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)

When Quiet Won

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unbridled joy.

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.