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Well, I learned something today. Apparently my son already knows about the birds and the bees. And I’ve just been schooled on exactly how I ended up with my children.

Virgil: Mom, did you know that we are your presents?

Me: Yes, I did! You are a gift from God!

Virgil: Yes! God wrapped us up in pretty boxes and He put ribbons on them. And then he gave the boxes to Jesus and Jesus got in his car and brought us to you!

Me: You know son, you’re absolutely right!

Lesson: learned. Whew. I’m glad that talk is out of the way…

I hear this a lot these days: “I can love Jesus without going to church.”

I suppose you can. But you won’t get very far.

If you’re one of those people, don’t tune out. There’s something you need to hear.

When I was in college, I saw a tshirt that said, “Jesus is not a religion.” I loved it. I thought it was so perfect. That’s right, Jesus not a religion! What a revolutionary thought!! It was that mindset that set me down the path to the version of Christian “spirituality” I sported for many years.

I loved to say that I loved Jesus, I just wasn’t sure about some of His followers. I loved saying I wasn’t “Christian,” I was “spiritual.” I loved feeling like I was on the fringe. I loved feeling like I was on to something revolutionary.

All I was really on was a watered-down, self-help, “Christianized” version of hedonism. If you’re unfamiliar, hedonism is the religion of self. It is the concept that if it feels good, do it. It is based on the idea that we shouldn’t be discomforted, we shouldn’t have pain, we shouldn’t have to be uncomfortable in life.

Of course, this is a great idea except for the reality that we’re usually discomforted, usually have pain, usually uncomfortable in life. It’s a fact of life. Life stinks. Things are hard. People hurt us. We get sick. We lose things. We lose people. We lose everything. It’s the way of the world. Don’t believe me? Please show me what rock you’re under – I’d love to know what it’s like to live life without problems.

No, life is painful and things happen. But that doesn’t mean we have to live in misery. See, I think the spiritualized version of Jesus was rooted in the right idea. Jesus wants us to live a blessed life. He TELLS us not to worry. He tells us to trust in God and cast our cares at His throne. So shouldn’t that mean that life should be good?

Well, yes and no. You see, the truth is, when you really know what it means to have Jesus in your life, it’s not that you don’t have the problems, it’s that you know the problem-solver. It’s not that you don’t have the pain, it’s that you know the doctor. It’s not that you don’t lose things, it’s that you know the Guy who has (and made) IT ALL. And you trust Him for it. Daily. Hourly. Minute-by-minute you choose to trust. That takes training. That takes discipline – more discipline than I have on my own, I’m afraid. I NEED encouragement to keep that up. I need people around me encouraging me just by the fact that they love Him, too.

The blessed life is NOT void of problems. It’s just a life that trusts those problems to our loving Father.

How can we do that when we’re not learning about Him? How can we trust Him when we’re not getting to know Him more everyday? How can we do that if our preconceived notions aren’t challenged?

I’ve heard people say that they can love God without going to church. Yes, you can. But you won’t get to know Him very well without a little guidance. I’ve heard some say that’s what the Bible is for. That is absolutely right. The Bible is our SOURCE for the voice of God, the truth of who He is, and His Will for our lives.

But I don’t know a single person on planet earth who knows everything there is to know about the Bible perfectly.

I don’t know anyone who has it all figured out. Not a pastor, not a theologian, not even Billy Graham himself. We’re human. We all interpret things erroneously from time to time. We all view the Bible through a bias, whether we admit it not. That’s why we NEED each other. That’s why God DESIGNED us for community. That’s why He CREATED the church.

Iron sharpens iron. It’s that simple. If we become Christian recluses, we are putting ourselves in danger of creating our own religion. We are putting ourselves in the path of the enemy. Without help, without accountability, without the edification of believers around us, we CAN’T GROW IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH. Yes, we can grow. Yes, we can love the Lord. But without help, we WILL misinterpret the Lord. We WILL create our own theologies. I see it all the time. Friends, family, acquaintances – all around me, I see people who have formed their own version of Christian “spirituality.” Maybe it’s based around politics. Maybe it’s based around self-help “Oprah-isms.” Maybe it’s based on their pain and hurts. Maybe it’s based on bad theology. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. But it’s NOT the heart of the Father. And it’s causing them to wonder why they’re not experiencing that “peace that passes understanding.”

The truth is, the enemy does NOT want us in the House of God. He does NOT want us to experience a community of believers who are all in the same pursuit. He does NOT want us to grow in the Lord. He does NOT want us to be challenged in our faith so that we grow in the knowledge of the Father. He does NOT want us to be encouraged by someone who has been where we’ve been. He does NOT want us to encourage someone else with our story.

All I know is, knowing that the devil doesn’t want those things for me only makes me want them more. And the more I’ve immersed myself in the church, the more blessed I’ve been. I’ve seen Jesus in a friend who opened herself up to tell her story of a wayward sister. I’ve seen Jesus in a pastor as he told his story of a past he regrets. I’ve seen Jesus in an acquaintance as she told her story of redemption with more power in the tips of her fingers than I have in my whole being. I’ve seen Jesus in the broken. I’ve seen Jesus in the joyful. I’ve felt Jesus in the music. I’ve felt Jesus just being in the presence of others who are feeling Him too.

It’s (and I hate to use this word) almost magical, this thing we call church. It’s miraculous. That’s what it is. To be gathered with a body of believers, lifting up the name of Jesus, every knee bowing, every tongue confessing, is a blessing beyond words. And if you’re not there, you’re MISSING IT. Stop robbing yourself. Stop making excuses.

I’ve heard it all.

“I don’t like the way my pastor preaches.”

“I don’t like the worship style.”

“I don’t like that there’s no Sunday School.”

“I don’t like that there is Sunday School.”

“I don’t feel comfortable in crowds.”

“I don’t have time.”

“I’m tired.”

“I don’t like Christians.”

You can make up a thousand excuses to NOT be there. But what’s your excuse for your soul? If you’re as desperate for the Father as I am, if you want His presence, His miracles, His blessings as much as I do, what’s stopping you?

The truth is, no one is stopping you but you.

Go to church. You deserve it!

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.

boldhumility-01

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.)