It has been a busy season of life, to say the least. Between kiddos, husband, family, work, worship, church groups, songwriting, and trying to do all of that while keeping the house from looking like a disaster area, I am little tired. Okay, really tired.

I used to never take naps because I knew that if I napped, I wouldn’t sleep that night. The other day, I took two long naps and STILL slept like a baby that night. Now THAT is what I call a sabbath. It was bliss. But it showed me just how tired I really am.

In the midst of the busyness of life, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. I find myself a little shorter on patience, a little quicker to get upset, a little less “graceful” than I fancy myself to be. I was getting frustrated and upset at who I saw myself becoming. And of course, that little crack in the door meant the enemy came sneaking in with thoughts like this:

You’re not a very good mother.

You’re not cut out for all of this.

God is not honored by all of this.

God is disappointed in your choices.

He’s good at his job, that one. He knows exactly what to say to push my buttons and make me feel like a failure at something I’m already in the midst of accomplishing. He is really good at finding cracks and sticking his toes in them.

I’ve heard it said that “What the enemy cannot prevent, he perverts.”

Truth. He’s not preventing me from doing what the Lord has called me to, so he’s trying his best to pervert it.

Last night I was thinking and praying about all of this. I am only doing things I know the Lord has called me to do. But I’m still tired. I’ve prioritized. I’ve eliminated. I’ve trusted. I’ve obeyed. I’ve prayed. But I’m still tired. What can I do?

And, just like He always does, He led me right to exactly what I needed. I opened the most recent issue of Studio G (the women’s magazine by Gateway Church) and came across an article about mental health and how we need to not only do good things for our bodies, but most importantly our minds. It recommended choosing a few scriptures that speak specifically to things we’re struggling with or wanting to conquer, memorizing them, and focusing on them everyday.

So I did.

The two scriptures the Lord led me to are Psalm 91:9-10 and Psalm 103:1-2. I guess He led me to them because I love David so much. I relate to that guy – a genuine lover of the Lord who just keeps messing up; a guy who cries out to the Lord in genuine angst and always returns to trusting Him despite a lack of understanding. I get that.

So I’m memorizing these scriptures. I’m speaking them over myself. I’m reminding myself that the work of the Lord might be tiring or overwhelming at times, but it’s always worth it. And it’s not ever going to be too much if I’m doing it at His pace, in His Will, and with His guidance.

Onward, I march.

Let all that I am praise the lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. (Psalms 103:1, 2 NLT)

If you make the lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. (Psalms 91:9, 10 NLT)

Is it just me or does your inner self ever ask questions like this?

“But I thought as a Christian, I wouldn’t have any problems…?”

“Why am I still struggling? Shouldn’t faith eliminate the struggle?”

“I thought Jesus would get rid of my problems. Is there something wrong with me?”

Maybe you don’t literally ask yourself those questions. But maybe it silently nags at you from time to time. Maybe you, like me, find yourself beating yourself up when things aren’t as easy as you felt they should have been. Maybe you are your own worst enemy. I know I am.

My pastor mentioned recently that most people think the Promised Land is a symbol of Heaven. But he clarified: it’s not a symbol of Heaven, it’s a symbol of the Blessed Life. There are still enemies in the Promised Land. There are no enemies in Heaven.

What does that have to do with the price of eggs?

Well, for me, it made something click.

The Blessed Life is not a life devoid of problems, devoid of attacks, devoid of enemies, devoid of THE enemy. The Blessed Life is the life that knows, believes, serves, trusts, and walks side by side the One who has already defeated the enemy.

Sweet.

I think, especially in American culture, we get this idea that we’re not supposed to face hardships. We live in a mindset that we’re not supposed to get sick, we’re not supposed to fail, we’re not supposed to face difficulties, and that if we face any of those things, we need find a way to eliminate them as soon as possible.

But when you read the Word you find out very quickly that it’s hardships, trials, difficulties, attacks, and more that bring us to an understanding of our need for redemption. So maybe instead of looking at our life as a series of bumps in the road that should never have been there, perhaps we could start looking at our experiences as opportunities to get to know the character, heart, and love of God the Father a little better. Perhaps we, like James, could take to heart this notion:

Dear brothers and sisters,  when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. ~James 1:2-4

Think about David and Saul. Saul was DEAD SET against letting David fulfill his destiny. He was absolutely terrified that someone like David should become king and he was bound and determined to keep that from happening. It drove him mad. He chased David around like a lion hunts a gazelle. David had to go into hiding to keep Saul from killing him. David was on the run.

At any point, David could have stopped Saul in his tracks, killed him on the spot, and justified his actions as self defense. He probably would have gotten away with it, too. But he didn’t. He remained humble. He decided to trust God and not take matters into his own hands. And in the end, Saul killed himself as a coward. His obsession against David drove him to madness. And David rose to his destiny without ever having to fix the Saul problem.

Maybe we could take a lesson from David. Maybe instead of trying to eliminate problems from our lives constantly we could instead recognize the merit in learning a little patience, a little endurance, a little long-suffering. Maybe we could use difficulties as a chance to get to know what God is trying to do instead of trying to keep our lives problem-free.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take medicine when we’re sick or ask forgiveness from our family or friends that we’ve wronged. Certainly problems come with a level of responsibility on our part. But maybe it’s time we entertain the notion that the responsibility is not to fix the problem, but to do our part to live in right-standing with God, seek His face and counsel in all things, and trust Him to take care of the rest.

I think we all know that even when we do try to “fix” things, we rarely succeed. Maybe it’s a sign to stop trying. Maybe it’s time to stop trying to dodge bullets and instead put on the full armor of God. Maybe it’s time we stop asking God to keep things from happening to us and instead ask God to show us what we are supposed to learn from our difficulties.

And maybe, just maybe, we can learn to live by faith, not by attempted difficulty prevention.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. ~Ephesians 6:10-18

Oh man, I LOVE that passage.

jesuskeepsdisappointingme

I have a question today. It’s simple, really. But I’ve been pondering it a lot lately.

Do you love Jesus?

Do I love Jesus?

To clarify, in the context of this post, this is not a question for non-believers. Certainly if you don’t believe in your need for Jesus, if you’re not a believer, I am praying that your eyes will be opened. Certainly if you don’t have Jesus, you need Him. But that’s for another post.

Today’s question is for believers – do we love Jesus?

I’m not asking this question as some sort of ploy to get us all to question our salvation. The Word is clear that salvation is eternal.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,  neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

~Romans 8:38-39

No, I’m asking this question because I have realized that there is a distinction between loving Jesus and loving what He does for us. Certainly we believers love what He does for us. We love His joy, His blessings, His peace, His love. We could (and do) go on and on about what He did for us. And there is nothing wrong with this. We should. We should count our blessings daily. We should remain eternally grateful for the gifts of the Father.

But is that all we love about Him? Are we so focused on what we’re getting out of the relationship that we’re neglecting what we should be giving? Love is a two-way street, after all. Do I love Jesus for Jesus? Or do I love Jesus for His gifts? Do I love Him for loving me? Or do I love Him for what I could potentially benefit from knowing Him?

Maybe it’s a distinction you’ve never pondered. But it’s beginning to dawn on me that it’s a pretty significant distinction.

Let’s take this into the context of marriage. If all I ever expect from my spouse is his service to me, his devotion to me, if all I ever ask is that he fix my problems, be my rock, forgive me every time I fail, be my shoulder to cry on, how long is my marriage going to last? Love is reciprocal, after all. It can’t be one way or eventually it will be no way. A marriage that has one side always receiving without ever giving is a marriage that is doomed to die.

So what does that say about our walk with Christ? Are we always praying for Him to fix things? Heal things? Give us things? Make things better? Bless things?

Certainly we should pray for those things. Certainly our faith is in part knowing that He is the fixer, the healer, the giver, the blesser. But if that’s all it is, I fear it’s doomed to die. I fear that if we remain a one-sided, self-centered lover of what Jesus does, we’ll never ever see those blessings for which we beg come to fruition.

So what is our responsibility then? I believe it starts with loving Jesus for WHO He is not WHAT He does. After all, a life committed to Him will only remain committed if lived in the understanding of His great love, His great character. Commitment to “getting” will turn up fruitless in the end.

No, not because God is a childish god who folds his arms across his chest and pouts at our selfishness, but because God is a god who wants our genuine affection. That’s why He’s gentle to never bully His way into our hearts. That’s why He’s careful to never force anything upon us, especially devotion. That’s why He gave us free will – so that we would freely and genuinely choose to love and serve Him. If it’s not real, He’s not interested.

So if we’re not loving Him, but instead loving His benefits, do we really love Him at all?

In my own life, I’ve been learning this in a big way. I’m learning that devotion to Christ requires sacrifice. No, not for my salvation. That’s free. But if I’m following Christ expecting blessing, healing, fixing, comfort, peace, prosperity, and on and on, and I’m not doing my part to bring those things about, I’m basically a beggar with my hands out, standing at the throne of the Ancient of Days saying, “Give me. Give me. Give me.”

No, we approach the throne of grace with thanksgiving, praise and adoration. If we try to skip over the adoration part and head straight to the blessings, we will remain sorely disappointed.

I fear that’s one of the biggest problems with believers today. We want the benefits of God without falling in love with Him first. It would be like our one-sided marriage: the wife wanted love and affection from her husband without ever giving it to him in return. Where’s the joy in that? Where’s the favor? It won’t come. It will remain lost.

So I ask myself today, do I love Jesus or do I love what He does for me? Do I love Him for who He is or for what I am praying He will do for me? What about you?

If in your life of faith, you keep (perhaps secretly) feeling like Jesus is disappointing you, perhaps it’s time to take an inventory of your heart. Are you taking the time to read His Word, learn who He is and fall desperately in love with Him? Or are you standing before Him, asking for a daily handout?

The distinction is the difference between the Blessed Life and the disappointed life.

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Bold humility. Humble boldness. No matter how you word it, those two words don’t go together. They are counter-intuitive. One should cancel out the other.

To the world, that is.

But I’ve learned something pretty profound about God as I’ve walked with Him – He’s all about surprising us with opposite, counter-intuitive, seemingly impossible thinking.

When we say, “Stay. It’s not going to work,” He says, “Go. I’ve got this.”

When we think it’s crazy, He says it’s His plan.

When the world says, “Your life has to look a certain way,” God says, “Let me show you what real life (joy, peace, grace) looks like.”

I’ve learned this in little lessons all along the way, but never so big or so profound as I have lately. God is trying to get my attention. Scratch that. God IS getting my attention. He has been showing me that following Him, TRULY following Him, means laying aside droves of preconceived notions, false identities, and failed theories. It means having both boldness and humility at the same time. No, not boldness to trust myself – boldness to trust Him. And humility to know that He is worth trusting.

That’s what I’m learning right now. If faith is really going to be faith, it is going to require action – crazy action. It’s going to require defying pre-defined parameters the world has set for us. It’s going to mean getting kicked around by nay-sayers now and then. It’s going to mean questioning yourself. A LOT.

But I’m learning too that faith, following God blindly, at all costs, also means freedom! It also means joy! It also means reckless abandon! It means being liberated from fear. Fear of ourselves, fear of others, fear of failure, fear of fitting in. It means trusting, no KNOWING that God is who He says He is and everything else is just minutiae. It’s fun! I’m learning to love watching the reactions of those around me when I tell them about my life as of late. Some look at me with a blank stare. Others are quick to say, “Oh that’s great, yeah,” in a feeble attempt to hide their discomfort. Others stop and ponder, poising themselves to offer advice. Some of the advice is worth taking. Other advice goes right into the round file…

Whatever the case, I know this one thing for certain: I’m not trusting me anymore, I’m trusting God. I’m going to approach the throne of grace with a smile on my face and say, “God, whatever you want. Lead me. I’m yours.”

Not because I want to prove anything to anyone. Not because I want to fit into a Christian crowd of elites. Not because I think I’m better for doing so. No – because I know that on my own, I’ve tried and failed over and over again. On my own I’ve made up solution after solution for problem after problem – and they have each failed miserably. On my own, I’ve done nothing but make things worse. But with Him, all things are possible. With Him, I can see light again. With Him, I can rest, trust, breathe, for goodness sake!

So I’ll be bold. Bold to trust this God I claim to serve. And humble to kneel at His feet and say that He and He alone is the author and perfecter of my faith.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the lord ’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.
Hebrews 12:1-13

wedding_stacy

Above: Stacy (left) with her beautiful daughter (right) with my husband on our wedding day

It was five years ago today. We lost a friend that was one of the most selfless, kind, truly honest persons I’ve ever met. Her name was Stacy. She was a wife, a mother, a friend, a lover of Jesus. And to me, she was a rock. I miss her every time I have a funny story to tell. I think of her every time I pass by the places we frequented together. I miss her every time something happens in my life – my children she never met, the crises of faith that I would have shared with her. You see, Stacy was one of those people that would tell you like it is and somehow make you feel better in the process. She had a way about her that was one of a kind, and she was truly my best friend.

I learned at her funeral that I was one of many, many who felt this way about her. And that’s why I know that this song will encourage anyone who knew her. But it is also meant to encourage anyone who has lost someone or something they weren’t supposed to. You see, sometimes life throws us a curve ball. But a blessed life is not a life void of problems, or trials, or losses. It is a life that faces whatever comes with faith in the God who makes all things new, brings hope to all loss, and life to dead places. A blessed life is a life that just keeps believing, somehow.

So on this, the five-year anniversary of the loss of a dear friend to so very many, I would like to share the song I wrote for her the day she passed. Let it encourage you, lift you up, and remind you that life is precious.

We miss you, Stacy.

Song

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Devotional

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unexpectedturns
When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. For, “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.
I Corinthians 2: 13-16

My family, namely my husband and I, have been challenged as of late to take what some might call drastic steps of faith. In our pursuit of all that the Lord would call us to do, it has become evident that it’s time get every aspect of our lives in line with the Word of God. And the main aspect in our lives that’s lacking is our finances.

I read the book The Blessed Life by my pastor, Robert Morris, two years ago. I read it and wanted to live what it talks about. The book is a life-changing revelation of what it’s like to live with reckless faith. And so my husband and I decided to start tithing faithfully, the full ten percent, not just whatever we could scrounge up as we had made a habit of doing. It has been a blessing to see God’s right hand of provision on us since we made that decision. Bills that shouldn’t have gotten paid got paid. Checks we weren’t expecting came. Clients I never dreamed of called me up. Blessing has piled upon blessing and we both know that it’s because of our obedience to the scriptures when it comes to tithing.

But despite all our blessings, we just couldn’t seem to get ahead financially. We always seemed to be “just making it.” Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I expected, by tithing, to become rich and worry free. That’s not what I expected at all. But I also thought that things would get a little better, somehow, in regard to our finances. I puzzled over the situation for months, never really expressing to my husband just how confused I was about it. So I decided to pick the book back up again and see if I had missed anything.

And then it hit me.

The Blessed Life lines up steps we, as Christians, need to take regarding our finances in order to get them in line with the Word of God and in line for abundant blessings. The first step is to get out of debt. When I read that, I thought, “Well, we’ll just pay minimum payments and get out of debt the slow way. But we’ll stop using credit cards.” And we did. We stopped using them. And we were faithful to make the minimum payments. But if you have a credit card, you know that minimum payments take about 10,000 years to pay off even a tiny amount of debt. They do that on purpose, so that they can get as much interest from you as possible. (Two thousand dollars of debt and it only costs $25/month? Sweet!)

What I failed to consider was that by taking the “easy” way out, I was really taking the long, hard, beating of way out. While I watched others who sacrificially laid their finances at the throne become financially free and blessed, I wondered why we were still “slaves to the lender.”

That’s when I asked God to open my eyes to what I was missing. And He did. By his Grace, He did. He challenged me to stop looking at our life the way I thought it was “supposed to look.” You know the way – get married, get a house, get nice cars, have cute kids, trade in your cars for nicer cars, trade in your house for a bigger one. Look like the Joneses. Keep up with them, at all costs. That’s the path we thought we wanted, too. So when God challenged me to throw that idea away, I fought Him for a while.

“What, you mean, do something drastic to get rid of debt? Like what? Get rid of a car?”

But that wasn’t drastic enough.

“Move into a tiny apartment?”

But that wasn’t drastic enough, either.

“Live in a box on the street corner?”

I was just getting snippy by that point.

“What if we moved in with someone?…”

That was it. But I was absolutely mortified to bring it up to my husband. I just knew he was going to laugh in my face. Or look at me like I’d lost my mind. But instead, to my utter shock, when I suggested it, he actually stopped, pondered, and didn’t say a word for a minute or two. That’s when I knew he was truly considering it. When he came back and said he agreed that it was probably the best idea, I couldn’t believe it. I mean, utterly couldn’t believe it. It was then that I knew it had to be God’s idea. So then I had the task of mentioning it to my parents. I decided to go for the joking route.

“I’m tired of paying minimum payments on credit cards and not having any money to help anyone else or do ANYTHING else. Maybe we’ll just move in with you guys. Heh.” *wink, wink* *nod, nod*

“Well come on over!” was my mother’s reaction.

Wait, what? Is this real life?

Yes, this is real life when God orchestrates the movements. So here we are, about to move in with my parents for a season while we get completely debt-free. Let me tell you, I understand that scripture I posted at the top in a way I never would have before. We have had all manner of crazy looks, protests, questions, and downright rudeness when we tell people what we’re doing.

“Why would you EVER move in with her parents?”

“Are you giving to the church and LOSING YOUR HOUSE? STOP GIVING TO THE CHURCH!!!”

“Are you crazy? You can’t do that! You’ll ruin your life! You’ll ruin your marriage!”

But you see, we know that while it will certainly present its own set of challenges, the choice we’ve made to do something radical about our situation is completely and totally God’s plan for our lives. And because of that faith, we’re not scared. In fact, truth be told, we’re both excited. We can’t wait to see what’s waiting for us on the other side of this step of faith. We can’t wait to see what God does with our willing hearts. And we can’t wait to bless others the way we’ve been blessed.

If I’ve learned anything about living by faith it’s that you have to expect the unexpected. You have to let go of preconceived notions, you certainly have to let go of your ideas on life, and you have to run with full abandon towards what you know God is telling you. Sometimes it’s weird. Sometimes it’s crazy. Sometimes it’s hard. But always it’s amazing. Always it’s a blessing.

So that’s what my family is doing. We’re running with full speed towards the prize, the blessing that is living by faith. We’re diving in, not sticking our toes in, to the blessed life. And we aren’t looking back. This will be our year of Jubilee!

If you feel like God is telling you to do something, maybe even something challenging or crazy, what’s stopping you? Is it fear of failure? Is it fear that it might not be God’s voice? Is it fear of what others will think of you for doing it?

Let go of those fears and press forward. Keep your eyes on Him, not the naysayers or the potential failures. Never forget that if God is opening the door, He will light the path. Never forget that if you’re not going the right direction, He will stop you in your tracks. Read the Bible and trust. Do what it says. Dive in. All in. And let’s live this Blessed Life with reckless abandon!

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. Proverbs 22:7

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:14

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6

Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. I Corinthians 3:8

And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ Luke 19:17

God is interested in building His Kingdom. That’s why He is going to entrust funds to people who are proving to Him that they will be good stewards with those funds – giving when God tells them to give. They won’t squander their resources on useless things – they’ll budget their money and be accountable. They will also be good stewards of their time, relationships, and talents. This is the message in the parable of the minas. Jesus makes a similar point in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25). God gives talents to each of us according to our ability, and He expects us to use those talents for Him and for His Kingdom purposes. We will never see God’s miraculous power given to poor stewards!
-Excerpt from The Blessed Life by Robert Morris

(If you haven’t read The Blessed Life yet, do yourself a favor and read it. Go get it. Today.)