?

Why do you read your Bible…or not?

Why do you leave your phone off or in another room so you aren’t distracted during your quiet time…or not?

Why do you go to church…or not?

Why do you skip worship and just show up for the sermon…or not?

It all boils down to who we are really serving. Am I giving God my very best or saving the best for myself and serving Him the bruised apples and day-old bread? Am I putting my walk with Him first, above my marriage, friendships, family and/or job or am I worshiping my husband,kids,friendships and/or job, effectively making them idols and serving them over the God who created me? Am I living a life that is self-centered (because even idolatry is self-centered at it’s root) or Christ-centered?

​ I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Romans 12:1-3

We cannot do it all, and we certainly cannot do it all with excellence. In order to show proper respect to God, we begin by finding out what respect means to HIM. I think Aretha Franklin said it best…

“R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means to me!”

The dictionary gives three main definitions of the word, respect, in it’s noun form. The first two apply to our discussion here:

  1. a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
  2. due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.

What or Who I respect will, in large part, dictate the habits and routines of my day. If I have misplaced or disproportionate respect for anything or any one besides God, it will show.

For instance…I talk a good game about getting up and reading your Bible every day. I’m consistent with it most of the time, but not always. On the days that I am “off”, what is my problem? It is lack of respect. I, for various reasons, have decided it is ok to put God at arm’s length for the moment. Either I am mistakenly believing “I’m good” and can slack off since no major crises are impinging my plans, or I’m so distracted by the turmoil that I want to escape into someone else’s life, even if for just a few mindless minutes. Either way, I’m shutting the door in God’s face and showing disrespect to the only One who can calm my storms and keep me on the right path.

Another word for disrespect is good ol’ PRIDE. Yep, I’m referring to the persistent pride-monster responsible for the fall of Adam and Eve as well as every attempt of man to do it himself, thank-you-very-much, for the millenia since. We like ourselves way too much. We want to be in charge and run things, only singing “Jesus Take the Wheel” after He has forcefully pried our stubborn fingers off the dang wheel and allowed us to run ourselves into a ditch once again. We like how it feels to do things our way, in our timing, and on our own until it backfires and we find ourselves in the pity pit, crying out to God for mercy and deliverance.

I know I’m not just talking to myself here.

I’m not going to tell you what to do now. I’m not going to suggest amethod or rule that will help you get up thirty minutes earlier or arrive to church on time, because we don’t need rules.

We need respect, a healthy respect of our Savior who lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died. How easily we forget this! We need to stop thinking so highly of ourselves that we justify fudging on our calling to serve God with all that is in us and live humbly, realizing our great need for His love and mercy at all times, whether rocky or smooth. We have been bought with an unspeakable, incomparable price, friends. Instead of finding ways around it, instead of coming up with modern explanations to justify idolatry and sin, conforming to a world in which we do not belong, we must be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind, that by testing [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We must live life on HIS terms, not ours, as a kingdom of priests to God the Father who is worthy of all honor, glory and power. This is our high calling and most noble duty. I pray we will find our why and live forward into who our Father created us to be, starting now!

*All Scripture is quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

Advertisements

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.

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.

Scratch That.

Sometimes it’s ok to be a quitter.

That is really hard for me to write. I am one who prides myself on seeing things through, plowing through the hard stuff and checking the box when I’m finished.

But I quit my Algebra class.

I was doing fine, had a high B average and learned a ton about Algebra. (Which had nothing to do with Apologetics, the whole reason I even googled classes to start with.)

I spent the first half of the summer working hundreds of problems, staying up late at night and feeling like life was slipping by as my kids played at the pool and I sat out on the fun.

Is that really what God was calling me to do?

But I had started and, darn it, I was going to see this through. I would show my kids what it looked like to do hard things and remove the potential stumbling block of not having an actual “degree” as I pursued God’s call to write and teach. My friends would admire my tenacity. I’d make my man proud. (See a pattern? An ugly one?)

Then a dear friend came over and loved me enough to challenge me.

She, a math whiz (an accountant!), took one look at my Algebra book. “What does this have to do with Apologetics?”

I explained it was the only general studies course I lacked. I told how I wanted to pursue a degree to remove the stumbling block.

“You do realize there will always be a stumbling block of some kind, right?”

Well, yes, I guess so.

“Is it possible that there is another way to get the training you need without placing such a burden on your time?”

Maybe…well, actually I know there is. It’s just not as “glamorous.” (Ouch, the pride monster has bitten.)

Long story short…I quit the class. I prayed for direction. Then I waited.

Within a couple of weeks I was presented another opportunity…a two-year program that will train me and educate me for ministry. Instead of ten-to-twelve hours of study per week, it will require four. I can do that. I will attend actual live classes once a week, the best part being that it will be alongside friends and leaders from my church. I will not be sitting in front of a computer, alone. I will be interacting and immersed in theology and apologetics and community and I could not be more excited.

God worked out all the details very quickly. He is nodding as I move forward, showing me that yes, this is it. This is the right path. He is preparing me for the second half of my life while allowing me to still enjoy long afternoons with my youngest children who only have six years left of homeschool. Six. That time will be gone in the blink of an eye.

Trust me, I know. I’m about to send my firstborn to college in two short weeks.

I tell you all of this because I am learning, through my own stumbling and false starts, that God sometimes places a passion in our hearts and allows us to explore the options. Then, in love, He redirects us gently. He refines our path, shutting and opening doors, allowing storms and frustration to steer us until we are sailing smooth with the moonlight reflecting off the calm waters as we dock on the other side of our calling. I’m getting in the boat. I’m ready. And I am looking forward to getting out on the other side to use what He is going to teach me to lead women and girls to Jesus Christ through writing, teaching and community.

He has the plan in place. What a humbling realization that He would use me.

I’m yours, Lord. Let’s do this.

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.

Stopping to Smell the Roses

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

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

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

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

No filter needed.

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

Enjoy:)

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

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

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

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

Everyday Resurrection

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

We longed for spring.

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

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

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

The promise of spring, of resurrection.

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

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

He never withdrew His promise.

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

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

The resurrection changed everything and it still does.

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

“Behold, I make all things new.”

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

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

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

Resurrection. Always resurrection.

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

Jesus makes all things new.

Rejoice.

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

The Ninth Hour

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

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

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

So much blood.

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

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

Behold, the Lamb.

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

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

And isn’t that the crux of it all?

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

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

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

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

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

but because HE is good.

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

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

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

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

Romans 5:6-8

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

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

he is risen, indeed!

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)