7.30.2013

Changing selfishness into sanctification.

My friend Caleb gave me a wonderful gift when he was visiting us.  On Friday evening, we were sitting on the front lawn watching the littles run and scooter around the neighborhood while we talked.  Ellie kept trying to ride in the street, was told no, and when she did not get her way, exposed her defiant side to her new friend.  As I sat down after dealing with her, Caleb quietly declared, "Stubborn.  I wonder where she gets it?" as he looked me directly in the eye with a mocking grin on his face.  I shared that I was a completely compliant child, and then wondered out loud if I could currently be defined as "stubborn."  I have always confessed that I am controlling, but stubborn?  And that is where our conversation ended, because we were interrupted for the 47th time that evening.

But I thought about his comment all weekend ... "I wonder where she gets it?"  What made him say that?  Where did he see me in Ellie?  And why was it so obvious to him?

So, on Sunday, while we were sitting in church waiting for the service to begin, I asked him.  And how he answered took me by surprise.  "Michelle, you are a woman of determination and perseverance.  Both of these traits are the result of sanctified stubbornness." 

Sanctified stubbornness.  Hmm.  I have never heard such a phrase and I was not sure I understood him.  But since he is a scientist, and ridiculously intelligent, I knew he would clarify it for me at once.  And he did.  "Stubbornness is a result of the flesh wanting its own way and refusing to take anything less than what it wants, when it wants it.  But when we let the Holy Spirit take control, stubbornness yields itself to change - and it becomes determination and perseverance.  You still want something, but you are willing to see it through the lens of biblical thinking rather than selfishness.  
Remember when you told me about your boundaries as a mother, not allowing others to influence your children in certain areas regardless of what they think of you as a result?  That is determination - you are going to have it your way.  But the desire and "why" behind it are motivated by Scripture and a desire to obey."

I sat there staring at him for several seconds and then - heartily agreed.  It was encouraging to take a look backwards and see that one of my greatest weaknesses is slowly being turned into something GOOD.

The reason I say he gave me a gift is because I felt like he shed light on an area that I have never been able to fully dissect and reassemble to any satisfaction.  And now - I get it!  But the Lord was not finished.  He kept me thinking about it, and then - pushed me into Scripture to support it.  

So, I began a somewhat exhaustive search on the three words:  stubborn, determined, and persevere. And I must say, I was pleasantly surprised to see how neatly the dictionary definitions fit with Scripture, and - horrified to see how unattractive the character quality of stubbornness really is.

*Stubborn*
-unreasonably or perversely unyielding
-suggestive or typical of a strong stubborn nature
-performed or carried on in an unyielding, obstinate or persistent manner
-difficult to manage, handle, or treat

Synonyms of Stubborn
adamant, bullheaded, hardheaded, headstrong, immovable, implacable, inconvincible, inflexible, opinionated, self-willed, stiff-necked, obstinate, unbending, uncompromising, unrelenting, unyielding, willful  (aren't these adjectives horrible?  who would ever want to be described by any of them?)

“But my people did not listen to My voice; Israel would not submit to Me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.”  Psalm 81:11,12

Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.”  Jeremiah 11:8

“But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God.”  II Kings 17:4

“But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”  Jeremiah 7:24

*Determined*
-having reached a decision : firmly resolved

Synonyms of Determined
bent (on or upon), bound, decisive, firm, intent, purposeful, resolute, resolved, set, single-minded

Don't you feel better already?  While still powerful descriptions, these words create an image of strength rather than selfishness.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” Hebrews 12:1

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 2:12-14

“But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”  I Timothy 1:12

“But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”  Isaiah 50:7

*Persevere*
-to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement

Synonyms for Persevere
carry on, persist

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” II Thessalonians 2:15-17

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” I Corinthians 16:13

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  I Corinthians 15:58

Isn't this GREAT?  Do you see what I see?

We are born into sin.  Our flesh seeks its own way from the moment we take our first breath, and it is not until we accept the gift of forgiveness and salvation from God that we are able to FIGHT the flesh and walk in the Spirit.  Friends - it is a choice.  Every day we must choose whether we will live out our selfish wants and desires, or die to self and let the Holy Spirit take over and lead us on the path of righteousness ... in the pursuit of holiness.

the flesh dies
the Spirit dwells
sanctification is seen and lived out

Sanctify
-to set apart to a sacred purpose or religious use
-to free from sin
-to impart or impute sacredness
-to make productive of holiness or piety

Synonyms of Sanctify
cleanse, purge, purify

“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”  II Timothy 2:21

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  I Thessalonians 5:23

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
Amen?
AMEN!

7.27.2013

He will not let us go.

In my daily reading of the Psalms, I came across this chapter, which falls in line with chapters 42 & 43 ... the topic of depression.

Watch how the first nine verses record the lament of the author as he struggles to maintain control of his emotions.

And then, in verse 10, there is a shift as he forces his mind to focus on the wonderful works of the Lord, remembering the many times God upheld him in the midst of trials. He turns his face back to the Lord - where it belongs - and begins to find the peace and contentment he longs for. His circumstances may not change, he may be in the depths of despair again tomorrow, but for now? He is guarding his mind ... taking his thoughts captive ... and choosing to focus on the goodness of His God rather than the emotions of his heart.

I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and He will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints.
You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
Has His steadfast love forever ceased?
Are His promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has He in anger shut up His compassion?”
Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember Your wonders of old.
I will ponder all Your work,
and meditate on Your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
You have made known Your might among the peoples.
You with Your arm redeemed Your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
Psalm 77

Isn't that an amazing change in perspective? In the same prayer the author moves from despondency to praise. Why? Because our God is that powerful - and He can change the hearts and minds of men in a moment. The question is - will we let Him? WIll we trust Him? Will we surrender ALL?

And then - as I read through I Corinthians, this verse jumped off the page and held my attention for days:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I Corinthians 1:4-9

Do you see the promise?? God WILL sustain us! He is capable, able, and WILLING to hold us up when we are weak. And He will not let us go.

Lord, thank You that You are bigger than any of our problems. Thank You that You care about our problems. And thank You most of all, that no matter what storm might be raging around us, You have the power to say, "Be still," - and - You have the strength to keep us standing firm as the wind and waves smash against us. You ARE our rock, Lord, and YOU are never moved.

7.23.2013

We must praise Him IN THE MIDST of the trials.

On Sunday our pastor preached a terrific message on the topic of Depression.  I want to share it because I know that many women struggle with depression - either with a constant overwhelming intensity, in times of trial and difficult circumstances, or even an occasional day or two of feeling low in spirit and fighting to find joy again.

Like anything else we struggle with, the Lord is our ultimate source of comfort and strength, and we must cling to Him when we can see nothing but darkness and despair.  The light does not always shine immediately or brightly, but it IS always shining because GOD is light.

Whether this speaks to you right now as you battle to keep your head above water, or you recall this later when trials wash over you, I pray it will be a source of encouragement ... and HOPE.

First, the text of the message - and then my notes, additions and thoughts all swirled into one.

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me,
“Where is your God?”
When I remember these things,
I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
O my God,my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,
And from the heights of Hermon,
From the Hill Mizar.
Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me—
A prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my Rock,
“Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As with a breaking of my bones,
My enemies reproach me,
While they say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
Psalm 42
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Vindicate me, O God,
And plead my cause against an ungodly nation;
Oh, deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!
For You are the God of my strength; Why do You cast me off?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead meLet them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.
Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy;
And on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in GodFor I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
Psalm 43

The author of these Psalms is "adrift on a sea of wild emotions."

The character of depression. (what does it look like?)
crying, inner restlessness, emotional, fatigued, overwhelmed, no hope things will change, "feels like I'm drowning", "feel alone and rejected" 42:9, 43:2 (even if not true), panic

Is depression a SIN?
No.
However - it can be a result or consequence of sin - and if not handled correctly, depression can lead to sin because it is self-focused and can quickly fix our eyes on our circumstances and people rather than the Lord.  We doubt His power and strength, do not believe what He says, and do not seek HIM ... we seek other ways, other people, other solutions ... and we are to have no one, and nothing, come before Him.

The author of these Psalms longs and thirsts for God. (42:1)  He is not a careless, carnal follower of Jesus.  He talks of his desire to be with God again.  He remembers the days of sweet fellowship and worship in the temple.  He is not a despondant, hard-hearted believer.  He LOVES God.  But for whatever reason, at this specific time, he feels rejected and alone - by people, and by God.  He laments his state of being in the same breath that he says he will still praise God.

Depression does not = a weak or immature Christian.  It is the RESPONSE to the depression that reveals the true heart of the believer.

Jesus battled extreme sadness/depression in the garden of Gethsemane.  The three Gospels describe Jesus' emotion this way:  "Being in agony He prayed more earnestly" (Luke), "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow" (Matthew), "He began to be greatly distressed and troubled" (Mark).
Jesus was sad!  Overwhelmed.  Emotional.  Fatigued.  He did not want to go through the crucifixion and He asked the Father three times if He could be spared.
His depression did not define Him.
His response did.
"THY WILL be done."

Jesus understands our sadness and overwhelming emotions - because He had them!
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15

** NOTE - though He was God, Jesus still asked His disciples - mere men, frail humans, born sinners - He asked them to PRAY for Him!

Depression often causes us to hide and withdraw from everyone we know.  But that is NOT the solution.  We must face it head on, talk about it, confess it, and ask for support, help, accountability, and PRAYER.  If the Son of God needed/wanted prayer in His darkest hour - why would we ever expect to escape the darkness on our own??

The causes of depression.
The absence of desired things.
The presence of undesirable things

Discouragement and despair exist because we are deprived of someone/something we want, or we are surrounded by people and circumstances we do not want. (Both are decided by God Himself! "He gives and takes away." Job)

The Cure for depression.
* Present examination
Look at the depression and ask WHY?  Is this mood necessary?  Is it valid?
"Why are you cast down oh my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?"  INVESTIGATE! Do not take the depression at face value.  Find the source(s) and examine them.

Tell yourself the TRUTH.  Do not let your emotions dictate what your mind will dwell on.  TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR MIND and tell it what it will dwell on!  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7
"Hope in God, for I will yet praise Him!" (42:5)

* Past education
"I will remember Him." (42:6)  Think on, dwell on, remember, recount - His works, His creation, His promises, and His character.

Will you remember what you LOST or will you remember GOD?

The author is looking to GOD (rather than people, absence of desires, or circumstances) and he finds his confidence - and hope in God.  And he PRAISES HIM!!!!!

Nothing in the text says the author's circumstances changed or got better.  He had to choose how
he would respond to the tidal wave crashing over him.  Would he still love, trust, and praise the God he claims to desire with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength?

The answer is YES!

He praised God IN THE MIDST of the trial.

And so must we.

Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead meLet them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.
Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy;
And on the harp I will praise YouO God, my God.

7.20.2013

We need to be fully engaged.

Do you ever feel like you judge people too quickly?  Or without enough information to fully support your opinion?  I do not mean in a sinful, judgmental way, but a judgment based on facts ... what you saw and heard with your own eyes and ears?  It may be good, bad, or indifferent, but you took the information presented and ran with it.  Seems logical, right?  No assumptions were made. Speculation was not involved.  Just facts.  But still something inside of you thought, "Hmm. I wonder ...."

This used to happen to me all the time.  Especially as a teenage girl and a young adult.  I would assume that whatever people told me, or how they acted in front of me, was who they were.  Why would I question what they were showing me?  Why would they lie or pretend to be something they're not?  That made no sense to me.  Because of my naivete, I was fooled and hurt many times, and even worse ... I dismissed certain people because I thought I had them 'all figured out.' What arrogance!  Now, there are some who wear their emotions and heart on their sleeve - not a lot of investigation needs to be done to discover the truth of who they are.  It is right there for all the world to see.  But for most?  Well, most of us wear a mask to cover up the parts that we do not want others to see.  Some wear simple, thin masks that can be easily removed, while others wear masks of such thickness that they appear to be permanently glued to their faces.  Either way - we have to learn to drop the mask ... when it is safe and when we can trust the person who will be looking right at us ... but we have to be willing to remove it - and - we have to be willing to help others remove theirs.

Vulnerability.
Transparency.

These are very scary words for most people.  Even believers.  We are more concerned about what others think of us than what the Lord is thinking of us.  We exhaust ourselves trying to cover up our weaknesses, hide our sin, divert attention away from us, and keep up the appearance of godliness, when we should be keeping our eyes locked on the face of the Father, following wherever He leads us, and letting Him peel away our pride layer by layer so we might be used for His purposes rather than worrying about our own agenda.

A few weeks ago I was standing in a large crowd of people.  I knew all of them at different levels, some intimately and some just by name.  As I stood there watching my children and not really thinking about anything, I was drawn into a conversation between two women that blew me away. One woman I know very well because we have a long history together.  The other woman, who was sharing personal details about her life, is one I do not know personally, but have 'pieced together' through my own observations from a distance.  I was impressed with her willingness to be so open with a virtual stranger, and appreciated that she trusted me to listen.  But what kept running through my mind was, "Oh my word!  How in the WORLD did I not know all of this?"  And I started replaying the things I had seen and heard myself to see if it all added up.

Almost two decades ago I read a book that challenged me with the thought:  Seek to Understand. Is someone screaming at you?  Irritable?  Rude?  Being passive aggressive for no reason?  If so, look for the WHY.  Do not take it at face value.  Maybe she just had a huge fight with her husband.  Maybe her daughter is sick.  Maybe he just found out he is losing his job.  In other words, "Do not take everything personally!  Everything is not about YOU!"  It was one of the best lessons I ever learned as an adult, and as a woman.  Just because I am the one standing there at the time does not mean it is about me.  Look PAST what you see and seek to understand the bigger picture.  And if necessary - ASK!

The reason I was blown away by the conversation between the two women was this:  Though my observations were accurate, and the judgments I made were true, I did not know the back story.  I did not know they WHY.  It did not change anything, but it explained everything.

In one of my favorite movies, North & South, there is a great line about this very thing.  A brother and sister are talking about someone the sister knows very well and whom the brother has never met.  
Frederick:   What a scowl that man has…….  A very disagreeable fellow, I’m sure.
Margaret:   [looking sorrowful]  As with most men, something has happened to make him scowl, Fred.  Don’t judge him harshly.

Our actions, behaviors, words, and attitudes are our responsibility.  We will give an account for all of them.  And sadly, we often expose an ugly side of ourselves to the world when we are hurt or angry.  Others expose their anger, frustration, impatience and sin as well.  And though it is easy to write them off, judge harshly, or even judge fairly - there is always a reason.  Sin is never justified.  But sometimes we need to obey Scripture when it calls us to "overlook an offense" knowing that the person was not malicious ... they were not trying to hurt us ... they were not purposeful in their pain.  They are fighting their own flesh, working through their own hurts, and battling their own demons.

The funny thing is - it is in those hard moments that our masks fall off, exposing everything we are, because we cannot wrestle and hold onto them at the same time.  Our desperate need to look good and godly and put-together is lost in our selfishness and sin.  And then as soon as we glimpse the mask lying in the dust, we scramble to get it, brush it off, and thrown it back on so we can hide once again.  But it is too late.

So the question is - Why don't we take the mask off when we have full control?  When we are walking in the Spirit, reading the Word, worshiping with other believers, and seeking the Lord's face.  That is the time to reveal our hearts to another.  That is the time to say, "This is me!  I love the Lord, I want to know Him more, but I still love my flesh and I still have to fight hard in some areas to win.  I am going to expose my weaknesses, by choice, because God commands us to confess our sins to one another so we can find healing."  Is it still a little scary?  Yes.  Is it vulnerable?  You bet!  But it is RIGHT.

It is absolutely impossible to know everything about everyone.  Even your spouse or your best friend.  But guess what?  The Lord knows every single part of us - even the deep, secret places we are afraid to bring to the light.  He knows!  And He loves us anyway.

The Lord challenged me with something that day.  Because He knows the details of each person He created, He is able, and willing, to show me what I need to see in them.  He is able to make me alert and aware ... to see past the superficial hello and smile we so readily offer ... to hear the quiet cry behind the "I'm good" so I can probe deeper and find out the condition of the beating heart inside.  He has that power!  He longs for us to fulfill the "one anothers" of Scripture.  He wants us to encourage and correct, comfort and urge one another in Christ.  And the best part is - all we have to do is ASK!  

We do not need to know everything about everyone.  But in those few moments when they are sharing with us, willing to talk, and slowly trying to drop the mask - we need to be fully engaged.  Listening.  Looking.  Hearing.  Praying.  How is her heart?  What are her struggles?  What is she holding back that needs to be released?  

"Show me, Lord!  Let me be Your hands and feet to this person right now - for such a time as this - so I do not miss an opportunity to obey You - or serve her.  You know every detail, I know nothing.  Open my eyes to see what You see, and use me to show her that taking off her mask does not have to be scary - it can be freeing!  Make me aware of those around me, Lord.  I know I cannot be everyone's best friend, but I always want to be available for a Divine Appointment.  You have shown me time and again how a simple question can open up the floodgates of a person's heart.  Make me bolder!  Make me aware of who needs the question ... who needs my time ... who needs my attention.  I share my own personal trials and temptations so that others might be encouraged to do the same - but it did not start that way!  You know how shy and fearful and insecure I was, Lord.  It is YOU who has changed me from the inside out, and I am forever grateful.  It is hard to expose our inner darkness ... we fear the thoughts of men more than we fear what You think ... so we stay snug and cozy behind our masks, disobedient to what You have called us to do.  Confess our sins, encourage, rebuke, build up, comfort, pray for, submit to, be kind, and care for one another.  These are YOUR commands, Lord.  And they serve such a good purpose ... if only we will carry them out.
Make me a woman who continually goes fishing in the hearts of those around me - those close to me - and those I hardly know.  We ALL need to be pushed forward at times ... and though it is uncomfortable in the moment, we are always thankful when we look back and see the work of Your hands in our lives.
THANK YOU for being a God who sees and knows and WANTS every part of us.  No one else ever will.  But You, Lord, You will never forsake us."

7.17.2013

20 years ... and hopefully 55 more to come!


Happy 20th Anniversary, Dennis!

20 years of love
memories
trials
rejoicing
hard conversations
laughter
children
loss
ministry
family
friends
career
school
friendship
companionship
forgiveness
understanding
comfort
and joy.

I would not trade our 20 years for anything, D.  Every hardship and every battle fought brought us closer together because we knew there was no way out.  We committed before family and friends that we would travel life together, good and bad, until death - and we have!

Thank you for 20 years of faithfulness, support, encouragement, provision and love.

You are so good to me - far beyond what I deserve.

And I love you.

Happy Anniversary!

7.12.2013

Showing God's love to my children - through my own.


These are my people.

And they need me.

To feed them, wash their clothes, cook their meals, educate them, correct inappropriate behavior, discipline them, teach them manners, listen to their troubles, rejoice in their accomplishments, hug them when they are sad, smile at them 'just because', share my life experiences, support them, encourage them, teach them about God, read the Scriptures ...

and LOVE them.

Unconditionally.

When they make mistakes.  Sin purposefully.  Speak disrespectfully.  Offend one another.  Disobey.  Defy authority.  Lie.  Steal.  Exhibit selfishness.

If I am to be holy as God is holy ...
think of others as better than myself ...
forgive seventy times seven ...

then I must humble myself before my children, no matter how angry or hurt I might be, and show them what the long-suffering, patience and steadfast love of the Father looks like.  I must show them that no matter how often they fail, how many times they must repent of their sin, or seek forgiveness from another ...
I still love them.

And more importantly,
God loves them.
It was because of His love that He sent His Son to die for their sins, giving them the choice to accept the free gift of salvation and eternal life.  God's love is that great - and He willingly offers it to those who will accept it.  
He offers it to my children.
Micah, Luke, Caleb, Josiah, Isaiah, Ellie

And for right now, He has called me to love them - as He loves them.

It is not easy, but I must persevere, doing my best to be obedient so that my children can see the Father in me.  And it is when I overlook an offense, forgive a crime, and quickly forgive that they most understand what unconditional love looks like.  And hopefully, it will make them want it from the One - who loved us first.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38,39

7.08.2013

Vulnerability - a faithful friend - truth - TRUST.

Last week I spent an evening with one of my oldest friends.  She has known me since I was 17
years old - 24 years of friendship.  Though we have not walked trough life together side by side as adults, we know each other inside and out - so much so that we can call out sin in one other after being apart for months.  We are totally alike in some ways, and completely opposites in others ... we drive each other crazy until we want to scream, but the phone number we dial first when there is a tragedy, is each other's.  We actually got into a fight while standing in line to receive our diplomas at our college graduation, and she was the first one I called when the doctor told me I had miscarried.  Our friendship is unique ... intense ... loyal ... and one I would never give up on without a fight.

And to keep our friendship intact the last time we were together, barely eight days ago, I had to fight.  And so did she.  She is always more willing to pick up her sword than I am ... it is not in her nature to run away.  Me?  I am not a runner either, but I am very good at hiding, and waiting out the person seeking to attack me.  I have been mastering this art since I was about eight years old.

And this 'skill' of mine is exactly what brought us to the wrestling mat last week.

It appears to most that I am completely transparent, open, and vulnerable - and for the most part I am.  But you see, the one doing the sharing is completely in control of WHAT is shared - and when. Writing/speaking about personal issues is quite different then being IN THE MOMENT ... feeling out of control, at the mercy of the words/attacks of others, intense emotions, embarrassment, shame, etc.  Talking about those emotions after they happen is not the same as exposing them while they happen.

Before our fight ensued, I was sharing my love for discipling and investing in the lives of young women.  I was animated and eagerly telling her about my girls and what we have been studying together.  I talked on and on about the joy I feel to be allowed into their lives and their desire to grow and learn from someone who has gone before.  (The one thing I wanted desperately when I was their age.)  When I finally finished she replied, "Of course you love it.  You are in control.  You get to choose when to be transparent, and they are not looking for a 'friend' in you.  They have friends. They need you to meet them where they are - encourage them, challenge them, push them where they don't want to go - and you can easily do that!  You are safe in a disciple/mentor relationship, Michelle, because you do not have to be vulnerable unless you want to be.  If they want you, they show up, and if they don't, a relationship is never built.  Your greatest fear never has to be considered because rejection is not a risk.  You are SAFE."

Umm ... wow.  I had to think about that.  Is my motive for discipling pure?  Am I honest and open with these girls?  Do I share the ugly parts of myself with them, or do I hide behind life experience and wisdom?  Do I feel safe?  Or would I be sad if one of them got angry with me and feel the old, familiar sting of rejection once again?  Lord?  I love these girls!  I enjoy every moment with them.  I am honest.  I do share my whole self, don't I?  I am not trying to appear as perfect or put together ... I am just me ... beautiful or ugly ... they see ME.  I suppose there is safety in the fact that our time together is always edifying and purposeful, whereas relationships with my peers present more opportunities for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.  But that is not my motive for discipleship.  I LOVE doing it!  I love pouring into others.  I love seeing the light go on when they understand a verse or discover a part of themselves they needed to see.  It is a JOY and a privilege, Lord!  But if I am missing something, please - please show me!

As you can imagine, I have spent days thinking about this and asking the Lord to reveal truth ... no matter what it might look like.  And so far - He has given me complete peace.

Before I had time to recover from this revealing insight, we were engaged in an entirely different topic that sent her whirling into frustration and anger, and made me want to call out, "Check, please!" and hightail it out of there.  (Okay, sometimes I want to run.  But I never do.  I just stand there and take it.  I never fight back.)

My friend was upset because she felt I was not honest with her about a specific hiccup in our friendship.  We disagree on many topics, and rather than engaging in an open and honest conversation, I drop it, thinking it is a waste of time because neither of us will change our thinking on the matter.  Once a situation becomes tense, I back off.  I will not bring it up again - even avoid it if possible.  But as you know - all this does is leave a gigantic, wheezing, cumbersome white elephant in the room that makes it impossible to "be at peace with one another."   My friend hates elephants.  I rather like them.

We went round and round, trying to explain our personal position on the matter and trying to understand each other.  It took a while, but finally, the frustration and anger ebbed, and was replaced with patience and vulnerability.

I cried.  She listened.  I cried more.  She cried with me.  And while I cried I revealed some things that took her by surprise and caused her to ask some more penetrating questions.

Why don't you ever talk about the 'bad', Michelle?  Why are you so afraid to burden others with your hurts?  You will sit for hours listening to the heart of another, showing great compassion and empathy, but will never ask someone to listen to YOU.  Why?

She is right - but not completely.  I am 100% open and authentic about my own personal struggles, sin, and battles.  When I clam up is when there is a problem between me and another person.  I just take it, internalize it and deal with it my own.  And there is a reason:  as a little girl I watched the devastated, crestfallen faces of people I dearly loved after being hurt by others, and I remember - with perfect accuracy - saying to myself, "I NEVER want to be responsible for that look on a person's face."  I was resolved.  And I did it.

The problem is, I spent the rest of my life apologizing for being me.  Taking the blame for things I did not do in order to protect someone or keep from hurting them.  I never shared my wounds with anyone after they hurt me because then they would feel bad.  I took the hits.  I cried alone in my room where no one could see me.  And I never, ever fought back.

Which brings us back to the question ... when do we overlook an offense, and when do we confront those who have hurt us?  There is no real answer.  It is a case-by-case basis that must be smothered, almost drowned, in prayer.

Finally, she challenged me with this thought:  When you do not tell someone close to you, someone you love, that they have hurt you, or you feel slighted/rejected/dismissed/offended - you are not showing any respect for the relationship, or any value for the person.

Hmmm ... this is something to spend time thinking about.

She continued:  Let THEM decide if they will reject you rather than assuming they will.  TRUST them with your feelings and hurts.  If they walk - they walk.  But if they stay?  You have just created another level of intimacy that will strengthen your foundation as friends for the future.  There will always be a hurdle to jump, whether it is large conflict or a silly one, and the stronger your base, the thicker the bond, the easier it will be to resolve the conflict and be restored to one another.  Loyalty is important to you, Michelle ... so let them prove their loyalty by trusting them enough to handle your emotions and your hurts, and show you that everyone does not run away just because Michelle says or does something they don't like.  Some may reject you.  They have before, and you survived.  You will survive again.

Whew.  It was a wonderful night spent with a dear friend.  It was also one of the hardest
conversations I have had in a long time.  But you know what?  She proved her own point!  We
went at it, the two of us, right there in the middle of the restaurant.  Both of us willing to fight to the death to preserve our position, both yielding at the end when we realized that the only thing at stake was our pride - not our friendship.  We left with it completely intact - stronger actually.  And her last words to me before we left?  "Thank you for engaging, Michelle.  You showed me that I am important enough for you to do something you hate doing ... fighting.  I needed to see that."

And the Lord used her to remind me how much I value the women in my life who are willing to wound me ... "faithful are the wounds of a friend" ... because they love me that much. And if I want to be faithful, I have to be willing to inflict wounds from time to time, even when the only thing I want to do,

is hide.

Lord, thank You that I am not walking this life alone.  Thank You that I do not have to walk as a Christian alone.  It is impossible!  The flesh always wants its own way - the Spirit only wants YOUR way ... and I so want to be bearing His fruit.  Keep teaching me, Lord.  Never stop showing me my weaknesses and sin.  It is hard to bear, and You know how many hurts I will carry on my back to avoid hurting someone else, but somewhere in the middle is balance.  Overlooking offenses and hurts - and facing them head on.  Keep me right in the center, Lord, with my eyes always fixed on You, the author and PERFECTER of my faith!

7.07.2013

Why we need to PRAY!

We recently finished our expository study of I Thessalonians in church.  It was a fantastic time of digging into God's Word and exploring this book in depth.

One of my favorite sermons was the one on prayer.  Prayer is a topic I enjoy studying, discussing and thinking about.  It is such a powerful thing in the life of a Christian - and often underused.  God says we have not because we ask not - and then models that we must surrender our will to that of the Father just as Jesus did in the garden before His death.

Nothing is too large to ask of the Lord, and nothing is too small.  But either way, we must ask knowing that He is the One who gives and takes away, and we do not have to understand His ways to be thankful or rejoice over His dealings with us.  He is God.  We - are not.  Prayer increases our faith because we do not know how to pray ... the Holy Spirit intercedes for us because He knows the true motives and desires of our hearts, and He alone is able to reconcile our prayers with the desires of a holy God.  What a beautiful gift the Lord has given His children with this promise!

My notes and thoughts are brief, but they help me remember the wonderful truths of why God created prayer, why it is imperative in the life of a Christian, and we we must engage in prayer with the Lord - continually.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  I Thessalonians 5:16-18


Rejoice Always
Joy is a CHOICE.
Rejoicing and thanksgiving should be a continual part of our day - regardless of our circumstances.
A Christian should be marked by JOY.

Pray Continually
Be prayerful - pray without ceasing - do NOTHING without prayer
Prayer is "practicing His presence"
'Without ceasing' means - an attitude of prayer ... all the time
Turn everything into a prayer
We should always be praying - or on the verge of praying

Purpose of prayer
We have a duty to pray WITH each other and FOR each other.

For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.  But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.  I Sam 12:22-24

Persistency of prayer 
Pray without fainting
Continue praying as long as necessary

Why does God makes us wait for answers?
to change us
increase our faith
purify our motives
increase our thankfulness
reveal to us if we are praying the right way - do we really need/want what we think we do? (genuine desires)
it fosters a greater gratitude for God's provisions


Prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan. ~ John Bunyan

The fewer the words the better prayer. ~ Martin Luther

Prayer is an effort of will. ~ Oswald Chambers

Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. A man is powerful on his knees. ~ Corrie Ten Boom

Prayer – secret, fervent, believing prayer – lies at the root of all personal godliness.  ~ William Carey