December 26, 2013

Immanuel

Christmas. For some of us, this season fills us with childlike joy and excitement. The lights, parties, decorations, cookies, presents, family members…everything about Christmas energizes us and leaves us counting down the months until December. Maybe we don’t even wait until December…maybe we deck our halls in November. Heck, some of us wish we worked in Christmas Shops so we never had to go without the holiday!

And for the rest of us, this season is a stark reminder of all the ways we have failed and the fact that we are alone. Whether we have lost a family member, been harshly separated from one, or feel as though we have failed our families, we would rather close our eyes and fast-forward through this holiday that seems to be a vain attempt to mask the pain for a month. Reality sets in thirty days later reminding us of our failures and aloneness.

But maybe we have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. Sure, you’ve heard that before, haven’t you? “Let’s remember the reason for the season!” “Keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas!” We put up the nativity scenes, we read through Luke 2, we tell our children this is Jesus’ birthday, we say “Merry CHRISTmas!” and not “Happy Holidays!”. But has it all become so rote that we truly miss out on one of the most fundamental crux’s to our faith? Have our traditions and catchy phrases numbed us to something more?

Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Go back in time with me…stand from afar and watch as Mary, who is full term now, tries to find a comfortable position on the donkey while she fights her contractions. You can see the pain written across her face. But this isn’t just the pain from the contractions…she has been ridiculed, doubted, and abandoned by her community due to this pregnancy. She’s young…under 20 years of age young. Get a glimpse of her thoughts…what kind of delivery will this be? What does a baby conceived by the Holy Spirit look like? Will Joseph be able to love this boy? Does he still love me because he wants to or because he has to now? Will we be good parents?

Watch Joseph’s face as he frantically looks for the smoothest part of the dusty dirt road while at the same time hopelessly searching for a suitable location for Mary to deliver. The past ten months have been nothing short of Hell for his reputation. But he loved Mary…he believed God…and he would love and raise this boy as well. He made his mind up months ago and he was determined to stay to the course.

Now, come with me into the stable, the most unlikely maternity ward. Listen to Mary scream as she starts to push. Hear Joseph console her. Watch as their son enters the world a takes his first breath. Joseph, an unfit midwife, runs to get water and whatever clean linens he can find. Mary, relieved the worse is over, takes a deep breath and clings to her son.

Do you see the look in her eyes as she stares at him for the first time? She knows that the baby she is holding was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She was told He was the Son of God, that He would save His people from their sins, that He, this tiny life whose fingers were wrapped around her one finger, whose very existence was dependent on her now, that He would be called “Immanuel, which means, God with us.”

Joseph runs back into stable with little pieces of cloth he got from the Inn next door…these linens were probably dish rags. No matter. He needed something with which to clean his son and make sure he was warm. His son. Funny how everything changes when you see that little person for the first time. This was his baby. Held by his wife. The ridicule and embarrassment seemed nothing to Joseph now.

He catches Mary’s eye and they both freeze. The enormity of what just happened is beginning to sink in. They can’t speak, because neither of them have the words. They don’t really know how this all happened, or what they are supposed to do now, or what their future is going to look like. All they know is that they have each other and this precious life, “Immanuel, God with us.” God with them.

Over the next 33 years, Mary would watch the most fascinating life that ever walked the face of the earth. She would see Him change water into wine, heal blind men, raise people from the dead, cast out demons, and feed thousands. She would watch as He graciously interacted with prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners, and lepers. She would hear Him condemn the righteous and religious. And then, she would see Him nailed to a cross. The same person she held in her arms that night in a stable, would have His arms outstretched on a Roman cross. Was this how it was supposed to end? This wasn’t what she signed up for. She thought the Messiah would come and establish His Kingdom. She thought she would be spared from heartache. What was God doing? Was she missing something? She had lost everything for Him. Her reputation, her family, her peace of mind…and now for what? How could God do this to her? How could He do this to her?

And then…three days later…everything changed.

Three days later, Mary saw her son. Oh, but He was no longer her son. No, now He was her Savior. And everything made sense. Her confusion, her pain, her aloneness, her isolation…all of it culminated in the moment she saw Him alive. She got it. She understood why her son, the Messiah, had to die.

So He could offer scandalous grace to those who do not deserve it. To those who truly believe they are too broken, too dirty, too wayward, too unreligious, too unworthy, too unacceptable.

To those who think God could never love them, Jesus Christ is God with Us and proved otherwise. Jesus Christ is the living proof that God desperately wants a relationship with you…with me.

But we fight Him. We fight the Savior of the world. We would rather try to convince Him that we aren’t worth it, while He holds open His outstretched, pierced hands and claims otherwise.

What are you waiting for? Why not give in to a love that has the power to heal you at your depths. Why not surrender to a peace that calms the raging storms within you. Why not?

What do you need this Christmas? I guess the better question is: Who do you need this Christmas? Do you need someone to guide you through a new season, someone to give you answers to the tough questions ahead, someone to tell you how to handle that difficult situation? Then you need a Wonderful Counselor.

Do you nee a miracle? Do you need strength to face another day? Are you not sure how to get around the obstacles in your path? You need a Mighty God.

Do you need to feel safe and secure again? Do you need a protector, a comforter, and encourager? Do you need to feel loved and unconditionally accepted? Then you need an Everlasting Father.

Maybe you need a Savior. Maybe you are at the end of your rope…you know there is a God, but you have no idea how to interact with Him or why He would even want to be with you. All you know is that this can’t be all there is to life. You are drowning in darkness and you see no escape. You need a Prince of Peace.

Jesus Christ came to earth as a baby, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross for YOU. He died because He wants a relationship with YOU and the only way to make that happen is to pay for your sins once and for all. He proved He was capable of that when He rose from the dead three days later. Call out to Him. Tell Him you believe! Tell Him He is your Savior. It is that easy! And rest in the presence of Immanuel, God with Us.

December 16, 2013

Mommy Grace

Real life...with kids.

I am not usually a very patient, gracious woman. Just speaking truth. I hate being tired: I don't function well when I am exhausted. I wear my heart my sleeve. I am hot-tempered, quick witted, and just generally a fast-paced, workaholic woman.

And then I had Brooke.

I'm just gonna tell you...I read all the books, interviewed lots of moms (yes, I literally did this), and took all the "quizzes" I could find to get ready for my little one. But nothing, I mean nothing, prepares you adequately for real life. You just have to take it in stride.

I love John 1:16:
For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
That's what mommy-life has been for me...receiving grace upon grace from Jesus.

The other day I was just struck by the fact that I am a patient, loving, gracious, slow-tempered mom the majority of the time. Listen, I am NOT tooting my own horn. PLEASE BELIEVE ME. All praise and glory goes to Jesus Who absolutely equips me every day to love my little girl the way He loves me.

But here's the real reason why I am writing this blog: I need to remember His grace upon grace. Another translation says "gift upon gift". Every day with my daughter is a gift. Even those hellish days when she transforms into another person while teething (some days I just want to tell molars where to go...and it's not Heaven). Or those days when she just refuses to listen. Or those days when I want to do something special with her in public and she ain't havin' it...and everyone stares. Every day is a gift. A gift to enjoy her. A gift to receive the grace Jesus offers when I just don't feel like I've got any more to give. A gift to believe in Christ's forgiveness when I fall short. A gift to lean into Him as my perfection when I fail. A gift to remember HE is my perfectly Heavenly Father and will guide me through the ups and downs of parenting. A gift.

Thank you Jesus for Your gifts of grace!

December 14, 2013

Old Idols

This isn't going to be a long post because my 13-month-old is sleeping and I still need to try to squeeze dusting and vacuuming into this kid-free-zone, but God just really spoke to my heart and as you know, the only way for me to process is by writing. So, here goes...

A few years ago, I heard a message by Matt Chandler on the passage of Scripture where Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12). He explained that he believed this "thorn" wasn't necessarily a physical ailment, but more like demonic oppression (different than possession)...perhaps an emotional or even personal problem that kept returning even after much prayer. I remember breaking down in tears. Even now as I type this, I am getting emotional. A few months prior to this message, I had been diagnosed with clinical depression...something this legalist didn't even believe was "biblical" let alone "godly". It rocked my world. I quickly got myself into some intense counselling and began seeing real healing and change take place. But bottom line is: Depression still kicks my butt even after this time. And I hate it.

Just recently I have been going through a rather rough bout of it. Honestly, I didn't even see it coming till it was too late. I used to be on it - I could sense the triggers and fight back. But I guess I have tried to persuade myself that it isn't as bad as it once was and I got lazy. Well, here's what I read this morning from Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian (highly suggest this book): 

"It wasn't my old life I wanted back; It was my old idols and God loved me too much to give them back to me".

Here's the thing: I have migrated back to my old idol of people pleasing...trying to suck acceptance and approval out of everyone I know. And I am exhausted. I have run around like a chicken with my head cut off doing everything in order to get noticed and to get love and praise (sounds pathetic). And without realizing it, instead of sucking out praise and love and acceptance from everyone else, I have been sucked dry. And that's when the depression comes flooding in.

So I am realizing this: When my depression hits hard, it is God's way of reminding me that what I am searching for isn't enough. Only He is.

"My grace is enough; it’s all you need.My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become."

October 19, 2013

Shielding the Triggers (Part 4)

Ephesians 6 lists the shield of faith as one of the pieces of armor to use in defense against the attacks of Satan. Why? I love what Beth Moore says, "When we are convinced that God is believable and we respond to Him in faith, practically nothing can get through to us. But when our faith diminishes, our shield begins to drop, and we are immediately vulnerable to the enemy. Satan will stop at nothing to get us to lower our shield of faith so he can wound and burn us. He stacks up tangible evidence in opposition to God's assurances. He delights in doubts and lies. He studies our weaknesses and then aims where we're vulnerable. His priority job description is to keep us form believing God." And believe you me, he knows our weaknesses. My counselor calls them triggers...you know, those things that seem to come out of nowhere and cause us to become emotionally unraveled. But wouldn't it be awesome if, as soon as we sensed a trigger go off inside of us, we grabbed our shield of faith and started preaching the Gospel to ourselves? What if we immediately began rooting and established ourselves in the love of God so that our emotions couldn't take us every which way?

Psalm 25:15 says: “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only He will release my feet from the snare.” Triggers are lies of the enemy to believe that we have unmet needs, unresolved issues, and unhealed hurts that are only going to be met by getting our own way. And so, we respond to these triggers by self-medicating. We get angry, abusive, lustful, hungry, depressed, anxious, manipulative, wounded, and selfish, you name it. We turn to ourselves or others as our savior. And we get trapped in the snare of the deadly cycle. We have to choose to take our eyes off of those things that we think we are owed, want, or even believe we need. We need to center our attention on our loving God. You see, this verse comes after “No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame…” and “Good and upright is the LORD, therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful.” If we don’t really believe that those verses are true, we will never, and I mean never, refocus our wandering eyes onto our God. We will never preach the Gospel to ourselves. We will never root and establish ourselves in His love. We will never experience freedom from fear.

According to Andy Stanley, “Every good thing that comes your way comes from your Heavenly Father – which is all the more reason to take your unmet needs, your heartfelt needs, and even your embarrassing wants and wishes to him. Will you go to God with these or just keep trying to wring them out of those closest to you?”

Going to God and not harboring or wringing takes strength and discipline. The strength part is taken care of according in Ephesians 6:10, which follows the verses on the shield of faith: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (italics mine). I don’t need to be strong in and of myself in order to face my fears. Think of the worst case scenario for the situation you are trying to control in order to avoid abandonment. Pretty bad, isn’t it? Okay, now realize that right now that seems impossible for you to face – because (and I hate to be Captain Obvious) you don’t have to face it right now. Perhaps this is why One oh so much wiser than the rest of us said to not worry about tomorrow…today is enough. We have more than enough strength and grace (2 Corinthians 12:9) to deal with today. However, we are never going to make it if we don’t decide to discipline our minds on the love of God. Train your mind to trust that God is Sovereign. Even though you may think you are in control, you are not. Those things you dread could happen regardless of whether or not you submit to God’s sovereignty and love…so why not just rest in His omniscience and omnipotence? Trust is simple…when you begin to worry or to grow angry or jealous or greedy, remind yourself that God, Who knows everything and Who will ultimately work His will for your good and His glory, loves you and will do what He (as God of the universe) deems necessary. Let me remind you again, this will happen regardless of whether you “allow” Him to or not. Rest in His love for you.

October 17, 2013

Fear and Faith (Part 3)

Romans 5:8: "But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Ephesians 2:4-5: "But because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved."

1 John 4:9-10: "This is love - not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins."

Selah. I mean, what can I even say after those verses? Did you stop and really meditate on what these verses are really, I mean really, saying? God proves His own love...HIS LOVE...His very own love...for US. How did He prove it? When I was in the middle of the worst sin I will ever commit, the one sin I will be afraid He will never forgive, the one sin I will forever be ashamed of...He died for me. Because He wants to be with me.

Selah.

Not only that, but because of His GREAT love for me, He made me ALIVE. That's right. He took away my old life filled to the brim with sins (past, present and future sins) and gave me Christ's life. That means that when God looks at me, He doesn't see Nicole. He sees Jesus. He doesn't see the years I battled with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. He doesn't see the years I almost destroyed my marriage and family. He sees Jesus’ perfection. He doesn't see the sins I am going to commit in the future and be so ashamed of. Nope. He sees Christ. I mean, what?! And...I love this. He initiated all of this love first and foremost. It's His love that defines our relationship. It's not a mutual love. Nuh-uh. It's only Him. And that's great news. Cause I am going to fail and my love is going to go MIA. But He's still going to be there. Cause it's His love. Not mine.

It's a funny thing...as I begin to bask in His love for me, my fear of abandonment begins to disappear.

That's why God's Word says that perfect love casts out all fear. But I cannot do any of this without faith. I have to believe that God loves me and hang on to that belief, especially when I experience pain from my own decisions and/or somebody else's.

Hebrews 11:6 says it's impossible to please God without faith. We have to believe that He truly does exist and rewards those who seek after Him. What's the reward? What we have already studied: A life without fear. If you read on in Hebrews 11, you will see person after person who did extraordinary things in the face of real danger because they believed God loved them and had a plan and a purpose for their lives. They found their identities not in things found on this earth, but in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11:13-16 explains, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has a prepare a city for them.” I love that. They could have returned at any point to the people and things that they thought could fulfill them here on this earth. But they knew better. They rooted and established themselves in the love of God and by faith accepted the plans and purposes He had for their lives. Therefore, they were able to live without fear. But living by faith is not easy. It is a moment by moment decision.

October 15, 2013

Love Without Fear (Part 2)

This cycle (read Fear: The Catalyst Emotion) even bleeds over into our relationship with God...we feel as though that is how He interacts with us. While we do good, He accepts us and loves us and wants to be with us. When we mess up, He disapproves and so no longer accepts us and would rather we not be around. And so we run. We become the Prodigal and push God far, far away so that we are not abandoned by Him, but instead reject Him to remain in control.

However, we can also become the legalist...constantly attempting to prove to God that we are acceptable...we are worthy...He shouldn't abandon us. We are fostering a relationship birthed completely out of fear of God abandoning us and consequently fueled by us attempting to manipulate God into "liking" us.

You see, our fear of abandonment grows out of our knowledge that we are not able to measure up to anything for anyone. We know ourselves. We know we are going to let people down because we let ourselves down. We are so aware of our own struggles we truly believe that if anyone really knew us inside out, he/she wouldn't love us...especially not the God of the Universe. And so we strive to give off some sort of air of perfection...whether in our homes, our jobs, our finances, our schooling, our religion, or our extracurricular activities. If we can find a way to accept ourselves, then surely someone else will be able to accept us. And yet, the cycle continues.

It isn't until we come to fully accept God's unconditional, unwavering love for us that we will be able to love Him and love others without fear. I wrote this in my journal the other day: "God does not see me the way I see myself. He loves me greatly! He has made me alive and desires and intimate relationship with me." I had just read Ephesians 3:17: "So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to graph how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filed to the measure of all the fullness of God." I continued in my journal, "I have to be rooted and established in the love of God in order to grasp the extent of His love." Did you catch that? I realized that if I didn't plant myself securely in the fact that God loves me like a crazy person, then I wasn't ever going to fully understand just how much He loves me. Reread that sentence if you need to. I need to.

I looked up the word "rooted". It means, "The part of a thing attaching it to a greater or more fundamental whole. The basic cause, source, or origin of a thing. The essential substance or nature of something." Wow. The only way I am going to experience wholeness is by attaching myself to the love of God. If I do not allow His love to wash over me and to fill in all of the empty spaces caused by a lack of love and acceptance somewhere in my past, I will constantly be looking to other people and/or things to complete me, and, as we read earlier, that only causes conflicts and deadly cycles. The passage in John 15 about the vine and the branches is beginning to make more sense now, huh? The word "established" takes the concept of being rooted in God's love one step further: "Having been in existence for a long time and therefore recognized and generally accepted. Having taken root - growing well." I love that. Not only do I have to attach myself to the love of God, I have to be "growing well" in it. What does that mean? I need to constantly be preaching the Gospel to myself...especially when I fail. I have no choice but to meditate on God's love for me.

October 13, 2013

Fear: The Catalyst Emotion (Part 1)

Emotions are simply reactions - automatic, spontaneous reactions. When something good or bad happens to you, your first reaction is usually an emotion. Feelings in and of themselves are not wrong. The Bible speaks freely of emotions - raw, vivid emotions. The book of Job contains the biography of a man who lost everything, and expressed deep hurt, abandonment, confusion, depression, loneliness, and anger. The Psalms are filled with intense emotions: anger, fear, bitterness, brokenness, guilt, frustration, loneliness. Jesus himself felt anguish, anger, sadness, loss. So the issue is not that you react; the issue is how you respond.

I believe the one emotion that tends to be the catalyst for all other emotions is fear. And not just fear in and of itself. Fear of abandonment. We are all afraid to be alone. God wired us for relationships so the absence of those terrifies us. Consequently, we are always fighting for control of other people. Why? Because then we think we can control our fear.

This is why almost every single one of us could admit to being a control freak in our relationships. We are attempting to keep the other person from leaving us - abandoning us. Unfortunately, whenever I try to control my loved ones in order to protect myself, I end up in a conflict. When my attempts at control come to nothing, then I become spiritual. Yeah, I go there (so do you). I start “praying” about it, praying that God would enable me to better control the person. When this doesn’t work, which (here’s the bad news) it is guaranteed to fail, then I vainly attempt to control the situation myself yet again. Except, just as in round one, this fails miserably…so, you guessed it, I pray about it some more…thinking that surely God will give in, because, I, after all, am praying (and with quite a bit of faith, mind you, faith that I am right and justified for what I ask).

James 4:1-3 says it this way, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Do they not come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."

That last line in the verse is a doosey: "You do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." Fear of abandonment originates from actually experiencing abandonment at some point in our past. We discovered really quickly that people are always looking to others for their love, acceptance, worth and security. Therefore, they only accepted us if we loved and did good to them...The moment we failed and they were hurt, we felt their disapproval and disappointment. They reacted with rejection. Rejection is self-protection against feeling abandoned. This only makes sense, right? I mean, if someone is afraid of being abandoned and I treat them negatively, the message she receives is that I do not care about her...I am rejecting her and consequently, she is quick to pull the plug on our relationship as protection against what she perceives as the impending abandonment. Now I feel rejected and abandoned. And the deadly cycle continues. We get trapped. And see, God isn't going to free us from this bondage because we cannot look to people to fulfill us. We cannot allow their love, acceptance, worth and security to be our identity. This is exactly why so many marriages end in divorce and so many parent/child relationships are blown to smithereens. We were never meant to be each other's saviors.

October 11, 2013

Stressed Spelled Backwards is Desserts

We all know that “Stressed spelled backwards is desserts”, am I right? But I think deep in our hearts, we truly believe that stressed spelled backwards is deserted.

That’s tough. But how true is that? I mean, when you are feeling stressed, you think everything and everyone depends on you and you are one mistake away from being deserted. If you think that’s a tad dramatic, then take some personal inventory.

If you are feeling stressed right now, get to the bottom of it. Ask yourself why. Now, some of us have legitimate stresses in our lives. But others of us, not so much. Our stress is self-induced out of our futile attempts to find our identity in everything and everyone but Jesus Christ. We don’t want to disappoint ourselves or other people. Mainly because we are terrified that we are going to come up short and be left alone. And nobody wants to be alone.

What do I mean? Well, currently, I am stressed. And I will tell you why, but you have to promise not to look down on me. It’s embarrassing. So here it goes.

I have two pretty big events in the beginning of November. And I have to find an outfit. And I’m stressed. Like, I laid awake for a while last night stressed.

Let the judgment commence.

But seriously. This whole outfit thing is really throwing me for a loop here. And why? Well, on my morning run God had a little heart to heart with me. He made it very clear that my insecurity is getting the best of me and so finding the perfect outfit is a way to mask it with some self-imposed confidence. Ouch. He went on to let me know that most of my stress recently has been directly connected to my attempting to control everyone and everything around me so that I feel better about myself. I am not allowing Jesus Christ to define me. I am defining myself through my accomplishments, my appearance, and my relationships. When I get terrified of failure, I know I am moving further away from Who I am in Christ and closer and closer to my own definitions of who I am. And that stresses me out.

So, let me ask you...why are you really stressed today? If something doesn’t go exactly your way, will you feel like a failure? Less of a person? Are you afraid you are going to be left in the dust if you don’t prove yourself? If so, you are finding your identity in what you do and in what other people think of you. And it’s exhausting. Re-calibrate. Remind yourself that you don’t have anything to prove to anyone. God loves you because of Jesus Christ. When He looks at you, He sees Jesus Christ’s perfect record. Rest.

(Read Ephesians 1 if you need a good dose of who you are in Christ.)

September 27, 2013

Proud Mommas

So I feel like all this week, the Devil has been standing in front of me with a huge sign with all my labels. You know what I mean. The past I am trying to leave just there...in the past. But I can’t this week. For some reason, I am just getting beat down. And I know I’m not the only one.

I just found out that one of the many kids who raised their hands indicating they accepted Jesus as their Savior on Sunday (I work in our Children’s Ministry at CC) was a little boy I know personally. And I cried all morning when I found out.

What got me most was his momma. A sweet lady whom God has completely transformed over the past several years. In fact, her and her husband’s story is one of my favorites. But she openly shared on Social Media that she was a little intimidated to say anything about her son’s Salvation because she was afraid people would call her a hypocrite due to her past. Honestly, I understand and ache over her dilemma. I can’t tell you how many times Satan has taunted me with my labels...especially now that I have a daughter. Over and over again I am reminded of what God saved me out of and I get terrified over what I may or may not pass on to her. What if she battles with clinical depression? What if she has crippling insecurity? What if she misses God’s grace and gets hung up on legalism and perfectionism? What if…??? And on and on it goes.

I guess that’s why Paul said in Philippians 3:13, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” Paul had a past. He had the worst label (in my opinion) anyone can have: Murderer. I am sure as he ministered in different churches, he came face to face with family members of people he personally killed. I can’t even begin to imagine.

But remember...this is the same guy who said in Romans 8:1: “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” How freeing.

Do I live that way?

Nah.

So what now? Philippians 4:13 has the answer: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Here’s what Paul is saying in Nicole’s Translation (how cool would that be? ha): I have the awesome God-given calling of being a Mom. Being a Mom is modeling the grace, love and forgiveness of my Heavenly Father to my family. I model that by not only living out my daily walk with God, but also being His personal ambassador to my husband and kids. It’s messy. It’s hard. It’s so worth it. My kids don’t need to see a perfect me. But they do need to see a perfect Heavenly Father. And I can point them to Him with my messy past and all. In fact, I think God’s grace shines the brightest against the backdrop of brokenness.

So when Satan cripples us from truly celebrating what Jesus Christ is beginning in our children’s lives, well then, we just need to tell him where to go. We as parents have the opportunity to begin a new legacy in our children’s lives. We get to break the chains of years of generational sin that may have run rampant in our family of origin’s past. We don’t need to be ashamed of what God has saved us out of and what He is beginning in our children’s lives and hopefully protecting them from. We don’t need to fear our labels and hang them over our heads and theirs. This is our opportunity to be a catalyst of change in the next generation. Praise God that He gave us a second chance so that we can teach our children out of our mistakes and give them a chance at a different future.

All I know is our children are our lasting legacy. Not our pasts. Be a proud momma. Hold your head up high. God is working...and your life and your precious son or daughter’s life is testament to that.

September 20, 2013

Just Say No

Just say no. It’s a timeless adage. We all know the phrase. We say it often. But we don’t live it. We can’t. If we did, wouldn’t we be bored, alone, ignored, worthless, useless?

That’s dramatic, you may be thinking. And I would agree with you. But seriously, then...why don’t we just say no? 

I was watching a Webinar (that is literally the dorkiest word I have ever heard) and the speaker challenged us to write down a list of our priorities. So here are mine:

1. My relationship with the Lord.
2. My relationship with my Husband.
3. My relationship with my children (notice I said “relationship” and not “being a mom to”...there’s a difference to me).
4. My relationship with myself (rest, exercise, Sabbath, writing, etc).
5. My relationships with my extended family and closest friends (those friends that disciple me, mentor me, keep me accountable, pray for me, cry with me, laugh with me).
6. My ministries: Ladies Fall Brunch and Kids Point.

Then, she encouraged us to jot down our obligations. So, here we go again (these aren’t necessarily in order).
1. Serving my husband.
2. Taking care of my daughter.
3. Managing our home (cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry).
4. Blogging.
5. Exercising.
6. Leading Kids Point Program.
7. Leading the Ladies Brunch.

The speaker told us that if our obligations are not lining up with our priorities, something is off and we are saying “yes” to all the wrong things/people.

Now, you will notice two things are missing in my “Obligations” list.
1. My relationship with the Lord.
2. My relationships with close friends and family.

Yikes. So, relationally, I am off. Notice, I am not talking about surface level relationships (a blog on friendships is sure to come). But those deep, gut level relationships that sharpen me and keep me on track. Those people that know my insides, the insides I don’t really want everyone seeing. Additionally, I am majorly off in my relationship with the Lord. Seems like everything else and everyone else is vying for my attention. That’s why so often I feel torn in 50 million directions and on the borderline of an anxiety attack. He’s not my first priority. So how in the world will my other priorities line up and my obligations fit appropriately? When He’s not invited into my everyday life, I am going to face situations that I can’t and won’t be able to handle. I am going to bite off more than I can chew because He is not going to be the One I am seeking to please. Everyone else is. And that’s a form of bondage I just can’t afford right now.

So, I have to rearrange my life and make sure He doesn’t just fit, He’s it. He’s the One I am living for...seeking to please…
How do I do that practically? Well, what specifically has HE called me to RIGHT now?

- Being His daughter (Biblical community and accountability is a part of this)
- Being a Wife
- Being a Mom
- Living in Community (my accountability partners)
- Serving Him creatively (Brunch and Kids Point)

These are mandates in Scripture. So, I do them all for Him. I serve Bryant for Jesus. I love Brooke for Jesus. I minister to others for Jesus. And when someone asks me to do something that will compete with one of those three major callings, I say no.
Now here’s the hard part: I need to learn to say no without feeling like I have to explain myself. Ouch. I like to talk. I like to explain. I like to make sure everyone likes me. So this is a hard thing for me to learn. But I have to. Otherwise, I will exhaust myself and I will inevitably and unintentionally communicate to someone else that they just aren’t as valuable to me as what I am doing instead (adapted from the webinar - ha). It’s tough. But, if I am finding my identity in Jesus Christ, I won’t be basing my self esteem on what others think of me and whether or not I am meeting everyone else’s expectations. I will only be concerned what Jesus Christ thinks...and last time I checked, He thinks I’m pretty awesome.

September 18, 2013

Mommy and Ministry

I was asked the other day how I balance having a “new” baby and being a Pastor’s Wife.

Very Carefully.

Kidding. Yeah, it’s tough. I really don’t have “answers” per-say. But I can share what Bryant and I do and hope that maybe it will be a source of encouragement to others. I don’t know everything. Brooke is only 10.5 months. In all honesty, I may write another blog 10 years from now correcting everything I have said in this one. But for now, this has worked for us.

You and your husband have to CONSTANTLY be communicating. We are all told how important communication is in marriage. Well, multiply by that a thousand when you start having kids. I suffered from some pretty bad postpartum depression, probably due to my battle with clinical depression. Regardless, I felt like my world changed drastically, while Bryant’s continued on as is. A few days after Brooke was born, our church was a hosting site for the National Presidential Election. Bryant was there all day with about 100 volunteers serving coffee, donuts, hot dogs, and soda. In the past, I would have been right there with him. Instead, I was home trying to catch up on sleep, breastfeeding, and changing diapers with my mom. I felt so alone. I felt so sad. I felt a tad resentful (okay, more than a tad). But you know what? I told him. I called him and told him how I felt. He let me cry. He listened. He was there. He reminded me over and over this was just a season. And he encouraged me that what I was doing at home was just as important as what he was doing at church. I remember he even offered to come home to just be with me. But you know what? I didn’t actually need that. I just need to know that he “saw me and heard me”. (Anyone watch Parenthood? “I hear you and I see you”.)

A few weeks after that, we discovered Brooke had colic and reflux. So, I was basically stationed at home. I literally couldn’t leave. Brooke would scream all day and the only respite we would have would be between 12AM to about 6AM (Don’t get me wrong, I was thankful for that...some parents don’t even get to rest). Numerous people wanted to come over, go out, see Brooke, hold her, and be with me. I appreciated all of the love. I so badly wanted to be the new mom with the newborn who slept through everything and could go anywhere and be held by anyone. But that wasn’t what God had for us. I had to do what was best for her, me, and Bryant. So, my in-laws became permanent residents of our little townhome. My mother-in-law would come over for hours and hold Brooke so I could rest and clean. Bryant worked from home so I didn’t feel so frazzled and alone when she would scream all day. My sister-in-laws were a sounding board for me. And that was it. We turned to family as a source of comfort because emotionally and realistically, we could do nothing else. I know I hurt some feelings unintentionally because I just couldn’t do everything and be everywhere like before. I didn’t attend both Sunday services. I didn’t have a particular “ministry”. I didn’t go out much. But I will tell you this...we built a foundation of trust and security for Brooke that I woudn’t trade for a million dollars.

I have just now gotten back into “ministry”. I put quotation marks around “ministry” because I will tell you this: Bryant and Brooke are my two greatest ministries. I get asked quite often if I run our ladies ministry at church or what exactly it is that I do. Am I the secretary? Do I manage the nursery? What do I do? I will be honest...that question makes me cringe. What do I do? Ugh. I am getting fired up just thinking about that question. I decided to start answering that question by saying I was Bryant’s wife. That’s what I do. I remember someone challenged me on that. You know what though? When I look at Scripture, God is pretty clear in His priorities for me: My relationship with Him, my relationship with Bryant, and my relationship with my children. Everything else follows suit. So yeah, what I do is being Bryant’s wife and Brooke’s mom. Depending on the particular “season” we are in, that looks differently. So for the first 6 months of Brooke’s life, all I could manage to do was take care of myself, love on Bryant (clean house, cooked meals, laundry, sex, dates), and care for Brooke. That was enough. A few months later, I lead our bi-annual Ladies Brunch. A few months after that, I wrote the study guides for Bryant’s series on Colossians. And now, well, I am serving in our Children’s Ministry.

At times, I have grown impatient and lonely waiting on God to open doors and show me what my “ministry” looks like in any particular season. But you know what? I would take the opportunities He tailored made for that particular time and the Children’s Ministry has been just one of those. I only serve on Sundays and I have gotten creative and figured out how to fit Brooke’s morning nap in (a swing in Bryant’s office an hour before the service). All the planning and prep beforehand can be done at home. I have been able to channel my creativity and energy into this environment and I feel invigorated. God is good.

So this is what I would say to you: Communicate and Wait. Always be talking with your husband. And wait on the Lord. Realize that you may be misunderstood for saying no. Who cares? I love this statement: “Our responsibility to minister to our family is more important than looking for other ways to serve the Lord.” Does that mean you just cop-out and don’t do anything? No way! But, you realize that your “family is your mission field, and we dare not miss the opportunity by being too busy for our spiritual growth and our children’s spiritual education...Love your children, hold them, talk to them, play with them, do nothing with them. They will remember it as though it were printed on their hearts. But if we miss the opportunity, that, too, will be printed on their hearts.”

Forgiveness Part 7: Always For You.

Okay, so let's draw this to a close, shall we? Yes, you are thinking...please. Enough already. Okay, let me boil this whole thing down for you and end with the following thoughts from Chip Ingram...

You forgive someone and keep forgiving him/her until he/she is forgiven. Got it?

Forgive.
You have to come to a point in time when you decide to be intentional about your forgiveness. You honestly evaluate what someone owes you; because, let’s be honest, if you have been hurt and wounded, someone stole something from you. You write out the offense or talk to the person in your head. Have an imaginary conversation. Get it all out. Then, decide from that moment on that you will release the person to God to handle and you will not dwell on the situation or demand anything in return.

Forgiving.
You will have to remind yourself that you have cancelled the debt millions of times throughout the ensuing days. Forgiveness is a process. It starts with the intellect and slowly infiltrates the emotions. You have to be disciplined. Anytime the feelings come back, and they will, trust me, you tell yourself you have cancelled the debt. Pray for the person (really hard) and move on with your day, living in the moment. Do not panic if your hurt emotions (or angry emotions) do not go away for weeks, months, or years. Just ignore them. Preach the Gospel to them and move on.
Forgiven.
Ultimately, maybe years down the road, you will find that when the person or the situation that hurt you is mentioned, you don’t respond emotionally. That means the forgiveness process is complete. Hallelujah! Praise God for walking you through the process and get ready to be used by Him to walk others through it.

Remember, forgiveness is always for you, not for the other person.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I would love your feedback about what God did in your life. Praying for you!

September 16, 2013

Forgiveness Part 6: Healing

Now, how do we heal? The following is taken from Captivating by John and Staci Elderedge.

1. "Turn from the ways you have sought to heal yourself."
“Your enemy has seized upon your wounds and your sins to pin your heart down.”


We all have those “pet sins” that we personally develop in order to meet our needs instead of allowing God to be our Defender and Protector (Psalm 84:11). When we were wounded, something was stolen from us and left a void. If we do not fill that void with the grace and love of Jesus, we will fill it with something dangerous. We self-medicate, and it's sin. Find out what those sins are for you (or ask a spouse or friend if you are brave), and repent (ask God for forgiveness and change).

2. "Invite Him In."
After you have asked forgiveness for the sins that your wounds have caused, invite God into the middle of the hurt and pain. Then, surrender the hurt and pain to Him. Ask Him to heal you. Beg Him to heal you.

3. "Renounce the agreements you’ve made with your wounds."
We have all believed deceitful messages about our wounds. “Wounds bring messages that FEEL true, so we accept them as TRUTH.” Hence, God’s Word and His messages of love are known intellectually, but are lost on us emotionally. We have labeled ourselves. You need to spend some time in prayer and self-interrogation to discover what names/labels you have given yourself. Again, if you are not sure, more than likely you have verbalized these labels. Ask a spouse or close friend to listen for them..

My label was "idiot". I discovered it when I was in a counseling session and kept referring to myself as an idiot. Even now and again, I will resort to self-name-calling. My husband catches me and says, "No negative self-talk!"
4. "We find our tears."
You have to own the fact that your wounds are painful. You have to face the emotion. If you don’t, you will be suppressing years of pent up emotion and it will eventually leak out in weird behaviors. Hence, people out of “nowhere” have emotional breakdowns and begin to act insane. This is where you have to determine what your offenders owe you. This is the down and dirty part of forgiveness and healing. It's scary, that's why so many people don't do it. Might I suggest you get into professional counseling and have someone guide you through the process?
5. "Forgive."
“We allow God to bring the hurt up from our past, for ‘if forgiveness doesn’t reach the emotional core of your life, it will be incomplete.’”

Important side-note here: You have to allow God to bring up the emotion from the past. Way back at Step 2 of this process, ask Him to dislodge the pent up emotion and to walk you through the pain. If you try to dig it up yourself, it is going to be disastrous. Some of you are in the bottom of your pit right now. You have definitely hit rock bottom. That is so good! Be encouraged! God has thwarted your own “redemptive plans” in order to draw you to Himself. You cannot seek salvation and safety anywhere other than God Himself. He will do whatever it takes to bring you back to Him.

6. "Ask Jesus to heal you. Beg Him."

7. "Let Him Father you."
Many of you have a “little girl or boy” trapped deep down inside. The innocent little girl or boy that experienced the deep pain. Find him/her. Love him/her. Surrender him/her to Jesus to nurture, care, love, protect, and heal.

8. "Ask God for a new name."
Refer back to Step 3…after you discover how you have been labeled by Satan, ask God to give you a new name. The name by which He calls and views you. This is so cool!!!

Okay…now for the practical side of things.

Because of our wounds and self-medicated responses, most of us have no clue who we really are. So, I need you to start keeping an “About Me” list. When you discover that you like something, write it down. When you find you don’t like something, write it down. Rediscover who you truly are: your favorite color, movie, food, restaurant, past time, book, etc. This is a cool thing to do. If you don’t start loving and caring for yourself, you will never allow God to do it.

September 14, 2013

Cute Clothes and Comfy Seats: A Call to Serve

So let’s get real here. I enjoy going to church because I get to dress up, look cute, sit in a pew, worship God, listen to my husband, and talk to people. I get to feel important. Don’t judge me. What are your real motives for going to church? I’m not saying you don’t want to worship and grow. I do. You do. But, if we are honest, we also go to church for social reasons...and those aren’t sin. But, when they keep us from stepping out of our comfort zones and serving selflessly, well then, we’re wrong. God has commissioned us to serve others and make disciples (Check out the Great Commission in Mathew 28:19-20). So what does that mean?

I was reading in 1 Thessalonians this morning and what I discovered was a blueprint for discipleship, which honestly, I believe, is what volunteering in church is all about. When you volunteer, you are signing up to rub shoulders with people: Children, teens, adults. You will have an influence whether you like it or not. You will be discipling them.

In chapter 2 verses 4-6, Paul says, “On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask...God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.” Wow and ouch. Paul was commissioned by God to serve others. He didn’t do it to bolster his ego, to get praised, to be noticed. He also didn't wear a mask. He was real about his struggles. He served others so that they might experience what he had: An intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul had experienced God’s extravagant grace first hand. He was a murderer. "The chief of sinners," he says. And God forgave him and offered him a second chance. The opportunity to build up that which he, Paul, had been instrumental in tearing down (the church). And so Paul couldn’t help but serve others.

What about me? What about you? Have we ever come to the end of ourselves in such a way that we are just enamored by the grace, love, forgiveness, and second chances of God? Does that motivate our service? It should. Not that we serve to prove ourselves to God. No, Paul says that it’s God’s love that compels him. Drives him. The crazy love of God that redeemed and restored his life. That’s why he serves. He just can’t help himself.

You know, those of us that are serving to get attention and praise don’t understand the love of God. If we did, we would be filled to overflowing and wouldn’t have to look elsewhere to beef up our self-esteem, to find identity, to feel okay with ourselves. We would feel so secure in God’s love that we would want everyone else to experience that same sense of worthiness, acceptance, love, security. 

I love how Paul says he acted like both a father and mother to those he served. A mother is nurturing, caring. A father encourages, comforts, and urges (2:7, 11-12). And what did he encourage those he served to do with their lives? Check out 3:12-13: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” There’s that theme of love.

The beginning of chapter 4 continues: “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we...urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” I love that. If you are thinking you aren’t a theologian and wouldn’t know how to tell people to live to please God, well, then just tell people to watch your life. You aren’t perfect. You don’t get it all right. But you are seeking to imitate Jesus Christ, and as you imitate Jesus, people should imitate you. That’s true discipleship (1 Cor. 11:1).

Now, a word of warning: There may be people you are serving/discipling that choose to ignore you. And that hurts. Bad. But Paul addresses that in 4:8: “Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you His Holy Spirit.” We take discipleship so personally sometimes. And I get why: We are pouring our lives into them. In fact, Paul even says that he gives his life for those he serves. The problem is, sometimes we go too far and not only give those we disciple our lives, we give them our identities. And when they choose to go against something we have said, we fall apart. We get angry. We feel rejected. And it reveals our motives. Because honestly, they aren’t rejecting us. They are rejecting God. And if you are more upset over what emotional havoc they have wreaked in your life over the fact that they are walking away from a God Who loves them and has more in store for them then what they are choosing now, you have a problem. A discipleship, serving problem. A heart problem. I am not being harsh. I have it too.

So, back to my opening honesty. A few weeks ago, God made it clear He wanted me to serve in our Children’s Ministry. I have ridden a roller coaster of emotions since. Some weeks I love it, some weeks I miss my cute clothes and comfy seat. But then I have to ask myself. Who am I in this for? Too often I have to say me. I am in it for me. That’s why I want to quit. But when I take a step back and begin to think about the eternal impact I am making, I want to keep going.

Paul says in 2:19-20: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

People will be our eternal rewards. What do I mean? You don’t have ANY idea the impact you are making week to week when you serve/disciple. I don’t care if you are a parker and/or greeter (most people decided within the first 5-6 minutes of pulling in whether they will ever come back again), if you pour coffee (you may be offering the first tangible sign of kindness someone has had all week), nursery worker (you are giving someone else a chance to hear a life changing message), a children’s or youth’s small group leader (you have no idea the impact you are making), in the worship team, Media team, Host team, and on and on...The people you serve are your reward. You are the ones who are breaking down the walls and layers of protection and building bridges for them to hear the Gospel. It’s because of YOU that people are accepting Jesus and turning their lives around. You are making an eternal impact. They are your crown.

When we put it that way...How could you afford not to serve?

Forgiveness Part 5: Living Scarred

Okay...so let's talk about that. Our scars.
Every person is wounded. Jesus Christ came to save us from our sins, but also to heal us from our wounds. Think about it: A daughter is in an accident, rushed to the emergency room, rescued into stable condition, and ushered into the ICU. The father arrives and decides that Urgent Care treatment is all he is willing to pay for. She will therefore spend the rest of her life in the ICU. Sound realistic? Nope. So why do we think our Heavenly Father will do the same and maybe worse with us? Yes, He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. We are in stable condition if we accept Jesus as our Savior. However, Jesus also came to give abundant life (John 10:10). Unfortunately, Satan is the Father of all lies and he seeks to utterly destroy us (John 8:44, 1 Peter 5:8). He convinces us that we have to live wounded; we have to stay in the ICU.

But you see, there is a difference between living wounded and living with our wounds. Here is another illustration: If you were to severely cut your arm, you would have a bloody mess on your hands (pun not intended...but it's awesome). You would have to spend weeks cleaning and caring for your wound. Ultimately, it would heal and leave a small scar. Hardly anyone would notice the scar. The only way anyone would know about the wound is if you felt lead to show and tell.

The same thing occurs with our emotional wounds. When we are initially hurt emotionally, we are bleeding everywhere. We have to go through intense treatment. Once we have healed, we have the scar, but not the intense pain. We learn to live and are able to interact again. We only share our wound when we feel lead. The most significant part of this comparison is the fact that the wound is yours. You need to own it. Don’t let anyone take advantage of your scar or use your scar. This is your battle wound that God will use to minister to others when you are ready. Own it.

September 12, 2013

Forgiveness Part 4: It's Unfair.

This is tough stuff...but sooooo crucial to a free and peaceful life. Please know, I am wrestling through this stuff (let's be honest, this crap) with you. It sucks. But, we have to get our hands dirty and "Get 'er done!"So, let's talk through some steps to take if we want to get down and dirty and forgive others. Once again, Swindoll gives us some guidance based on God's Word:

1. "Focus fully on God's forgiveness of you (Psalm 103; Psalm 116)."
"The extent to which you can envision God's forgiveness of you, to that same measure you will be given the capacity to forgive others." If am spending all of my energy praising God and basking in the freedom of His forgiveness and grace for me, I am not going to have any time and emotion left over to be bitter. You are going to get sick and tired of me saying this, but I don't care: You have to preach the Gospel to yourself! Forgiveness seems so unfair until you realize what God did for you through Christ was infinitely unfair.

2. "Deal directly and honestly with any resentment you currently hold against anyone." 

Oh no. "Maybe you are willing to go just so far. You will bargain with God and agree to forgive but not forget." Can I hear an "Amen"?! This is where I live my life. Why can't this be good enough? Because..."That is one of the most regrettable mistakes a Christian can make. Limited forgiveness is like conditional love - a poor substitute for the genuine item. It's no forgiveness at all." Chuck went there. And, I have to meditate on Psalm 103, "As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us." God takes my sin from me...I am not defined by it. Hebrews 10:22 says He even cleans my conscience and my memories of my sin. I don't have to even think about it. How can I not do this for someone else??? Now, let me say something here. When you are dealing with forgiving someone else, let's be straight: You don't have to think about his/her offense and then pretend like it never happen. Nope. Name his/her offense. Realize this person stole something from you. Determine what that is (a childhood, marriage, job, relationship, memory, innocence, virginity, etc). This person owes you something. What is it? Come on...go there. Figure it out. Now, brace yourself. Can he/she ever pay you back fully as though it never happened? Can they? You have to honestly answer this question. Why? Because it ultimately is going to help you. You hang on to the pain because you think it is going to somehow justify what happened. And, you are going to make the other person pay. But neither of those thoughts are true. You can never be paid back and that person's suffering isn't going to do it for you. So, you have to make the mental decision to free the person from what he/she owes you. That doesn't mean you convince yourself that it never happened. No, it did. But you aren't going to hold it against the person anymore and make them pay for it. Make sense? I never said this was going to be easy. Christ's death on the cross certainly wasn't.

"If forgiveness is the process God takes us through to heal inner wounds...then forgetting would be the removal of the ugly scar. And God can even do that."

September 10, 2013

Forgiveness Part 3: Hypocrites

I am forgiven. When God sees me, He sees Jesus. I have nothing to prove to Him. I don’t have to earn His approval. I have it. That's why Paul says in Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…or Christ will be of no advantage to you.”

So how does Christ become an "advantage" for us? As stated before, He frees us up! We don't need to walk around tied up in knots by anger, bitterness, and hatred! We realize that Christ gave up His rights and laid down His life to redeem us. He nailed our offenses to His cross. And not only did He nail our offenses, He nailed the offenses of those who have hurt us to His cross. We have no right to refuse forgiveness to someone God through Jesus Christ has already forgiven, whether he/she asked for it or not.

God has recently brought me through circumstances where I have had to accept His forgiveness and grace and also extend this forgiveness and grace to other people. If I do not believe I am forgiven and loved by God, I will not be able to forgive and love other people. If I only have head knowledge of the forgiveness and grace (I know the verses) and don't actually believe and experience them (live them), then I am just as screwed (I sat and tried to think of another way to put that, but I couldn't. Sorry).

I can't get past this thought: When I accepted Jesus as my Savior at four years old, I really didn't grasp His forgiveness and grace. I mean, c'mon...I was four and the worse thing I had done is lie about my ruffle underwear (look to previous posts for that story). I knew I was going to Hell and instead wanted to spend eternity with Jesus (just a word here to all of my fundamental legalists: Those who say that if someone's main concern at his/her time of Salvation is just to escape Hell may not truly be saved, get over yourselves and read the Bible. Jesus spoke four times more about Hell then Heaven and so obviously wanted people to realize the severity of it in hopes that they would not want to go there. It is people like you who made me terrified for years that I may not be saved when I most certainly am. Thanks). Anyways... :)

While I am thankful that I accepted Jesus as my Savior at a young age, I had a head knowledge of God's grace, but not the experimental knowledge. I grew up thinking that I was "okay" because I had not committed any of the "really bad sins". However, when I got into college and my young adult years, I began to realize that when I failed, and failed miserably, I had a hard time accepting the fact that I truly was forgiven and already had God's favor and so didn't need to live defeated and/or in fear. But isn't that the Gospel? I am so excited because I feel like for the first time in my life, I am beginning to understand and experience the Good News of Salvation...God's grace covers my sin! I am free to live the abundant life and don't need to walk around ashamed or trying to prove myself to God. He loves me and values me as much as He does Jesus Christ.

Swindoll says,
Truth be told, it's God's forgiveness of us that makes possible our forgiving others...It's important to understand that we can never forgive others, horizontally, if not for what Christ has already done for us, vertically. Not until we fully accept and appropriate God's infinite and complete forgiveness on our behalf can we carry out the tough assignment of forgiving others...To refuse to forgive is hypocritical. Because we have been the recipients of maximum mercy, who are we to suddenly demand justice from others? The compassion that God demonstrates on our behalf calls for us to do the same toward others. Anything less is downright hypocritical.

September 8, 2013

Forgiveness Part 2: The Gospel

So let's talk about the Gospel...
The other day in my Bible reading, I came across a familiar verse, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” I had never stopped to consider the context of this powerful statement.

Just verses before, Jesus interacts with a woman being used as a pawn by the religious leaders who claim to have caught her “in the very act of adultery” (interesting accusation that leaves much to the imagination). Jesus knew the religious leaders were attempting to ensnare Him and He wisely gives them permission to stone her, but only if they themselves are without sin. The eldest of the accusers walk away first coming to grips with Jesus’ point: Their own sin disqualifies them from leveling condemnation. The woman is left standing before Jesus, the only One Who has the right to strike her dead. His comments echo through the chambers of grace: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more”.

“The wages of sin is death…But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ…”

At this point, Jesus has gathered a crowd. Therefore, Jesus testifies: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The religious leaders, still reeling from being outwitted by the Master Teacher, refuse to humble themselves and so reply, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus reminds the religious leaders of the point He just made when they wanted to stone the adulteress: Sin is an equalizer. No one is free from the condemnation sin inflicts because no one is free of sin.

“For all have sinned…”

Jesus explains, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.” Sin is an equalizer, and sin enslaves. While a slave may be a member of a household, he is not free: He is not a son. The religious leaders thought that since they followed a strict set of laws, they were a part of a religious household ("offspring of Abraham"). Indeed they did belong in the household, but only as a servant belongs to a master. They lived under the dictatorship of religious codes. Consequently, Jesus says, “There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope.” The religious leaders stood condemned by the law that they sought so diligently to follow. They were not free, and they, in their honest moments, knew this to be true. Jesus proves His superiority to the religious leaders by claiming to be the Son of the Father of the household. Jesus has preeminence over the slaves. Instead of damning the slaves to perpetual bondage in following religious laws, He has chosen to proclaim freedom…constant, eternal freedom through a relationship with Him.

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

Instead of living as a slave to religion, Jesus invites His followers into a relationship with Him and His Father. The relationship is based on grace and frees the individual from guilt and condemnation. He/she no longer needs to feel as though he/she has to keep a list of rules for love, acceptance, worth, security. He/she is accepted by God the Father based on the death of His Son.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”

Once I claim Jesus’ death and resurrection as my only hope, I receive Christ’s life. His past, present, future all become mine. I am forgiven. When God sees me, He sees Jesus. I have nothing to prove to Him. I don’t have to earn His approval. I have it. That's why Paul says in Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…or Christ will be of no advantage to you.”

September 6, 2013

Forgiveness Part 1: Who's Paying the Rent?

I went to my blog to see what I had written in regards to "Forgiveness". I had eleven blogs. Wow. Apparently, I have wrestled with this word and its implications in my life. No, not apparently. Definitely. And I would be the first person to tell you that thinking about forgiveness sucks, but actually experiencing the after-effects of forgiveness rocks.

So over the next few days, I am going to do a series on Forgiveness. Buckle your seat belts  cause it isn't going to be an easy ride. But I will make this promise: If you stick it out to the end, it will be the best ride you've ever been on.

In the section labeled "Forgiveness" on my blog, I have a conglomeration of posts written on both receiving and appropriating God's forgiveness. That's interesting because here's the key: If you don't accept God's forgiveness for you and if you haven't forgiven yourself, you will never be able to forgive other people. Let me say it another way: If you do not bask in God's grace daily for yourself, then you will not be able to offer God's grace unconditionally to others. And you and I both know that people who don't forgive are miserable and hurtful. Why? Because "someone else is taking up rent in their heads for free." I love that statement (I stole it from Ray Pritchard). It's hilariously true. And the following statement is just as true but not as funny: "Hurting people hurt people". What else can they do? They don't have the emotional capital to offer healing and grace to others because it's all being spent on paying for someone else's rent.

So here's the bottom line: Refusing forgiveness and refusing to forgive leave us in bondage. Jesus explained this is Matthew 18, you know, the famous parable about the servants:

"At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “'Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?'” Jesus replied, “'Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market. The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt. The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’ The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king. The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy."

The first servant owed way more than he was ever going to be able to repay. So, the King "erased the debt". I love that. The debt no longer existed. When the King saw the servant, he didn't see the debt anymore. It was gone. However, the servant didn't truly believe the King had erased the debt. Instead, he thought the King was just buying him time to pay it back. Why else would he attack his friend ("fellow servant") who only owed $10? The first servant knew in his heart of hearts he owed the King what was rightly due him. He felt compelled to pay him back due to his pride and embarrassment that his debt had gotten so out of control. In an effort to save face, he attacks his co-worker. The first servant is taking out his anger for himself at falling short on his friend (adapted from Healing for Damaged Emotions).

Well, he did it in front of a crowd and the King was quickly informed. Angry that the servant did not appreciate his forgiveness, he threw him in prison. Other translations say the servant was tormented there. Let me explain something that often gets mistranslated. God is not going to refuse forgiveness to you if you do not offer it to others. He can't. That's contradictory to His character. However, you will live inwardly tormented and in bondage until you release the other person from the debt he/she owes you. You will never truly know peace and experience God's forgiveness of you if you cannot extend that same forgiveness to someone else. Chuck Swindoll explains it this way, 

To refuse to forgive inflicts inner torment upon us...Jesus says God personally will allow those who refuse to forgive others to be tortured...pain, agony, and torment are all a part of this torturous experience...He is saying the one who refuses to forgive, the Christian who harbors grudges, bitter feelings toward another, will be turned over to torturous thoughts, feelings of misery, and agonizing unrest within. It is one of the horrible consequences of not forgiving those who offend us...Believe me; it is not worth the misery. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven! Release the poison of all that bitterness...let it gush out before God, and declare the sincere desire to be free.

If you do not fully comprehend the Gospel and the weight of the debt that was erased for you, you will not be able to forgive...and forgive...and forgive.

September 5, 2013

Ugly Insides

Okay...so moment of truth...
I have ugly insides.

There. I said it. Unfortunately, it's not anything I didn't know before. I mean in Jeremiah 17:9 God says my heart is wicked...deceitfully so...beyond anything I can even know. I guess that's why sometimes I am surprised by just how ugly my insides can truly be. Yuck.

I am in a leadership position - that I absolutely LOVE - however, it has revealed so much of me that I haven't yet surrendered to God. Last week I felt like God hit me upside the head with a holy two-by-four (Here we go - I'm using expressions my mom used to use with me! It's happening!) with conviction over something that I knew I was thinking and feeling, but tried to cover up with some jibberish of how I was only considering other people and the environment I was leading. Yeah, no. I started feeling so guilty over the reality of why I was truly feeling the way I was. I mean, it was ugly.

But as I was talking to God about it, He reminded me of something. Ephesians 3:19 talks about us being "filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." I have heard that verse explained this way...

Imagine you have a bucket of filthy water and you are told to fill it with clean water. The only caveat is, the bucket has to have a full load of water the entire time. What do you do? Well, you stick the hose of clean water in the bottom of the bucket and you flush that bad boy out.

Do you catch the connection? I am full of filthy thoughts and actions and feelings. God acts like a hose and flushes me out. Part of that flushing process is the recognition of how much dirt was truly crammed inside. And it's uncomfortable. But, it's also reassuring. God is still working on me! He hasn't given up and has bigger things in store!

So now when God reveals something ugly about me, I try to frame it positively. He is flushing me out. Filling me up with Him. I'm good with that.


September 3, 2013

Life Sucks.

So I have been rubbing shoulders with a number of people who just feel overwhelmed and bogged down with life. Life is hard. It hurts. It's exhausting. It's stressful. It's lonely. It sucks.

Bottom line: It beats us down and wears us out. And some seasons are longer than others. If we don't have a Biblical perspective, it's easy to give into the lie that God doesn't love us, is punishing us for something, or just took off.

My friend, nothing could be further from the Truth.

Just this morning I was reading in 2 Corinthians 1. Here are some of the verses:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows...[comfort] produces in you patient endurance."

I love the line that says, "Just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." We are going to face hard times. God tells you that straight up (got to appreciate His honesty, am I right?). But, He also promises His comfort.

Some of you may be thinking, "Hold the phone. I am in the middle of my own personal Hell right now and I ain't experiencing no peace." (Disclaimer: I am sure you practice better grammar than that). Well, let me ask you this: Do you believe that God loves you...and even likes you?

That's a simple question...with a really difficult answer for some. I was just talking with a friend who is going through a tough time right now and she was absolutely convinced God didn't like her and was out to get her for past mistakes. Oh how that broke my heart. We will have to face the consequences for our decisions...and sometimes those aren't pleasant. But there are also times when we are in the middle of a "crapstorm" that we didn't create. 

God's Word has an answer for both of those situations...
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, Who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

The great Apostle Paul was suicidal at times. Isn't that crazy? I mean, check out the verses above..."we despaired even of life." Hello. He didn't want to live because life got so bad at times. But, he gives the answer: "This happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, Who raises the dead."

Tough, terrible, horrible times often reveal the "dead" parts in us: Those things we are still hanging onto to give us meaning, identity, and worth apart from Jesus. Those things that when we lose them, we feel like we can't go on. The good news is, God wants to raise those dead parts to life by giving us His abundant life through Christ Jesus. We have to "set our hope" on Him (see above). We have to believe that He truly does love us more than anything and that God gave up Jesus to get us. We are worth Jesus Christ to God! We have to accept Jesus as our Personal Savior (apart from anything good we can or will do) and believe that only through Jesus can we have a personal relationship with God. Then, we have to remind ourselves everyday that the same love God showed by trading in Jesus for us, He offers everyday. We just have to accept it. You may not feel it at times. But you have to choose to believe it.

God will give you more than you can handle, because He wants to handle it for you.

I love the last few verses in 2 Corinthians 1:
God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting His yes within us. By His Spirit, He has stamped us with His eternal pledge - a sure beginning of what He is destined to complete.
God affirms you...not your circumstances. He defines you. Not the difficulties you are facing now. If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, God has stamped you with His "Yes!" And He promises to complete what He has started in you (Philippians 1:6).

Hang in there dear friend. Keep reminding yourself of the incredible love of God that He demonstrated for you when He had Jesus Christ die in your place on the cross for your sins (past, present, and future). Trust in Him, and not in your own works. Believe that He is your only hope for Heaven and that He loves you no matter what you do, what other people say, what circumstances you face, or how you feel.

Amen and amen.

March 29, 2013

Take It Captive

I am reading an awesome book by Lysa Terkeurst entitled Am I Messing Up My Kids? Love.it. The chapters are short and sweet and at the end of every chapter she has a little devotional. Perfect for my crazy busy life.

At the end of one of the first few chapters, she asks us to read Psalm 4...such a powerful Psalm. Verse 4 reads: "In your anger do not sin, when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent." David packs a lot of punch in one verse.

First, I love that David tells us to sit on our beds and be silent...especially when we are angry. However, I want to take it a step further. I don't know if you are like me, but I like to speak everything that comes into my mind. I guess somehow I feel like I am being honest that way. However, I have learned over the years that not everything that comes to mind is true, beneficial, and gracious for the listener (duh - Has it seriously taken me several years to learn that obvious truth? Yes. Yes it has.). Often times, my heart and mind are so cluttered with deceit and wrong motives and I have a hard time deciphering just why I am thinking what I am thinking and what needs to be said when and where. Feel me? David must have understood cause he says that we are to search our hearts. Now, searching my heart can be just as dangerous...simply because I am an over-analyzer. But, when you skip over to Psalm 139:23-24, you will see that David doesn't intend for us to search our own hearts, but for God to search them and then reveal the wickedness to us so that we can deal with it. Sigh.

Sometimes, we have to wait a little bit before God reveals just what is going on in our hearts. So in the meantime, we have to rely on Scripture as our guide for what to think and what to say...

2 Corinthians 10:4-5: "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Three steps here on guarding our minds and our mouths:
1. I have Divine Power to demolish the strongholds in my life. My thought life and my tongue can be very enslaving...especially when I feel I have to share everything. Praise God that He has given me everything I need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). I have His power flowing through me. I am not helpless. I just need to cry out to Him in those moments I feel weak and claim the promise that I can be obedient. Obedience then opens me up to the flow of His power (I stole that last thought from Lysa).

2. Anything that isn't truth is pretension (look at the verses). Falsehood is to be destroyed because Satan is the father of lies and only seeks one thing: my destruction (John 8:44, 1 Peter 5:8-9). Deceptive thoughts will destroy me. Deceptive words will destroy someone else. I am not just talking about out-in-out lies here. I am talking about us thinking we are doing the right thing and saying the right thing before we sipher our thoughts through the grid of Scripture.

3. Take captive every one of my thoughts and make them obedient to Christ. I love the wording in the verses..."make it obedient". That's right...I am in control. I have a choice. Will I align my thoughts and words with Scripture...or will I not? What does Scripture say I should be thinking about? Read on dear friend.

Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praise worthy - think about such things."

Amen.

March 19, 2013

Not So Comfy Comfort Zones

Comfort Zones. We like them because, well, they're comfortable. Duh. But comfort zones can be really enslaving. Take for instance the Israelites. They lived in literal bondage as slaves for 400 years in Egypt. God sent Moses to free the Israelites and as soon as the going got tough in the wilderness, what did they want? To go back to Egypt...what they were used to, their comfort zone. Seriously? Just read the book of Exodus in your Bible. Over and over again after God provided over and over again, the people would complain to Moses. They'd ask why God brought them to die in the desert when they could've just died in Egypt. Are you kidding me? God was delivering His people and all they did was grumble when things did not go exactly their way. Because the process to freedom was the scary unknown, they wanted to quit and go back to bondage, the unbearable known. Neither situation was ideal, but the known is always better than the unknown, right? Wrong.

Comfort zones are those behaviors that we develop as forms of self-protection or self-medication when life hurts or doesn't make sense or both (namely: When we experience change - any sort of change that is - you guessed it - uncomfortable). My comfort zones are depression, anxiety, and manipulation (I am looking pretty bad right now, aren't I? You're thinking, "Whoa...okay, compared to her, I'm doing alright." Well, you're welcome for that boost.) About two years ago, God revealed how I had been living in my own Egypt for years...ignorantly (and I can say that with all honesty). I had been "white-knuckling" life for far too long. I had no idea what grace and freedom were. And it was ugly. God had to completely break me. I literally didn't know what else to do but take my life by suicide or give my life to Jesus. However it was in that brokenness that He healed me. The freedom that ensued from surrender was indescribable. But would you believe that when any major change occurs in my life, I go back to my Egypt...depression, anxiety, manipulation? In those moments, I call out to God questioning why He left me...why He is silent...why He doesn't seem to be answering any of my prayers (which are all about me feeling comfortable in my bondage). His Word is clear: He opposes the proud. My pride, the idea that I am in control of my own life and can decide what is best for me apart from God, is what drives me to my comfort zones. It blinds me of my need of Jesus Christ. It keeps me from remembering that God healed me when I could not heal myself. My pride convinces me that I can meet my own needs in my comfort zones.

Hosea 11:3-4: "But they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love."

I often live like I have not been healed.

I love Psalm 103: "Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s."

Why do I need to remember all of God's benefits (forgiveness, healing, redemption, crowning, satisfaction)? Because when I have retreated back to bondage...when I am living in my comfort zones looking for safety and peace away from my God, I feel like He has abandoned me...left me on my own. I get so consumed in my own little world that I can't find God because I am demanding my way instead of following God's way.

The book of the Bible Hosea is scandalous. It takes place hundreds of years after the Exodus from Egypt and the Israelite's time in the wilderness. Instead of staying true to God, the people have committed spiritual prostitution and gone after false gods. God asks Hosea, His prophet, to marry an actual prostitute as a metaphor. So, Hosea marries Gomer. They have several children together. However, Gomer returns to prostitution and consequently Hosea must also raise several of her illegitimate children conceived while she was married to Hosea. The heartache. God wanted to prove that when the people "cheat" on Him so to speak, He hurts. Badly. In fact, the book of James tells us that God is jealous for us. He loves us so much, He can't stand to share us. Think about this: If you aren't turning to God for comfort, where do you go? Back to your own Egypt...your comfort zones. This breaks God's heart. In Hosea, God actually tells the people that He wishes He could take them back to the wilderness. Why? Because while they were in the wilderness, they had to fully rely on and trust in God. Their time in the wilderness was a constant test of whether or not they would walk by faith.

Will I embrace all that I know to be true from His Word when I can't seem to hear or see Him? Will I walk away from my comfort zones and to Him? See, that's the tricky thing...our comfort zones can provide immediate relief. But do they provide lasting relief? Really think about that.

Right now, practically, I am living from poopy diaper to poopy diaper. I don't have much time to shower most days, let alone do devotions. I have felt far from God...but He hasn't left me. I have wandered back to Egypt and felt alone. But He's with me everyday. His Word says He has given me "everything that pertains to life and to godliness." I love that. He is not only concerned about my godliness, but my life. Those things that happen that tend to drive me away from Him and to my comfort zones. He cares about those. And He has given me everything I need to fight against those urges to return to Egypt. He has given me His Word, and as I dwell and meditate on it, as I choose to live by what I know, not what I feel...as I choose to trust Him...to walk by faith, I once again claim and experience the healing He has brought over my life. I remember His benefits...I dwell on the fact that He has crowned me with His gentle love and compassion and nothing can ever separate me from Him...not even myself. Now that is a comfort zone.