Does anybody see her?

I happened to be visiting with my dad the other day. He suffers from an issue with his eye. I asked him about it and what treatment the doctor had given him. He had given up on the doctor’s prescription having seen no result. But he did mention that his brother had been afflicted with the same problem and had it successfully corrected with surgery. So there was an option, should he wish to go that route.

As I thought about this, it seemed to resonate with the passage in Luke 6 that I have been reading. Jesus is speaking :

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (41-42)

Firstly, this is obviously a passage about self examination, but I believe there is more. Jesus does not say that you cannot help your brother with his eye – no, he says that you can help, but only after yours is healed. As I reflected on this, I recalled that the people who are most effective in reaching someone lost in sin are the ones who were once in that same position themselves. And they do not approach them with judgement and condemnation. No, on the contrary, they approach them with love, understanding and most importantly, hope. Having been in that same situation and having successfully been healed, they are the ones with the most influence and authority to speak to those still suffering. Most people in sin already suffer under mountains of condemnation, whether from themselves or the enemy, we do not need to add to this burden. We need to offer hope. Hope is the only thing that will stir the spirit of even the most hardened individual into considering a new path.

So as I began to meditate on this concept I found myself asking two questions:

  1. Am I going through something or in any particular struggle where I need to reach out to someone who I know has successfully come through it for support and guidance?
  2. What experiences has God brought me through that would allow me to offer hope to others? Is there a particular individual or group of individuals that I should be ministering to?

Our testimony, our story, our experience of what God has done for us is a most valuable tool – one that the enemy would rather have us not use. Having been freed from sin, many would like to go on almost hiding the fact that they ever were in sin. But Revelation 12:11a says, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Our story, our experience of the wonderful things that God has done in us, is the one thing that cannot be argued. People can argue religion and tell you that you are misled. They can argue points of view. But they cannot argue with your experience. They can choose to ignore it, but they can’t argue. And that testimony, coupled with the power of God is a force that will overcome our enemy.

Is there someone out there that needs me today? Is there someone that needs you?

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New Skin or New Creation?

My son plays video games. Every once in a while he will talk about getting new “skins.” I had no idea what he was asking for. It turns out that you can buy new “looks” – a new skin. It doesn’t change his actual character, but it changes his appearance.

It so happened that today I was reading about the wineskins in Luke chapter 5 (36-39). I usually struggle to understand this parable. But in light of this idea of “skins,” it seemed to suddenly make sense.  In the previous verses, the scribes and Pharisees are complaining to Jesus that his disciples are not doing the same thing that everyone else’s do. So Jesus explains that the situation is different and tells this parable/story:

“No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.  And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ”

We cannot add Jesus to our lives. We must become new. To simply add Him means that we will carve out a small section of our lives where He is allowed to operate and keep Him well defined according to our rules. This does not work. What happens is that our lives become chaos (because Jesus’ presence is contrary to our fleshly lives), and any witness or ministry we try to accomplish in His name is marred by the utter lack of freedom that the Spirit has to operate in, which leaves a hollowness to all of it.

No, instead we must allow Christ to make us new. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17). Just like a new wineskin, we must become new people. With new mindsets and new priorities and a new willingness to submit to the will of God. That way, as a new vessel, Jesus can fill us with His Spirit and stretch us and mold us into the person that we were created to be, with lives that are more abundant than we could ever hope or imagine!

Of course, change doesn’t come easily to most. We all resist and prefer the “old” since it is familiar. But the old isn’t better. It is just old. What in me could I possibly think should be kept from Jesus redemptive power? Seriously! Lord, change me! Fill me! Break through in those places that I have kept from You all of these years! Leave no spot untouched. Don’t let me settle for the idea of “looking” different – make me different!

Often Withdraw

It’s Friday. My week of vacation is coming to an end. And I am overwhelmed.

This seems to happen every time I have time off. The expectations that I had for what I would accomplish during my vacation are nowhere near the reality of how little was done. And as I look around, the house looks like a goat exploded in it. It is in greater disarray than when this week started. I had begun these grandiose projects that in my head seemed to go much smoother, but in reality barely got off the ground. And now all I have is a giant mess, and huge disappointment.

Usually when this sort of thing happens, the feeling of being overwhelmed actually stops me from being able to continue at all.  The enormity of the task is simply too much. This is when I really like to bury myself – head in the sand kind of thing,  only I would shut down with food and TV. But what did Jesus do?

Once the reports of what He was doing got out, He was overwhelmed too. Read here in Luke 5:15-16:

“However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”

I can just imagine the pressure He would have felt. So many people with so many needs. But not only that, He was dealing with the public! People with ridiculous requests, return visitors, those trying to use Him, and abuse Him. He would have felt a little paranoid about people being out to get Him. And they were! There was always a group following Him waiting for Him to do something wrong and get Him in trouble. There would not have been enough time in the day to do everything that was being asked or expected of Him. And what was His way of dealing with it? He withdrew. Often. He took precious time and went to be alone with God.

Doesn’t that seem counterproductive? Don’t we need that time to continue to do the work? That is what our culture and our enemy would tell us. But it is not what God tells us. He says,

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)

If we follow Jesus example and take the time we need with the Father, we will find peace for our panic and perspective for the day. He will help clarify the plan and give us the power to accomplish what we have purposed. Note though that Jesus did not join a new Bible study, a pot luck gathering or a social circle to find what He needed. He prayed. He spent time alone in the presence of God. Worshiping, talking, listening. Too often we miss the simplicity and the power of spending time alone with God. The other things have value in other contexts, but firstly, we need our alone time with the Father. Lord, I know I need you today!

I Am Willing

I spent a lot of time walking a path of self destruction and pain. Whether created by my own hand or others, it really didn’t matter. It looked the same. It led to the same dark places. And once there, there seemed to be no escape.

Having been brought up in the church I knew all about Jesus. But here in the darkness I felt unworthy to even say His name. The enemy always reminding me of my failures and shame. Telling me that I had to fix myself before Jesus would have me.

That is a lie.

While that time is easy to refer to as an example, that hasn’t been the only time I have heard that lie. The accusations and shame are always a whisper away. Each time I mess up. Each time I do something that would not please the Lord. My first instinct is to fix it. Quick! Don’t let Jesus know. Cover it. Hide it. Undo it. And do it before I come to Him again. Sometimes I can’t “fix it.” Then I delay coming to Jesus. The accusations become louder and that feeling of unworthiness creeps back in.

It is a lie.

Jesus never asked us to be perfect before we call His name.

Luke 5:12-13 reads:

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.

Notice that the man wasn’t healed before he called out to Jesus. Notice that Jesus touched him before he healed him. He reached out to touch him in the middle of his illness. He touched the open sores and the broken pieces of his body. “I am willing” he said. This is our Jesus! This is the truth! He is willing to reach you in your mess! He is willing to touch me in mine. What do we need to do? Make it all better first? Heal ourselves first? Become perfect first? No.

All we need to do is call His name… “Jesus, touch me!” He is willing!

We are all going to fail. Frequently. But don’t let the enemy keep you down. Don’t listen to the lies that will keep you from calling out to Jesus. Remember… what God says about you is what you need to believe. You are chosen, redeemed and free.

Remember who you are, and call out to Jesus!

 

Leaving everything

I have read the passage in Luke chapter 5 over and over again now for a month. I know that God has been trying to tell me something here, but it has taken a very long time to sort through all of the possibilities. Here Jesus comes to preach, and because the crowd is so large, he decides to get into Peter’s boat and speak to the crowd from off the coastline.  So Peter would have been listening to Jesus preach. Likely figuring him to be a travelling preacher/teacher/Rabbi. He would have treated him with respect, but not necessarily have been in awe of his being. Then Jesus tells him to go fishing. Now this is Peter’s livelihood. This is his lake. He had just come in from fishing all night. But, to humor this man and out of respect, he does what he is told.

Then they started to catch so many fish that the nets were breaking. They called to their buddies for help. This was incredible! What a great coincidence! Was it a fluke that the fish happened to be there? What luck! When Peter saw that there were so many fish that they filled their boats to the point that the boats began to sink…suddenly he knew. He knew this was impossible. It was not a coincidence. Not a fluke, and not luck. He knew these waters. This was a miracle. And the only performer of miracles is God Himself. At this point, Peter falls at Jesus’ knees and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Next to holiness, he knew his sin would be painfully obvious and that he was deserving of punishment. Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” Peter would have had no idea what that meant. All he did know was that God has called him. When they got to shore, he left everything and followed Him.

I have struggled with this passage because that would not be my response. If Jesus performed a miracle in my life, I would say, “Great! Can you do this too so I can be more comfortable in my present life?” I think there are two things here that God is saying to me:

  1. I fail to recognize my sin as sin. I have become so comfortable with the idea that Jesus loves me and came to take away my sin that I fail to acknowledge that I need to actually repent of that sin. I live comfortably in a life that looks very much like that of my unsaved neighbor. Grace does not mean that I can carry on in sin. I must see it for what it is and repent.
  2. I fail to lead a changed life. I have not left everything to follow Jesus. In fact, I am not sure I have left much at all! I have added Jesus to my life. I have not made Him my life. In a day and age where we do not physically “leave” our lives to follow our God, what does that actually mean?

For me, leaving everything starts with my bed in the morning. I need God and His presence in my life every day in order to live. I must leave my bed to spend time with Him. Then it continues by leaving selfishness behind. I must pray for my husband, my church, my country. Sure they are not perfect, but I am commanded to hold them up in prayer and to treat them with honor. That is not contingent on me getting my way. It just is. As the day goes on, I must leave gossip and laziness behind in order to be an employee and coworker of integrity. After work, I must leave slothfulness behind to see that the meals are made and the children get everything they need, including time at the feet of Jesus. I must press on as the woman of virtue, rather than the contentious wife, to make my husband’s home his castle and a harbor for him. And finally I must leave behind the idea that life must be fair and that I deserve something from it and the people around me.

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23-25)

Jesus never claimed that following Him would be easy, but we do know that the journey is worth the struggle. No more toying with God. I am either all in or all out. Jesus never left room for mediocrity. Lord perform the impossible, and start in me…

Revive Me

My husband cut some brush a few weeks ago behind the house. There is one patch that he cut that I can see from my kitchen window. There was one “tree” that he cut that remained standing- leaning against the others that surround it. The first few days it didn’t look any different than the others. The leaves were still green, the squirrels still ran across its branches. But soon, I could see the leaves starting to brown. Then they started to fall. The tree continued to lean a little bit more each day. The squirrels were seeming to understand its weakness. To run across its branches could mean that they may not hold them, or in an instant it could come crashing down and take the squirrel with it.

Watching this tree wither as it had become disconnected from its source of life, it reminded me of myself. How many times have I allowed other things to get in the way and disconnect me from the Source of my life? Sometimes it takes time to realize that I am getting dry and dying. I think, oh, its only been a few days. I have had this or that to take care of. Whatever the distraction, if I am not connected to God, I am dying. I need Him. Everyday. Once the connection is interrupted, the days quickly slip into weeks, then months. Then to take time to meet with the Lord seems like such a burden. I am convinced that I don’t have the time. And soon my spirit withers. While I was being held up by those around me, soon I will become a burden and then a danger to them. I become overtaken with fear and anxiety. I have nowhere to go for strength and guidance. No one to hold me up in the hard times. Suddenly I feel crushed and helpless.

But thank God that He will meet me when I finally seek His face! When I come to my senses and realize that without Him I am nothing. When I ask Him to forgive me for putting all these things first, He will forgive me. He will receive me. He will revive me! I just need to call His name! Return to my Source and live!

“I Set Before You Life and Death”

I was thinking the other day about how this year I will be celebrating 20 years since I stopped drinking. It is quite an accomplishment, but one few would understand. Even after 20 years, I can still taste it. I can smell it. And there are plenty of times that I want it. But I don’t choose to go there. Once the physical addiction is over, the battle remains in the mind. Each day. Every day. It is a choice.

As I was mulling it over, I began to realize that it was not the physical state of being drunk that I find alluring (believe me – that ain’t pretty!). No, it is the state of mind that calls to me. For me, and maybe any of you who have understood addiction, drinking was an escape. It started as an attempt to escape pain and depression (of course it really only made it worse since alcohol is itself a depressant). But it evolved into a way to escape the every day. Escape from how I felt about myself, from how I perceived others felt about me. An escape from this life.

When I would drink, just holding it in my hand was like standing on the precipice – as if I was about to bungee jump – but I would never know exactly what I was jumping into. It was exciting, inviting, and dangerous. I had to decide – was I going to take that sip or not – take the plunge or not. To not drink meant that I had to remain with my feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. To drink meant anything else. And so I would press glass to lips and invite the darkness to overtake me. As soon as I would start to drink I could feel myself sinking. Thinking would become fuzzy. Time and place no longer mattered. Who I was became irrelevant. I could be somebody else. Unfortunately, that ‘somebody else’ always ended up being someone I would be ashamed of. Someone that stumbled into more pain, and brought only more shame to my real life, thus ensuring that the cycle would continue as I would attempt to escape that pain too.

The escape that I sought with alcohol I never found. I would feel numb – even dead to this life – for a while, but never good, never alive, never accepted and loved for who I really am. No, there is only ever one place that I feel truly alive – in the presence of God. When I spend time in His presence, I am free. Free from fear. Free from judgment. Free from loneliness and every other negative feeling that surrounds me. Here I am loved. Truly loved by the One who truly knows me. He knows all of my failures – those things I try so hard to hide. He knows my weaknesses, my limitations – He knows me… better than I do. And He loves me. In His presence I am free. Free to experience total acceptance and love for the real me. There is no better experience in life. This is real living.

I have discovered that I don’t actually need alcohol to recreate that ‘drunk’ feeling. I could sit with a glass of water and choose to ‘escape’ and the same darkness would envelope me. It is a choice… a battle of the mind. In Deuteronomy 30:19-20 we read:

” I have set before you life and death, … Now choose life, so that you   and  your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…”

The only place to truly feel alive – to be alive – is in the presence of God. Apart from Him, we are dying. Some in darker places than others, but all on the same spectrum of death. God, the author of Life is the only One who can truly help us live.

So each day is a choice. Each situation, each decision is a choice. Today, will I drink this glass of water as the gateway to darkness, or as the life giving liquid God created? Will I choose to drown my sorrow in another piece of cake, or take the issue to the Lord for healing and restoration? Will I choose to look at the next person with judgment and distain or with love and compassion? Will I choose to say something to tear down another or build them up? Will I choose life or death?

Choose life! Choose to live! Come with me into the presence of God!

The Day of Evil

I don’t know about you, but when I read about the “day of evil” in the Bible, I always expect it to be a future event – not a present one.

Ephesians 6:13 says, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

In my mind I picture a battle where I see the enemy coming and am ready for the fight. But I think that may be an illusion. I have been remarking to myself lately about how the days are flying by – time is slipping away – and I don’t even seem to be moving or even awake. It is like I am asleep at the wheel here! And isn’t that the picture that we are talking about really? Don’t you have to be awake and alert to stand?

The days of evil are here and I am lulled to sleep by the sound of the enemy marching all around me! I am letting the days pass where they have clear shots at my loved ones, time and room to continue to deceive those that the Lord has placed in my path. I am doing nothing. I am barely conscious! I am curled up in a ball enjoying my slumber, under the illusion that there is lots of time to be ready.

But look around… our children and our marriages are under attack! Our health is under attack! Our freedom of religion is under attack! The days of evil are here, and it is time to stand!

But how do we do that? Ephesians tells us to put on the whole armor of God – put it on – it is an action! We need to read the Word and spend time with the Master to remind ourselves of the truth, of the righteousness that we received, the salvation that we enjoy! We need to remind ourselves of who we are! We need to prepare to share that wonderful gospel with those around us who are in desperate need of a Savior, to use the Scriptures against our unseen enemy and to build our faith until it is strong enough to withstand the shots that will be hurled our way.

This is a daily effort. It is not a nice verse to recall occasionally or a cute poster on our wall. It is a disciplined effort to shake off the blanket of oblivion that the enemy would shroud us in each day. With this knowledge and time with God, we can stand and consciously fight.

The days of evil are not coming – they are here. Stand!

Should I forgive God?

This week our preacher talked about the lies we believe – how satan is the accuser of both God and man. While he preached, he reminded me of myself – how quick I am to get angry, how I always believe the conspiracy theory in my head and how I always feel the need to defend myself. I asked God: “What lies am I believing? Where do they come from?” It wasn’t long before I had my answer: I can’t trust God to watch out for me and whenever I am alone, bad things happen.

This came as no surprise. My life has been full of bad experiences, and over and over I have heard myself say, “Whenever I am alone, bad things happen!” It became almost prophetic. In fact, it has gotten to the point where somewhere deep inside of me assumes it will happen. Years ago, I had a hard time going out alone. I was afraid to walk a block by myself or go to the mall alone. I have gotten past those fears, but some still remain. Being alone does not literally mean “alone.” It means being without protection. That can be in a group. That can even mean in church. Or with a group of Christian women. If I am there without my husband, I feel especially vulnerable. The problem is that my husband is not always by my side. He might go talk to someone else, and then, it happens. That panic. I back myself up against a wall and wait. I hope that he will return quickly. And the longer I have to wait, the more upset I get with him. He is doing nothing wrong, but I somehow expect him to understand and never leave me. The problem is – he is not God. God is the only One who promises to never leave me. But can I trust Him?

What about all of those times that I have been hurt? Where was God then? When I step back and look over the events of my life – there is pain, but mostly as a direct consequence of my own actions. I put my hand in the flame – and funny – I got burned! How is that God’s fault? In fact, if I am honest, I should have gotten burned a lot more! I should have lost a hand – I should be dead. But I am not. And that was God’s mercy alone. But what about that main event? The one that changed my life? Where was God then, satan taunts. It has been 28 years. Twenty eight years! And yet the horror of that night still plagues me.

I was with a group of people. People I knew to see and say hello, but didn’t really know. You know…. kind of like church on Sunday morning. There was nothing that would have indicated that I was in any danger. Nothing that would stand out a any kind of warning sign. But as the crowd disbursed, I found myself alone. Well, not alone actually… but alone with people I really didn’t know.

My efforts to defend myself were fruitless. I was powerless against his strength. Did God abandon me? Was He powerless to help me?

No, actually. I was assaulted, but it could have been much, much worse. Was God absent? No. When I closed my eyes and called on Him, He was there. He held me so close. He whispered in my ear that He was with me. He didn’t let me feel the horror. And as I was being strangled – was I afraid? No. The Lord laid there beside me and filled me with peace. He assured me that if this was the end I would be with Him and surrounded me with His love. I did not fear death.

But all of the pain afterward – that must be God’s fault! Well, no. God didn’t tell me to find healing in drugs and alcohol and unhealthy relationships. No, in fact, I did all of that on my own. The pain that came after was a result of my own actions. But the moment that I cried out to Him, the moment that I called His name – Jesus – He was there! Finally, I was ready to let Him bring healing. And He did! How quickly He removed me from all of that bondage! As I release the pieces to Him, He restores, He heals. Now it is time to release the lies that I have held onto for all these years. To finally believe the truth that I have known all along: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut 31:8).

Do I need to forgive God? No. He has not wronged me. He has never left me… and never will.

 

My Funeral

I have my funeral all planned out. That may sound a little funny, but I really want it to be the way I want it to be. So I have it planned. I want it to be a full-on worship service! Full band, lively music, people standing with hands in the air worshipping God, knowing that I am also worshipping Him. The difference is that I will have been released from the confines of this life and will be in His presence, worshipping at His feet! I want people to join me in that!

I also want the gospel message preached for those that may be present that don’t know the Lord. But as I was thinking about that today, I wondered: is the “gospel” that I am communicating with my life, the same gospel that will be preached at my death? Will the unsaved hearers at my funeral be surprised by the service? Will they be confused by the message of hope? Or will they finally be prepared to receive the gift of salvation because I had planted and watered the seed beforehand? Have I been diligent to keep them in prayer so that their hearts are already tender and willing to be opened up to Him? Is my life one of constant worship in word and deed so that the service will not require explanation or offend, but simply be the cherry on the top of the cupcake that has been my existence here on this planet?

Have I been generous and kind? Have I used every opportunity to present the hope that we have in Christ to the lost that surround me? Have I helped to bind up the hearts of the broken? Have I presented the truth with the love that is required to make the difference? Have I used the time that God has allotted me well? Will my legacy be one that has brought light to the darkness or only added to the grey? Does my life portray someone who has met the living God, who has experienced His presence, and who has been healed by His touch?

I am not sure really…. but I want it to be! God help me to live a life worthy of my calling!

Just to get you all in on the idea, here is one of the songs that I want at my funeral: