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.

 

Beautiful One

Our neck of the woods is so beautiful. Tennessee has hills and trees as far as the eye can see and winter’s dull landscape is quickly being replaced by the brightest, tiny green leaves you have ever seen. Spring is here. The last threats of frost seem to be past and the garden centers are bursting with an abundance vegetables and flowers just begging to be taken home and planted in my garden or perched on my front porch.

Yesterday I walked outside, barefoot. The sun was shining and the grass was cool and soft under my feet. I took a deep breath, noting the sweet scent of hyacinths still lingering and the Cardinal in a nearby tree sang his song for me.

“Thank you, Jesus,” I whispered. “Thank you, God.”

Nasturtiums popped up from the soil, awakened by the warming sun today. A couple of squash seeds have poked their happy heads up as well, a perfect accompaniment to the Roma tomatoes that will rise within the steel cages. I’ve often read that one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than any other place on earth. I don’t know if that is biblical but I do know a garden was man’s first home. It’s where we were intended to be. Our hearts long for soft soil and green leaves. Dirty fingernails and scuffed knees are the hallmark of a happy gardener, of which I am one.

And in the breeze I hear Him whisper. Not audibly, exactly, but almost so. He allows me to feel His pleasure through no work of my own and gives me respite from the hectic pace of this season of life. My children laugh from upstairs and I’m sure I heard my daughters singing.

Dear Solomon, surely you were consumed with love during the early days of Spring…

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.

Song of Solomon 2:10-14

Why is it so hard to be still? Have you ever set a timer, intending to pray for ten or twenty minutes? It seems the second we try to sit our minds race with all the things we “should” be doing and we struggle to focus, much less commune with the Lord. A million distractions surround us, sucking hour after hour from our one short life, yet we cannot talk to God for more than a few minutes without growing restless.

Yet we must. We must stop and, literally, smell the roses. We must say “no” to the distractions and put away the things that rob us of intimacy with our Maker. Taking the time to be still and let the knowledge that HE is God, that He is the Lover of our Soul and there is no one else like Him, seep into our very bones is absolutely vital. He deserves nothing less. It is a battle worth fighting and fight, we must.

Because we cannot live…truly live…without Him.

Take a walk. Go for a run or even sit in quiet with the Bible open and nothing else to distract you. Determine to develop the discipline of daily stillness before the Father and watch as your heart tunes better to His. Listen as His whisper grows easier to discern and enjoy the refreshing this time will bring to your relationship with God. It will affect everything, especially your interactions with friends and family for we can only offer what we already posess ourselves.

My kids know, if they awaken early, where I will be. They will steal into the room and grace me with a kiss before padding downstairs to eat breakfast or, sometimes, they will sit quietly as I finish my time with the Lord. But it took years for me to develop the discipline to do this consistently. I finally did, though, and I’m so grateful. I’ve learned to steal moments throughout the day, listening to music (The Rabbit Room being my favorite source of life-giving music) and podcasts to train my mind and direct my thoughts toward things of the Kingdom because, if I don’t, I will find my thoughts directed everywhere else.

And, now that it is Spring, I go outside. Barefoot. I watch the hills come alive and the rebuds bloom, knowing the God who created every beautiful thing also created me.

You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you.

Song of Solomon 4:7

Your Father calls you his “beautiful one.” Live forward into that truth, for that is who He says you are.

 

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.)

 

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.

 

Who Moved?

The sun was low in the sky as my son and I made the early morning drive to our appointment. He was already grouchy from having to be up “so early,” (poor, spoiled homeschooler!) so he lowered the visor to block the bright light, hoping to catch a few more zzzz’s during our half-hour commute.

I veered right onto our exit and he twisted in his seat.

“Ugh! Why did the sun move?” He impatiently adjusted the visor, squinting against the sun’s rude assault.

I laughed, enjoying the little-boyish reaction from my big, burly teddy bear.

“The sun didn’t move, we did!” I said.

Flick.

It was the Holy Spirit, practically in the back seat giving me a whack on my head.

Did you catch that?

I repeated the phrase I had just spoken over and over in my mind. Chewing on it, processing it. The sun didn’t move, we did.

The SON didn’t move, we did.

The world you and I live in is vastly different from the one in which many of us grew up.  Not only has society changed, but the accepted teachings within the church at large have even changed.  

Change is not always good.  In fact, it is often very bad.

There is a pervasive, dangerous movement within modern Christianity to discredit the Bible. We are told it is evolving, subjective, that society has changed and, therefore, what God called “sin” isn’t actually that big of a deal in today’s world. Apparently God realized that we evolved to the point of figuring out how to sin well so He is a-ok with it now.

Friends, this is scary, scary stuff with eternal ramifications.

When well meaning and Biblically literate believers try to shine the light of Scripture on these issues they are met with anger and defensiveness.  

“Who are you to judge?”  

“That is not my truth.”

“That’s not what my Bible says.”  

“God is love. Jesus loved radically. We are to love one another and accept everyone.”

But what we must understand is that the truth of Scripture, the Word of God on which the Church has stood for two millenia, has not changed. There is not one word of the Bible that is not relevant to our lives today. The standards of obedience to God and holy living remain, regardless of the technology we enjoy or the “enlightenment” we have attained.

There is only one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and He alone has the authority to dictate what is acceptable within His kingdom. He did that.  In His Word.

Without going into a list of controversies here, because that is not my point, I want to share an illustration I heard recently on Alisa Childers’ podcast. Alisa is an incredible apologist and one from whom I have learned much in recent months. She, along with the Mama Bear Apologetics podcast and Ravi Zacharias (there are, of course, others…but these are my three favorites), has given me a vocabulary for articulating truth and taught me to think logically, better filtering what I watch on the news or hear on the radio (and in the pulpit!) through the lens of Scripture.  

Alisa shared a story while speaking at a conference.  In her introduction, as she told the audience about her family, she showed a picture of her daughter.  The audience oohed and aahed, then Alisa went on to the point of her lecture.

At the end of her talk she referred back to the picture she had shown of her daughter.  She said that they need to know that the girl she showed earlier wasn’t actually her daughter, but a picture from the internet of a child who looked a lot like her!  The silence in the room was palpable.  She went on to explain that, had the audience known her well or been part of her family they would have immediately recognized the error.  Why?  Because they would have known the picture she had presented was not her daughter due to having a personal relationship with Alisa and her family.

Do you see where I am going?  There are countless false ideas circulating about who Jesus is both within and outside of the church, but God has not moved, friends.  Society has barrelled forward in a concentrated attempt to leave God behind but He is still there, right where we left Him!

So how do we protect ourselves from following a false Jesus?  We do it by dedicating our focus to the REAL Jesus.  We do it by drawing close to the Father, (HIS Father, our Father!) studying the Bible for ourselves and spending time in focused prayer…cultivating intimacy with Him. We lean in, listening for the whisper of the Holy Spirit and weighing everything we are taught by pastors, teachers (and podcasters!) against all sixty-six books of the Bible.  

In the words of the legendary Bob Warren…if we can’t filter a teaching through all sixty-six books and have it still say what we think it says, then we are interpreting wrongly.  God’s word will NEVER contradict itself.  The Bible is our standard, not society, not the church, not tradition.  Every word of the Bible is true.  All of it.  We can, and we must, stand on it.

The world around us appears to be crumbling under the weight of permissiveness/universalism/progressivism (just to name a few). The church either falls into these traps or buckles under legalism and biblical illiteracy. The only way to survive as a modern follower of Jesus Christ is to stand on the ancient truths of the whole counsel of Scripture.

I do not claim to be a scholar, but I am learning. I am relying on the Holy Spirit to teach me and correct me when I am wrong. He will, and He does. Often. He is showing me facets of Himself, evidences of His power and love that I never knew were possible. He is stripping away the legalism of my childhood and, if I’m honest, my first two decades of life as a believer, and illuminating scripture like never before.  He has broken and is recreating me into the image of Christ, and that comes through recognizing and dealing with my own weakness, error and sin. The Word truly is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of MY soul and spirit, joints and marrow.  It discerns the thoughts and intentions of my heart which have often been wrong at best, sinful at the worst. (Hebrews 4:12) Without being a student of the Word of God and really seeing Jesus as He is, this simply cannot happen.

The sun has not moved, we did. But it’s not too late to go back.

Let’s go back to where it all began, recognizing the truly awesome power of God and operating within that power for His glory and the sake of the nations. He is the same yesterday, today and forever and that is a GOOD thing.  THAT is where we find security and stability as believers!  Because He does not change we can trust Him and devote our lives fully to Him, believing He is who He says He is and that He WILL do what He says He will do.  

That is true security as a believer.  That is the source of unshakeable joy.

 

PLEASE READ…

John 4:24-God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

2 Timoty 3:1-7-But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

2 Timothy 3:12-17-Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The entire second chapter of Peter.  

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)

Intimacy with Jesus

I met her at a conference a few years ago.

She was a tiny powerhouse of a woman, bubbling over with joy and the love of Christ. Just being in the same room with her made me feel more calm and made me wish I had what she had.
Intimacy.
The atmosphere of the room changed whenever she entered. She greeted you with a hug and a reminder that you are beloved, a treasure. She was Jesus with skin on and not because her life had been easy. No, in fact she had walked through storm after unimaginable storm.
Yet she smiled.
She taught about love. About unconditional, forgiving, Christ-like love. About seeing life through the lens of the Gospel and remembering that God is good no matter our circumstances.
She taught about joy. That it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not of my own willpower. That pressing in close to the Father, seeking His heart and His life are the keys to joy and not the resolution of the present conflicts I may be facing.
Oh, I wanted what she had. Any time I have been in the presence of a uniquely Spirit-filled person I just want to get close to them, brush against them and hope that the relationship with Jesus I see in them might just rub off on me. I want what they have…or do I?
You see, she has earned her stripes, as have all who walk closely with the Lord. She has spent countless hours on her knees before the Father and read the Bible cover to cover, over and over and over again. She realized a long time ago that intimacy with Christ was her only hope. That Jesus alone can shine light into the dark places and bring healing to her heart.
I want intimacy, but it will come at a cost.
And it is a cost I must be willing to pay in order to walk closely with Jesus and experience true healing and joy. We will never stumble into maturity. It is a result of training and training is never easy. It is painful, grueling work but it is necessary.
If I want what she has, I must do what she does.
I will only have as much of Jesus as I actually want. It doesn’t come by osmosis, but by intentional pursuit of Him.
It won’t come by binge-watching Netflix or scrolling Facebook, but by opening my Bible and reading it. All of it. Over and over and over. It will come by laboring in prayer, not just a quick “Thanks for everything” before I go to sleep at night. If I want to be filled to overflowing with the Spirit, affecting those around me and making them want what I have, then I must make a thousand tiny decisions each day as to what I am going to put at the forefront of my mind and heart. It is a path that is narrow, yet well-trodden by many who have gone before us. It is also a path worth taking, because the end result is intimacy with the Lover of my soul.
If I want all of Jesus, I must give him all of me.

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!