Archive | September 2014

Just breathe.

It’s my favorite line in the whole movie.

She is as prepared as she knows how to be to step into the unknown.  She has a hope for all the possibilities, a heart to do the right thing, and an understanding that she has no real control over the outcome.  She hesitates.  Fear strikes and she is tempted to choose the familiar rather than the uncertain, tempted to accept the pain of the past to define her rather than become something she has never been. Her chest tightens as she wonders if she will be accepted.  She lifts her head and whispers to herself,

“Just breathe.”

Ever After was a 1998 remake of the Cinderella story and while fairy tales are not at the top of my list of favorite types of movies, this one I enjoyed very much.  The creators of this film took the familiar story and retold it with their own unique twists and turns, one of which is this scene.  I’ve never visualized myself at any level as a princess, but I get this moment.  I can relate to the fear that strikes when I have done all I can do to prepare and it’s time to step out into the unknown.  I know the temptation to run back to what was familiar, even when the familiar was painful and wrong.  I’ve heard the voices that screamed I would never be anything more and that my past defined who I was.  I’ve felt the suffocating fear of rejection.

I wasn’t standing beautifully dressed in a ball gown before a crowd of guests in a palace.  I was sitting on my very small balcony in a very small town in the middle of nowhere, with no friends or family near.  My world seemed to be falling apart under my feet and I was lost as to what to do and where to go from there. I vented my anger toward God, cried more than I ever thought possible, and sat in silence once emptied of all emotion.  And He spoke,

“I love you.”

It was is if I had never really heard those words.  My resistance was strong, but He was relentless.  This magnificent love He had for me finally broke through and I decided to take it.  I was ready to step out into the unknown with Him, but the enemy didn’t give up that easily.  The voices were there every day when I opened my eyes, whispering that nothing had changed.  Fear was threatening to return with a vengeance, when I heard Him say,

“Breathe in My love.  Breathe in My peace.  Breathe in My acceptance of you.  Breathe in my approval of you.  Breathe in My life.”

I began a discipline through that period of literally getting up every day, raising my face toward heaven, taking a deep breath and saying,

“I breathe in Your love, Your peace, Your acceptance, Your approval, Your life.”

That balcony experience was many years ago, and I’ve begun many a day with arms outstretched, face lifted, drawing a deep breath and saying “I breathe You in.”  This week I am reminded that it’s been a while since I’ve done that….

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being.  Genesis 2:7

God not only gave man the ability to process air through his physical body, He made us able to house Himself.  We can draw deep breaths of His love, mercy, goodness, peace, acceptance, and much, much more every day.  Just as we can slow our heartbeats and calm our bodies by deep breathing, we can slow down our minds and calm our souls by taking these deep breaths of Him.

Are you standing there facing the unknown, afraid the bonds of the past will never be broken, identifying with your mistakes more than His redemption, suffocating in the fear of rejection, tempted to run back to the familiar?

“Just breathe.”

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What is my part?

I drag myself out of bed this morning, wishing my body would respond a little more energetically.  Frustrated before my brain even fully wakes up, I’m too awake to return to sleep and too sleepy to want to get up.  Ugh.  I’ve had this lingering oppression for weeks now and I’m weary.   I glance around at all that is needing to be done and I’m tired before I even get started. I fix my coffee and prepare to have my quiet time but I can’t hold back the tears any longer.  What am I missing? What is it that I need to do to change things?  What else do I need to pray?

“Just sit with Me.”  That’s all He says.  So I sit with Him and I cry out my undefined frustration.

He gently reminds me “You’re doing it again.”

“What, Lord?”

“You’re looking at all that needs to be done, not only in the small circle of your home and family, but in the whole world and worrying about what you need to be doing.  You are even bringing this into your relationship with Me.  You are worrying that you don’t pray enough or the right way or with the right motives, and you think that things are not changing because you’re missing something.  Be still and ask Me again:  “What is my part?”

It’s a simple question.  Unless you are an overachiever and a perfectionist.  Or you’re more of a Martha than a Mary.  Or you are easily influenced by your desire to please.  Or you are deeply moved by the impulse to meet the needs of others.  Or you’ve never taken the time to learn how to hear God.  Or your life doesn’t seem to be going where you had anticipated it would.  Or you’re “doing” all the right things and it doesn’t seem to be working.

Jesus came to earth to show us how to live in unbroken fellowship with God.  Here was how He did that:

…I tell you, the Son is able to do nothing of Himself; but He is able to do only what He sees the Father doing, for whatever the Father does is what the Son does in the same way.  John 5:19

…I do nothing of Myself (of My own accord or on My own authority), but I say [exactly] what My Father has taught Me.  John 8:28

He only said what the Father told Him to say and He only did what the Father told Him to do.  He did His part.  Jesus didn’t respond to the pressure others tried to put on Him to be who they thought He ought to be or do the things they thought He ought to do.  He many times didn’t even respond to their questions or provocations.  And God expects nothing more and nothing less than that from us – do only what He says to do and say only what He says to say.

It is simple, yet I find myself here again – yielding to my internal pressure to perform rather than tuning in to Him to find out what my part is.  And once again humbly admitting that it is my pride that thinks I can make anything happen on my own.

I watch the programs about the starving children and I want to do something.  I hear the reports of persecuted Christians and I want to do something.  I read the book about what it really means to be a disciple and I want to do something.  I hear the message of deeper prayer commitment and I want to do something.  And before I know it, I am frustrated in all my doing because I didn’t stop to ask Him what He wanted me to do.

I cry out for His instruction – “Tell me what to do and what to say!”  and when He says “Be still”, I am surprised.

Perhaps you are in a waiting season, also, and you find yourself fighting with yourself that surely you should be doing something different, something more.  Maybe you, too, are an overachieving perfectionist Martha who is worried that you are not praying the right words the right way in order to affect your world.

I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.  John 15:5

Join me.  Let’s sit with Him and relax, confident that He will tell us what to pray, what to say, what to give, and what to do.  If we do this, we will bear much fruit and it will change our world.

 

 

 

 

Spinach every day

Imagine that your child or grandchild approaches you with these statements:

“I love you so much.  You are so good to me – you take care of me, feed me, clothe me, make sure I’m safe.  You are always being good to me and I know that you love me so very much.  I want to please you.  You are so wise and know so much more than I do.  I trust you and I will do whatever you want me to do because I love you.”

How many of you would respond with:

“Aha!  Well, now you are going to have to eat spinach or ____________(insert the food most likely to make that child gag) every day!  I know you don’t like it but it’s good for you.  So you’ll just have to learn to like it.”

Not hardly.

So why is it that we are afraid if we go to our Father and surrender ourselves to Him knowing that He is wise, good, loving, merciful and perfect, that He will automatically make us do something we strongly dislike or even makes us gag???  We hold back from an absolutely committed life with Him because we fear He will take us where we don’t want to go and we will spend our lives doing something we don’t want to do.

If you then, evil as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give good and advantageous things to those who keep on asking Him!  Matthew 7:11

We endeavor to be the best parents and grandparents that we can be.  We are good to these young lives and while fulfilling our responsibilities to teach and train them, also want their growing experience to be enjoyable.  We desire to be good and give good to them all the days of their lives.  So if we, as fallible human beings, can do good to them, HOW MUCH MORE WILL GOD GIVE GOOD TO US???

Let’s take this spinach theme to the next level.  What if you discovered that this child that you love more than words can describe really needed the nutrients provided in spinach every day for their bodies to operate at optimum capacity?  If you are like me, you would be researching all the possible recipes that would make spinach palatable to their taste buds.  (I’ve actually discovered a smoothie recipe that tastes like ice cream yet it’s made with vegetables!)  You would begin re-introducing spinach to them from many different perspectives and training them to actually like spinach!

Trust (lean on, rely on, and be confident) in the Lord and do good; so shall you dwell in the land and feed surely on His faithfulness, and truly you shall be fed.  Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He will give you the desires and secret petitions of your heart.  Psalm 37:3-4

Spending time with Him and learning about His faithfulness is how we are to be fed – satisfied.  When we focus on His goodness and faithfulness we delight in Him more and more.  And our delight in Him opens our hearts and minds, allowing Him to create in us right desires and then fulfill them! God will create in us a true desire for His will when we allow it!!!  We will discover that going where He wants us to go and doing what He wants us to do is the sweet spot!

There was a time that I could not imagine leaving the professional position I held.  It was very satisfying work and I knew without a doubt that God had placed me there.  But I also knew when He was calling me to leave.  It wasn’t easy.  I could not imagine that I would enjoy anything as much as I had that particular job (and that particular pay check!).  But it came time to put action to the words I had professed:  I belong to Him.  Stepping out in faith gives us a totally different perspective on whatever it is He has called us to do.  And there is nothing more satisfying than knowing you are right where you need to be, doing exactly what you are called to do.

We all want to live in the sweet spot.  There is only one way to find it:  trust Him and go where He leads.

Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding.   In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6

Spinach every day?  Not a problem for me because I really like spinach.  Cucumbers?  Another story.  They make me gag.  But I am confident that if God wants me to eat cucumbers, He will cause me to like them.  But I will never know if I don’t take a bite.

“I LOVE CHURCH!”

She literally beamed as we left the building.  She and my granddaughter skipped out to the car together, new bff’s.  Eyes glittering like Christmas lights and a smile that spread from ear to ear, she excitedly exclaimed “Church is the best thing that ever happened to me!!!  I LOVE CHURCH!!!”  Having no memories of ever having been to church, the experience has already had a profound effect on this young life.  My heart was deeply blessed to share in this moment of her joy, both for the sheer delight she was proclaiming to all who could hear and the knowledge that this will be so much more than a memory that will fade into nothing as she grows older.  God is in this.

I remember when I felt the same way.  I was a young woman in a very difficult situation struggling to keep my head above the emotional ocean that threatened to suck me under with each new wave.  I was as James wrote, “like the billowing surge out at sea that is blown hither and thither and tossed by the wind.*” Unlike my precious little neighbor, I had spent most of my life as a part of a local church, but I had fallen away as life’s troubles had taken me places I had not planned to go.  Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, a co-worker invited me to a new church that had just formed.  She was so kind and tender to my situation, I knew God had heard my cries and had sent her to me.  After only a few short months, I had found fellowship with a group of young women my age that stirred in me such a hunger for God.  Church was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

The organized church takes a lot of hits.  It is very often vilified in the news reports, criticized by outsiders, and trivialized by its own members. Its mistakes are broadcast widely and vehement voices of correction cry out for change.  Perhaps this is necessary.  I don’t know.  But I believe there are thousands upon thousands of churches that are getting it right.  God’s people gathering together for the purpose of loving others and sharing the message of salvation.  Multiplied thousands of children are hearing the gospel week after week and seeds of faith are planted deep in their little hearts.  Men and women are finding refuge from the pains of this world as they come together with others that are willing to love them and serve them.  The lost are being saved, the poor are being fed, the needy are being supplied, and the hurting are finding comfort through the hands and voices of the church.

My new little friend’s exuberance reminded me that while we, the leaders of last night’s program, had to overcome some confusion about which lesson plan we were on, and we were making some moment by moment adjustments to a new evening format, and we may have been a few minutes late in dismissing them, we still got it right.   She left the building knowing that church is where she found new friends and teachers and a pastor that welcomed her with open arms of love, and heard the truth that God loves her, too.

We are the church.  You and me and millions of others who have put our faith in Jesus Christ.  We are God’s children, humans that make mistakes and sometimes get caught up in the act of having church rather than being the church.    Yet when we gather in His name, seeking to worship and serve Him the best we know how, He promises to show up.  And lives are changed.

If this is not what you experience when you gather with other believers, I challenge you to make it your experience.  Walk across to your neighbor and invite them to go with you.  Look for someone you can love and serve.  Tell someone how much God loves them.  Who knows?  They may walk out into the parking lot and happily proclaim “Church is the best thing that has ever happened to me.  I LOVE CHURCH!”

*James 1:6

Very picky!

By the current condition of my vehicle, you would not be able to determine that I really enjoy a clean ride. A surge of runny noses has caused the tissue box to apparently explode.  A recent sharp turn spilled french fries into recesses unreachable with the human hand.  There is clear evidence that powdered donuts and driving do not go together.  A child’s dirty socks peek from beneath one of the seats.  Road film continues to accumulate after days of scattered showers.  I am acutely aware of the need to clean every time I open the car door, but once parked near my home where comfort and air conditioning await, this effort is easily put off for another day.

Before leaving the realm of the salaried employee, I regularly had my vehicle detailed.  I remember one experience in particular.  I pulled into an open lane and spoke with the attendant.  She was very friendly and once I had selected the wash I desired, I asked her about some particular things I wanted that may or may not be included.  I kindly explained to her that I was prepared to tip the workers very well if they would take the time to really clean all the nooks and crannies throughout the dash and console.  I wanted the entire vehicle clean, but this was the hot spot for me.  In previous visits I had neglected to ask for what I wanted and drove away more than a little annoyed that there would still be crumbs in the cup holders. She patiently listened and assured me that they would take care of it all.

She entered the information into the system and handed me the slip to take inside for payment.  She then stepped to the back passenger window on which she wrote the code for the wash I had selected.  I pulled up to the vacuum stop and got out of the car.  As I turned to shut the door I noticed the window.  Next to the wash code she had written “Very Picky!”  I really did LOL.

I would have preferred she write “Big Tipper!” as I fully intended to reward those who took the time to fulfill my expectations.  Or perhaps “Nice Lady!” as I was careful to express myself kindly and not demanding. But somehow that’s not how she saw it.  She saw me as picky.  Picky implies hard to please.

There was a time in my life when I saw God as very picky.  Hard to please.  I wanted to please Him.  I wanted to change and be the woman He has called me to be.  But I always felt as if it wasn’t enough.  I mean, the bible is full of instruction – details on who we are to be, how we are to act, etc.  No matter what changes I felt I had made, there were still so many more.  I rarely left my bible reading or prayer time feeling encouraged.  More often, I felt defeated.  God demanded so much.

Thankfully, I got to know Him better.  I discovered that He does care very much about the details, but that pleasing Him is based on only one thing –  faith*.   Faith means firm persuasion;

  • Being firmly persuaded that He is Who He says He is:  Loving.  Faithful.  Merciful.  Forgiving.  Giving. Patient.  Kind.  Good.  Perfect.  Everything we need.
  • Having confident assurance that when we give ourselves to Him, He is able to work in us and for us to make us what we ought to be**.
  • Believing that if He tells us to examine the details of our lives – attitudes, motives, actions – in order to “clean it up”, it is because He loves us and knows that there are greater blessings for us if we yield to His correction.  He is the One Who can change us***.

God is love….God sent His Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  1 John 4:8-9 AMP

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.  Glory to God in the church!  Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations!  Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!  Ephesians 3:20-21 MSG

Giving attention to the details may require more effort than we would like, but when attended to, make life much more enjoyable.  Now, I think I’ll go clean up my car.

*Hebrews 11:6

**Hebrews 13:21

***John 15:5

 

 

 

When the past shows up

No.  Stop.  What are you doing?  You don’t belong here.  I left you years ago.  I’m not the same person I was.  You don’t fit in and you can’t go with me.  I am weary of you and your incessant voice.  Leave me alone.

You stand there presenting yourself as a road block ahead.  Impenetrable.  An attempt to force me to detour from the path I’m on.  I must admit, for a moment I believed you.  Again.   You showed up unexpectedly and I wasn’t prepared to face you.  Your illusion appears so much larger than you really are.

I step back, get still, and re-focus.  I review the assignment I’ve been given and I am reassured that there are no road blocks along this way.  I am to keep moving forward.  Once I shake off the surprise of your presence, I see a detour is not necessary.  You cannot stop my progress.  Sure, you may convince others that I shouldn’t pass through, but not me.  Not now.

I’m moving forward.  Why are you still here??  Oh, I see.  Instead of a road block you transform into a speed bump.  You can’t stop me but you want to slow me down.  I’m tempted to accept your presence this way.  I mean, after all, I’m the reason you’re here.  You whisper that I will encounter you again and again and again, never able to gain momentum as I have to slow down repeatedly to overcome you.  I wrestle with you a while on this matter until my Father’s voice breaks through….

“Imagine this path you are on is made of bricks.  It is made up of all your choices, good and bad, each brick placed carefully into a pattern that forms the road you are walking.  Don’t look at the ugly bricks and think they don’t belong.  I’ve placed them among the many beautiful bricks as part of this foundation beneath your feet.  That’s what I want you to see – all these bricks are beneath your feet.  None more important than the other because they fit together giving you a firm place to walk.  They do stretch out ahead of you and will always be a part of this life road you’re on, but I haven’t placed them as road blocks or speed bumps.  They are only bricks.  I’ve fitted them together perfectly so that you can move forward to accomplish the vision I’ve given you.  Don’t stop.  Don’t slow down.  Keep moving.  I haven’t changed My mind.”

Has God given you a vision?  Has the enemy tried to use your past to detour you or slow you down?  Step back and let the Father give you a right perspective.

Now may the God of peace [Who is the Author and the Giver of peace], Who brought again from among the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood [that sealed, ratified] the everlasting agreement (covenant, testament),

Strengthen (complete, perfect) and make you what you ought to be and equip you with everything good that you may carry out His will; [while He Himself] works in you and accomplishes that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ (the Messiah); to Whom be the glory forever and ever (to the ages of the ages). Amen (so be it).   Hebrews 13:20-21

He hasn’t changed His mind.  He is working to make you what you ought to be and to carry out and accomplish the very thing He told you He would do in you and through you.  Take heart.  Don’t be discouraged or put off.  It’s amazing what He does with our mistakes once we surrender them to His hands!

We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.  Romans 8:28

 

 

 

 

 

Missing God’s will

I love our Tuesday morning bible study group.  We always have a wonderful time in God’s word, which always leads to some very interesting discussion, which usually leads to some even more interesting questions.  By the time we get to some of our questions, it would be hard to see how we got there from the lesson/verses we began with if you arrived late…..you have to be there to experience some of the rabbit chasing we do.  However, I never leave without knowing that the Holy Spirit has directed even those little bunnies.

Part of our discussion this week was about the plan God has for our lives and how we often deviate from that path by taking our own way.  It was interesting that we all had a similar mindset that included the following:

#1.  God has/had a perfect plan for us (i.e., exactly who we should be, what we should do, where we should go, etc. – a very detailed and exact plan)

#2.  We have all, more than a few times, deviated from this perfect plan and taken our own way; some only slightly off path, others WAY off.

#3.  Once seriously off the original perfect plan, we could somehow never get back on that perfect plan (we blew it).

#4.  Plan A scratched, we were now moving forward with God on His Plan B, or C, or Z, based on our number of deviations from Plan A.  (Some of us wondered if the plans went further than Z….perhaps into Plans AA, BB, or even Plans 1, 2, 3…)

For many years of my life as a perfectionist, I grieved over the loss of Plan A, whatever it had been.  If only I could have done life right!  Oh, what joy and treasures I have surely forfeited with my immature and selfish choices.  Don’t misunderstand, I completely believe and know from painful personal experiences that choices have consequences, some of which are irreversible.  Many alter our lives in ways that change us and our circumstances forever.  But we must be careful that we are looking at our lives through His eyes and basing what we believe about ourselves, our mistakes, and our futures on His word.

I realized not too awfully long ago, that I was living like I was on God’s B team.  In my mind, the A team was made up of the players that were the best because they were still on His perfect Plan A (i.e., they hadn’t missed God’s plan for them).  They were skilled and experienced, having a superior life track record that must make God so proud.  Oh, I was sure they’d missed a few steps, committed a few sins here and there, but not the life-altering ones.  Not like me.

I believed that forgiveness was mine for the sins I had intensely regretted and profusely confessed.  I believed that He met me where I was in my mess and began working in my life to get me back on track with the next plan.  It would be a good plan and I would be happy with it.  But it would never be as good as Plan A had been.  It would put me on the B team.  Still a player, but no longer one of the best.

Then God took me through a simple conversation with Him.

“If you do the wrong thing, is it sin?”

“Yes, of course, Lord.”

“If you know the right thing to do but you don’t do it, is it sin?”

“Yes again, Lord.”

“So, if I had a plan for you that you didn’t follow, you sinned, right?”

Head beginning to droop, I replied “Yes.”

“Have you confessed this sin to Me?”

“A multitude of times, God.”

“Did I forgive you?”

“Graciously, thankfully, lovingly – YES!”

“Well, if you sinned and confessed it, what did I say I would do with your sin?”

“You would be faithful and just to forgive me and cleanse me; you would cast my sin as far as from the east is from the west and remember it no more; you will cast ALL my sin into the depths of the sea*!”

“So how would I see you as off My plans for you if your deviation has been forgiven and wiped from My mind?  The moment I forgave you and you once again surrendered to My will for you, you were back on My plan.  You may have a different set of circumstances based on your choices, but I am with you even as it seems you have complicated things in this earthly realm.  But don’t forget – My mercies are new every morning** and nothing is too difficult for Me***.”

“I only have a Plan A.  It’s called Grace.”

*1 John 1:9, Psalm 103:12, Micah 7:19

**Lamentations 3:23

***Jeremiah 32:17