A Simple Discipline

It took years for me to find what worked, to develop spiritual disciplines that I could “stick with” and that felt grace-filled instead of burdensome or rote.  I tried the “read-through-Bible-in-a-year” programs, only to get stuck somewhere in Leviticus.  I bought a Bible that had daily readings from the Old and New Testaments along with a Psalm and Proverb for each day but it was too confusing…like reading four different Novels at the same time and trying to keep the stories straight.  Most everything I did caused me to read passages out of context or rush through or simply fall asleep in the middle and have no idea what I had read the next day.

I was practicing religion, not relationship.

I struggled.

After twenty years of being a Christian I simply did not know the Bible like I knew I should.  I wasn’t “in love” with the Word, only treating it like a habit to be kept or a box to be checked.

I sure would hate for my husband to treat me like that.

By the grace of God, I went to a retreat a couple of years ago that changed the way I interact with the Bible forever.  I signed up for a breakout session on “Bible Journaling,” which was all the rage and I thought looked kind of stupid, to be honest. Drawing in your Bible?  Mmmmkay.  But the girl was teaching hand-lettering techniques and ideas for easy sketches and drawings, which appealed to me, so I went.

I’ll never forget her holding up her colorful, stickered Bible and saying with great emotion, “I love this book.”

She had my attention.

In that session I learned to take it slow.  Read heading-to-heading.  Stop.  Ask God to show me what He wants to teach me.  Let the words sink in.  Look them up in different translations to get a broader picture (like The Message or The Passion Translation) and then write, doodle, draw, paint…whatever I want to do but allow the act of slowly and creatively writing what God is showing me to be a tool of meditation, to let the Holy Words take root in my hurried heart.

That means I probably won’t (and haven’t) make it through the Bible in a year.  And that is OK.  I had a friend say recently, “Read until He stops you.”  Yes.  God may have one beautiful sentence he wants me to mull over all day.  It may be an entire chapter.  But the key is to be in communication with the Holy Spirit as I read, not just to “get through it,” but to truly commune with the Lover of My Soul.  Sometimes I write in the margins.  Sometimes I get really creative.  But always, always I walk away knowing I have not been alone.  That is relationship.  That fosters my passion for Jesus and fills my cup so that I can live and love and parent more effectively, out of His strength and not my own.

Now, I do have a few personal boundaries I set for Bible journaling in order to keep it about Him and not about me.  First of all, I never ever write over the text of the Bible.  I believe every last word is Holy Spirit inspired and I also know that countless people have given their lives to own and protect one sacred page of scripture.  I determine that every word should still be easily readable after I am done.  So, out of reverence, I just don’t.  My Bible has plenty of room to write in the margins.

It’s not an art project.

I also don’t post my creations online.  I have allowed a couple of friends to see them but, really, I’m not that good of an artist and it is also not about getting likes or any other kinds of accolades for my “skills.”  What I create is between me and Jesus.  That keeps it real and it prevents me from “performing” as I journal.

I wake up early every morning, before any of my kids are stirring, and head upstairs to my desk.  I light a candle, I pray the day’s reading from “Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” (or any of various books of prayer I have around my house), always taking time to lift up the ones I love who need prayer, then open my Bible and read slowly and purposefully…until He stops me.  This discipline has changed my life, my perspective, and taught me things I would have otherwise missed in my previous rush to “get through it.”  I look forward to this time with God, knowing He will faithfully meet with me and fill me with the knowledge of His presence and peace.  It is a beautiful, blessedly quiet way to begin each day.

 

Defying Judgement.

“Well, if she was really a Christian…”

Have you ever said those words?  Or nodded in agreement when someone else spoke them?  Maybe you knew there was a sting of untruth to the statement but didn’t find your voice to contradict the error in that train of thought.

I’ve heard phrases like this a lot lately.  It seems that all of the Christian world is standing in their corner, gloves in hand and ready to be put on at a moment’s notice in order to “defend the faith,” or maybe just defend their current version of it.

After twenty five years of walking with Jesus, some years much better than others, I am blindsided by the marrow-slicing Word of God now more than ever.  I once believed I had a decent handle on theology.  I “got” grace, “understood” the love of the Father, and knew pretty well who I was in Christ.  At least compared to the previous version of me…

As I matured in faith, God slowly tore away things in my life that were not conducive to a healthy relationship with Him.  But He didn’t do it all at once.  It was gradual.  Sometimes painful, sometimes almost unnoticed.  But always, behind the scenes, He was (and is) at work.

I came into relationship with Jesus at the age of 21.  I arrived in the family of God with baggage.  Lots of it.  Though I knew God loved me, I struggled to believe He was pleased with me.  My performance was so often sketchy, tripping and falling on the path as I worked to figure out who I was and where I belonged.

I worked.

I.  Me.  In my strength and limited understanding.

Sounds a bit like slavery, doesn’t it?  Trying to earn my keep?  Hoping to get a smile and a nod from my Master?  Cringing and hiding when I fell because I was still so weak in many important areas and shouldn’t “this” have not been a struggle by now?

I would pull myself back up and follow hard after Jesus until the next roadblock, then I would fall and doubt and worry and fear and sin.

The flesh just loves a good roadblock, as does the judgy-churchy world we live in.

“She did what?  Surely not.  She’s supposedly a Christian.  Christians don’t do that.

I heard a story recently about a celebrity, well-known for x-rated lyrics and a less-than-stellar lifestyle (to put it mildly) who made a Gospel album.  The outcry in the “christian” world was less than supportive.  One critic even doubted that this man’s name and “gospel” should even be used in the same sentence.

Tell me why?  Tell me where God says I have to be cleaned up and sinless before I can fall at the feet of Jesus!  Show me where He promises to instantly and completely fix all of my issues at the moment of salvation?  I’ll wait…

You see, God is at work.  In you, in me, in the most dark and hardened hearts.  He knows we are going to backslide.  He is not surprised by our struggles!  But He doesn’t stop molding and shaping us into who we already are in Christ.

Do you see that?  In the Kingdom of God we are who we will be!  It’s all being woven together, this beautiful tapestry of grace.  Slowly the colors are replacing the dark stains and light is displacing the shadows.  One by one, He fills in the holes in my life and calls me His daughter.  His perfected child.

In Jesus I am made new.  (Romans 4:24, Romans 5:1-2, Romans 6:6)  The power of sin has been dismantled.  Will I have seasons of weakness where I forget that I am dead to sin and alive in Christ?  As long as I am on this earth, the answer is yes.  But my struggle changes nothing regarding the fact of who I am and who you are.  I can stand before Jesus with my face lifted up, eyes meeting His, not because of what I have done but because of what HE DID!  When I and other believers do things that aren’t “Christian” it changes NOTHING about who we are.  Do you sense the freedom in that?  Failure is part of the struggle, but it never defines who we are.  We are defined by the finished work of the cross.

Period.

That is why I can rejoice when a man who once defied everything God says is right and good makes a gospel album.  That is why I can believe that my children’s salvation is secure even when they resist and rebel.  And that is why I can sleep at night after going to the Lord in repentance because I know His love for me is based on one thing.  Not my performance, not my obedience, not which church I go to or what Bible study I am currently involved in.  God’s love for me, and for you, is based on the fact that I am forever and irrevocably united with His Son.  In that knowledge I can rest and I can thrive and I can fail without fear.  In that knowledge I can encourage my brothers and sisters who are newer in their walk with Christ by celebrating each step forward instead of focusing on their past.

Because I sure wouldn’t want anyone focusing on mine.

Revelation 21:5

Evening Wonder-A Poem

Stars above shine bright,
distant clouds flicker from within,
illuminated by light

The power of God on display
in skies alive with electric joy,
celebrating the end of day

Crickets sing in harmony,
waves of praise to the Ancient of Days
and the lightning beckons me

Look up, oh daughter, and see
your King’s flashing sword at play!
He comes to you on bended knee,

woos you with beauty and song.
Do you feel the waves of grace?
Do you see where you belong?

The storm is hovering afar,
the threat overtaken by beauty,
bolts of lighting spar.

Sculptured clouds dance,
with joy and abandon they glow,
and all of creation declares His glory

The Turning of Peter (and maybe of us)

Last week’s post resonated with so many of you.  You wrote to me, commented on my Facebook page, and generally said you felt like it was written just for you.

This world is so dangerous.  It seems to be spiraling out of control, with sentiment against the people of God growing more sour, more violent, by the minute.  News reports are filled with so much negativity that I, for one, can hardly bear to watch it any more.

Just imagine if there had been a 24 hour news cycle during Jesus’ earthly life.  

Bodies hanging from crosses, children ripped from their mothers’ arms and forced into slavery or the military, crowds screaming for the murderer to be released while the Innocent One was nailed clean through his wrists and ankles…

Yes, I can see why Peter faltered and, in his weakness, denied he had ever known Jesus.

Because knowing Jesus is dangerous.

Today I read on in the book of Luke. Chapter 24.  

The disciples’ world was shattered as their best friend, and their hopes for the Kingdom of God to come, died on a tree.  In sorrow and grief they retreated, not knowing what to do now.  It was over.  Hope was gone.

Suddenly the door burst wide open and a group of women stood, breathless and eyes filled with tears of wonder, words stumbling over each other as they relayed what they had seen.

“He’s alive!  Jesus lives!  We saw Him!  He spoke to us!  The tomb is empty and He lives!”

Bull.

I can just hear the men, grumbling and shaking their heads.  They had seen Jesus die.  No one had ever survived a crucifixion and the soldiers had even pierced his side to be sure he was dead.  These women are grief-crazed and full of…

but Peter rose.

Three simple words pregnant with GRACE.  The one who denied Jesus, whose last interaction with the Messiah was that long and sorrowful moment of eye contact upon denying Jesus for the third time, who had done what he vowed he would never do and was surely beating himself up inside, rose.

Could it be?  It is possible?  It’s not over?  I have to know.  I have to GO.

And Peter rose and ran to the tomb.

The biggest failure became the first follower.  The fearful one became fearless.  The weak one…

Well, just read the second chapter of Acts to find out what God does with the weak ones!  Savor the words of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) and read them with the memory of Peter’s denial of Jesus fresh in your mind.  LOOK WHAT GOD CAN DO!

I need this!  I need to remember, as I’m raising kids and fighting off the threats that surround my family, that God is above and beyond the worst the world can throw at us!  He is above Crucifixion and death, and He is certainly above social media and the 24 hour news cycle!

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.  Acts 2:36

Peter spoke with authority, now fully convinced of the Lordship and power of the Son of God.

Am I?  Are you?

Oh, that I would learn to pray in power and the confidence of the Holy Spirit who is God within me!  What would happen if I lifted my face to my Father and declared my standing before Him, as an intercessor, a member of the Holy Priesthood, His precious child and warrior?  What if I prayed from a place of authority instead of timidity?

Because too often I squeak out a “please, God” instead of “this I know.”

I lament when I should be taking up my sword and standing in the gap as a warrior for my family.

I approach God with downcast eyes instead of boldness and outstretched arms.

Can you relate?

So today, sisters, let us rise and run to the tomb!  Declare who Jesus IS, because he LIVES and in His might we fight for our babes and the men we love!  I want to stop hoping and start knowing, praying out of a place of faith and expectation for what God IS going to do because I remember well what He has already done!

Are you in?  Lace up your shoes…it’s time to run.

The Tumble and the Turning

How much of our life and energy is spent trying to prevent something “bad” from happening?  God showed me something today that I want to share with you.

In Luke 22:31-32, Jesus has a pointed conversation with Simon Peter.  Just off the heels of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and the argument among the apostles as to who will be regarded as the greatest when the Kingdom comes (Gosh, sounds a lot like conversations at my house!), Jesus focuses his attention on Peter.

I imagine he speaks this with a mixture of sadness for what He knows Peter will face combined with the hope of knowing the end from the beginning…

Peter, you need to know that Satan demanded to have you.  He wants to sift you like wheat (to break you down)…but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again (because you will) use what you have learned to strengthen your brothers.

In this paraphrase I find so much hope.  Jesus doesn’t “hope” Peter will turn…He knows Peter WILL turn.

As a recovering legalist, I battle the urge to prevent the unpleasant and unwanted both in myself and in the lives of those I love.  Don’t do that…”this” could happen.  Are you thinking this through?  Do you not realize where that could lead?  You could get hurt, you could SIN, you could FAIL.  

Most of the time my attempts are futile because I, and those I love, possess a determined flesh that pushes us away, not towards, godliness.  Bad things happen.  Sometimes to us, sometimes because of us.  We all have that nightmare scenario we try to prevent happening to our loved ones, yet what do we do when that nightmare becomes a reality?

When those we love walk through fire and we see it coming mile away, unable to stop it?

Jesus knows.  This is the blessing and the bane of being the Son of God.  He knew where Peter was headed.  He knew the betrayal lurking in Peter’s heart even before Peter was aware.  He knew the shame that would result, the running away and the grief as all the world sunk into chaos when darkness fell and the veil was torn in two.

“But I have prayed for you…”

There is such power and hope in those words.  Jesus knew what Peter would do, and He also knew who Peter would become as a result.

He saw the tumble and the turning.  Jesus knew failure would, in the long run, created fertile soil for a faith that would change the world!

You and I, we can’t see the end from the beginning like Jesus.  But we can pray.  We can believe.  We can trust that God uses failures and that the story of our lives is going to be one of victory over the darkness.

If we let it.

Peter failed.  He betrayed his Savior.  He saw the knowing, pain-filled eyes of Jesus fixed on him as the rooster crowed, and he also saw the risen Christ!  He was anointed with Holy Fire and spoke of the fulfillment of the centuries-old prophecies of the Messiah. As a result, in his first day of Holy-Spirit filled ministry Peter, the betrayer, led more than three thousand souls to Christ.  His denial became bold, unstoppable declaration and he moved forward in God’s power because he knew he could do nothing in his own.

Failure bred faith.  Weakness was transformed into incredible strength.  And Jesus knew, all along, that this would happen.

Had He stopped Peter from denying him, sheltered him in a room away from the pressures and temptations, Peter might have never fully tapped in to the strength of God.

This gives me hope for when I fail.  It brings peace when I am tempted to worry about my children.  It gives direction to my prayers.

It sets me free.

Be blessed today, mamas.  The Lord is at work even in your failures.  God looks upon your child with eyes of love and purpose even when they rebel.  He knows the end from the beginning and we can trust Him!

May we parent out of a place of peace while loving out of a posture of grace so that the work of God in our lives and families can charge forward, unhindered!

 

Finding God

Simply leaving this with you to ponder today:

Nothing is more practical than

finding God, than

falling in Love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read, whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love, stay in love,

and it will decide everything.

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.

Grasping my Father’s Hand.

Driving into town this morning I was still foggy from a late night of fretting over an issue that continually rears its ugly head in my life.

I’m sure you have none of those, right?

It’s a thirty minute drive, which is usually the perfect length for a podcast.  I had started listening to Sally Clarkson’s latest as I was getting dressed so I finished it about halfway into town. As is so typical of God, it was exactly what I needed to hear this morning. (Go to sallyclarkson.com/blog.  It’s episode #172.  You are welcome.)  Still, though, the fog persisted in my mind.  Thoughts swirled about and I fought to choose joy.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  .

Have you ever been in that place?  Knowing what you should do yet not finding the gumption to get up (physically, mentally, or spiritually) and do it?

I still had about fifteen minutes of driving to go so I switched from my podcast app to the radio.  On one of the local Christian stations a song was just beginning and my first impulse was to move on to the next channel.  I wasn’t in the mood for worship.

I bet you can guess what came next.

It was like a Holy Hand held mine to the steering wheel.  Nope.  Stay right here.  Listen.  Worship Me.

Suddenly the air in my car was filled with words that refused to be ignored, even in my cynical state…

Here I am, God
Arms wide open
Pouring out my life
Gracefully broken


Gracefully Broken by
Matt Redman, Tasha Cobbs Leonard

I forced my thoughts to slow, to focus on these lyrics that I have heard and sung many times.  Words I believe…or do I?

Am I living what I sing?  Am I gracefully broken?  To be honest, the lyrics to my life could read more like this…

Here I am, God, arms pried open.  Pouring out my life, forcefully broken.

Ouch.

As much as I want to believe I am a mature believer, the truth is I am often like a toddler, throwing a kicking, screaming fit on the kitchen floor.  For a season I am fine, walking and trusting and holding God’s hand along the way until I come across an obstacle that stubbornly refuses to budge.  “This is not what I thought,” I complain.  “This isn’t what you promised.”  I wriggle my hand free of His and try to push the obstacle out of the way.  I fight and complain and plop down in a huff, sweat beading on my brow and fingers bleeding.

All the while my Father has worked quietly around me, clearing a path, whacking away thorns and brush to allow me to pass safely around the obstacle.  As I have whined and cried He has stayed faithfully steadfast, knowing at some point I will exhaust myself and take His hand once again.

But you know what He never does?  He never forces me.  He doesn’t pry my arms apart. That’s not worship and it is certainly not relationship.  He waits.  He clears the path and stands there with his hand extended.

Are you done?  His gentle words hold a fatherly reprimand.  Are you going to stop the fit now and come with me?  Come on, let’s go.

I reach up from my position on the cold floor and grasp the warmth of His hand.  His strength pulls me to my feet, to His side, and He leads me around the obstacle.

To the other side.

And I am reminded, once again, that though the obstacle may not move, God does.

Sometimes God moves mountains.  Sometimes He moves me.