Permission to Believe

I stand at the window, watching the dying embers of orange fall over the horizon.

I wonder about days ahead, when kids aren’t in toddler beds and backyard isn’t strewn with sticks and balls and popsicle wrappers. I wonder how I might stand at a similar window, seeing similar sights…how might I be so different, so strong, so full of faith and the Holy Spirit, like Stephen.

He speaks. He says, “What are you waiting for?       A lightening bolt from Me? A rushing wind? What are you waiting for to believe?

“I AM who I Am and you are who I say.”

This is every woman’s dream, is it not? Every man, woman, boy, and girl’s, to be everything God speaks of us, once we really hear what He’s said?

So why can’t I believe it? What am I waiting for?

I ask it of Him: “Lord, You know me better than I know myself. You know I long for this, to be in You and Your Words in me and to be full of faith and the Spirit and so monopolized by You that nothing else matters. So what am I waiting for?”

He answers with scripture, “To them He gave the right…” (John 1:12) “You need to give yourself permission to believe. I’ve given you the right.”

A lifetime of religion (much of it good) somehow left me thinking God’s word and God’s gifts and God’s grace came with strings attached. God’s word always needed to be explained. It was always expounded upon and elaborated on, like it had to undergo surgery so we could understand what God was really saying, so that we would not take it to mean or say what God didn’t intend.

There was no simple, blessed gospel. 

I see it happen all the time and I call it whittling. It’s like taking a knife to a tree and whittling it… whittling, whittling it right on down to a mere toothpick.

“Here,” they said Sunday after Sunday, handing me the toothpick. “Here’s what you can take away from this passage.”

And now God is saying, “You can take the whole blooming tree! I’ve given you that right.”

“You are fully loved, freely forgiven, unconditionally accepted, deliberately chosen, delightfully approved, purposefully adopted, lavishly blessed, and exquisitely beautiful.”

“And I am exactly everything I AM. You have permission to believe.”

So after the toddlers are in their beds and the yard is still strewn, I open up worn, beloved pages and I take the hand of my Savior and I say, “Jesus, with Your help and by Your permission, I will believe this,” and I begin to read:

“Grace to you, and peace {Grace and Peace, The signature Gifts from God!} from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in His mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love.

“Long, long ago, He decided to adopt us into His family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure He took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of His lavish gift giving by the hand of His beloved Son.

“Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, His blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people. Free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans He took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ…

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had His eye on us…” (Ephesians 1:3-12, MSG)

I feel like preachin’ a sermon, a simple one: Brethren, we’ve been given a permission slip. We can skip class and homework and all the demands of rigid teacher and we can go out and take the whole blooming tree.

{Bet you never heard a sermon like that}

But Hallelujah, it makes sense to me.


The Great Pretender

You know the song, right?

“Oh yes, I’m the great Pretender…Prentending I’m doing well….I play the game but to my real shame, you’ve left me to dream all alone.”

Christian’s are good at pretending. We see something in someone else that we admire, even envy with godly jealousy, but instead of seeking God for it, we pretend we have it.

We pretend we have more of God than we do, we pretend we know God better than we actually do, we pretend we have intimacy with God when we really don’t.

We are Great Pretenders.

How do I know this?

Because I am one.

In my quest to have more of God, to love Him, to know Him, to seek Him, to experience more of Him, I feel the pull to one of my signature sins: create something.

Make something happen. DO something. Pray harder, read more scripture, memorize, sing, fast, talk more about Him. Convince myself that I do have what I want.

But grace is a gift and when I strive and try, I’ve done nothing but hewn my own cisterns and turned away from the Living Water Himself.

I’ve moved myself in the very opposite direction that I desire.

Pretending is a natural outflow. Of course we could be honest and say “I’m an idolator. I’m hewing my own cisterns.”

But somehow it doesn’t sound right: “I’m a missionary and I’m a servant of God and I’m called by God and I’m loved and I’m an  idolator.”

So I pretend.

But the truth is that I haven’t arrived and neither has any other human being that lives on earth, no matter how “spiritual” they are.

The truth is that I need my sweet Jesus every moment, and that will never change, and I don’t want it to.

The truth is that I’m sick of being a pretender, even if it is only with myself. Sick of wanting Jesus so badly and then rushing to get Him through dead works instead of trusting grace.

This grace walk is narrow. For one brought up in dead religion, who learned to spiritually dot the i’s and cross the t’s, who even now serves in an environment of performers, it is easy for me to stumble, to revert back to those signature sins of dead works.

The Galatians knew about this.

Here I find Truth. I find footing for Grace. Again.

Sometimes what a Pretender needs most is to close the book, turn off the computer, shut down the blog posts, quit measuring against everyone else, and drink in Jesus. Because the sad truth is that these things, meant to be blessings that point us to Jesus, can become curses to us that stir up pretending.

Jesus, You know my heart. You know I’m so prone to start in the Spirit and then finish in the flesh. How silly! I’m done pretending. My cisterns are pits of poison and I’m a mess without You. I’ll always need You….and I love it that way.

I wait on You. Thank You for Grace.


How to Redeem Hard Seasons of the Past

It’s early morning in February when it wakes me up growling, sends me running to the bathroom and before the hands of the clock travel yet an hour, I’ve been there 10 times and body is spent, weak, empty.

The kids will be waking soon and I wonder how I’ll do it, sick like this.

Loving Husband will get oldest to school on his way in… but I’ve got 3 preschoolers at home.

How in the world?

I lay there feverish, weak, doing all I can to drag self to the toilet…again.

It’s not just the fires of body that burn me up. It’s the fires of hell that burn most: “You are 900 miles away from family that could help. Everyone else has somebody to call on.”

“You never stay anywhere long enough to build lasting, meaningful relationships.”

“You’ll live your whole life like this, no one to call on when you need help. Alone. Isolated.”

“Aren’t you getting tired of  living like this?”

And I fester on what I don’t have, what my kids are missing, all the what if’s, and I give Husband the hard cold summary version of what I’m thinking as I watch him buckle belt through loops at the foot of the bed:

“I know God’s grace is sufficient for this…but I’d rather have someone with skin on to help with the kids while I’m laying here like this.”

It’s horrible. Wicked.

And true.

The summary that has defined the hard places of my life and the places I don’t particularly care for. I’d rather have provisions according to me, not God graces, thank you very much.

I’m ashamed of the wicked truth; but glad for finally uncovering the putrid, because now it can be cleansed.

For days I wonder why? Why do I insist on God meeting needs my way, God doing what I think is best and needed and right?

Do I not know Him? Do I not trust His goodness? Do I not believe in Grace Gifts?

Yes, there is some of that.

But there is something worse. There is a root and a reason why I can’t see God’s grace as better than people with skin on. God uses Romans 1 to brand me, searing the wound, inflicting pain. The beginning of healing.

“For though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God…” Rom 1:21

Yes, that would apply.

I know God…but at times I fail to celebrate Him as God, especially when times get hard.

I haven’t always carried that knowledge of God into my dark places, taken it up like a rope as I’m lowered into the pit, tethered myself to the Light of the world.

I haven’t always fulfilled my responsibility to intentionally honor God in each place.

But I know it now… When I fail to deliberately acknowledge the Truth about God’s goodness when the sick beds of life tell me something different….I become a blasphemer. I “make the Truth about God inoperable.”

I exchange the truth of God for a lie, the glory of God for an image of my own making.

And I think I can do this without consequence??

Isn’t this what clouds my vision and becomes the reason why I can’t see grace in the moment, my foolish heart darkened?

Isn’t this the path to destruction, a choice of my own choosing?

Oh why, WHY,  do I apply scriptures to the heathen without seeing myself in them?

We are each without excuse. (Rom 1:20, 2:1) You, Arabah, You!

The passage convicts me and exposes me and sears me and I thank God for the breath in my lungs that allow me life long enough to come to this point of recognition and for the kindness of God even here to bring me to repentance.

So if this is where I’ve gone wrong, in failing to celebrate Him, to magnify Him, to ascribe lustre, to extol ~ If I’ve failed to hold on to Truth about Him in hard places, then this is where I go back and “re-do.”

It’s right there at the beginning of Romans. We each have broken down at this point. Like it or not, we can’t go on to the Faith of Romans 4 or the Spirit quickening of Romans 8 or the manifestations of the Spirit controlled life in Romans 12 without first passing Romans 1.

This is the  “Go” on the Monopoly board of life.

I know it so clearly I can see it, my own life the map. I see the breakdown…the consequences…the blasphemy…the fruit.

I pick up Ann’s book and oh, how I “get” it, eucharisteo. “For though they knew God, they did not honor God as God nor give thanks…”

I want to move out of Romans 1 and I’ve found the exit.

I’m not on sick bed any longer, but I go back to that place, back to burning fires and throbbing heads. I start listing the graces there. I extol the Goodness of God. I start a list of 1,000 Gifts in my life’s dark places.

1.anti-diarrhea tabs

2. snow days and canceled schedules

3. Husband who took up the slack

It’s been years and years~ a lifetime ~ since the dark places in my childhood. But I go back there. I list the graces. I celebrate the kindnesses of God.

74. Momma combing hair

75. leaves rustling in trees

76. night owl outside my window

77. cows

78. memory verses

79. gingersnap cookies

It’s been many moons since that isolated apartment in Asia where I wondered where God was but I go back there. I list the graces. I see things in my mind’s eye, relive the life, but this time I see it differently.

314. Big Bertha (our wind up alarm clock) …

317. finding cheese, thank you Lord!

318. squatty potties…

339. bicycles and backpacks and walking everywhere

340. backs that bore the weight of packs filled with Good News Films

341. feet that blistered delivering the message

342. the chance to go

Oh blessed gifts!

I’m redeeming my past.

I’m also paving new paths for my future.

I’m walking out of Romans 1, deliberately extolling the Gifts, Graces, and Goodness of God in all things.

Romans 12, here I come.


Knowing God’s Intentions Toward You

We have good days, we really do, and ever so slowly the good days are outnumbering the bad ones.

It’s when the bad days come along that I have to dig deep and draw upon truth. These days I ask her the simplest of things and she shuts down, pulls away, wonders what I really want from her.

I give the slightest instruction and she stares me down, draws a line in the sand, gears up to fight for control.

It pains me that after nearly three years, she still does not trust my intentions towards her.

It smacks me between the eyes, that insight. Because my LORD wants my full and complete surrender but how can I give it if I do not fully trust His intentions towards me?

Yes, I know about doubt. We adopted not because we wanted another child, not because we had some silly notion of “saving”  a “poor child,” but for the simple reason of obedience. We asked God how He wanted us to fulfill James 1:27. “Adopt,” He told us.

We did. So things should be okay, right? We are being obedient to God and are joyfully following the Lord…things surely won’t blow up in our face. Right?

Wrong.

It’s sort of like the Israelites leaving Egypt. They are tired and weak and the unknown hangs over their heads, presses them from all sides…and suddenly they are attacked. From behind, where the weakest ones lag. Dirty low down enemies. Surely they would at least fight fair. (See Exodus 17)

Wrong.

Where is God in all of this? Hello? God? We didn’t do this because we set out on our own and paved our own path. We are here because of You, God. We are following You by pillar and cloud. What gives? We aren’t supposed to get bindsided by a foe we didn’t even know existed right when we need rest the most.

Then when child #4 came along, the third one to arrive in a span of 23 months, I started asking even more of those questions. “Don’t you know I’m overwhelmed already, Lord? What are You thinking?”

Like in Exodus 17, God’s purpose for me was/is to train me how to do warfare. If we’re going to take our promised land, we’ve got to know how to fight.

But before we can fight, we’ve got to trust, because how can one willingly submit herself fully to God if there is even a trace of fear regarding His intent?

He wakes me one morning with the words, “Understand what the will of the Lord is,” and I know what His Spirit is getting at, how I historically define God’s will in terms of what He wants from me, what He wants me to do.

{And I’ve done this part well.}

There is something more. His will starts with His intentions.

This I have missed.

I’ve been taught to do the right thing, to please God, to obey His will…but I’ve never really understood the intentions of my Lord, the One who is supposed to be Master.

But isn’t that what faith is all about? Believing?

A word study on “will” leaves me in awe. Understanding His will means believing His heart.The same heart that birthed spoken eulogies and Word made flesh and still lives among us. The same heart who can’t help but be loving to all He has made and whose deeds are all done in faithfulness.

How have I missed this?

I’m saddened by all the grace I’ve missed.

But there are new graces for today and failing to embrace them by mourning those forfeited only compounds the loss.

In my study, I stumble upon the verse that grounds me when changing dirty diapers…when sick children keep me up all night…when I feel overwhelmed by the emotional demands from children whose hurt runs deep…when I wonder where God will send us next, and when…where the provisions will come from… the verse that I take up like a life raft and heave myself upon and calm myself with and rest and bring myself first to my knees and them, shaky, to my feet.

“Stand fully assured in all God’s will for you.”

Fully Assured. I can face each moment fully assured of God’s good will in all, and for me.

When the dirty rotten enemies come at me from behind when I’m just trying to follow God, I can stand fully assured. I don’t have to add God’s intentions to my list of problems.

“This is God’s best for me,” I tell myself. THIS moment. Right here, right now. With all the unknowns and the problems that don’t have answers yet and the inadequacy of me,

This is God’s best for me.

I can stand fully assured in all God’s will for me. There is not a moment that I have to flounder. There is not a season or a single half- second that I have to doubt His intentions towards me.

Fully Assured.

In All.

God’s Will.

For Me.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans for your welfare, not for disaster; plans to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

 

This month, we are learning the Habits of Love: How to be Rooted and Grounded in Love; How to Walk in God’s Eulogy; How to Really Know God Loves You. Join us next Monday for a wrap up and special printable for your fridge. {You can also find a printable bookmark of the 3 Love Habits I’m taking with me this year at the bottom of this post.}


This Day

Five days in bed sick, head hurts, body aches…

This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Last night’s dishes piled high in sink…

This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Toothpaste smeared in hall bathroom sink and skid marks in toilet…

This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Loads of laundry to wash and house to sanitize…

This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

The sun came up today. Again. The witness in the sky testifies to God’s faithfulness.

This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

The birds are outside finding their breakfast from the Father’s hand.

This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

God’s love never fails and today is a gift from His hand and I will take it.


Injecting Mud

It didn’t  start out that way. It never does.

At first, she just didn’t feel good- ever.

When she talked to family and friends about it, they brushed her off and told her she was fine. Eventually they told her she was paranoid- a freak- “so stop talking about it already.”

She went to the doctor. In his stoic, professional manner, he let her know she was healthy…at least her body was. Her mind?…

The shame and condemnation she began to feel from others for a problem she couldn’t identify began to stoop her shoulders. The messages were sublte: “You’re crazy.”

“Worthless. Nobody believes you. Nobody cares.”

“You’re about as valuable as mud.”

Mud.

Mud. Mud. Mud.

The word became a chain, slipped silently around her soul, and squeezed the color of life from her being.

Slowly. Ever so deadly.

She got a wild idea that maybe she should get some mud.

She did.

Maybe she should put it in a vial.

She did.

Maybe she should carry it in her purse.

She did.

Maybe she should inject it, just a little.

She did.

She began injecting mud.

Anytime she felt worthless, she would inject a little bit, reaffirming her value. “You’re dirt. Maybe you’ll kill yourself and do everyone a favor.”

Her body began to respond to the poisons she was pumping into her system. She lost feeling, suffered from nerve damage. Her already deteriorating health worsened- she couldn’t climb stairs and limped when she walked.

When I read her story in the comment section on a ministry site, my heart almost stopped. How I longed to rescue her from the lies- the poison- that ensnared her!

She was asking for help. Was it too late for her? After all she had done to her body, would God still give her a chance? Could God forgive her?

Even now, nearly a year later, I cry. I’ve asked the same thing. I’ve believed deadly lies- injected poison- and I’ve done terrible things to myself and others and I’m the outcast who is worthy of shame, contempt, rejection. Mud.

And the last lie of them all is the deadliest, intended to be the final blow to the soul: “Even God doesn’t want you.”

But God…

But God…But God…But God!

But God, when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ- for by grace we have been saved.

Maybe you’ve never injected mud. Maybe your spiritual veins are squeaky clean and you shudder and run from the thought of such darkness. Good for you.

But maybe someone reading this relates. Maybe someone isn’t so clean and wonders if God can forgive you?

My friend, He has.

Those aren’t Sunday School words, they are words spoken by the Someone Himself who left the glory of heaven to dwell in dirt. He came down not just to speak those words but to prove He meant them.

He said it. Woman your sins are forgiven you.”

He lived it. “..Forgiving one another even as God, in Christ Jesus has forgiven you.”

He gave it. “In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

He died it. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

And then, just to make sure we got it, He proved it. “He was delivered over because of our transgression but was raised because of our justification.”

Start injecting that, my friend.

Start. Injecting. That.

For you are alive from the dead, raised up with Christ. The enemy came and knocked you down and kicked your teeth out and dealt you a blow that sunk you deep and robbed you of life.

But God stepped down from heaven, took on the form of a babe, reached out with Carpenter’s hands, and rubbed the mud from your face, gave the antidote for mud pumped into your veins. “Live!” He uttered. “Live!”

Do you hear His voice? Does your soul stir awake? The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”

You who are so good at injecting poison, start injecting Life.


Snow Grace

I wake up to a blanket of white outside my window, the first- and probably only- of the winter.

The timing is God.

Because yesterday there were angry words spoken, words that hurt and accused, words that leave marks for a long time.

They stir up things that enemy would keep stirred up, would keep alive. Even today, after words of repentance have been spoken, enemy is there stirring up old feelings of worthlessness. Condemnation. Exposure. Doubt.

But that white out my window…it reminds me of other words: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

My sins are as scarlet. I am worthy of angry words. I am worthy of far worse. I can never make all my wrongs right.

But there is hope for me yet.

For there is a God who spoke other words and His words are truth and didn’t He send the snow all night while I slept to make sure I remembered them?

I am terribly unworthy…but ring-from-the-rafters-news! His love isn’t based on worth!

So I will kneel again. I will embrace His love for me. I will stand, fully assured in His intentions towards me. And I will reach, doing my part to lay aside the old and press on to His upward call in my life.

Today.

Just today, for tomorrow is not guaranteed. This sinner will be saved by grace like snow.

“Behold I make all things new.”