Friday, January 18, 2019

This means WAR

Weary.  Ragged.  Used up.  Yet hopeful and resolved.  But longing for a break.  A break from spiritual warfare.  Maybe the break I need is actually the shattering of my own will and my own desires.  Maybe the Lord is taking me to places I must go to in order to know Him, to glorify Him and to make Him known.  I just want more of Him but I cannot have Him without the battle; without the suffering.  Jesus does not call us to a life of ease.  On the contrary, we are told we will have sufferings and trials and tribulations.  

We are told, by Jesus in Luke 9:23, that the only way to be His disciple, His follower and ambassador is by taking up our cross daily.  We are also told in Matthew 11:30 that the yoke of Jesus is easy and His burden is light.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace and we are promised peace when our minds are steadfast on God, a peace that is beyond logic and comprehension.  Jesus also said he did not come to bring peace, but division.  How do these things abide within the written Word without contradiction?  The peace promised is for those who have been born again.  The division (Luke 12:51) is between believers and nonbelievers...and trust God, there will be a division one day and it will be too late to repent.  God's commands are not burdensome and He provides such strength and hope that is beyond any difficult circumstance.  As believers truly fighting for God and against Satan, there will be a cross to bear, a dying to one's self and trappings of this world, that seems unbearable.  Take heart.  He bore the cross for us already.  And we should be honored to share in His sufferings (1 Peter 4:13).  We are called to do so (2 Corinthians 1:5; Philippians 3:10).

Yes, God is love and He loves us and demonstrates His love for us by humbling Himself, taking on the sin of the world and conquering death, all while we are sinners.  Sing His praises for His love for us is great and unsearchable.  And while He does love us as we are and takes us as we are, which is doomed and bearing absolutely nothing of worth, He does NOT leave us that way.  He does not welcome and tolerate the darkness and depravity of our hearts into His Kingdom...only welcoming us covered by the blood that flowed from the flawless Lamb of Calvary.  He is light; the Light of the world!!  He wants better for us than a life enslaved to sin and darkness which is why he bids us to sin no more.  He is willing to give us a new heart.  Why??  Because we NEED one.  We need correction, discipline, teaching and rebuking.  He gives us that through His word, prayer, His Spirit, and also through others.  God gives us permission and encouragement to warn our brothers and sisters who are blind to the pit their sin has them in.  We are instructed to do this carefully and certainly not pridefully.  (We should also be teachable and approachable when someone speaks truth to us in love)  

We are told to prepare for battle.  Why?  Because there is a raging battle, unseen by eyes of flesh, between the light and the darkness.  While we know whose ultimate victory (Revelation 17:14) ends all darkness and evil for eternity, we are still in a time of war.  The Enemy of our souls and father of lies is able to twist and entice and draw depraved and undisciplined hearts into darkness.  He is a master of illusions, touting the darkness as light, fooling us over and over.  His goal is to keep our evil hearts from becoming broken and contrite, open to God's forgiveness and grace.  And when that doesn't work, Satan wants to hold Christians captive to anything at all that he can get to work, rendering us ineffective in God's Kingdom (2 Peter 1:8).  The reality is that if we are not ambassadors FOR God's Kingdom, we are actually on the side of darkness (James 4:4).  Even as believers, sealed by the Spirit until the day of redemption, there is no neutral ground.  We are not simply removed from hell's roll call.  We are given new that is to be abundant, pursuing God's glory and making Him known to others.  We are called to be in the battle.  In the trenches.  FOR PEOPLE'S SOULS!  

Within the various seasons of life, there will be a myriad of things God will have us walk through.  Each day will not look the same.  Each prayer will not feel the same.  Every praise will not come so easily.   But, every day.  Every. Single. Day. we are in the battle.  Some days the battle will be spent traveling.  Some will be spent praying and seeking.  Some days will be painful and we will need to take our wounds to the One who will give us healing and instruction.  Some battles will exhaust us to our core and sometimes the circumstances we find ourselves in leave us too weary for the battle.  THIS is when we rely on God's strength and when we wait upon the Lord. (Isaiah 40) It is also when we allow others to carry burdens and fight alongside of us, not forgetting to do the same for our brethren.  The Lord WILL fight for us and sometimes He lets other saints be involved.

There are those too heartbroken to even open Scriptures.  There are those too weary to even groan in prayer.  There are those too confused, sorting through the unexpected or coming out from under bad teaching and thinking, to trust and believe.  There are those that have given themselves a spiritual handicap, holding on to grudges or ignoring sin. Sometimes faith is shaken down to the foundation, the Corner Stone, until the little that is left is all that is needed to rebuild in a better way.  We get to stand shoulder to shoulder with saints, fighting for and with them.  Speaking words of life, wisdom, compassion and truth.  

We do not get to choose what part of the battlefield we are on.  We may be on the front lines, in a foxhole, left alone longing for a comrade, or singing praises and speaking truths that lift up those who are downcast.  We may find ourselves on defense, preparing for an attack or we may be called to take the battle to the Enemy and walk onto the adversary's turf, occasionally alone.  We may be the one weary in praying and needing our arms held by others and we may be the ones who need to hold up the arms of a prayer warrior, providing victory.  

Whatever it is, we must be engaged.  We are called.  The good works we are called to do (which were appointed for us to walk in before the world according to Ephesians 2:10 ) will not be as simple as donating time or money.  They will be so much more than that.  We are talking about demolishing strongholds here (2 Corinthians 10:4) We are talking about serving a mighty warrior of a God, who not only calls us to live in peace with others as best we can but also to live in opposition of the beastly evil that longs for souls to stay in their condemned darkness or for ineffectiveness in lives of believers.

I know all this.  In my core I know it.  I believe it and yet need help to overcome my unbelief.  And so I recently found myself willing to wave my white flag, vigorously if necessary, to just. make. the battle. stop.  Why?  It feels overwhelming.  It is hard.  It feels a little more sacrificial than I want to yield to.  Enter the assaults of the Enemy.  You name it.  Whatever the twister of truth can use to push my buttons.  God cannot use me.  Did God really call me to do something?  Should I really set up boundaries that seem as though they push wandering souls away?  Am I really making a difference anyway?  Is anyone going to listen?  I'm too much of a sinner and hypocrite.  Is the darkness really that bad?  Isn't this battle talk and believing in the unseen foolish?  You will surely mess up and misspeak or let someone down so don't even try.  That last sentence assuredly has truth IN it.  I will mess up and I will let people down.  But that is not a reason and certainly not permission for me to give up.

Pray!  Pray in the Spirit.  Study how Jesus taught us to pray (Luke 11).  Put on the armor (Ephesians 6) . Take up the cross.  Do NOT give up.  Our obedience and willingness to fight is for God and not for results.  Do not put hope in results that we want.  The fruition of our ideas and plans does not warrant the hope and faith that only God is most worthy of.

And so I will take thoughts captive unto the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).  I will keep the faith.  I will pray for more faith.  I will not lose heart (Luke 18:1).  I will pray in the Spirit for strongholds to be broken, for darkness to be revealed for what it is.  I will ask saints to speak life into me and we will be a more effective body of Christ, striving together in unity towards knowing God, glorifying Him and making Him known.  Timothy Keller says, "Knowing the Lord is communal and cumulative, we must pray and praise together".

Paul exhorts the Ephesians not to lose heart because of his sufferings and then he says

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:14-19

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Ephesians 4:30

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16

Read the Word!  Ask for God's teaching and understanding.  Ask for the eyes of your heart to be opened and enlightened.

[May] the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.
Ephesians 1:17-19

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Grief is messy

In my growing up years, especially early on my family moved many times.  Sometimes moves were states away and sometimes only hours or minutes but it was my life and I knew no different.  My family was intact and we all moved together so I was fine and ready for adventure (until I was 17 but that is a different story).  A constant in my life was family.  I had love and stability.  Extended family gathered for special occasions and holidays.  some family relationships were cherished and dear to me and others were relationships of proximityBut what amazes me as I write this is what God can do through all types of relationships...what beauty He can bring from ashes.  For I know that what the enemy meant as harm, my God meant for good and for His glory.  Let me tell you about Grandma.  She was my grandmother, named Bonnie and we called her Grandma Bonnie or just 'Grandma'.

Grandma grew up in southern California.  We would visit her there when I was young and she would come visit my family when she and Chuck could.  I fondly remember airport adventures and, thanks to photographs, can visualize the memories my mind is too young to recall.  While I knew Grandma could be fun to be around and I could always count on a birthday card and a bag full of wrapped presents each Christmas, I would not have considered us to be close.  As a child I did not understand and could not have explained to you the dynamic in place.  As a young adult, I began to unmuddy the waters but, unfortunately, not through the lens of my forgiving Savior.  I picked up the lens of hurt and anger and, even worse, self-righteousness to view Grandma.  You see, Grandma didn't know Jesus for her first 85 years.  She knew a life of seeking...and she sought the things or people she believed would fulfill her needs.  Married 4 times and mother to Debbie, she pursued only what she wanted.  She didn't know what it was to cherish motherhood.  Not knowing how to truly love, she never gave my mother a sense of belonging or security.  Leaving her daughter, my mother, to herself and in broken places with broken people, my grandmother left unspeakable scars on my mother's soul.

Grandma eventually sent my mother to live with a previous step-dad in Washington state.  I knew this man as Grandpa Chuck (yes, there are two Chucks in this story...believe me, I am keeping the complications to a minimum).  With a whole-hearted spirit of adoption he and his family took my mother in and cared for her, giving her a glimpse of the redemption to come.  And even while broken and hurting my mother never completely cut Grandma out of her life and my mother never spoke ill of Grandma to me as I was growing up.  As I gradually learned of the past, my relationship dynamic with Grandma didn't change much because we were not close.  I held up my lens and looked upon my mother's scars and wanted to protect both my mother and myself.  Oh, but God

When God needs to change a heart, he goes to great lengths to do it.  And, so, he brought me Grandma.  Literally.  One summer Grandma, who had lived a little of here and there after leaving California, decided she wanted to live close to me.  I still wonder why but, with God, it all makes sense.  She moved 10 minutes away from us and it became clear rather quickly that she and Chuck (Chuck #2) needed a lot of help.  Physical help, financial help and, goodness gracious, serious medical and medicine help.  After a year had passed, things were declining and it became apparent that Grandma and Chuck couldn't live on their own and we moved them in with us temporarily.  That was a difficult and dark time in our home.  I don't know if you have spent a lot of time around people who are satisfied with the world and want nothing to do with God but it is emotionally and spiritually draining.  It was also a sweet time when the presence of Jesus was palpable and oh so dear to me.  My family, especially my children, poured God into Grandma and Chuck not understanding why someone would reject such a message of hope.  All the while, I wanted God to soften hearts and bring them into a relationship with Him but I still had the lens I created as I looked upon them.  God's timing is perfect and absolutely beautiful and so, being the patient Lover of my soul, He chiseled and refined and waited. Waited on salvation for Chuck as he was dying of cancer and salvation for Grandma as her body was failing and dying, yes, but He also waited on me to surrender the lens I had and begin to look through His, glory hallelujah!

As we knew the end of this life was near for Grandma, I experienced the full gamut of emotions.  Knowing God had given her clarity of mind and an opportunity to be born again, which she accepted weeks before her 86th and final birthday, I rejoiced and rested in peace.  In her last weeks my mother, father, sister and my family sat with her, trying to bring something of comfort...something of worth.  And so I poured out Scriptures and promises and sang of amazing grace and of the streets of gold.  I held her hand and she would squeeze back.  Sometimes the squeezes seemed to say thank you and others they seemed desperate and lonely.   But, then there's the reality of the end.  There's the reality of the mess of my heart.  The birth of a new heart is painful.  While I know that the loneliness of Grandma's heart was mostly the result of her past choices, I began to have true compassion for her. Of course, Jesus had been filling me with Himself during the 7 years of being her main caregiver, but He was ready to do something permanent in my heart and my heart was finally tender enough to change.

 For this next part I so wish I could sit next to you and look into your face as I share, and even then I cannot do describing God's power justice.  On Grandma's last good day, she was able to speak some and was very responsive to me being there.  She even asked me if I could pray for God to take her to hew new home right then.  I did but God had another 14 days left for her here.  I felt as if I had told her goodbye each time I saw her because that is essentially what we were doing.  That was incredibly intense.  I felt too drained to continue and as if there were no more words to be said.  But as I prayed and listened to the Spirit, I knew there was more.  I looked into her eyes and told her that I had been taking care of her for a long time (and that it hadn't always been easy, to which she nodded in agreement) but that God had taught me SO much through taking care of her and that I was thankful for that.  And then, out of my heart overflowed a truth I didn't expect to ever feel, know or say.  "I'm glad you're my Grandma".  Let me tell you that the weight behind that statement is unbearable.  I meant that I was glad she was my Grandma and everything that came with that.  Everything.  All the junk.  All the baggage.  All the pain.  Oh, friends, that is only from God!

I have known that we were doing the "right" thing by taking care of Grandma and Chuck all this time, and my heart was to serve Jesus.  My motivation was to do what was right and also to protect my mother and myself from the wounds and scars being ripped open as we took care of one who failed to care for her.   I just don't think my motivation was to be changed by Jesus.  As I glanced at something of Grandma's that years ago made me angry because it reminded me of all the hurt she had left in her wake, I was startled.  Stunned, I laughed and realized that the changes in my heart Jesus was making had shattered the lens through which I saw Grandma.  I now saw her through His lens, His eyes.  I saw a lonely and broken woman who had been searching.  A woman whose stubborn heart had kept her from God until recently.  And I had compassion on that woman.

"The highest act of love is the giving of the best gift, and, if necessary, 
at the greatest cost, to the least deserving.  That's what God did."
John Piper

I surely must not forget that my stubborn heart has led me astray, wandering in the wilderness of my own pursuits and bowing to whatever I felt could get me what I wanted.  I am the worst of sinners.  I do not deserve the love, mercy, grace and faithfulness of my Savior.  There is no one righteous.  Why a holy and just God would pursue me is beyond my comprehension.  Therefore, without judgement, I am compelled to show the love of Christ to the least deserving because He has done that for me, the least deserving.

With Grandma's dramatic physical decline, we knew the end of her life here on earth was nearing.  As I prayed for her earthy suffering to end, knowing she would be with Jesus when it did, I also felt a pang...something unexplainable.  While we grieve with hope, we still grieve.  Death is something to be angry at.  It is something to hate.  When Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus (John 11), the typical translation of the Greek word used in verse 38 is too weak; the word means to "bellow with anger".  Theologian B.B. Warfield describes Jesus as having "irrepressible anger".  As painless and as "natural" as some deaths occur, death is NOT natural.  It is the enemy of life and the Creator of life.  Death represents not only loss and separation, which is significant enough, but also opposition to God's original design.    OH, but we are not alone in our grief.  We are not alone in our suffering.  God is both a sovereign and suffering God.  Timothy Keller says, "The sovereignty of God is mysterious but not contradictory."  This is crucial to trusting Him when we do not understand.  I do not understand the recent and sudden death of a friend.  I do not understand the injustices of this world.  All I can lean on is Jesus and the Word of God and the peace He can and will bring when my tears are my food, when my heart is shattered.  I can remember that not only does He hate death, but He conquered it!  Hallelujah!!  

As I embraced my Grandma during her last breaths, I had peace and blessed assurance but also something that rose up within me, hating death.   Striving to trust the Master Weaver, I am comforted knowing everything we go through can and does have a greater purpose but I also know God hurts alongside us and as it seems we are still here waiting on the final victory over death, He reminds me that the ultimate victory over death is already written within His tapestry...we are just on this side of eternity, bound by time.

"ultimately, even a peaceful death at the age of ninety is not the way things were meant to be.  Those of us who sense the 'wrongness' of death - in any form - are correct.  The 
"rage at the dying of the light" is our intuition that we were not meant for mortality, 
for the loss of love, or for the triumph of darkness."
Timothy Keller
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Grief.  Grieving Grandma has felt so messy for me.  The relationship we had was complicated and grief adds to that.  It feels odd to have finality of my caregiving if there is a hole...  I simultaneously hate death and rejoice that Grandma is with Jesus.  I absolutely hate that my friend's family has been given such loss and brokenness to walk through and yet rejoice that Carole is with Jesus.

Grief has power.  Grief has a place.  Its stages and complications are messy.  But I know an almighty God who can and will bring beauty from ashes and comfort those that mourn, bringing joy in the morning.  My soul yearns for all to know Him.  Let us not harden our hearts.  May we not pick up a lens or keep a plank in our eye that keeps us from loving on the body of Christ or seeing the lost and dying as underserving of our love and sacrifice.  

"Because suffering is both just and unjust, we can cry out and pour out our grief, yet without the toxic additive of bitterness.  Because God is both sovereign and suffering, we know our suffering always has meaning even though we cannot see it."
Timothy Keller
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

The grave could not hold Him!!  And if you know Jesus...really know Him...and are born again, the grave will not hold you.  Until then, grieve but grieve with hope.  Walk through the messiness.  Cry out to God in the dead of night.  Know that He cares.  He cares enough that He suffered for us.  He faced death and all of its power bowed under His authority and the stone rolled away.  When time is no more, our temporary sufferings will be nothing compared to the glory revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

"For God has purposed to defeat evil so exhaustively on the cross that all the ravages of 
evil will someday be undone and we, despite participating in it so deeply, will be saved...suffering
 is at the very heart of the Christian faith.  It is not only the way Christ became like and redeemed us, but it is one of the main ways we become like him and experience his redemption."
Timothy Keller
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

We will be presented faultless before the Throne.  
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore.  Amen
Jude 24-25

Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He's coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day
Michael Bleecker/Mark Hall

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Contemporary vs Traditional

Let me start by sharing that my heart is to place the mirror in front of myself, ponder all these things alongside you, and hopefully come away looking a little more like my Creator...for His glory...not mine.

I wish that there weren't problems within the body of Christ.  I wish that we all understood not only our purpose but also the best ways to fulfill that purpose.  I wish the Bride of Christ was unified but sadly, as long as we are bound by time, awaiting our permanent home, we hobble along hoping to show the lost world that there is a God who can bring healing and hope and, One Day, ultimate unity.

While there is nothing new under the sun, each generation and culture puts its unique stamp on the human race through music, art, poetry, and the like.  Much is gained through looking into the past, and much is changed through braving the future that awaits.  How sad when a line that divides Christians is one that could, instead, be a learning curve, spurring us on to spread the Gospel.

Worship.   "Worship" can be used to describe the time when the body of believers come together to grow and edify and bring the message of hope to the perishing.  Tragically, the methods, styles, and preferences of sinners often bring disharmony among Christ followers.  We get lost in things like traditional vs. contemporary.  God alone is worthy of worship...the specific style of a church service does not fall into a category worthy of worship and, yet, many will fight tooth and nail to have the service they believe is: best, right, perfect, more likely to reach the lost, etc.

Jesus is Jesus and He can and will draw the lost unto Himself with or without instruments, lights, "new" music, all 6 verses of a hymn, suits & ties or flip-flops & shorts.  Amen?  Amen!  But how amazing and humbling it is that our Creator as Savior and Spirit wants to use us sinners to share His message of redemption with all people.  We just get a little caught up in how that message should be shared.

The body of Christ has many different parts, each with gifts and roles and it can be tricky to fit into our role and also value a role that looks different than ours.    While God's word tells us that believers dwelling in unity is a beautiful thing, we aren't given specifics for how a church bulletin should look (how could we survive without an order of service though, right?).  Really, though, how is it even possible that in the richest nation in the world we have Christians fussing and fuming over styles of worship services?

The reality is that we all have preferences.  We find things that "fit".  We find churches and worship services with various times and styles that fit us.  Is there anything wrong with this?  No, not in and of itself, but the depravity of our hearts show when our fallen natures control our motives.  

I have some amazing friends and they are my friends for many reasons but a huge one is that they fit me.  I experience rest and comfort sitting on the couch of a friend, catching up on the phone, or sitting opposite them in prayer and fellowship.  Comfort, however, is not my main motivation for friendship.  I like comfort but I need the encouragement, the hard life lessons, the pain, the correction, the love and support that are part of friendships.  

My husband is my favorite person in the world.  My hair is down and there is comfort there but only because of how deep our relationship goes...only because we are real with one another and love each other through challenges and differences.  

I appreciate the fit I have with my spouse, with friends, and with other believers but the feeling of a comfortable fit is not the end goal of any godly relationship. And may I be so bold as to say that the feeling of a comfortable fit is not the end goal of any worship service.  

To choose a place and style of worship based solely on comfort or feeling that your comfortable service should fit everyone else is completely self-centered and not at all unifying to the brothers and sisters in Christ being alienated.

If you struggle with how a stuffy, traditional service could possibly make a difference in "today's" world, I challenge you to find someone generations ahead of you that shines for Jesus and ask them their story...find out how they are ministering and serving.  Value and respect tradition.  One day the music and styles of this day might bring comfort to you when you are no longer contemporary.  Investigate the history and stories behind many hymns and you will find men and women who faced great hardship to bring beautiful music from the ashes of their lives, once contemporary themselves, and all for the glory of God.

If you struggle with how the stage lights, guitars, and deafening concert-like service could possibly have depth and stir hearts towards God, I would challenge you to ask the Spirit to the open your eyes to the absolute hunger for God in the hearts of the leaders.  There is a godly jealousy there...a desire to catch the ear and possibly the hearts of this generation.  Be inspired by the fire that burns within!  Support the ministries that reach out to the current culture.

If you don't struggle but feel stuck in the middle...if you don't understand how obsessed people can be over this, I challenge you to be sensitive and take the opportunities the Lord may put before you to bridge gaps and mend hearts, bringing unity to His body.  

To think that a specific location, time, or style is the best way to reach people for Jesus is putting a lot more merit in our ability to share the Gospel than warranted.  We are not needed for the whole world to hear.  God does not need a podcast in order for every ear to hear.  He has angelic messengers that can get the job done but, in His perfect wisdom, God chooses us.  US!  He chooses us to look at not only the lost world through His eyes but also the family of God.  There is enough evil in this world to fight against and we should not be fighting one another.  

Let none of us assume that how we do things or even how things have "always" been done is the right way.  Our purpose is to glorify God and He is so awesome that we even get to enjoy doing so.  Do not limit the Creator to a musical style, dress code, or location.  Come with me to the hospice bed of my grandmother who wouldn't know the different worship style options if they hit her in the head because she has never cared much for church or for God until the Spirit drew her unto Himself, gave her a moment of total clarity, and she surrendered to Him.  She said she had been putting this off for too long.  A life of following in Jesus' footsteps is one of surrender. Waving a banner for why your preferences are right or best is not surrender.  Showing up at meetings to make waves is not surrender.  Feeling defeated when you have to make changes is not surrender.  Following a vision of unity while respectfully allowing for preferences is surrender.  Remembering where the air in our lungs comes from and staying humble and merciful through differences is surrender.   Jesus is always near.  He will meet you where you are.  And while He does and always will love us as we are, His perfect love for us never wants us to stay the way we are.  There is always something to be learned, always something to be surrendered, always room for growth, and always need for grace.

If you give up a little comfort for the glory of God, isn't that worth it?   It's okay to find shoes that fit.  I cannot function well in shoes that are made for a toddler.  But, honestly, if my heart is totally surrendered to God, I can function beyond myself whether I am in a contemporary service, traditional service, or in a homeless shelter listening to the story of a man who wishes he had not lost sight of God's purpose for his life.  We are all one step away from being in desperation.  We are all in need of the same mercy and grace.  

At the end of the day, it's all about Jesus.   At the end of this life, it's all about Jesus.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Breaking up is hard to do. When a friend says, "it's not's me"

Okay, so here I sit, heart pounding.  I don't know if I should share this.  I don't know if I can.  Here goes...

Ecclesiastes says there is a season for everything.  Even though the trials of this life grow our character, I would dare say not many of us sign up for the times of pain and mourning.  We much prefer when the sun is shining and the cool, fall breeze is awakening our souls to the beauty around us.  Scripture also tells us that beauty comes from ashes.  Ashes.  To get to ashes, there must be burning. loss. pain.  Relationships affect our seasons and walls burn down.  And if we let God have the ashes of broken relationships, He can make something beautiful. 

Friendships are beautiful and altogether created by our Creator for us.  Then why are they so difficult and painful at times?  The short answer is that we live in a fallen world and we are all sinful people.  But that answer doesn't comfort me or stop my tears when brokenness steals a friend.  I am not all smiles when life takes unexpected turns, leaving me reeling and wondering if I am lovable.

I have been known to be a nomad of sorts, my family moving a lot as a child and several times as an adult.  I don't have anyone that I've known since 1st grade as my friend.   I have walked away from people, knowing not all relationships "make it".  Ah, but some do...  There really are adult, Christian friendships that live outside of time and location.  Thankfully, I have known the joy of such friendships.  I still do.  I also know the sting of goodbye, of being someone's memory. 

When, in an indescribably difficult time in my life, a remarkable and dear friend shattered my heart in an indescribable way, I wasn't sure what to think about friendship anymore.  There wasn't outright betrayal.  There wasn't a fight.  She just walked away.  Removed me.  Her explanation was vague, at best, despite my effort to get to the core of whatever was wrong.   It wasn't me, it was her.  I had been dumped.  There wasn't just a drifting apart...I have experienced the waxing and waning of friendships through seasons and moving.  No, this was quite different than drifting.  This was purposeful.  She told me she loved me and always would and was glad I had been a part of her life.  Had.  Had.

Suddenly someone that had both rejoiced and mourned alongside me purposely referred to me in the past tense.  I was crushed, confused, angry, lonely.  Seeds of insecurity began to grow, watered by the false sense that everyone would leave me.  That the friendship was never real (It SO was).  That I wasn't a good friend.  That none of my friendships were real.  That, at any moment I could be crushed again and I should distance myself before I got hurt again.  That I must have done something very wrong and hurt her even when she said I definitely did not.

I don't know what happened.  At times, I still long for a satisfactory explanation.  At times, I envision us reuniting with hugs and tears.  And, while the confusion does still sting when I am reminded that I am the only one she chose to walk away from, this painful journey has brought me nearer to my Jesus.  She pointed me to Jesus as friends and the wounding of my soul when she walked away caused me to seek Him more.  The friend I lost was certainly His hands and feet to me.  I don't understand why but I do know God was present in both our friendship and our breakup.  That's beauty from ashes.

Relationships are hard.  Period.  Cry your heart out hard.  Are they worth it?  Yes!  Do I still wonder which one of my friends will dump me next?  Occasionally.  I certainly didn't expect the loss I had.  Are some friendships better ended than pursued?  Occasionally.  There are also the friendships worth fighting for.  The friend that you call even when she hasn't called you in forever.  The friend that you pray for because you know they are hurting but they can't or won't share.  The friend that loves you when you are unlovable.  The friend that sticks closer than a brother.  The friend that points you to Jesus.  And, oh, sweet reader...if you have been wounded by a follower of Jesus, maybe even one who used to point you to Him, know that there is a Friend in Jesus.  He knows your pain.  He will bind your broken heart.  He is near!  He will never leave you.  He will never forsake you. Ultimately He can and will use every part of our journey to bring us closer to Himself.  To refine us.  To show us that He is all we need.  Yes, he put us here on this earth and created relationships for His glory but our relationship with Him is the conduit through which He blesses others. 

Be a blessing.  Be a friend.  It is going to be messy.  We are going to be hurt and we are going to hurt others.  Risk it.  Humble yourself.  Serve others.  Love the unlovable.  Seek the lost and hurting.  Walk with them.  Be the hands and feet of Jesus when a friend needs you. 

I don't always like His ways or the seasons I find myself in but, you see, I have seen beauty turn into ashes more than once. 

So, when I have ashes before me, I give them to the Healer and Lover of my soul.  For out of is glorified  

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom fro the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of he LORD for the display of his splendor.  Isaiah 61:1-3

Now, travel with me to Luke, chapter 4 and to Nazareth a couple thousand years ago and imagine the sound the scroll makes as the Word made flesh Himself unrolls it to read from the passage in you have chills yet?  He tells the hearers that He was there to fulfill all of this.  Oh, friend, let us not become weary in doing good.  Let us not believe the lies the enemy hurls into our minds.  Let us not allow broken relationships or anything else to keep us from living filled with the Spirit that has conquered the grave and offered us freedom

Monday, May 29, 2017

God is our just pays the bills

In January of 2016 I was still reeling over some personal issues and preparing to birth a baby wondering if we would ever sell our house and be able to start building the new one.  We lived in 550 square feet and were planning to build our own house.  We had been saving and were ready to start construction knowing we could continue once our previous house sold.  Our budget took an unexpected blow and we were unable to do that and we were unsure of what we were supposed to be doing and if we were doing the wrong thing. I wasn't sure I could handle much more emotional strain.  I had a come to Jesus meeting in a big way and let go and truly began trusting His timing and His plan.

In February, after almost 2 years on the market, our house sold and sold quickly.  We were shocked at how everything fell into place.  Gone.  No more mortgage.  Did you hear me?  NO MORE mortgage.  We were completely debt free.  Woohoo!!  Now it was time to start spending and building.  :)

On March 4th, we broke ground on our house.  Then my husband who I adore worked so hard on laying the foundation blocks, doing a 3-man job alone, that he literally worked his fingerprints off!  On April 7th we welcomed our Rebekah Claire into the world.  Bruce continued construction and I adjusted to a new baby, tiny-house style.  Because Bruce was working 14-16 hours a day the kids and myself did all we could to make sure the chores were done so that Bruce's focus could stay on the house.

It was an exhausting and thrilling year.  A weary road that brought us to a place where we can now have visitors and fellowship without the use of clown car magic or being a fire hazard.  Doing over 95% of the construction ourselves gave us some serious sweat equity!  Mentioning I am proud of my husband and thankful for help from friends and family is a must.  :)

Our goal was always to build this house with as little debt as possible...maybe none.  After waiting almost 2 years to start construction our timetable was different than we had hoped.  The reality of living in a small space was not our only motivation to move forward rather than wait on funds.  We also had financial and other reasons to borrow money to finish building the house.  Our utility bills in the tin can we lived in were crazy high.  The floors and walls would sweat in the winter.  We had moisture and mold issues to battle.  It was time to move forward.  I didn't take borrowing lightly and God had to humble my heart because I had pride in being debt-free.

So, here we are.  Debt.  Other than a mortgage we haven't had debt in over 10 years.  That hasn't always been easy but worth it.  The blessings, gifts, and provision God has orchestrated amaze me. We made the decision to move forward building our house without the cash on hand.  Because of the Lord's grace through unexpected means, we have a 5 year plan to be completely debt free.  At first I felt defeated to borrow to finish the house but I am definitely at peace now (most days).  I have had many full-circle moments in this season of life.  The Lord has shown me more than once that debt-free living can become an idol itself.  Debt-free is never bad and I certainly recommend living that way for many reasons but anything, even good things, can come before God in our lives.   Doing everything I can to be debt-free is not the same as wholeheartedly seeking after God and His kingdom.  Now, if I am seeking God first it's likely that good decisions such as not living beyond my means will come as a result but there is a HUGE difference between doing good things and putting Jesus ahead of everything...the good things happen naturally because of my relationship with Him. Read Matthew chapters 6 and 10 (and anything else in Scripture while you're at it.  Be careful, it can come alive!)

He is more important than debt and more important than being debt-free

He is worthy.  Worthy of our worship and praise.  His namesake is worthy of all our good deeds but if our good deeds do not bring Him glory, they are filthy rags...He enables us.  He enables us to do the good deeds and make the good decisions FOR His glory, not ours.

My debt or lack of it is not to boast or brag and if what I do or say doesn't point back to my Savior, then my actions and words are in vain.  Jesus.  He is everything.   I've been in some deep places, but Jesus has met me where I am.  And He has helped me do the next thing.  How I love Him. Mess that I am, He loved me first!

With Bruce's workload being quite light this year so far, I am re-learning some lessons about stewardship.  I am realizing I still take so many things for granted.  I know that my heart is selfish and that I don't really like to adjust the budget when the income is less.  I have moments I feel entitled and I have an ungrateful spirit.  Chief of sinners, I am.  Ultimately I am accountable for my actions, attitudes, and stewardship and I fail all too often.  May God do a mighty work in this heart of flesh that wars within my very soul.

Our income may be variable but the deep, deep love of Christ is unchanging.

**Amendment:  This post was sort of a confession and snapshot into some of our struggles.  I do not intend to justify debt or even say that our decision to have some for our house is "right".  I still hate debt.  I don't believe a lifestyle of debt is God-honoring. Jesus died to set us free and to have life abundantly, sharing His love and freedom with others.  He doesn't want us to serve money or be a slave to the lender... I don't have all the answers to living debt-free as everyone has different situations but I know that typical American culture doesn't need to be our blueprint...God's word does. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

I'd rather have Jesus (I think)

Isn't the Lord wonderful?  

I recently attended a weekend women's conference and, believe me, I don't think the Lord is wonderful just because I'm on some spiritual high.  He is wonderful simply because He is!  But because of what He is doing in my heart and because of how He spoke to me through His word and the words shared by the speaker, my fingers have been itching to type and my mind has been pondering all manner of Truth.

My heart has been seeking healing but I can't receive the healing when I haven't recognized or acknowledged the wounds.  I'm in the process...  I'm a work in progress...  I want to grieve and move on...  On to what the Lord has in store.  On to breaking chains...  I want to be His servant even when it is tough and even painful.  

The conference speaker, Kelly Minter, focused on Colossians 3:12-14

In the days prior to the conference there was some much needed conviction within my heart and I was reminded of the darkness my own sinful heart is capable of.  I was humbled, as I often need to be, and ready for Him to lead me on and bring me closer to Himself.  God began by softening my heart and reminding me I was chosen and dearly loved.  He reminded me of who I am in Him and because of Him.  And because of who He is within me I can then put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (bound together in perfect unity by love)   even when it's hard, like crazy hard.  It can be hard to display these virtues of holy living  when things are frustrating and breaking, going all wrong and the kids aren't listening.  You know, the kind of days where you're ready to check-out and it's only 9am.  But then there are times and people that go beyond frustration, where the rubber meets the road in a totally different kind of way.  Can I put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience  when it's not appreciated, not noticed, and maybe not even deserved?  The first virtue mentioned is compassion and I think that is because it is the avenue that leads us to seeing people through God's eyes.  Eyes of mercy and understanding and love beyond comprehension.  Eyes that looked on my sin and still loved me and wanted me.  It is while we were sinners that Christ died for us.  And it is while others are sinners that I must love them and serve them by dying to myself and following Christ's example.  The Lord will One Day be glorified through every knee bowing and tongue confessing that He is Lord.  Until then He has His people here to glorify His name and serve Him by following His words.  

The Lord was certainly working on my heart and drawing near to me and that is always a beautiful experience.  But it's not meant to end there.  Now, it's time to pour out of myself what God is pouring into me.  I'm ready!!  When filled with His Spirit, it's only natural to be ready to share that.  But then...


The Lord asked me a question.  A hard question.  He had been preparing me for this question for a while. God used a song Kelly Minter sang to prod and reveal.  The song is beautiful and can surely take personal sacrifice to sing wholeheartedly. 

I'd Rather Have Jesus
by Jim Reeves

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand

Than to be the king of a vast domain,
Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I’d rather be true to His holy name

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs;
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead 

A certain word triggered the following conversation.
God: Would you rather have Jesus than anything?
Me:  Of course!
God:  Really?  What about when you have been waiting and waiting and waiting for something?  Something your heart desires?  Something that benefits your family?  Something I want you to have but only in my timing?  Even when things don't go as planned and expected?
Me:  Well, now...  OK, Lord I hear you but...
God:  No, Elizabeth, no "but"s.  Would you rather have Me more than anything?
  (I guess it's time to fall apart and humbly, painfully admit and relinquish that which stands between me and Jesus)

Now, I've been asked if I trusted Him many times.  I must often overcome my own unbelief.  My faith and trust have certainly been tested and have certainly grown over time.  But, somehow, I always manage to put something ahead of my Creator and Savior.   Personally, I am being stretched in several areas.  And even though I have seen the Lord demonstrate to me the fullness of His love and perfect timing, I still question His timing when waiting is painful.  I still question Him when my thorn isn't removed.  And, yet...He is there.  He is faithful and He draws me near...

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
I think most Christians would be quick to say that Jesus is #1 for them...and easily say that they do want Jesus more than anything.  When we pray, let us ask God to reveal what is truly in our hearts so that what doesn't look like Him can be removed.
So, I know my heart will continue to wander when I take my eyes off of Him but, yes, I'd rather have Jesus than anything.  And believe me, that does not come easily.  

I am thankful I was afforded the opportunity to join the women pictured below (including Kelly Minter in the middle) for the conference!  The Lord ordained this time with me and my heart.  My hope is that through reading His word and drawing near to Him you, too, want Jesus more than anything!   
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby you must be saved.  Acts 4:12