Fellowship

anne and diana

I’ve always loved the story Anne of Green Gables. After watching the movie for the first time, I wanted to move to Prince Edward Island, wear lace and satin dresses with puffed sleeves, and travel through iridescent winter snow in a sleigh. For those of you that don’t know the story, Anne of Green Gables tells the tale of a little orphan girl who is adopted by an elderly brother and sister, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. Anne is dramatic, dreadfully obnoxious about the hatred she has for her own red hair, and absolutely endearing in her charm. Shortly after Anne moves in with the Cuthberts, Anne meets and becomes friends with her raven haired neighbor, Diana Barry. Anne, with her typical flair for words, proclaims Diana as her “bosom friend” and a “kindred spirit.” The two best friends live their childhoods and eventually adult lives together loving each other and encouraging each other in all circumstances.

Growing up, my kindred spirit was my brother. We did battle together as toddlers and in early childhood sharing traumatic experiences living in a children’s home and then later foster homes. Our scars bound us for life. As we grew, our relationship never faltered. Because Scott was my twin, we could do the spooky twin thing by thinking alike and finishing each other’s sentences. We had our own language and inside jokes. Scott would simply make a facial expression, and I would comprehend a reference he was making in just that one look. My response to these sly funny expressions was usually to bust a gut laughing. My poor confused parents were always asking in reaction to these giggling outbursts, “What are you laughing about now, Julie?” Try as they might, Mom and Dad never did comprehend our “twin speak”. Scott recently moved hundreds of miles away from home. However, we are still intimately connected often sharing similar thoughts, observations, and emotions at the same time regardless of the distance.

While fictional Anne and Diana and very real Scott and I have all enjoyed the benefits of having a bosom friend, I submit that there is a level of relationship even deeper than that of a kindred spirit: fellowship. Fellowship requires a spiritual bond among those who have been given God’s Name at their spiritual rebirth.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”(John 3:5)

Children of God share the same Heavenly Father. We have a commonality that is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it. I’m determined, however, to try.

During the summer after I graduated from college with a degree in education, I searched diligently for two things: a teaching job and a Christian friend. I hustled all over town dropping off resumes throughout the months of June and July. Many days as I drove to yet another school dressed in casual business attire, I prayed for a Christian friend. I was still wet behind the in this faith walk with Jesus, and I needed someone to council and walk with me. A week before the start of the 2003-2004 school year, I still had yet to find a job or a new friend. I was desperate.

In a last ditch effort to find employment, I got out a giant phone book, opened to the blue “government agencies” section, and started calling schools with names that began with the letter “A”. I asked over and over again as I moved down the list, “Do you have any openings in the social studies department?” Over and over again, I got a negative response. Finally, when I called a school named New Beginnings, the receptionist answered with a surprising, “Yes, we do. When are you able to come in for an interview?”

I interviewed the next day and knew intuitively before I got a call back that the job was mine. God had saved this position just for me. By the end of the week, the principal of New Beginnings showed me my new classroom, and I began painting the room a sunny yellow color in an attempt to make an inviting place for students. It was in this school working at my first “grown up” job that I met Lacheena, my first Christian friend.

Lacheena was the English teacher down the hall who also happened to serve as an associate pastor at a local church. Cheena was very open about her relationship with God. Not one to waste an opportunity, I pounced on the chance to learn. In fact, I probably drove her nuts with my wide eyed persistence those first few months. As our relationship blossomed from coworkers to friends, we began to spend more time together. She invited me to a Gospel concert where I delighted in exuberant African American style worship for the first time. Cheena and I began going out to lunch together almost daily. New Beginnings was located within blocks of “The Circle”, or the epicenter of Indianapolis. We hopped around downtown trying different cuisines and having great conversations. Every day at lunch that first year, Cheena would prompt me to pray when the food arrived by saying, “Bless the food Julie.” Always I declined because I was afraid that my simple prayer would sound silly or trite compared to Cheena’s eloquent prayers. Instead of judging me for my refusal, my friend would simply nod, thank Jesus for our meal, and proceed with lunch. One day, however, I bravely assented to praying before we ate. I prayed. Cheena cried.

Eventually, I began attending Lacheena’s church not caring that I was one of three white folks in the congregation. I brought my Bible to work daily as my faith grew, and we’d encourage each other with Scripture. We fasted together. I danced with her on the church’s praise dance team. My daughter Zoe and I went on vacation with Cheena, her son, and her nephew to Orlando. When I wrecked the rental car in a driveway after the trip to Florida, she hugged me and let me cry over my silly yet costly mistake. When I discovered something new in Scripture or in prayer, I called her. When I had a bad day, Cheena always listened to my plight. When I gave birth to Noah, she came to pray for my son. Simply put, we walked together for two years.

One day during this season of my life, my mother asked me over a cup of Chinese black tea why I liked Lacheena so much. I needed no time to answer this important question. I simply answered, “She’s real, Mom.”

Before I met Cheena, I wrongly thought that I had to be perfect to be a Believer. Growing up, I went to church every Sunday and saw folks dressed up in their Sunday best never recognizing that they were also wearing their Sunday masks. I wrongly thought that these church goers had it all together. As a little girl and then a teenager, I inwardly compared their imagined perfect lives to my messiness and knew I would and could never measure up.

Then came my friend Cheena. She wore no masks. She was open about her struggles, and testified to God’s grace and love. She found freedom in Christ, and because of the Lord’s goodness, Jesus used her to open my prison doors so that I too could live free. Her example crushed any doubt that God could love me for me, brokenness and all. It was only then that I was able to break out of religion and its mandates that bark out orders to “work” for a relationship with God. I exchanged this religious slavery for Jesus’s extravagant grace. Finally, I understood what this verse really meant:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Because of my friendship with Cheena, I was made better. A part of my soul was healed. God’s Word became flesh when Cheena’s life’s testimony displayed the truth of Ephesians 2:8-9.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

Eventually job changes, a marriage, and Lacheena’s relocation to Kentucky caused a needed shift in our close friendship. These God directed changes would grow our faith even more. However, no matter the distance or time, we will always be eternal sisters.

The above (hopefully) demonstrates the fundamental difference between the world’s definition of friendship and God’s sanctified version that He calls fellowship. Friends love each other just as they are. Those in fellowship love each other just as they are, but they also spur each other on to do better. Fellowship builds up character, honor, justice, and love through brave transparency.

A few years down the road after drinking that cup of tea with my mother and trying to explain unexplainable fellowship, she and I signed up to take a women’s Bible study together. After the third or fourth session, mom exclaimed with childlike wonder, “These women, Julie! They are amazing!” I smiled and nodded knowingly in the passenger seat as we drove home. Mom saw perhaps for the first time in her life what true fellowship looked like throughout the course of the study. Fellowship is richer and fuller than anything worldly relationships have to offer.

Just yesterday as I was working on this post, my mother approached me at my desk at work to talk about what happened during her last Sunday’s church service. A man with a terminally ill spouse openly sought refuge in front of the congregation. He testified that he could not have imagined being anywhere else during such a difficult time. This grieving man was prayed for by his spiritual brothers and sisters and enveloped in tangible supporting love. Mom was moved to tears even a day later as she relayed all she had seen and heard.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

A final illustration to bring the point home…

A few weeks ago, I texted my neighbor “Amy” to ask if she wanted to take a walk. If you have been reading my blog at all, you know that Amy is an outspoken atheist, humanist, Christopher Hitchens loving post-modernist. Although we obviously have differing worldviews, I love her dearly and pray for her almost daily. It is a strange friendship, but one that I cherish. Anyway, she agreed walk with me. Actually, Amy gracefully glided down the path (the girl does triathlons for fun) while I huffed and puffed to try to keep up with what she probably thought was a painfully slow pace. As we walked, she talked about work relationships, and I chatted about a project that was occupying the majority of my time. At some point, the topic of conversation moved to friendship. Amy loves her girlfriends and cherishes girl time. Although she has been married for five years, she still cultivates these important friendships and makes them a priority. In fact, she declared, “If (my husband) were to ever do me wrong, I would run to my girls. They will always be there for me.” As I was silently pondering the implications of this philosophy, she observed the wheels turning in my brain. When I continued to say nothing in response, she prompted, “Wouldn’t you go to your girls too?” I answered with a simple “yeah” because it’s true. I would go to my girlfriends for support. However, what I did not say was that my friends would advise me so differently in her hypothetical circumstance that I found it difficult to equate the two. For example, if our spouses “did us wrong”,

Amy’s friends would say, “We’re here for you. We love you.”

My friends would say, “We love you, but Christ loves you more.”

Amy’s friends would say (especially if the issue were infidelity), “Forget about him. He doesn’t deserve you anyway.”

My friends would say, “While Christ does allow divorce when your partner has been unfaithful, He also asks us to pursue reconciliation. Those who have been forgiven much are asked to forgive. 70X7! (Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:22)

Amy’s friends would comfort her with a night out and maybe even buy her a cocktail. They might even have a few choice words for her husband.

My friends would pray with me and for me. They would also pray for Jason. They would love him too.

In addition to our very different views of friendship, I was also quietly concluding as I walked that Amy and I have very different views on marriage. She hangs on to her autonomy, while I ask God to unite Jason and I. I believe that Amy’s friends and her own very modern independence, whether she is consciously aware of it are not, are her backup plan just in case her marriage fails. With God’s grace and teaching, I have surrendered all backup plans in favor of Jesus’s plan for marriage that makes two become one flesh.

The crux of the friendship v. fellowship matter is this: worldly friends counsel us to do whatever makes us happy. “Follow your heart” is the supportive friend’s motto. In contrast, Godly friends counsel us to strive to be more like Jesus. This usually means the denial of self, the suppressing of thorny emotions that can easily tangle us up, and loving the way God loves through the power of the Spirit. Finally, fellowship is most beautiful because all who share in it and break bread in Jesus’s Name know that our relationships will never fade away. We all will be together in paradise one day.

The Apostle John said to his readers, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3)

Big

big

When I was a child, one of my favorite places to play was my Grandparents’ yard. Grandma and Grandpa lived in the country on a sprawling green lawn. A lazy Willow tree swayed by the mailbox and fire bushes lit up the long gravel driveway during the fall. Behind their red brick house was a field where deer and other wildlife could be seen. My brother and I would romp around their vast property using walky-talkies to communicate from afar. We marveled at wild mushrooms, set up forts under the Willow, got muddy with the other animals in their field, learned to shoot a sling-shot and a BB gun, and identified different kinds of rocks under my grandfather’s expert tutelage. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was truly a curious child’s paradise.

Years later when both my grandparents had passed, Mom and Dad decided to drive by the old house. As it came into view, I was astounded. Their yard was so small! Time seemed to have shrunk the whole place.

I’ve come to believe that our dreams shrink with time too. Ask a little boy what he wants to be when he grows up, and he might shout, “A NFL football player!” or “An architect!” Little girls want to be Miss America, an actress, or the doctor that finally finds the cure for cancer. As children grow into adolescence, they come to understand their unique gifts and talents. Teenagers are wonderful to talk to because they have a youthful optimism usually lost on adults. Most high school graduation speeches drip with hope and an anxious energy that motivates listeners to “go” and “do”. Kids truly believe that their life matters and that they are destined to make a dent in the world.

However, something happens to many of us as we age. Our priorities change. Sometimes we get hurt. Our once starry eyed buoyancy can give way to apathy. Worse, we can become cynical. In my opinion, the folks that are the most difficult to be around are those that have morphed into bitter shells through the course of time.

After my brother and I got our driver’s license in high school, we enjoyed the privilege of driving to and from school together without the prying ears of our parents or other censoring adults. I always let Scott drive so I could relax and enjoy the view outside the window. Sometimes we’d talk about mundane things as our little red Chevy sped down the road. Many days I would spend the morning commute applying my makeup. Every once in a while, however, our usual teenage conversation would take a turn to higher more secretive subjects. Even though both of us were far away from the Lord, we had a sense that we were a part of a bigger plan. Perhaps those listening would have found us arrogant as we tried to verbalize a feeling of being “different” or “set apart” from the crowd. We weren’t prideful though. We just somehow intuitively knew that there was something undefinable about us verses many of our peers at school.

I wish I would have known this Scripture back then like I do now because it would have explained so much:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Now that I know of God’s love for me, I read these verses and marvel at His absolute astounding generosity and powerful sovereignty.

God is not a man that He should lie (Numbers 23:19). All of God’s promises are “yes” and “amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Because I have accepted the free gift of salvation based on Christ’s work on the cross (and not anything… ANYTHING… I’ve done to earn my way to heaven), I know through reading God’s Word that:

• I am a part of a chosen race. God CHOSE me. I have no idea why He chose me (I would not have chosen me), but He did. He chose me regardless of my faults, my worst secrets, and my failures to honor Him with my words and actions.

After my brother and I were adopted, Mom used to say, “Most parents don’t choose their children. They simply have the baby that is given to them. However, your dad and I chose you both to be part of our family.” This explanation always made me feel special and wanted.

I was chosen all over again when Jesus drew me to His side to be a part of God’s family. Paul writes in Romans 8:15:

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father’! The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Chosen sons and daughters of God are coheirs with Christ. Jesus is not only our God, He is our Brother. The Lord God Almighty reigns forever, and in our Father’s generosity and love, He has chosen us His children to reign with Him.

• All of those that believe Jesus’s message of hope are holy. Holy literally means set apart. God’s set apart people are bonded spiritually in ways that cross all boundaries, yet His family is comprised of people from every nation, tribe and tongue. I take joy in knowing that I not only will spend my life here on earth in relationship with other Christians, but I also rejoice because I will spend eternity with these precious people!

Even though time and conscious awareness hadn’t yet caught on to God’s perfect plan for Scott and I back in high school, our eternal spirits inside us cried out for more than the rat race we saw others running. We understood that life was somehow more than school, job, kids, the acquiring of things, and death. We were purposed for something big. Jesus had His hand on our lives, and a desire deep down under the surface craved and will always crave fellowship with our Creator and His people.

• I am here to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called me out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Just typing this sentence gives me goose bumps. This is my purpose! I write this blog to tell others that God is real, that He is good, and that Jesus is in the business of redeeming lives. This calling is the highest calling in the universe. It’s bigger than any job promotion, bigger than finally purchasing that Mercedes or mansion, and bigger than finally finding a spouse or having a child. God’s people are called to live lives that have eternal impact.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)

I am accepted in the Beloved. I am recklessly loved by the Maker of the Universe. This knowledge changed the direction of my life. I hope it has changed or will change yours!

Because my Father is the God of the universe, I can and should dream big. My childhood dreams sound small and silly in comparison to the dreams that God has given me through His Spirit. The crazy part is that God’s dreams for me are even grander than I could ever imagine.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

God not only goes before me as I move in my purpose to declare His attributes and glory, He is literally living inside me giving me the power to accomplish the good works that were prepared for me in advance.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

I hope that you are seeing through the reading these scripture passages two things:

1. God loves you. He is madly in love with YOU.
2. Knowing Scripture is imperative. If you don’t read the Bible, you will never understand just what lengths God has gone to redeem you back to Himself. You won’t know how to stand under trial. You won’t know His promises. You will be destroyed due to lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). Know God’s Word! All God’s promises are mine as a coheir with Christ. God’s Word is true. It is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).

The Lord has been gracious to give me a teacher and mentor who showed me how to dream big by depending on Christ. His name is David. Just like King David, my friend David is truly a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). He is a simple guy and super likeable. What sets David apart (there is the definition of holy again) is that he truly believes that Jesus is with him wherever he goes (Joshua 1:9). David dreams big. If he wants an audience with a well-known person for example, David prays for the appointment, does what he can to accomplish his goal, and then he waits for God’s answer. I’ve seen Jesus open doors for David over and over again. God does the miraculous through David simply because David believes Jesus at His Word in faith and not fear.

Predictably, David’s influence has rubbed off on me.

A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40)

I recently took on a project that involved getting prayer leaders throughout the city of Indianapolis to volunteer to pray on the steps of Indiana’s State House on 9/11/2014. David encouraged me to “dream big” and aim high. The turnout that day was great, and Jesus afforded me the opportunity to meet key Christian figures in our state. I was so encouraged to be surrounded by influential men and women of faith. It was an awesome learning opportunity.

Back when I first came to Christ, the Lord revealed His plan for my life using the following verse:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Remembering that Jesus was speaking to his disciples here in Acts just before His ascension, when Christ said Jerusalem, He meant that the disciples would begin their work not far from home. The twelve would witness to their own Jewish people including the disciples’ inner circles and families. Judea and Samaria would push them outside their normal boundaries and cultural comfort zones. Finally, Jesus, looking forward through all of church history said that His Gospel message of grace would reach the entire world.

The Holy Spirit visited me as the Spirit visited the disciples on Pentecost back at the beginning of my faith walk (see blog post Fire). My “Jerusalem” is my family, neighbors, and friends. Scott came to Christ very shortly after I did, my husband got saved and is serving the Lord as a Bible teacher, and my parents’ faith is growing and producing good fruit. I take zero credit. All glory goes to the Lord Who is faithful.

Three years ago, I began working in a Christian school. I’ve taught a Bible study here and been able to serve God and His people joyfully. I’ve managed the prayer event just spoken of above and have gotten to do a myriad of other things that have helped me grow. Slowly, as Jesus allows, my sphere of influence is widening just as He said it would.

Truthfully, I’m looking forward to the next season of life when I get to be a light and a witness in the whole world. Those days are coming. I believe that Jesus is with me and will take me to those remote places of the world because His promises to me can be trusted. God’s dreams for me are BIG! Amen!

I don’t share these promises to boast in myself, but to boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31)! I’m not deserving, but I believe in God’s grace and plan for my life. My name, Julie, means “youthful”. I pray that I will always be as a child, with childlike faith and dreams looking to Papa God to use me, a simple vessel, to accomplish His purposes.

To close this post, I will sneak in just a few more amazing Scriptures and a song that describe how much Jesus loves you and me.

“For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them
!” (Psalm 139:13-17)

For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust
.” (Psalm 103:8-13)

Undaunted

flower-in-sidewalk

I. Am. Tired.

Not just tired. I’m overwhelmed. I feel like a small animal wanting to weasel her way behind the potty during a thunderstorm. All around me is busyness. My thoughts are in turmoil. Things aren’t peachy in my world, and I’m brave enough to say so.

Someone I am friends with on Facebook recently wrote that she was thinking about leaving social media because she was tired of the façade. “Our lives are not all rainbows and unicorns,” she lamented. She was right to put off by the hypocrisy. Unlike every posed, cropped, filtered, and smiling picture, life is not perfect. It’s not whiny or a “buzz kill” to say so. It’s real.

I would like to expand on my Facebook friend’s point to say that life is especially difficult for Believers. God’s Word warns us that life will be hard for Jesus followers. However, every time the Lord speaks to us of inevitable suffering and trials, He then reminds us of our anchor through the storm, our ultimate hope in Christ, and His precious promises. A few verses to exemplify:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2 (Notice James says when you encounter trials, not if.)
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
• And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10

I had already written all of the above and much of the rest of this post when I came across a horrifying news report on CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHa5WemS2Kw.

I cannot fathom the trials and suffering the linked news story is covering. ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is seeking to eradicate all Christians in Iraq by burning churches with dozens trapped inside, beheading children and placing their heads on stakes in terrorizing displays of barbarism, raping and murdering women in front of their bound and helpless husbands, and hanging and crucifying (yes, I said crucifying) men. It’s systematic genocide. Right now, 40,000+ Christians are running for their lives in the northern, mountainous, and arid region of Iraq some 50 miles from a safe border. President Obama has responded to their desperate plight by authorizing air strikes and humanitarian aid. I agree with the POTUS’s decision but wish he would do more. In fact, my flesh says, “Bring the rain.” All my pacifist tendencies vanish when I see a picture of a little girl dressed in a blue doll dress, hose, and shoes who is missing her head. Oh the horror. Yet, I have not only prayed for my Christian brothers and sisters, I have also prayed for their persecutors (Luke 6:28). While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). I have also prayed that many would come to know Jesus the Nazarene because of the faith of Iraqis Christians.

After viewing the news and hearing of ISIS boasts that they “will raise the flag of Allah in the Whitehouse,” I go back to the scriptures I copied and pasted rather flippantly and hang on tight to their words. I am not arrogant enough to think that persecution will not come to my part of the world. In fact, I believe that in my life time and especially in my children’s, suffering for Christ’s name will be an ever present reality in the west because of our rapidly changing and (often) disintegrating culture. To quote the Book of James again: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” I am thankful for the hope that I have in Christ and for the crown of life that awaits me. This world, this utterly broken, sinful, often scary world is not my home. I am glad that one day God will erase the injustice on the planet when He comes in fierce justified wrath. By His spoken Word His enemies will be erased.

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

Until that great and terrible Day of the Lord, Jesus tarries. He waits with supernatural patience and love so that more of His lost children living in a temporal world would come back to their eternal home.

The personal “trails” that I began describing when I opened this post are completely superfluous compared to what my brothers and sisters around the world are going through. It is sobering to view my blessed cushy life from a wider perspective. My prayer after learning about these things is this: May I and the rest of the Western church be found faithful in our freedom. Amen.

However… 

Because Jesus loves me, He takes the time to comfort me. He used a strong man of God to bring a word of encouragement just this past Sunday. So, although my issues and battles pale in comparison to the persecuted church (and should not really appear in the same sentence), God is still taking care of me. Wow. How great is our God! And so, I continue to write very gingerly. I do so because I know I am probably not alone in my weariness. 

Yes. I admit it. I’m weary of doing good. The mind is the battlefield, and I am exhausted by fighting off the shooting arrows that attempt to break me down and tear me to pieces- particularly when I am low on gas. I have to fend off 1,000 lies a day with the truth of scripture. Lies that whisper that God doesn’t know what He is doing when He sets up boundaries, lies that tell me I’m not good enough or unlovable, lies that tempt me to quit running the faith race in favor of the concrete curb of Lukewarm Christianity.

Some days, when I’m feeling particularly blue, I look around at others living for themselves and wish my life were as easy. Answering to no ultimate authority is a fun illusion. Sin has a season. Living selfishly feels like flying- until you slam head first into a mountain.

Mercifully, God let me crash and burn when I was 18. Yes, I said mercifully. God loves those He disciplines. Many will never fall as hard as I did and thus never see their folly until it is too late. The consequences of selfish living hurt worse than anything I could ever verbalize here. I hope I never feel that much pain again. I still can’t openly talk about that period- perhaps someday. However, when all around me was ash and rubble in my late teens and early twenties, I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life: living “free” by only serving myself led to slavery.

The Lord showed me that to gain my life, I have to lose it (Matthew 16:25). Unlike my Godless friends, I should pray about everything before taking any major life step (I’m working on being able to say “do pray” instead of “should pray”). I can’t work wherever I want, live wherever I want, go to whatever movie I want, make plans however I want, dress however I want, and say whatever I want. “Jesus is Lord” is not some trite profession. He is my Master and King. I must do His will out of the abundant love and gratitude for all He has done for me. Back in 2005, I promised to be a slave for Jesus. I wrote down that promise and signed my name. I still have this covenant/contract in a small Dollar Store frame as a reminder. The Lord needs no such reminder of my promise. I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t kept my word every day at every moment, but I can say that this promise has dictated the course of my entire life. I am His and He is mine.

It’s not an easy life. The road is so narrow.

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)

How much easier would Moses have had it in this life if he would have chosen to enjoy palace life, drink, and be merry? Instead, he elected to walk a much more difficult path that included standing up to Pharaoh at the risk of his life, running from armies, circling mountains in the desert, and leading a grumbling, displaced, and disobedient people. Moses wisely understood that true riches had nothing to do with what the world could offer. He knew I AM, and willingly gave up everything in exchange for Him who is altogether worthy, beautiful, and holy. Paul confirmed this truth when he said, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

As I (finally) finish up what has proven to be a difficult post, today’s headlines have shifted from the dire situation in Iraq to the apparent suicide of Robin Williams. Robin was a man who had it all according to the world: riches, fame, a beautiful family, a successful career. All of these could not bring him true lasting happiness. Christ said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Mark 8:36) It’s a sobering lesson.

Daily I choose to sacrifice my wants and wishes as the men and women of God have done before me. I wait and hope and reach. Jesus encourages me to keep going when He says, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) Truth is right. I have seen miracles. I have lost nothing and have gained everything. The joy that a life with Jesus brings is not the world’s shallow version found in such things as weekend entertainment, a big house, or public praise. The joy and gladness that I possess in Christ sustains me through the suffering and hardships of this life. I don’t need all the other stuff that is supposed to make me happy. They amount to garbage compared to the all surpassing joy of knowing Jesus.

One day in my early twenties, I drove down a highway leading me to Indiana University where I was taking classes during my senior year of college. A song called I Can Only Imagine started playing on my favorite and very secular radio station. When I listened to the lyrics, my eyebrows furrowed. “What is this cheesy song?” I thought. After a few more seconds of Velveeta, I checked the frequency to make sure I hadn’t accidentally nudged the dial to another station. Nope. I was still tuned into my regular spot. The more I listened to this (what at first I thought to be a) ridiculous song, the more uncomfortable I got. A man fervently belted out the chorus,

“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine.”

Obviously, for the gentlemen singing, the prospect of meeting Jesus brought great hope. For me, facing Christ invoked only one feeling: fear. I knew I wasn’t right with God. I broke His laws daily and had to acknowledge that a just Deity would rightly punish me for my behavior. Although I was inwardly quaking at the truth coming through my speakers, I could not muster the strength to turn the dial or lower the volume. Even in my Godless state, I thought it disrespectful to change the station.

There were two things that I didn’t understand that day in my car:

1. Mercy Me’s I Can Only Imagine broke all records in Contemporary Christian music. The single became so popular that secular radio stations were forced to play it because the demand for the song was so high.

2. The Lord used this piece of music as the impetus to my new life in Him. My fear of death and of God drove me to begin to search for answers to life’s important questions. This fear was God’s mercy in action. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) I had lived a decade for myself in the pursuit of happiness but had never found it. The man singing had what all of us ache for- a peace that surpassing all understanding.

When I hear I Can Only Imagine now, I can smile because I am no longer afraid. My hope in Christ and the final glorious rest that awaits me is my all surpassing hope and thus the anchor in my soul.

The Solid Rock (Edward Mote)

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name. Refrain:
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

War II

Hotel Fall Break 2013

Hotel Fall Break 2013

I have already written about warfare in a previous entry. I would suggest visiting that post before reading this one if you haven’t already done so.

As stated in my earlier in my blog, I experienced spiritual attacks almost nightly in dreams when I was first learning about spiritual warfare. In this season of my life, God was training me to battle in the spirit.  Ephesians 6:10-17 quickly became “signpost” verses:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  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.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Notice that we are to “stand our ground”, a mostly defensive action.  Believers have the high ground because of Jesus’s victory on the cross.  Christians are protected by the strong and mighty tower of God.  The Lord is our fortress!  Ephesians 6 is a blueprint (worthy of an entire book) for how to defend ourselves from attacks when they come.  Admittedly these assaults arrive in various forms, not just in dreams.  Trust me, though, if you are living a life worthy of the high calling, they will come.

During the years of nightly assaults, I fervently prayed for pleasant dreams and peaceful sleep. These prayers went unanswered.  Instead, the nocturnal fights continued, many times to the point of mental and physical exhaustion.  I had an academic knowledge in my head that the Lord was stronger than the enemy, but this knowledge hadn’t truly clicked in my heart because it still fluttered with fear when I thought about the hideous creatures, plot lines, and screaming lies that tormented me while I slept.  For several months, I had a hard time going to sleep because I knew what would inevitably happen when I closed my eyes.  Hotel stays were the worst!  I made it a practice to tune alarm clock radios to Christian music whenever checking into a new room because I knew I would be visited by demonic spirits at night if I had not cleansed the environment.  Demons of lust were particularly present in hotel rooms.  Because guests have easy access to erotic movies without the threat of getting caught, it is not hard to guess why. 

I feel I should pause here to say that I never had these kinds of ultra-sensory dreams before giving my life to Christ.  It wasn’t until I became a Christian and really started praying and fighting sin patterns that I ruffled Satan’s feathers enough to pay any attention to little ol’ me. 

In 2007 when my family moved to a new apartment, my dreams were suddenly flooded with demons of anger.  These creatures had features that were contorted in ways reminiscent of Edward Munch’s The Scream yet infinitely more ugly and colorless.  Rage would seep into me like black fire when surrounded by indescribable demonic hatred.  I’d wake up angry and then have a hard time maintaining composure when met with the slightest offense throughout the day.  Although my husband thought me crazy at the time, the attacks got so bad that I finally prayed through my apartment anointing walls and doorways with oil.  Soon after this exercise, I learned through conversations with neighbors that our apartment’s previous occupants were frequently heard screaming at each other through shared walls, and more than once cops were called due to domestic violence issues.  It was only when I prayed specifically against these spirits did they cease to bother me at night. (Some evil can only be rooted out by prayer and fasting. Mark 9:29)

Through time and experience, I found I was specifically susceptible to attacks under certain conditions:

  1. If I had unforgiveness in my heart.  That unforgiveness gave the enemy an open door that would have otherwise been closed.  (2 Corinthians 2:10-11 “To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.”)
  2. If I was engaged in unrepentant sin.  God did not and will not let me get by with continual disobedience.  He will send chastisement in many forms.  One of the ways He disciplines me is to remove His protective hand to allow spiritual attacks.  When faced with such raw evil, the only logical place to turn back in repentance is the safe loving care of Abba.
  3. If I took medicine.  I know this might be    controversial, but I stand by what I am saying here.  If and when I take medicine, over-the-counter or prescription, I proceed with special caution.  Drugs weaken cognitive defenses and open hidden doors in the mind. 

I am grateful that Father, in His infinite wisdom, did not answer those fear laced prayers to take the attacks away, but instead chose to allow these experiences to continue until I was taught by them and strengthened. Only by practicing do we get better, and as I fought night after night I became a warrior.  I learned how to discern quicker, get victory faster, and finally rest in God.  The most important lesson I learned was this: Jesus is more powerful than Satan.  In fact, Satan and his minions are reduced to quaking inept masses in God’s presence.  Just saying, “Jesus” sends the demons packing.  Let me say that again so that it might sink in for real even if you have heard this truth a thousand times but still struggle with fear: just speaking the Name of Jesus binds evil.  God demonstrates His sovereignty and complete rule on earth and in the cosmos when we, His earthly soldiers made of clay, say, “JESUS!” Hallelujah! 

As the months and then years continued, the attacks became less frequent.  When my husband became a believer and I had his prayer covering, they stopped almost altogether.  If and when I experience a demonic attack these days, God is usually trying to teach me something, or it is because of one of the three reasons listed above.

One evening last fall, I was praying fervently for my neighbor’s salvation before going to sleep.  That night, the Lord gave me a dream.

I stood on a road gazing at a field in the distance.  It was winter.  I saw thousands of black birds on the ground. In my spirit, I knew the birds were unclean spirits.  I was shocked by their number- there were so many!  As soon as this thought came to my mind, the scene changed.

I was on my bed looking up towards the ceiling.  My room was bathed in light (even though it was dark outside).  The birds from the field were flying as a united flock above me swooping through in a continuous rolling sea of black.  Even in the presence of such evil, I was completely and utterly calm.  Peaceful even.  I sang quietly as the unclean spirits flew, “I love You, Jesus. I love You, Jesus.” 

I woke up still trying to physically and mentally sing the same sweet song, “I love You Jesus.”

I understood most of the interpretation of the dream as soon as my eyes opened and then more as I thought about it in the coming days. The field I saw is where the seed of the Word of God was sown in Amy’s heart just as in the parable of the sewer in Matthew 13. 

Matthew 13:3 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.”

Jesus, explaining what this portion of the parable meant to His disciples says in Matthew 13:19, “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”

The soil of Amy’s heart was hard packed just like the soil along a path so that the seeds of God’s Word cannot penetrate. In the dream, I recognized the birds for what they were: Satan and his demons.  Any seeds of God’s Word sown on the ground of Amy’s heart were furiously eaten before they could take root. As soon as I understood their purpose, they turned to fight me.  However, because perfect love casts away all fear (1 John 4:18), they found no purchase in or around me to cause fear.  I was free of them.

God gave this dream to instruct me on how to proceed in praying for Amy.  I knew I had pray AND fast.  There were many demons behind the scenes working to keep her in the dark.  Amy has much influence.  Her conversion would affect many others- so it is no surprise that Satan would send so many to steal the seeds sown.  The dream also served as a warning and a promise: Trials would come when I prayed against these dark forces, but I would continue to rest with joy and peace.

If this wasn’t thrilling enough, Jesus gave me a real life physical confirmation of the dream.  Sometimes He does this to emphasize a dream or vision’s importance.  I learned this pattern from reading Scripture.  In the Bible, when something happens twice, the reader should take notice! 

The very next day after seeing the black birds while I slept, my family and I left for a mini vacation on Fall Break.  We chose to stay in a state park to enjoy the spectacular foliage.  Our hotel had this amazing indoor/outdoor pool situated among the trees.  Only a piece of glass separated guests from the outside, and swimmers could easily duck underwater and under the glass divider to emerge outside.  The water was heated to the temperature of bath water, so even though the thermometer accurately reflected late October temperatures in Indiana, visitors could still swim outdoors comfortably. 

Because we already knew about the super cool pool, as soon as we checked into the hotel, we quickly changed into our bathing suites.  We were beyond stoked to swim among the fiery leaves.  As we chatted and swam with steam rolling off the surface of the water, the sun began to set lighting up the sky and the trees with bright pink and orange hues.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  Suddenly though, a great number of vultures began to fly overhead.  Not one, two, or fifteen.  Dozens of black vultures spiraled over our heads starting from not far above us and then going up, up, up to an impossible height.  I honestly had never seen so many birds of prey in my life.  The breeze shifted and I could smell the scent of death.  The birds had obviously been attracted to something dead in the forest.

As the vultures swirled above, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end.  Yes… I took notice.

Last December, I fasted and prayed against the unclean spirits attempting to eat the seeds sown in Amy’s heart in accordance with the instructions of the dream.  I will write more about subsequent experiences since December 2013 soon.

As for the coming trials predicted in the dream…

My husband changed jobs to work in ministry in January.  It was a huge step of faith because of a great reduction in pay.  After accepting the position, our furnace went out.  In the past two weeks, both family cars have broken down.  Our water heater went out last week too.  My dad had a heart attack and nearly died a week and a half ago.  There is much controversy at my church that I cannot begin to describe here.  I’m only hitting the highlights, and I don’t get the feeling that the trials will end any time soon. 

But I don’t care. 

If this is what it takes to win just one heart for God, I will endure it with gladness.  Opposition means I am on the right track.  Satan cannot steal my joy.  I am hidden in Christ, and I dance in minefields. 

As I drove home from work today to finish this blog post, I was suddenly overcome by the fact that Jesus wants me.  He sees me, a child with many flaws and an imperfect past, and still wants me more than my own parents.  He wanted me so much that He chose to die in my place. 

He wants Amy too.  He desires a relationship with her.  May my heart beat to the song of that aching desire until she is His.

Luke 15:20 “So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Did God REALLY say that?

I am taking a break from my usual story format to talk about what’s been heavy on my heart the past few days: the state of the Church in America.

A few years ago, I volunteered at my home church to lead a group Bible study in my local community.  Because of my inexperience, church leadership chose to team me up with another couple.  I phoned the couple at home and spoke to the husband (I’ll call him Thomas).  We agreed to have lunch together one afternoon at a local deli to meet for the first time and talk about the possibilities.

The day of our meeting, I ate my club sandwich, said few words, and mostly listened.  As I payed close attention to Thomas’s words, I became increasingly alarmed by what I heard coming from his mouth.  Thomas quoted the writings of Rob Bell, a well-known leader in emergent church movement.  Bell’s writings question the existence of hell and even suggest universal salvation (aka all men will be saved).  Stunned by what Thomas was saying, I very clearly stated that I disagreed with both him and Bell because it went against the teachings of the Bible, and then made a hasty retreat to my car.  After praying about it, I phoned church leadership to say I wouldn’t be working with Thomas and his wife because I believed that they would be teaching false doctorine.  I can only hope that my phone call served as the warning I hoped it would be.

The fact that the existence of hell could be questioned by Bell, Thomas, or anyone else claiming to be a Believer is, quite frankly, beyond me.  Here are some New Testament references that make hell’s existence painfully clear:

  • Hell is a fate worse than being drowned in the sea (Mark 9:42).
  • It is worse than any earthly suffering—even being maimed (Matthew 5:29–30; Mark 9:43).
  • The suffering never ends (Matthew 25:41; Mark 9:48).
  • The wicked will be “burned with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12).
  • Those in hell will be thrown into the fiery furnace and will experience unimaginable sorrow, regret, remorse, and pain. The fire produces the pain described as “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).
  • The intensity of the suffering seems to be according to the wickedness of the person’s behavior (Romans 2:5–8).
  • Hell is utterly fearful and dreadful (Hebrews 10:27–31).
  • This punishment is depicted as “coming misery,” “eating flesh with fire,” and the “day of slaughter” (James 5:1–5).
  • Those in hell will feel the full force of God’s fury and wrath (Revelations 14:10).
  • They will be “tormented” with fire (Revelation 14:10–11).
  • This suffering is best understood as endless since the “smoke of their torment rises forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11).
  • This suffering is constant because it is said that those in hell “will have no rest day or night” (Revelation 14:11) and
  • “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

References from http://theresurgence.com/2011/03/14/to-hell-with-hell (Yes, I read every word of this source and believe it to be Scripturally sound! 😉 )

Universal salvation is also simply not Biblical.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No man comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6)  While the invitation for salvation is universal  (John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”), only those that believe Jesus and His message of repentance and forgiveness of sins will be allowed to “come to the Father”.   For those that doubt this fact, I ask: “If there was another way to heaven, then why would Father God send His Son Jesus to die?” 

Thomas, like many others today, believed lies he had heard in the marketplace of ideas and then quickly began perpetuating those deceptions.  Instead of getting his truth from the Bible and Bible alone, he believed what somebody else said the Bible teaches.  Even more damning, Thomas lazily never took the time to compare the teachings of Rob Bell to Scripture itself.  Unfortunately there are millions out there just like Thomas being deceived.  Instead of researching Scripture for themselves, folks take the easy yet very dangerous road of passivity.  These ill-informed fools let wolves, disguised in sheep’s clothing, feed them lies to their ultimate destruction.  (Yes, I said fools.  Research the Biblical definition of a fool! Read Proverbs!) 

Rob Bell’s teachings on universal salvation and no eternal punishment are a whole lot more appealing to a person steeped in today’s “PC” culture where pluralism, multiculturalism, and diversity are held in higher esteem than truth.  The Bible predicts times like these.  Paul’s warning to Timothy is absolutely true of the American church: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”  The “Christianity” described in pulpits across our country is a watered down more palpable religion- but it is not the Christianity of the Bible.  I admit that there are many times I don’t want to hear the truth because the truth means I have to change!  However, I have learned through time and experience that choosing to be wise and heed the truth will lead to joy, peace and LIFE! 

An argument I’ve heard from those struggling to believe (or not wanting to believe) the Bible is this: “The Scriptures we read today cannot be trusted.  Like a game of telephone can change a message, time and translations have changed the contents of the Bible.”  When I hear someone say this, I roll my eyes.  Instantly I know that the person spouting this silliness has done absolutely no research.  It is simply NOT true that the Scriptures have changed over time.  The Bible, unlike any other document, can be counted on!  Nabeel Qureshi, a former Muslim now convert to Christianity says it succinctly:

“First, while there are indeed many variations of the Bible obtained from more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts, there is such a large amount of early manuscript evidence and such a concordance between those manuscripts that we can reconstruct the Bible and be certain of about 95% of the original content. Second, no doctrine of the Bible is in jeopardy by any of the variations. Third, there are so many quotations of and references to the New Testament from the ancient world that we can reconstruct practically all of it from early quotations alone. Fourth, there are multiple fragments of manuscripts that can be dated to within a couple of centuries after Christ’s death which we have in our possession even now (the earliest dating to less than 100 years after Christ, 125 AD). Fifth, whole copies of the Bible are available from around three centuries after Christ’s death. Finally, the previously mentioned estimate of 95% accuracy was a conservative one; in actuality it is closer to 98 or 99%.”

http://www.answering-islam.org/Authors/Qureshi/testimony.htm

(Side note: Do a YouTube search for Nabeel Qureshi to hear his testimony.  It’s AWESOME!)

While I can roll my eyes at the foolishness of the less-than-studious, the heartbreaking fact is that when baby Christians or struggling Believers hear the enemy’s lie that Scripture might be unreliable, it can shake the very foundations of their faith.  Instead of approaching the Bible as the source of truth, they question its contents and worse lose faith altogether!

Getting God’s children to question His Word is not a new trick of the enemy.  In fact, it is the oldest trick in the book.  Way back in the Garden before the fall, the slimy serpent slithered up to Eve and began to weave a web of deception.  Satan said to her, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1).  God had given clear concise instructions about what Eve and her husband, Adam, could and could not eat. In Genesis 2:16-17 God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  However, we see in Genesis 3 that during Satan’s fateful encounter with Eve, he got her to scrutinize something she should have just believed.  With a simple question, “Did God really say…?”, Eve began to doubt her Father.  Seeing Eve’s weakness, the lying serpent went for the jugular and blatantly refuted the truth of God’s Word.  Satan said to Eve, “You will not certainly die… for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Eve believed Satan over God.  She ate, Adam ate, and the rest is painful history.  As time did then and will always do, it proved the Lord’s Word true.  Eve did die, and both she and her husband experienced excruciating separation from their Creator. 

The devil is doing the exact same thing today as he did in the Garden when he tries to get us to doubt God’s Word. 

“Did God really say that hell is real?” (Yes, He did, brothers and sisters!!)

“Did God really say there is only one way to heaven?” (Yes!)

“Is Scripture (God’s Word) really true or has time changed its contents?” (Yes! It’s true!)

“Is it really a sin to sleep with someone when you’re engaged?  Surely it’s not that big a deal!” (Yes, it is a sin.  Matthew 5:28, Revelation 21:8)

“Is homosexuality really a sin?  After all, love is LOVE!” (Yes.  Homosexulaity a sin.  Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9)

Here me when I say this: YOU CANNOT PICK AND CHOOSE WHICH PORTIONS OF SCRIPTURE TO BELIEVE.  It is all true and you can put your faith in every jot and tittle!  And that’s the bottom line- it all comes down to faith.  Do you believe that God can preserve His Word through time?  (I do!  He is Able!)  Do you believe Jesus when He says that hell is real? (I do- and this knowledge lights a fire under my feet to tell the world about the Good News of the Gospel!)  Do you believe Christ when He says He is the only way to heaven? (I do!  The road is narrow just like Christ said! Matthew 7:14)  Do you believe God when He looks at sin and unflinchingly calls it what it is: sin?  (Yes.  And when I fail and stumble, I must seek His forgiveness.  He promises to be faithful and just to forgive me when I confess my sin! 1 John 1:9)

Listen, you may not like everything God says when you start exploring the passages of Scripture.  It may feel uncomfortable to hear Jesus’ Words when He speaks about relevant issues.  But God’s not going to change His mind about things, and He is just as radical today as He was when He walked the earth.  Following Him can be hard

When Jesus began His public ministry, He quickly developed quite a following.  He was a cool dude!  He healed the sick, fed the multitudes, took on the Pharisees with authority, and was kind to children and sinners.  Who wouldn’t want to be around a guy like that?  Crowds followed Jesus around just to see what He would do next- that was until these same followers heard Jesus teach about His body and blood by the Sea of Galilee one day.  After hearing His strange words, they said to themselves, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?”  In frustration, these followers turned back and stopped following the Master.  Jesus then turned and asked the twelve disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”  Simon Peter, in bold faith answered Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6:60-69)

I ask you now as Jesus asked the twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Do you believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God?  Can you accept His teaching?  ALL of His teaching? Do you believe His Words lead to eternal life even if they are hard?  Christ asks His disciplies to count the cost because Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy for us! (Luke 14:28)

I’m afraid for the Church in America.  We are entirely too tolerant.  We don’t stand for truth!  We lazily go to man to teach us and not to God and His Word.  I’m afraid that when folks are confronted with the truth of Scripture, they too will turn back and stop following Jesus.  They’ll say just like the crowds at the Sea of Galilee said to Christ, “It’s too hard!  Who can hear this?” 

Yesterday, as my husband drove my kids and I home from school, I stared out my passenger window with a heavy heart as I pondered the moral decline of America.  Things that once caused us to blush are now championed.  Monogamy is scoffed at and labeled archaic, and promiscuity is lauded as the “natural state” in university lecture halls.  Christians who believe that the Bible- the whole Bible- is true are called bigots, closed-minded, and (gasp) old fashioned (‘cuz God forbid we not be trendy hipsters! Can you sense me rolling my eyes… again?).  As the car followed the curves of the well traveled roads home yesterday, I grieved over America’s choices.  I lamented for my children’s future.  “What kinds of persecution will they face?” I thought.  “How much hate will they have to endure in the name of “tolerance”?”  I sighed over the inevitable coming suffering in the United States because of our disobedience.   

As I continued to turn these thoughts over in my mind, what saddened me even more than the state of the country was the state of the American church!  Almost daily now I hear and read words of professing Christians like Thomas denying parts of God’s Word because today’s culture teaches and accepts different messages (“Did God really say…?” I hear Satan laugh in victory as the deceived masses reject eternal truths).  Though my children attend a Christian school, even they are sometimes considered “weird” because of their holy choices.  Several acquaintances of mine go to church on Sunday and claim to know Jesus as Savior but then live exactly like the unbelieving world the rest of the week.  This is incongruent.  The life of a Jesus follower should be different and a testimony to the rest of the world (Matthew 5:16)!  Frequently when “on the fence” Christians are rebuked for their ungodly choices, they retort, “But who are you to judge?  Jesus even said to not judge!”  Again, this shows their lack of knowledge of the scriptures.  Let’s look at the entire teaching they are quoting out of context:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

Clearly, Jesus is speaking specifically to hypocrites.  He instructs the hypocrite to take the plank out of his eye so he can then help remove the speck from his brother’s eye.  Notice that even the hypocrite, after he is healed of his problem, is given the okay to assist his brother!  Who better to help a man struggling with addiction than a fully recovered alcoholic?  Who better to teach the religious about grace than Paul, formally a Pharisee called Saul? 

To say we aren’t to judge behavior at all again ignores much of the New Testament!  To name only a few verses:

  • We are commanded “be not deceived” (this requires judgment Matt 24:4, Luke 21:8, 2 Thess.2:3; Eph.5:6; Colossians 2:8).
  • Test spirits (to test requires a pass/fail judgment) (John 4:1)
  • Apostle Paul accused the believers at Galatia of being “foolish” and “bewitched” (Gal.2:1) because they did not judge well.
  • Jesus congratulated the church at Ephesus for rooting out false apostles (Rev.2:1-3).
  • The Apostle Paul says that he “did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” about the false teachers who troubled the church at Ephesus both from within and without. (Acts 20:28-31)
  • Jesus Himself said, “Judge not according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
  • The entire book of Titus!

I believe that the American church, with few exceptions, is exactly like the Church of Laodicea.  Jesus says to us in an impassioned rebuke and plea (Revelation 3:14-22):

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Do you have ears to hear, my Dear Reader?  Will you not be earnest and zealous for Jesus?  Will you repent with me for our lack luster faith?  Will you lock arms with me in opposition to the current of moral relativism so we can march upstream together on the side of the absolute truths in Scripture?  Will you cry out with me in righteous anger against the tide of lies that is washing over this country like an evil black cesspool?  Will you call the prodigals to come back home at all personal costs?  Will you not run the race with purpose and steadfast conviction so that Christ will see our work and be pleased?

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Yes, God really said it.  And I believe it.  Do you?

     

The Fear of Man

Indiana University, 1998redstepper1998

Women were born to help, nurture, love, and encourage.  While these are great Godly qualities, the enemy does all he can to add large doses of fear to a girl’s innate assets.  The end result of this addition is a disease that almost every woman must fight: people pleasing. 

Hi.  I’m Julie.  I am a people pleaser.

I want everyone around me to be 100% happy 100% of the time (realistic, aren’t I?).  When I think someone is upset with me, regardless of the reason or if I am innocent of any perceived wrongdoing, I hate it.  As in, I can’t sleep, I constantly think about the matter, and I break my neck to fix it.  In the past when conflicts have arisen, I have admitted fault knowing full well that I was essentially blameless.  It was better to lie and apologize (and that’s what it was… lying) than for the fight to continue.  If someone even looks at me with disapproval or disappointment, panic bursts in my belly.  I have a hard time drawing and keeping boundaries because I’m anxious about even the potential of upsetting someone I love.  Even if my schedule is completely full, it’s hard for me to say no when someone asks for help or wants my services.  Sometimes, I serve folks not out of a holy motivation of love, but out of an unholy desire for someone to “like me more”. (Do you see how that subtle yet powerful difference makes even a good deed selfish?  I served for me and my validation, not for them.)  When my boss calls me into his office, my first reaction is usually fear.  My internal monologue sounds something like, “Uh oh, he’s mad.  What did I do wrong?”  These thoughts come even if I’ve been doing great work!  Meetings with any authority figure freak me out.  I am compelled to give the “right answer” and hate to ruffle feathers. 

It’s not fun to admit all these things.  Shew, when I write it all out like this, I see what a mess I am!  My desire to please others can, if I am not careful, direct my entire life.  This is wrong.  It is God that should be calling shots.  I cannot please man and God at the same time.  I just can’t! 

A great Biblical example of a people pleaser was Saul.  When the prophet Samuel anointed Saul as king of Israel, he looked the part.  The Bible says that Saul was tall and very handsome (1 Samuel 9:1).  Because he was so good looking, he probably got used to hearing the praises and adoration of others.   The Bible shows us that he cared more about what the people thought of him than about obeying the Lord.  Saul’s ultimate downfall came when the Lord commanded Saul to destroy the Amalekites and to keep none of the plunder.  God asked this of Saul because the Amalekites had tried to destroy Israel without provocation as they traveled in the desert after the Exodus.  After the Amalekites’ initial defeat in the desert, God promised Moses that He would “blot out the memory of every Amalek under heaven”.  (Exodus 17:14)  The Lord was trying keep His promise to Moses through Saul, Israel’s king.  However, after Saul defeated the Amalekites, he did not carry out the Lord’s orders as instructed.  Instead, Saul spared the Amalekite’s king, Agag, and succumbed to the people’s wishes by letting them keep the best of the livestock.  Because Saul disobeyed the Lord and listened to the people, God chose to give his kingdom to David.  In addition to these short term consequences, king Saul’s disobedience spelled almost certain disaster for the Jews centuries later.  A decedent of Agag, Haman, led the plot to kill all of Israel during Babylonian rule.  The Lord was faithful to rescue Israel through Queen Esther’s brave obedience, but all the suffering and worry could have been prevented if Saul would have fulfilled the Lord’s command years earlier!

Do you see that if we work to please people we cannot please God?  What’s worse is that we can, in our desperate and often times cowardly desire to please others instead of Jesus, thwart the purposes and plans of God in our life and in the lives of others.  What a wakeup call!

The first time I went against my mother’s wishes to do what the Lord called me to do, I was in my mid-twenties, and I was terrified.  I felt led to attend a different church.  My mother loved that I went to the service with her, and I knew the switch would not be well received.  God wouldn’t let me wimp out by avoiding the situation or by sending an immature email, but instead He insisted that I act like an adult and tell her of my plans to change churches face to face.  I sat on my parents’ back porch in a plastic white lawn chair and stared trembling into my mother’s disapproving eyes.  As I communicated my intentions, she reacted exactly as I knew she would.  Mom was angry and hurt that I would consider going somewhere else without her.  It took all my reserves and Jesus’s strength to not cave in to her wishes and to say plainly and openly, “I want to do God’s will, not yours.” 

About a year later, the Lord called me back to my childhood church.  While I was away, Jesus grew my faith.  I learned much about life in ministry.  These were great fruits gleaned from a hard decision.  However, I believe the main reason Jesus asked me to leave in the first place was to test me to see who I would obey- man or God.  I’m glad I passed.

The Lord wasn’t finished testing me the area of people pleasing though.  This time when the trial came, it wasn’t one person I had to stand against.  It was ten thousand.

When I was younger, I was a pretty girl.  I was a dancer, had a cute little figure, and people complimented me frequently on my looks. The compliments felt life giving, and I blossomed under the praise.  Slowly, I began to be prideful about my appearance.  I enjoyed it when guys watched me walk down the hall at school.  While my mother never let me get entirely out of hand with my wardrobe, I sometimes chose things that were too tight, short, or clingy to get even more attention from the opposite sex.  I had so many clothes that at one point my friends dared me to try and go an entire quarter without wearing the same thing twice.  I succeeded.  I loved makeup, shoes, and dressing up.  In college, I was on an Indiana University dance team called Redsteppers.  One of the prerequisites to be on the team was not only dance ability, but also attractiveness.  During home games, I used to smile with shy satisfaction when my dance team would enter the stadium.  Boisterous boys in the home crowd would clap, whistle, and yell, “Red-Step-ERS!  Red-Step-ERS!”  Not unpredictably, over time I began to believe that my value was somehow linked to my physical appearance.  Everything in America’s culture reaffirmed the lie. 

During all those years I spent countless hours shopping, primping, and looking into the mirror, I gave little or no thought to developing Godly character and integrity.  When I gave Jesus Lordship over my life however, He would not let this wrong focus and arrogance continue.  God does not look at the outward appearance, but at the heart!  (1 Samuel 16:7) 

After I got married and had my daughter, I began to struggle with my weight.  After the birth of my son, I lost the battle completely.  As the pounds came, I prayed, cried, and continually asked God to help me lose weight.  I tried every diet.  While I had some temporary successes, nothing worked over the long haul.  Finally, the Lord unexpectantly answered my prayers for help through a Godly woman during a woman’s Bible study.  His response was, “I will not help you right now, Julie.”  Not the answer I was hoping for, but I knew why the Lord gave me a temporary no.  Because of Bible reading I was self aware enough to know that Jesus needed to humble me in this area, and He also wanted to show me that true eternal value had absolutely nothing to do with hairstyle, lipstick color, or dress size.  Scriptures I read taught me that physical beauty was vain and fleeting , but a woman who feared the Lord and of noble character was more precious than rubies or gold.  (Proverbs 31).  Unlike the shallow compliments I had received in my youth, women of Godly character would get deserved honor and praise in this life and in the next.  As I walked with God, I was changed from the inside out.  Jesus frequently whispered in low moments that I was more beautiful now than I had ever been. 

You would think that after I had learned all this truth, man’s opinion wouldn’t matter.  But it did!  I still cared what others thought about me and was addicted to their approval!  People were kinder to me as a thin person.  I found that the curvier I got, the less eye contact I got in public.  Instead of being noticed by strangers, I felt like others saw right through me. 

I’m glad I serve a God that sees us all! Amen?

One day in the summer of 2012, I was perusing my email’s inbox when I noticed a message from the Indiana University’s Redsteppers.  Upon reading, I learned that there was to be a 40th anniversary performance in the fall at a Hoosier football game, and all team alumni were invited.  I didn’t even give a second thought to the invitation.  I would never go.  Who would want to see a chubby gal dancing on the sidelines?  While seeing my old friends would be fun, it would not be worth the humiliation.  No.  NO THANK YOU! 

A few days later, I was driving down the interstate singing praise songs when the Lord jolted me out of making more joyful noises with thoughts of the Redstepper’s 40th anniversary. 

Patiently He inquired, “Did You ask me if I wanted you to go?” 

“Well, no, Lord,” I conceded.  Uh oh.  This didn’t seem like it was going to end well.

“I want you to go.” 

“But Lord!  It would be so embarrassing!  I would rather die!”

“I want you to go. I want you to be a living sacrifice for Me.” (Romans 12:1)

“But….”

“If you want your prayers for your neighbor to be answered, you must obey.  Whose opinion is more important?  Mine or man’s?”

“Yours,” I sighed in surrender.  “Okay, I’ll go.  I’ll go for You.  I’ll go for my neighbor.” I blushed at the mere thought of prancing about in front of thousands of fans on game day.  This was going to take all I had to carry out the promise I had just made.

God did not give me time to back out.  Less than one minute after I made the promise, my cell phone rang.  I looked at the caller ID and rolled my eyes not even surprised.  Of course it was Alexis, my Redstepper friend.  Alexis lived in Maine, and I hadn’t spoken to her in literally a year.  I knew she was calling to see if I would be going to the 40th anniversary game. 

“Hello?” I answered.

“Hi Julie!  It’s Lexi!  I was wondering if you were going to the football game?”

“Yeah I’ll be there!” I said with feigned enthusiasm. 

After we chatted awhile, I hung up the phone and groaned.  She was going to book a flight to Indiana now that I had said I was going.  I couldn’t change my mind.  “Well played, Jesus,” I thought.  “Well played.”

In the months leading up to performance day, I learned the routine by watching a video online.  My body remembered how to high kick and move.  I still loved to dance!  However, the day my shirt size was emailed to the entire group, my stomach dropped and a dark blush colored my face.  Obviously, the email wasn’t meant to shame me.  Organizers simply wanted dancers to confirm orders.  However, my size “L” stuck out like a sore thumb among a long list of mediums and smalls.  The worst part was knowing that this small embarrassment was only a precursor to the humiliation of actual game day.   

Love is an action word. Faith without works is dead (James 2:20)!  God had never asked this much of me before, but I was determined to obey.  I would show Jesus how much I loved Him by doing this thing.  I would have obeyed for no person on earth. 

Game day came.  I drove to my university campus with butterflies and arrived at the practice field with great trepidation.  Alexis was there and we caught up in between our old coach’s 8 counts and directives.  Throughout the day, I smiled and made polite small talk.  I faced over 10,000 fans in the fall sunshine and performed my turns and kicks without error.  I held Alexis’s new baby.  I cheered with the fans and with my supportive family after my half time routine.  Predictably, the Hoosiers lost the game, but I won the war.  In short, I ground my teeth and powered through

Why did God want me at that game so badly?  I can guess that it was for a couple of reasons.  First of all, everyone on my Redstepper team knew how I got married: I had only known my then boyfriend now husband for a couple of months, we got hitched in the courthouse against my parents’ wishes, I dropped out of the dance team and out of college entirely, etc.   Nobody, and I mean nobody expected Jason and I to still be together.  Even less predicted that I would finish school.  The fact that my marriage was still going and that I had graduated was a witness to the redeeming power of Jesus.  I got to tell other dancers about my faith.  Secondly, God asked me to go for my neighbor, “Amy”.  After I had obeyed, the Lord honored this one act of obedience and began to hear my prayers for her salvation.  I will write more about this in the next story.

 While everyone was kind that day on the football field and no one said a negative word, I could still sense their disapproval at my fuller frame.  The miracle is not as spectacular as some of the others I have described, but no less important.  It is this: I lived through their disapproving stares and negative judgments with God’s strength and presence.  I proved to myself and most importantly to Jesus that I would obey Him even at great personal cost to my own ego and need to please.  His will was more important than man’s opinion.  I wasn’t like Saul that day at IU.  I was a David- a woman after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). 

redstepper2012 I am on the back row, forth one from the left.

Beloved

My life verse is:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 emphasis added)

Abiding denotes a relationship. If you live together, you know each other. I want to know my Savior. It has been my experience that prayer, like nothing else, allows me to know Him. In prayer, I can, by the power of the Spirit (the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead), think and feel what God thinks and feels. Look at these verses to see this amazing promised confirmed in scripture:

1 Corinthians 2:9-16 says:
However, as it is written:
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,
“Who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ
.”

I can humbly yet resolutely confirm that God’s mind directs my thoughts and even my feelings. One Sunday quite a few years ago, for example, I was praying during communion when I began to think of my sister-in-law out of the blue. Suddenly, I was completely overcome with grief and sadness. I had a very great burden to pray for her, and my heart ached in my chest as I wept for her unnamed pain. As I drove home with my husband that morning, my eyes continued to ooze tears. In an impassioned plea, I looked over at a confused Jason in the driver’s seat and said, “We need to pray for your sister!” Without revealing too much about a very personal situation, the next day I was to learn why I had felt such grief. My sister-in-law’s long term relationship had ended with painful betrayal the day the Lord asked me to pray for her.

Through this experience, I knew my King because my heart was truly abiding with His for those few moments in church. I discovered with absolute resounding clarity that Jesus is compassionate in ways I had never understood until then. His compassionate heart literally leveled me, and I intuitively knew the feelings I experienced were only glimpses. My weak body could only handle small doses of His infinite oceans of empathy.

Hebrews 4:13-16 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need
.”

Christ’s mind moved me, His vessel, to grieve and empathize with my sister-in-law’s pain even when my physical mind had no idea about her situation. Then, because of grace, the Spirit began to make intercession through me, a used vessel, as I begged God to show her how lovely, precious, and beautiful she was even in the face of rejection. The Lord refused to leave my sister-in-law alone in her grief. How deep the Father’s love for us! To know His love changes one forever.

I have a neighbor that I love dearly. For the sake of privacy I will call her Amy, because Amy means beloved. Amy married one of my brother’s best high school friends. For this reason, I began praying for Amy and her husband long before they serendipitously moved across the street. She is a proud atheist and a beautiful, gregarious, generous person. At first, conversations with her were awkward and confrontational. I worked to convince her that Jesus was real. One day, after responding to Amy in another long-winded admittedly argumentative private message on Facebook, I took a walk with my family to depressurize. As my husband and children strolled ahead on a neighborhood bike path, I fell back a bit to speak to God about our “debate”. My mind was twirling and running in the aftermath of the heated discussion. I wondered aloud to the Lord if anything I had written would get through. Suddenly, my rampant thoughts were interrupted with what I can only describe as the heart of God. For a moment, I saw my neighbor as He saw her. My Father was her Father too. She was His creation. Beautiful. Loved. Treasured. Father’s feelings for Amy, His beloved little girl, hit so hard that I could barely continue to walk. Then I heard the Spirit whisper, “I just want you to love her.” At that moment, I was convinced that arguments would not win her heart, only love would.

And so I love Amy. Not with a fake phony love. But with the supernatural love of the Father in heaven who loves His child even as she denies and mocks Him. Remember my life verse? Jesus said “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” All my defending and apologetic arguments for the Christian faith were in my own strength and flesh. God told me as I walked down that little path that all that talking and debating amounted to nothing. However, if I loved Amy with the love He gave me, she would come home.

I have heard Christians say that unbelievers cannot live happy lives without God. I disagree. What my brothers and sisters in Christ fail to realize is that lost folks don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t understand supernatural joy and peace because they have never experienced it. If someone has never heard the Lord’s whispers or felt the Spirit quicken, then how can I explain it? To atheists, my stories probably sound like utter foolishness. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

I can only continue to intercede and ask that God draws those precious lost souls I am burdened for to Himself for Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

Sometimes the burden for the lost literally leaves me breathless. One night as I prepared to go to sleep, I approached the Lord in prayer. I closed my eyes and saw the throne of God. My King sat in light and looked down on me in love. I fell to my knees and cried, “Holy!” Then, after I told Jesus I loved and adored Him, the Spirit began to intercede for the lost though me. I starting calling out for the salvation of my friends, loved ones, and neighbors. After a couple of seconds of speaking names, I knew I would repeat myself or forget important people without some sort of organization.

So, I looked up at God’s face hidden in light and asked Him for something to write on. If I could symbolically write each person’s name down, the process would help me keep track of who I had prayed for and who I still needed to bring to the Lord’s attention. To my surprise, God did not hand me paper, but a rectangular piece of wood about 3 feet wide and six inches long. So instead of writing, I began to carve the names of those I loved into the wood Christ gave me. When I had finished carving the first a name, I sat the piece of wood to the side, and asked for another piece of wood. I continued like this for a long time. I cried and carved and stacked pieces of wood. Eventually I was completely overwhelmed at the enormity of the stack of wood I had built. “There are so many, Lord!” I cried. Finally, when the burden lifted, I fell into an exhausted sleep. I dreamed that night and woke up to the sound of my own voice singing to the Lord.

The next day, I drove to work as usual. My kiddos were quietly reading in the back seat, so it gave me time to think about last night’s prayer time. As I reflected on these events in the light of day, it all seemed so strange! So, I said, “Lord Jesus, I need a sign that it was You directing my thoughts and actions last night. I would love a confirming sign showing me You heard me.” I didn’t know how God would answer my prayer- it was so specific- but I knew He could.

I walked into work and sat down at my desk in the front office of a school office. About five minutes later, I was engrossed in a task when I heard my boss, the principal, say, “Have you seen this, Julie?” I looked up and saw him holding this:

gracepaddle

Apparently the “grace board” had showed up on campus over the weekend, and it was strangely leaning against the building during car line drop off. My boss decided to bring it inside and didn’t quite know what to do with such a strange object.

This was a goose bumps moment. I smiled and shook my head. Astounded. Yep, that was the word. I was astounded. God had obviously heard my cries. The Lord of the universe had heard my prayer, and the Spirit was there guiding me the whole time! But how could I explain this? Would anyone understand?

As I continued to reflect on what the Lord was trying to communicate, I was stunned. The above picture is obviously of a paddle- typically a tool used for punishment. However, because grace is carved into the wood, I knew God was pointing to this:

kingofthejews

The day God’s Son hung from a tree, a sign was posted above Him. Although it was an attempt at mockery, every word written was true. Carved in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, were the words: “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews”.

It should have been my name carved in the wood. I should have died on that tree. All those that I had prayed for that night- they too deserved punishment because they have denied their Creator in unbelief or aloofness. They were among those in the crowd who mocked and laughed at God’s Son that dark day.

However, Jesus, King of the Jews, is unlike any other king in history. Even while He suffered and died at the hands of hateful men, He prayed, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!” As His blood was spilled to ransom the world, a tool of punishment became the ultimate tool of grace.

We are not on this earth to live moral lives.
We are not here to seek our own happiness.
We are not here to survive and endure.

We are here to abide with Jesus as it was in the beginning before the fall.
We are here to declare the work of the cross so that others might also experience the free gift of grace.
We are here to love as He first loved us.

Beloved, it is my prayer that you would know Him. From my soul I cry out to you and for you. He is Lord! One day soon, His Bride, His beloved, His Amy, will cry out in victory as she sees Jesus coming back for her:

“Listen! My beloved! Behold, he is coming, Climbing on the mountains, Leaping on the hills!” (Song of Solomon 2:8)

Guilty as Charged

I’m gonna let ya’ll in on a little secret.  I’m a crazy driver.  I was born with a lead foot and wouldn’t even want to guess at how many tickets I’ve accrued throughout the years.  I have managed to avoid an accident in recent history, but you’d better believe I’ve had my fair share.  I used to loathe the day when my car insurance bill arrived each month.  It made me cringe.

Back in ’07 or ’08, I was pulled over for speeding in a school zone.  (I know, I know.  I’m bad.)  I believe my ticket was around $150.  Because we were so broke after I had lost my teaching job, buying groceries and putting gas in the car was difficult.  So at that point, my ticket may just as well have been $1000… Paying the fine was going to be difficult! 

The deadline to pay the ticket came and went.  That spelled bad news for Julie.  Until I paid the ticket, I was living dangerously by driving on a suspended license.  It was nerve wracking.

Finally, one chilly Friday (which happened to be payday), I drove home from a substitute job intending to pay my ticket.  (Honest to goodness… I was planning on paying it THAT DAY!)  As I drove to pick up my daughter at her community bus stop through slushy snow, I slowed to obey the reduced speed limit in yet another school zone. 

I didn’t slow down fast enough. 

To my utter dread, a police car pulled out of its hiding spot and flashed ugly lights at me.  I pulled over immediately.  Adrenaline spiked my blood stream.  I knew I had been caught driving illegally on two counts, but that was the least of my concerns.  I was due at my daughter’s bus stop in less than 5 minutes.  Zoe’s community stop at the local Bureau of Motor Vehicles (oh the irony!) was miles from my home on a busy road.  She was only in 2nd grade.  I had to be there!

A young brash police officer stepped out of his car and sternly addressed me through my rolled down window.  In a flurry of words, I tried to explain that I was in a hurry.  The policeman was unmoved by my story.  Trying to settle my nerves, I dutifully handed him my license and registration.  He went back to his car to process my ticket, and I stirred in the driver’s seat.  As the seconds and then minutes ticked by, I got more and more nervous knowing that my daughter would feel forgotten and abandoned if I wasn’t there to retrieve her at the bus stop.  Finally, in a state of panic, I opened my car door to try and plead with the officer to let me walk to the bus stop which was only about 3 minutes away by foot. 

At once, the officer went from harsh to hostile.  “Close your door!” he roared in warning.  I obeyed.  While I understood that his training dictated such a response, it took all of my self-control to ignore the mother bear response I was experiencing, to walk to the bus stop anyway, and to face the ramifications of disobeying an officer later.   

Finally, Mr. Grumpy came back to the car and handed me my ticket.  He then informed me that I could not drive because my license was suspended.  “Okay okay,” I thought!  “Who cares?!  I have to get Zoe!” 

After getting permission to exit my car, I lurched out of my seat.  I was wearing red silk ballet slipper shoes as I tromped through 3 inches of snow.  My feet were soaked within a minute.  Tears spattered my face.  A couple of sweet drivers stopped to ask me if I needed help. “No thank you,” I replied.  I would walk even if my feet froze and I looked ridiculous.  I didn’t want to explain my humiliating situation to another soul.

I arrived at the bus stop just as the bus was about to pull away with my daughter on board.  Mercifully, the courteous driver saw me and stopped in the nick of time.

As soon as I had a very befuddled Zoe in tow, I used a (thankfully close) payphone to call my parents and ask them to meet me at my car.  I did not own a cell phone at the time, what with me being so broke and all.  I silently prayed and hoped that Mom and Dad would make it before the tow truck. 

As my daughter and I walked back to my vehicle, I tried my best to explain what was happening.  How does one describe traffic laws to a seven-year-old?  Shame washed over me.  My very innocent and pure 2nd grade daughter had a front row seat to witness her mother being disciplined not only by man, but also the Lord.  Clearly Jesus had had enough of my continued disobedience on the road, and He was sternly correcting me.  God disciplines those He loves, and man I was loved that day. (Hebrews 12:6)       

Thankfully, my parents showed up in time to rescue Zoe, me and my car.  As soon as they drove me to my apartment, I paid the outstanding ticket.  Then, I went into my bedroom, closed the door, and howled. It was one of those rare cries where the pain and frustration accumulated over many months came spilling out in the course of a few minutes.  (This period of my life was very difficult as I’ve described in earlier stories.)  The cry was ugly, cathartic, and exhausting.  My mother sat by my side, patted my back, and said absolutely nothing as my body was wracked with sobs.  There is a time for corrective reproof.  She was wise enough to know that this was not the moment for such discussions. I’ll never be able to say enough thanks for her nonjudgmental presence that afternoon.  

In typical Julie fashion, after my good cry, I pulled up my boot straps and dealt with my crazy afternoon.  I was never one to wallow, and God’s joy was and is always my strength. (Psalm 28:7)  Within a few days, I could laugh and roll my eyes at the ridiculousness of my decisions. 

By now you might be wondering where the miracle is in this story.  After all, the title of this blog is I Have Seen Miracles.  Keep reading.  It’s a doozie.

Because I had been pulled over for driving on a suspended license, I was due in traffic court in a few weeks.  The scheduled afternoon came, and as I drove to the courthouse, I prayed a little prayer.  “Lord, You and I both know that I am completely guilty of speeding and driving illegally.  I won’t even try to deny it or give excuses.  Please be with me and grant me grace as I face the judge.”

When I arrived at court, I was astonished by the number of people gathered.  A line of at least fifty yards filled the rotunda of the vast building.  “Great,” I thought.  “I’m going to be here all night!”

As many others and I waited for the courtroom doors to open, I made small talk with those next to me in line.  I know I talked about Jesus some- I always do.  After some time passed, a gentleman standing behind me began to discuss his particular case with anyone who would listen.  He had been pulled over for speeding, and it was his intention to try and find some loop hole to get out of paying the fine.  After listening to his arrogance for as long as I could handle, I turned around and simply said, “But, are you guilty?”  He blinked at me when I interrupted his reverie.  I continued, “When I face the judge, I’m not going to give an excuse.  I’m going to go in there and tell the judge that I am guilty, because I am.”  After a beat, he shrugged me off with a few words obviously intent on sticking to his weaseling plan.   

Literally less than thirty seconds later, those of us standing in line were interrupted from our small talk when we heard the sound of a lady’s voice yelling over the crowed, “Julie So-and-So?”  (I’m not sharing my last name here for obvious reasons.)  “Julie?” 

“I’m Julie,” I replied, waving to her as I did so.  She walked over to me, checked my ID, and then said, “Your case has been thrown out.  You are free to go.”

My face morphed quickly into an earsplitting grin.  The guy behind me was absolutely dumbfounded as well as all the other drivers within earshot.  I didn’t have a clue why in the natural world my case was thrown out, but I had no doubt that Jesus had heard my prayer and answered beyond what I could have possibly hoped or thought. (Jeremiah 29:11)

I have had time to reflect on this whole experience, and I believe it is a beautiful parable of what Christ did for me at the cross.  I was guilty that day, but allowed to go free without punishment.  Christ was guiltless, but because of His great love for me, He died on the cross to bear my punishment so I could go free. 

Those that approach the Judge of the Universe trying to convince Him that they are innocent of breaking His laws defined in the 10 Commandments will get just punishment for their actions.  On that Great Day just as so many do in today’s culture, many folks will try to justify themselves according to their own standards.  They’ll say to the Judge, “I’m a good person.  I never did anything really bad.  Sure I told a few lies, but I never murdered or raped anyone.  I gave to the poor.  I was a good citizen!”  However, God’s standards are so high that He considers lust adultery and hatred murder.  According to the Lord’s law, we are all guilty.  (Romans 3:23)  Those that try to justify themselves with their own works will stand condemned in front of the Judge.  Isaiah says it succinctly: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”

However, the Good News of the Gospel promises that if we approach Jesus by admitting our sin and asking for His forgiveness, He grants rivers of unmerited grace and mercy.  Just as I was allowed to walk free even though I was clearly guilty of driving on a suspended license, the Lord Jesus will declare those who call on His Name innocent because of His sacrifice at the cross.  John 3:16-17, in many ways the Cornerstone of the Christian faith, joyfully declares: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal live.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” Isaiah said 700 years before the birth of Jesus, “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) And finally, Paul, writing to the Corinthian church says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “God made him who had no sin [Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This is THE GOOD NEWS!  Glory to God!  May we believe and rest in these precious promises.   

The words to my favorite hymn bubble up just now as I reflect on what He has done for me:

Stuart Townsend
How Deep the Father’s Love for Us

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocing voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast inJesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom