Posted in Faith, Family, Stepfamily

Grief, forgiveness and new beginnings

Let’s face it: this time of year can be difficult. With Thanksgiving and Christmas back-to-back, we can be forced to face a lot of emotions we aren’t ready for: people that trigger us, loved ones who have passed, relationships that have ended, gatherings that force us to be social, etc. Any fellow INFJs out there? ūüėČ

One thing has been made clear to me recently through my Bible study and my walk with the Lord: as a follower of Christ, walking through grief is necessary and mandatory to be obedient. Ignoring it will stifle my spiritual walk and hinder growth. Disclaimer: This post is intended to be a transparent account of one believer’s journey through trials, grief, forgiveness and eventually hope. It is not written maliciously, but with the intent to provide enough detail for comprehension and learned lessons. Please don’t misinterpret or misrepresent my words. This is not libel in any way.

grief

While the stages of grief are listed as: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, not everyone follows the pattern listed sequentially. But the end result of acceptance is the universal goal for walking through grief, and typically is an indicator for healthy mental health.

This year, for me, has brought many instances of grief, and I’ve learned more about myself coming through each one. Though not every instance has been extremely painful or one that causes me deep despair, I’ve felt the emotions come and go, tried to analyze them rationally and have learned to lean on God in new ways as a result.

Exhibit A: I am a stepmother. I’ve been married for over seven years to my best friend who had two daughters from his previous marriage. If you’re not a stepmother who has drama at times, I apologize. This is a bit of a rant. In the small family unit we have, the dynamic is clearly broken. It is not God’s design to have broken marriages and relationships that aren’t clearly marked. So much pain resides. I’m encouraged by some families who weather the differences and come to accept new family members. My dynamic has not. I remain on the outside, chosen by my husband yet completely unwanted by others.

I continue to try to love with all that I have, and have been struggling to not become bitter over repeated offenses. After so much time has passed, there are still words and actions from so many on that side of the family, that have been deliberate to get a reaction from me. I, unfortunately, get stuck trying to determine why, after all this time, we are still playing games. It’s frustrating and downright irritating. Maturity would help, but clearly that’s asking too much. Insecurity changes people and lack of going through the grief process completely stunted some. So I back off and don’t respond anymore.

But I’ll just be honest. Some days I win the battle. Some days the enemy does. Value is sometimes hard to find when you’re a “back burner”. Others’ feelings are valued higher than yours. Where a Christian spouse puts their spouse (2nd only to God), in divorced families, the lines seem to get blurred between kids, wives and even parents. Guilt inhabits my spouse at times and causes him to make decisions that put me out in the cold, and I’m left to fend for myself. This is so clearly not God’s intention. But it is so in line with the enemy’s intentions of killing and destroying. You think he’s after your family? Check the relationship between you and your spouse.  How’s your marriage going? The enemy is after that first. If he can erode from the center of God’s precious design, the rest will just unravel. Be on alert ALWAYS.

Sadly in our situation, the children (and others unknowingly) have been used repeatedly to carry out tasks that make no sense to me, and I’m left to question their motives and hearts. I can see the insecurity in the other parent, the need to prove something, the lack of accepting responsibility, the resistance to acceptance. I process and process, and when I feel like I’m finally okay again, something happens again to make me question my ability to love with Christ’s love. I realize I’m not able to do it in my own power. And I’m expected to keep peace and not make waves. Who can imagine why I camp out in anger? The tower Grace built has no drawbridge, a deep and deadly moat and you had better believe there are alligators in there! Just try to get to me!!

castle

But as much as my love for isolation and justified anger tries to grow, the Holy Spirit within me fights against this. I am not a new creation who is meant to harbor hurt and justified offenses. I am reminded repeatedly through Scripture WHO I am and WHOSE I am. And Jesus died for ALL of us; me, my hubby, the kids, the ex-wife, the in-law, etc. Whoever started the pain doesn’t have to end it.

So I’ve grieved the relationships I thought I would have by now. I have accepted that I helped raise two daughters who keep me at arms length because of expectations on the other end, and am hopeful some day they can be released from that obligation. But until then, I accept that my husband chose me and that is enough. It’s still painful, but he is well aware now. And we knew that choosing Jesus would do this to us. It’s worth it all.

Ephesians 6:12 states, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. I’m not fighting people for my value. Because I am a daughter of the King, I already HAVE value. I’m fighting the enemy whose goal is to destroy my ability to see my value. And if he can destroy that, he thinks he wins. Those who continue to hurt are only being used by him. And the truth is they have hurts they need to address as well that have absolutely NOTHING to do with me. So in turn, I give the offense to God to handle, and I carry on with my life.

armor of God

Exhibit B: This year also brought a physical loss to grieve: my maternal grandmother passed away early April. Though expected due to her mental decline and physical inabilities at 91, the actual loss hit hard. A family member who abandoned our family almost 25 years ago made all of us wait EIGHT hours to show up to pay last respects while my grandmother’s body laid on a table decomposing. I couldn’t fathom the selfishness and the audacity to not care until after a shift of work was completed. Irritation took over and I had to surrender it. To me, the actions were incomprehensible.

I was able to forgive quickly in that situation, however, because I had been accustomed to the rejection by that family member and had noticed lack of healthy grieving patterns over the years I had known them. This was not surprising, just unbelievable regarding the relationship between that person and my grandmother who had passed. And dealing with the loss of my last living grandparent made me ache for Heaven like I can’t even express. Lots of emotion, but we had more pressing tasks at the moment.

I watched my mom and her three sisters grieve completely differently and was sadly able to assess where each of them were on the day we laid Nanny to rest. Prayers were going up constantly due to strained relationships and for the ability for all four daughters to get through the motions so that each could move on and grieve separately later. Since my grandmother had dementia, she hadn’t known me for a while. I had grieved her ability to do so long ago, but recognizing she was completely out of this world and onto the next took some time. That acceptance was a little slower.

A few weeks after her passing, while visiting my parents, I had asked my mom who had gotten Nanny’s Bible. My mom went upstairs and brought it down for me. Immediately, I was actively grieving her again, this time seeing my grandmother as a young woman searching hard after her Lord. I read her notes in the margins, saw her highlighted verses, read her underlined passages with notations about soldiers, or those who suffered depression, or those seeking hope.

1

Reading her Bible was like reading her diary. There was such a connection and I wanted to respect that privacy, yet I couldn’t tell her. She was already gone, and I had to grieve that she hadn’t known me as the Christ follower I am today. How I wanted her to know that out of nine grand kids, I could say where I was – her prayers had paid off!! I wanted her to know that I fell away during my teens and twenties, but that God got a hold of me at 27 and I finally heard His voice! The ache for her to understand wasn’t rational, but I knew I could find comfort in knowing the Lord knew my decision for Him and He knew her influence on my life.

7

6

 2

3

10

Within the well-worn pages, I found a handwritten note from twenty years earlier when she was praying for my dad’s salvation. That broke me! Her fervent prayers, in her beautiful cursive, locked into the pages clinging to hope. And all I could think was, “What a legacy.” And yet, I have memories that aren’t all that exciting when I think about time spent with her as a child. I know she loved me and I know she loved all of us grand kids, but I also know she struggled with depression and value. I have been able to forgive my grandmother for hurt from years ago, recognizing the similarity to the people Jesus prayed for on the cross, “They know not what they do.” Recognizing her inability to stretch in certain areas allowed me to give grace that only the Lord can give. And I saw her hurting, so I forgave.

Exhibit C: I accepted two positions this year: one of them was a permanent position within the US government, and within six months, was asked to take the Lead position in the same department. Any of you who work in leadership know the isolation that can result because you are under management, but above those who produce. I’m smack dab in the middle and though I love the challenges, I have no counterpart to assist. So I have to go to God for wisdom, guidance and help when working certain tasks.

I have had one worker who attacks me on a routine basis. She is a great worker, but one who is verbal when she has ideas of how something should go, and isn’t quiet about suggesting them to me. I listen and implement as needed, but don’t make all of the decisions. I also have made mistakes in the course of my training period, which this person has pounced on repeatedly.

facepalm

I find myself constantly having to forgive her so that I can remain professional, and simply because I cannot respond or address the situation without having the union involved. I choose to let things go, accept the support from upper management when they are aware and step in, but I can’t say that it’s not painful. One of the hardest things for me is when someone repeatedly does something to me and I have absolutely no clue why. I am simply her lead. I have to forgive. And God has been patient with me in learning this step. I turn the offense over to Him, and trust Him with the outcome. In turn, I am respectful through email, Skype and other means of communication and let it go.

Exhibit D: Two years ago, the Lord made it clear to my husband and myself that He was asking us to leave the church we had been growing at for almost ten years, and move to another church in the same town. We went, knowing only one person there, and tested the Word. It was biblical. Kevin knew immediately that we were being sent there. I had a month’s worth of sermons before I was a believer for the move. But I began to accept that this is what He was calling us to, and a few months later, there was a clear reason why I was at our new church (they were seeking to start a new women’s ministry – WOOHOO!).

But that didn’t stop the enemy from using the new location as a means of value-shredding. Our old church was so close-knit. We knew everyone and everyone knew us. We were greeters, task-doers, project-completers, life group leaders and Bible teachers. Once I knew my spiritual gift, I jumped in response, and it was awesome to see Kevin grow too. Then we were asked to move…to a bigger church…to where ONE person knew us…to where we had to start relationships from scratch…to a place where it seemed everyone knew each other already. (I know these are lies from the enemy, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t rush out after each service each week!) [Insert panic here].

running

And to top it all off, those close friends from our old church began to fade away. Those who said they would stay in touch, didn’t. We helped one couple move and after promises of dinners over and get-togethers have been to their home once since. There’s still a bottle of wine that was meant for them as a housewarming gift collecting dust in my collection. God’s response to my heart ache? Forgive.

Proximity changes relationships. If we see each other every week, we’re probably more involved. But staying in touch with those we don’t see actively can be challenging. I’ve learned to grieve the friendships that I thought would stand the test of time. I have learned to forgive even Christians who have hurt me unintentionally, or maybe even intentionally. (People who are hurting, hurt others – Christian or not.)

The enemy uses some of the people closest to me at times to tell me that I’m unwanted. And I believe him. I know that I’m loyal, love deeply, and have always felt like only certain friends can handle me. I want to be loved back the way I love, but end up aching instead. So I get the message that I’m too much. And it hurts. And I get angry. And I wallow in the loneliness for a time. And then I stop wanting girls as friends because the pattern never seems to change. Guys were always easier to hang with and had great senses of humor. But I digress… 

Then last week during personal Bible study, I had a revelation. God spoke into my heart in one of those a-ha moments. Those who followed hard after the Lord all had one thing in common: They did it alone and on the dependence of God. Their expectations for man had to be surrendered, and the calling placed on their lives shifted to primary.¬† Are we seeking the approval of God or man?¬† Paul asks this very question in Galatians 1:10.¬† If we are seeking men’s approval, we aren’t really servants of God.¬† And I know what I want to be…with or without those I thought would be standing next to me, because I know WHO IS ALWAYS WITH ME.

New Exhibit A: David was “a man after God’s own heart”, yet if you ask some, they remember primarily his infidelity. I’ve walked in those shoes, as a recipient and the accused. I know what I deserve. I don’t need human judgement, thank you. My Lord asked for a repentant heart and since I believe in and follow Jesus, He has granted me forgiveness and grace.

David was a Shepherd who took down Goliath (murder), and then later became King after Saul died – trying to murder David! God used Him, and David didn’t have an army of his besties running with him at all times.  He had his faith in what God could do.

Exhibit B: Rahab? She was a prostitute. Yet God used her to protect Joshua’s spies and in return, her family would be spared when the Israelites came to destroy Jericho. She didn’t have the acceptance of her town or the people of her profession. She exhibited faith and was obedient so her family could be protected.

Exhibit C: John the Baptist. He was a desert dweller who liked bugs and solitude, until he had to start baptizing people. Then he jumped wholeheartedly into his calling and was alone. Shouting for people to repent will definitely isolate you.  But he kept telling the truth about what was happening (and who was coming).  He was even imprisoned for calling out Herod’s improper marriage, and was beheaded for it. But it didn’t stop him from doing the right thing.

Exhibit D: C’mon…Noah? Clearly thought to be insane when he began building an ark, when there had never been a flood before. But he did it with faith. He obeyed, built and reaped the reward of listening. There were no neighbors cheering him and God on. There was no encouragement from the peanut gallery.

My understanding is now this: I have to follow hard after Christ on my own. It’s great to have encouragement and biblically we are told to encourage others for accountability and such, so don’t take my revelation to be saying we should exclude people and hide/isolate/build walls. That would be counter productive to what the Lord is asking us to do.¬† But the ache of thinking others are going to come through will only lead to human disappointment.¬† Expectations lead to conditions, which leads to conditional love, and truly, that’s not love at all. So, we have to let go of the expectations and forgive those who hurt us: all of the time, not just when it makes sense.¬†¬†

The actual steps we need to take in our walk, will be completely by ourselves, holding the hand of Christ in faith.  

holding hands

Can we feel it tangibly?¬† No.¬† But we can definitely see it throughout Scripture that those who really trusted in God weren’t clinging to human relationships.¬† They were following hard after Christ.¬† They were doing the unthinkable and were willing to die for it.¬† They weren’t pleasing men or seeking approval from others who were supposed to believe the same things as them (or even those who didn’t believe the same things).¬† They were stepping out in faith, answering the call, and accepting that it may lead them AWAY from family (Abraham and Lot much?).¬†¬†

The words of Jesus:¬†‚ÄúDo not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.¬†For I have come to turn¬†a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law‚ÄĒ¬†a man‚Äôs enemies will be the members of his own household.¬†Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.¬†Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.¬†Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34-38

If that’s not division, and a call from Jesus to serve Him no matter the cost, I don’t know what is.¬† I think we have to recognize that it can be completely unhealthy to uplift our family, friendships, relationships (or insert vice/idol here) above Jesus, because it means we aren’t willing to fully follow Christ.¬†Because the cost of Christ is truly losing things, and not having the rosy relationships we desire.¬† Sure, we may be blessed along the way with wonderful moments and happy times, dear friends who get it and are still encouraging- but we are in a battle.¬† And the goal of this present age is loving others to Jesus, not being so self-focused that we focus on the grief we haven’t moved through.¬† We have to be others-focused.¬† We have relationships that may never change this side of Heaven.¬† And THAT’S OKAY.I’ve come to realize that forgiveness does indeed take time, but it is mandated by Christ in Scripture because it is evidence of a life changed by Him.¬† When we hold onto grudges, or justified anger (righteous or not), it’s not beneficial to the Kingdom if it creates disunity.¬† Forgive, have the conversation if it’s necessary and move on.¬† Vengeance is HIS anyway.¬† He sees their treatment of us.¬† He doesn’t need us to seek revenge and hurt others more.¬† We have to step back and let HIM fight for us.¬†¬†We can ask the Lord for help in accepting the boundaries where they are, focus on the lost who need His truth, and continue to carry the light into the world.¬† If you have family who are walking alongside you in this, fantastic!¬† If you don’t, be encouraged that the goal of your faith is the salvation of your soul.¬† And you’re never alone.¬† Let this be your new beginning.¬† ūüôā

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!¬†In his great mercy¬†he has given us new birth¬†into a living hope¬†through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,¬†and into an inheritance¬†that can never perish, spoil or fade.¬†This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,¬†who through faith are shielded by God‚Äôs power¬†until the coming of the salvation¬†that is ready to be revealed¬†in the last time.¬†In all this you greatly rejoice,¬†though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.¬†These have come so that the proven genuineness¬†of your faith‚ÄĒof greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire‚ÄĒmay result in praise, glory and honor¬†when Jesus Christ is revealed.¬†Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him¬†and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,¬†for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.¬† 1 Peter 1:3-10¬†

Posted in Faith

What’s so good about Good Friday? (A plea to know Him)

three crosses

How could today be a good Friday?

For those of us who believe in Jesus, it‚Äôs the best Friday as we reflect and remember what Scripture teaches us about that day. So much happened that changed the course of history for those who know and love Him. And if you don’t know Him yet, it can change for you.

I‚Äôve read recently that the road Jesus traveled in Jerusalem on the way from the Praetorium to Golgotha is called Via Dolorosa. In Hebrew, this means ‚ÄúPainful Way‚ÄĚ. We are told in the gospels that He carried His cross until it was taken by Simon of Cyrene. I can‚Äôt imagine the physical and mental anguish our Lord had to endure. Being charged with blasphemy by the Sanhedrin, Jesus was sentenced to death after a middle of the night trial (totally shady according to Matthew 26:3-5). Because of the festival, it was common practice to release a prisoner, chosen by the crowd. Barabbas was released, a known criminal, and Jesus was flogged.

We may know public humiliation, but when has anyone called for our deaths in the streets of our city? When has a group of people spit on us and called us names, laughing and taunting? And would we be able to stay silent, to fulfill Scripture from Isaiah 53:7 that states that, ‚ÄúHe was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.‚ÄĚ Silence among those who accuse? This is not a natural response, trust me. No words of defense, or supernatural acts of explosions or angels raining down fireballs on those who screamed? His response was unheard of. Superhuman, actually. First Peter 2:23 states the following, ‚ÄúWhen they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.‚ÄĚ What absolute confidence.

Because Jesus was fully God and fully man, He knew the exact time frame He‚Äôd have to endure the physical pain and anguish. And I‚Äôm not minimizing that impact on his physical frame. None of us know what it‚Äôs like to have skin ripped from our backs by tools of torture. None of us know what it‚Äôs like to have to carry our ‚Äúdeath bed‚ÄĚ for a distance before we are placed on it. None of us know what it‚Äôs like to be placed on that piece of wood, helpless and scared, knowing we are about to be suspended in the air until our last breath.

Yet, we ARE the ones who deserve that for sinning against our Holy Father.

As someone in the medical profession who loves to understand the disease process, I have researched the physical changes that occurred during Jesus’ arrest through His crucifixion and it’s intense to say the least. Beginning with internal stress, Jesus began to sweat blood (hematohidrosis) while praying at the Mount of Olives. He was exhausted, as He hadn’t slept. When He was being beat by the Roman soldiers, flesh was ripped from his back by scourging, and there would have been fluid buildup around His lungs. The crown of thorns that was placed on His head was known to have irritated major nerves, causing agony. The beatings should have taken Him out. But He kept going. His will to fulfill the task was foremost on His mind. That, my friends, is real LOVE.

He was naked when He was hung on the cross. Romans pierced the median nerve in the hand with nails which would have shot bolts of pain through his arm into his spine. Having a nail in the plantar nerve in the foot would have had the same effect. And the position in which He was hung, was to make breathing nearly impossible. One would have to push up, painfully, on the nails in their feet, to try to fill their lungs with air, which are already compromised by fluid. There are a few theories as to what Jesus’ cause of death was, but medically, it could have been a blood clot to the heart, exposure or thirst, hypovolemic shock, suffocation, pulmonary edema.

We know that His legs weren’t broken (John 19:33-34) because He was able to audibly give up His spirit. With legs broken, He wouldn’t have been able to push up to breathe.

Jesus knew for Him it was temporary pain, but for us, permanent redemption.

The outcome outweighed the task. He knew that God the Father would raise Him back to life, and that He would be seen by thousands to begin the early church.

Today, we remember His physical sacrifice. The Bible declares that it was our death that Jesus paid for. In Romans 5:8, we see, ‚ÄúBut God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.‚ÄĚ

You are a sinner. I am a sinner. Neither of us can ever be fully whole and sinless this side of Heaven, but the One who has the power to wipe the slate clean DID. He took a part of Himself, allowed Jesus to become fully man so He could identify with us (Hebrews 4:15), and took His shed blood as full payment for the sickness of our hearts, so He could redeem us and bring us back to relationship with Him.

If you believe the name of Jesus, accept that He died for your sins and believe in His resurrection, you are saved.

That is what today is all about: remembering what I’ve done to put my Lord on a cross, so His blood would be shed, so His wounds would forever heal me, so His resurrection would bring glory to God, the same God I will stand in front of someday, at the end of my brief earthy life. Instead of dismissing me to Hell, He will lovingly declare that He knows me because I knew Jesus.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the door is open to all of us, not just Jew, but Gentile too! My eternal future is SECURE. AMEN!

There is truly an inexpressible joy inside of my heart, because I realize what I‚Äôve been saved from. I know the things I‚Äôve done, but even those I don‚Äôt remember, I am accountable for. Our God is a God of love, and justice. Both qualities can coexist- ask any parent. You love, but must correct. Obedience is necessary. And He also came in and paid the price for us, so we wouldn‚Äôt have to face our consequences- the ones we are all guilty of! What an incredible Savior! God’s grace is immeasurable and unending!

I know the end result of a life that isn’t surrendered to God. It is darkness and silence that will ensue as a result of rejecting Him. And it won’t.ever.end.

The Bible describes Hell as a place of torment, weeping, gnashing of teeth. Scripture says it was meant for the ones who rejected God, those who fell from Heaven and followed the prince of the air. There is no hope, no relief, no end. Is fighting God really worth it? Whether we like it or not, He gets the final say. He allowed sin for His purposes, yet He has offered a way out: place your trust in His Son, follow Him and be saved. Eternity is a long time, people. We all will live forever, but after earthly death, we will be in one of two places.

Please repent and come to the truth! Jesus is the ONLY doorway to the Father. In John 14:6, Jesus declares, ‚ÄúI am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.‚ÄĚ Entering Heaven is contingent on the relationship with His Son who paid your debt. It is not how many good works you do, by being a ‚Äúgood‚ÄĚ person (the Bible says not one of us is good (Romans 3:10-12 and Psalm 14:2-3), or by trying hard enough. We must know His Son to enter Heaven and live forever. Scripture also states that the Lord does not wish for anyone of us to perish. He is providing time now, but we don‚Äôt know when the End is actually coming, so don‚Äôt delay!! Please make your decision for Christ today. Your life will change, your end destination will change, and your future will be secure.

Today is the best Friday, because I now have life. There is a quote someone said which I’m paraphrasing, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, He came to make dead people alive.” I love that! That’s the truth. Will you make Jesus your Lord today? You are welcome to call or reach out to me. I’d love to introduce you to Him.

Have a blessed Easter, dear ones! ūüôā

Posted in Faith

It’s Christmas!

Bethlehem.gif

This season, we celebrate Jesus’ birth! ūüôā

Reflecting on Luke 2, I love to think about what was happening on that night.

A census was issued by Caesar Augustus to have families return to their birthplace. Joseph and Mary made the trek to Bethlehem to be counted. He was going to register Mary who was pledged to be married to him. Most of us are familiar with the story of an innkeeper that told them there was no room, however Answers in Genesis gives this account as a reasonable explanation for what really happened:

Joseph and Mary probably stayed with Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem, but because of the large influx of people, the house would have been crowded and the kataluma (guest room) was full. Consequently, Joseph and Mary would have been relegated to living in the lower level of the house. It is hard to believe that pregnant Mary would have been turned away from a relative’s home in a society that greatly valued familial ties.

Archaeologists have excavated first century homes from the Judean hill country. They have discovered that the upper level served as a guest chamber while the lower level served as the living and dining rooms. Oftentimes, the more vulnerable animals would be brought in at night to protect them from the cold and theft. This sounds strange to many of us, since we wouldn’t dream of bringing some of our cattle into the house at night, but even today in some countries of Europe (e.g., Germany and Austria), the farmhouse and the animal quarters are often different parts of the same building.

This is where the manger comes into play. Mary likely gave birth to Jesus in the lower level of a crowded house, in which some of the animals had been brought in for the night. She then wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths and laid Him in the manger (feeding trough).

And thinking of the shepherds out in the fields that night, it’s incredible to think what they saw and heard. It probably started out as a normal evening, and then within moments, an angel appeared (most likely, the shepherds had never seen them before) and told them not to be afraid. Sure, no problem. But then, the shepherds are told:

I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. -Luke 2:9-12

Can you imagine just minding your own business and then a being appears next to you with a message? And then immediately after that, the sky opens and more angels show up, singing?

GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST HEAVEN, AND ON EARTH PEACE TO THOSE ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS!

To be alive and witness these events had to be amazing! I know the shepherds had to be initially fearful, because an angel told them not to be, and there must have been an ignition in their hearts to go see what was happening because they “hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” Luke 2:16

Here’s the part I love: He used unlikely messengers. And I’m not talking about the angels. I love that God chose shepherds to carry the message to the people. Then they spread the news of what they saw, praising and glorifying God for what they had seen and heard. Oh, to be near people that rejoice and get excited about what the Lord is doing! Never before, did they have hope like that! Up to that time, those who knew the Lord only knew that one day He would send a Messiah to save them, and here they were in the fields, getting the message firsthand. What an honor!

I’m in awe, as well, of the role of shepherds. They obviously take care of sheep, but how exactly? They provide food, water, protection in the field and when walking through rivers, shelter from storms, and restoration to the fold when one runs off.

And how incredible that the Lord used the same role to describe Himself, to say that He is our Good Shepherd! In John 10, Jesus explains to the Pharisees about those who are able to enter the sheep pen by the gate, not other means. He is equating access to the Father through Him, our Good Shepherd. He says that those who know Him hear His voice, which is the same as shepherds who have a specific call to their sheep. Others can mimic the shepherd, but the sheep won’t respond. So it should be with us.

I segued to shepherds because I love the correlation between one who protects sheep and the ONE who protects us. Jesus was sent by God to become man, to be able to identify with us in our flesh, to be tempted and resist, so He could prove that we could do the same. He also humbled Himself by doing His Father’s will. He sacrificed His life for His sheep (US!) and died on the cross so that when God and the Holy Spirit resurrected Him three days later, not only did He fulfill Scripture, but He conquered death FOREVER for those who believe in Him. Death no longer has a hold on us!! And there is also now a WAY, a DOOR to get to the Father that is not through human means, no matter what people tell you. We have FULL ACCESS to our Heavenly Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. And all of this was to be accomplished by our Lord whom we celebrate today.

So it’s an honor to reflect on the good news that brings us great joy this Christmas morning! Jesus came to Earth to fulfill His redemption plan for us. I am so thankful for the way He modeled righteous living, His continual and unending mercy and grace, His forgiveness that is never withheld and His precious, sacrificial love. He was fully God and fully man so that He could redeem us.

When you are sipping coffee, watching wrapping paper fly by, and listening to Christmas music, may you take a moment to stop and reflect on all that this baby meant and still means for our salvation.

Glory to God in the Highest INDEED!

Posted in Faith

Clear vision

I was seven years old when I realized that I could not read the words on the blackboard in my second grade classroom. ¬†They had become blurry after a few days, and I wasn’t allowed to sit in the back row any longer. ¬†I mentioned something to my parents, and shortly after, my mom¬†took me to see Dr. Rowe, a local eye doctor who¬†fitted me for my first pair of eyeglasses. ¬†It’s been almost thirty years since that day, and I’m incredibly grateful for the maker of corrective lenses and disposable contact lenses. ¬†Without them, I would not have been able to blog my first 60 blog posts (or do many other countless things)!

I was diagnosed with myopia along with astigmatism. ¬†Reading close-up or far away truly made no difference. I was unable to do it physically. ¬†Seeing underwater is something I’ve never been able to do, nor have I been able to see clearly across the room when removing my glasses at the end of an evening before bed. Had I been born in another time period, I would be considered an invalid. ¬†I would not be able to see the computer screen to medically code for the veterans that I submit claims for. ¬†I would not be able to drive a vehicle, order lunch from a fast food place, see across the room to whomever had called my name. ¬†I had a fear of losing/breaking my prescription eyeglasses (due to my intense prescription), or having a contact lens fall out, and having to drive home from someplace with only one working eye. ¬†These are not life threatening emergencies, but realities in the life of someone without 20/20 vision. My hope was to one day be able to see without glasses.

Recently, my husband and I made a financial decision that would allow me to undergo LASIK surgery.  So I did.

wp-1468173987035.jpg
The last picture of me with prescription glasses on. ūüôā

I have been researching the surgery for quite some time. ¬†I had watched a video that showed up close EXACTLY what happens during the procedure, and the follow-up afterward. ¬†I spoke with people who had done the procedure and loved the results. ¬†I had read reviews online of local surgeons, their staff, and reviews of the procedure, cleanliness of surgical space, and rates of success before choosing a location. ¬†I reviewed pricing options, financing options, and reimbursement factors before making my final decision. ¬†And ultimately, I found out I had money left over in a health savings account from a previous job that would cover the cost!! ¬†SOLD! ūüôā

So I had LASIK surgery this past Thursday morning, while my husband and I were off of work. ¬†I had to put antibiotic drops in the night before, and I left my home Thursday morning incredibly hopeful, squashing the anxiety I felt in my stomach. ¬†It’s silly how our minds wander down crazy paths when we are about to embark on something we’ve never done. ¬†Vast were the irrational fears that began to creep into my mind: would I jerk around during the procedure and laser off my nose? ¬†What if the numbing drops didn’t work and I could feel everything? ¬†What if I woke up after the procedure and my vision was WORSE?!?!

Thankfully none of those things happened.

Below is a picture of my eye before the laser part began.

My husband was fascinated with this:

wp-1468173951583.jpgAnd the laser part where they began to reshape my cornea:

wp-1468173964189.jpg

How wild, right!?!

The end result, however, has been none of those crazy irrational fears I’ve listed above. ¬†I had to go through some excessive tearing of my eyes as they adjusted to the corneal tissue growing and reattaching itself, and I also had a few sporadic moments where light sensitivity became an issue. ¬†Overall, I woke up Friday morning with the ability to see into the bathroom and I didn’t have to reach over to the nightstand for my glasses. ¬†It was a wonderful feeling, and still catches me by surprise!! ¬†I’m extremely thankful and glad I did this!

It got me thinking about eyesight and vision in general. ¬†Going through this procedure certainly was an example of trust for me. ¬†The second that I laid on the surgical table, I could not physically see ANYTHING/ANYONE. ¬†I had to trust the surgeon, the nurses, the laser, the pre-programmed measurements, the table, the calming medication, the numbing eyedrops, the outcome, the treatment afterward, etc. ¬†I ultimately trusted my Heavenly Father, as this was elective, and I didn’t have to put myself through this unless I truly wanted to. ¬†I trusted God with my choice of location, and the decision to do something that would benefit me long-term.

Throughout the procedure (Note: you’re awake the entire time), the surgeon was very good about making sure I was physically comfortable and ready to proceed. ¬†He and the nurses would encourage me, let me know what the next step was and how long it would take, and then GO only when I said I was ready. ¬†That helped me to feel safe and secure with them. ¬†Understanding what was coming and having a guide to know ahead of time was essential in building trust. ¬†If every day was like Thursday morning for me, I would be exempt from having trust issues. ¬†Wouldn’t that be great? ¬†But that is not always the case in life, is it?

I’m about to drop some serious truth here: ALL HUMAN BEINGS are people: individuals created by and loved by an amazing God. ¬†Over time and given our family dynamic, we learn and develop how to respond to those around us, sometimes based on personal experience, sometimes based on our parent’s views, sometimes based on other people’s views who have significance in our lives. ¬†We inadvertently are shaped by those who we learn from.

Value for every human being should be the same, as we all have value in the eyes of our Creator.  Sadly, though, bad life experiences with someone of another faith, religion or color has tainted our view of them as a person.  Even worse, shared stories of these events or views help children/others to take in that same tainted view, and begin to see someone through our perspective, as dark as it may be.

We go to the heart’s core function of judgement.

We may not even know someone, but based on what Susan’s sister’s uncle’s brother went through, we may find ourselves in a similar situation. ¬†The odds of that happening are beyond slim, but we begin to think irrationally and filter life through others’ eyes.

Is this fair?  Should we even be doing this?

The answers, of course, are NO and NO.

How does this begin, how do we end it, and how do we proceed for future generations?

In the original texts of Scripture, Romans 7 and Romans 8¬†use¬†the word “sarx”, which is Greek and means “sinful nature” or “rebellious nature”. ¬†The Bible is stating that we all have within us a nature that goes against the Lord’s value system. ¬†We are created, born into a sinful world, and daily fight against the laws of God. ¬†These laws are innate, since we are created by HIM. ¬†Our nature, however, hates the laws of God, and therefore chooses to reject the laws set in place to protect us. ¬†Only when we submit to the authority of God, and accept Jesus’ blood sacrifice as our own, can we be made right with God, and be given a new nature. ¬†Until then, we are sinful, hateful, judgmental human beings with an autonomous nature that is inherently selfish. ¬†See Paul’s words in Romans 7:14-25,

14¬†We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15¬†I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16¬†And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17¬†As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18¬†For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19¬†For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do‚ÄĒthis I keep on doing. 20¬†Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[b] a slave to the law of sin.

  There is a constant war going on inside of us until it is surrendered to Jesus.

Romans 8: 1-17 tells us this:

8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c]And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[d] because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you.

12¬†Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation‚ÄĒbut it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13¬†For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14¬†For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.15¬†The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, ‚ÄúAbba,[g] Father.‚ÄĚ 16¬†The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God‚Äôs children. 17¬†Now if we are children, then we are heirs‚ÄĒheirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Our flesh (sin nature) and our spirit is¬†at war. ¬†We have been blinded by the enemy who longs for us to stay blind and follow him. ¬†See John 8:44 and 1 John 1:8-9. ¬†To deny Satan’s¬†power doesn’t make him less powerful. It means you’re already under it. ¬†He is very much at fault.

Second Corinthians 4:4 states:

4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Without clear vision, we are led to believe that we are here on Earth to serve ourselves, that people’s lives don’t matter, that we can make judgments about each other, slander and degrade each other, hate, murder and kill those that think differently, and assume that there¬†are no consequences.

That is not the truth.

We are born into sin, whether we want to admit this or not.  We are sinful people.  We will always be selfish and want what is best for us, disregarding the needs of others, or their well-being, because this is how the enemy operates.  Our nature and the wiles of the devil cause us to be selfish and have no regard for how we live.  The only way to combat this, is to recognize our very rebellious nature that wants what it wants, regardless of how it affects others, and surrender it to Jesus Christ.  He has proven Himself to be the Son of God, who loved us in our rebellious state, and died to destroy that sinful nature, and to vanquish the darkness that wants to separate us from God and others.

Seeing sin in others is pretty easy, isn’t it? ¬†Do you know someone who gossips, who loves to share news of something that happened to someone else without the actual person being present to agree/disagree? ¬†Do you know someone who makes vulgar comments toward a certain type of race, gender, employment status, etc.? ¬†Do you know someone who places blame on someone else constantly without ever taking responsibility for their own actions? ¬†We are so quick to judge others, without realizing what it truly says about ourselves.

Matthew 7:3-5 says the following:

3¬†‚ÄúWhy do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother‚Äôs eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4¬†How can you say to your brother, ‚ÄėLet me take the speck out of your eye,‚Äô when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5¬†You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother‚Äôs eye.

Who are you to judge someone else?  Do you never make mistakes?  Do you never have a bad day and react accordingly?  Where is the love and grace for people who have bad days?  Where is the lack of stereotyping when someone wrongs you?  Where is the forgiveness for actions that hurt?

The truth of the matter with what is happening in America currently is corruption at its worst, and injustice that is out of control.  We are allowed to be angry when people are being murdered for no reason.  We are allowed to be angry when those who are supposed to protect us are profiling and making matters where there was previously none.  We are allowed to disagree.  We are allowed to protest these wrongdoings and state solutions that can benefit society.  These are still freedoms we are allowed to have here.

What is not allowed is incessant murder in the name of someone else. ¬†We are not allowed to let our anger take control and take lives of those whom we deem “inconsequential”. ¬†We are not allowed to take weapons and use them on others because we disagree with them, or feel like they no longer deserve to live. ¬†We are not allowed to go in front of the justice system and make judgments ourselves. ¬†We must wait for these processes to work themselves out in time. ¬†But our impatience keeps us from thinking rationally, and our feelings of injustice have us crying out to God that He’s taking too long.

These are judgments that are reserved for God alone. ¬†And HE wishes no one to perish without the knowledge of who He is, so He’s not advocating murder when we disagree. ¬†Where is the peace and love for each other? ¬†Where is the positive dialogue that can happen when we put others first?

We hate punishments, and we hate correction. ¬†We want to be right. ¬†We want to be heard. But we need to find a new way to do this. ¬†And though I would love to provide a clear-cut solution to the hurt in today’s world, I don’t have the one you want to hear.

I have one name:

JESUS.

The reason people are out of control and self-seeking is because they are operating out of their blinded vision.  They only see themselves.  They have hatred in their hearts and are using their voice as a mouthpiece for justification.  They hide behind computers so their faces will be obstructed.  They write and spew words that vilify and destroy others.

We, humans, are hateful beings. Read any comments section on any news site and you’ll see people who have never met each other, destroying each other because of a difference of opinion. ¬†We don’t care to hear what others have to say when it doesn’t support our own beliefs.

This is not love.  This is not mercy.  This is not grace.  This is not right.

This is blindness.

The only way to clarity is to seek Jesus and His ways. ¬†We are so quick to make assumptions about others, or to predict behavior patterns. ¬†The truth is that God says none of us know the intentions of another’s heart. ¬†So why do we act this way?

I’m reading a book by Ted Dekker called “The Forgotten Way” and in it, he says the following regarding our understanding of Paul’s teachings in Romans:

“Have we lost sight of Paul’s teaching? ¬†He made it plain: The preeminent evidence shown by those who know the Father is this: LOVE. ¬†And not just any love, but the unique kind that loves enemies, not only those who show us love in return. ¬†A love that is patient, showing no jealousy or arrogance, keeping no record of wrong, not seeking its own and not provoked by another’s behavior. ¬†This is to love as Christ loves, submitting to each other without judgment.”

The description above is the way to show the world the clarity of who Jesus is, by HOW HE LOVES.  He longs to see peace and unity among all of us.  Black lives matter.  White lives matter.  ALL LIVES MATTER!  Jesus died for all of them.  We are not to be taking these lives away from each other.  We are to encourage each other, and show love to those who are unlovable.

Something I learned a long time ago is that hurting people hurt people. ¬†Instead of responding with another harsh word or assuming why someone says/does something, why not respond to them in love? ¬†Turn the anger away, instead of fueling it. ¬†Ask Jesus for the love to give to those who are bitter. ¬†No one knows the journey of anyone else, so show grace when someone may not view life the same way. ¬†Show mercy when someone deserves justice. ¬†The Lord will take care of someone else’s need to “learn a lesson”. ¬†It’s not your job.

And let’s begin to ask the Lord to help us see others the way He does. ¬†He sees us as we are: by our hearts. ¬†If we truly saw ourselves the way He does, we wouldn’t be so quick to judge others. ¬†We need Him to transform our hearts of¬†stone¬†into hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

Colossians 3:5-9 shows us who we really are, no matter how we deny it to ourselves:

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:[a] sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self[c]with its practices

Thankfully, there is a verse 10:

10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator

Jesus never leaves us as He found us.  He transforms us.  We can become NEW in Christ and learn to love with His heart, instead of our sinful, hateful heart.  We can see each other through His eyes, with love and compassion for each other, with a yearning for others to know Him and share His gospel of life eternal with God.

Love is possible.  Unity is possible.

Will you choose to have clear vision today?

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 ‚ÄĒ 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‚ÄĒ 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.

‚ÄúEveryone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.‚ÄĚ 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, ‚ÄúJesus is Lord,‚ÄĚ 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

Selflessness and what it means for all

Ugh…I’m so done with this…

A nose that is blocked by swollen nasal passages with only mouth-breathing as an option, an incessant cough that sounds like the Jake brake on a diesel truck, and an urgent rushing to the bathroom due to the side effects of the cold medicine that is NOT providing relief or results.

image

And it’s no one else in the house that is driving me up a wall with these symptoms…it’s ME!¬† My voice has taken on a low, James Earl Jones-type inflection that I’m not used to, and just this morning on a work phone call, I had to convince the recipient that it was me!!

image

Forgive my brief complaint, but I’ve never been down this long. Typically, I determine my main symptoms, listen to my body and rest, drink plenty of fluids, take OTC meds and move on about my day.¬† But since January, after completing our corporate fasting at church, my body hasn’t been the same.¬† I thought I knocked it out by using NyQuil and Vicks on my feet with socks, four weeks ago, but this came back! Since the beginning of 2016, I’ve probably been able to breathe through both nostrils seven days total.¬† I know it’s not the end of the world, but I would give anything to smell ANYTHING!

So, with plenty of time to take a respite on the couch, I’ve had my “morning” quiet time (which is now 2pm or later EST due to being a vampire for job-related reasons) and as I was catching up on an online Bible study, reading Scripture began to turn my complaining into praise.¬† I fell on 1 Corinthians 13, which many of us lovingly call, “The Love Chapter” because it defines characteristics of love.

I’d love to be able to say that I could insert my name into the chapter and say how loving, patient, kind, etc. I am, but I’d only be fooling myself.¬† There are times in my life that I can recall the exact opposite.¬† I may have let my emotions take over and responded erratically to a situation, or assumed something about someone before I had a chance to know them, or put an expectation on someone that once they didn’t meet, I knew I could call them out.¬† That’s not even half of what I know I’m capable of.

image

The truth of this passage is that love is many things that we cannot do on our own.¬† Our nature has a way of putting ourselves first in all things (we call this SELFISHness), but the gift of God is that He is able to equip us to put others first.¬† Being others-centered is a way of becoming like Jesus.¬† Jesus didn’t focus on Himself during his entire 33 years on Earth!¬† Sadly, I can’t even go a day!

Selflessness is proof of Jesus being present in our lives.¬† By putting others first, we are showing that we know others have value, and they should be served.¬† There’s no scale where we balance out the actions of another to see if they deserve to be treated kindly, we just do it.¬† Now knowing that love is of God, and knowing that to know love means to show love, consider the following:

1 John 4:8 states, “Anyone who does not love, does not know God, because God is love.”

Hit you in the gut a bit?¬† Here, the apostle John is urging those who are reading his words (followers of Jesus, the church) to love.¬† He begins verse seven with, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and anyone that loves is born of God, and knows God.”

To know God is to know love, and to know love means we realize the value of it and our need for it, receive it from God and give it away to others.¬† God never gives us something to keep for ourselves.¬† Now the lesson in this verse is that if we withhold love to others, we are not loving God.¬† If we aren’t loving others, we aren’t loving at all, and we can’t possibly know the Lord if we’re not loving like Him.

Let me explain it out even further.  To know God is to know who He is and what He has done.  God, in His great mercy, sent His Son to Earth to model His characteristics: patience with those who needed it, words of life for those who were dead, compassion toward those society had rejected, etc.  Jesus manifested God in the flesh.

image

And we as believers who also live in flesh, have a responsibility to exhibit the same.¬† Why?¬† Because Jesus died for our sins and rose to defeat them. That’s why.¬† Plain and simple.¬† The hurt you dispel to others hurts God just as much as the hurt you receive from others.¬† Both hurt. Both offend. Both stunt growth. Stop the cycle.¬† Give the offense to God, trust He will work it out, and move on with your life.¬† If you’re holding onto things from the past, you’re not moving forward and there is much life to be lived.¬† It begins with taking the focus off of ourselves and putting it on Jesus, who deserves all praise for what He has done so we could be reconciled to God.

Staying in a position of selfishness means that I am constantly questioning why things are happening to me, or thinking for some reason that they shouldn’t happen to me. That is illogical in a world of selfish people. You will be hurt. You will be offended. You will be shamed, picked on, bullied, etc.

The key to combatting the “me syndrome” is knowing your own value, which resides in WHO GOD IS. He is perfect in every way. He made you, you are HIS and you are loved by Him. Hold onto that truth, and live that out. Choose to let go of that which desires to imprison you, love people where they are because you want to be loved the same, and choose to focus on things that are of importance.

So much is temporary here, but what really matters is our response to the goodness of God, and His compassion toward us. Do we believe He is who He said He was, and are we living our lives aligned with His plans for us? Are we living surrendered to His purposes? How do you know?

Let’s say your day gets interrupted by someone who doesn’t know God and they treat you in a way you don’t want to be treated. Do you condemn them, or love them? Because they don’t know God, stop and consider that you may be in their lives because you will help them learn who He is. If they don’t know God, they can’t love like Him. But we can. The responsibility to love will always be on our shoulders. And it’s not a hard thing to do when you realize what He has done in love for you. It gets easier to pass it on, because love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. No longer when you’re hurt or wronged will you be holding onto it, and rehashing it over and over. You’ll let it go quickly to God for His forgiveness, and choose to love. It is entirely possible with God.

I want to love like Jesus loves.¬† My heart has lived on Earth for 36 years and I have endured much, but also not as much in comparison to other people.¬† I have endured what God allowed in my life, or the consequences of choices I made apart from Him.¬† But through grace, and His forgiveness, I don’t have to hold onto the past or the hurt people have caused me.¬† I believe that putting others first, especially those who have hurt or wronged me, can be a stepping stone in their life to see grace in ways they don’t expect.¬† And who gets the glory there?¬† God!¬† Putting others first will always be Christlike.

The weather outside has turned to rain, and it is getting colder as some snow is on the way.¬† My husband, went to the back bedroom, threw on a shirt, jeans and some shoes, and left!¬† I assumed my coughing had done him in!¬† Surely, he couldn’t take it anymore!!

But alas, I was wrong.  Instead, my handsome groom dropped off the following:

image

This, to me, is a picture of selflessness.

I haven’t been verbally complaining of my ailments (although I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if my coughing would cease either), but just the fact that he would go out of his way to do something that makes me feel better, means he put me first.¬† This is love.¬† This is doing something for someone else because it benefits them, and the blessing from God for being obedient is now my husband’s.¬† He gets it.¬† And should he come down with something that is just as¬† relentless, I will do exactly the same.

Now having taken my Mucinex, my praise is even better!! I am incredibly thankful for the love that God has poured over me and allowed me to receive, despite my heart that needs His tender care and Scripture soaked wrapping.  I am thankful for an opportunity to share these truths with others via the internet.  And I am thankful that this sinus infection is maintainable and temporary.  I want to remember the lozenges that were brought to me in a time of need, so I can do the same when an opportunity arises.

Dear reader, I pray that any hurts you carry, may be dropped at the foot of the cross for the sake of being free. Realize Jesus’s love for you just as you are, and that you can have a relationship with Him today by just accepting that He is the Messiah and He loved you enough to die for you so you could be with Him forever. Our lives are fleeting, but they matter to the Lord. He created us for His glory, and loving on each other for His sake brings Him much glory. Will you choose to be less selfish today, so someone can see Jesus in you? If so, I just may share some of my lozenges with you. ūüėČ

Posted in Faith

Thoughts on the New Year

open door

Well, we’ve officially moved into a new year. ¬†2016 is here! ¬†Maybe it’s my age showing, but I’m amazed at how each year seems to go by faster than the one before. ¬†And as I look around, I see there is always more money to make, less time to spend and many unhappy people.

With the new year comes time for New Year’s resolutions. ¬†Since 2010, I’ve stopped making resolutions because I don’t like the feeling that I’ve failed. ¬†Setting the bar and not meeting it means I didn’t succeed, so why put that unnecessary pressure on myself? ¬†But lately, I am feeling the opposite. ¬†Since I have given my life to Christ, it doesn’t matter if I set the bar and fail, because He gives opportunity after opportunity without deadline.

I’ve written in the past about how I’ve¬†run ahead of God¬†and how He’s been extremely gracious in my hustle and bustle. ¬†In the past, I have loved the frantic, crazy pace of getting things done and having the feeling of accomplishment. ¬†I’m not ashamed of it because it’s part of my make up, however as I get older, I’m realizing God is asking me to sllllllooooooooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwww dooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwnn.

Being a woman, it’s natural to just take over certain tasks, keep everyone in line, make sure things get done, and go to bed depleted. ¬†Checking boxes makes everyone happy, especially when the bottom line is saving money and time. ¬†But in all of the busyness of life, I’ve even recently noticed how Christian biblical women authors are encouraging women to listen to the voice of the Lord and slow down. ¬†And I believe God is speaking through them.

Lysa Terkeurst has released the best yes,

Susie Larson wrote your sacred yes and

Karen Ehman shares how to let it go.

I’m seeing a recurring theme from women who have “been there, done that” and have learned the rhythm of the Lord is in patiently waiting and not rushing. ¬†What a crazy concept in our fast-paced society! ¬†We don’t like to read these books that make us admit that we’re so goal-focused and check box driven, especially when it means something in our behavior pattern will have to change. ¬†Yet realizing EXACTLY THAT will save us much heartache and unnecessary rebuke.

What is it that sends us to the task driven life? ¬†In social circles, what is it that we are afraid of, if we don’t DO something? ¬†Each woman (or man) who reads this can answer the questions themselves. ¬†Honestly, I believe the questions should be mulled over, and prayed over, with time to hear back from God before replying. ¬†When we can recognize WHY we jump to do something, and whether or not it’s something the Lord is truly asking of us, we can answer with confidence and not hesitation.

fasting

Our church is currently in a new sermon series about spending time with Jesus. ¬†As part of that study, we are learning to fast¬†and actually spend quality time with God. ¬†Doing so requires discipline to follow the suggested regimen, not eating physical food, but depending on the Word of God and what He is speaking to us. ¬†It’s a common practice done in the Bible by Jesus, for getting closer to God, and seeking His will. ¬†I’ve done it once, as a teenager, when raising money for the 30 hour famine. ¬†I’ve never done it longer, and I’ve never done it with the intent of getting specific answers from God. ¬†I believe it is not a manipulation tool, because God cannot be manipulated. ¬†But it is a practice worth doing, to have my physical body completely depend on God during my quiet time, and to exchange my hunger for food, to hunger for Him.

I have much to pray about specifically at this time in my life: I have many unsaved friends and neighbors, stepchildren with concerns about their futures, family members who have broken relationships, a job that is inconsistent at times, clarity for a dream/passion of mine to come to fruition. ¬†All of these things need to be placed in the loving hands of the Father and LEFT THERE. ¬†I needn’t pick them up again. ¬†I can trust Him and I believe that my quiet time with Him will be beneficial, as He will provide what is best for me.

fervent

Now my issue is that I’ve listed my specific prayer needs/wants, but I’ve left out the ones that the Lord has for me. ¬†How will I know them if I don’t ask Him what He has planned or what He is asking me to do? ¬†I fall into the trap of thinking that prayer is simply telling God everything that I want Him to accomplish and then waiting for it to happen. ¬†Have you ever had a conversation with someone like that? ¬†They just talk at you and walk away, and you feel as if you didn’t have a chance to share your viewpoint on anything? ¬†It’s one-sided, unfair, and is one thing I’m resolving this year. ¬†I’m going to take the time to wait for His response. ¬†Who am I to make demands? ¬†I know I am His daughter, but if anyone deserves respect and ultimate praise, it’s God. ¬†I need to be reminded of how I walk into His presence.

And something else that is heavy on my heart, is the gift that the Lord has bestowed on my husband and me. ¬†We love spontaneity, whether it be something we do together solely as a couple, or whether it involve other people who need us in a time of need. ¬†We have been obedient in listening to the Lord for those opportunities and then just “going”. ¬†And we’ve seen the fruit of that obedience. ¬†A dear friend of ours recently said Kevin’s and my greatest gift is our presence. ¬†That we stop what we are doing, and just show up. ¬†And I think that will be something I pray about specifically again this year. ¬†Where do you need us to be, in what way, and what should we bring, if anything? ¬†Giving of time has become such a wonderful way for me to see how the Lord can use me, instead of me having an agenda, or a place to rush off to. ¬†Time really is the most precious gift.

Have you ever done the OneWord¬†movement for the New Year? ¬†I’ve come up with mine and it will be something I pray over and specifically focus on for 2016. ¬†My word is #abide. ¬†God has been speaking into my heart for some time now about spending time with Him (which is why I’m so jazzed about our sermon series at church), but also because I have been convicted by James 4:7. ¬†I need to be drawing near to God and resisting the devil. ¬†So much time in my past has been given to him, out of fear or insecurity, and I’m reclaiming my value this year. ¬†I’m going to spend more time with the Lord, actual QUALITY TIME, and immediately relinquish all thoughts that aren’t from Him.

post it         calendar        tast list

Finally, I have a challenge for you, a very simple one.  If you trust your life in the capable hands of God, do you believe He has everything under His control?  Do you know that He hears the prayers of His children and filters them through His ultimate purposes and wisdom?

A girlfriend of mine told me a few years ago that when she is in prayer about the future, or something that she is uncertain that she’s supposed to be doing, she takes the task, calendar, or a sticky note with the option written on it, and puts it on the floor. ¬†Then she prays over it, and waits to hear back from the Lord regarding it. ¬†She doesn’t say YES¬†until she knows it is what He is asking her to do.

I’m going to be doing this challenge. ¬†I’ve said yes so many times in the past, without knowing whether or not something¬†was correct, and I’ve become overwhelmed and burnt out. ¬†So instead of struggling to find my way, I’m going to give everything to Him and wait for Him to interrupt my plans, intercede with a better idea, and speak to my heart in a way that only I know.

Praying a special prayer for each reader, that your year would be one of surrender, hope, trust, love, grace and forgiveness.  God is trustworthy and faithful to His promises.