The “Good” Gap: Believing in the Goodness of God

A couple weeks ago my husband and I decided to watch The Shack by William P. Young. The book was captivating and beautiful, so I couldn’t wait to see it. As my husband made popcorn, I decided check out the bonus material. It began with Young talking about how the book came to be a movie and the impact it has had. I was crying before the movie even started. And, of course, I sobbed through the whole thing.

This beautifully written book and movie profoundly illustrates our misunderstanding of God’s character. In the story, “Papa,” or God, says that many people don’t believe He is good.

I have often looked at the many lukewarm Christians in American churches and wondered, how are they not in love with Jesus Christ? To know Him is to truly adore Him. So, what is missing?

Most Christians believe there is a God who created everything and revealed Himself in scripture. They believe that God hears our prayers and occasionally performs miracles. They don’t have to be convinced of that.

While not fully understanding, they know and have heard that He loves them. The concept of love is elusive, though. It is the most overused word in the English language and therefore, has lost its meaning. However, they still know that God loves us.

We hear preaching about our guilt as human beings and the grace we have been freely given. We know that God sent his son to die for us and by the blood of Jesus we have been saved. Most of us are familiar with the idea of grace and know the gospel story well.

To some in the church, their idea of God might look like this.

God created → God loves → we were Guilty → God saved → end of story

Each one of these statements are true and important elements of God’s story. But something is missing.

Being in love with someone does not come from head knowledge alone, it also comes from the heart. What is the missing piece? What is keeping so many Christians from radically falling in love with Jesus Christ?

We may believe in Him. We may believe that He is all powerful and all knowing and created our world. But, do we believe that He is good? The gap between being a lukewarm Christian and radically following Christ exists when we don’t believe that He is good.

Knowing that God is good is everything. Most of the people I know that are radically following Christ use the phrase, “God is good.” God is ALL good in ALL things at ALL times and gives peace and hope to an otherwise hopeless world.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. Psalm 107:1

For our faith to be radical, to be sold out Christ, we need to get to the “God is good” part.

God created → God loves → we were Guilty → God saved → GOD IS GOOD

Who is God to me?

God is loving, merciful, forgiving, and the great comforter.

I could say that He is loving and merciful, but that leaves out His great compassion.
I could say that He is kind and forgiving, but that leaves out His faithfulness.
I could say that He is strong and powerful, but that leaves out that He is perfect peace.

God is just so many things. One could say He is everything!

In other words . . . . . He is soooo good! Saying that God is good encompasses everything about His character. All the things of God fall underneath the umbrella of His “goodness.”

So, if your faith seems stale. If you can’t muster up the passion for Jesus that others seem to be able to. Focus on His goodness. Meditate on it. Pray that God would reveal His goodness to you. Everything He has for you is good. Everything He has for you is better than anything in this world.

If you’ve wondered where I’ve been over the last month and a half, why the blog has been radio silent, it’s because I’ve had my own dark path to navigate. My own cold and rough ” green mile” to traverse. However, I have been led by the promises of God’s goodness. His love and mercy illuminated my path. Hope told me that what’s on the other side is good, even better than before. And I trust in a God that has never left my side. I trust in a God that is good.

The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all he has made. Psalm 145:9

The good He has for you may be packaged in trials. His good for you may be on a rough road or walking through the valley of the shadow of death. His good for you might be facing piles of pain that you have carried your entire life. However, the road of His goodness, regardless of how messy or dark, leads to freedom. There is nothing better in this life than freedom. And true freedom only comes through one source, Jesus Christ.

 

My Thanksgiving Resolution; WWJD

I am not big on New Year’s resolutions. I figure, if I want to better myself, why wait until January 1st? Why not not better myself on March 1st, August 24th, or today for that matter?

“But, it’s only Thanksgiving,” you may say. I know that it isn’t officially time for resolutions, but bare with me.

When pride isn’t blocking my view, the Holy Spirit convicts me of the many offensive ways in me.

As I pray the scripture, “See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” (Psalm 139:24) He promptly obliges. There is no shortage of material in that regard.

However, I choose to change on the Holy Spirit’s terms, not the world’s. Therefore, my resolution needs to start now, right before Thanksgiving. So, here it goes . . . .

I resolve not to be bitter this Christmas season. I resolve not to have a spirit of anger or judgment. I will not be snarky or walk around with a self righteous attitude. I resolve to shine with the kindness, love, and grace of Jesus Christ this Christmas season.

This is a tough one for me.

Each year I grow more annoyed with Christmas. Sometime in October, the soft, subtle sounds of jingle bells can be heard somewhere in the distance. And, once those jingle bells start ringing, we all go a little nuts.

I don’t have the shopping gene. There isn’t anything I would rather do less than go to a shopping mall. Especially in November and December.

I have nightmares of shiny and sparkly things. The scents of holly berries, apple crisp, Pumpkin spice, Christmas Cookies, and Balsam & Cedar candles mix into a nauseating odor. How do they know what Christmas Eve smells like anyway? Or Home Sweet Home? Or Sparkling Snow?

I dread being asked the question, “Do you have your Christmas shopping done?” With it comes pressure, so much pressure!

We are victims of Christmas. We are doomed to suffer; doomed to shop incessantly; doomed to bake candies and cookies unceasingly; and doomed to endlessly decorate our homes. We are gerbils spinning in our wheel, getting nowhere. Using up our usefulness on useless things.

It just seems like this is the season to celebrate anything and everything except Jesus Christ.

Okay, now it is out of my system. Whew! Sometimes changing starts with purging.

From now henceforth I resolve to see the best in people, not the worst. I resolve to show girl-prayingthe kindness and love of Christ no matter what goes on around me. And, I resolve to carry thankfulness in my pocket long after the leftover turkey is gone.

Why?

God has been so good to me. But more than that, it’s because God has given me life when I deserved death. How could I ever stop being thankful for that?

According to Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, The Armor of God, “Trust fuels thanksgiving and thanksgiving activates peace.”

Trust is a choice. Having an attitude of thankfulness is a choice. And peace is our reward.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Colossians 3:15

Do I trust God regardless of my circumstances or feelings? Will I choose to be thankful among the chaos of the Christmas season and the seeming pagan worship?

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.  Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NKJV)

Jesus Christ is Lord and He has overcome the world. Even though everyone gets a little wacky at Christmastime, nothing has changed. God will be worshiped, and He will be victorious.

A tiny baby was born in Bethlehem who came to save the world. And, He did!

Our mission as followers of Christ does not change because we feel we have the right to be bitter and angry. Some of the callous ways that people treat Christmas feel like a slap in the face. However, we are told to turn the other cheek.

Let’s not be offended at something that is not an offense to us. The offense is to Jesus and He isn’t worried about it. In the face of insult, He responds with love, kindness, and grace. If He can do that, then so can I.

We must trust God with everything we have. We must be thankful always, everyday and in every way. And if we do these things, we will have peace this Christmas season.

The road to peace is paved with thankfulness.

Thank you so much for reading my blog post!

Joy in the Knowing

Pops of joy. Bursts of light. A rush of excitement that travels up and down my spine. Moments of hope. Reminders of redeeming grace.

Moments of complete satisfaction come, accompanied by joy. Moments of pure light. Moments of the precious presence of the Father. But they are only moments. They quickly fade like the evening sun.

What does stick around, however, is the cold, hard, reality of life.

If our joy is honest joy, it must somehow be congruous with human tragedy. This is the test of joy’s integrity: is it compatible with pain? . . . Only the heart that hurts has a right to joy.  ~Lewis Smedes

Joy was the topic in a sermon series about the fruit of the spirit at my church.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  Galatians 5:22-23

Everything about the Gospel is about love. And we are instructed to love above all else. Of course it is first. Love is central to our faith.

I find it interesting that joy is listed second. Why would joy be put in such an important position? I pondered the thought.

Recently in a conversation, I found myself saying that I wasn’t sure if I was capable of joy anymore. My life has been complicated and messy and I have experienced numerous losses. . . like most people have.

And, I don’t do joy very well. I never have.

So, I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to study joy.

We all know that we are supposed to rejoice in our suffering.

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope  Romans 5:3,4

And always be joyful.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Knowing my current state of joylessness led me to feeling guilty. I wasn’t feeling joyful. I wasn’t rejoicing in suffering. I wasn’t being obedient. Or, so I thought.

Not only was I not joyful, but I was in more turmoil because of the guilt. So, in the spirit of Yoda from Star Wars, study joy, I did.

What is joy anyway? How do I know that I am not being joyful?

What if most of us have a wrong understanding of joy? What if joy and happiness are not the same thing?

Happiness comes from the root word, “happening.” Therefore, happiness is based on what happens to us. Any number of things can make us happy. At least temporarily.

  • getting married
  • having a baby
  • fulfilling your calling in life
  • being successful

If I get a lot of likes on Facebook or Twitter, it makes me happy. Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks make me happy. Meeting a friend for coffee makes me happy. And, finishing writing my book will definitely make me happy!

Joy, on the other hand, is not the same as happiness. According to author Tim Hansel in his book, You Gotta Keep Dancin’,”happiness is a feeling, joy is an attitude.”

He goes on to say, “(joy is) . . . A posture. A position. A place.”

Wow. That hit me like a ton of bricks.

If joy is an attitude, what is my posture? What is my position? What is my place?

Joy is that deep settled confidence that God is in control of every area of my life. ~Paul Sailhamer

Like love, joy is not simply a feeling or an emotion. It is so much more. It is a choice.

In the Greek, joy is translated more specifically as gladness or delight.

And, according to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, delight means, a high degree of gratification of mind. In other words, satisfaction.

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  Psalm 37:4

Then there is this curious verse in Hebrews.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2

How could enduring the cross be considered joy?

One commentary I read said the word joy in this context is referring to the joy of Christ’s accomplished purpose and the glory with which He was crowned.

The joy that Christ is talking about could be His knowing. Knowing that He created a way for salvation; knowing that this one event offered hope to the world; knowing that God’s purposes were being fulfilled.

He wasn’t looking forward to the insults and mobs crying out for His death. He wasn’t looking forward to the flogging and the crown of thorns. He wasn’t looking forward to being hung on a cross.

But, it was the joy set before Him.

Could my joy be in the knowing? Could my joy be knowing that I have been given life when I deserve death? Could my joy be knowing that Christ has made a way for me? Could my joy be knowing that He is preparing a place for me in glory?

Joy is simple (not to be confused with easy). At any moment in life we have at least two options, and one of them is to choose an attitude of gratitude, a posture of grace, a commitment to joy.  ~You Gotta Keep Dancin’

Could it be that I am joyful? Could it be that I can take that off the list of things to beat myself up about?

I am filled with gladness and I do delight in the Lord. I am overwhelmed  with the magnitude of what was accomplished on the cross. I am immensely grateful for the redeeming power of grace that I have been freely given. And I feel the Holy Spirit working in me.

I know Him who saved me. Therefore, I have joy.

Do I feel happy and wonderful most of the time? No. Life is hard. God makes it clear in scripture that it will be. But, do I have joy? Maybe I do.

As a follower of Christ, I can see the big picture. God has given it to us in His Holy Word. And I know the joy that awaits me.

So maybe God put joy second on the list of the fruit of the spirit on purpose. Love and joy are the greatest gifts from the Father. Because if we know Him, we will have joy.

Joy is in the knowing.

Tension With A Good God

If I had to describe my relationship with God in two words, they would be love and tension.

God gives unfathomable love, grace, compassion, guidance, wisdom, and joy generously to those who love Him. He is beautiful, tender, and an awesome Father. All of which fall under the umbrella of His great love.

But, human as I am, I cannot deny the tension. My Father and I have such different natures. How can there not be tension?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  Isaiah 55:8

I was listening to the radio and a caller was talking about her son nearly missing a car accident because he forgot his keys. The few minutes it took to run back inside his house caused him to miss a car accident in his path. If he had left a few minutes earlier, he would have been right smack in the middle of it.

“God saved my son!” she said.

The radio host got excited and reciprocated with a story about someone she knew that escaped a tragedy by mere minutes. “God is good!” she said.

There is no doubt that God is good.

However, these types of statements make me uneasy. When people assert that God saved them from this or that, I start to squirm. Do we claim to know the will of God? How do we know what is good or bad?

We have to be careful about proclaiming blessings in anything and everything that happens. How would the statement that God saved this caller’s son sit with the parent of someone who was killed in that accident?

Also, there are near misses every day. In any given car accident, there are a handful of people involved. Yet, there are many more that are not.

Let’s say that there is a 5% chance that you will get in a car accident every time you get in your car. That would mean that there is a 95% chance that you won’t. Is God’s hand in each of the 95%? Or, does the world just run its course, and sometimes accidents happen?

Did God save all of those 95% because that was His will? Or, is it just that statistically, some people get in a car accident and some don’t?

Obviously God can do whatever He wants at any time. However, to say that His hand saves every single person that does not get in a car accident is a little presumptuous. Again, do we claim to know the will of God?

If you asked my kids they would tell you that when I say goodbye I am not really leaving. They know I will come back in at least once because I forgot something. It’s just one of the many joys of getting older! So when someone calls that a miracle, something I do daily, I squirm a little.

Tension.

At the same time I am very thankful every time I pass a car accident that I was not involved in. But, do I think that God orchestrates who is in every car accident and who isn’t? He certainly can. And, I think at times He does. But, I wouldn’t say that every time I avoid an accident, it’s because of God’s hand.

It’s entirely possible that more good could come out of it if I was in that car accident.

We cannot begin to understand the ripple effects of things happening in life. We cannot know what is ultimately good or bad. What we see as tragedy could trigger a set of events that could lead an entire nation to Christ. We don’t know.

Only God knows.

Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.  Psalm 139:4-6

A friend of mine’s daughter was in the middle of the attacks in Nice, France this past summer. She was not hurt and quickly got a flight home before they closed the airport.

Was I rejoicing with this relieved mother when her plane landed in the U.S.? Was I thanking God for protecting this precious child? I absolutely was! And if it were my child, I would have been on my knees praising God and thanking Him for keeping her safe.

But . . . 

What about those whose loved ones were not safe or protected?attacks-in-nice

At least eighty four people, many of them children, were killed on that fateful day in France.

How could God let children die so horrifically?

Tension.

As a Christian, one cannot ‘square’ everything to complete satisfaction. My pastor once said, “Life with God is about sitting in the tension of unanswered questions.”

Do I feel settled or ‘squared’ with my understanding of everything in scripture or in the world?
Am I OK with the suffering of children in the world?
Am I content with the scripture about women not being permitted to pastor/lead in the church?

No, I’m not. I am not squared. Not with a lot of things.

To be human is to experience tension with the world, AND tension with God.

We experience tension when our will conflicts with His. We feel tension when we can’t square certain things in our limited minds. We experience tension when our nature rubs up against the perfect nature of God.

Tension.

But we have a patient God. A God who is full of love and mercy. A God that goes above and beyond. And a God who gives life when we deserve death.

God is OK with my tension and with yours. In fact, I think God delights in the wrestling. As long as it moves us toward Him.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.  Psalm 136:1

 

9 Ways you can be brave in everyday life

The Avengers is one of my favorite movies. In fact, I love all of the comic book hero movies; Spiderman, Ironman, Captian America, X-Men, etc. Who doesn’t love a story where the hero saves the day?!

Even greater are movies about real life heroes (those without the cape!).

Movies like Hotel Rwanda and Schindler’s List touch the very core of humanity. Military movies such as American Sniper, Hurt Locker, Unbroken and so many more inspire us to do more and be all we can be.

Than there are movies about real life heroes that fought for social justice like Erin Brochovich. Or movies like Pursuit of Happyness in which a man overcomes poverty despite the nay-sayers, and goes on to do great things.

These are TRUE stories of ordinary people doing impossible things.

If you believe that you can’t be brave right where you are, I have got news for you. YOU can be brave, and you can be a hero. With the power and authority of Jesus Christ, you can do great things. Believe it!

Here are 9 ways to be brave in your everyday life.


1. Fight for your church

I am about as far from a ‘yes man’ as one can get. Even though I refuse to call myself a ‘devil’s advocate’, that is exactly what I am. I challenge and I question everything.

If you feel tension in your church, be brave and stand up and fight for it. There is nothing loving about standing by while the train goes off the tracks. You and I are the church, we must fight to protect it.

That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. . . . . Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.   John 17:20-23

We must fight for unity. We must fight for love. We must fight for the church.

  • confront people about questionable doctrine
  • ask to be part of the ‘vision setting’ meetings
  • don’t let ‘tension’ keep you from teaching classes or leading Bible studies
  • be a prayer warrior for your church and its leaders

2. Follow Christ with everything you’ve got

True heroes are people that faithfully follow Christ everyday. Going against the flow to follow Jesus is about as brave as you get.

Mother Theresa is one such hero. She really did ‘for the least of these.’ I can’t wait to see her riches in heaven!

3. Get involved in people’s business

We need to get in each other’s business. That is what the church is all about—living life together.

Our pride keeps us from letting others see our messiness. Yet, we are all messy. So, why do we hide? God never tells us to keep secrets from each other.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

4. Walk through suffering

Walking through suffering instead of escaping out of it is one of the greatest forms of bravery there is.

  • give up alcohol and feel the pain
  • stay in a marriage that doesn’t feel good and feel the pain
  • let go and feel the pain

Give up things that you use to anesthetize yourself with and walk with God through the pain. Be willing to wrestle with a God who can restore and heal.

5. Be different in your community

We have been set apart as holy because Jesus Christ did what God wanted him to do by sacrificing his body once and for all.  Hebrews 10:10

How can we be different right where we live?

  • put God above family
  • don’t be ‘over busy’- give God your firstfruits
  • live modestly and give generously
  • spend more time teaching your kids about Christ—more than academics or sports

6. Be a mentor to a young person

There is nothing greater than pouring into the life of a young person. Get involved with the youth at your church. Take the time to spark conversations that show care and concern.

  • offer to buy a young person Starbucks, and then LISTEN to them
  • reach out to a young person experiencing trauma that you can relate to, and then LISTEN to them
  • go to a game or other event that a kid you know will be participating in
  • be involved in your grandchildren or neices and nephews lives

It takes a village to raise kids! And that village is the church.

7. Be willing to fail

Is it OK if failure is in God’s will for your life or for mine?

Obviously we won’t fail spiritually if we are following Christ. And we won’t fail when it comes to our eternal inheritance through salvation in Christ. But, what if it is not in His plan for me to be successful in this world? Ever? Would I be OK with that?

As I ponder this question part of me wants to jump up and appear holy and righteous by saying, “whatever thou willeth I will doeth with joyeth”. But, is that real? Could I really rejoice in that?

How brave am I willing to be? Am I willing to fail for my God? As the line from the movie, The Stand by Stephen King goes, “My life for you!”

8. Create a new family legacy

Does your family have a legacy of alcoholism, neglect or abuse? Does your family have a legacy of avoiding conflict, or being passive aggressive or manipulative?

Make it your mission to stop the cycle right now and create a new legacy. The buck stops with you . . . oh, brave one!

9. Fight for your kids

  • stay home with your kids even though you have a promising career
  • homeschool your kids if God is leading you to it, even if you think ‘you could never do that!’
  • keep your family together even though ‘that loving feeling’ is gone

If you are doing any of the above and you don’t think you are brave, you are wrong! You don’t have to have superpowers to be brave. And although it would be nice, you don’t have to be seen or acknowledged to be brave either.

You don’t even have to feel brave to BE brave!

Believe that you can when the world tells you ‘you can’t.’ Believe that you are when everyone tells you ‘you aren’t.’ Choose to believe God and believe in yourself. And BE BRAVE!

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Phillipians 4:13

 

The messy entanglements of pain in relationships

I often think that I would be the perfect Christian if it weren’t for other people. I am convinced that I would be a better servant of Christ if it were just Him and me. Sounds ridiculous, right? Being a Christian is all about other people!

The second commandment is . . . “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:39-40

My ideal world would give everyone their own island. There, they could do their own thing with God, uninterrupted by relationships. But since this is God’s universe, I guess I’ll have to do things His way.

This is God’s universe, and God does things His way. Now you may have a better way, but you don’t have a universe.  ~ J. Vernon McGee

My quiet times alone with God are focused and worshipful. I love getting cozy on the couch and diving into His Word. We have a good thing going. However, the complicated mess that is my past, my feelings, and my wounds tend to muddle up the picture when other people enter in.

I was recently talking to my husband about how good I felt about my relationship with God and how strong I had become. I feel as though His Word is finally becoming a part of me and my nature is changing. I am pulling away from my sin nature and participating more in the divine nature.

“Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” 2 Peter 1:4

I have often wondered, ‘Will I ever learn? Will I ever change?’ However, I know now that I am growing and changing. I feel Him doing a good work in me! Hallelujah!

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

But, the moment I step out of my front door, that all changes. When people are introduced into the equation of my faith, it becomes infinitely more complicated. And if I cannot love, then everything else is meaningless (1 Corinthians 13:1).

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I am not talking about the people that we are to serve. I expect those situations to be challenging. I am talking about relationships with friends, family, and other brothers and sisters in Christ. I am talking about people at church, ministers and musicians, coworkers, neighbors and people at family gatherings.

Relationships have a way of rubbing old wounds and ripping off scabs.

Not to long ago I found myself being envious of somebody. I didn’t feel like I was making a conscious decision to be envious. And I didn’t know how to stop it in that moment. The pain came from a place of woundedness from my past. 

Our faith can easily get entangled in our pain. It can cripple us. Having faith, doing the will of God, and participating in His kingdom require us to first deal with our pain and difficult relationships. Ugh!

If we don’t deal with these messy things, than sin will have a hold over us.

The truth is, without the blood of Christ we fall short . . . . by a lot! We can’t be a good enough person; we can’t keep from sinning;  and we can’t untangle the mess of emotions and pain that lead us to darkness. We need a Savior who brings the light. We need a Savior to wash away our past and give us hope for the future.

The beautiful words from the song, His Eye is on the Sparrow come to mind. Praise God! Your eye is on the sparrow!

Why should I feel discouraged and why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home?
When JESUS IS MY PORTION, a constant Friend is He,
His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

I SING BECAUSE I’M HAPPY;
I SING BECAUSE I’M FREE;
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me.

So, the only thing I can do is lay my mess down at the foot of the cross. And sing, because I’m happy. And sing, because I’m FREE!  I have been washed clean by the blood of the lamb!

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  Isaiah 53:5

It is amazing that our wounds are healed by the wounds of our Savior. And, through our wounds we can bring healing to others as well.

Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.  ~Rick Warren

I am always a work in progress. God is so lovingly patient with me.

The longer we walk with Him, the more He will grow a love for others in us. If we seek Him, the ultimate love, He will fill us. Our cup will overflow and the love will spill out on others.


 

5 ways to put God above the American Dream

Suburban America is the easiest place to fall asleep in our faith. The American Dream breeds comfort. And, comfort breeds complacency.

People are so busy dreaming the American Dream, fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be, that they’re all asleep at the switch.
– Florence King

I grew up in a very affluent suburb of Detroit. It was all about the American dream. Everything around me reinforced this, the media, my school, my parents and even my church.

I felt like I needed to get an education, a job and climb the corporate ladder. I needed to make enough money so I could have a big house in the suburbs. I would get married, have two kids, and a dog named Sparky. I would work for 30 to 40 years in a career and retire comfortably at 65 and do nothing until the end of my days.

If you choose to live differently than that, you will stand out. If you live in middle class America and decide to put Christ first, you will be the weird one. You will be different.

Can God be our number one while living in suburban America? Absolutely! We can put God first wherever we are.

There are five ways to put God above the American Dream.


1. Create margin in your life

The biggest separation between my family and the culture is our level of busyness. My husband and I decided many years ago that we were not going run the rat race of life. We agreed that we would try to always have margin.

According to Dr. Richard A. Swenson, M.D., margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits.

Margin is not a popular concept in American culture. Middle class Americans esteems those who work way too much and are way too busy. We make busyness an idol. And, I don’t see the church being much different.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41-42  

I am dumbfounded when I see people at church talking about their multiple jobs and how busy they are. And they’re not just talking about it, they’re bragging. They wear their busyness like a badge of honor.

Create margin in your life. Leave space for God to move. Notice those around you. And always remember that God is number one and people are more important than our schedules.

2. Make God the Lord over your money

If Christ is not Lord over your money and possessions, then He is not your Lord.
-Randy Alcorn

I was very much raised with the American Dream mentality. It was the mentality of more, more, more! Why wouldn’t we buy a bigger house? That would make us happy, right?!

The Bible contains twice as many verses about money as it does about faith and prayer combined, about 2,350! Does money matter? It absolutely does! Money is a tool that God can use to further His Kingdom. In and of itself money is neither good nor bad. But when it is misused, destruction follows.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”   Malachi 3:10

If God is really our Lord, we will not be focused on the comforts of this life, but rather, on our eternal inheritance. If we focus on eternal treasures, we will more likely give our money away rather than spending it on ourselves.

The depth of transformation in the lives of the early Christians was most clearly evident in their willingness to surrender their money and possessions to meet each other’s needs.   ~Randy Alcorn

3. Get out of your bubble

Speaking as someone who was born and raised in the second richest county in the nation and is currently lives in the first, I can say that it is so easy to get stuck in our little bubble. We become out of touch with the ‘real’ world.

It is so easy to become out of touch with the poor and the needy. In the suburbs, you don’t ever have to see them if you don’t want to.

When my husband and I moved to our current home, we vowed not to assimilate into the rich, snobby, elitist culture that is stereotypical of the suburbs. And with the exception of being a Starbucks addict, we have done pretty well. We are definitely the trailer trash of our neighborhood! And, we are proud of it!

Living in the ‘burbs’ can be dangerously comfortable. We must get out of our comfort zone and go to places that need the light of Christ.

I don’t deny that the suburbs need the light of Christ. Middle class Americans are some of the hardest people to share the Gospel with. How do you convince someone who has everything that they need Christ?

Get out of your bubble. Seek out ministries that serve the poor, visit inner city churches, and go on mission trips to places of extreme poverty. Seek out the different and the uncomfortable. That is what Jesus did.

4. Downsize when everyone else is upsizing

My husband and I regret upsizing ten years ago when we bought our house. While it is a typical suburban house, it is more than we need. We could have stayed in our previous house and had more money available to give to Kingdom work.

Was God the Lord of our money then? Would we have made the same decision if He was? Probably not.

Do we love our house? Yes!

Is it comfortable? Yes!

Do we have a lot of extra money to invest in God’s kingdom? Not as much as we could have if we had a smaller house.

5. Don’t worry

Last summer I was out to dinner with a bunch of girlfriends on a beautiful summer evening.  The restaurant was right on the Monan Trail and it was buzzing with activity.

After talking about jobs and kids our conversation turned to current events. (sadly, even though these were all church friends, we rarely talk about God) My friend shared her concerns about ISIS and about how safe, or unsafe, we are in this country. Than, another chimed in with her equal concern with the state of this country and the economy and the current administration.

The world is going to hell in a hand basket. It is, and it always has been. God warned us about how it would be in scripture, and it is all happening. Why are we surprised?

And it is not just in the world, but in the church as well.

There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.   2 Timothy 3:1-5

But, Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4)! Do we believe that?! Either we do, and we walk in confidence with God’s peace, or we don’t and we continue fretting.

We must believe God, not just believe in Him. And, we must take His Word as truth. If you don’t believe that His Word is true, than you will never have peace.

In Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, he describes people who are obsessed with Jesus. He writes, “People who are obsessed with Jesus aren’t consumed with their personal safety and comfort above all else.”

God is the God of peace. He tells us not to worry, because He is in control, He is good, and He is able. We must focus on eternity not just the here and now.


Dare to be different than those around  you. Dare to live like Christ instead of living for the American Dream. Be radical for the One who died for you.

Feeling tension with the culture is something that we should experience if we are to be like Christ. If you fit in and are quite comfortable in life, you may want to ask yourself –> Am I putting Christ first?

Freedom for People Pleasers

“I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
~Ed Sheeran

Recently, I challenged a friend of mine to brake the chains of the ‘shoulds’ in her life. She, like most of us, was overcommitted, overwhelmed, and stressed out. Most of her time was spent on others; taking care of her kids, being a good wife, taking care of the house, and volunteering for things at church and school. She rarely, if ever, did anything for herself. Guilt and obligation enslaved her. She was missing the joy of freedom that living in Christ has to offer.

I gave her homework one day after bible study. The homework was that she had to say breaking_free_by_obscurelilium-d7u0xvyno’ to something that she didn’t want to do, simply because she didn’t want to do it . . . . OR, say ‘yes’ to something that she wanted to do, simply because she wanted to do it. And, she had to do this 3 times before the next bible study.

There was only one rule; there couldn’t be a logical reason to say ‘no’ like a schedule conflict, or she was sick, or because she was just too busy. She had to not do something simply because she didn’t want to do it. Sound selfish? For the Christ follower, its called living in God’s freedom.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

Blessings abound when we walk with Christ. It is the blessing of freedom. Christ died to set us free; free from the yoke of pleasing other people; free from the yoke of doing everything that people ask us to do; free from the yoke of being responsible for other people. There is nothing greater than freedom in Christ.

I was a people pleaser most of my life.  Never having been shown my true value in Christ, I grew up thinking that it was my job to take care of everyone else. We all had a lot in life, and this was mine.

problem pensive girl at window profile sad black and whiteI had to make people feel comfortable and at ease at all times. I was to keep the peace even when peace was not possible; even when peace was not appropriate. And, it was often at my expense. But, I truly believed that I was expendable. Just take one for the team, I would tell myself . . . . again!

Satan had me right where he wanted me; feeling worthless and being useless. He had me thinking that my only purpose was to empower others. He had been feeding me lies and I was ever so eager to believe them.

I am so grateful that God has set me free by setting me straight! He made you and me for a specific purpose in the Kingdom; something more than catering to the comfort of others; something more than just being a loving and supportive spouse; something more than raising children.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  Galatians 1:10

My walk with God in the last 20 years has taught me how high and wide and long and deep is His unfailing love. He has been replacing the lies that I believed for so many years with His Word.

Can we say no to our mother? . . . . when the bible says this . . . “Honor your mother and father.” Exodus 20:12

Can we say no to a ministry? . . . . when the bible says this . . . “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Luke 10:2

Can we say no to our church?  ” . . . . when the bible says this . . . “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God ” Ephesians 4:12-13

Can we say no to our husbands? . . . When the bible says this . . . “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands.” Ephesians 5:22

Yes, we can!

So, who do we need to please? . . . . God.  Who is the only one that we always need to say yes to? . . . . God.  God is the only one that we need to please, and He is already greatly pleased without us doing one single thing!

He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.  Zephaniah 3:17

That doesn’t mean that we can say ‘no’ to those things all of the time. If we are to be obedient to God and His Word, than we must do these things some of the time. But, we are certainly not obligated to do them every time.

People pleasers just want to do the right thing. They are usually caring, selfless people. However, the right thing might be to say ‘no’. We need to be regularly in His Word to be able to discern.

 

Relationships, if they are true relationships, demand judgement and confrontation . . . . to faithfully live our life as a human being–to live as we were created to live–is to live in an open-and-closed relational connection to another.
~Andrew Root

God delights in us. And, He loves us with unfailing love. It doesn’t matter what other people think of us, or what we do. It’s who we are in Christ, or rather, it’s who He is.

My Bible study friend whom I gave the challenge to came back the following week and was eager to tell me what she did. She was like a kid in a candy store, with a grin from ear to ear. She beamed with the glow of freedom!

Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?   Isaiah 2:22

Having eyes to see; taking the scales off

After a time of great trial in my marriage, my husband and I were talking in a small group with some friends.  We shared how God’s presence had been so evident in the midst of our crisis.

Great suffering opened our eyes to the enormity of God. And, His presence had never been so real.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.   -CS Lewis

As we were talking about this, someone protested by saying,

“What if I haven’t experienced a major crisis? What if no one close to me has died or has a disease or I haven’t experienced any tragedies? Does that mean that I can’t experience God like you have?”

I remember my answer,

“Well, no, God wants everyone to have a close relationship with Him. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t experienced suffering, loss or tragedy. God wants everyone to experience His presence.”

Looking back, I realize the naivete in my response.

If I were asked that same question today, I would have a much different answer.

Does a person need to go through peril, danger, crisis, pain or suffering in order to really see God and feel His presence in the most profound way?

I think the answer is yes. Crisis and tragedy in life can take the scales off our eyes so we can truly see Him. There is something about the presence of God in the midst of great trial or suffering that we can’t get in the midst of comfort.

You might say that seems unfair. Pain and suffering are not equally distributed among us. Many of the awful things that happen in this life are seemingly accidental or random.

To that I would respond by asking this question.

‘Are you living like Christ did, or are you comfortable?’

The other path to experiencing God in the most profound way is to suffer in serving. You may not necessarily have experienced tragedy or crisis in your own life, but when you serve others, you can experience it second hand.

Loving and serving others is the very picture of Christ. And, people who live like Christ WILL experience more of Him than people who don’t.

God promises us in scripture that if we follow Him 1) we will suffer, and 2) He will always be with us.

though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me;  Psalm 23:4

Being with the lepers, ministering to the lowly and unclean, loving and feeding the poor, visiting those in prison and walking where there is great danger and great need was Christ’s ministry on earth.

If you walk with lepers, minister to the lowly and unclean, love and feed the poor, and walk where there is great danger and great need, you WILL experience the overwhelming power and presence of Jesus Christ. And, most likely you will suffer.

If you don’t do those things, you may or may not.

I mentor a young mother of three kids and her boyfriend who live in the inner city.

When I began doing this, I was uncomfortable. Having always lived in the suburbs, the downtown neighborhoods scared me. Being the minority didn’t feel good. And, I didn’t understand the culture. I very much felt like a fish out of water.

Even though the city is only 30 minutes from where I live, it is a completely different world.

I would pray on the way to pick them up because I didn’t and still don’t know entirely what God is doing with this family. I didn’t have the right words to say. I wasn’t a social worker problem pensive girl at window profile sad black and whiteor a psychologist. And, on the way home I would wonder, ‘Am I making a difference? Am I doing anything at all?’

My husband got involved as well to help the boyfriend finish school and get a job. There were many evenings when he and I would be in our kitchen talking about this couple.

Whenever I am downtown whether it is in government assisted apartment buildings, the WIC office, the social security office, or the hospital in the ‘bad side of town’, I am in the midst of the poor, the oppressed and the needy. I am in the midst of parolees, thieves, domestic violence perpetrators, and drug users. I am among the lost. And, this is exactly where Jesus would want me to be.

Being in a hopeless, depressing, and dangerous environment is unpleasant. It’s burdensome. But, we are called to love and care for the hopeless, the depressed, and even the dangerous.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”   Matthew 25:35,36,40

My point is that it is hard. I wouldn’t dare say that this constitutes pain and suffering for me. But it is one small example of how we should be putting ourselves where Jesus would be. It is an example of going into the mess with the ‘messy’, and suffering with those who suffer.

Who did Jesus spend much of His time with? Where was He during His ministry on earth?

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Luke 5:31-32

My sister-in-law goes to Africa two or three times a year to do ministry for women in Bigstock: 63818828 - AMBOSELI, KENYA.jpgZambia. They love and care for women and children who, without this ministry, would not be loved and cared for.

The more trips she goes on, the harder it is to return to the states. She feels deep sympathy for the people of Africa she has to leave behind. And, she has become ‘different’ as a result of following Christ to help the needy, and therefore, experiences loneliness and isolation when she comes back.

She has allowed God to break her heart for what breaks his. And, she is often heartbroken.

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.   1 John 2:6

We are to be a light in the darkness, which means that we sometimes have to GO TO the darkness in order to be the light. The light shines the brightest in the darkest places.

“let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”   Matthew 5:16

As we go into these dark places, He will make His presence known. God will always be with us . . . . . always! And, if we follow God where He leads, His glory will blow us away!

 

Praying with Power; the REESS prayer

Prayer is powerful. We can’t have a close relationship with God without it. We must spend time with our heavenly Father if we are to become like Him.  And, just like any other relationship, it takes time to build intimacy.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 Paul says,

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Many of us have heard of the ACTS prayer.

A – adoration
C – confession
T – thanksgiving
S – supplication

For me, I have found this way of praying nominally helpful, which is sufficient if I am content with a nominal Christian life.

However, I want a powerful Christian life. And this type of life requires powerful prayer. If true holy power is what I desire, I must take my prayers to another level.

Prayer is not simply ‘pray for what I need’, or shall I say, ‘pray for what I want’. Often, though, our prayers tend to get reduced to . . . .

  • be with the doctors as this person has surgery
  • please heal ‘so-and-so’ from their disease
  • give them safe travel
  • help me find a job
  • help me sell my house
  • keep our kids safe from harm

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with prayer requests. Jesus clearly tells us that we have every right to ask for these things.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.   Philippians 4:6

However, requests can’t be the extent of our prayers.

When we pray, the focus needs to be on Him. Requests should take a backseat, not be the star of the show. Yet, for many of us, our prayers are exclusively about requests.

God doesn’t need our prayers to do anything. It isn’t part of the equation that makes things happen. God doesn’t need . . . period. He wants us to pray because He wants us to know Him and receive His power. And, because He loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.

I used to be mostly a ‘casual prayer’. Most of my days were spent in and out of casual conversation with God. At home, in the car, and basically wherever I was, I could feel, and continue to feel His Spirit with me. 

“The Lord is near to all who call on him”   Psalm 145:18

Casual prayer is a good thing. It usually means that one is ‘walking in the Spirit’.

However, I started adding a time of prayer on my knees; a time of prayer that is more formal and focused. I’m not perfect and it isn’t everyday, but when I am physically and bodily in a posture of worship, I can really feel His power rain down on me.

When I focus on His holiness and His greatness and am on my knees before Him, it changes me from the inside out.

We have a God who is . . . .

. . . . high and lifted up!  Isaiah 6:1
. . . . greatly to be praised!  Psalm 145:3
. . . . mighty in power!   Psalm 147:5
. . . . the God of gods, and the Lord of lords!   Deuteronomy 10:17

And about Him, the four living creatures will say, day and night, ” . . . holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!” Revelation 4:8

Jesus showed us how to pray. If we break down The Lord’s Prayer, this is essentially what it looks like:

Our Father in heaven, – respect
hallowed be your name. – exaltation
Your kingdom come, – expectation
your will be done, – submission
on earth as it is in heaven. – sovereignty
Give us this day our daily bread, – needs
and forgive us our debts, – confession
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, – requests
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, – sovereignty

the power and the glory forever. – exaltation

-Amen

It begins with respect, exaltation, expectation, submission, and acknowledging His sovereignty. These five parts have the place of the greatest importance. They come before our needs and our requests.

I always start with praising Him, talking about Him and His many attributes, or thanking Him for who He is. I don’t let myself pray about anything else until I have spent sufficient time focusing on Him and His glory.

Sometimes I find myself so focused on Him, that I never get around to praying for myself or anyone else.

My acronym for prayer is REESS.

R – respect
E – exaltation
E – expectation
S – submission
S – sovereignty

Focusing on respect, exaltation, expectation, submission, and acknowledging His sovereignty is the key to having a powerful prayer life.

If you want to become a powerful being, as an heir of the King, than you may need to change how you are praying.

Praying the REESS way, has allowed me to exalt God, and humble myself. And, I definitely feel more powerful because of it.

Prayer is for us, it is a gift, but it should be about Him. He is the source of all power and authority. It’s always all about His Glory.