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 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?


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?

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.

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.
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 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 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.