Out of the Box

Kanye West got saved and the internet is on fire.

It seems there are two major camps evaluating this news. There is the “Hallelujah, a prodigal has returned home! Let’s embrace him and watch God do what he does best!” Then there is the “Oh dear, his theology/motives/methodology makes me uncomfortable. He has given in/sold out/is doing it wrong.”

I will begin by telling you I am in the first camp. In fact, I’m really not going to address the second camp any further because I believe focusing on what God IS doing is the most important use of this space.

Kanye West got saved and the angels sang.

Did you know they do that for you, too? And don’t you remember that Holy Spirit fire you felt at the beginning, when faith was new and you were finally free? I do. And I remember annoying people with my enthusiasm because I thought I suddenly knew it all. Ha. Twenty six years later, I finally realize how little I actually know.

I hope I’m less annoying now and more loving. I pray my countenance draws you to ask questions about Jesus because I really want to help you find the answers. That is one thing I rejoice over when I see Kanye in interviews. The latent anger that use to cloud is expression is gone. He radiates joy. JOY.

And the world is watching.

Kanye West got saved and busted open the box many of us had put God in.

He busted it wide open…with holy dynamite. He is traveling the country with his choir and telling people about Jesus who would have never darkened the doors of a church. He is rapping and singing with his kids playing around his legs and his audience is not being pointed to Kanye, they are being pointed to the Savior.

Hearts are being opened to the possibility that Jesus actually is who he says he is AND does what he says he will do. Hands are being raised in a multi-colored and multi-culturally unified YES to God. The Holy Spirit is being given an open door to come in and sanctify these precious ones, beginning the lifelong journey of becoming more like Christ.

Kanye West got saved and we are watching the Lord transform a man whose music was once blocked by our parental control settings.

Will he stumble? I guarantee it. Will he fall? Probably. I did.

So did many of you.

But the difference is, he now has a net that will catch him. He has a platform that you and I could only dream of to reach our country. We would be wise to pray for Him and for those who are attending his Sunday Services in droves. It’s a revival, friends.

Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.

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

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

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

Revelation 1:6 HCSB*

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

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

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

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

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

“By presenting defiled food on My altar.”

You ask: “How have we defiled You?”

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

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

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

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

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

Malachi 1:6-14 HCSB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malachi 1:11 HCSB

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

My goodness, this is convicting.

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

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

Friends, we cannot give what we do not possess.

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

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

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

Why do you read your Bible…or not?

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

Why do you go to church…or not?

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

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

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

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

Romans 12:1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*All Scripture is quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

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.

Retreating

It’s been a dream of mine for while, now, to get away to somewhere remote and just write.

No noises.

No distractions.

Just for a couple of days.

Because of the sweet generosity of my husband, who gifted me this very thing last Christmas, my bags are packed as I type.

As soon as I water my flowers and load up the car I will be hitting the road for my destination…an 1880’s cabin on a sheep farm in Georgia!

I am so ready and, to be honest, a little nervous. I’m a solid extrovert so this extreme removal from society and social media is going to challenge me! I pray the quiet of the farm will seep into my mind, allowing God more room and opportunity to speak.

I will be writing as much as I can hammer out, while cleaning up the novel I recently finished and preparing to send it off to an editor. I will also take lots of photos, documenting this unusual experience to mark it as a stone of remembrance, for I do believe the Lord is going to move over the next two days!

Oh, and remember that little thing called College that I started last week? In order to get away like this I have been doing algebra like a crazy woman.

Algebra.

It’s been almost thirty years since I was in high school and, y’all, college algebra is NO JOKE. (Thank the LORD for my amazing husband who remembers all of it! He has happily sat with me and talked me through negative fractional exponents and seventh root variables, preventing my mind from, very literally, melting) I asked him, the other night, why this is so hard for me (I may or may not have been on the verge of tears) and he said, in his calm, matter-of-fact tone, “Because you are a writer.” And then I was ok.

I don’t have to be good at everything. I just have to pass algebra so I can move on to the classes that spark my passion. I just have to pass.

All that to tell you, I will NOT be taking algebra with me to the farm!

So, with that I’m off to water the flowers and hit the road! If you think about it, I would be so honored if you would pray for me as I travel and leave my babes. They always get a little said when mama leaves, as do I.

Until I return, happy Memorial Day! And thank you to our men and women who gave all for our freedom. There is no greater love.

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.

Self-imposed Misery

You may not consider this a “joyful” post, but bear with me. I believe what I have to say is important for us to understand.

Over the past few weeks I have been working my way through the Bible with the intent of reading it cover to cover by the end of summer. Yesterday I finished the book of Judges and thought, ‘Whew, I’m glad that is over.’

I told my husband it read like a horror movie at times, just one miserable story after another. A vicious cycle of sin, consequences, crying out to God, his mercy, then the people forgetting and starting the whole thing over again. Sometimes I read a story, certain that I was misunderstanding it…that surely God would not expect them to do that.

Take, for instance, Jephthah in the eleventh chapter of Judges. He thought it would be a good idea to “make a deal” with God in order to ensure victory against the Ammonites.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

Judges 11:30-31

Note that this was instigated, not by God, but by Jephthah.

So Jephthah wins the battle and Israel conquers the Ammonites. All is well and good until his only child, his daughter, comes out of the house with her tambourine. Dancing.

I’m sure his heart exploded in terror as he realized the vow he had made. He had expected to sacrifice an animal.

Not his child.

It is hard for us to fathom following through on a vow such as this as Jephthah did, especialy through our Western filter. But in that time, and in that culture, such things were commonplace among the Pagan religions and idolotrous worship practices and it appears Jepthah had allowed his theology to be influenced by his surroundings.

Sound familiar?

Note, again, that God expecting Jephthah to follow through is not mentioned. Jephthah dug this hole. Jephthah made this bed. He had even trained his daughter, as well, to the point where she apparently did not question his decision. She grieved that she would die unmarried, but accepted that she would be sacrified.

What in the world?

How is this possible?

But look at our world, friends. Every day, children march into battle toward certain death because they have been taught from infancy that to die for their god is honorable and will be met with great reward. It happens in Africa and the Middle East and it happens here, in America.

Children are sacrificed and sent into war, as collateral in trafficking and abuse, and through abortion. Sometimes they are aware of what they are being asked to do but have been brainwashed into accepting it. Often, though, they have no idea why they are facing abuse or death at the hands of those who should be protecting them. The place where they should be the most safe…among their families, in the home or in the womb…is where their lives come to a tragic end.

Jephthah made a vow, one that God did not ask of him and, I believe, one on which God did not expect him to follow through. His misery was self-imposed because he had added to the rules God had already put in place.

Jesus plus nothing equals everything. That is as true now as it was back then. Every time God’s people decide to add to their status and “holiness” by keeping extra rules or striving beyond their neighbors to win the heart of God they fall…and fall hard.

The reason for this is simple. As children of God, those who have accepted His Son as our savior, we already have His heart. We are holy, chosen, and dearly loved. He goes before us and fights for us because we are His and He has promised to do so. We do not have to bargain with Him and would be wise not to try because we will only heap misery upon ourselves by doing so.

I believe God had already planned to give Israel the victory over the Ammonites. It was part of the story He had written before Jephthah was even born, the saga of the unbreakable covenant made with Abraham when God stopped him from doing the very thing Jephthah thought he now had to do. In making the vow, Jephthah put his own hand on the wheel, seeking a modicum of control over the outcome.

The result was disaster.

A daughter, dead at the hands of her father.

This was but one tragic end to a story wrought with terrible decisions for years leading up to this point and that would continue for millenia.

We rebel, we suffer, we fall.

We cry out for mercy and our God gives it knowing full well we will forget and repeat the sin-cycle all over again.

But we must understand that only Jesus can stop the cycle. Only the Lamb that was slain can conquer death which relentlessly hunts us down. And only the Risen Lord can deliver us from our self-made graves into life everlasting.

Praise God. Praise God for His patience because, y’all, we have got to drive Him nuts.

Do we ever learn?

For the sake of the next generation, I pray so.

But I’m not holding my breath.

 

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!

The Loving Thing to Do

A few days ago I had a conversation with one of my daughters about what I have been learning in my study of the Bible. We talked about the origins of the earth and the human race, how we can know there is a creator and how we can know that creator is our God…the one true God. We also talked about salvation; the necessity of faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus to satisfy the penalty we would have had to pay for our sins and give us victory over death to live with Him forever.

I looked at her, this budding, bold child who is taking one big faith-step after another as she learns to lean in and fall in love with Jesus. She is still a little girl in some ways but I almost daily see glimpses of the woman she is becoming. Oh, how I pray for her heart to be solidly His.

She has walked through some hard things in the past couple of years. There have been days when it felt like her world was spiraling out of control but God always, gently, reminded us He was there and still at work even when we couldn’t see Him. She has matured and is finding her voice, treading the waters of boldness and testing the call to be a leader among her peers.

Still, though, she struggles as we all do to speak the truth in love. We live in a world that is not friendly to the message of the cross. The name of Jesus is sure to bring hostility and accusation if wielded openly. Speaking the truth in love is hard for most of us, I would say, and especially so in a culture that equates truth with judgement and being “holier-than-thou.” When asked direct questions even the most committed Christians can step back a bit and hedge their answers out of a desire not to offend and lose opportunity for relationship.

Sometimes, when the issue is one that does not have eternal consequences, hedging is the kind thing to do. (I try to minor in the minors) But what if asked, point-blank, if you really believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven? What if that person is a dear friend or family member that you know is a “good person” and really sincere in their personal beliefs?

Think about it…

What if your toddler, who just rode her tricycle into the middle of the freeway, sincerely believes the car rounding the curve and heading toward her at 75 miles per hour won’t hit her? In fact, she sincerely believes the car is not even there. Do you run out and grab her? Do you risk her being upset with you because you ruined her fun?

Or do you risk it all to save her life?

I looked at my daughter, and asked her a hard question…

“If we really believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven, why do we hold back? If we really believe people who do not trust Jesus as their savior will go to Hell, what is the truly loving thing to do?’

Her eyes widened as the lightbulb came on.

“You have to tell them, Mom.” She shook her head a little, clearing her thoughts.

“It would be wrong not to tell them, wouldn’t it? To let them go to hell because we didn’t want to make them mad or think we are judging them…?”

“Yeah, wow. I had never thought of it that way.”

Truth sets us free. Knowing the truth of Jesus Christ, realizing the incredible, undeserved love the Father has for us, is the key to everything. He made a way for us! He made it simple enough that a child can understand; that just a mustard seed of faith will forever change where we spend eternity. Many religions attempt to control behavior and offer the possibility to attain life after death (if all goes well and you satisfy the requirements of that particular god or prophet), but only faith in Jesus Christ takes care of the root of the problem plaguing all of humanity…sin…every single time. Without fail.

So I’m telling you now, because I do love you and want to be sure you are ushered safely home when your time on earth is over, that Jesus is the way…the only way to Heaven. You will not find eternal security anywhere else. Through faith in Jesus, God will redeem you and transform you. He will open your eyes to the sins you thought were hidden or no big deal (along with the things you were convinced weren’t sins at all) and systematically deal with them, making you more and more like His Son every day. He will fill you with the Holy Spirit and give you understanding of things that had before seemed to be mysteries as you read and learn the Bible. It will come alive and He will make you new.

Call me narrow. Call me small-minded. I am no longer content to sit back and watch person after person fall to the false teachings that have flooded the world. My dear friends, you are loved with an everlasting love, you only have to surrender.

Now you may not want to acknowledge this, but you are, in fact, already surrendered to something…either Jesus or the other “little-g” gods that surround us. (religion, wealth, position, gender,and race to name a few) The little-g gods will enslave you and leave you in bondage. The God of the Bible? Well, He is the complete opposite. He will set you free and, by faith in His Son, you will, indeed be truly free.

I pray you will surrender. I pray you will recognize your need for a Savior and repent of your sins, trusting in the death of Christ to pay the penalty you could not pay and receive the life He offers through the power of His resurrection. Please let me know if you do! I want to celebrate with you and encourage you as your find your footing in this new life.

Without Jesus you are in grave danger.

I love you too much to let you stay in the street.

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)

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.