Posted in Faith

Darkness

Darkness settled in.

It’s not the first time, and I know it won’t be the last, I tell myself.

Instead of wearing warmth and joy, my bones are clinging to darkness.

Such weight.

Why do I enjoy these garments of pain?  I know better.  I know each and every time the enemy shows up to harass me, and I give him my joy so willingly.  Instead of removing the heavy chain mail of the past, I opt for shifting my weight and adjusting the heaviness until I can just barely manage to walk.

For a full day, the darkness consumes me.

Call a friend, text someone, reach out.  But I can’t.

I can’t put a name to the darkness that is swallowing me up.  I don’t know how to explain what I’m feeling.  Old images of painful memories are coming to the surface and I can’t stop them.  I can instantly feel like I did in those moments: helpless, scared, angry.  Won’t anyone defend me?  Won’t anyone come to my rescue?

And as the memories and images replay over and over in my mind, I begin to get angrier. They are images of those who have bullied me, hurt me, left me, abandoned me, hated me, slandered me.  Clearly my heart has not forgiven them.

I begin to accuse: Weren’t you supposed to be there for me, God?  Weren’t you the one that told me you’d be with me always?  Where are you?  Look at how my enemies are positioned, laughing at me and hating me?  How can you allow this to continue?  I feel unloved and unwanted yet again.

In my mind’s eye, I am on a cliff, that is stretched out across a huge abyss.  All I can see for miles is desert and drop-offs.  There is one clear path, but it begins to crumble underneath me as I walk.  Panicked, I begin to sprint, only to have the rocks fall faster and heavier to the openness beneath me.

And as I sit in darkness that is all-consuming, fearing the end of myself, my mind transitions to the book of Psalms.  David is a master at crying out to God.  He is so persistent, unafraid to scream at the Lord, begging for answers and wondering of His existence.

The mirror shifts to me.  I am David.

I want to know NOW where God has been.  Why are all of these old memories here again, taunting and hurting me even as I have moved forward? Why is this allowed??

So I reach for my Bible in the stillness of the house.  I am alone, yet I know that I’m not.

The darkness is still here.

And in the recesses of my mind, I know the Lord says He is too.

I open to book of Psalms.

.

I journey to Psalm 94, unsure why.  I am just looking for hope.

Any shred of light to take me out of here, out of the darkness that surrounds me…

Verse 14 begins to bring me comfort.

“For the Lord will not reject His people; he will never forsake his inheritance.”

As I move further through the psalm, I see Him providing protection and confirmation.

“Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.  Who will rise up for me against the wicked?  Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?  Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.”

And then verse 18 happened:

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, LORD, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me great joy.

He heard me.

In the darkness, He heard me.

He saw what was happening in my mind, with my feet giving way to emptiness, and gave me a direct Scripture to combat it.

Tears coat my face.  When did I start to cry?

I make an instant choice to accept His answer, and I repent of my selfish focus, for allowing the enemy to use the past to remind me of who I was.  I accept His consolation.  His comfort.  His joy.

And the warrior in me, though loving the chain mail, begins to shed the heaviness.  I peel off layer after layer until there is just me.

The daughter of the King.

The one He died for.

The one He rose again for.

The one he defends in the darkness that I can’t see.

The one that He loves.

The one He watches over constantly.

The one He never forsakes.

I accept the TRUTH.

And with my new Spirit armor, I walk from room to room, declaring my home a sanctuary of His peace, His love, His joy, His presence. I rebuke and cast out anything that isn’t from Him, and explain that it isn’t allowed here.  ANYMORE.  EVER.

A peace rests on me.  I didn’t know to ask for it.  I didn’t know how.  I just know it came.

I try to re-imagine the thoughts that just haunted me, but they are gone.  Mist and fog replace the concrete memories.

He has come for me.  He defended me.  I sense joy in my heart again.  The veil is lifted.

The Lord is the Lord of my Home, my Heart, my Marriage, my SOUL.

.

So, this morning, when the enemy brings to mind some past experiences to condemn me, I fight back.  I’ve put on my new armor in Ephesians 6 which is so light I can’t even tell it’s on, and my voice is ready for praise.

The power of Jesus and HIS NAME is something I cannot forget.

Demons do exist.  They shudder and tremble at the name of Jesus.

Do you ever say it out loud?  Do you ever scream it in response?

JESUS conquered death and all that is coming for Christians, because He is the VICTOR.

There is power, strength, deliverance, mercy, grace and joy in HIS NAME.

THE NAME ABOVE ALL NAMES.

Darkness has no place in the light.

Advertisements
Posted in Faith

Forgiveness

forgiveness

This topic is incredibly relevant given the recent tragic events that took place this past Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio.

An elderly man, returning home from Easter dinner with his family, was gunned down in the street by a distraught man who was at the end of his rope, and felt the need to kill. The murderer then uploaded the video to Facebook and posted several videos of himself “snapping”- in his words.

The victim was a 74-year old man named Robert Godwin.  And his murderer, Steve Stephens, is now dead after a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, post police car chase in Pennsylvania.  There are still details coming in, but the ones I’ve shared have been confirmed.

If you live in Cleveland, or nearby, like myself, you’ve heard this story relentlessly for the past two days.  Even out-of-state radio programs, news stations and other avenues have been trying to educate us and alert us so we could protect ourselves and our families, but also help find the murderer who was on the loose, and bring him to justice through our judicial system.

Though Stephens worked at a mental health facility and was on the giving end of mental health needs for so many, he clearly needed help himself.  Sadly, in the end, he took the easy way out.  And though he seems to have escaped our system, make no mistake, he is facing his judgement today.  That final act is reserved for God alone.  It is not our decision to decide his fate.  We may have opinions and justified outrage, but where he lands was decided before he pulled the trigger on himself today.

In light of this tragedy, let’s revisit some truth about last Friday- Good Friday.

Christians and believers all around the world celebrate Good Friday, which is truly a day of mourning.  Jesus Christ, whom we believe was fully God and fully man, was crucified over 2000 years ago by Rome, Herod, the Gentiles, the Jewish Sanhedrin, and the people of Israel.  These groups worked together to have him tried, found guilty and murdered for claims of blasphemy, sedition and treason.  His death was senseless, much like the one listed above.  To some, he was guilty, but some weren’t as convinced, for they had witnessed miracles and saw Him give love to people whom no one else would have.

JESUS WAS SINLESS.

Regardless of the claims against Him, Jesus was without sin and only carried out the work He was meant to do for the redemption of all of us- Jew and Gentile.  But He was found guilty by Rome’s laws, convicted in the evening quietly, so that His death would be a message to those seeking to overthrow the government.

Once He was put in the tomb, they thought they had won.

A common word heard in some communities regarding Jesus’ life is this: Propitiation.  I heard it many times in my Lutheran upbringing.  And yet, the value of it never sunk in until today while researching.  According to Bibleinfo.com, Jesus’ death,

“…lies in the fact that a just and perfect God could not simply sweep sin under the carpet and go on running a perfect universe. God must deal with the injustice of sin. Suppose a criminal should come before a judge and that judge would simply excuse a crime of murder, rape, or theft simply because the judge loved the criminal. What would society think of such a judge?

The Bible says: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right” (Genesis 19:25). Selfishness has a natural consequence that eventually results in death to the innocent (Rom. 6:23). Jesus, the Judge, assumed the consequence of sin on the part of man, rather than inflict death upon the sinner. That consequence was death.

The death of Christ accomplishes reconciliation, or reconnecting us back to God. Romans 3:25 says, “…whom God set forth as a propitiation” for our sins. “Propitiation” literally means “something that appeases a deity.” However, in the Biblical sense it means much more than this. It can mean to “accept hurt”, to “forgive”, to “show mercy.” As sinners we transgress God’s perfect law and have no legal right to exist. But God himself who sits as Judge accepts the hurt, pays the price, forgives, and offers mercy.”

We all can look back through our own lives and remember moments where someone has wronged us, hurt us, hurt someone that we love, and caused pain in one way or another. By the world’s standards, we have a right to be upset, and to retaliate.  Eye for an eye, right?  After all, going back to the Facebook murderer, didn’t Stephens deserve to be shot by someone else?  What right did he have to be the one to do it?

Yet, a few days earlier, on the day that Robert Godwin was murdered, believers everywhere celebrated the miraculous and divine resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave-the place He conquered death for us, so we could have eternal life with Him FOREVER!  God accepted Jesus’ death as our death, so those who believe in Him and call on His name will be saved.  To those of us who follow Jesus, we cannot let unforgiveness take root in our hearts.  After all, Jesus certainly didn’t!

We ALL have hurt others too, and have sinned against our HOLY God, whether we agree with the setup or not, that’s the way it is.  God is God, we are created beings.  We act out of selfishness, hurt each other, make demands and misuse our bodies.  We have every right to go to Hell, and experience eternal separation from Him.  But Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate our exoneration from ALL of our debts (past, present and even FUTURE) in the perfect, sinless resurrection of Christ.

Because He died, we died with Him. And because HE LIVES, WE CAN LIVE WITH HIM FOREVER!

Robert Godwin was killed on Easter.  And that same day, his family was interviewed by news reporters and agencies trying to get the first word.  Clearly, this family had every reason to be outraged, upset, furious and retaliatory!  But if you’ve seen the reports or heard their interviews, their response is in sharp contrast to our human nature.

Yes, tears are being shed, questions are on their lips, but instead of hate speech, violence and anger, their words are carrying the truth of what we celebrate.

Tonya Godwin-Baines says this to the accused murderer:

“I just want him to know that God loves Him…we love Him.  Yes, we’re hurt.  But we have to forgive him, ’cause if we don’t, the Bible says your Heavenly Father won’t forgive you.”  

-http://fox8.com/2017/04/17/74-year-old-man-killed-in-cleveland-was-father-of-10/

Tonya is correct.  She is remembering Matthew 6:15, where it states,

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

I was sitting on my couch watching the news when I heard her say this, and I immediately started to cry.  She’s right!  Here I am, having awful thoughts toward this man for what he has done to them, but she’s redirecting my heart to truth.  She, and her family, all agree and are spreading the message that forgiveness has to reign.

Why?  Why should they forgive this man who killed their family member?  In cold blood, in the middle of the day, because he had girlfriend/gambling issues?  This older man had nothing to do with this young man’s problems!  What right did he have to take Robert’s life?

The answer is he had no right!  And we are all justifiably angry about the injustice of it. But this family is demonstrating for us a quick response to an even worse reaction if unforgiveness takes root in their hearts.

What is forgiveness?  Personally, I love this definition:

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.

-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forgiveness

I teach on this subject, and believe it is a choice to let go and not hold onto something offensive.  As a believer, we go a step further to deepen our faith by trusting that God will deal with the offender, and that He can be trusted with the outcome without our manipulation or assistance.

Forgiveness is necessary for a sound mind and a free heart.  And it’s a gift to an offender who may not even be seeking it, but also the giver who doesn’t bear the weight of the offense any longer.

Don’t believe that your health can be affected by your anger and unforgiveness?

“Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”

-Karen Swartz, M.D. at Johns Hopkins,         http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_connections/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it

I’m also reminded of a story in the Bible, found in John 9, where Jesus healed a blind man who had been blind since he was born. The disciples (not even the religious leaders who were ready to accuse him at every turn), asked which of the parents had sinned in order to make their son blind (assuming God was punishing the parents for something- sound familiar to any thoughts we seem to have at times?).  Jesus’ response was that neither of them had sinned.  The act of blindness had happened so that when Jesus encountered him and healed him, he would glorify God.  His exact words were,

 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. “

Say what!?!  This poor guy had to be blind from birth, so that later in his life, he could be healed by Jesus??  That sounds crazy!  But to be honest, it is also beautiful.  Our lives are meant to reflect the light of Jesus whom we choose to believe in, and our circumstances may be just that-something that happens or that we must endure so that God may be glorified.   It doesn’t mean we’re being punished, it means there is something bigger going on.

And this is where I go back to the Godwin family.  They have demonstrated extreme restraint and forgiveness.  I’m not God.  I don’t have an answer for why He allowed Robert to be walking down the street by himself when this other man felt the need to shoot someone at random.  I know God would’ve prevented it,  because He certainly can step in and assist us at any time.

I am choosing to believe that Robert Godwin was a saved man, who is being heralded by his family for being selfless and teaching ALL of them about the love of God.  God knew that Robert was coming home to him in Heaven.  Maybe God allowed the death of Robert to be a message of hope for those of us who struggle with life at times.  Yes, we can have tragedy, pain and struggles, but God sent His Son Jesus years ago to save us from sin and the charges brought against us before Him. Jesus chose to forgive when the world was against Him.  If He could love beyond the hate thrown at Him, who are we to withhold love for others?

At the end of our lives, we will all stand before God with our infractions and charges. None of us will be exempt.  Everyone will give an account for what they’ve chosen to do with their lives.  The only way we will not face eternal death and separation from God and our loved ones is to choose Jesus, who was the Lamb who died to spare us.  Jesus will stand in front of those of us who have surrendered our lives to Him, and defend us, saying we are no longer condemned, but free because of His shed blood.

I don’t want unforgiveness in my heart.  I don’t want the physical effects that come with not letting go of hurts and infractions.  I want to reflect the light of Jesus to the world, which is full of pain and heartache, and share with others, that, with Jesus, we can forgive.  I want to offer the same freedom He offers, and point people in His direction so that they too can share in the gift of eternal life with Him when ours ends here.  And I’m thankful to the Godwin family for reminding me of the goodness of Good Friday and the beautiful life-giving truth of Easter, that because of Jesus, we have been forgiven and should extend the same to those who hurt us.

It is not our right to hold onto the offense when Jesus already died for it and wants to grant grace for it.  And that may sound like it doesn’t make sense.  Where is the justice for when people do things wrong?  It’s on the cross.  Right next to my sins, are yours.  And there was blood shed to cover them.  That’s what His grace IS.

My challenge to you: May you take some time and be bold enough to search your heart for the names and moments that have hurt you over the years, and when you’re ready, go a step further. Pray for that person or group, ask the Lord to have mercy on them, forgive them in your heart, and remember the offense no more.  We are to pray for our enemies.  We are to love those who accuse us and wrong us.  It’s completely counter-cultural and absolutely absurd, but it is Jesus’ way.  It’s freeing, and moves us from judge, jury and executioner to a son or daughter of God.  

And a separate challenge: pray about the unforgiveness in your heart for moments and hurts done to someone you love or care about.  It’s not your burden to carry.  Give it to Jesus.  There is no reason to have hatred in our hearts for injustice.  We can walk alongside our friends, and help point them back to the cross. God doesn’t need any of our help deciding who deserves what, when we all deserve death.  When you realize what you’ve been saved from on Good Friday, your heart will open up to the idea of loving those who have hurt you, in spite of the hurt, so that you heart, soul and mind can be healthy and at peace with God.  

Praying you can take these steps, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, release those who have been on your “hook” and trust them in the hands of God.

Love, Gracie 🙂

Posted in Faith

Hope in the wake of tragedy

If you are an American, you have a target on your back.  That is not a threat, it is a new realization that we are not safe.  There are other countries who hate us, and terrorist groups that would love to take us out.  Sadly, it’s become commonplace to hear of school shootings and mass murders by mentally ill people (clearly) and then the rest of us are just left to deal with the aftermath.  But what does that really look like?

Just a week ago, this happened.

“Christina Grimmie, the American singer best known for starring on The Voice, was shot and killed after a concert in Florida on Friday night. Police said her killer appeared to be a deranged fan who had travelled to the venue in Orlando from another city planning to kill her.”  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/11/voice-star-christina-grimmie-dies-after-shooting-at-florida-conc/).

Though this wasn’t a terrorist attack, it was a case of a fan who became obsessive, to the point of having surgery to look like someone she might date, and then he believed they were getting married.  Somewhere a switch flipped, he got his hands on a gun and shot her in the face.  This is not normal, people.  I don’t care how many news reports we read, this is not a situation where we should go, “Oh geez, another crazy fan…”.  Tell that to the brother that tackled him and the family/friends/fans who are left to wonder how something like this could happen.

Then during the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, a gunman goes into Pulse Nightclub in Orlando (same city) and using a semiautomatic rifle, takes out almost 50 people with bullets, and was known to struggle with his sexuality and faith beliefs.  I’m sorry, but this is another case of mental illness at its worst.  There are thousands of families who are dealing with the aftermath of someone who took a permanent route to a temporary emotion.

I’m not a political writer, and I don’t even know exactly where I stand on the gun issue.  It’s still something I’m getting information on.  I see/hear pros/cons for both sides.  Growing up in a nation where rights and freedoms were freely given compared to other nations that had none, it’s easy to see that everyone should be able to do what they want to do.  However, that is why we are now at the place we are in.  At some point, what one person wants may conflict with what someone else wants.  Who is right?  What is our compass?  How do we know which direction to turn?

Earlier this week, a friend of mine asked his Facebook community for some silent prayers. Many people were quick to reply that they had prayed, were praying or would pray.  We do that so quickly because we want our friends to know that we stand beside them.  Who wants to feel alone in the midst of stress/tragedy/loss/whatever it is they’re going through?

Then a few days later, the same friend posted a video from Samantha Bee and her almost eight-minute late night rant against guns and the issues with them.  He stated how he was in love with this woman because of her views.  I’m including it here, and be advised of strong language, but many valid points.

I do agree with many of her points.  We are allowed to be frustrated with the deaths caused by guns in this nation, and I fully applaud her justified anger.  I don’t disagree with much of what she has to say.  There have to be changes made, somehow, someway.

What I take issue with, and I want to be clear, is her thinking about prayer.  And as a believer who practices prayer, I’m allowed to speak on the subject.

Around 4:40, she makes mention that the governor of Florida should comment on what could be done to prevent this from happening in the future.  The screen shifts to CNN interviewing Governor Rick Scott from Florida, who becomes evasive with no set plan.  Samantha Bee wants to see something done (as we all do), but she gets further upset at 5:40 when CNN gets the governor on the phone and asks the same question, and his response is to “pray, pray for the victims, pray for their families, pray that this never happens again.”

Her comment about prayer being an act of “sit[ting] quietly in a room with your eyes closed, talking to nobody” struck a nerve.  I agree with her James 2:17 reference as faith without works IS DEAD, but don’t count out prayer.

prayer

What the world doesn’t realize is that prayer: something Jesus practiced, talked about, modeled and taught us, is a means for intercession with our holy GOD.  Prayer is NOT talking to nobody (and I meant that to be a double negative).  There is our Heavenly Father on the other end of that connection.  He is available 24/7, and listens to prayers/needs/selfishness/whining/complaining/etc.  AND HE NEVER COMPLAINS in return.  To say that we’re talking to ourselves is a slap in His face.  He listens to believers AND UNBELIEVERS who love/praise/question/reject/spit in his face/accuse/argue/judge Him and HE STILL LOVES.  Because that is who HE is.

In no way, shape or form was the governor saying we should just sit in a room with our eyes closed, talking to nobody.  He was saying that we should be going to the Lord with our requests, which is something we are to do in the face of adversity, trial, fear, lack of hope, distrust, hate, anger, and judgement.  Prayer affects much, as James 5:13-20 states, ”

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

We are quick to say that the Lord isn’t hearing us when He’s not responding quickly enough, or when things aren’t going the way we want them to.  I agree that it’s hard to sit and wait for Him to come through, or not, due to His will.  But I know He hears us.  He tells us to come to Him. In Philippians 4:6-7, we are taught to not be anxious, but to present our requests to God.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The Hope of the World, Jesus, gives peace like none other.  It does transcend all understanding and it provides safety and security.  It’s funny how even as we shout for gun control and better policies, what we’re really asking for is some security and safety.  That can only be provided by our Lord.  We are unsafe.  We live in a nation that is under attack, and these are only the birth pains.  Other countries have come to live with terrorism, hate crimes, mass murders and executions as day to day activities.

Prayer does something to us.  To the outside world, we’re putting our heads down and talking to ourselves.  But to the Lord, we are in a position of surrender, sharing our hearts with Him in connection, for the purpose of understanding Him, His ways, and His intentions.  We are meant to be connected to Him.

This article by NPR suggests that we are changed by doing so.

Scientists are making the first attempts to understand spiritual experience — and what happens in the brainsand bodies of people who believe they connect with the divine.

The field is called “neurotheology,” and although it is new, it’s drawing prominent researchers in the U.S. and Canada. Scientists have found that the brains of people who spend untold hours in prayer and meditation are different.

There is a scientific and spiritual connection that happens in the act of prayer.  God designed us that way, and it is because of His grace that He allows us to come to Him.  Prayer is also designed as a way of communication for nation leaders to go to God for direction, His wisdom and insight when making decisions that affect that nations’ population.  King Solomon, King David, King Hezekiah all prayed.  They had a relationship with the Father, and knew to go to Him during times of trials and hardships.

And likewise, it is our duty to do the same.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  1 Timothy 2:1-4

When our country seems divided by opinions, beliefs and trials, we ALL can go to the same God to ask what He desires of us, how He wants us to live, how we can love others for His name, what we can do about gun control, how we can respond in the face of fear.  Prayer is not hiding out, nor is it talking to the walls.  It is having a two-way conversation with the One who created us to have a relationships with Him, and presenting our requests, fears, hurts, anger, complaints, etc.  It is also complete TRUST that He hears us, loves us, has the answers, and will implement them in His time.  We are to follow Him and be obedient.

By praying for our leaders, who’s to say that we’ve not changed a heart that was malicious, to be soft and follow the word of the Lord?  Who’s to say we’ve not stopped wars or ended a conflict before it escalated?  Only God knows the outcomes that have changed as a result of His people going to Him.  Prayer affects much.  It is not in our power that things change, but that the Lord moves.

In my devotion this morning, I read the following sentence, “Jesus did not come to this world to make us better.  He came to make us NEW.”  We are awful.  Humans have ultimate selfishness and hateful hearts at our core.  You may deny it, but without Jesus, you are going to look out for your own agenda, and do whatever it takes to make it happen. The truth is that none of us can do ANYTHING apart from Him.  We can build our mountains to ourselves and worship US because we are capable of much, but the truth is that everything comes from God.

“For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever!”  Romans 11:36

We don’t need to be changed.  We need to die.  Die to ourselves and our agendas that conflict with the Lord’s agenda.  In our promotion for Man, we have squashed the Holy Spirit, but according to the Bible, our world is doing exactly as predicted over 2000 years ago.  We are living in the times of distrust, corruption, godlessness, and we are in need of a Savior who can save us from all of it.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came from Heaven and died on Earth, carrying the sins of every person, so that we could be reunited with the Father, and have eternal life.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  John 1:12

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Romans 10:9

God is capable of sharing with our leaders the knowledge and wisdom they need to effectively lead us.  Whether they adhere and implement is between them and God, but situations have changed as a result of God’s people going to Him in prayer.  I encourage you to “sit quietly in a room” and talk with your Father.  Policies and laws will come later and will benefit those who they are meant for.

Don’t count out prayer.  It is vital for the good of all of us.

Posted in Faith

Back to School

I know many of you just reread the title because it’s mid-June and the majority of students have been out of school for two weeks now, so to be writing about going back to school is either extremely late, or a little premature for the fall school year.

I’ll explain.  I’m just now back in school at age 32.  I started my undergraduate degree just this past January and am in my second semester (summer-what was I thinking?) at Liberty University maintaining a 4.0 GPA (raise the roof!).  When contemplating achieving my degree, my goal is to get it done in the shortest amount of time.  Naturally, I felt that taking a summer off would make me remiss, as I didn’t start in the fall.  I’d only started in the spring, so how could I give myself a break already?  And after taking six credits my first semester, I thought it would be a breeze.  My two first classes were easy to keep up with and maintain.

So, jumping in with both feet, I chose to take nine credits in the summer, not accounting for the amount of work involved, or the crazy heat we’ve been enjoying in northeast Ohio!  I’m working a full-time job at a local hospital, and then splitting my evenings/weekends between school work, being a supportive wife and stepmother, daughter, friend, etc. and trying to keep track of what has to be read, posted and written when, and then making sure that the internet connection is strong, and Blackboard (the virtual classroom) is up and running.  Was that a run-on sentence?  I’m too exhausted to even correct it!  I’m already marking down in my 2013 calendar to take the summer semester off!

But I will say that the experience itself of organizing a schedule, buying binders, notebooks, school books, day planners, school supplies, etc. has made me very determined and motivated to push forward.  I’ve always loved the first day of school, the newness of classes, seeing a fresh syllabus, and opening a brand new book where the binding hasn’t even been broken.  You can insert your “cough-nerd-cough” here.

In thinking about moving forward, I was reminded of a passage of Scripture that has been very influential in my faith walk.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in
Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3:12-14]

You may be thinking, “What a cool verse regarding getting the goal accomplished- that’s totally fitting for school!”  But let’s keep the passage in context.  Paul, earlier in chapter three, is encouraging the church in Philippi to earnestly reject all that is behind them, and live in the newness of the resurrected Christ.  I’m sure this passage gets dissected often and there are many interpretations.  I don’t believe this passage is about going back to school,  even though it is now in my back to school thread.

The church in Philippi was commanded to hold fast to the truths they were learning as new believers in Christ.  Even though this passage is especially motivational, it reminds me that my desire to complete a degree in Christian counseling is definitely in line with God’s will for my life.  Two thousand years after Jesus walked this earth, I am reminded that there is still a world that doesn’t know the truth of the gospel or the reality of the Messiah who has already come, and it’s up to followers of Jesus to spread the news and exemplify Jesus to the hurting world around us.

I believe getting into the Christian counseling arena will bring many rewards.  I cannot wait to see the faces and meet the needs of those who I’ll be helping (whom I’m sure will be helping me as well).  I know that in every session, God will be alongside me, helping me as I listen and giving me insight to help his hurting children.

I know it will be humbling and I’m excited about the opportunity to serve Him in that way.  For me, learning about how many of us deal with issues is incredibly interesting, and has always been.  I know we’re all broken.  We are molded by experiences and encounters with other people on a daily basis, many times without even realizing it.  Sadly, I’ve also come to realize that some experiences can set us up for failure later in life, and we can perceive things in ways that are unrealistic, or we can respond to something in an unhealthy manner.

As shared in a previous post, there was a thought of suicide once in my life, and had I not had my faith or a small interest in God at that time, I may not have been here to write on WordPress.  But because I had the knowledge of God, at that sad moment, I was able to hear the voice of God and instead inquired about His plan for me.  After all, what human doesn’t question their existence, their skills, their purpose?  No matter what worldview you have, we all have an origin and at some point, you’ll want to explore the inner parts of yourself. 

Pauls’ words are that Jesus took hold of his life and it is up to Paul to continue running the race that will get him to his ultimate goal- the presence of Christ.

I can identify with Paul.  I long for the day that I can see Jesus and rid myself of the sin that pervades my life.  I am saved by grace, but memories haunt me of “old Grace” and what I’ve been saved from.  It is a daily struggle to move forward and choose to stay on the right path.  Satan knows just how to ruffle my feathers, and I am still in the process of claiming my victory in Christ.  I know the battle is the Lord’s, but for some reason, I keep grabbing my sword ( my mouth-UGH!).  I’m extremely grateful for His mercy.

So far in my college career, I’ve taken an Apologetics class, an intro to Christian Counseling, and now a Bible/Math/Philosophy combo before the end of August.  My mind has expanded in so many ways, and my eyes have been opened to many different ideas.  Satan, ever present and wanting to rip apart my foundation in Christ has tried numerous times this semester to have me question old truths and new ones I’ve tucked away into my heart.  He is so devious, but he has miscalculated my Lord.  And as I continue to feel the call to listen, help, pray for and minister to individuals who need godly counsel, I realize the need for it in my own life.  We all have reasons to run and hide from reality sometimes, but God calls us to fight the good faith (1 Timothy 6:2) and put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6) so that we can be prepared to defend and stand victoriously. 

A verse that shapes the idea of how to gradually grow in Christ, is Second Corinthians 10:5 where it says we should, “…take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”  It means there is a standard, that we are required to be obedient, and that our thought lives have influence on us.  If we take every thought captive and give it to God, very quickly our negative thoughts and actions will be changed and reflect more godly thinking so that we can be obedient to Him.

A friend of mine has recently shared with me the idea of being “emotionally hijacked” when someone/something causes an emotional response in us that is not usually a positive one.  She and I have been praying for quite some time to be aware of these moments when they happen, and to seek God when we are ready to reply with our explosive reaction.  By noticing the causes ahead of time, we can pray and stop our effects.  And as Christians, we have the gifts of the Holy Spirit readily available to assist us.

God doesn’t long for us to struggle.  He longs for us to realize our insane need for Him and run to Him as children who run to their parent.  He is our heavenly Father, which means He is able to provide and always available.  If your earthly father lacked these values in some way, pray to forgive him and instead run to the one who won’t leave you hanging.  God is capable of completing everything He’s ever begun, because it is His creation that glorifies Him.

God has a unique plan for all of us.  Even if you’re not in school, have no desire to go back, or are maybe contemplating the idea, I invite you to talk to God about your own journey.  Many people are living lives meant for others, and that is unnecessary.  We each have our own individual, significant lives.  Each one of us has been made in the image of God, in some way, and we mirror some of His greatest qualities.  I believe there is A LOT of unused potential out there, to bring about some great ideas, and to exemplify Christ and His message of hope and love.

The Bible states that, “He who doesn’t love, doesn’t know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).  I invite you to have love…have GOD.  Not the artificial kind (we’re all aware of the superficial, artificial kind), but the kind that is freeing from the inside out, genuine, selfless, other-first love…there’s no risk in adding Him to your life.  He’s desired that from day one!

We could all go back to school on letting go of that which holds us.  If we set our sights on things above, God’s love can prevail!

Was that the starting gun?  Gotta run!

Posted in Faith, Family

Choices (part 2)

Today, May 2nd, is an anniversary for me, and a sad one.  It is the day that the Cuyahoga County court gave my ex-husband and me, the divorce we wanted, five years ago.

Though I was the one to physically leave the home in November of 2006, my ex-husband was the one to file paperwork in January of  2007.  I had no idea what I was doing or how to go about the divorce/disillusionment.  I just wanted out.  He and I quickly agreed to terms (I let him keep the house because he had my dog, and I had moved to an apartment where I couldn’t have an animal), we split everything down the middle for the most part, I read through the first draft he gave me, questioned if there was any hope for us, and waited for the end date to come.  While I waited, I drank Miller Lite like it was going out of style.

When the day finally arrived, it was a Tuesday.  Thankfully I wasn’t present at the courthouse.  We were told only one of us had to go, and my ex volunteered.  I remember the day very well.  I was scheduled to tend bar that evening and had woken up late that day around 9am.  I didn’t even want to get out of bed.  I felt so anxious.

Finally my phone sang on the coffee table at the rental I was sharing with a roommate.  I don’t remember the exact time, but the words were in black and white.

The text read, “You’re free, have a nice life.”

 

 

I think that’s when I started shaking.  I, who had gotten sick of his verbal abuse and finally stood up to him, now all of a sudden had a shocking realization: I WAS COMPLETELY ALONE.

I had gone through moments since I’d moved out of the house, battling the confusion I had in my mind: thinking maybe we’d work things out, maybe I’d still have to chase him to bars, maybe we’d do counseling, maybe we’d have kids and they’d never know their father because he chose not to be home with me, maybe we’d learn to love each other again even though I was completely numb.  I believed anything was possible with God.  After all, I’d returned to church and felt renewed in my faith.

Yet, when the text came that alerted me to the freedom I’d prayed for so much, I shook with fear, thankfulness, timidity, joy, and anger.

At that moment, I freaked out.  Had I done the right thing?  Had I really disliked his behavior so much that I went against the commitment I had stated in front of God, family, friends??  Was this even allowed?  What if my selfishness at wanting to be away from him kept me from Heaven?  Doubt and fear consumed me, and I had never felt so scared in my life.  The battle in my mind continued for months.  And my behavior declined as I began to self-destruct.  

That is one time that Satan really had a hold on me.  I began doing drugs with the people who would come into the bar.  A lot of the patrons were not shy about their extracurricular activities, and I finally felt “FREE” so I had no one to answer to, but myself (or did I?).

I lied to almost everyone I met.  It became such a pattern, I couldn’t even keep the lies straight.  I called off of work just because I didn’t want to get out of bed.  When I did go to work, I went to my day job still hung over from the night before.  I was working two jobs to pay my bills, and more than anything, I just wanted to die.  I eventually got to a place where I was okay with my marital choice, but the shame I had caused in myself had overwhelmed me.

I met a man who I got along with really well.  We talked a lot, but I even lied to him, because I began drinking so much, that my life revolved around the bar scene and I couldn’t keep my days straight, my details, my lies, etc.  I was a wreck!!
I almost lost him.  My heart hurts as I remember the shock and heartache at him leaving.
I remember one morning that changed everything.  He and I would go to a place by the lake that only the two of us knew about.  We would go there to talk and listen to one another.  Our friendship had grown over a period of eight months, and we trusted each other (or so we thought).  When he showed up at my rental unannounced, and assumed something had happened (which hadn’t, but with my track record of lies, I’m not sure I would’ve believed me), he sped off.
I called off work (again) and took off in my car.  I went to the lake, and sure enough, found his car there.  I walked to our spot, and he was just sitting there, fuming.  I don’t think we talked for some time.  We just both stared at the water.  We didn’t sit near each other.

Eventually, we had to be real with each other.  We had become best friends, so we had to say something.  And finally we did.

We screamed, we argued, we cried, we laughed, we yelled some more.  But eventually, we broke.  We sat there holding each other, realizing our lives were both complete messes and we had to make some serious decisions if we were going to take our relationship further.

We made a verbal commitment to each other to get rid of all the things in our lives that made us less of who we were meant to be.

We vowed to never do drugs again (and I can proudly say I haven’t SINCE), and we promised each other that we would contact one another if we ended up in a sticky situation that could turn ugly.

We became accountable to each other, and love blossomed where disgusting darkness once lived.  Where I felt Satan holding on tightly to my disobedience to God, his grip began to loosen as I began to stare into the darkness without fear.

I dove into Bible study.  I slowly pulled away from the bar scene.  I had already quit my job as a bartender, I just had to stop going to the bar on the days that I felt bored.  I prayed that God would transform my mind, as I believed Scripture says in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I became more aware of my decisions and my choices.

I realized that just because a peer wanted to do something, didn’t mean it was right, and I was free to say NO if I wanted.

I also attended a bible study at my church which was based on the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.  

The truths that were provided in that book helped me realize that I did have a voice, I could make my own decisions, and not everything I did had to end in shame/regret.

I began to protect my body, my mind and my heart.  I recommitted my life to Jesus Christ and walked away from a lot of the temptations that used to have a hold on me.  I’m still a work in progress, but where sexual sin used to abound, it no longer even entices me.  Satan lost the battle on that one.

My best friend stayed close to me, believed in me, and began to go to my church with me.  His eyes were opened to the truth of the gospel too, and he recommitted his life to God as well.  He changed his harmful behavior and let the Lord open up his heart to the idea of loving again, knowing this time it would be reciprocated.  We made choices that benefited our own lives, but also each others’ lives.  We gave God complete control of our lives, and learned to step back and wait for His response in certain situations.  The love that blossomed from the ugliness of our pasts grew into a full-blown relationship, dating season, engagement and now a new marriage.

I trust no other man as much as I trust my husband. He has seen me at my worst, and never rejected me. He loved me when I felt unworthy. He endured watching me let go of “old Grace” and rejoiced with me when I was able to get my license back, name cleared, a new job, new car and a new home. He stood by me when I thought all hope was lost, and he provided constant attention and encouragement. He is such a remarkable human being.

I catch myself staring at my husband every day and in my mind, I let myself go back to one of my old memories. When he asks me what I’m thinking about, I just reply, “You” and we both smile.

I wish every wife would take a moment to look deep into the eyes of the man they married, and remember the newness of meeting him, getting to know him, and falling in love with him. Initial feelings of lust do subside, but the longevity of love, trust and commitment can withstand time. With time, comes familiarity and a closeness that bonds us together so incredibly. And with Jesus at the helm, we are accomplishing much.

Though I divorced my first husband and felt guilt at leaving a then-hopeless marriage, could it have been saved?  Knowing what I know now about the power of God, my answer is yes.  Yet, I live in the present.  That time is gone.

I did have to forgive myself for not believing God could restore what my ex and I had broken.  I had to learn to love myself again and see myself the way God does, covered in the robes of Jesus’ righteousness.  I will not rejoice that my first marriage is over, but will continue to pray for my ex-husband that he sees the need for God in his life, that he surrenders to him, so that maybe we can see each other again when this life is over (who knows, maybe even before).

And for now, I’ll be happy with the choices that brought me Kevin’s love, and the desire to know my Lord more.

Every disgusting memory I had in my old life is blurry, every unfathomable scene that haunted my mind in fear of losing God’s grace is gone, every lie that Satan told me has been conquered with the truth of the gospel.  

I’m not indestructible.  I’d like to say that I conquered sin, but that was Jesus’ job, not mine.  I know now to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6) to fend off the darkness that consumes us even though we can’t see it.  We are at war with the unseen, in a struggle for power over our souls, and I am not letting Satan have me.  God claimed me long ago, and I am now strong enough to stand under His protection.  My choices now are to accept my past faults that led me to a new life in Christ, accept the forgiveness for my sin and the redemption of my life from my Heavenly Father who fought for me, and accept the outpouring of love from a man who overwhelms me with his adoration.

Posted in Faith

Committed

I recently heard a Christian song on the radio that mentioned how God is committed to changing us to be more like Him.  Wait…reread that statement.  “God is committed…”  Did you see it too?  Yeah, the word COMMITTED stood out.  I tilted my head (as I often do when a very interesting thought captures my attention) and then I turned down the radio and started to talk with God about it.  I continued driving down the freeway and I reviewed what the word commitment means.

Commitment is a term that shows loyalty.  Whoa…God is committed??  To us?  To me?  When do we ever think of God like that?  We tend to view our commitment as believers through attending church, loving others, reading our Bibles and spending time in prayer with God.  I don’t believe I’ve ever considered how committed God is to me.  I’m sure it’s inferred in the life of a Christian, and yet expounding on the idea was intriguing to me.

Being committed means to be “wholeheartedly dedicated”.   It also entails being determined to see an end result.  Does that mean that God never gives up on us?  Sounds like it.  Let’s research this grand idea even further.

Godly marriages are the best example of people who are in committed relationships.  I say godly marriages because many people can get married today and yet, God came up with the idea of marriage and He designed the institution to represent the complete picture of a union acceptable to Himself.  I’m not inviting a debate on the tolerance of America’s idea of marriage.  I’m simply going by the truth of Scripture.  We’ve obviously seen in today’s society a lot of marriages fall apart who didn’t have God at the core of their union.  In a marriage where God is reigning along with the husband and the wife, there is a picture of leadership and submission, trust, love and true completeness.  The husband and wife devote themselves to each other and are wholeheartedly dedicated.  Of course there are temptations and Satan desires to destroy these unions, but because God is at the center, all of his advances are thwarted.  These are the marriages that represent what God designed.

Without getting off on a tangent (stick with me), I believe the true intimacy and devotion that marriage affords is a gift from God and the best marriages are those in which both parties of the covenant understand and agree to work at their union together with God’s help.  They realize they cannot complete the faithfulness factor apart from God.  Commitment realizes that errors are made, but forgiveness reigns.  Forgiveness…ah, there’s one of those church words.  What does that mean?  True forgiveness is dismissing a wrong for the sake of healing and letting the Holy Spirit work in our lives to restore relationships; first with God (Mark 11:25) and with each other (Matthew 18:15-20) .  It doesn’t mean the error is completely forgotten.  It means it is dismissed for the sake of letting God restore and letting healing take place.  Over time, the error is simply forgotten about and love replaces the anger.  If you struggle with forgiveness, you are not alone.  But may I suggest a relationship with the God of the universe?  He is the ONLY ONE who can work out the act of forgiveness in all of our lives.  Don’t believe me?  Try to do it without Him.  Yeah, He’s a very vital piece.

Anyway, back to my original thoughts on commitment: God in His perfection is committed at changing us to be more like Him.  Let’s think about that.  Didn’t He create us and allow sin to enter the world?  How is it our fault that we’re broken then?  Let me share with you my understanding.

God, in His great and infinite wisdom, and righteous and justified love, knew that He had to redeem us from our fallen nature and He designed the timeline for that to happen (i.e. By sending Jesus at just the right time in history with King Herod Antipas as king over Judea, by choosing the time period for Jesus when crucifixion was the method of torture and death in the Roman world, and by deciding to allow humanity to either accept or reject the truth of Jesus’s death and resurrection).

But why is He determined to change us?  We’re all good people, right?  We take care of each other, laugh and have fun with friends, go to work or school, obey our bosses and parents, serve on teams and committees, etc.  I’m sure a few of us have helped a few old ladies across the street.  So, why are we in need of being changed?

The answer is simply because of our fallen nature.  We are full of sin.  We cannot escape it.  It is a part of our heritage and is passed down from parent to child without change.  See Romans 5:12-13 and 5:18 for clarification on the Adam/Jesus parallel.  Through one man (ADAM), sin is carried through the blood lines of each person until death.  It’s part of our curse.  And just the same, through one man (JESUS), salvation became available to all who hear and accept the word of God (in the work of Jesus on the cross).  Condemnation becomes redemption…amazing!

I understand the fall, the curse and how Jesus’ death and resurrection have saved all believers.  But the more I talked with God, I became aware of the thoughts of those who don’t want to be changed by God.  Believe it or not, there are humans who don’t want God to be committed to them.

“But that’s insane,” a fellow imaginary believer cries out, “we need His intervention in our lives.”

And believe me, I’m with you in that thought process.

The reason these people don’t want His commitment is because commitment always requires WORK.  The people who wish to overlook their fallen state look at their monetarily successful lives and see nothing wrong.  They are happy and allegedly content with the things they’ve bought, the hours they put in at their childrens’ schools to look good, their comments at business meetings and church gatherings, and all the charity work they do because they want to be seen as leaders in their community, and they honestly see nothing wrong with how they’re living.

Second Corinthians 4:4 talks about how the minds of unbelievers have been blinded so they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ.  From that perspective, why shouldn’t God want to change them?

And this was God’s rationalization to me.  The truth is that whether we are living for ourselves or living for Him, our lives mirror what we worship.  We do it on a daily basis, sometimes completely unaware.  Every day your behavior tells a story.  And the truth of the matter is that God wants to be included and to be part of your decisions and solutions.  To say that you don’t want to be changed because your life is going along swimmingly the way you’re running it, is to say that God is irrelevant and unnecessary.  You may think you don’t need God because you’re doing just fine, but that is a very deadly mindset, my friend.

And even as I write this, I will admit my struggle with some of the things that I’ve allowed to take up my time lately: anger at certain situations outside of my control, bitterness toward a certain person I will have to deal with my entire life, struggles with differences of opinion and my stubbornness, to name a few.  I am a beloved daughter of God, freely accepting the grace being offered to me, and yet I still act like a child whose favorite toy was taken away.  This is completely unacceptable behavior.  Could my life truly be an example of a life in need of His grace?  I would say so.

I accept my fallen state and that my heart is dark even as I continue to grow in the Spirit.  I am coming into the light.  There is a part of me that is very aware that I will struggle with sin every day of my life.

But the one thing that allows me to turn from all the pain, anger, bitterness and heartache is the truth that my Lord and Savior invites me to accept the fact that He is COMMITTED to restoring me.

He knows my desire to change, He knows my heartache, He knows my sin and still wants me to walk in the grace and truth I accepted from Him eleven years ago.  He is telling me that it is a process, not an overnight ordeal, and that He is willing to take as long as necessary to change me from within.

The beauty though, is that I’m not working to achieve salvation.  I have received that gift years ago and am reassured in Scripture that nothing can separate me from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39) and no one can ever take me from His hand (John 10:28).  Though I will always deal with sin, I am not alone.  God resides inside of me, and He will continue to work through me, but my eternal life started the moment I accepted Jesus’s truth.

The life of a Christian is a journey.  Many of us call it a “walk” because every day is another step toward furthering His Kingdom.  Every person on earth is seeking answers and determining their place in this world-that goes without saying.

But to know that the Creator of the world wants to intimately know you better and that He is committed to changing you from the inside out should not scare you, but give you the love you wish.  You are His child whom He loves and whom He wants to make into what you were meant to be!  Apart from Him, we’ll never be acceptable to God.  The sad truth is that if you do desire to be alone and to do things on your own, He will respect your wishes.  Please don’t turn from Him.  You are empty because you are supposed to be.  Only God can complete what He originally started.  Without Him, you will always feel that void.

My prayer is that you will not be a commitment phobe, but that you will take a step of faith and understand that your life is precious to God.  You may already be on the path to changing other people’s lives for His glory, but you still feel empty.  Accept that He does love you the way you are, but wants to make you even more.  Will you let God be committed to you?

I can’t think of another way to thank Him for what He did for me at the cross, than to let Him be committed to restoring me and for me to fully give myself back to Him.