The 3 R’s of God’s Classroom

I hear his story on the radio, on the way to take oldest to school.

His name is Matt and a car accident changed his life. He lost the ability to read.

Every time he sat down to read, he just could not put the words together. “I don’t understand!” he kept crying.

They told him he’d never finish school.

But he decided to try. He submitted himself to a program in which he re-trained his brain to read letters on a page. For over a year, he re-trained.

He had four hundred and eighty something days straight of migraine headaches.

It hurt. He pushed on.

It was hard. He pushed on.

It was agonizingly frustrating, re-learning something a completely different way, when he’d already done it the easy way years earlier.

He pushed on.

He can read now. He graduated with honors. And now he’s pursuing an MBA.

The story comes on a day when I want to give up. I’m oh so tired and the grueling work confuses the mind, sweat stings the eyes.

The story concludes on the radio and the Voice speaks to me: “I told you these days would come,” and I remember nearly a year ago, when He first gave me my prognosis.

I was sitting in the audience, waiting to hear the preacher, thinking the Word would come once the announcements were over. But no, there was one who had something to say and He spoke through that one.

The one had limped down the aisle to the podium, dragging his leg behind him.

His words were just as slow, forced out of a mouth that couldn’t keep up with the mind.

He barely spoke two sentences before he ambled back down the aisle, but in the span of those two sentences our mutual Maker spoke loud and clear, with no faltering and no stuttering. “That’s you,” He told me.

It was so powerful and so out of the ordinary that I told my husband about it that evening. “Yes, I know the young man,” he told me. “He calls himself “Marine 4 Christ.'”

I was so taken by this connection God had made between me and this young injured soldier, that I googled him. “Marine4Christ.” I found the connection in listening to his testimony.

Like Brandon, I am a wounded warrior. Years of abuse and spiritual bondage left me wounded and paralyzed, in a coma of sorts… Dead weight to those who cared for me.

“You are awake now,” He said to me that day as I watched Brandon’s story. “Like Brandon, I’ve redeemed your life too.”

“Now. If you are to get well, you too will have to relearn everything.

Relearn Everything.

I knew it would take hard, agonizing work. Grueling days, hours, moments. Impossible odds. Days when I’d say, “I can’t do this anymore.” It would take a team of people around me who pushed me to do what I felt simply and absolutely impossible.

But if I was to get well, if I wanted to live again, I would have to re-learn the ways of Grace. I’d have to learn how to eat again, how to work again, how to stand up and walk.

I’m still in the classroom. Today as I wondered if I’ve made any progress at all, God showed me that I have at least learned what the 3 R’s are in His classroom, and I’m giddy with the knowledge:

1. Receive- The way to eat is to receive. Receive all of God’s goodness and grace and to do that, one must open up, let go, do the opposite of what comes naturally when one has lived on life support. “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”

Open up, take in, swallow down. Receive.

2. Rest– The work of God’s classroom is to rest, the cessation of self striving and self effort. To move the spiritual body means letting Him be the one to both give and fill the prescription. He is in me both to will and to work.

Resting in God’s Kingdom classroom is not passive! “Labor to enter into that rest…” (Heb 4:11) Entering rest is perhaps the most difficult work of all.

3. tRust– The walk of the godly is to trust. The just shall live by faith. Just as each step is an act of free falling, so walking by faith is learning to free fall through my days, letting God-legs catch and sustain.

This is what it means to re-gain the ability to walk.

On a day like today, I wonder if I’ve made any progress at all. I wonder if I can pick up and just. do. today’s. part. Then I hear Matt’s story and I remember Brandon’s story and I know that like them, I can do it too. My life is redeemed and my Physician won’t forsake me.

And He’s placed me in just the right environment for me to re-learn, with people in my life (especially the 4 children!) who will push me and force me to new limits. I just need submit to His plan and keep practicing.

One day, I’ll be eating on my own. I’ll have full range of movement again. I’ll be walking.

And today? Well today I’ve moved one day closer.

Have a great weekend, dear friend, you who have happened upon this place today…


The Surrender Project

Dear Journal,

It was raining when we left, the bucket kind of rain.

We were late enough already, got lost on the way, got slowed by the rain, and it was nearly 8pm when we reached the double wide trailer with the orange cones in the yard to prevent parking on the grass.

Her name is Felicia.  We talked for 45 minutes or so and she never did ask us in beyond the doorway, but she was giddy with Jesus.

We talked about what it means to be saved and asked when that had happened in her life.

“Three weeks ago,” she said, “That night at the ladies Bible study.”

It was the night I had talked about stumbling blocks. I had been nervous, because all that week I was working on a different lesson but 2 o’clock Friday morning He woke me up with a completely different lesson and I went with it and relied heavily on Him to get the message out.

Felicia had wept through the entire lesson.

Until finally she had burst out in loud, uncontrollable crying and we waited for the Spirit to birth something among us and she blurted out, “My mom died suddenly 4 weeks ago and I’m a train wreck.”

Jesus came to save the sick and to bind up the broken and she was in the right place.

She told me that since that night, her life has been different. She has peace. Joy. She has read the Bible every day with a new hunger, an unquenchable thirst. She said she feels God’s arms around her and wants to tell everybody about it.

Said She’s falling in love with Jesus.

After the visit, the girl with me talked, shared things I hadn’t known before. We traveled dark, rain slicked miles back to church and kids and schedules and delayed bedtimes.  Right there in that van He spoke to me: Told me how I somehow thought I could fulfill God’s plans and dreams for my life my way, and hadn’t tonight shown me that letting Him do things His way is better?

Dear Journal, Like Abraham and Sarah, I’ve had God promises breathed over me. I can point to chapter and verse. I know God has promised. The only problem is that I’ve taken those promises and tried to tell God how to fulfill them. Expected Him to do it in my life the same way He’s done it in someone else’s. And when He delayed, I thought surely it must be up to me to make them happen.

But like Abraham and Sarah learned through Ishmael, God’s plans are only fulfilled God’s way.

I’ve given birth to an Ishmael.

Or two. He pierces my heart with the truth: The difference between Ishmael and Isaac is who’s in control.

And I’ve been in control. I’ve invested time and money trying to fulfill the promises of God in my life. I’ve taken control over bringing them to pass, labored long to give birth.

Abraham did learn to give up control (it is possible, hallelujah!)…for when God asked for the greatest sacrifice~Isaac’s life~ Abraham set out to obey. He had finally realized that God’s plans are always… only… fulfilled His way.

And he surrendered.

How? I need to know how, because I’m a control freak. I’m trying to be in control of bringing about God’s plans and purposes and promises upon my life. And my children. And maybe the whole world, at least the one I live in.

That night I saw my Ishmael paths, dear Journal,  and my Isaac path and that Abraham could give up his Isaac in Genesis 22 because he had already given up his Ishmael in Genesis 21.

“She said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac. And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham, because of his son (Ishmael.)” Genesis 21:8-13

Be it Arabah or Abraham, we all have a hard time letting go of our babies.

Yet I for one need to realize that “my” babies, those born of my own efforts at fulfilling God’s word for Him…like I could ever do that… will never be heirs of the promise. 

“But God said to Abraham, ‘Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac your offspring shall be named.”

So Abraham rose up the next morning, loaded the child and woman up with food, and sent them away. This is how I am to let go? This is the answer for control freaks?

“Yes, it is,” God tells me through Galatians 4. “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh while the son of the free woman was born through the promise. But you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But what does the Scripture say? Cast out the slavewoman and her son for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the slave woman.”

Journal, there comes a time when we must cast out our Ishmael. We must let go of control. We must surrender all our efforts at accomplishing God’s will our way. We must come to the table with no preconceived ideas about how, what, and when God is going to fulfill His word in our lives.

I’m there.

God is calling me to full surrender. 

He is asking me to come to the table with absolutely nothing but my “Yes.”

No suggestions, no “helpful” attempts, no preconceived notions. Just a “Yes, Lord. Your servant is listening.”

Journal, you know that I have grown tired, oh so tired, of living the Christian life in the flesh. The pages here record a God who calls, moves, and invites to something profoundly different: a Christian life fully lived in the power of the Spirit, for the glory of God.

No props. No bootstraps. No jazz. No Guarantees. No Rights.

Just Him.

He has brought me to this point and dear journal, I am terribly excited.

It is no coincidence that Loving Husband is preparing for his Dissertation on the Shantung Revival, the revival where missionaries, pastors, and laity alike had Acts 2 like encounters with the Spirit of God.

Oh, I’ve learned so much from their testimonies! And from Brother Yun and from Bill Bright and others who have testimonies of walking by the Holy Spirit…and throughout them all is this one theme: full surrender.

Precious Jesus has shown me that full surrender isn’t possible for someone who doesn’t fully trust first. He has worked diligently for many years to rebuild trust, to invite me to believe and then show Himself trustworthy.

And now…now He prompts me for surrender. Surrender is never taken by force, it is always given. My spirit responds and He wakes me in the morning with words: “After you have returned, strengthen your brethren.”

I hope to somehow give words to what He is doing in my heart. Even in this, I surrender to Him. His work, His way.

To be continued…

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.

Spiritual Habits for a New Day, A New Year

The old “me” wakes up anew every morning. She is always there, never on vacation and never out sick. She is full of insecurities, doubt, self-reliance, pride, anger, laziness, impure desires, selfishness. She would make me give up completely…if my hope was in her, but it isn’t.

My hope is in Christ, and in Christ, there is a new me. The old things are gone and I am a new creation and every morning when the old wakes up, I must lay it aside because I have learned from Christ that I can.

It starts in the mind. This is good, for that means it is not based on how I feel. It also means that it is a conscious choice I can either do or fail to do, and as I choose to do it, God can divinely help me in my weakness and can accomplish more than I ask or think (Eph 3:20-21)

{I’ve spent many years of my Christian life trying to clean up “me” and keep “me” trained and acting right… Until life squeezed more and more and I saw that I just could not keep “me” under control and I had to give up on me entirely and that was so scary, but that is when I discovered the truth, that there is a new me altogether, an identity and person in Christ that cannot be found at all in the old me. So every day when the old me wakes up strong…and she does… I must find the path back to Christ where the new me lives and that path is becoming more and more familiar, more and more worn, and –hopefully- is becoming my daily habit. }

This is a special path in that it can only be walked by faith, for the just shall live by faith. Walking it without faith will not take me to my new identity. In that case it becomes merely a checklist, a set of Christian “works” that have the appearance of godliness but deny the power thereof. That is not what I’m after.

To walk this path by faith, I must not rush through or hurry along, thinking I’m familiar enough with it to not need it again. I will never spiritually outgrow this. Each day I must savor. Sense. Believe afresh.

The path begins with being rooted and grounded in God’s love (Eph 3:17) for this is the key to being filled up to all the fullness of God (Eph 3:19). God’s love tells me that I can have Him anyway…even though I’m not good at this and I’m a sinner, a flop, a mess…I can have Him anyway. If the sun came up today, then I can count on His love because the sun is the sign of His covenant with us. It means that His mercies are new and His covenant still stands.

He is love and we are the loved.

The path then takes me to understanding the will of the Lord. He wants me to stand fully assured in all His will for me. Whatever difficult things are in my life today, I must stand fully assured in them, confident that His intentions are good towards me in these things, that his favor and blessing are upon me in them, though they be painful or hard. I must grasp that His provisions are grace and peace and I can stand fully assured.

Finally, the path takes me to the place of laying hold. He’s got a hold of me and won’t let go and it is my part to make every effort to lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of. Not to earn or to boast in self effort, but as a result of faith in all His bountiful goodness directed, daily and continually at me! WONDER!

From these 3 practices, I see 3 postures that can aid in beginning my day. I need all the help I can get and starting my day with routine, spiritual habits, helps keep me on the right track, helps keep me focused on the one thing.

3 Postures that Aid in Developing 3 Spiritual habits:

KNEEL– Kneeling symbolizes “Being rooted and grounded in God’s love.” Only the humble see their need for God’s love and present their dry roots to His soil for Life. Kneel before Love to humbly accept His love in spite of unworthiness, for love is not based on worth.

STAND– Stand fully assured. Speak aloud the confidence God desires me to have in my “today.” Pray aloud, “Lord, I stand fully assured of Your will for me in …. Today.” “I know the plans You have for me are good, for my wellbeing.” “I know I am not appointed for stumbling.” “Help me today to stand fully assured.”

REACH UP– Outstretched hands represent Laying Hold. This communicates my intentions to grasp ahold of all God’s grace and provisions that He has granted us (II Peter 1:3, II Cor 9:8) according to the power that works within. This is the humble declaration of desire not to fall short of the grace of God but to live and walk as beloved children, worthy of our calling, to keep our mind set on the things above where our life is hidden with Christ. It symbolizes diligence in exercising our spiritual senses.

“The root of all virtue and grace, of all faith and acceptable worship, is that we know that we have nothing but what we receive, and bow in deepest humility to wait upon God for it.” Andrew Murray

Click here for a printable bookmark to use all year long. Just print, cut to desired size, laminate, and grow all year: 3 Postures for 3 Habits

This post is linked to Ann’s Walk with Him Wednesday. Please check out the others who are posting on this topic. Also, join me here for an ongoing series this year in training our spiritual senses. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking here.

The Flightless Cormorant

“Mom, why do some birds have wings but can’t fly?” wondering one asks.

Normally I have to send wondering ones to their father for such questions but this time I have an answer and can’t wait to share it.

I turn from wiping down the counters and face Wonder, trying not to scare him with my eager anticipation. “Son, sometimes they forget how to use them.”

The story unfolds on the Galapagos Islands, the story of the flightless cormorant. All cormorants can fly, except the ones on these islands. Why? The scientists wondered. Why do these cormorants have wings but cannot fly?

Some unbelieving scientists jump at the opportunity to make a chaotic, convoluted case for evolution. One more link in the chain.

Christian scientists- Creationists- have no case to prove, just a simple, profound foundation from which they work: that God Created and that He blesses and that He gives the gift of adaptation.

With a basic understanding of our Creator as revealed in Scripture, the story of the flightless cormorant is easy to imagine… and the parallels to us easy to see. Cormorants arrived at Galapagos and thrived on the bounty of island life. In this beautiful, protected environment, the cormorants find an absence of land predators, meaning that they don’t need to fly for survival.

And for food?  Without the need to fly, they simply devote their entire life developing their God-given secondary skill for diving. All cormorants are natural fisher-birds, with their long beaks and webbed feet. The Galapagos Island cormorants have perfected the art.

Over time, these birds have adapted to a flightless lifestyle. Their bodies reflect these adaptations with shortened wings and a smaller keel, the place on the breastbone that supports the large flight muscles. Instead, the legs are heavier and more powerful.

Smaller wings means the cormorant is a better swimmer…but it has lost the ability to soar.

Relying too heavily on secondary giftings is the pathway to loosing what one was intended for.

I know this in my soul, as Creator tells me the story of the flightless cormorant and then explains why it is vital that I know: “The North American church is like the flightless cormorant.”

Hasn’t God blessed us with material abundance and resources beyond measure? Is this not the blessing of God?

Yet have we turned to these and relied on them so heavily that we have outgrown our need for His Spirit to lift us and enable us to do the impossible?

One might simply ponder the question, “What if all our resources were suddenly gone? What if we had no ability to pay pastors and staff, buy workbooks and curriculum…what if we lost our buildings and all the resources that generate programs, activities, good feelings that we are safe, well-padded, alright?

“If we suddenly lost all that… would we have the wings to soar?”

Would we know how to stretch wide and kick hard and believe deep and let God? Are we learning these things in our resource-driven Western Christianity? Or have we lost our wings?

Have we under-developed keels?

Is not the fact that 80% of our children grow up and leave the church proof that we are failing to pass on the ability to soar?

Do we only have silver and gold ministries to offer the lame beggar on the temple steps? Or can we, like Peter, say, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have, I give to you: In the name of Jesus, WALK!” (Acts 3:6)

All year these things have niggled me. All year I have seen how we, as a culture and for the most part, live the Christian life in the flesh. All year I have been sickened by how much of my life, my 12 years in the ministry as a church planter and missionary, have been lived relying on secondary skills.

The secondary skills aren’t the problem.

The forgetting what we are made for is.

We were made for Spirit wings to indwell us, fill us, empower us, carry us to places secondary blessings never can. We were made for “abundantly above all we ask or imagine,” from Him and to Him and by Him and for Him.

We were made for the kind of indwelling power that raised Christ from the dead. And we are content with diving?

All year I have approached His elbow. “So Father,” I ask and He slows to listen to me. “How is it that we can learn to fly again? How is it that we can be filled to the fullness of God by Your Spirit? How is it that we can get our wings back, stop over-relying on secondary giftings and do what we are made to do?”

He turns to me in eager anticipation, answer ready, thrilled to be asked by a wondering child. “I thought you’d never ask,” He whispers. “Come closer.”

And I embrace His answer…

{to be continued as I live it out}