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Mourn with those who mourn

Today a mother mourns.  Her mourning is intensified by the fact that her circumstances have been broadcast to the world with millions weighing in, giving their uninvited thoughts, opinions, and judgments.  She mourns a decision made that withholds a comfort she sought.  She will continue to be in the spotlight to a certain degree, people clamoring to know what she thinks and how she feels and what she will do next. But when the noise stops and all is quiet, she is alone mourning the loss of hopes and dreams for this life that she loved.  No matter his choices, good or bad, she loved him and she longs to see him and touch him again.

Across town, only a few miles away sits a woman who mourns.  She doesn’t know the family in the news and her picture and story are not in the headlines.  Her business was burned to the ground by people she didn’t know, angry about circumstances she couldn’t change, and she’s lost a dream she built and her only means of support.  She looks at her children with an aching love that fears she will not be able to feed them and worries about how she will protect them from such a heartless world.

A young man awakes today exhausted from yielding to emotions that seemed too intense to control.   He sees the news reports and the realization sets in that innocent people are suffering losses they didn’t deserve because of his choices.  He regrets his actions and mourns the loss of his own innocence, no longer a child but a man who has purposely lashed out at people he doesn’t know because of his own frustration, his own pain.

Another man mourns the loss of the life he had before that fateful day.  Whether his actions were right or wrong, his life and the life of so many others will never be the same.   The decision meant to set him free rings somewhat hollow as he knows his every move will be scrutinized, his reputation permanently altered. The future that once looked so promising now seems tainted and uncertain.

As I watched the news this morning, those images formed in my mind.  I don’t know all the facts and certainly don’t know the people involved.   But I found myself mourning, experiencing a grief and sadness for people I don’t know caught up in a maelstrom that I cannot make sense of.  I asked God “What can I do?  What do I pray?  How do I, from the comfort and safety of my home, help these who are in such desperate circumstances?”

Mourn with those who mourn.  Romans 12:15

We mourn with those who are hurting.  It’s not about our opinions of what is right or wrong, who is to blame and who is innocent.  It’s about the love of God that transcends our humanity and loves us in spite of it all. His love is not offered to only those who do good, but to all. We are to be the vessels of that love and pour it out on ALL.  We cannot pick and choose who deserves it and who does not.  It is not earned, but a free gift to all who will take it.

What could happen today if rather than involving ourselves in heated debates, social media outbursts, or political rants, we set aside our opinions and we prayed?   Pray for them, ALL of them, and know that somehow in all that is the mystery of God’s ways, He is working in their lives as we agree on this one thing:

He is their Hope, their Healer, their Comfort, their Salvation.

Do not let yourself be overcome by evil, but overcome (master) evil with good.  Romans 12:21

Pray that they will find Him in the midst of their pain and confusion and fear.  This is the good that will overcome the evil.

 

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Tell a story

She sat on the bar stool with anticipation in her eyes as her Grandmother began, “Let me tell you a story….

Without going into all the details, the above mentioned child was my daughter and she was three years old. She had taken her grandmother’s pin cushion, removed all the straight pins and needles and placed them in her grandfather’s bed pillow.  All of them.  When Granny found them, she wanted to explain why this was not good by relating the story of when her daughter lost a sewing needle in the carpet and she stepped on it.  It really was a big deal as she had to go to the doctor to have it removed.  She told my daughter how she must be careful with pins and needles as you never know who might get hurt.  She finished by asking her if she understood.  Without skipping a beat and again with much anticipation in her eyes, she simply said “Tell me another story!”  Totally missed the point….  We all had a good laugh.  Sooner or later she would understand. In the meantime, we made sure the pins were out of reach.

I’m thinking of poor Ezekiel today.  God gave him an important message to give to his people and even while telling him he must go He included the fact that the people wouldn’t listen.  They will miss the point.  I’m not sure how enthusiastically I would have proceeded with this command.  Why bother if no one is going to listen? What’s the point if they don’t care about the information being relayed?   How will I make sure they don’t miss the point??  Gotta give Ezekiel an obedience award for this one!  His message was a hard one:  there are consequences for rebellion against God.  But if they would listen and heed his message they would hear the heart of the message:  God loves you and will save you.

We are supposed to be telling a story to the world.  The story of the magnificent love of God in sending His Son to save us.  It’s the most wonderful story in the world yet many will not listen.  They don’t care to hear it.  Some listen as if it’s an old fable, a nice story but certainly not life-changing.  And while knowing the response of many in this world, God still commands us to go and tell everyone we can.  It’s easy to get frustrated in this endeavor.  It’s hard to deal with the dismissal of the uninterested or the ridicule of the mockers.  Part of the story isn’t fun:  we are all sinners.  But for those who listen and heed, they hear the heart of the message:  God loves them and will save them.

The best and most effective way to tell His story is to tell yours.  What has He done for you?  What has He brought you through?  How has He helped you?  How has He delivered you?  These are the stories that people listen to.  Oh, not all will care about your story.  Some will dismiss it, some will misinterpret it, some will miss the whole point.  But some will hear and lives will be changed because God will use your story to reach the hearts of the lost and hurting.  Someone needs your story.  They’ve gone through the same kind of experiences that you have and are desperate to find hope.  They’re walking around wounded and your story of survival is just what they need.

Our hesitation sometimes lies in our fear that we won’t be able to explain it all, we won’t be able to answer all their questions.  And that is true.  We won’t be able to explain God to the natural mind in a way that it will satisfy.  We won’t be able to answer all the questions about the “whys” of this life.  But He didn’t give us that responsibility.  He will do what He alone can do when we are willing to go.  We have no power to affect a person’s spirit.  He does the work.  Our part is to tell of Him.

We hesitate again, not wanting to share our mistakes, our rebellion, our sin.  Yet one of the greatest experiences on earth of the redemption that is ours is in that moment when sharing our mistakes helps another person out of theirs, and they find the very same forgiveness and freedom we have found.  This is one of the many ways that “…all things work together for good to those who love Him…”  (Romans 8:28), and well worth the risk our pride takes in telling what we’ve done.

So tell a story.  Yours.  Someone needs to find God through you.

 

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Pressure points

A pressure point (tender spot) derives from the meridian points in traditional Chinese medicine and in the field of martial arts, and refers to an area on the human body that may produce significant pain or other effects when manipulated in a specific manner.  Exaggerated accounts of pressure-point fighting appeared in Chinese fiction and became known by the name of “Death Touch” in western popular culture in the 1960s.  While it is undisputed that there are sensitive points on the human body where even comparatively weak pressure may induce significant pain or serious injury, the association of this type of pressure with notions of death is controversial. 

There are several types of pressure points – each is applied differently and each creates a different effect. “Pain points”, for example, use tendons, ligaments, and muscles; the goal is to temporarily immobilize the target, or at the very least, to distract them.  “Reflex points” produce involuntary movements, for example, causing the hand to release its grip, the knees to buckle, the target to gag, or even to be knocked unconscious.    (Wikipedia)

Remember the definition of retreat?  One of the purposes of pulling back from a battle we are not winning is to re-examine the strategy our enemy, the devil, has formed against us.  Knowledge of how he is armed and his battle plans helps to position us to counteract and overcome his forces.

We must acknowledge that the enemy knows our weaknesses.  He knows just where to apply the pressure to bring about pain.  His goal is to immobilize, distract, cause involuntary movements or knock us unconscious if he can!  His desire is to make us feel as if we cannot survive his manipulation in our lives.  So it makes sense that we must first acknowledge that we have weaknesses and be willing to identify them.  This can be very hard.  I don’t like to admit weakness. I don’t like to admit that someone can push my buttons and cause me pain.  I don’t like to see how I respond almost involuntarily to the pressure applied to a sensitive area.  But I do.

Once identified, I must find out what the word of God says about my weaknesses.  I must determine to fix my focus on His power to save, help, and deliver me.  I must take my position and stand in faith.  Taking myself through this evaluation of the enemies accuracy in hitting my pressure points, I realize that every attack he makes is an attempt to get me out of my faith stance; to cause me to be immobilized by the pain inflicted or distracted by doubt – the opposites of faith.  Once I understand this underlying motivation, I am more prepared for the onslaughts ahead.  My focus is no longer what the enemy is doing, but rather to feed my faith even more in the hard times.

I love that God gives me simple lessons many times.  Simple is good.  As I look back on the years of studying and learning, it’s like one of those connect-the-dots pictures.  One thing leads to another and the numbers and the lines begin to reveal what was initially hidden.  As I was meditating on the importance of standing in faith to be victorious over the enemy, God connected the next dot:

Faith works by love.  Galatians 5:6

If the enemy’s tactic is to affect my faith stance, he must, at the very foundation of his motives, be after my love walk first.  He applies pressure to the sensitive areas to provoke me to respond in a way that is not initiated from the God-love that resides in me.  Any faith stand I think I am taking is a feeble one if it is not based in His love towards others – even those the devil uses to inflict this pressure.

It’s all about His love.

This is a lesson I taught several weeks ago at Tuesday morning bible study.  God brought it back to me as I was facing my inward struggles in my quiet time at the recent retreat:  I live on the defensive.  I have moved beyond blaming anyone else for the things that have hurt me in the past; forgiveness has been given.  But my defensiveness was formed by my past experiences and I have several very sensitive areas.  When pressure is applied to any of these areas, I often respond in a way that is less than the love God requires.

Learning to stand up for myself wasn’t easy.  It took many, many years.  However, standing up for myself when necessary should be a confident expression made through love.  Love is not touchy or fretful or resentful… 1 Corinthians 13:5   It should be full of faith in God as my Defender.  Trusting Him to defend me frees me to love.  Living in His love and letting it flow through me guarantees the victory in the battles.  Faith works – accomplishes the goal – by love.  Because Love has already won.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Let’s take a walk….

…just you and me.  Where shall we go?  What shall we see?”

I don’t remember the title or the author, but that was the beginning of a children’s book that we read over and over and over to my little brother many years ago.  My older sister had gotten him the book and may very well remember more of the rhyme and the story.  That small part is all that stuck in my brain, and it rose in my memory today as I took a walk around the beautiful retreat grounds.  Paths winding through the old homes, quaint benches in lovely settings under the trees, a wonderful place to walk quietly alone, just me and God.  Where will He take me?  What will He show me?

My mind reviewed the sessions we had yesterday and today, and I am satisfied.  My grammar wasn’t perfect and my enunciation went awry a few times, but I said what He gave me to say.  I feel that emptiness that comes after pouring out the results of weeks of prayer and preparations, but it’s a good emptiness.  I hear Him say “Well done.”  I know it’s not about me, it’s about Him and His working through me.  But I am happy because He can only do what He wants to do in me and through me when I cooperate, and I did.

We long to feel happy and satisfied at the end of our efforts.  The beautiful part of a “retreat” is to pull away from the struggles of life and regroup.  We hope to learn something useful so that when we return we will make headway in the fight.  The bible very plainly says there is spiritual warfare taking place and we are somehow involved in it.  But too often we find ourselves focused only on the battles. We’ve studied and are determined to be strong and fight the enemy!  We take our “sword of the Spirit which is the word of God”  and picture ourselves as if we are wielding Excalibur, driving the demons away with our loud proclamations of scripture. Please understand, I DO believe that we are to use the word of God in every situation.  But in studying Ephesians 6, I discovered that the word translated sword in our English bibles was actually a Greek word that meant dagger or knife, probing our conscience and subduing the impulses to sin.  And while we are instructed to “take” this dagger, it is being wielded – used effectively – by the Spirit on US, not the enemy!!

We were never called to fight the enemy.  We were called to stand.  We were instructed to put on the armor and lift the shield of faith over all.  ALL.  This shield is not like the one Captain America carries.  One of the reasons we get so tired in our faith is because we see it as a small shield that we must constantly be moving to deflect the ammo coming our way.  The shield Paul described was a thick, heavy shield that was large enough for a grown man, fully clothed in armor, to stand behind and be hidden. Even if we see our faith shield in this way, how often are we sticking our necks out, peeking around the shield to see if God’s taking care of things rather than standing firm, assured that God will come through on His many promises to FIGHT FOR US?

Maybe this isn’t a season of battle for you.  Maybe you are like me and don’t sense much happening on the other side of the shield right now.  We peek around “God are you there???  Isn’t it time to get going??”  We tap our fingers in impatience, anxious to be moving forward.  On my walk today, He assured me He is busy with my steps (Psalm 37:23).  And He reminded me that patience has a work to do.  Patience is working to perfect and develop me so that I will lack nothing.  (James 1)  So I am planting my feet firmly in my faith that He is at work.  I will be patient.  I will stay in faith.

Where will He take us next?  I don’t know.  I just know it will be good.  What will He show us next?  Again, I don’t know.  I just know it will be good and useful and satisfying.  And worth the wait.

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Retreat

The past couple of weeks have been extremely busy and highly productive which makes the fact that I write this from a lovely garden cottage, removed from the familiar routines for a few days, all the more delicious.  Ahhhhh……  Funny how it takes concentrated effort to make myself relax.  I love that this particular schedule includes hours of time to be still and enjoy the surroundings and I am determined to do so.  Just earlier as I had time alone before dinner, I found myself automatically thinking of all the things I would be doing when I return home.  Really???  Stop!  Be here.  Now.  It will all still be there when I get back.

I was thinking about the word “retreat”.  Defined in a military sense most often, it brings to mind images of soldiers turning back, running away from the battle lost, hoping to survive, regroup, and come up with a better strategy to defeat the enemy.  The definition in a Christian context is a reflective time for prayer and meditation with the goal of reconnecting with God at a deeper level.  I find both definitions applicable for me today.

I have a wonderful business where I get to take things of sentimental value and turn them into keepsake items.  It is very rewarding work which fulfills much more than my creative desires.  It blesses those who receive the pieces which is an even greater reward.  Long hours at the sewing machine day after day, however, can make my back muscles so tight that it actually hurts to relax.  Several nights lately I’ve lain in the bed for a long time before sleep could come, just waiting for the muscles to give in to the comfort of my pillowtop bed.  The work was complete, but my body wasn’t willing to release the tension.

While my everyday life isn’t outwardly filled with conflict or difficulties but is actually rather simple and easy at this time, I find that I am still struggling within.  I’m not relaxing.  As I prepared the message I will bring to the ladies over the next couple of days, God gently began to uncover the roots of some of my tension.  My mind made the excuses as to why those things are still there, why I had been unwilling to release them.  This did not deter Him.  It is time.

It is time to pull back, having every hope of survival, regroup and find a better strategy to defeat the enemy.  Time to look deeper into the work He has finished. Who knew when the leaders selected the theme for this year’s retreat that it would speak to my heart: Keep Calm and Armor On!

Perhaps you need to retreat.  You may not have the opportunity to get away to a secluded location, but He is waiting right where you are.  Take some time to reflect.  Pray.  Meditate.  Reconnect.  Walk with me over the next few days and let God uncover the source of the struggles.  We’ll find a new strategy and face the enemy with renewed confidence.

Relax.

 

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Paper sack costumes and candy

For a brief period of my childhood we lived in the city.  Understand that by city I mean as opposed to the country, not a location of dense population.  We lived in a funky pink colored house on Kipling and through my young eyes our neighborhood looked just like those I had seen on television, a street lined with houses side by side.  I don’t remember other children that may have lived near.  My world centered around my home, particularly around my older brother.  We played and rode our bikes and had adventures in the empty lot across the street.

We lived there only a short time, but I remember that while there we made costumes for Halloween.  There were no funds for store-bought costumes and I suppose there were some complaints registered over that fact. However, left to our own with paper grocery sacks, construction paper, crayons, scissors, glue and very active imaginations, we happily created our own.  I don’t remember what any other children wore that year.  I don’t even remember exactly what our costumes ended up looking like – I think mine was a witch.  But I do remember the fun of it all.  I remember leaving our door proudly donned in our creations, ready to fill our smaller paper sacks with sweet confections which was, after all, the whole point of the event.

As I think back on this time one word comes to mind:  innocence.  I was wonderfully oblivious to the evils of this world even while children dressed as goblins and ghosts stood beside me at the doors, arms outstretched for the tasty morsels that would be placed in our bags.  I wasn’t scared or influenced to pursue darkness because of our costume choices.  I was a child having fun in a paper sack.

I outgrew the desire to participate in this childish play helped along by the fact that we moved back to the country where there were no neighbor-lined streets upon which to display our paper sack designs. Halloween became only a time for a few parties at school and a gracious splurge of candy wherever you went.  Prominent displays of ghosts and witches and Frankenstein greeted you around every corner. Scary movies that were forbidden in the early years were now the central entertainment at the sleepovers.   Why do we find it entertaining to be scared?  I do not know.

Adulthood came and along with the arrival of children were the decisions of how to train them up.  As many Christians have done, I learned about the schemes of the devil and how deceitful and tricky he can be in leading us astray.  I viewed Halloween through this lens and it became a day of evil, a day designed to lead our children into darkness and destroy their lives.  We created alternatives with God-centered themes and made costumes and played games and had great fun.  We taught the two older children how wicked this day was and they experienced nothing other than the fun of our Fall Festivals.  Good choices.  So when I succumbed to the pressure of my third child who wanted to dress up and go trick-or-treating, there was tremendous guilt as if I had abandoned all that was good and was offering up my child as a sacrifice to the devil.

Now I watch my granddaughter excitedly anticipate the purchase of a costume (no paper sack will do) and a fun evening of dressing up and receiving a bucket full of candy.  Should she want to dress as a zombie or a vampire I would carefully make every attempt to steer her in a different direction.  (Should her mother encourage such a choice, I would masterfully exert my influence over both of them in order to have my way…)  She is beautiful and it would sadden me to see her dressed in something hideous. Thankfully, she is very much a girlie-girl and desires to be dressed in sparkles and shimmery fabric and I can avoid being the party-pooper.  I probably will not see her on the night she is this princess, but it makes me happy nonetheless.

Which makes me face my hypocrisy.  While heartily sounding a very spiritual “Amen!” to the teachings of the evil influences this holiday represents, I smile at her choice when it is far more likely that this precious life I love so dearly will be more negatively influenced by the princesses of this world than any goblin or werewolf or witch.  The images she is bombarded with on a regular basis promote a consuming self-centeredness and impossible standards with the potential to lead her into discouragement and defeat, two of the strongest life-destroying demons to ever exist.  And I have been guilty of judging the parents of the child dressed as the walking dead with a blood-like substance dripping from the nauseatingly realistic wound that has been created, as if they love their child or God less than the parents of the sweet little tiara-adorned life that will knock on my door.

As Christians we must each decide what to do with Halloween.  There is much evil in this world and we are called to stand against it.  But let’s not get so focused on the outward displays of what we call evil so much that we miss those more likely to capture our children – greed, selfishness, jealousy, etc.  The answer to evil is the same as it has always been.  Light dispels darkness.  Be the Light to your children and your neighbors and the world.

Let your Light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

“What is Halloween all about?” I asked our twelve-year-old this morning on the way to school.

“Candy” he replied.

Just as I thought.

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Inner circles

I was desperate.  A difficult marriage, never enough money, two young children who came to me not just from their birth mother, but with their birth mother (it’s complicated….), pregnant with another child and all the emotional upheaval that comes with that experience, and did I mention there was never enough money?  Not one to admit weakness or need, I would put on my smile when others were around and I genuinely tried to make the best of it, determined that things would get better.

I remember one day in particular when I lay on my bed, flat on my back with this humongous belly before me and all I could do was cry.  Overwhelmed with everything, I had come to a breaking point.  I so clearly remember thinking “I want to see my baby born, then God, just please take me home.”  We didn’t have cell phones (they had not progressed much further than the brick phone at this time) so texting wasn’t an option.   I reached for the land line and made a quick call to a friend.  All I said was “Pray!”.  I hung up and cried some more.  I was confident that my friend was praying for me when I couldn’t pray for myself.  Before long, peace began to settle back in and I pulled myself (literally) out of bed to re-engage with the family and life went on.

My friend’s prayers that day did not solve all my problems.  There were still many difficult things to confront and endure.  I didn’t call her everyday, although I’m quite sure I considered it, but I was confident that she was keeping me before our Father on a regular basis.  I trusted her to help me in this life journey with her faithful prayers and every time I felt I couldn’t pray for myself, I knew that someone else was.  This brought me tremendous strength and hope.  She had struggles of her own and I committed to do the same for her.  We each had others in this small circle with us.  Women whom we could call at a moment’s notice and they would pray with us or encourage us or cry with us.  It was one of the greatest blessings of my life.

It wasn’t easy to let anyone into my inner circle.  For a long time, I was the only one there.  My fear of rejection and disapproval caused me to keep everyone at arm’s length.  My own choices had gotten me in this situation and I had the “you made your bed now lie in it” mentality.  I felt I deserved the difficulty because of my previous sin.  But God in His goodness had orchestrated my path and placed me in a young women’s bible study offering an atmosphere of genuine love and acceptance.  This is where I found my inner circle friends.  They varied widely in age and personality but all shared a common characteristic – they loved God and allowed His love to flow through them to me.

We all need inner circle friends.  Jesus had them.  He loved His disciples and had wonderful fellowship and relationship with each of them, but out of the twelve there were three with which He shared very unique experiences.  They knew Him at a deeper level than the others.  They certainly weren’t perfect, but He chose to allow them into a more intimate relationship with Himself than any others.

It’s hard to share our deepest needs, our scars, and our failures.  Especially if we have ever poured our hearts out to the wrong person.  This is even more painful than having no one.  To bare our souls and then experience rejection or gossip or judgement is excruciating.  And if we are not careful, this pain will prevent us from finding those who were meant to be our armor bearers.  In bible times, armor bearers were selected for their bravery.  They would not only carry the king’s or general’s armor but would also stand by them in times of danger.  We need armor bearers.  Armor bearers cannot help us from a distance.  They must be close.

As life goes, these women in my life are no longer a part of my weekly worship experience.  We had our children, relocated, took jobs, and made new friends.  But no geography or activity can take someone out of my inner circle.  These women are still to be trusted and are still faithful to stand with me anytime I need them.  They remain only a phone call away.

Bear – endure, carry – one another’s burdens and troublesome moral faults, and in this way fulfill and observe perfectly the law of Christ and complete what is lacking.  For if any person thinks himself to be somebody too important to condescend to shoulder another’s load when he is nobody of superiority except in his own estimation, he deceives and deludes and cheats himself. Galatians 6:2-3

So my prayer for you today is twofold.  First, that you find trusted armor bearers and allow them into your inner circle.  There is strength to be found in allowing another to help you carry your load.  And second, that you choose today to be an armor bearer for someone else.  To not help another carry their burdens is to cheat yourself.  Being invited into another’s inner circle is an honor.  Take it seriously – it is a position to protect them and stand with them, faithful to fight for them in prayer and available to them for encouragement and strength.  It is how we fulfill and observe the law of Christ.  It is love.

 

 

 

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Uninvited guests

A dear friend had quite a surprise this weekend.  She rose early to let the dog out only to find a stranger in her house.  He had broken in, removed his shoes and shirt and was standing in her dining room when she walked in.  She screamed at him “What are you doing in my house??”  His response? “I don’t know.” She asked him his name and he told her, then she demanded he leave.  He ran out, leaving his boots just as he had placed them, neatly by the front door.  She called the police immediately and the man was caught, identified, and jailed.  Though shaken by the experience, her understanding of the protection of God over her life has prompted her grateful praise.  She remains stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty!!  (Psalm 91)

Beyond her sharing the above with me, we haven’t talked.  But I strongly suspect that she and her two grown sons are examining and reevaluating the security of her home.  I’m sure they are looking at every possible way someone could enter uninvited, and working to resolve any weaknesses uncovered.  She has many friends that love her and would run to her aid at the drop of a hat.  I expect she will be receiving more frequent phone calls as she is surrounded with support and the desire to protect.  While she may inhabit her home with no one else, rest assured she is not alone.  And while I personally have never seen my friend angry, I am quite sure she is a force to be reckoned with!

We may never know the story of this man.  Upon entering the house he left his boots neatly by the door??  I find that so interesting!  It’s as if he planned to make himself at home.  He obviously was not planning for a quick get-away.  He had entered a home where he had no rights or privileges but acted as if he did….  Can you imagine my friend entering the room, noticing a stranger who did not belong, but continuing about her routine as if he weren’t there?  Or taking notice of him, asking him why he was there and what his name was, yet not demanding that he leave?  What if she had decided to let him stay and actually began to cook his breakfast and have a little conversation, get to know him better?  No way!!  She took the authority she had as homeowner and commanded him to leave.  She called on a greater authority that would back up her demand and take this criminal to jail.

While we would find it ridiculous for my friend to have decided to entertain the intruder, being honest with ourselves we must admit it is exactly what we do spiritually sometimes.  We notice the resentment that has crept in, but go about our routines pretending we didn’t see.  The anger shows up and we let it have a seat as if it belonged.  The discouragement stands right before us and we decide to feed it and get to know it a little better. We didn’t send jealousy an invitation, but when it came through the door we didn’t demand that it leave either.  Sometimes we know there are strangers in our house, but we never ask them their names; we just live with the discomfort of a life among inhabitants that don’t belong. Before we know it, theirs are the voices our loved ones hear when we speak.  We know they shouldn’t be there but it’s so hard to get them to leave…we hope they will just go away on their own…

We want God to do something.  He did.

Behold!  I have given you authority and power to trample upon serpents and scorpions, and physical and mental strength and ability over all the power that the enemy possesses; and nothing shall in any way harm you.  Luke 10:19

Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world!  (1 John 4:4)  

Oh, I wish it was just as easy as saying “Begone!” and that was it.  Not so.  Walking in authority is a life of discipline.  We must take a stand and say “No!” to the intruders.  We must demand that they leave. But that’s not enough.  We must check the weak areas where they continue to find access.  We must tighten the security in order to protect ourselves – our enemy is a repeat offender!

..when the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, it roams through dry places in search of rest, but it does not find any.  Then it says, I will go back to my house from which I came out.  And when it arrives, it finds it unoccupied, swept, put in order, and decorated.  Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and make their home there.  And the last condition of that man becomes worse than the first…  Matthew 12:43-45

It’s easy to breathe a sigh of relief once the anger is spent, glad that it’s over but not dealing with its roots.  We relax once jealousy has passed, without finding where it came in.  We talk ourselves into believing that the fear won’t be so intense next time when we’ve never uncovered why we are really afraid….  It’s clear that the enemy is searching for a place to inhabit.   We must guard that we give him no opportunity because he’s planning on returning.  With his friends.  We cannot leave our “homes” unoccupied.  We must fill them with Him.

God has provided a safe place, a secret place of protection and security for us.  It is in living with Him. Becoming so full of Him that He inhabits every room of our lives and intruders will scatter before they even get near.  We have the Greater Authority backing us up.  Let’s be like my friend – forces to be reckoned with!!

 

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The wrong coffee. Again.

Several weeks ago I got one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had.  Normally I make my own coffee with my little one-cup machine, keeping a few different flavors in the pantry from which to choose. However, occasionally I treat myself to a “specialty” coffee at the coffee shop or, more recently, the famous chain donut shop that is closer to home.  They are known for really good coffee and this is where I obtained the mysteriously delicious brew on that particular day.  I use the term mysterious because I have since returned three times in order to delight myself again with this flavor, but each time have driven away disappointed.

I have gone over and over this process in an effort to discover where it’s going awry.  It was clear by the second order that we were not on the same page, this new server and I.  In response to my repeating exactly what I had ordered the first time she said “Huh??”  Now what?  Second server doesn’t know what first server gave me.  We go through a few questions before she determines what she thinks he did.  I drove away.  It’s not right.  The next time, I am very distinct in the details that I gleaned from second server when speaking to third server.  Still not right.  Obviously, I can’t sit in the drive-thru line until it’s cooled enough to taste, so I’m almost home before I discover it is not what I wanted.  I am tempted to turn around to tell them it’s not right, but since I don’t exactly know what’s wrong, I don’t know how to tell them to get it right!   I realize there are limited combinations of the few ingredients that could possibly be included, so if I persevere, sooner or later I am bound to get the combination right.  I just hope I remember what I order by that time!!

As I sat in the drive-thru this morning with high hopes, it struck me that sometimes we offer God our drive-thru prayers. I’m sure we’ve all done it  – prayed for something and when the answer came it was exactly what we wanted or even better than we expected.  We then tried to take all our requests through this same process expecting the same outcomes.  When answers came that were less than we had hoped or not exactly what we envisioned, we analyzed what we prayed and how we prayed it hoping to discover the perfect combination that will get us what we want.  Sometimes we’ve even have the audacity to tell God He got our order wrong.

We often measure whether or not our prayers are successful by whether or not we get what we wanted. What a foolish way to view His working in our lives!  Jesus told us to pray bold prayers full of faith.  He is seated at the right hand of God interceding for us as we learn and grow and ask.  He taught, and is still teaching us, what His will is and how to pray for His will not our own.  And He said trust.  Trust that He will do what is right for us.  Trust that He is still working when things are not like we want them and our expectations go unfulfilled.  Trust that He is good.  Trust that He is for us and not against us.  Trust that His love will drive out our fears of not getting what we want.

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever…  Deuteronomy 29:29

Some things will be secrets that we cannot understand this side of heaven.  Some things are revealed to us and belong to us – the things we learn and know about Him and His ways give us hope.  And true hope in Him never disappoints (Romans 5:5).

I didn’t get the coffee I wanted this morning.  Again.  But I got a great reminder that God has my best interests at heart and He will never get it wrong.

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What’s wrong with me?

How often have you asked yourself that question?  You didn’t measure up to an expectation, someone else’s or your own.  The list can go on and on…you missed the quota, failed the test, offended another, said the wrong thing, stuck your foot in your mouth again.  I managed to accomplish several of those things yesterday.  I was quick to respond to a precious lady’s comment before I had completely grasped her intent, which I’m sure made her feel more than a little uncomfortable.  I quickly realized what I had done and whispered an “I’m sorry”.  When bible study (yes, I did this in the middle of BIBLE STUDY!) was finished, I asked her forgiveness again.  She very graciously responded, but I still felt the sting of having missed the mark.  I drove home having a familiar battle with myself:  Why do I do that????  What’s wrong with me – I know better!! 

Focusing on my weaknesses is a problem area for me.  Perhaps it’s my temperament and personality that take me that direction.  Old insecurities are quick to rise when I make a mistake, the perfectionist in me finding any deviation completely unacceptable.  Factor in a few influences from the past, both people and experiences, and this can snowball on me if I am not careful.  I have learned through the years, however, to quickly respond to this scheme of the enemy with immediate prayer.  So as I drove and prayed, I heard the Lord say “Let it go”.  (And yes, the Frozen tune came to mind….)

God reminded me of one of the most valuable training principles I learned in my professional sales career: Spend most of your time accentuating and developing your strengths rather than focusing on overcoming your weaknesses.  Helping a person discover what their strengths are and pointing them in the direction that will utilize and accentuate their strengths is key to that person maintaining a positive attitude while they continue to learn and grow.  It doesn’t mean that weaknesses are never discussed, but more often than not the focus on developing the strengths will greatly minimize, if not completely overcome, the weaknesses.

The person who must foremost face the things they are not good at day after day will lose heart very quickly.  They will become discouraged if weaknesses are not easily overcome and this frustration will begin to overshadow their strengths and cloud the possibilities for the future.  They begin to identify more with their weaknesses than the things they are very good at.  This does not make for a good sales rep, employee, worker, helper, friend, or family member.  Or Christian.

Hmmm…what if we applied this professional principle to our spiritual lives?

It has only been in the last few years that I have really grasped the concept of having been given a new nature.  We have been given all the strengths that we need to do all that He has created and planned for us to do, yet we live most of our lives unaware of the characteristics we now have.  I believe Jesus died not only to give us eternal salvation, but with the absolute intention that we were to live from this new nature while we are here on earth.  We have placed our faith in Jesus’ power to save us from sin but live as if we are still waiting to be changed.

To identify with this new nature isn’t to boast or become arrogant.  Truly understanding this marvelous grace leads us to humility and a deeper reverence for the sacrifice made.  The bible says we’ve been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).  We live so often like this righteousness comes and goes based on our actions.  He didn’t give us righteousness, He made us righteous.  Focusing on the fact that we’ve been made righteous doesn’t lead us to sin more – just the opposite!  His grace trains us to reject sin (Titus 2:12).  It stirs in us a desire to yield to this righteousness more and more, and this submission leads to changed behavior.  He does the work!!

The bible most definitely deals with sin and our tendencies to yield to it.  We are exhorted to pay attention, instructed to yield to the Spirit rather than the flesh (our natural inclinations), and warned about the plots and schemes of the devil.  And this is very important information! But if we are not careful, we are so busy “working” on our weaknesses and trying to overcome them, that we totally ignore the strengths we have been given!  We become more identified by our mistakes and weaknesses than the new creatures we are.

God has placed within us His Spirit.  His nature has become our new nature and He wants us to live our lives inside-out.  I believe that “working out our salvation” means just that – letting what has been put inside us come out!  Love, joy, peace, righteousness, power, gifts, forgiveness, holiness and so much more! Focusing on the wonderful strengths we’ve been given is the answer to minimizing and overcoming our weaknesses.

What’s wrong with us?  Nothing, if we’ve made Jesus our Lord.  We don’t always do the right thing, but that doesn’t define who we are. We have been made like Him.  I’ve decided to believe it.