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.)

 

How to enjoy dessert like a two year old.

It was crowded in Jason’s Deli on Saturday night. We had bantered (maybe even argued) back and forth as we tried to decide where to eat. After three basketball games we all just wanted food, and quickly. There was no time to cook, and I had absolutely no desire to clean up.

A couple of kids were hangry, unhappy with the restaurant choice and declaring, “I’m not eating.”

But I knew better.

Salads, soups and sandwiches finally filled bellies and attitudes miraculously brightened.

“Sorry, mom. I was hungry.” Eyes downcast, sheepish glances thrown my way to guage my reaction.

“I forgive you.” I always forgive them. Always will.

They asked for ice cream and we said yes, of course. Happily they ran to the back, behind the salad bar, to choose a cone and try to create the perfect swirl with a Dairy Queen curl on top. I was going to hold out, though. Ice cream isn’t good for the waistline and I had just eaten a huge salad. Wouldn’t want to undo all that good nutrition, right?

Then I spotted the little girl at the table beside ours.

She was about two years old, blonde wisps escaping from a thin ponytail and framing her little face. She sat alone at the table. Alone, except for the ice cream cone in her left hand. Having eaten the frozen goodness all the way down to the cone and determined to enjoy what was buried deep down, she plunged the fingers of her right hand deep into the ice cream cone and they emerged, dripping. Shoving them into her mouth she closed her eyes in ecstasy, completely unaware that I was watching. That little girl knew how to enjoy an ice cream cone and she was going for it…with gusto.

The little girl sucked the ice cream off her fingers and reached in again, a smile playing on her white-framed lips. I elbowed my husband who was, by now, enjoying an ice cream cone of his own and drew his attention to her. You could not watch that child eat her ice cream and not feel your spirits lift.

Her dad and older brother returned and I cast a glance at my empty salad plate.

“I’m going to get ice cream,” I said.

“YOU?” my kids all said in unison.

“Me. Just a little one.” I smiled as I made my way to the ice cream machine and picked the perfect cone into which I swirled just a little vanilla ice cream and topped it with the perfect Dairy Queen curl.

Then, to the delight of my children, I ate it.

No regrets.

What if we lived in the moment like that little girl? Fully present and connected?

Not worried about what others think?


Are You Drained?

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

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

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

Which got me thinking…

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

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

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

But we do. Desperately.

Psalm 23 says it best:

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

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

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

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

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

Hint…it’s not us.

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

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

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

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

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

which is the whole point, anyway.

Are you drained? I certainly hope so.

Winter’s Promise

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

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

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

In the words my favorite singer/songwriter:

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

“You Came So Close” by Andrew Peterson

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

Goals: How to be used by God

One of the biggest fears I battle as a writer is of “being found out.”

You see, I have no credentials, really. No degree to vouch for my knowledge, no wealth of experience in the marketplace to give me a portfolio that I can offer for your inspection.

I’m just a wife and mom. I’m a middle-aged, homeschooling southern girl who has loved to put words together since the sixth grade. And I am a believer in Jesus.

But I’m also a student. Always seeking and learning, I peruse the Bible almost daily, comparing translations, exploring apologetics, reading and gleaning from the research and knowledge of those who do have the credentials and portfolios.

Most importantly, I have the Holy Spirit…my teacher and yours if you have surrendered your life to the risen Christ.

Today I was reading in Acts 18 and I felt a kinship with Apollos:

A Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was powerful in the use of the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught the things about Jesus accurately, although he knew only John’s baptism. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home and explained the way of God to him more accurately. When he wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers wrote to the disciples urging them to welcome him. After he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. 

Acts 18:24-28 HCSB

Apollos reminds me a lot of myself.  He was passionate, good with words, and intent on sharing what the Lord had taught him with the world around him, but he lacked an important credential in the eyes of many believers:

He had not been baptized in the Holy Spirit.  Matthew Henry says this:

“Though he had not the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, as the apostles, he made use of the gifts he had…He was a lively, affectionate preacher; fervent in spirit.  He was full of zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of precious souls. Here was a complete man of God, thoroughly furnished for his work.” (emphasis mine)

What a relief! Apollos did not let what some might consider lack to stop him.  He didn’t know it all, most likely did not have perfect theology, but he knew Jesus is the son of God who had died and been raised to life. Apollos taught what he knew!

How many times have I held back out of fear that someone would challenge my words, asking questions that I might not be able to answer? How often have I compared myself to other writers who have accomplished great literary achievements while I was blogging between teaching my kids about Christopher Columbus and trying to get them to stop eating their boogers?

But those years of waiting, those seasons of introspection and teaching of the simplest things, were God’s training ground for what I am doing now. He taught me to find my voice, little by little, breaking down the wall of fear and coaxing me ever forward.  He showed me a greater purpose for this gift, one that may not win awards but it just might win souls.

After spending the entire morning thinking about Apollos, I realized there are four goals I can work toward based on what I read about him in Acts 18.

Goal #1: Be instructed in the way of the Lord.

I must never stop learning about the things of God. After 25 years of walking with Christ (some years better than others!) I am continually amazed at the bombshells He drops into my life when I spend real, quality time studying the Bible. I am convinced we cannot fully grow in the Spirit without the discipline of Bible study.

I’m talking about moving beyond devotionals. I enjoy a good devotional, but we need more. We need to go deep, to explore and dig into the word of God so that it can cut through our facade and get to the heart of who we are and what He wants for us. By the way, I can assure you it will take more than five minutes.

Don’t tell me you don’t have time.

I said that once, then Facebook was invented.

I apparently had plenty of time.

Goal #2: Be fervent in Spirit

Complacency kills. When being a Christian is a “fun fact” about me and not the core of who I am as a woman, God is reverted to being “the man upstairs” and Jesus to a friend who makes me feel good about myself.  But fervency means I am pressing in, letting the fire of the Holy Spirit refine me and correct my path as I walk with God.  It means I say no to things that interfere with the calling God has placed on my life and yes to His calling even when I am quaking in my boots. It means I spend large quantities of time on my knees and seek the heart of my Father through prayer and fasting. (I know what you are going to say…remember my aforementioned point about Facebook, or you can insert Instagram or Snapchat if that’s your jam.) I have to put Him first and recognize that Candy Crush (or whatever time-sucker you choose) probably isn’t going to draw me deeper into fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

Sorry.

Goal #3: Speak and teach accurately the things concerning Jesus.

Have you noticed the trend to redefine Jesus Christ these days? There are myriads of teachers who are off just a hair, leading the masses into error because “most” of what they say is really good and the stuff that is off base is deemed to be no big deal in the big picture of Christianity.

But what if it is a really big deal?

In a recent sermon our pastor gave an illustration that brings the importance of Biblical accuracy to light.  If a pilot flies around the world and is off by only 1 degree, he would miss his landing target by 435 miles. He would not even be close to the landing strip, aiport, city and possibly even STATE where he wanted to land!

Accuracy matters. Appolos taught what he knew until he knew more. Which leads me to my next goal:

Goal #4: Be teachable and willing to learn from fellow Christians who are ahead of me in the game.

I don’t have a theology degree or a degree in apologetics.  I don’t even have a degree in writing!  But, as my kids have learned in music class, perfect practice makes practice perfect.

In order to teach and write well I must seek instruction from those who are solid in their relationship with God, full of the Holy Spirit, strong in theology and intellect and committed to absolute accuracy when teaching the Bible. And I must allow them to correct me when I am wrong, just as Apollos did. Verse 26 says, “When Priscilla and Aquilla heard his teaching, they took him home and explained the way of God more accurately.”

Apollos’ response wasn’t, “Fine, I give up.  I suck at this.  I should never have tried teaching about Jesus!”  Instead, he pressed forward, eager to cross to Achaia to continute what he had been doing but, now, with more knowledge and accuracy! And the Bible says in verse 27 that when Apollos arrived in Achaia he was a great help to those who had believed.

Isn’t that the goal?  Isn’t the whole reason God gives us gifts to bless and grow the Church?

What is a gift you long to develop?  What holds you back?  Pray for God to use it, to use you.  Seek ways to use the gifts you have kept on the backburner.  Trust Him when He says “go” and do it.  It’s ok if you are doing it scared, but you must do it! And when a fellow Christian pulls you aside to correct an error, receive it with grace and gratitude.  The better we are armed, the more effective the fight!

God wants to use you. I guarantee it.

Poetry: Remember!

The enemy loves nothing more than to make us forget.  No matter how intentional we are about collecting stones of remembrance, determining to hold closely the answered prayers and words spoken over us in the past, we are easily paralyzed by unwanted memories, fear and shame.  Only by fixing our eyes on Jesus, choosing to let the distractions that creep into our peripheral vision fade, can we possibly overcome the accuser.

This poem reflects the truth that the Lover of our Souls is always prepared, never shaken, forever ready with weapons that confound the world in their effectiveness, that have no rival in strength.  Though the ways of God may appear meek, they are mighty.  Keep your eyes riveted on your Redeemer today, sisters.  Stop looking back.

Look up.

He promises to bring you out of darkness into light if you will only surrender to Him.

Remember!

Like a serpent from the depths

of the murky, raging river it comes.

The accuser strikes, taking hold and pulling

ever downward, to the awaiting pit

beneath the rocky bottom laced with

leeches and rotted moss.

 

It creeps up on silent feet,

stepping carefully lest it topple

the altar.

The stones once set carefully

in remembrance and celebration.

Stones now forgotten.

 

Memories flash as fireflies dance

in rebellion to the darkness.

Heartache swells and shame smothers

the breath of the one He loves.

The stones tremble,

crying out to be seen.

 

Silently a butterfly lands

atop the holy pile.

All speckled and orange and joy

it sits in delicate beauty

and the stones shift,

allowing space for the loose one to fall.

 

And fall, it does. 

Shouting as it goes,

“Remember! Remember!”

and the accuser pauses.

The victim’s eyes fix now upon

the faithfulness of the Rescuer.

 

“As far as the East is from the West.”

 

The accuser loses his grip.

 

“So far does he remove

our transgressions.”

 

The slave is set free.

 

A hand reaches down

to lift the beloved one

and speaks truth that

shatters the lies.

Shame has no place here.

Forgiveness is complete.

 

When Doubts Assail

There is incredible grace in the story of Thomas.

I’m sure you have heard of him, the doubter.

In John, chapter 20, Thomas stood stubbornly before the rest of the disciples in the aftermath of the crucifixion and declared that he wasn’t buying it…this story they told. Jesus, alive?

Bah.

He had watched Him suffer and die. No one had ever survived a cross.

For eight more days Thomas stumbled forward in grief. Hope was gone. Then Jesus showed up, walking straight through a locked door. Is it any wonder that the first words the Lord spoke to those gathered in that room were, “Peace, be with you?” I imagine the disciples were undone at best, freaking out at the very least. And Jesus was there with a mission…He was there for Thomas.

He looked at Thomas with mercy and grace, seeing through the fear and doubt into the depths of his broken heart and spoke. He knew Thomas’ weakness. Jesus knew Thomas’ wounds. Thomas was hurting and needed more proof in order to break apart the protective shell he had constructed when Jesus (and everything he thought he knew) died. I’m sure Jesus would have preferred that Thomas have the faith to believe without seeing but he did not criticize or condemn him. He told Thomas that if he needed to touch the gash in his side then go ahead and do it. Jesus’ desire was for Thomas to believe and He was willing to do whatever it took to help him do so.

Oh the mercy and grace of God, who understands our need, our weakness, and meets us with great compassion. So often, when we doubt God, we want to gloss it over. It is embarrassing to admit that you just aren’t sure anymore. You have prayed and believed but He seems so far away…silent.

Often, when we doubt, we deal with it by busily ignoring Him. We stop reading Scripture and certainly give up on praying. Why waste our time when it isn’t doing any good?

But then something happens that drives us to our knees, making us long to crawl up into his lap and tell us everything is going to work out. How, though, do we approach a God who we have ignored, doubted, and begun to believe might not even exist? When we realize he is real and that we do, in fact, need him deeply and desperately we might be tempted to hold back because, well, we are afraid. Surely He is angry with us for doubting him after all He has done. He isn’t going to just brush our fist-shaking, angry tirades aside…is He?

That, my friends, is the reason His throne is called “The Throne of Grace” in Hebrews 4:16. We do not have to have everything “figured out” to approach God. He asks us to put our trust in Him, demands our surrender, but faith does not mean we fully understand Him or His ways. There are so many mysteries in the Trinity that will never be clear this side of eternity, but God has given us enough upon which to base our lives. He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do. He is King of kings, Lord of lords, and our loving, merciful Abba. He knows we are dust, looking upon us with eyes of compassion and beckons us to come to Him in the darkest night of the soul. Our weakness does not offend Him or push Him away for He fully realizes our faults, having formed every hair on our heads.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throneofgrace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16in

How great is His love, that He would sacrifice everything, watch us stumble and fall yet again, and still lean in, offering up the very wounds that killed Him for our inspection, to satisfy our human doubts.

We are a people deeply loved, chosen by the King of kings and there is nothing He will not do to bring us to Himself.

And Thomas? After Jesus’ patient, merciful response to his doubts, after his skepticism had been answered with absolute Truth, he would never be the same. Dear, doubting Thomas would go on to become one of the first martyrs in Christ. He would stand his ground in now-unshakeable surrender and lift his face to Heaven where the Son of God, his friend and Savior, would stand at the right hand of the Father in his honor.

When we realize who we are and whose we are, we will finally live in true freedom as daughters of our kind and loving King. It will impact every decision we make, every interaction with the world around us, and how we handle every thought that races through our mind. Wrestling through doubts and allowing God to answer them will strengthen us and reassure us that we can, truly, come before the throne of grace and find mercy.

It will reassure us that our mustard-seed faith can, in fact, move mountains.

When You are Overwhelmed by the Mess.

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

Yes, you read that correctly. I sang.

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

And then that child came home.

The shock was palpable, as was the relief.

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

No one likes to admit defeat.

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

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

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

But God…

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

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

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

to LIVE.

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

Redeems.

Purifies.

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

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

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

1 Peter 2:9 (The Message)

The Word for 2019

Every year, as December draws to a close, I ask God to give me a word for the coming year. It’s a little leap of faith, an exercise in expectation as I press in to hear His voice and fight to suppress my own.

I look for it everywhere, in songs, books and conversations. I listen for a consistent word bubbling to the surface through the swirling buzz of the world around me. I intentionally seek quiet and try to patiently trust Him to grant me this small thing.

But is it ever really a small thing when the Creator of the entire universe speaks to one of his children?

Last week it came softly. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, or if I was even really hearing God, so I sat on it an waited for more confirmation. There was another word running through my thoughts, as well, so I wanted to be certain before sitting down here to type them out. Over and over the word came, with the second one whispering just behind it, until today.

It hit me like a freight train as one of our pastors gave a much-needed but ouch-you-are-meddling-in-my-life sermon. As he spoke, the words I had been pondering came together as one thought, making sense as to what God is calling me to do and how He wants me to approach this next year.

As I reflect on 2018 I am so grateful. God asked me to seek Him, which I did. (You can read that post here) He blessed me with moments of clarity and joy in the midst of some of the hardest days of my life. He brought me to the end of myself and held me tight as I wept. He also gave me laughter and celebration and a reason to believe He is at work as much as ever, that I can trust Him even when I don’t understand what He is doing and that I can rest assured the ones I love the most on earth are safe in the palm of His hand, regardless of their choices in this world. I sought Him and He allowed me to find Him. That is a good, good year.

My writing has continued each week, as you know, with my focus always being on finding joy in the simple things and living forward into who we will be (because who we are in Christ is who we really ARE). That will not change, but I pray there will be more to it.

You see, I have read too many books and blogs that left me empty and wanting this year, and I do not want to be just another writer encouraging women. (You’ve got encouragement coming out your ears these days, friends.) I want to be a writer who challenges you to think deeply, to love Jesus when everyone else around you has turned their backs, and to pursue the heart of God because, sisters, THAT is where joy will only, truly, be found.

All of nature points to Jesus.  Every creature’s unique and often hilarious design points to Jesus.  The warmth of a child’s embrace points to Jesus. Doubt and suffering also point to Jesus.

As has been spoken to me in three different settings of late, “It is time to pursue the deep things of God.” If what I write makes you feel good but your SELF is still on the throne of your life then I have failed.  

If you walk away from the computer feeling happy and saying, “Jeanine is a really good writer,” well, that is nice but that is not why I am writing.

If what I write does not drive you to seek a more intimate relationship with the Lover of your Soul and turn away from anything that hinders that process, I am just another voice among many feel-good voices telling you to seek self-care when you feel stressed.

To put it bluntly, we don’t need self-care as much as we need an encounter with the Holy Spirit. We need to be fully given to the power of God. Treating the symptoms without getting to the root of the issue will not result in lasting joy. But seeking the deep things of Christ? Really committing to learn the ways of God and live a life of holiness? Training our spirit in the disciplines that will carry us when the storms of life threaten to tear apart everything we have worked so hard to build? THAT is deep and lasting satisfaction. THAT is joy. THAT is what I want to help you do.

So, here we go, 2019. The word for this year is LIGHT, accompanied by the word deep. The Scripture is Matthew 10:27 where Jesus prepares the apostles for the task He has set before them.

And you should proclaim in the bright light of day everything that I have whispered to you in the dark. Whatever whispers you hear—shout them from the rooftops of houses.  

Matthew 10:27 (The Voice Translation)

In the verses leading up to this one, Jesus lets them know, up front, that they will be persecuted for speaking the truth. They are surely going to face the darkest days of their lives. They are going to be driven to their knees in desperation for the strength of God to carry them through the darkness. But, as I have learned this year, God speaks to us in those dark days. We are forced to listen for His voice when we are left with nothing else. In the dark night of the soul, when we cry out for mercy and hope, our faithful Father draws near to us and teaches us the deep things of God. THIS is what He is calling me to this year…to proclaim in the light what I have heard in the darkness. And, friends, I can’t say it any better than what I heard Pastor Mike ask us to say out loud on Sunday morning:

“It’s not about me.”

Friends, it’s about Jesus. All of it. Every experience of my life is meant to bring me closer to the heart of God. He has me here on this earth for one reason and one reason alone…to proclaim to this world that there is only one way to the Father, and that is through His Son, Jesus Christ who lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died, then rose FROM THE DEAD in victory so that you and I can live forever with Him. Jesus is the LIGHT of the world, sweet friends. Not your favorite blogger or podcaster, not your mama, and not even your pastor. You will never find eternal joy and purpose apart from knowing Jesus. No massage, pedicure or “encouraging” Christian book will ever fulfill you or bring true and lasting satisfaction. Anything that encourages you to put your “self” first is a lie. We are to seek Jesus first. Period.

We have been too easily deceived in our culture as wave after wave of fluffy Christian writing has retrained our thinking and the result is a bunch of women who are all about themselves with a Jesus t-shirt on to make self-love look holy. We use God’s extravagant love for us, his daughters, as an excuse for escaping from the realities of the needs around us because we need “me time” or to recharge. But a spa day cannot fill me with unconditional love for my husband. A girls’ weekend away, pretending that we are single with no kids, will never make me a better and more courageous mother. I can only give out of the overflow of what God does in me. It’s the heart behind what we do that matters. It’s the reason “why” I need to escape that is the issue. What am I escaping from, my calling? My responsibilities? My God?

Taking care of ourselves physically is important, yes. Do not think I am against spa days!  That could not be further from the truth!  (I enjoy them! Really!) In fact, a spa day may not even be your thing. Maybe it’s exercise or reading that is your escape go-to. Maybe it’s a sport or Netflix or a hobby. I’m not against any of those things, but I am against anything that puts a shade over the light that Jesus is trying to shine in and through us. YES he blesses us. YES he wants us to rest. YES we all need a break sometimes.  But I am seeing post after post, book after book, pointing not to Christ as our source of blessing and rest but to self-care and self-love and, well, that is just a pretty, nail-polished form of idolatry with highlights.

We must let Christ shine his light into our hearts. We must choose to pursue the deep things of God first. Lean into Him, pray for Him to expose sin and rip it out of our lives. Be willing to do whatever it takes to walk in the Spirit and share Jesus with a lost and desperate world.

Because, my dear friends and sisters, that is why you and I exist.

I am learning with you on this journey.  It is not easy to keep Jesus the main thing, but I believe, with all that is within me, that it will certainly be worth it. We will stumble and fall, we will inadvertently (maybe even purposefully) dim His light at times, but remember this…

“All things were made through him, and without him was not anything that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  

John 1:3-5 (English Standard Version)

Jesus is the light.  In him is life!  And never forget…the light (Jesus) shines in the darkness and, no matter how much you or I struggle and fail, the darkness has not, nor will it ever, overcome it!

Speak in the light what you have learned in the darkness.  Shout it loud and clear and remember who you are and WHOSE you are!

Happy New Year, dear ones.  May His light shine bright through us as we pursue the deep things of God in 2019.  He is worthy!

The JOY of Advent.

“He’s here.”

Can you just imagine the wonder in Mary’s voice as her firstborn son emerged from her womb and she held him at her breast for the first time?  Don’t you think the sounds around them faded into the background and all she heard was the thumping of her own heart and the still-wet baby whimpering as his first cries died down into peaceful slumber?  When I stop to let my mind envision the details of his birth (because so few are really given to us), putting myself in Mary’s place and listening with her ears, looking around with her eyes, I find a lump in my throat and the desire to fall on my knees to be overwhelming.

God with us.  The Word made flesh.  Born into utter poverty and humility but no less the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Our Jesus, the most valiant of warriors who would eternally conquer sin and death because we simply could not.

He’s here.

Oh, the love, the matchless love of Christ.  Sit with Mary a while, will you?  Imagine what it must have been like on that Christmas night when the longings of all generations were fulfilled in one miraculous moment, when a virgin gave birth to the Son of God.

 

JOY.

He’s here.

Oh, Joseph, just look at him.

My heart is bursting,

overflowing with love

and joy.

 

Shhh, do you hear it?

Listen, beloved.

They are singing

just beyond the hills

where the shepherds sleep.

 

The song is new.

Harmonies so perfect 

I sigh a smile

and the baby 

opens his eyes.

 

So tiny, yet ancient.

My mind cannot grasp

who I hold in my arms

yet I know I am in the middle

of history, HIS story.

 

Oh God, I am not worthy 

yet here I rest

agains the fragrant hay

with Heaven-song all around

and your Son gazing into my eyes.

 

Take my hand, Joseph,

see the love I hold for 

you, so brave 

to take this on.

This burden of grace.

 

Look upon the face 

of God,

this beautiful son of ours

who nurses peacefully 

as the melodies fade.