Category Archives: Life’s Journey

further inspiration: a winter bucket list

There is something pristine and pure about a winter landscape. It’s quiet. Peaceful. Serene.

I found myself thinking about what I’d like to this upcoming season (November 1st is this Friday and that is usually when my Christmas music, movie and book collection sees the light of day once again) and, well, here’s a glimpse into the typical holiday and winter things I tend to enjoy…along with a few I’ve either never done or haven’t since my childhood. Here’s to feeling like a giddy kid again:

  • Go sledding
  • Make a gingerbread house
  • Build a snowman
  • Decorate cookies
  • Celebrate the birth of Jesus
  • Read through the Christmas story in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  • Give someone a secret gift
  • Decorate the tree
  • Drink/Make loaded hot cocoa
  • Drink/Make some  “clean” eggnog
  • Look at Christmas lights
  • Watch Christmas movies…there’s a whole list – including the new ones aired on the Hallmark Channel
  • Watch It’s a Wonderful Life simply because I haven’t seen it
  • Watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas
  • Watch the classics from my childhood
  • Play in the snow – make snow angels – haven’t done that since I was a kid
  • Make and deliver treats to neighbors and friends
  • Go caroling
  • Sit by a fire and read a book
  • Read through my holiday collection or pick up a few new ones from the library
  • Start a new book series…any suggestions?
  • Volunteer
  • Donate food
  • Attend a winter festival…St. Paul anyone?
  • Have a snowball fight
  • Watch a play or a musical
  • Attend a Christmas concert
  • Go ice skating
  • Trim the tree
  • Decorate for winter
  • Host a winter dinner
  • Learn to knit/crochet
  • Take too many photos
  • Send out Christmas cards
  • Maybe learn to ski…cross country
  • Go on a horse drawn carriage ride
  • Listen to Christmas music…starting November 1
  • Bundle up and go on a city walk
  • Take a walk while it’s snowing

What’s on your list?

dancing with Jesus

Dance.

I’ve always loved watching people beautifully and gracefully move from one end of the dance floor or ice rink to the other. I’ve even come to enjoy watching Dancing with the Stars this year, particularly Amber Riley, who plays Mercedes Jones on the hit TV series Glee. You see, she’s not what Hollywood defines as perfect. She’s not skinny. She’s not morbidly obese either. She’s real. She’s genuine.

And she’s not afraid to show it.

I love that!

I wish more celebrities were like that. The list may be short, but they impact their world more than they know, including Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen DeGeneres, Denzel Washington, Emma Stone, Jennifer Hudson, Tyler Perry, Zooey Deschanel…just to name a few.

Anyway, before I go too far with that tangent…

Have you ever watched professional dancers or skating partners? There’s an intimate dynamic that occurs between them. The crowds ooh and ah over each turn and spin, cameras flash, but the two at the center of it all don’t see it. They are focused 100% on their partner, attuned to the slightest signal, responding instantly, beautifully and effortlessly.

There is a part of me that hopes to actually experience dance one day outside of the walls and privacy of my apartment. I remember wanting to learn the art of it when I was a child but my parents couldn’t afford it…then again, I never mentioned it. I didn’t want to be a “burden.” Looking back, my choice in not voicing that dream also had to do more with fear than anything else.

You see, I lack a certain amount of physical grace. Then again, perhaps an accident-prone young woman would be gifted in that area. I might just have to find out.

Dance:

  • Noun: an artistic form of nonverbal communication
  • Noun: taking a series of rhythmical steps (and movements) in time to music
  • Verb: move in a graceful and rhythmical way

Life is a dance. We get to choose the type: divine or worldly. In choosing the latter, it can be easy to perform for the applause of those around us. Girls dress a certain way to get the attention of boys. We talk a certain way because our friends do. Parents send their children to certain school because it’s what the neighbor or community does. We sometimes even watch certain TV shows or listen to a specific style of music just to fit in.

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. In high school, I dressed a certain way and listened to Limp Bizkit and Metallica (even though I secretly hated it) just so I could fit in or get a little attention. I wanted them to genuinely like me. I was sick of being the outsider, always looking in.

Thing is – any attention and most of the conversations or invitations I received were not genuine. I came to that realization when I began to learn what having a real relationship with Jesus meant…in college.

There are times I find myself riding that same carousel. Around and around I go on a seemingly endless cycle that leaves me empty and never heading anywhere.

But it doesn’t take long for me to realize that I really crave the former: a lifetime spent dancing with Jesus.

I’m wired to.

Remember the description of dancers/skaters in the midst of their act; the intimacy of it?

What if we knew God that intimately? What if we were so focused on Him, so in tune with Him, that like Jesus we could say, “I do only what my Father wills.”? What keeps us from that? What keeps us in angst; keeps us striving and experiencing burnout?

I use to focus solely on me. I sometimes still do.

And I’ve learned, and continue to learn, this important truth: human beings can only serve one thing at a time and we should not have any other idol before God (Exodus 20.3). If I’m going to proclaim I want to worship God with my life, I can’t and shouldn’t esteem the opinions of my friends (or what people in general think) more highly than God’s opinion of me.

Affirmation is a huge thing for me. Encouragement means the world to me. Those things leave me feeling full, flying “high as a kite” (so-to-speak), and feeling better equipped to take on anything that may come my way on a daily basis. They are not sinful things in their own accord, but when I begin to make them my ultimate goal in life, it becomes an idol, or a sin, and therefore, a serious problem. That feeling equipped thing is an illusion…I can’t do anything apart from Jesus (John 15.1-8 , also see Philippians 4.13).

I can either dance for His applause or I can dance for man’s applause, but I can’t do both at the same time.

This is something I’ve been wrestling with for the last couple of years (thank you Beth Moore and two of my dearest friends) and probably will continue to for some time. I know that He’s giving me more than I can handle in this morning, but there is beauty in the fact that I don’t have to face that junk alone. He’s there with me, swinging me through that next dance move.

Romans 12.1-2 has been extremely helpful to me during this time (among others) in my life:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

When we offer our lives to God as living sacrifices, He considers that worship. Dancing with Him is worship. Letting Him into your life is worship. Trusting Him with your life is worship. Life itself should be an act of worship.

I’d like to share a poem penned by Amena Brown that inspired this entry and God has also used it to further the progress Jesus is currently making in the dimly lit corners of my heart and in my life:

Dance with Him ~ Amena Brown

Dance with Him
He puts His hand on the small of my back
Two fingers pressed into the center of my palm
He pulls me close
Steps with His left, my right
I focus on His eyes and try to ignore my feet as they clumsily count one – two – three

I recall that first moment quite beautifully. The only difference is that then, I can envision placing my feet on His, as a daughter would on her father’s, as He took me around the dance floor. Oh, how easy it was to simply trust and believe then.

I can also relate to those clumsy feet. They still are, most days anyway.

Have you ever watched someone learn to dance? Watch this video – see that little girl in the middle? I can relate to her…in more ways than one. 

I’m often like that with God. I’m so focused on what I think needs to be done or on what I already know to do, whether that be reading my Bible, leading a Bible study, fulfilling other responsibilities to those around me and my church; it’s easy to take my eyes off Him. It’s easy to turn what should be an act of intimate surrender into role behavior which ultimately leads to burn-out and ineffectiveness. That happened yesterday…

Nothing went as planned and that just goes to show Who is in charge and it’s definitely not me.

When I surrender to Him, forsaking my ideas and agenda, clearing my mind of everything but Him, everything flows.

I’m trying to trust Him
He knows this dance better than me
I’m still a novice and it’s obvious
I have yet to lean in and let Him control the turns

God knows I’m trying. He definitely knows this dance better than me, little “Miss Know-It-All” that I am. This patience thing is tough.

He takes His time and even when I miss a step
It’s fine
He knows I’m learning

His patience blows me away. I can’t even fathom the depth of it all…

He wants me to put my hand in His
Close my eyes and trust Him
With my life
My heart
With worry
And “I’m so scared”
With hurt
Worth and unworthy
Loving and unlovable
And my heart has been hurt before
I have been burned before
Loved
And endured loss before
I am in no mood for a dance
No mood to be romanced
I have become a grace cynic
And love’s worst critic

This world is a beautiful, broken mess and the echoes of Eden affect every part of it . Life isn’t easy. Life hurts. And that fact makes trusting hard.

Do I trust Him with my life?
With my heart?
With my worries?
With my fears?
With my worth?
With my identity?
With my life’s purpose?
With the pen of this beautiful, broken story; the story He’s given me?

I can honestly say that most of the time, no…I don’t. There’s a huge part of me that wants to, but, in my human condition and the world I’m in make it difficult to simply make that move.

I will continue to strive to trust Him, and, by His grace, I can…One day I will…when His strength has been made complete in me (2 Corinthians 12.9).

He sends me invitations every day
And even though I have yet to RSVP
He doesn’t remind me
He keeps pursuing
Taking steps in spite of me

I always dreamt of being pursued this way. What a wondrous thing it is to realize that I am! If only I would accept this truth each and every day.

He is a songwriter
Composing the notes that hold together eternity
And He wants to teach my limbs to sing
He’s been waiting to watch me let go of woe
And worry…until my soul
Sings in that beautiful voice He gave me
That I have someone come to think
It not so beautiful

He wants me to let go. Will I? When? And I’m guilty of buying into Satan’s lie that the voice God gave me isn’t beautiful. It is!

To dance with Him
I must give in
And give up
Plus
The trust it takes to really love
And I want to love Him unbridled
Believe in Him with a faith that is unshakeable
Like tree roots centuries deep
Until I learn to follow His time
Take deep breaths
Rest my head on His chest
And my cares at His feet
But I never fear –
As long as I depend on me

“As long as I depend on me…” Funny how that works, isn’t it? It’s funny how, when we depend on ourselves, we think we’ve got it all figured out and something happens, forcing us to realize that we don’t. It happens all the time. I really should fear when I find myself making plans without Him. Yesterday is a prime example and still sticks out like a sore thumb. I had planned on coming into work early and was looking forward to an awesome new upgrade to my computer (Windows 7!) prior to the start of my shift. That didn’t happen, nor did the rest of my day go according to plan:

  • Creative juices were flowing and I wanted to finish this post – didn’t happen.
  • Project work needed to be completed – didn’t happen.

I was frustrated, found myself thinking rather negative thoughts (which is not usually the norm for me) and annoyed with the world for raining on my parade.

But…

God spun those plans on their heads and in turn brought a fullness into the midst of that chaos with opportunities to serve my boss, my co-workers and my neighbor when I finally arrived home, not to mention those on the other end of the line on the calls I take on a daily basis.

Countless opportunities.

The frustration ebbed and my general annoyance vanished almost immediately.

God is in control.

When I live in constant surrender to Him, forsaking my ideas and agenda, clearing my mind of everything but Him, everything flows.

Take His hand
Take a chance
Fingertips in the palm of the One who holds galaxies
In His hand
Hand on His shoulder
Heart in His hand
We dance
To a down beat
That keeps time with His heartbeat
Sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me go
When He’s only letting me turn
And sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me fall
When He’s only letting me learn
Sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me go
When He’s only letting me turn
And sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me fall
When He’s only letting me learn
His is the song that never ends
His love
Sinners become friends
He wants to dance with you
Until the only Song you hear
Is Him

To be filled, we must first bet emptied – of ourselves, our sin, our wants, our desires. I believe that anytime we cling to anything – even good things – other than God, they become a hinderance to the working of the Holy Spirit. That job we fear losing, the ministry we can’t let fail, that relationship we’re afraid of letting go, whatever it is…when we begin to strive only for that thing(s) – hold tight to it – we begin to operate in our own will. To be overshadowed, we need to stay surrendered completely, focused on our Savior and not the dance itself. Our actions will otherwise lose power because we’ve left Him behind.

I’m nearing there. I’ve taken His hand. I’m learning to surrender. I’m learning to trust Him with my heart. I’m learning to let Him lead…bending, twirling, twisting, turning, falling…until the only Song I hear is Him.

the caterpillar and the butterfly

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12.1-2

The joys of being actively involved in ministry in any form are countless. I’ve literally lost count, but none surpass the joy I experience in seeing the life of another believer transformed by the presence and power of God.

A career criminal set free.

An addict finds real release.

A liar finds Truth.

A cynic learns to care.

A suicidal teenager finds life.

Marriages on the road to divorce find healing.

Battered and broken hearts become whole again.

I could spend the rest of my days serving in any aspect of ministry and would never grow tired of seeing real life-change like that.

Every story of redemption is a miraculous and magnificent tale and there are some that are so dramatic in nature an so unexpected that they seem to prove God’s divine power in fresh and unusual ways.

In my mere twenty-eight year existence, I’ve seen such transformation in the lives of those around me. One of my dear friends, Ben, for instance, isn’t the man he could have been had it not been for the saving grace of Jesus Christ and a night at Oasis (which God used) six years ago. Because of the inner transformation he’s gone through since, he is a man of passion; a man of ever-growing wisdom and love and he loves Jesus with all that he is (hear/watch his testimony here).

I used to think that my story didn’t matter; that it paled in comparison. I was raised in a Christian home. I was practically born saved, or so I thought. I’ve discovered that is not how faith and following Christ work. It’s a personal choice. I met Him when I was four, on my mother’s lap during a bedtime story and have encountered Him numerous times since. But lately… I’ll get to that in a moment.

I’d like to take a moment to look at what happens when we conform to the world. Think about nuts – walnuts, pecans, etc. When you crack open the shell of any nut, the nut inside will always be conformed to the shape of its shell. The pressure of the shell on the outside shapes the nut on the inside into its image. The same happens to us when we allow the pressures we face each day to define how we live and how they influence the decisions we make in a world fallen so far from what it was supposed to be.

Temptation is everywhere. The world beckons us to live for ourselves instead of living for Jesus Christ. It lures us towards sensuality, greed, idolatry, complacency and selfishness. If we are not careful, our lives begin to mirror everyone else’s. It’s a slippery slope, this slow fade. into the life of those who don’t know Him.

In the verse from Romans I shared at the start of this entry, God commands believers not to allow the world to form us according to its patterns. Instead, we are to surrender to Him so He can transform us from the inside out.

Transformation comes from the word metamorphosis (the inner English geek in me is smiling with glee at the moment…you have no idea).  Have you ever witnessed a beautiful new butterfly emerge from its cocoon? Did you, like me, wonder where on earth they came from?

It wasn’t until a fourth grade science class project that this metamorphosis became clear to me. Our teacher had brought in a couple of caterpillars – ugly ones – and we monitored their lives with each passing day. Suddenly, towards the end of autumn, they “disappeared” into what she called cocoons. Weeks went by. The poor things were trapped and to my compassionate heart, I couldn’t bear it. Then again, they were ugly critters and yet, I could sympathize. Those weeks were the hardest for me. Waiting.

“What a caterpillar calls the end of the world the Master calls a butterfly.”
– Richard Bach

When it finally broke out from the comfort of that dark place, it didn’t emerge the ugly, slow creature it had been before. It was now a beautiful Monarch butterfly. It did not look like the casing it had been wrapped in for weeks. Instead, it had been transformed; gorgeous in its orange, black and white hues. The blue ones were even more beautiful. The cocoon served as a temporary dwelling place while the real change happened from the inside.

I’ve spent the better part of my life waiting. It’s easy to find yourself feeling like life will never get better or change when things seem dark, still or just not moving forward. There were times when I thought I’d stay wandering through that desert forever. Then there came the faintest stirring of hope, the smallest increase of strength and the urge to break free.

I’ve discovered that I’m currently at that stage. I feel it in every fiber of my being.

It’s happening. I’ve always known it would. And I knew it would be a matter of time before I started seeing the fruits of this internal transformation on the outside, actively affecting every portion of my life.

This summer has been a huge season of growth for me (and it’s not over yet!). I went from not being sure when it came to certain segments of my life (i.e. relating to the opposite sex, being vulnerable with new people, stepping outside the box I’d built for myself, letting some walls crumble, searching for ways to grow and move, seeking more of God, expecting more of Him, etc…This list could literally go on) to being certain of so many things. I’m certain of God’s goodness in my life and in the lives of those I cross on a daily basis. I’m certain of His love for me, although I’m sure I’ll need to be reminded again and again (oh, when will it ever sink in!). I’m becoming more and more certain of what it is He has for me in this life…my dreams are changing.

Every

Day

God has been transforming my heart and my mind. He has been shining His glorious light into the dark, cob-webbed covered corners of my life and giving me the ability to see those areas with eyes of mercy and grace. He’s been teaching me to be kind to myself; to love myself the way He does so that I can love others the same way. He’s been bringing up memories, good ones that I’d forgotten. I’m learning to remember honestly and remember well. So much…it seems my mind is overflowing with the knowledge and realization of it all. I’ll be honest. This has all been a tad bit overwhelming at times and I am so grateful for the body of Christ that surrounds me. They’re supportive, encouraging and, most of all, loving.

I’ve also discovered that I definitely have a heart for the lost and that doesn’t mean I necessarily have to go overseas to serve (although I do have the desire to experience that at some point in the near future); I can do so right here. My desire for serving the women in my church and community has been reawakened (that originally started when I was a sophomore in college, but had lessened greatly shortly after due more to fear than anything else) and I find myself connecting to the beautiful, young, vibrant women in my church. He’s been inviting me to dream and dream big. I want to travel and do so with or for a purpose. I don’t simply want to see the world; I want to serve while doing so. I want to write a book…many, actually. What I desire to do in my free time is changing. Gone are the endless days of watching movies out of the need to selfishly entertain myself and escape for a few hours. It’s literally been months since I’ve had the need to watch a movie. Months. And yes, marriage and children are still dreams I have, they’re just not the most important ones any longer. Even though I currently can’t see the path that will get me there, I know He’ll provide a way.

God has been growing my love for Him in ways I would never have imagined and I’ve found that I can’t keep quiet about it. I desire for others to know Him as I do. People ask the reason for my smile, the reason behind the joy illuminating my face. Conversations I have with complete strangers have gone from surface level conversations about the weather to under the surface discussions about faith and the reason we were created. Amazing. I can’t stop talking about my love for Jesus. I fell for Him when I was four, but this newfound love I have for my Savior…there are no words. It’s ever-deepening, ever-widening, ongoing and it never changes…no matter what my circumstances are in this life.

Does the caterpillar decide to become a butterfly? Does it do all the work to turn itself into one? No. I love the imagery God has given through His creation in this in that caterpillars merely allow God to do His work.

Transformation is not something we can do ourselves. Even among the pressures of this fallen world, we must choose to be still and allow God to do what only He can do. We allow Him to renew our minds daily through His Word. It doesn’t happen overnight and there will be periods of waiting. The struggle is necessary for the development and strength of what God has called me to do in His story. I’m a supporting member…He is the main character. And the cool thing about transformation from the inside out is that it never really ends. It happens again and again until we become what He ultimately created us to be.

What about you? Are you conforming or are you being transformed? Nut or caterpillar/butterfly? Rest in God’s presence today and allow Him to transform you from the inside out.

the beauty of baptism

water-baptism

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Luke 3.16

I’m getting baptized. On Sunday.

I tell friends, family and acquaintances about it and I get the strangest looks and asked why? I was baptized as a baby…

but…

That’s just it. I was a baby. It was more of a dedication/promise for my parents; that they would raise me in obedience to God, teaching me His ways. I don’t remember it.

Confirmation came when I was in high school. I went through the class, on my own, just like every other high school sophomore before me (16 was the average age of those who had gone through confirmation at the church I grew up in), but my reasons for doing so differed from the others my age. You see, I grew up in a church that followed the rules and did certain things because you “had to.”

Enter: Legalism.

Part of my testimony, my personal journey with Jesus, includes the lie that having anything to do with this world buys one a one-way ticket to hell and getting a public school education wasn’t any different. I went through that confirmation class to spite those who believed it to be true… I went through it to prove that I, a young woman tarnished by the ways of the world, would not be struck dead by God. I believed, on some level, that there was more to following Jesus than what I had been taught. Oh, how I’m still learning!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

Baptism. Immersed in water. Baptism as the Bible teaches.

I’ve never been immersed before…well, unless you count my brother dunking me in the wave pool at Wild Water West when we were kids, but I digress.

Baptism is a ceremony in which a person is immersed in water…to be dipped completely. It is not a means to salvation. I know I’ve been saved by the grace of Jesus. I believe that with all my heart. So, why be baptized?

  • I want to be an example of Jesus. I want to do more than make the claim. I want to live it in every way. Baptism shows that. Jesus Himself was baptized, but not as an expression of repentance (See Mark 1.9-11).
  • Scripture also commands it. I am so deeply in love with my God that I want to honor Him by being intentional about my obedience to Him. He’s not forcing me to do it. He’s asking me to. I get to. I want to. Wrap your mind around those two words with me for a moment:

    get to”  

    “want to”

    Not because I “have to.”

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Matthew 28.19

I want to live that out.

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Acts 2.38

Baptism is an indispensable part of the disciple-making process. I’ve been called to be a part of that process. Granted, I’ve been slow in discovering that I don’t need to be an overseas missionary to live that out. I already do…on a daily basis. Through work. Through my personal life. Through engaging in conversations with my neighbors across the hall. It occurs over coffee with a new friend or an old acquaintance. I do so through living my life the way Christ calls me to and not through being a Sunday-morning Christian. Walking with Jesus is a daily, moment-by-moment choice that I get to make; this taking up my cross and following Him…daily. In choosing to do so, my life is so much fuller than I could have asked for or imagined. Blessings beyond what I would have given myself had I been left in charge! Thank God for the grace He’s given!

  • Baptism is the pattern of the New Testament Church. Since I’m a part of that body of believers, I want to take part in that pattern (see Acts 2.41).

Which brings me to my next question: Why do I personally want to be baptized?

  • Baptism encourages me to live a life of obedience. I cannot choose which commands to obey and which ones I wish not to obey. Choosing to follow Jesus is choosing to follow all of Who He is, not picking which parts I like best and tossing the rest. I’m all in.
  • Baptism symbolizes Jesus’ cleansing me from sin. I don’t have to live life chained to my flesh. Jesus died to save me from that and I can live in freedom, having the strength I need to turn from temptation and moving beyond the point of committing that sin. Being immersed in water is a metaphor, a picture rather, of dying with Him and being resurrected to new life when I come back up. Beautiful imagery!

And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash yours sins away, calling on His name. Acts 22.16

  • Baptism initiates Christian fellowship. Now…it’s not like I’ve lived the last 28 years of my life disconnected from this. With my upbringing, I didn’t feel the need or understand the “why” of being baptized as an adult. It’s more than a symbol of my commitment to Jesus (I do!). It’s also a symbol of my commitment to the body of Christ. It says “I’m in this!” to the rest of the believers, especially those who play a role in the same part of the body that I do, whether that be His hands, His feet, His ears or His mouth (etc.).
  • Baptism is a public confession of Christ. I will acknowledge Him before men and I am not afraid of what this world could/can do to me. He’s been wooing me since I was four and has captivated my heart at every turn. How could I not proclaim that I love Him; that I am His?

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10.32-33

  • It’s also an opportunity to humble myself before God. I want nothing more than for His name to be on the lips of every man, woman and child (all of creation, really) in everything He calls me to do in this life for His glory. Not I. But Him who lives in me.

Jesus gave His life for me. I confess that He is Lord of my life and I choose to give Him my life for His glory while I walk this terrestrial planet (thank you Beth Moore for that phrase…it’s so befitting in regards being in this world). After all, it’s all I can do in return and it’s what He asks of me. May my life continuously point to Him in everything I do.

 

**For those of you who know me personally and follow this blog, you are more than welcome to come celebrate on Sunday morning. Service starts at 9:30 AM on the beach and brunch will follow. Address for the park: East Medicine Lake Park, Plymouth MN 55441

conquering fear

Fear. Hope. Courage.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you lacked one and felt an excess of the other? I have. Numerous times.

Fear.

Webster’s Dictionary defines fear as follows:

1) to be afraid or apprehensive of

2) to have a reverential awe of (God)

Now, the latter is good for you, but the former is, well…I’d like to dig into that.

Fear.

We all experience it.

I have both irrational and rational fears. You do too, whether you are fully aware of them or not.

  • I fear both failure and success and sometimes, both of those keep me grounded where I’m at, not moving forward or taking steps back.
  • I fear fire; of losing something to a raging inferno. I guess you could look at that fear from multiple angles: losing a loved one or valued objects (so petty of me, I know – I’m sometimes a tad bit too sentimental for my own good) to a house fire, being “burned” in a relationship, being burned by fire myself (there are a few interesting stories to go along with that portion of this fear) and more. I used to have nightmares about a never-ending inferno combined with the screams of someone who mattered burning alive and to this day, I can remember the last one I had quite vividly.
  • I fear snakes.
  • I fear certain situations in life never coming to fruition. I also fear those same things coming to their full potential (i.e. waiting for that metaphorical shoe to drop/what if it doesn’t?).
  • I fear any relationship coming to an abrupt end, whether it be because of a difference of opinion or lifestyle, a change in life’s circumstances (i.e. moving away), or the loss of a loved one. I’ve been blessed in the fact that I haven’t lost an immediate family member or a really close friend. Someday though. After all, we’re not guaranteed tomorrow, much the less the next minute.
  • I fear not being loved back; of never being someone’s choice; of being alone.
  • I fear that the things I enjoy most in this life could be snatched away from me at any given moment. This goes for relationships, a job, volunteering opportunities, people, my church, etc.

These are just a few on a list that seems to grow the more aware I become of my fears as I experience the ins and outs of everyday living.

I had never thought of myself as the anxious type, but in reading a book about insecurity and doing a study on it a year and a half ago changed my perspective on that and made me oh-so-aware of where I fall on that chart.

Is anxiety a disease or an affliction? Perhaps it is something of both. Partly…because you can’t help it, and partly because for some dark reason you choose not to help it, you torment yourself with detailed visions of the worst that can possibly happen. – Frederick Buechner

Yeah, I’ve been there. I’m a worrier. I’m a woman for crying out loud…aren’t we worriers by nature? Ugh! Can I just state that the amount of time I spend worrying over things beyond my control frustrates me to no end? It does. Oh, how it does.

Erwin McManus (a very, very wise man) once said, ” What you fear is what you are subject to. Your fears define the boundaries of your life. When you fear God, you are subject only to Him.”

Chew on that with me for a moment. My fear of fire could confine me to the boundaries of whatever room I’m in if I were to be caught in a structural fire. My fear of success and failure could keep me from exploring the possibility of starting and running my own business. But…when I fear only God, the possibilities are endless. He has no end. He is eternity. And He is all I need to fear. Everything else pales and shrinks in comparison to Him. Always.

Moving on…

I’ve been reading a book by Jerusha Clark through which God, in His amazing love and the truth of His gospel, has been setting me free: Every Thought Captive. Ever wonder whether we can control our wandering thoughts; our worries; our fears? We can. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow process, this transforming of my mind from the inside out, and I’ve begun to see the evidence of this in my own life.

In chapter 3, Jerusha Clark shares the stories of three women, who, like many of us, worry and/or deal with anxiety. One worries over her grades, relationships and her future. Another worries about the day-to-day mundane tasks and the details of life. And still, another fretted over things that were beyond her control, like what other people thought of her, past mistakes, family, work.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in the shoes of all three to some degree and I’m sure you can relate. Regardless of what you believe, lots of women live fear-filled, anxious or worried lives. We worry about everything from whether or not we left the coffeepot on to whether we’ll ever get married or have children. I worry about where I placed my Bluetooth and if it will be there when I need it. I worry about my car falling apart when it doesn’t sound right. I worry about my mom and her diabetes. I worry about my relationships with my girlfriends when we’re at odds. I worry about being single when I’m ninety. I sometimes worry about the storms that we get overnight (particularly this time of the year) and whether I will be here in the morning. I worry about leaving projects unfinished. I worry about the future of my relationship with this incredible guy God brought into my life. I worry about what I will wear in the morning. I worry about the unknowns. This list goes on. I’m sure I’ve probably worried myself sick at times. We have a tendency to plan and manipulate every detail of our lives, desperately trying to avoid the things we fear. Oh, how true that statement is!

While I don’t feel that it rules my entire day as I am slowly learning that I have a choice in how I spend the majority of my time (when not focused on work or a conversation at hand), I choose to converse with God. Nine times out of ten, I probably look insane…that girl, talking to herself. But, I do struggle with this.

I’ve been dealing with my suffering, troubled and distracted mind for quite some time now, and the sick part is that I get some sort of dark, twisted enjoyment out of the whole thing…on some level at least. Dave Ramsey once compared a person’s debt to a toddler’s poopy diaper and the need to change. The toddler sceams: No! It’s warm and it’s mine. Gross, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought when I first heard him say that. Thing is, it’s true when it comes to the things we worry about/fret over (and many other  things in life). We think that these concerns are ours and should be handled in our way and on our time table and we don’t need the help of anyone else. It’s our junk. Thing is, the warmth fades and all you’re left with is this rotten, raunchy, rancid odor that can reek into every other part of your life. Who wants that?

Worry causes us to regret the past and fear the future…Worry robs the present of our presence, for we are ever living behind or ahead of ourselves. Joylessness and discouragement usually follow. Jerusha Clark

Satan likes to see me down and is determined to keep me there. Just when I think I’ve gotten a grip on being content in any situation I find myself in (not to mention finding joy there), he does all he can to disrupt that steady stream of peace that can only come from my Savior, Jesus Christ. I often find myself standing in awe (the good kind of fear mentioned earlier) at how many times Jesus has lifted me from that pit and I start asking how many more times will there be? Thing is, I’m human…a sinner turned saint, yes…but I’m human and the things that try to tie me down in this life are the results of a fallen world (see Genesis 3). Why do I keep crawling back into that hole? Partly, because I think I deserve it and partly because I don’t truly believe, with all my heart, that God could love me enough to keep me out of it; that He sees me as righteous and clean; as His.

To make this a little bit clearer, I’d like to paint a picture for you. I recently read up on a bank robber who robbed 29 Wells Fargo stage coaches between 1875 and 1883: Black Bart. The man managed to strike fear into the hearts of his victims. He used his evil demeanor to ignite fear in anyone unfortunate to be on or around a Wells Fargo stagecoach during a robbery. He used fear to get his victims eyes on their current circumstance. He knew distracting them from what was true was his only hope for a successful robbery and get away. The truth about Black Bart was in the 29 robberies history documents; he never once fired his gun or took a hostage. I wonder if the victims in his later robberies would have been as afraid if they had just set their mind on that truth. And like Black Bart, the Evil One uses fear as a tool to distract us from what is true.

Satan’s understanding of who we are in Christ is evidenced by his repeated attempts to get us to submit to fear. When we are fully aware of the truth of who we are in Jesus; in the truth that He overcame everything, we will not be afraid. The only thing Satan can do is distract us from this truth. He does so by attempting to re-direct our focus from our riches in Christ onto our seemingly fearful circumstances. Satan knows he can’t rob us of those riches, so he has no choice but to encourage us to lose sight of all we have and all we are in Christ.

He speaks lies into our minds that we find ourselves believing. Jerusha Clark debunks a few of those in her book and I’d like to share those incredible, God-given insights with you for a brief moment:

Lie #1: If only… You know the saying: “Hindsight is 20/20.” Like Jerusha, I’ve often found myself despairing about my past, wondering whether making a different decision would have radically changed the course of my life. And when I think about those things, my imagined response or action is almost always better than what I said or did. But…when these thoughts come at me, I have to keep one truth in mind:

Truth #1: I can trust God with my past, my present and my future…
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43.18-19 NRSV
What truth there is behind those words! While we may not “forget” former things, we need to see the good in the moment.  God, in His amazing grace, will make a way…even when I make a complete mess out a situation or make the worst possible decision. God. Will. Make. A. Way. He always does.
Beth Moore, in her study on Esther, writes, “You cannot amputate your history from your destiny, because it is redemption.” Think about that for a moment. I cannot black out my past because it defines Christ’s redemption in me. It’s also a tool in reaching others for their redemption. The Bible is the story of redemption…His children’s past, present and future.
The point here is not so much “whether or not I made the ‘right’ decision but whether I choose to see God’s presence in every choice.” Words to the wise, huh?

Lie #2: What if…? This one is my downfall…major downfall. My personal list of “what if” questions and scenarios is endless. Satan uses those thoughts against me, lying to me by saying that God doesn’t care about me enough or that He isn’t good enough or strong enough to get me from point A to point B. Most of the fears I listed above fall into this category: What if I fail? What if I succeed? What if this relationship is taken away? What if I’ve let it become an idol? What if…? The question rings on. I’ve discovered that either because of past sin or general insecurity, many women, including myself, “fear that what they enjoy will be snatched” from them by a “pernicious, exacting, ‘you reap what you sow’ God.”
“Life is an overwhelming force. Relationships are an overwhelming force. Even God is an overwhelming force.” And all too often, I’ve bought into the lie that I can control my life to some degree. I try to make plans for how I would deal with the outcome of certain trials (i.e. my next conversation with a friend, not seeing another for x number of days, a baptism ceremony gone wrong). Even when a bad thing I’ve anticipated actually does happen, the situation definitely never unfolds the way I expect it to. “Life, people, and an infinite number of potentialities make it impossible to discern what might happen.” I cannot discern my own future any more than my friend, pastor or accountability partner can. Only God can see what’s around that next river bend.
I’d like to echo Jerusha’s comment here: “Great. Thanks. Now what?”

Truth #2: Jeremiah 29.11 If you don’t know that one, look it up. Even though we are vulnerable and life spins out of control on a regular basis, we are not powerless. Quite the opposite actually: we have the greatest power conceivable within us – the Holy Spirit of a very living and breathing God. However, this power is not ours to wield. We are called to submit to His movement in our lives – His work is out of our control. We are called to trust that He knows what is best for us even when we cannot see it ourselves. Trusting Him in this does not mean that everything will be grand all of the time. In this world, we will have trouble. But…He has overcome the world.
The worst that life could throw at you – your worst nightmares becoming reality – will not “take His steadfast love, compassion, or peace from you. Our minds need to be just as active, alive and conscious to worry as they are to exercise faith. Why don’t we start the rewarding journey toward using our vivid imaginations to hope and to have faith in the Anchor of our souls?”

Lie #3: If I don’t control my circumstances, no one will. I often feel that if I just simply let go, everything I’ve held on to will spin out of control and there will be nothing left but ashes when all it’s said and done. How false is that?
I often find myself using excuses (much like Moses did prior to leading the people out of Egypt) like “Sure, I trust God…but I’ve disobeyed so long, I need to get myself right first before I let Him have control of my life again.” We tend to make loopholes, or excuses, in God’s promises. In doing so, we undermine His character in destructive ways.
Everyone questions God at some point in their lives. I have and there’s a good chance I’ll do so again. I question His ability to calm me in the midst of any storm I might face. I don’t like not feeling safe. I fear it, actually. Being out of control equates not feeling safe to me. And since that doesn’t feel safe, I try to control my little world in order to avoid being hurt. Thing is, when I fall for Satan’s lie about God’s control and try to do it on my own, how much hurt would I save myself if I just let go? Good question.

Truth #3: Only God has the power to bring all things under His control. Philippians 3.21 states that God (Yahweh) has “power that…enables Him to make all things subject to Himself.” How can I not even consider that the Creator of the universe, of all things seen, can’t control my own little world?
In the last few years, I’ve discovered that God has a tendency to show His love for me through my battles with anxiety and worry. I’ve learned to love Him more; that I fall more in love with Him in those moments. I’m learning from my fears what I really value and, what I may be investing too much concern in. I’m learning to let go.
Remember the other definition for “fear” mentioned at the start of this entry? That fear, that awe that we are to have for God drives out the worries that harass us. In His presence, our worries and fears shrink.

Lie #4: If I don’t worry about someone or something, I must not care enough. Doesn’t that statement just evoke the feeling of carrying the entire world on your shoulders? It does for me and yet I’ve bought into that lie more times than I care to remember. Webster’s dictionary defines worry as this: to torment oneself with disturbing thoughts (among others…). Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? When I worry, it’s usually more about me than it is about the other person…I don’t like admitting that, but it’s true. With each situation that I worry over, the afterthought always seems to twirl around What’s in it for me?
“Anxiety torments the worrier because it is really about the worrier. Fear seizes us by the throat and mangles us. Worry harasses, repeatedly bites, and disturbs us because, again, we don’t want to face our own pain or the pain of others.” – Jerusha Clark

Truth #4: God cares for my loved ones and my life more than I can. Read the following from 1 Peter 5.7 (multiple translations):
Let Him have all your worries and cares, for He is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you. TLB
Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about what happens to you. NLT
Live carefree before God;
He is most careful with you. MSG
Truth in its finest form.
However, let me make a note on this – along with Jerusha Clark: a woman cannot simply “cast all [her] cares” on the Lord in one glorious moment. I’ve tried. There are days when I attempt to do this in the morning only to receive a bill that I don’t have the funds for that afternoon…worrywart all over again.
However, I’ve discovered (and am still learning at times) that a “moment-by-moment exchange of my misconceptions for truth is the only solution to the problem of anxiety” and worry. When stuff starts to crop up, I need to choose in that moment to let God have that concern. We’ve been given an “amazing opportunity to toss all our troubles upon Him who will care for and love – more than we ever could – everything and everyone who concerns us.” We have to choose to trust that.
(Every Thought Captive. Clark, Jerusha. Pg. 53-61)

Now, you may be asking: What can I do when worry/fear rears its ugly head?

First, keep your eyes on Jesus. Fear and faith cannot reign together. Where fear reigns, faith fades. Where faith reigns, fear has no place. It’s when we choose to look at our circumstances and take our eyes off Jesus for a split second, we sink.

Second, admit that worry accomplishes nothing. It only wastes emotions better used elsewhere and wears out the soul, robbing you of today. Personally, I’ve never fixed a situation by fretting over it. Worry does not need to be the force that motivates you. If I focus on that, I miss out on God’s hand moving in my life and in the lives of those around me, orchestrating the Divine Romance He began at creation. I also miss out on learning how to love genuinely and am instead driven to make my own way in an attempt to protect myself. I don’t want to miss out on that or waste my time trying to add a single hour to my life by worrying.

Third, make the choice to show up in God’s presence. When you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you…God promises that in His Word. If needed, ask the question: Who is bigger – God or your problem?

Fourth, learn to lean on others. We, as the body of Christ and family of God, are called to carry one another’s burdens. I’ve all too often discovered that when I hit those pits, I want to run and hide and simply be alone. No more. I’m learning to let my sisters in Christ know when I’m struggling and when I’m down. In turn, God uses them to lift me up via words of encouragement, a piece of scripture (usually Psalms) read in prayer, a hug or simply just being there in the silence. It doesn’t take long for me to realize how deeply I need someone else’s input; someone who has an unbiased opinion on any situation I may be fretting over; someone whose compass is better than my emotional one to guide me back to the arms of Christ.

And finally, do not be discouraged when fears reassert themselves. Reoccurring fears are part of our human condition and a fact in this fallen world. When fear knocks, don’t hesitate to run to God. The consuming fire of His love will banish those thoughts (or at least shrink them) in that moment. God is more than capable of (and will keep) reminding us of His truth (John 14.26-27).

Remember my mentioning how Satan tends to mess with our thoughts?

He made one such attempt on my own thought life this morning, at 3 A.M. of all times; at a moment when my mind was at its most vulnerable. The “if only” and “what if” questions started to swirl in my mind after I had gotten up to get some water. I remember mindlessly attempting to make my way back to my bedroom and the next thing I know, I’m on the floor in a fit of tears and “what ifs” raging through my mind. My overactive, idealistic imagination kicked in (Me? Have an overactive imagination? No! Never!) and my mind jumped from one scenario, one conclusion to the next. Some brought tears, some frustration and anger, and others, a hopeful smile. It’s the former two that tend to lead me down a dark road I’d rather not take and this morning’s episode was no different.

However, I found that I could control my wayward thoughts by fixing my eyes on Jesus, just as Peter did in Matthew 14. I turned the bedside lamp on and poured over scripture (particularly Joshua 1:9, Romans 8:37 and a few of the other 365 times Scripture references “Do not fear”/”Do not be afraid”) and prayed. Success! In less than 30 minutes (these tirades can last half the night and sometimes into the day…even days on end), I was at peace and was soon able to fall back to sleep…tears of joy and all. It was in choosing…I repeat: choosing…to fix my eyes on Him that I was able to confidently rise above those lies and fears and trust in Him; to trust in His perfect timing; to trust that He knows what He is doing with and in my life. I simply have to choose to trust Him…to pick up that cross and follow Him, daily.

Now, don’t get me wrong…today has been a struggle thus far. I’m exhausted, but happy; emotional (just a tidge) in a good way; and spiritually drained. I’m also very aware of my surroundings, which has made work very difficult. But, in this, God is still good and I’m choosing to trust Him with today. I don’t have the energy to deal with what may come my way. He does.

This hope is for you, too. We can overcome anything in this life if we’d only make the choice to keep our eyes on Jesus, the only One who saves. He already overcame this world. Through Him, we are more than conquerors.

**On a side note, I recommend purchasing this book. I recommend reading it and making your own notes in the margins. I’ve discovered that when I lend out a book with so much insight (especially when it comes to the spiritual lives of us women), I may never get it back. So…if it was worth me marking up the margins in mine, I can only guarantee you’ll mark the margins in yours. Every Thought Captive can be purchased at any Christian book store (if in stock) or here, at CBD.com.

my father’s daughter

Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you. Exodus 20.12

First, let me state that I am not a parent (yet) nor am I an expert on this matter. I’m simply a young adult who has formulated her opinions, insight and what-nots based on God’s Word and the world I see around me. That being said…

I am my father’s daughter.

No lie.

I inherited his mighty temper (granted, the red hair may have more to do with that than anything). His ability to be stubborn has most definitely been passed on. And I definitely find similar situations and things to be just as humorous as he does.

Indeed.

I am my father’s daughter.

Father’s Day was always a time when I would stop and reflect on the relationship I have with my earthly father as well as the one I have with God, my heavenly Father. It aslo was and is a time when I would take a moment to thank him and remind him that I loved him. I still do, but the manner in which I do has changed drastically from that when I was a child.

Growing up in and attending the local Christian school, I heard the whole “Honor your father and mother…” tidbit every day. It is an important theme throughout the Bible and the entire Old Testament is based on a patriarchal system.

Some fathers are easy to love; those that seem to be the terrific ideal every child wanted. Others are harder to love. They may not have been dependable. They may have left when you were young. Perhaps they were in the home, but not there at the same time.

Mine fell into both categories. After all, he is only human. Regardless of his faults, God calls me to honor him by loving him and respecting him. It’s not only the right thing to do; this commandment also holds with it the promise of having a long life. That is one promise I’ve discovered that I want to stand on and it (along with God’s guidance) has helped me overcome the days when honoring my dad wasn’t so easy.

My teenage years were filled with yelling matches, massive amounts of miscommunication and a lack of attendance at school/sports events. Honestly, there were moments when I didn’t feel I mattered. Now – most of you know that I’m a huge advocate for Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages – since I’ve read that book, my relationsihp with my dad has changed. Then again, I’ve become the type to focus more on love and grace than their opposites.

Chapman writes about the different love languages and the way each one affects the person who speaks them. I was blessed with a living example on how to speak all five (words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, gifts, and acts of service), but three of them truly speak to me and any one of those three could mean more at any given moment.

I’ve discovered my dad’s and I’ve been learning to speak his as well as mine, hoping God will speak it into his heart. I’ve definitely been tested in this process and I’ve learned that patience is a virtue worth striving for.

It’s now 2013. More than a decade has passed since the last of my teenage years spent at home. My rebellious streak is over…well, one could only hope [*wink] and with the fact that I’ve matured some since, it’s safe to say that our relationship isn’t what it used to be and for that, I am thankful.  

God, my heavenly Father – the only One who will never let me down – reached into my life at the tender age of 18 (again) and grabbed hold of my heart, showing me that He had never to let go, and taught me what it means to love the way He does (see yesterday’s post [here] for more on that).  I will forever be grateful for what He’s taught me and continues to teach me on a daily basis.

The world we live in has a twisted view of love. Hollywood spins their friends-with-benefits and drop-it-like-it’s-hot tales. Disney portrays the “happily ever after” stuff little girls dream about (by the way – “Happily Ever After” is possible…just not in the way the world thinks).  No one talks about what happens after the wedding or after the guy gets the girl. Even the love portrayed between friends is twisted and cruel in this “what’s-in-it-for-me” and “give-it-to-me-quick” society.

God’s love is unconditional. God’s love is deep, wide, long and strong…more than we can even begin to comprehend. Growing up, I’m sorry to say that the love I had for my parents was conditional. I believed that my life was all about me. Me this. Me that. Me. Me. Me. I. I. I.

Enough said.

Having had my heart torn apart, battered, cracked – you name it – God, in His amazingly unconditional love, reached in and helped me put the pieces back together again. Granted, there were a few times when He had to re-break a few things so it would heal the right way, but that pain…worth it.

In the last five years of my life, God has taught me what it means to love and to extend grace to those around me. I tell my dad I love him every chance I get and to hear those words said back to me: huge benefit! I don’t credit him with that. I can’t. All the credit goes to God…a heavenly Father I have chosen to honor…day in and day out…in spite of my humanity.  

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in being blessed with an earthly father, it’s that I have an endless, desperate need for Jesus. See musical inspiration from two of my favorite artists (Shane and Shane) here.

I may be my earthly father’s daughter.

But

By the grace of God Almighty

I’m also His.

I can proudly state that I am my Father’s daughter.

That being said, Dad (and all other dads out there) – these are for you:

Dear Dad,

My how the years have passed since you first took hold of me in your arms for the first time. A lot has changed since then, and not just my size.

Since Father’s Day is all about showing appreciation to our fathers, I wanted to reminisce a little on some old memories and appreciate you for all that you’ve done in my life.

I’m simply doing what I used to do when I still lived at home. I used to write you letters during special days and days in which things weren’t going so well. But today…

Today, I wanted to let you know that I love you and that I’m grateful God chose to bless me with you as my Dad.

When I was a child, I admired everything you did and attempted to mirror your actions. I remember piggy back rides through the fairgrounds and our evening rides on your Harley when I was four. There are times when I miss those days. Everything was simpler and time stood still.

You also set your goals high and did everything in your power to accomplish them. I look up to you for that. You’ve also always marched to the beat of your own drum, not bending to the ways of the world around us. God has moved you in ways you probably haven’t noticed or understand just yet, but I wanted you to know that I see His movement in your life and that’s exciting.

I also admire you for having the strength to stick with it when it seemed the world was against us. I know I probably didn’t honor you the way I should have when I was a teenager and for that I’m sorry. Forgive me? However, I will forever be grateful for the turn our relationship has taken.

I’ve been blessed to have you and Mom and the relationship we share. You play an important role in keeping our family together. It takes teamwork and hard work. You taught me that. We never went hungry and always had a roof over our heads. When we had little, the choice to give instead during the holidays will always resonate in my heart. Those years were the best.

You motivate me to do my best, to work hard and to have a little fun while doing so. Life isn’t always sunshine and moonbeams and during the time when it’s raining, all one has to do is shine a little light to find a few rainbows.

Thank you for setting that example.

Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.

I love you.

Your first-born daughter,

A.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To my Abba,

What a day! A day to remember Who has taught me, guided me and instilled wisdom in me my entire life. You have promised countless times that you love me. You have promised countless times that You will never leave me. You even went so far as to show me how much You love me by sending Your only Son, Jesus. Can I ask for anything else? Of course I can, I always do. James reads: “ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking” (James 1.5b). Your Son, Jesus, even stated, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father” (John 14.13). As any good father would do, You do what You feel is right in whether or not I should get what I ask for. It all comes down to the matter of my heart, which only You can see. What a terrifyingly beautiful thought!

I hope to one day be half the type of parent You’ve been to me. I hope that when my kids (if that be in Your plan for my life) need something, I’ll be there for them as You have been for me. I hope that when they have questions, that I’ll have the answers You’ve so freely given and that if I don’t, I’ll seek those answers in You. I hope that when they are going through good times or bad times that I’ll be there for them, just as You have always been there for me.

So I end this letter by saying thank you with a joyful heart for being my Father, in all ways, and by writing that I’ve been very blessed by being one of Your adopted children. Thank you for extending Your grace to ALL of the human race. Furthermore, I want to thank you for Your undivided attention even though You have countless children.

Happy Father’s Day (today, tomorrow and all the days to come)!

Love – Your Daughter

five key truths about relationships

I stumbled on this during my morning devotional time this morning and thought I’d share it with you, the audience that God has seen fit to give. You will also find my comments between the [brackets] below. Enjoy!

——————————————————————————————————

More to be RELATIONSHIPS: five key truths about relationships

We all desire healthy, meaningful, satisfying relationships with others.

We ultimately want to get along with friends, without all the drama. We want to feel loved by a special someone – a best friend now, a boyfriend at some point, hopefully a husband one day, and even through having children. We want to know that we are unconditionally loved by our parents and siblings, even when we experience a less than perfect life. We want to feel connected to others, as somehow that connection influences our sense of worth and creates a place for us to belong.

[…that is so true on so many levels…]

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” Genesis 1.26 NLT

Our longings for authentic and meaningful relationships are normal because that is the way we were designed. God made us to be loved, by Him and by others, and to be connected in life-giving relationships. The problems we face in our relationships are both a result of sin and unrealistic expectations [thank you Hollywood!] of others, or of God. Our culture has perpetuated the idea that we need others to validate our lives and define our worth. On the contrary!

Our worth is defined by who we are in Christ, and our relationships are designed to glorify God through how we serve one another.

If we’ve fallen into a pattern of defining our lives by our relationships, we’ll find ourselves truly disappointed and frustrated [TRUTH]. A boyfriend cannot be a public stamp of approval, indicating, “I am loved.” A spouse ought not to be a security blanket. Parents cannot become a means to an end. Relationships cannot be about making us happy, validated, or feeling valued. This is not at all what God intended.

God designed us for a personal relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ, and from the overflow of that relationship, we are made to pour out His love on others (Philippians 1.9, 1 Thessalonians 3.3).

And may the Lord make you love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. 1 Thessalonians 3.12 NLT

TRUTH #1: CRAVE

We crave relationships because we’re made by a relational God and are wired for deep, unconditional love.

Long before [God] laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in 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. Ephesians 1.3-14

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13.14

From the very beginning of creation, God made us to be in relationships – with Him, first and foremost, and with others. Even so, the word relationship can’t even be found in the original Hebrew or Greek Scriptures. Only in modern translations, such as The Message, can you search for the word relationship and find a handful of key verses to meditate upon.

What you do find, however, as you look at the Scriptures, are references to the essence of relationships built on love, serving, worshiping, praying, and working together. This is reflected first and foremost in the God-head. In Genesis 1.26, the Creator refers to Himself in the plural: us. This “us” refers to what Christians call the Trinity, made up of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Although not states in the Scriptures as the Trinity, the reference is found in the Schema (Deuteronomy 6.4), where God is referred to as One, and later in the New Testament (Matthew 28.19 and 2 Corinthians 3.14), where He is named in three parts. Each part of the God-head fulfills a different purpose, but they are designed to work together, in relationship!

  1. God the Father is Creator of the universe and Father of all humankind.
  2. Jesus, present in the God-head before He ever walked this earth, is our Redeemer and Savior. As fully God and fully man, Jesus was sent by God to save His people from their sin.
  3. The Holy Spirit is the third party of the trinity. When Jesus departed this earth, He did not leave us alone, but gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit as our counselor and guide. The Holy Spirit dwells within each believer, drawing upon our knowledge of the Word to lead us in life and faith actions.

If we studied the Trinity closely throughout the Scriptures, we would find such beauty in the roles each part plays for the purpose of the whole. In the same way, we can look at humankind and see a similar pattern of need, purpose, and design. It is no wonder we long for connection built on sincere love. God created us this way!

TRUTH #2: CREATED

We were created to be in a personal intimate relationship with God, first and foremost, through faith in His Son Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in Him, and He in us: He’s given us life from His life, from His very own Spirit. Also, we’ve seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent His Son as Savior of the world. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God. 1 John 4.3-16 MSG

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.” Genesis 1.26 NLT

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable helper for him.” Genesis 2.18 NIV

Within the God-head there is an inherent three-way relationship, but the design for relationships doesn’t begin and end there.

God longs to connect with His people, but this is only possible through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Yes, there is only one way to have an intimate relationship with God the Father, and that is through the Savior (Romans 10.9-10). This relationship cannot come through another human being, such as a pastor or priest. It must come through faith in Christ alone by confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in your hearth that He saves you from your sin.

Long before [God] laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in 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. Ephesians 13-14 MSG

Simply put, we need a Savior. We’re a messy people marked by our flesh-driven sin. We disobey God naturally, and could never meet His holy standard within our own efforts. God is absolutely perfect, holy, and unmarked by sin, and can only be in relationship with a holy people. This is why He provided the one and only perfect sacrifice, His Son, Jesus Christ, on our behalf so that we may approach Him as we are and be intimately connected in a right relationship with God.

When Christ died on the cross, He became the covering over us. God sees us through His Son. We don’t have to become perfect and blameless in order to be able to approach God. We are already acceptable to Him because Jesus fills the gap with His perfect, holy grace. Yet because of our love for our Father, we must living putting off sin and not indulging it. Jesus isn’t our free-for-all ticket to disobedience. There are consequences for our sin, including separation from God and His discipline. But there is also His grace and mercy, received through forgiveness that sets us on a new path and redeemed relationship with God as well as others.

TRUTH #3: Community

We were made to live in life-giving relationships with others for our mutual benefit and God’s glory.

In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as part of His body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s go ahead and be what we were made to be… Romans 12.5+10 MSG

As a prison of the Lord, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be His own. Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. Try your best to let God’s Sprit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God’s people. We have only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. Ephesians 4.1-5 MSG

Accepting Christ as Lord is key to experiencing transformed relationships. When Jesus dwells within our heart and soul, our desperate need to be loved on a human level becomes less vital. That’s not to say we should live without human relationships. On the contrary, by God’s design, we do need one another.

We are called to live as the hands and feet of Christ. Every human being should be physically and practically loved by another, because God first loved us through Jesus.

When God fills us with His love, we cannot help but overflow His love onto others. When we fall into stride with this pattern of having our needs met by God first, our expectations of others shifts dramatically and what we offer them in return comes into a realistic perspective. The burden to fix and solve other problems, which is a great strain on relationships, is lessened while our ability to give from the overflow in our life becomes possible. This truth applies in all of the relationships we may experience in our lifetime (Philippians 1.9; 1 Thessalonians 3.3).

  1. Relationship between a husband and wife
    God’s design for relationships isn’t limited to being connected with Him. He’s also passionate about us being in a relationship male to female. Likely, you can testify to this as you [may] experience a strong desire to be in a relationship with a guy…This desire is good! It is the way God made you, even if the timing to act on those feelings has not yet arrived.
    Right from the beginning, God not only made man, He also made woman. In Genesis, the Word reveals that even with all the animals and an incredible opportunity to walk with God Himself, the Lord did not find a sufficient match for man. So He made woman. Out of Adam came Eve, not to replace him, boss him or cater to him. The Creator of the Universe designed man and woman together to make a complete whole. One for the other. Together, two were much better than one (Genesis 2.18, 21-24).
    The New Testament teachings reflect this design in the union of marriage where a man and woman have ultimate intimacy – physically, emotionally and spiritually – under the headship of Christ.
    And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides as good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband. Ephesians 5.29-33 MSG
    A marriage isn’t only made up of a husband and a wife. In a Christian marriage, the relationship comes under the headship of Christ. In that regard, a marriage is a chord of three strands, strong because of the individual relationships with Christ. While a marriage can exist apart from Christ, two believers coming together in a marriage is how God designed it to exist.
    It is critically important to mention that in God’s eyes, according to Scripture, a marriage is not between two people of the same gender. There are no examples in Scripture of this type of relationship meeting the qualification of marriage or as God’s design. I know, personally, that this is a difficult, tender and challenging matter to understand. If you disagree with me, you are not alone. However, there are a few key references that describe a same-sex relationship as sinful (Leviticus 18.22, 1 Corinthians 6.9, 1 Timothy 1.10) in much of the same way that committing adultery, theft, greed and idolatry are also sin. The reality is that we are all tempted with some type of sin, and often daily! Will some people struggle with same-sex attraction? Yes! Absolutely! Is it wrong to have feelings toward sinful behavior? No. But is it a bad decision to act on those temptations which the Bible tells us to turn from? Yes. We can all agree that we struggle with sin – the desire to things that are against God’s design and considered disobedience. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we should make it acceptable.

    Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy. Hebrews 12.14

  2. Relationships between parents, children and siblings
    As you read along in Genesis, you’ll see that God not only brought Adam a helper in Eve, but that He specifically called them to be fruitful and multiply. He saw this human relationship as something good and deemed it a worthy pursuit to create more little humans frolicking around Adam and Eve’s legs (Genesis 1.28).
    The family unit is critical to God’s design and is supposed to be a source of relationship satisfaction. But, in the same way sin has tarnished the marital relationship, it has also left its mark on the family unit. We see this in terms of divorce, abuse and betrayal in so many family units. Only God’s love, grace and forgiveness can bring about true healing and the ability to move forward in emotional and spiritual health after the effects of sin has left its mark on a family.
  3. Relationships within the family of God
    Not only did God create relationships within a marriage and family to be beneficial to the individual, He also designed the family of God, at large, to come together under the headship of Christ; all working together for the common good and His glory. The New Testament description of the body of Christ describes each person as an important, critical part not meant to stand alone. Together, each member is intended to bring their gifts, talents, personality, and perspective to be used for the mutual good of the family of God (Romans 12.5-10). The reason we don’t see this happening in the family of God is a result of sin, once again [big surprise there…]. The enemy of God worms His way into our relationships, bringing havoc on the body of Christ through petty conflict and deeply painful experiences. No matter what, however, we are called to live in peace together, if at all possible, and strive for unity. This means we daily need to walk humbly and acknowledge the forgiveness that is made ours through Christ so that offenses do not fester into infected wounds (Hebrews 12.14).
    Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3.13
  4. Relationships with non-believers
    No matter where we stand in our father, whether a new believer or a seasoned Christian, we will find ourselves in relationships with people who don’t share our beliefs and might even find them offensive. Regardless of whether these people are family members, friends or strangers, we are called to be gentle, kind and humble as well as to seek opportunities to share the love of Christ and the Truth, both through actions and words. Sometimes meeting a practical need will be a far greater relationship builder than handing them Bible verses to share the Gospel message. Be prayerful, seeking God for the opportunities to do both!
    What we give in these relationships should be a reflection of what we have received from Christ. We’ve been forgiven, so we should forgive. We’ve been extended grace, so we should extend grace. This is true for all our relationships.
    However, in relationships with non-believers, our expectations and needs must radically shift from how engage with Christians. We cannot expect a Christ-like response from them because they have no personally experienced Christ. Nor should we pursue a deep connection because our core beliefs will not line up and their counsel, support and encouragement would like be inconsistent with Scripture. While the relationship can be very meaningful, the role we play in the relationship and our expectations need to keep in mind the warning in Scripture not to be yoked, or bonded, together with an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6.14-15 NIV/NLT).

TRUTH #4: Challenges

We will face challenges in our relationships because of sin, but in Christ, we can find the path of redemption.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3.23

Make every effort to live in peace with all [people] and to be holy. Hebrews 12.14

If God is so into relationships, why is everything so messed up?

Why is every man not married to a woman?

Why is our culture convinced that homosexual relationships are acceptable?

Why is there infertility?

Why do parents walk out on their families?

Why do dads and moms hurt their kids?

Why is there such division and hurt within the church?

Because of sin.

Eve was deceived by the Serpent and Adam followed suit. Together, they broke God’s command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and in doing so, sin was introduced in this world (Genesis 2, 3).

Yet, if you’re like me, this still doesn’t make sense.

Why didn’t God make a world without sin?

I don’t know.

But what I can attest to is that God’s original design has fallen short of what He intended for this world. But God is still God. He is still on the throne in the face of sin and pain and hurts and disappointments.

And in His mercy, He provided Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life, where there is no sin, no tears, no pain, nor death (Revelation 21.4). [Isn’t that great?!]

I often think that God could have done it differently, but what would be the outcome then?

He could have made us to never sin, but where would that leave us? [No free will.] Would we be robots programmed to love and obey? Sure, God would have designed us to worship and adore Him, walking in His ways all the days of our life.

But would you like being told who you must love?

Would you like me requiring someone to love you?

Oh, no!

The preciousness of love is that it is not required, but can be freely given.

But love is messy because it has been tarnished by sin.

Regardless of what you think God should have done, we live in a fallen world, where the desires of the flesh often trump the character of the heart.

You’ve been hurt by those who ought to have protected and cared for you. People will fail you. Words will be carelessly misspoken. Accidents will happen. Betrayal will likely mark your life at some point. Trust will be broken.

Yet this doesn’t keep us from longing for satisfying earthly relationships where we are loved, appreciated, cared for, remembered, acknowledged and received. In some cases, we will experience these gifts, but often only when both people in the relationship are striving to the Cross with a commitment to live consistently with [God’s Word]. Yet this doesn’t preclude challenges and offenses. What it does mean is that reconciliation is possible through humility and forgiveness.

The challenges we face in our sin-effected relationships have much to do with our unrealistic expectations. We turn to fallen human beings to love us with God-sized ability. Instead, we need to turn to God for His fulfilling love, and turn to others in grace receiving whatever they have to offer.

Is this hard to do? Yes! It takes time and maturity, often, to recognize God’s tangible love and to feel His physical presence n our lives. This experience of His love often comes through a shift in perspective, drawn from a willingness to live according to the Word rather than emotions or feelings. It is really a matter of focus, setting your mind and heart on the things of God and His economy principles while releasing family, friends and others from filling the God-sized hole in your heart.

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. Galatians 6.1-3 MSG

TRUTH #5: Correct

We can improve our relationships by correcting our thinking as we implement boundaries and apply the instructions found in the World.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Romans 12.2 NLT

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the lord forgave you.  Colossians 3.13 NLT

We established the fact that we crave relationships because that is how we were designed. We’ve also acknowledged that God’s perfect design has been marked by sin. So where does that leave us in terms of navigating through all the relationships we will have in our lifetime?

  1. Consider your reality
    Healthy relationships are grown through healthy thinking because our thoughts determine how we feel and how we feel determines how we act and respond. Therefore, the first step in moving forward is to take an inventory, or sorts, looking at the type of relationships you have in your life and assessing where they stand in terms of emotional and spiritual health.
    ~ Consider how you interact with your family and friends and evaluate if they are marked by signs of love, respect, consideration and honor. Or do you see signs of mistrust, disrespect, unforgiveness and/or betrayal?
    ~ Also look at your own heart. Consider what you are looking for in terms of friendship and family commitment. Ask yourself if you are seeking to have your emotional needs met in an unhealthy way.
    Once you get a sense of what your relationships look like and what needs you are longing to have met, seek out the Lord in prayer and give it all to Him. You might also need to take a bold step in trusting a godly mentor with your struggles or even make an appointment to talk with a Christian counselor. Relationship issues are tough and multi-layered and often require the help of a trustworthy adult or professional to move forward.
  2. Implement boundaries
    Proverbs 4.23 teaches that we must guard our hearts for it is the well spring of our life. This means we not only need to be aware of the reality of our relationships and emotional/spiritual needs, but we need to put boundaries in place to protect our hearts from unnecessary pain. It is not wrong to put some physical space and time limitations in place for relationships that are a negative influence on you, especially if these relationships exist outside your family unit. In the same way, a fence marks off a piece of property and a lock on a front door prevents intruders, you life – spiritual, emotional, and physical – needs to have clear boundaries in place for your own protection. [I’m beginning to understand this all too well.]
  3. Apply the Word
    Ultimately, our relationships will change if our thinking about how to engage with others comes from the instructions found in Scripture. The Word is loaded with practical directions on how to cultivate healthy relationships. The letters written by Paul to the churches (Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians) are steeped in practical application for he was speaking to the body of Christ facing the challenge of living in community together. He urges the believers to be forgiving, compassionate and patient with one another. James is also a great portion of Scripture filled with insights on how to press on together in a trial, manager anger and listen attentively.

Relationships are hard but they are also worth the effort. [Very true…]

God designed us one for another, and most importantly, to be in a relationship with Him through faith in Jesus.

By getting right with God first and lining up your thinking with His Truth, you’ll have the ability to navigate relationships with grace and humility. When your relationship with the Lord is in a healthy place, your other relationships will have a whole new purpose, potential and perspective. Challenges will come, but with correct thinking, you’ll be able to solve issues with a measure of peace and grace. And most importantly, in Christ, you’ll be able to walk the path of forgiveness because you have been forgiven.

Relationships are worth it. Put in the time and energy to learn how to do it God’s way. You’ll not be disappointed, especially as you see Him transform your life from the inside out.

For further study…
Genesis 1.26, 28 NLT
Deuteronomy 6.4
Matthew 28.19
Romans 3.21-26 CEV
Ephesians 1.3-14 MSG
Ephesians 5.5-33 NLT
Genesis 2.18, 21-24 NLT
James 1.19-25
Romans 12.5-10 MSG
Matthew 22.37-39 CEV
1 Corinthians 13 MSG
Ephesians 4.31-32 MSG
2 Corinthians 12.15-16 NIV/NLT
Colossians 3
2 Corinthians 10.3-5 NIV
Micah 6.8
John 7.38
Philippians 1.9
1 Thessalonians 3.3

**Copyright: @2012 all rights reserved by elisa pulliam |www.moretobe.com | more@moretobe.com Experiencing Life: Transformed