Triple Dog Dare Ya

I would love to be the type of person God uses in miraculous ways in the lives of others.

Someone like the woman I heard call in to K-Love last week. She shared how God told her to pull into a parking lot and wait. She obeyed even though doing so caused her to miss the appointment she’d been rushing to. And then she obeyed a prompting to get out of her car and walk up to a stranger who had just pulled in in his truck, and tell him that God wanted him to know he was not alone…and never had been. It turned out the man had been in a crisis of faith and had been pleading with God to reveal himself. The truck driver told this woman that she was an angel sent to him, and, indeed, in that moment she was.

This morning I heard a story about Beth Moore traveling through an airport and being called by God to offer to brush the hair of an old man “humped over in a wheelchair; he was skin and bones, dressed in clothes that obviously fit when he was at least twenty pounds heavier.”

After much consternation she heeded the call. Once her task was complete, she received the blessing of learning that the man was returning to see his wife following open-heart surgery, and he had been worrying about how he would look for “his bride.”

Years ago I came across a woman who made a habit of saying to restaurant servers, “Before we eat our meal tonight we will pray; when we do, is there some way that we can pray for you?”

How faith affirming!

How miraculous these stories are!

“Oh Lord,” I whisper, “I want you to use me like that!”

As quickly as the words gush out I can hear God’s reply. “Really? Are you really ready to step out this boldly?”

My heart does a flip flop as I rationalize, “Well, I would be if it weren’t so risky…er, um, okay, so embarrassing.”  And I recognize that perhaps the problem isn’t so much God’s nudging, but my willingness to take the leap of faith. The truth hurts.

Playing it Safe

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How many times have I felt prompted to pray with someone — right then and there — and instead offered a meager promise of, “I’ll pray for you” instead?

Just the other day a friend acknowledged his struggle to believe in a higher power, let alone to trust that Jesus actually existed. I let his vulnerable admission float right by like a wisp of smoke, promising myself I’d find a better time to invite a discussion…soon.

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24

When God prompts us to speak into the lives of others, he’s not only working on their hearts, he’s working on ours too. If I fully trust the voice asking (God’s), and the reason (to invite others into a life-saving relationship with him), would I really hesitate over something as petty as potential embarrassment? I don’t think so; in fact, I don’t think embarrassment would be a risk if my focus was only on serving another person in a manner pleasing to God.

What Are You Waiting For?

I don’t know about you, but one of the ways I console myself when I wimp out in such situations is by rationalizing that I’m still maturing as a Christian. One day I’ll be ready for those epic “Beth Moore” moments…just not today.

The problem with that mindset is there is no promise of anything other than today, and there is no timetable for becoming qualified to follow Jesus boldly and bravely.

The apostles spent three years walking with him every day, yet they often missed the boat, sometimes literally. They argued about who among them was the greatest while the only answer to the question was being revealed on a nearby mountain (Luke 9). Peter stepped out onto the water quite boldly, but just quickly lost his nerve and found himself in over his head. (Matthew 14:22-33). And Thomas doubted that Jesus was resurrected until he touched his hands and side. (John 20:24-29)

But following his very first encounter with Jesus, Philip grasped that he was the Christ, and boldly invited the scholarly and more theologically mature Nathanael to come and see the Messiah (John 1:45). A mere criminal, justly crucified beside Jesus, became the first person to put the whole salvation story together, acknowledging Jesus as King and asking to be saved:

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23: 42-43

Do You Dare?

The bottom line is that we get to choose whether to play it safe or dare to spread Christ’s love with reckless abandon.

The truck driver could have laughed at the woman and called her a fool.

The old man in the wheelchair could have cursed Beth Moore for insulting his appearance.

And one of those waiters the woman offered to pray for could have derided her as a “Jesus freak.”

And perhaps those will be the outcomes, sometimes. But those are small risks when compared with the opportunity to lavish Christ’s love on someone who needs it desperately.

When we allow God to use us, as he did these women, we allow him to tell a beautiful story of serving one another in faithfulness to him and of the love that binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)

This week I will pray for God to embolden me to dare greatly (and I invite you to do the same). Who knows…the life we save may be our own!

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Big Dreams

In studying the story of Joseph we can see how — as he learned to use his gift of dream interpretation for God’s glory rather than his own — he received greater blessings than he ever could have dreamed.

He must become greater;

I must become less.

John 3:30

Dream 1: Serving Self

We meet Joseph as a teenager, just 17, the second-youngest in a band of brothers who call Jacob their father, the future tribes of Israel.

Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph, a generational sin that led to big problems in Jacob’s own family of origin, has put Joseph at odds with his brothers. Rather than seeking reconciliation, however, Joseph, full of self, instead plays both sides against the middle.

The first thing we see him do is bring a bad report about his brothers to his father. (Genesis 37:2). His snitching is rewarded with further favor as his father gives him an ornate robe. (Genesis 37:4)

It’s in this unhealthy family dynamic that Joseph has two dreams. The first dream is about 11 sheaths of wheat bowing down to the twelfth, and the second is about the sun and moon and 11 stars bowing down to the twelfth as well.

Why did God give Joseph these dreams if they were only going to cause trouble? Perhaps He offered them as a promise for the future, to encourage Joseph that the rejection he was experiencing in his family would not be permanent.

But this prideful young man has not yet learned discernment. Joseph appears to make no effort to understand God’s purpose or message, and instead takes full credit for his visions, rather naively sharing them with his brothers without considering how they might be received.

“Listen to this dream I had.” (Genesis 37:6)

The result is an ominous deepening of his brothers’ hostility:

“They hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.” (Genesis 37: 8)

By the next time Joseph heads out to the fields their jealousy has reached a murderous pitch.

“Here comes the dreamer,” they mock. “We’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37: 18)

Far from bowing down to him, they put him in a place lower than themselves, literally, tossing him into a well.

Dream 2: Serving Others

The next time Joseph is given an opportunity to use his gift, he has matured into a strapping young man under circumstances that have humbled him and his dreams of grandeur. Imprisoned on false charges Joseph is learning to lean on the Lord, and to use any earthly favor with wisdom.

“The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” (Genesis 39:21)

This is quite a different Joseph. Now more others-focused, Joseph notices two of his fellow prisoners are having a tough time of it, and he shows concern for them asking, “Why are you sad?” The cupbearer and baker to the Pharaoh tell him they each have had a dream and want to understand the meaning.

Joseph responds, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Tell me your dreams.” (Genesis 40:9)

This time Joseph readily acknowledges God as the source of his gift. He interprets each man’s dream, telling the cupbearer that he will be restored to his position and the baker that he will be executed.

Even knowing God is with him and has full power over his circumstance Joseph still struggles to trust God fully. Cupbearer is a high-ranking position in Egypt, and Joseph knows this man is about to have the King’s ear, so he implores him:

“When all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.” (Genesis 40: 14)

Yet people and things of this world often fail to satisfy. We learn that “the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” (Genesis 40:23)

Dream 3: Serving the Lord

Two years later, Joseph is still cooling his heels in prison while the cupbearer is enjoying the blessing promised him in the dream, not once recalling the friend who helped him in his time of need.

The cupbearer may have Pharaoh’s ear, but God is sovereign over his entire being. He gives Pharaoh troubling dreams, first of cows and then of grain, the healthy ones consumed by the unhealthy ones. Pharaoh is desperate to learn the meaning of these troubling visions, and consults with magicians and wise men, but finds no satisfaction.

Finally the cupbearer’s memory is jarred, and he says, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings,” and tells Pharaoh how Joseph interpreted his dream so long ago.

Pharaoh brings Joseph out of prison and asks him to interpret his dream. Now Joseph thinks nothing of himself and asks nothing for himself. Instead all he can do is point Pharaoh to God:

  • “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (Genesis 41: 16)
  • “God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” (Genesis 41: 25)
  • “God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. (Genesis 41:28)
  • “…The matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.” (Genesis 41:32)

Pharaoh cannot help but see God shining through Joseph. While he doesn’t know his God, he knows he needs Him. Pharaoh asks his advisers, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” Then he says to Joseph:

“Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” (Genesis 41:39-40)

And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph.

Genesis 41: 57

Interpreting Joseph’s Dreams

  • What gift or gifts has God given you?
  • Do you use your gift to serve yourself or others?
  • Do you still find yourself longing to receive some credit?
  • Are you faithful in seeking to use your gift for God’s glory, directing others’ praise to the source of all good gifts?
  • Are you focused on the gift or the Giver?

The truth for all of us is probably some mix of each of these at different times.

We know God’s desire is to use us, like Joseph, for the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:21)

 

Let’s pray that, like Joseph, God will help us grow in wisdom and virtue in how we steward the gifts we’ve been given:

Today, Jesus, we surrender all we have to you.

We ask that you grow the seeds you’ve planted in each of us to create a rich harvest. As we become less, Jesus, you become more in the eyes of others. May even those who don’t know you see you and be drawn to you as you radiate, unencumbered, through each of us.

May we use the gifts we have been given for your glory, and may you multiply the power and the blessing of those gifts to your good purpose: the saving of many lives.

We ask this in your name, Father. Amen.

Walking in the Hard Places

Originally published by Deep River Books

The things that matter the most are the hardest to do. Nanette Kirsch found this to be true as she researched, wrote, and released Denial: Abuse, Addiction, and a Life Derailed.

Denial, a novel based on a true story, centers on David Wagner, a married father of five and millionaire entrepreneur. He’s the life of every party and seems to have it all together. Yet the effects of childhood sexual abuse linger, luring him into a secretive double life. His story is difficult but important, and it has already prompted adult survivors of childhood abuse to break the silence that binds them spiritually and mentally.

How does an author even begin to tackle a book about abuse, addiction, and a life derailed? We decided to ask Nanette for insight. Here’s her story of challenge, blessing, spiritual battle, and God’s victory—and her encouragement for writers who, like her, are called to write on topics the enemy would rather we keep quiet about.

Keep reading…the full article is here:

http://deepriverbooks.com/author-on-the-rise-nanette-kirsch/

 

Visit my Website. Follow the unfolding story.

https://DenialBook.com

 

Read more about hard places: The Rock and the Hard Places

 

 

Trust & Obey: A Model for Ministry

God created each of us with a specific ministry assignment in mind. While our assignments are as diverse and creative as He is, they share a common goal of drawing people into a life-transforming, life-saving relationship with Jesus. (Ephesians 2:10)

As the body of Christ we are called to embrace and fulfill our assignments. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) As we are faithful in small things, God will grow our ministries (but also our burdens). (Matthew 25:14-30)

I am reading Exodus, and was struck by five traits Moses modeled in his response to God’s call.

1. Be Present

Moses was tending sheep, having led them to “far side of the wilderness,” a remote location where he no doubt expected to be isolated and alone. God shows up at the most unexpected places and times in our lives.

When God first grabs Moses’ attention it is as a curiosity, a bush burning without being consumed. Moses is attracted to the spectacle, without recognizing its source.

God calls to him by name: “Moses, Moses!”

“Here I am,” Moses replies.

When we hear God’s call the first step is to recognize and acknowledge Him.

2. Trust

It’s not until Moses makes the first move to go over to look at the burning bush that God calls out to him. (Exodus 3:4) Throughout Scripture God waits for His people to take the first step:

  • Abraham displays trust in God’s character before God stays his hand from sacrificing his son, Isaac. (Genesis 22)
  • The Israelites step into the Red Sea before God parts it. (Exodus 14:15)
  • God stops the Jordan River for the Israelites to cross “as soon as the priests’ feet touched the water’s edge.” (Joshua 3)
  • And Jesus tells Peter to step out of the boat first, “Come.” (Matthew 14: 22-34)

God always waits for us to take the first step; it’s an implicit part of free will.

God wastes no time after telling Moses of His plan to free His people; He directs him, “So now, go.” (Exodus 3:10)

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3. Repent

As soon as Moses realizes he is in the presence of God he is overcome by his own sinfulness. He hides his face and is afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:6)

In fact, Moses doesn’t even reach his appointment before God deems him to be nearly dead in sin, having failed to circumcise his son–part of the covenantal promise of the people he is being called to lead. He is surprised by his own sin. God does not promise that following Him will be easy or enjoyable. 

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

Luke 9:23

If we accept a role of leading others we also must submit to a new level of God’s refinement. James acknowledges this difference in standards. (James 3:1)

Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), God uses our ministries to refine our hearts first. Ever mindful of our sinfulness, we then can be humble and faithful in pointing to Him as the source of the good others see in us. (Matthew 5:16)

As we step into our ministry assignments it is important to continually and actively repent as a spiritual discipline, prayerfully inviting the Lord’s refinement:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

Psalm 139:23-24 

4. Implore God

Moses had a wife, family and a decent living working for his father-in-law. God was asking him to drop everything for what seemed like a fool’s errand: Demand that Pharaoh free the Israelites, the same Pharaoh from whom he was a fugitive for murder. And, oh by the way, the promised land flowing with milk and honey was also  occupied…by some of the Israelites’ fiercest enemies.

We all have lots of great-sounding reasons to delay and defer on our assignments.

Moses took his concerns to God honestly and openly:

First, he questioned if there might be a more qualified messenger. God simply reminds Moses (and us): “I will be with you.”

Next, he frets that, as a disenfranchised Hebrew, his brethren may not believe that he speaks for their God. God doesn’t choose the holiest among us; He tends to choose the lowliest. It’s about displaying His power and goodness, not ours.

“But what if they don’t believe me?” Moses asks. (Anyone whispering an “Amen” here?) God is sending Moses back to a people who never accepted him as one of their own. Jesus acknowledged this challenge at the start of his public ministry: “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.” (Luke 4:24)

Finally, Moses laments being asked to serve in his area of greatest weakness. “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10) God shows tremendous grace to this reluctant servant, enlisting his brother, Aaron, to help.

Fortunately, we serve a relational God who designed us to strengthen and support one another; we should not be afraid to ask for support.

5. Obey

In the end, Moses obeys God’s call at ever-greater levels with each step he takes.

He quickly departs on a journey with no clear outcome. He trusts that God will be with him, provide for his needs, and use him to bring freedom to others.

If you are awaiting God’s call on your life, preparing for a new ministry or in the midst of a tumultuous one now, remember and embrace Moses’ model for ministry:

Trust and Obey.

Cursed Pride

I am more passionate than ever about my walk with the Lord, my love for His Word and my willingness to share these treasures with others.

As I have been obedient in sharing my God story with others, I have been surprised by how they are drawn in, like moths to the light. (You hear the problem already, don’t you?)

Always be ready to give an answer to every man who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, with gentleness and fear.

1 Peter 3:15

This is what Jesus instructed us to do and what He promised would happen as a result:

You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.

Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—Shine!

Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14, 16

As I seek to obey the Lord in this sharing thing, I find I must guard against the temptation to misconstrue others’ attraction as being to me rather than to God in me.

My internal voice is quick to rejoice in “the good I have done,” rather than remembering that “no one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

And I find that I can easily deceive myself that my good works somehow make me worthy:

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.

Isaiah 64:6

 

Little Strutters

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, illuminates the nature of the battle:

Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good — above all, that we are better than someone else — I think we may be sure that we are being acted on not by God but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

What is the answer to this tension then? In a word, humility:

[God] is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of the silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are.

I wish I had got a bit further with humility myself: if I had, I could probably tell you more about the relief, the comfort, of taking the fancy-dress off — getting rid of the false self, with all its ‘Look at me’ and ‘Aren’t I a good boy?’ and all its posing and posturing. To get even near it, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to man in the desert.

Not only is humility comforting, it is life-saving. Mr. Lewis continues:

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

Pride is essentially competitive – is competitive by its very nature — while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.

And where do we source this humility? In God alone:

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that — and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited it means you are very conceited indeed.

Lord, It’s Hard to Be Humble…

So the ugly truth is that when I am at my best in serving the Lord’s will I am at risk of the sin of pride, perhaps most at risk, in fact.

The only way to remain in God’s will and avoid sin is to cultivate a humble heart.

Here are some truths I am learning to lean on to tame my wild heart:

  • Whatever you see that is good is Jesus in me. My brother shared this piece of wisdom with me and I have grabbed hold of it. I remind myself — and others — that whatever good they see in me is not me, but Christ in me.
  • Give God the glory. Any good work I do is through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It is not intended to show that I am good, rather it is intended to reveal His love. As a nation we have been so blessed; we would do well to remember that our “riches” are not intended for our comfort, but for His glory.
  • “I’m especially fond of that one.” This is a favorite quote from William P. Young’s book, The Shack. As the main character speaks to God about various people, God’s first response is always, “Oh, I’m especially fond of that one.” What a beautiful truth that is. Based not on who we are, but on who God is, He delights in each one of us as a beautiful work of His creation, regardless of anything we have done, good or evil.

This is why Paul instructs us:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.

Philippians 2:3

  • And lastly, God’s word is sufficient. The very best advice I can give another is God’s truth. Whether to offer encouragement, rebuke or wisdom I can add nothing to God’s word.

You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it.

Deuteronomy 4:1-2

The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul.

Psalm 19:7

Want to explore more on the topic of pride? My great blogger friend, Tony Casson, recently published an excellent post titled, “Today is the day to do the right things for the right reasons.” Check it out.

 

Finding Pearls Among Swine

Do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet.

Matthew 7:6

I started to draft a post on a different topic this morning,  but then I went to the N.C. State Fair with my daughters…and that changed everything.

We’ve lived in North Carolina for six years now, and every year that I’ve been to the fair I’ve failed in my quest to experience the pig races…but not today!

I was completely captivated. Seriously. I did not know that such good, clean fun still existed anywhere on the planet, let alone as close by as the State Fairgrounds.

Dennis Cook and his “honey of 45 years” (adorned in a pig nose) travel from Newton, N.C., to bring their self-proclaimed redneck entertainment to the masses, which as it turns out includes five races of back-to-back excitement: the little pigs, the rookie pigs, goats, ducks, and last but not least, the potbelly pigs!

If ever there was a dubious light-bearer’s assignment it would have to be this one. Yet Mr. Cook sticks a metal cross with “Grace” spelled out across the center into hay bales in the middle of his race track. Then he blesses children in the stands by naming them honorary captains, complimenting each sweetly and sincerely as he makes his selections. Ray Price, the event sponsor, is raffling a Harley-Davidson, with all proceeds to benefit the state’s hurricane victims. But best of all,  Cook and his wife use their unique brand of entertainment to spread pure, simple, unadulterated (but in short supply in this crazy world): JOY!

Outside of the pig races I discovered others answering the call to be salt and light in ways as varied and abundant as the Fair’s fried novelties. In the exhibits section a man sat in a tiny booth with leaflets about the Bible and salvation. I watched him smile as a woman picked one up and then handed it back to him. Someone else had placed cards, printed with the words “Eternal Life,” on the shelf above each of the bathroom stalls. And as we left the fairgrounds a man stood on a milk crate at a busy intersection, offering the good news over a tinny microphone to those weary from the best the state had to offer.

Not long ago I would have dismissed these folks as “crazies” and judged their efforts as futile at best and a degradation of the faith at worst. But today, perhaps in the afterglow of the Cooks and their pig races, I see it differently. Each of these people is obeying Jesus’ instruction in his own unique way:

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

Mark 16:15

Whether anyone responds to their ministries is a work of the Holy Spirit; they have done their parts.

Rockin’ Rollen

rollen-stewart

In the 1970s Rollen Stewart provided a similarly oddball form of witness. When he became a Christian he felt called to leverage the powerful medium of television to share the good news. He determined the best approach would be to show up at sporting events wearing a rainbow-colored wig and the words “John 3:16.”

He debuted at the 1977 NBA Finals and eventually became a fixture at a wide variety of high-profile events, strategically positioning himself to ensure camera coverage, much to the chagrin of broadcasters. Stewart appeared behind NFL goal posts, at the Augusta National Golf Club and near Olympic medal stands. In fact, he was detained by Moscow police at the 1980 Summer Olympics.

Stewart was a failed man in many regards, as we all are, but he played a key role in elevating John 3:16 to prime-time ubiquity.

Seeing Things Clearly

Before Jesus instructed his apostles not to throw pearls of truth “to swine,” he cautioned them about their own hearts, saying:

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7: 1-5)

Perhaps Jesus knew that we needed clear eyes in order to spot those heavenly gems wherever they may found, even in the least likely of places…like among pigs.

Manna for Today

I love writing this blog. It is an important part of my faith walk. Each week I pray that God will put a topic on my heart, and each week for more than a year now He has been faithful to do so.

Often as I unpack the topic He has given me, new truths emerge that deepen my faith. The workings of the Spirit through this weekly act of worship truly bless my life (and I pray yours too).

But that’s not what makes it a faith walk. If you know me, you know patience is not a virtue I possess (or really aspire to). I hate waiting! I like to work fast and ahead of schedule. If I had my way I would have posts drafted through at least the end of the year.

Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day I will stand up to testify.”

Zephaniah 3:8

And yet I have had to learn to wait on the Lord every week to receive my topic, no shortcuts. That’s not to say I haven’t tried, but when I do I come up blank. Literally. Either I have no idea what to write, or if I have a topic I am unable to develop it. I get this feeling in my gut when I land on God’s idea; it’s assurance mixed with adrenalin, and as it forms it generates overwhelming energy that pushes me irresistibly to my keyboard. Then I write with urgency, clarity and an acute focus on what God would have me say. It’s in these moments that I am reminded how grateful I am not to be the one in charge here…or elsewhere in my life.

…to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us

Ephesians 3:20

DAILY Bread

The image God has brought to my mind over and over again as I wrestle with this blog is that of manna. He used manna to provide for the Israelites on an as-needed basis, one day at a time.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

Exodus 16:4

When I think of manna I imagine it looking like tiny Communion wafers. communion-wafers-2

It turns out this is no coincidence. Dependence on God for our daily bread does have literal significanceGod wants us to trust Him to provide for our physical needs.

This daily dependence is difficult for a rebellious-minded people like us, what God called being a “stiff-necked” people. We want to be in control, and thus we seek to stockpile what we can to give ourselves the illusion that we are capable of meeting our own needs:

Some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.

Exodus 16:20

God wouldn’t tolerate that from the Israelites, nor will He tolerate it from us; and this is for our own good. For whatever it is we look to — other than Him — to provide our security, well-being and abundance will lead us to a place of want, scarcity and unquenchable hunger and thirst.

Bread of LIFE

Instead, God offers us spiritual sustenance and abundance through daily dependence on his son, Jesus:

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19

For it was Jesus who promised:

I am the bread of life;

he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

John 6:35

beth-moore-believing-god-lifeway-books

Walking in faith each day means trusting these five statements of faith, articulated so beautifully by Beth Moore in her study, “Believing God“:

  1. God is who He says He is.
  2. God can do what He says He can do.
  3. I am who God says I am.
  4. I can do all things through Christ.
  5. God’s word is alive and active in me.

How does it look to live these promises, in my blog and in our daily rhythms of life?

I’m still learning the answers myself, but here is what I’ve learned over the past year through my blog:

  • Wait on the Lord. God is faithful and He is capable. He will give me what I need.
  • God’s timing is perfect. I like to publish my blogs on Thursday afternoons, but sometimes that doesn’t work out. I am learning to trust that God has a purpose in His timing. Perhaps a message is meant to reach one person in a specific time of need.
  • God’s metrics are eternal. While I fight the temptation to obsess over my blog’s metrics, seeking to validate if it matters to anyone at all, God sees it differently. My blog exists for His glory, to reflect His light into the lives of others. And it is one of an infinite number of ways He is about this work daily. His grand plan is to save as many souls as possible and there is no worldly metric for that.
  • My work is to trust and obey. Each of us is given an assignment by God that allows us to participate in His salvation story. What Mordecai told Queen Esther also is true for each of us (paraphrased):

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place…but you have come to your position for such a time as this.

Esther 4:14

Surprised by Sin

I love Jesus. I read my Bible every day (almost). I worship weekly. I pray often. In other words I try really hard to be the kind of girl who glorifies God in how she lives.

But my very best effort is a complete and utter failure. It’s the whole point of Paul’s letters to the Romans:

Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. (Romans 2:1)

When you are so busy trying, like I was, sin has a way of sneaking in the back door and taking up residence right under your nose, well a little farther south, down in the recesses of your heart.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?

Jeremiah 17:9

So there I was as the Proverbs 31 She Speaks conference last week, learning how to grow my ministry  (and my blog following if I’m being honest), when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, God confronted me with an area of sin in my life that I never saw coming.

I had almost gotten out scot-free. I was at the final session called, “Discovering God’s Power for Your Life and Ministry.” It was a how-to on waging spiritual warfare through the power of the Holy Spirit. As I listened to Wendy Blight candidly share her past struggles parenting her daughter, I felt a twinge of conviction, a little spiritual angina, as her story struck some familiar chords in my own relationship with my youngest child.

At the end of the session each attendee received an anointing with oil and a message about their ministry, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Mine was:

You are called to be a light in the darkness.

My initial reaction was that this was kind of generic inspiration (I know, I’m awful but it is true!), and I was tempted to disregard it. But as I turned to scripture to see what God’s Word had to say, the weight of conviction fell heavily upon my shoulders:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven

Matthew 5: 13-16

Here is what this passage spoke to me: I am called to be light, and the first place I am called to do that is at home. As I let God begin to transform my relationship with my daughter, one of the four children He gave to me to love and nurture, others in my home — friends and family alike — will see and know that it is God at work.

And conversely, unless and until I become a light here at home I have no ability to shine into the darkness beyond.

As I marinated and prayed over this I was reminded that God and my kids are counting on me to help them form a lasting relationship with the Lord, to set priorities for themselves and their lives that will make them a light to others, and to learn that sinfulness and spiritual warfare are not rare things, but a constant battle of repentance and renewal.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5: 6-7

‘Twas Blind but Now I See

I was shocked and saddened when confronted with my own sinfulness. My past words and deeds flooded my consciousness. I felt deeply ashamed.

The second thing that happened was I became acutely aware of many recent moments when God was calling me to awareness, but I had remained blind to it. Just a few days before the conference I was sharing my latest frustration over my child with a friend and she said, “Yes, I have seen how you two interact and the stress it creates. The thing to recognize is that God is using her to refine something in you.”

How right she was. How blind I was!

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.

Acts 9:18

 

Amazing Grace

Without grace I would wallow in shame for my failure in this important area of my life. Without grace I would not know how to make a change, nor believe it could last. Without grace I would not have the courage (nor the right) to ask my daughter’s forgiveness and work with her to make our relationship new, something God does again and again throughout the Bible:

  • Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. (Isaiah 43:18)
  • Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
    I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)
  • For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17)
  • And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)
  • By abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace… (Ephesians 2:15)
  • And to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 2:24)
  • In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13)

I think one of the lies I allowed myself to believe was that as I drew closer in my relationship with God I was somehow building up an immunity to sin. It seems now that the only thing I was building up was blindness to my sin.

One Day at a Time

I know I am powerless to make this change on my own. I’m still a pretty impatient person. I’m still too easily annoyed by some of the things my girl is wont to do. I still feel those bursts of anger flare within me. So where is the hope even after repentance?

First it’s found in surrender. I have given this defect of mine to the Lord, and my prayer is that He will teach me to see and love my daughter with the same abundant, unconditional love with which He sees and loves her.

Second is that when I feel tempted to react or speak in ways that are not life-giving I intend to pause and invite the Lord into that moment. I know it won’t be a perfectly straight path, but if I am faithful to invite Him in I trust that He will be faithful to give me a heart like His: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

I’m not looking back at the years behind us, nor too far forward; instead, I’m focused on committing this day to the Lord to do the next right thing, as one of my dearest friends advised me in my lament.

And finally, I’m owning it. I hesitated to write about this experience until I could look safely in my rearview mirror and tell you it was all better. But then I realized I would deny you the opportunity to see the place of failure and brokenness from which I am beginning; the one where we all begin as we nail our “self” to the cross, and through the work Jesus accomplished there, begin again to live freely and abundantly:

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Romans 6:6-7

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:36

 

A Life-Saving Secret

I got a call late last night from a friend in another state. As soon as I saw the caller ID a flood of possibilities passed through my mind, none of them good.

Turned out it was a pocket dial…but it started me thinking: If my friend had been calling me for an emergency I would have been ready to do my best to help save her.

Well then, what should be my attitude toward my friends who aren’t yet saved, who haven’t embraced a relationship with Jesus Christ?

I decided to explore what holds me back from sharing the good news (gospel) with people who matter to me.

Fires of Hell and Lakes of Sulfur, Oh My!

One thing that holds me back is motive. It’s not that I don’t believe hell exists, I do. But if I try to tell a non-believing friend that she should accept Jesus or else, it sounds like a cruel threat:

  • There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. Luke 13:28
  • And anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15 (NCV)
  • And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10

As a parent I learned early on that threats create a fearful and deceptive child, not an obedient one.

Why would someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus accept the idea that there are dire consequences to unbelief, let alone open her mind to the even more frightening, if remote, notions of Satan and hell; concepts that only a third of people even believe exist today. (“Is Satan Real? Most People Think Not,” Barna Group)

For me, sharing my faith must be grounded in the here and now. The truth is that regardless of how life goes — whether you’re experiencing the highest high or the lowest low — it all eventually becomes unbearable without a relationship with God. (Read: Grace and Truth: Overcoming Failure.)

In This World You Will Have Trouble (John 16:33)

No one gets through life unscathed. Whether suffering is a result of living in a fallen world or self-inflicted by our own sinfulness, pain is pain.

If you live long enough you’ll “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23): a parent dies, a spouse leaves, your child rebels, you get fired, financial security evaporates, your friend betrays you or some other trial or tribulation strikes. At these times you become aware of how quickly you reach your limits.

Where then do you turn for help? “There are no atheists in a foxhole,” the saying goes. If you know God, no matter how casually, you are likely to begin seeking after him with renewed interest and energy when you’re in trouble. It’s easy to see personal trials as an opportunity to test God’s mettle, a chance to see if He is who He says He is (rather than realizing that such situations are usually intended to test ours).

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

In hard times it is natural and easy to point my friends to Jesus as a source of comfort and safety, peace and even joy. I can offer them the terra-firma of passages like the one above and the alluring respite of Psalm 23 with its green pastures, rest by still waters, restoration for the soul, and even a holy anointing before my enemies.

But if the first time I share this news with my friends is when they are in duress the promises may be disregarded as empty platitudes from a non-credible source (me). It ends up sounding as heartfelt as, “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”

 

When You Get to the Top There’s Nothing There

At the other end of life — and just as perilous — is success.

I have shared this quote in other posts, but I find it bears repeating: When a reporter asked best-selling author Jack Higgins if there was anything he wished he would have known as a child he answered, “I wish I had known then what I know now, that when you get to the top there’s nothing there.

Tennis star Boris Becker was the peak of his career and on the brink of suicide at the same time. He said of that season, “I had won Wimbledon twice before, once as the youngest player. I was rich. I had all the material possessions I needed …. It’s the old song of movie stars and pop stars who commit suicide. They have everything, and yet they are so unhappy. I had no inner peace. I was a puppet on a string.”

My favorite evangelist, Ravi Zacharias, often shares stories in his podcast, “Let My People Think,” of meeting with high-profile individuals across the globe; athletes, celebrities, politicians and others who by the world’s standards have it all. Yet he meets them in the depths of their despair, often a result of duplicitous living and indulgence in insatiable, worldly desires.

What I wish to offer at such times are the words of John:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:15-17

But could these words be received, or would they come out sounding like envy or self-righteous judgment?

Walking with God

A relationship with Jesus is indeed life-saving, in this world and eternally. I hope and pray that God’s desire that “none should perish” (2 Peter 3:9) will be fulfilled.

In hard times God gives me my next breath, strength to face another day and most importantly, hope, based on the promise that He works all things for good.

In good times, when I succeed in nailing my pride to the cross and recognize God as the only One who is good (Mark 10:18), my joy is multiplied in glorifying Him, the loving father who desires to bless His children abundantly.

But the biggest reason to share this life-saving secret with everyone I know is how it changes my experience of each day…and minute of my life.

When my grandmother had cataract surgery the first thing she did when she got home was call my mother about the tree outside her window; it was more lush and green and vibrant than she had ever seen.

That’s the best analogy I can think of for a life lived in relationship with the Lord. When I walk with God I see the world and those in it through His eyes and it is good:

  • Awakening in the morning is an opportunity to recognize the gift of a new day, to thank God for the blessings of yesterday and to reflect for a moment on the unique masterpiece of each dawn.
  • The irritable lady in the checkout line? She is a child of God and precious in His sight. Maybe her mother is sick or her husband is unemployed, or something else is causing her to have a tough day.
  • That failure or disappointment? I give it to God and trust that His plan is to prosper me and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11). I remind myself that maybe this was simply not part of the plan. I know that good will come of the experience, no matter how painful.
  • Time for coffee with a treasured friend becomes a valuable gift; an opportunity to share God’s love, share what He is doing in our lives, and learn and grow from each other.

I would love to tell you this is how I live my life every day; I can tell you it is how I am learning to live. When I do, I experience peace and joy in the blessings and even in times of trial; I feel humble gratitude for each success; and in all of this I bask in the abundant love of my Savior.

That is an experience worth sharing with a friend.

Romans 10- 11-15 (5)

Grace and Truth: Overcoming Failure

If you live long enough you’ll learn to live with failure, not just small ones, but big ones too, epic failures, the kind with consequences that cost you in ways that cannot be undone.

Most painful are the ones that injure a loved one, cost a trusted relationship, betray who you really are or reject God’s love in pursuit of something less. These are the ones where your closest friends look at you with sympathy (that often feels like pity) because they can’t empathize with the situation you’ve gotten yourself into.

Living with Regret

How do you learn to live with yourself after an epic fail?

Finding an answer that brings life and peace is critical to being able to take the next breath, make that next step forward and begin reconciling the truth that what you did is not the full story of who you are or who God created you to be.

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.

Romans 8:6

From the Highest High

As consciousness broke with the dawn of a new day the words of warning floated back across his mind, fighting to be heard over the thunderous pain and grief of his best friend’s death. It was more than Peter could bear. Regret and shame rose in swells high enough to leave him gasping for breath.

Was it really only a week ago that he had been on top of the world? For three years he had followed Jesus, much of the time striving to understand the man and his mission. Then came an unforgettable couple of days, and Peter had been at the center of it all.

They were visiting the village of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus began to ask them questions; these were the conversations the disciples relished because of the way Jesus challenged everything they thought they knew about faith and life, things their religious tradition had taught them were the unquestionable laws for living. This time, however, his questions took a different direction:

“What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

He pressed them, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus came back, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out. (Matthew 16: 13-18, MSG)

A few days later Jesus led Peter and a few others up a secluded mountain trail. When they reached a clearing he stepped away from them, and when he turned around he transformed before their eyes, inexplicably; it was as if sunlight poured from his face. While Peter struggled for words to describe what he had seen, he knew its significance with every fiber of his being: He had seen the face of the living God reflected in Jesus. He was the Christ, the promised Messiah, sent to save them!

To the Lowest Low

Everything changed in an instant with a speed and thoroughness that made Peter and the others question everything they thought they now knew.

Peter had been so scared when the trouble began. The same people who had surrounded Jesus, fascinated by his miracles, now wanted him dead. It seemed inevitable, and Peter was afraid they’d all be swept up in the madness.

His plan was to stay close to see if he’d have an opportunity to intervene. But when people started to recognize him and question if he was one of Jesus’ followers, he’d sworn that he wasn’t, but that hadn’t been his intention.  The situation was surreal and going from bad to worse by the second. He was terrified for his life.

But as the cock crowed at the break of dawn his heart shattered into a million pieces. By the light of day he could see his words and choices for what they really were. How could he have done this to someone who had loved him so much; someone he knew in his heart was God? And how could he live with himself?

Love Will Find a Way

As the days dragged by rough, ugly scars formed. Peter returned to fishing and released his dreams of “fishing for men.” He worked hard to ignore his pain and regret. He had believed there was a bigger story unfolding for his life, but he had been wrong, and the cost of his error was to great to even think about.

But then he had seen him; Jesus. He was alive!

Peter struggled to understand how it could be, and how it would change things. What would happen now? Would Jesus return to his ministry a scarred and resurrected king? Peter was taking it day by day, and each moment in Jesus’ presence brought him inexplicable joy…but it did not release that pit in his stomach.

So when they had eaten breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”

Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”

Three times he had failed his Lord, and three times Jesus had allowed him to affirm his love, confirming that his actions were not a true reflection of his heart. Each time Jesus was faithful to redirect him toward his life’s purpose: to shepherd others toward Him.

To Restore A Life of Purpose

What if Peter’s story had ended on the mountain top?

Would he be effective in reaching the suffering, those in the grips of despair, those in most urgent need of good news and a source of hope? Would they find what they needed in his incredible success story?

Peter had received the greatest of blessings, the greatest revelations of truth, and yet he still had suffered an epic fail.

The Lord saw the opportunity to bring good through his brokenness, to use his pain and regret to accomplish His purpose. In his weakness Peter would be made strong.

“You think that’s bad,” Peter could now say, “Wait ’til you hear my story.” God would use his vulnerability to help him build connection with the lost sheep. His story offered a powerful, living testimony to God’s love and His gift of grace to all who call on His name.

“If the Lord can forgive and love a guy like me,” I can hear Peter concluding, “Imagine what He can do for you.”

When our failures are so big that they obscure our view of the right path, Jesus is there beside us, reminding us as many times as we need to hear it that we never can fall out of reach of his loving arms. He can use our brokenness to further our one life’s purpose:

Love one another as I have loved you.

John 13:34

You see, it’s not about you. And it’s not about what you’ve done or haven’t done. God works all things for good, even the worst, most epic failure of your life.

When you invite Jesus into your heart, even in your lowest low, He is faithful to rescue you from despair, to restore you to wholeness and to make you a beautiful new creation. You play an essential role in a greater story than you could ever imagine, a story you can share boldly and joyfully with others so that by His grace:

They may have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is.

Ephesians 3:18