Just Keep Swimming

Just-Keep-Swimming
You know those weird people that laugh at funerals? Yeah- that’s me. I have inappropriate reactions to stress. It gets worse than laughing at a funerals though. For example, several years ago, I was selected to serve as a juror in a murder trial. After two days of testimony, arguments, and deliberation, we, the jurors, entered the courtroom to deliver a verdict. As I walked towards my seat in the jury box, I could feel the stares from the friends and families of both the victim and the accused on both sides of the aisle. The tension was palpable. Suddenly, my eyes locked with those of the lead defense attorney. I could tell he was trying to “feel” me out- trying to gauge what decision the jury had reached based on my observable body language. Quickly I turned my gaze away and bit the inside of my cheeks to quell the nervous laughter trying to bubble out. I could actually hear Perry Mason music inside my head, and the whole thing seemed too utterly ridiculous to be real. But it was real.

Although my thoughts were jumbled that day, if I could have verbalized them, they would have gone something like this: “How can this be real? I live in world where lovers actually kill each other?! Someone wake me up from this nightmare, please!”

Often I’ve wondered why I am like this- why I laugh when I should be somber. I guess it’s easier to smile than it is to cry.

When I was four and living in a foster home, I used to stand at the top of the stairs each morning shivering in fear at the prospect of facing another day. Some days my teeth would chatter in terror as I gazed down at the stairway. I used to stand at the top of the stairs for many minutes most days silently willing my right foot to take the first step down. I don’t know how this happened in my four-year-old creative mind, but somehow the stairs became representative of the real enemy that was my loveless, hopeless life. I knew that if I descended the stairs to join the world below, I had to face another day. Thus, going down the stairs became a battle- a daily valley to be traversed. Sometimes, I would take two or three steps downward toward the reality awaiting me, but then I would chicken out and run back to my bunk bed to hide away under the covers for a few more minutes. One time I hid so long upstairs that it was after lunch before I was finally brave enough to come down. Nobody checked on me to see if I was okay in all that time. Such was the nature of my life.

To cope, I built invisible walls inside. Mostly, I detached entirely.

Later on after I was adopted, most who observed me would have called me a happy child. They would have been mostly right. I smiled easily and did well in school. However, the hurts inside were always there lying dormant, just waiting for the right set circumstances to make their appearance.

And appear they did. During my senior year in high school, I finally let someone in- a boy. I loved him so. He made me feel wild and beautiful. But also scared and vulnerable. I clung to him with all I had. When he suddenly moved mid-way through my senior year, my worst fears were realized. I lost him and then most of my mind for a few months. The pain and grief I experienced is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. I still carry the scars.

My mother took me to a therapist around this time. A middle aged professional doggedly asked me questions for an entire hour in a feeble attempt to get me to open up. I smiled mutely, brushed him off, or redirected the conversation throughout the appointment because I refused to let him see who I really was. I walked out of his office towards the elevators feeling smug. Julie 1, Counselor 0. Mom never took me back to that poor guy again.

Why am I writing all this depressed stuff? I hate doing it. I prefer the happy stuff, right? Walls are my MO.

Recently, I got an email from a friend. She is an extremely private person, so I’ll just call her Ann. Ann wrote to let me know that she has cancer and does not have long to live. When I read the news, every cell inside my body ceased moving. I stopped breathing. Then the walls that I work so hard to hold up crumbled. I laid down, hugged my pillow, and cried. Ann is one of the very few people I’ve managed to let in. She is a beautiful Christian lady, so I know I’ll see her in eternity. I also rejoice for her because she is going to meet our King Jesus soon. But… she’s my friend. She’s a guide and mentor. Ann is my lovely, beautiful, wise, quirky, insightful friend. Oh I’m going to miss her.

Grief. How could anyone put good in front of that word? It scrapes at your outsides. It rots your stomach. Brokenhearted isn’t the right word for grief, is it? How can the heart be broken when it is the organ that keeps you alive. Instead, acute grief feels like a vice grip around your heart. When grief is at its maximum intensity, a broken heart would be a mercy over the pain of a very real and pumping restricted heart. Grief is manic panic and sluggish sadness wrapped up into one ball of hell. I have worked my whole life to avoid it.

God won’t let me get away with that anymore. Grief is a part of the human experience. My Savior can attest to that.

I edit sermons for radio at home. Predictably, I began editing a sermon series in the book of Job after hearing Ann’s news. Job is not exactly joyous reading. Poor Job. When I read and heard the pastor describe just how much Job went through, I really had no idea how he was able to continue and remain faithful. He did though. I suppose that’s why we keep telling his story. 🙂

I am a good student of the Bible because of my memory. I can retain information fairly well. However, the Lord usually speaks directly to me with quick, simple bursts of truth. It only takes one or two sentences from an entire message to stick to my insides and change my life. I’ve been directed to travel great distances to hear one sentence in an entire message. One sentence is all it takes though. That is the power of the Word.

Do you what sentence changed me in this latest sermon series based in Job? (It is a little embarrassing because it is so cliche´.) It is this: Just keep going.

I’ve learned through Job’s story that grief is something that is universally experienced. Even when we feel alone in our pain, we are not. We live in a fallen world, and as such, we must grieve. We must cope.

What do we do when a wave of unrelenting grief comes crashing down on us? In those moments, we can only cry out to the Lord. This is a recent conversation I had with Jesus just two days ago when one such wave of grief threatened to drown me:

Me: “Lord, I just want to be where You are. I am tired of this pain. I want to be with You!”
Jesus: “I am with you.”
Me: “I know, but You are not right here WITH me. I miss You. How can I miss Someone I’ve never met in Person? But I do!”
Jesus: “I missed my Father too (when I was on earth).”
Me: Silent sobs.

Jesus was gently reminding me that there is no pain that I could ever experience that He has not already walked through. In fact, Christ willingly drank my grief just so He could hold my hand today.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:8)

Jesus is with me.

What I haven’t told you about Ann that I want to tell you now is that God gave me a gentle heads up about her health last summer. One day as I was writing her, the Lord gently whispered that the time with my friend was coming to an end soon. Immediately understanding what the Spirit was saying, I swallowed past the lump in my throat and continued to write. I never mentioned a word of what I heard to anyone, but tucked it away.

When I got Ann’s news, I was immediately comforted. The Lord had told me this was coming. He was with me. He would walk me through it. And somehow, because God is God, I knew I would look more like His Son when I made it past the wave. That’s the only way grief can be good.

I have no choice but to keep going. To descend the stairs and join the real world. To silence the Perry Mason music and face harsh reality. If brother Job could do it, I can do it. I can do it because Christ is with me.

Just keep swimming. Seems like Dory was on to something.

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Love is a Battlefield

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On Black Friday, my children, husband and I sat underneath a string of colored lights in a Mexican restaurant enjoying an unhurried lunch. Happy conversation drifted effortlessly from one topic to another until it landed on family lineage. I remarked that our son, Noah, was the sole person to have any hope of carrying the Hamner name into the next generation.

At this point, my comprehending daughter piped up, “Noah, if your wife doesn’t give birth to a son, you should adopt a boy!”

My husband, Jason, responded, “Yes, but that’s not the same.”

My fork stopped midair, and I gaped at him in shock. Didn’t he remember that I was adopted? How could he be so uncomprehending? Trying to stop him from saying something even more hurtful, I asked, “Are you really saying these words?”

Ignoring the warning in my question and facial expression, Jason blazed onward with an explanation. “The child wouldn’t be a blood relative, so it’s not the same.”

Time slowed down. I turned my face away from the table and stopped breathing. So many ominous gray thoughts began to prickle and congeal, but before I could form a coherent word or react any further, I heard the Spirit whisper, “Adopted into the beloved…”

Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:5-6).

Father God, using His Word as a sword, zoomed in to tear down the lie that threatened to take root in my heart right there in the restaurant. This lie was the same falsehood I had worked my whole life to fight. It was the lie that told me I was not accepted, that I was not loved, that I “was not the same” as other children. I thought that I had won this war when I had settled contentedly into the truth of God’s love for me years before. I was wrong.

That was because this time I was hearing the lie come out my husband’s mouth. I was stunned. Slowly panic began to hit, and then I could feel that panic try to give birth to something more crushing: shame. I recoiled.

NO. This was not happening. I could not let this happen!

Before saying another word, I got up from the table, walked to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and howled. All my shell-shocked spirit could do was pray for help. In complete desperation I pled, “Jesus!” over and over. I had faith that Father God would fight the fiery arrow trying to burrow its way into my mind just as He had always done.

In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:16)

He would keep his promise that nothing could separate me from His love. If He didn’t, I would be ruined.

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

After a few minutes of ugly tears, I found the strength to imagine grasping the fiery lie and the crippling shame with both hands, gathering it together to create a tight ball, and throwing the ugly mass to the eternal throne where my King continually sits interceding on my behalf.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Slowly…slowly with each breath I took, the hurt and panic ebbed away. Calm and peace took their place. God’s Word was stronger than the lie and my riotous reactions. Satan had no power over me.

Steeling myself with another silent heavenward plea, I exited the stall and washed my hands and face. Then I left the quietness of the bathroom for the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. The Mexican décor no longer had a joyous effect, but instead the colors and blaring foreign music left me dizzy and off balance. I wanted to escape- to take cleansing shower in a dark room without any other stimulus to push on my already overwhelmed body.

But I had to rejoin my family. They were probably worried about me, and I didn’t want to ruin their lunch entirely.

Jason held out his hand to take mine as I sat down at the table. As he stumbled through a sincere apology, I looked into Jason’s agonized blue eyes and realized I wasn’t even angry with him. There was nothing to forgive. By the grace of God, I understood that the whole experience was a spiritual attack to which Jason was only a bystander. God would not waste the opportunity to point me to higher understanding.

It is January now, a couple of months removed from the rawness of that day. I know without a shadow of a doubt that this little incident will serve as a marker in time. A war was waged, and I won. And you know what? It really wasn’t a fair contest.

I will win all battles, both big and small, when I apply the truth of God’s Word.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Truthful Beauty

My brother Scott and I walked down the main drag one summer evening in a cute little part of town in Indianapolis called Broadripple. Quaint little window displays entertained my artistic leanings, and independent restaurants serving eclectic cuisines made for adventurous foodie fare. Because of the late hour, college students from nearby Butler University romped up and down the sidewalk ready for a night of partying. They made for a raucous crowd.

When I noticed many attractive young girls wearing smoky cat eye makeup and sparkly tight clubbing clothes, I knew my red blooded brother noticed them as well (understatement!). The abundance of beautiful girls made me, a late twenty-something mother, feel self-conscious in the crowd. Oh how I wished I could be that young and vibrant again! Scott seemed to read my thoughts. He rescued me from my inward comparisons and turmoil by saying something like, “Sin tries to masquerade as beautiful, but in the end it is only pedestrian and cliché. True beauty is rare and always unique.” I knew what he said was profoundly true even before I could ruminate on the implications.

A few years have passed since that night in Broadripple, and I agree with my brother’s observation even more. We live in a culture that holds both beauty and ascetics in high esteem, but our very definition of beauty has been corrupted so much so that the profane and vile can now be called “art”.

To illustrate my point, I randomly picked a song on the today’s Billboard Top Ten. Consider the lyrics of the chorus of Maroon 5’s Animals:

Baby, I’m preying on you tonight
Hunt you down eat you alive
Just like animals, animals, like animals-mals

When we read these words in black and white away from catchy beats and the cute pop star, they are seen for what they really are: ugly. Without thinking, millions sing along to a song about a man who sees women as something to be stalked, preyed upon, and conquered. He’s a common beast driven by instinct without reason or sense.

YUCK!

And what of our books, our magazines, our TV shows? They are no better!

Just this past weekend, I flipped through the channels stumbling upon show after reality show depicting the lives of perfectly manicured mostly rich men and women. Ladies draped themselves in diamonds and silk and kept house in high rent districts. Dudes drove fast cars and sported Armani suits and Rolex watches. To the casual observer, they seemed to have it all. They need only open their mouths, however, to reveal the darkness ruling their lives. (“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34) Bitter rivalries, jealous forked tongues, and immature pettiness painted these grimly colored worlds.

America has chosen to be entertained by this lot of worldly characters to her shame. We value glamor and fame over sacrifice and hard work and focus on outward appearances more than the heart. Yesterday we cared more about Kim Kardashian’s pornographic picture in Paper Magazine than the stunning photographs captured from a probe named Philae that Europeans managed to land on a comet. Seriously… what is wrong with us?

The answer to this question is simple but profound: we don’t know truth, so we don’t recognize true beauty. Christian philosopher and apologist Ravi Zacharias observes, “God’s Word commands us to, ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Psalm 96:9). Beauty must be bounded by the very character and nature of God.”

If we want to know what beauty really is, we must look to God’s Word and His character for a truthful definition. Here are just some of God’s Names. I fell in love with Jesus even more when I began to explore His Names because they reveal His character:

Author of Peace (1 Corinthians 4:33)
The Crown of Beauty (Isaiah 28:5)
Comforter (John 14:26)
Consuming Fire (Deuteronomy 4:24)
Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)
Disciplinarian (Hebrews 12:6)
Excellent (Psalm 148:13)
Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11)
Father (Matthew 6:9)
Friend (Matthew 11:19)
Good (John 10:11)
Helper (Hebrews 13:6)
Light of the World (John 8:12)
Love (1 John 4:8)
Merciful (Jeremiah 3:12)
Purifier (Malachi 3:3)
Refuge (Jeremiah 16:19)
Righteous (Malachi 4:2)
Servant (Isaiah 42:1)
Teacher (John 20:16)
Truth (John 14:6)
Wise (1 Corinthians 1:24)
Wonderful (Isaiah 9:6)

Because God is Love, we know that unloving things and actions cannot be beautiful. However, we also understand through examination of the Scriptures that love must also be truthful, because God is Truth. It is therefore ugly, for example, to withhold a truthful correction to spare another’s feelings. God Himself disciplines us because it is in His very nature to be a Good Father.

True beauty is at its very heart holy, or set apart. Beauty is not seen in something as cliché as batting eye lashes or syrupy sweet flattering words. Real beauty is demonstrated when God’s character is put on display.

The sleep deprived mother who comforts her sick child is beautiful. Outwardly this woman may not look beautiful. She probably has bed hair and may even carry an extra fifteen pounds more than she’d like, but inside her brilliant heart is more precious than rubies (Proverbs 31:10).

The husband that loves his wife, serves her, and gets dirty wading through the trenches of her heart is beautiful. God’s Word says that when a husband loves his wife unconditionally, he purifies her as Jesus purifies His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-26). As a husband reflects God’s attributes in his daily life, God receives glory.

When we see Christ, we see beauty incarnate. However, even those that don’t know the Name of Jesus can learn of God’s character by simply observing His creation. “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they (those that have never heard of the Name of Jesus) are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

When we stand agape at the vastness of the stars, we get a glimpse of God’s magnificence and power. The Psalmist joyfully declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament the work of His hands!” (Psalm 19:1)
stars
When we watch the sunset over ocean waters
sunset

or gaze out over mountain peeks
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or stare amazed at the perfectly knit together body of a newborn
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we intuitively understand that there is a Being greater than us at work. The lessons of creation teach us that God is wise, powerful, intelligent, and interested in both grand displays and the smallest details.
But let’s not forget God’s other less recognizable displays of beauty.

Jesus wept with others when they grieved.
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He championed the cause of the oppressed and the broken.

He gave up His glory for this:
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Out of great love Jesus died. He was mocked, scorned, rejected and humiliated. Men did not recognize the beauty of the man they tortured. The prophet Isaiah, seeing 700 years into the future, describes Jesus in agonizing detail, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Do we see that God’s definition of beauty is infinitely more rich, true, and GORGEOUS than the world’s pathetic counterfeits?

Michael Card said, “A hunger for beauty is at its heart a hunger for God.” Mr. Card is right! May we be like King David and say, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1) The Apostle Paul, writing from a damp dark prison cell, said with great fervor and joy, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

Jesus Christ is altogether beautiful. May we seek to discover and know Christ in all His loveliness and forsake all else.

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.

My God Provides

If you’ve read my blog, you know that the Lord has brought me through some very tough financial times. In the span of one year between 2006 and 2007, I lost my teaching job, foreclosed on a house, had a car repossessed, and declared bankruptcy. Writing these events down matter-of-factly in one sentence is comical (I’m literally laughing at the idiocy of it) simply because they were anything but comical at the time. Jesus burned away everything material so I would be left with nothing but a desperate desire for Him. I wouldn’t trade this purging season in my life for all the gold in the world. Because of it, Jesus Christ became and will always be my pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46), my one true treasure, my magnificent obsession.

Because the Lord has shown me through His Word and my experience that He is my portion, listening to prosperity preachers on TV and in the pulpit misrepresent God and His promises is particularly nauseating. These wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing spread the lie that God is merely a genie existing to bless us if we only “ask” in faith. BULL-HONKEY! The “name it and claim it, blab it and grab it, confess it and possess it” crowd are merely practicing greed while hiding behind the veneer of religion. They forget that the Lord warned us that there would be a high cost to following Him and largely ignore the daily sacrifice of our desires and wishes in exchange for God’s will.

Let’s look at a most often quoted verse in its entirety:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (I John 5:14, emphasis added)

John teaches us to ask according the God’s will to know that our prayers are heard. In order to know the Lord’s will, we need to strive to know Him by reading His Word, through prayer, and by fellowship with other believers. Jesus wants us to seek His face first, not the works of His hands. (Aren’t we the same? I want to be loved for who I am, not for what we can do!)

Make no mistake, though! Papa God is generous. He loves to bless His children. One of my all-time stand-alone favorite verses is:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:7)

What a glorious picture! I wish I were a great artist in the likes of Rembrandt so that I could somehow create a work of art that would echo this light while silently speaking of the yearning to be reunited with Father. Oh the hope I carry with me because I know that one day I will look up into God’s face and see that light in person! I can’t wait to thank Him face-to-face for all He has done in heaven, on earth, and in me. I. Simply. Cannot. Wait.

I’ve intentionally stayed writing about God’s provision in my life until now. While I am moved and blessed by the Lord’s gifts, I am more moved by His love for me. That love changed my life! What I have found, though, is that when Jesus gives generously, He is usually trying to teach me something. Jehovah Jireh (My God Provides) wants me to know that He is Able, that He loves me, and that He is interested in the minutest details of my life. With that in mind, I will simply list out several times God has shown Himself as my Heavenly Husband providing for my every need (while saying a silent prayer asking God to bring them to remembrance):

• I applied for and got a job working as an unlicensed nurse assistant at a local hospital in 2008. About a week before I was to start the job, I knew I needed at least 3 pair of scrubs. I could only afford to buy one pair (we were broke and it wasn’t a joke!). I don’t remember praying specifically for scrubs, but I do remember worrying about not having them! However, as always, I possessed an undercurrent of unspoken faith that assured me God would take care of me. Jesus said:

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:24-34)

One day during the week before I was to start the new nursing assistant job, I got a call from my friend, Mindy, asking for help with a move. I knew Jesus wanted me to go and assist, but if I were honest at the time, I would have had to admit that I selfishly did not want to go. However, the Lord whispered in my ear that day, “There will be a reward for your obedience.” Begrudgingly, I obeyed and promised Mindy that I would be there to help. When I got to her apartment, I brought lasagna and packed up the last of the remaining stuff that was still there after a day of moving. Just as I was about to leave, she pointed to a big black trash bag and said, “Do you want any of that? If not, I am going to donate it to Goodwill.” I opened the bag and, to my utter shock, discovered that it was full of scrubs. The most remarkable thing was that they were in my curvaceous size. In one swoop, I got enough colorful adorable scrubs to clothe me at work for two weeks without doing a load of laundry!

• I was taking a class at a local community college a few years ago. While the tuition was covered by my employer, I was still responsible for purchasing the textbook. It cost $98 that I did not have. I prayed about it and waited for God’s answer. Only days later and before the start of the class, I opened my mailbox and found a check for $100 with a note from my wonderful friend Valerie in Oklahoma saying, “The Lord asked me to send this to you.” I hadn’t told a soul about my need- just Jesus. As always, He provided.

• In 2009, I quit the job at the hospital because working nights and being a joyful wife and mother were incompatible. I was grumpy and hated the sleep deprivation. (I don’t know how folks work nights for decades. My hats off to this industrious group!) It showed great lack of wisdom and impulsivity to quit without finding a replacement job first, and I quickly learned the foolishness of my decision. After only a few weeks of unemployment, we once again found ourselves in dire straits financially. So, I asked for grace and vowed never to be so stupid again!

One sunny summer day as I drove my children to the pool, I sorrowfully informed them that we were only weeks away from needing to sell our house because we could no longer make payments without a second income. I asked them to pray right there in the back seat for God to give me the job that I had interviewed for about a month before. I had waited for weeks for a response and had not heard a word from the employer even after follow up emails and calls.

My daughter, frightened of being vacated from her house, closed her eyes tightly and led a fervent yet simple prayer. Not two minutes after she ended her petition with an “amen”, my cell phone rang. I answered and was elated to be offered the job. After hanging up, my children erupted into applause and cheers. We all learned a very valuable lesson about God’s provision that day.

Later as I sat sunning myself by the pool (with a stupidly broad smile on my face I might add), I reflected on the stunning timing of the phone call. God had waited until my faith had almost completely run out to stretch and exercise my faith “muscle”. Just when I was about to fail to believe that He would do as promised and provide, Jesus swooped in as the mighty trainer/teacher He is with might and joy. Hallelujah!

That evening, I drove to church sans kids and knelt down in a little chapel to pray a special prayer of thanksgiving. Inside the quiet room, I found a rock. Clutching it into my hand, I knew I could use it as a “marker” in time so I wouldn’t forget what God had just done for me and my family. I chose to write one word on the rock with a Sharpie: PROVISION. That rock still sits on the dash of my car to remind me that my God is Jehovah Jireh. He will supply all my needs according to His riches and glory (Philippians 4:19).

• About a year ago, our dryer began to do bad stuff to our laundry. We pulled out shirts that were burned or snagged every time it ran. Ruining clothing was expensive, and I was convinced that using the failing machine was a fire hazard. As usual, I prayed for help but said nothing to no one about our need. God heard my prayer. A few weeks later, a lovely couple offered to give us their dryer because they were moving and did not want to take it with them. Instead of being stunned or surprised this time, I was simply grateful. I know my Daddy’s character enough by now to expect His help. He is THERE and will be faithful.

• This summer, my brother, Scott, moved to the Alabama coast. I wanted to go south when he moved for two reasons. One, I desired to help Scott and my aging parents unload the truck and lug boxes up a flight of stairs in 90 degree weather. Two, I really wanted to see where Scott lived for my mothering self and say an official goodbye. I calculated the mileage and the gas needed to get there and back and figured out that I would need about $300 to make the trip. This was a tough goal to reach because….

My hubby recently took a 50% pay cut to take a much prayed for job at the school where we both now work. It was a step of faith for us. We then took another step of faith when Jason chose to take a week of unpaid vacation this summer so he could serve as a camp counselor at my son’s church camp. I encouraged Jason to volunteer because I just knew Jesus would see his work and our collective sacrifice and repay accordingly.

After scrimping and scraping for a couple of months, I managed to save just enough to get to the Gulf and back. However, just four days before I was set to leave, an unexpected $200 check arrived. Smile! What a joy to know that I could breathe as I traveled and not worry about “unexpected” expenditures that I clearly could not have otherwise afforded.

Because we had given of our time, talents, and income, God gave back as He promises to do in His Word. He says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38)

• I was recently surprised by a word from Jesus that came out of the blue and scared me to death: God was going to bring a level of prosperity to my family. After testing the spirits and asking for confirmation, I became convinced that I heard Jesus correctly. Sheesh was that scary.

I am content with a little. I’ve grown accustomed to the dependency this post describes. My fear is that when the Lord changes our financial situation as I believe He has promised, I will be unfaithful with “much” and begin to trust in my own strength again. God forbid!

However, I have also prayed many times that one day I would be in a position to bless others for “it is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 23:35). For so long, I have been on the receiving end learning what it means to have childlike faith. What a wonderful thing to be able to help others as I have been helped so many times. Stay tuned for future stories of provision, Dear Reader, and pray that I would be found faithful in the bigger things (Luke 16:10).

I could go on and on with these miraculous stories of provision. Really and truly I could. If you aren’t convinced by what I say and what the Bible says about God’s generosity at this point though, more numerous examples aren’t going to win your heart and mind to this truth. Instead, I will end by saying that the greatest and most thrilling provision I’ve ever received from God is this: GRACE. Father’s grace showers down forgiveness when I deserve nothing but His anger. His grace draws me to His side. His grace, His magnificent, glorious, unstoppable, sparkling grace makes me more like His Son, Jesus. That, my friends, is enough to make rocks cry out, to make the lame dance, and to make this Indiana girl throw her head back and sigh with the deepest gratitude mere words cannot convey.

All I need is Jesus. HE is more than enough.

War

 by Gustave Dore

Years ago, the Lord spoke to me saying, “You are a Joshua.”  This word was confirmed when a Godly mentor heard the Lord call me Joshua a few years later. 

Joshua was the commander of Israel’s army who led the people into the Promised Land.  His mission was to take enemy territory for God.  I believe God has commissioned me specifically for that purpose too.  I am to invade the adversary’s terrain and fight for Jesus to take back the “land” of people’s hearts for God.    

The Lord gave me an evangelist heart that cries out for the lost to be saved.  Because I am a fighting Joshua, I joke that Jesus gives me “the hard cases”.  When I was teaching, God put me in an alternative school called New Beginnings (even the name of the school points to my position in Christ).  My students were those that had been expelled from high school for discipline problems or habitual truancy. I learned how to love “the hard cases” at this school.  Behind the defiance, the foul language, and the swagger were broken souls, orphaned abandoned spirits, and crushed hopes.  I knew when I looked into their beautiful eyes that I too would have behaved just as they did if I hadn’t been rescued by adoption.  My students’ hunger for the things of God was incredible.  There were many days when my kids would beg me to talk about the Bible instead of teach history curriculum, and I spent several lunch hours with students crowded around my desk asking me about my faith.  I didn’t just try to minister to students while at New Beginnings.  I also tried to reach out to a teacher.  My classroom was positioned directly next to Jay Contreras’s, the school’s upperclassman math instructor.  Even though Jay grew up in a very Godly household and many of his relatives were actively involved in ministry (including his own children), Jay was an atheist.  Because I was in my early twenties, I loved spending time with a much older and often wiser “Mr. C.” and chatting with him about spiritual things.  I challenged him gently and asked him hard questions as we munched on our lunch sandwiches and talked about lesson plans.  After I left New Beginnings, I became active in youth prison ministry because my heart broke when a few of my students went to jail.  Although some might guess that juvenile inmates would be tough to reach, I found that they were so desperate for love and grace that when they found it in Christ, they drank it up as a dehydrated man would gulp down water in a desert.  Finally, there are the individual “hard cases” like my neighbor, Amy, that I pray for often.  I carry these precious souls with me every. single. day.  I hope that I’ll see many of these faces I mention here in heaven one day. 

Wherever my foot lands, I see so many who need Jesus.  The more I live I realize that we all, MYSELF INCLUDED, are in a life and death struggle between faith and doubt, life and death, good and evil.  Because of God’s grace, I have been called to be a minister of light.  I belong to Christ, not because of anything I have done, but because of His great mercy.  However, those that do not believe in Jesus belong to the evil one.  Jesus, our Master says in John 17:

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.  Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You;  for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.  I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;  and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.  I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.  While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”

I could write an entire entry on this prayer alone, but I’ll only highlight a few ideas.  First of all, notice how Jesus makes a distinction between His followers and “the world”.  We learn in this prayer that believers enjoy God’s protection.  The Good Shepherd watches over us and cares for us.  However, anyone who does not believe Christ’s message is part of “the world”.  Unbelievers who have rejected Jesus’s message are under the enemy’s jurisdiction.  Satan and his minions have free access to those still in the world to keep them blind, bound, suffering, and in sin.

It is my goal to carry Christ into Satan’s domain to rescue unbelievers in the Name of Jesus and pull them into the light with His power (Jude 1:23).  However, just like the villains in our legends and stories, the greatest of all adversaries will not go down without a fight.    

Ephesians 6:12 reads:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

Look at that verse again.  Let this teaching sink down into your very marrow.  Practically, what this passage is saying is that:

  • When we have an unbelieving supervisor that seems to “have it out” for us- we aren’t wrestling with our boss, but we are fighting the spirits that guide his/her behavior.
  • When we have a wayward child that lives in continual rebellion- we often need to look past our child and the behavior.  Instead, we must fight against the principalities that try to hinder his/her faith and obedience.
  • When we battle stress, anxiety, depression and other ailments, the enemy is always behind the scenes.
  • When we stumble again and again over the same sin- we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against generational iniquity that controls our behavior.  We must go to Christ and ask Him to break Satan’s power in our lives.
  • When an atheist mocks and ridicules our belief in Christ, we are fighting against the powers that keep him/her bound, blind and deaf.

I’ve mentioned several times now that the Lord has given me the gift of discernment.  Let me be clear before I begin to relay personal experiences that I am in no way giving a thorough teaching on spiritual warfare.  My blog is to simply recount miracles I have witnessed.  So, my purpose here is to simply do just that.  In telling my experience in warfare, I want God to get the glory for all He has done!  I also hope that what I say will validate someone else out there who is having similar experiences.   

From the moment the Spirit baptized me and I saw His fiery image above me in my bedroom (see post called Fire), God has occasionally allowed me to catch glimpses into the spirit realm.  In dreams, I have seen lower level demons of anger, lust, and rebellion/witchcraft.  Hollywood cannot do true evil justice.  Demons are ugly beyond description.  They lack any compassion, empathy, are consumed with evil, and are, for lack of a better word, stupid because they can comprehend nothing but bad. 

When I was active on an online Christian forum, I made an acquaintance with an older gentleman named Larry.  One night I had a dream.  I saw Larry and his wife getting into a backyard swimming in a pool for a leisurely dip.  Suddenly, ravenous crocodiles emerged in the water to destroy them.  The scene changed.  A demon was coming toward me.  The demon morphed into Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones.  A final scene: I frantically called Larry to warn him about the crocodiles.  Larry’s phone rang, but he did not pick up.  I called and called but could never reach him.

The next day, I knew I was supposed to tell Larry about the dream.  Because I was afraid of offending, I started off slowly by simply asking him about the music he had been listening to lately in a private message on the forum.  Larry wrote me back with a stunning response.  It was something like, “It’s funny you should ask.  For the first time in years, I started listening to some Cat Stevens a couple days ago.  I listened to him when I was younger and really enjoyed hearing some old tunes.  In fact, I was on the computer all night downloading a bunch of oldies songs!”  After reading his private message, I did a bit of research on Cat Stevens.  While his music is peaceful sounding and he is widely known as a philanthropist, Cat is a Muslim.  God warns us to have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11).  Obviously the Lord was not honored by Cat’s music and much of the other “tunes” from the 60’s and 70’s Larry had been listening to. (Incidentally, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, who, if I had to guess, were probably included on Larry’s new playlist, were one of the greatest musical offenders of this era.  For example, Jagger plays the devil in Pleased to Meet You.  Mick literally sings this demonic song as if he were a channel for the enemy to speak to the public.  To the world this kind of activity might seem like a harmless game of pretend.  However, to Jesus and His followers, it should be both heartbreaking and appalling for a man, made in God’s image, to intentionally imitate the adversary even for a moment.)  Obviously, Larry had been swimming in dangerous waters by filling his head with Satan’s music just as I saw in the dream. 

I wrote Larry back with a stern warning.  I told him what I saw in the dream and explained the effect listening to evil music would have – that it literally opened both him and his wife up to attacks from the evil one.  Husbands are to cover and protect their wives, and he had done just the opposite by opening the door for Satan to come into his home.  Unfortunately, Larry would not receive what I was saying.  Just like I couldn’t reach him by phone in my dream, I couldn’t reach him in reality.  Larry refused to believe he was doing anything wrong at all.  I was astounded by his response.  I mean, seriously!  I had no way of knowing in the natural world that he had just spent all night downloading music, yet the Lord told me!  If the situation were reversed, I would have been freaked out.  Pure terror would have moved me to instant obedience!  Every song I had downloaded would have been deleted immediately.  Not so with Larry.  He simply would not listen. 

I want to take a moment to say a few things at this juncture.  There have been a few other instances in my life when Jesus has given me a message of rebuke or warning to deliver to a friend or loved one.  First of all, I don’t enjoy bringing a message of reproof.  It requires great faith to metaphorically read aloud a hidden page from someone’s diary when you have never read that diary!  I proceed with these types of communications with great caution and trembling always praying that I’ve heard Jesus correctly.  Secondly, I am a born encourager, and I want to be the bearer of good news (doesn’t everyone?).  It’s not fun to be a downer for a friend, so a difficult word from God is… well, difficult.  However, I have come to understand that a message of chastisement is just as wonderful as a word of encouragement.  God disciplines those He loves, and when we hear, “Don’t!  Beware! Stop it!” it should be heard as loving words from a Father who has our best interests at heart.  Proverbs 12:1 says it very bluntly, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.”  Secondly, I think God has chosen to ask me to give occasional rebukes because He knows that I will never deliver it from a place of judgment but from a place of love.  Believe me when I say I need more grace than anybody!  Finally, and most importantly, the Lord will almost always confront individuals first before asking me or anyone else to correct them.  If they ignore His rebuke by ignoring the conviction of the Holy Spirit or instructions in His Word, sometimes, in His infinite grace, He will ask one of His servants to deliver the message.  Remember how David sinned greatly by committing adultery with Bathsheba and then murdering her husband, Uriah when she got pregnant?  David knew what he was doing was wrong, but he chose not to listen to the warning bells and alarms going off in his head and heart.  So, God sent the prophet, Nathan, to rebuke David.  David, being the great man of God that he was, received the rebuke and repented in dust and ashes.  Just like in David’s case, I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit was convicting Larry telling him to cease listening to ungodly music.  Larry blazed past those warnings.  It was only then that God spoke to me regarding his situation.  Unfortunately, unlike David, Larry did not listen to me either.  I wish Larry had because I am certain the ramifications of his decision to ignore God’s advice were not good.

God’s Word says that, “Satan masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14) Cat Stephens sounds like a peaceful dude, but there are lying deceitful messages hidden in small truths and sweet words.  The devil is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).  He will try and trick us with great deception to ensnare and enslave us.  I once had a dream where I saw a beautiful angel.  He had bright blond hair, brilliant blue eyes, and he stood about nine feet tall.  When I saw him, even though he was absolutely dazzling, I felt in my spirit that something wasn’t right.  So, I tested the spirit as 1 John 4:1 instructs.  As soon as I said the name Jesus, the spirit morphed into an ugly hideous creature.  God’s Word sternly warns us in Galatians 1:8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”  Paul gave this warning because he knew, through God’s guidance, that angels would come to deceive many.  Many of the world’s religions were started when a man had a vision of a supernatural being.  For example, Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, saw an angel named “Moroni”.  Moroni was the guardian of “golden plates” that contained the source material for the Book of Mormon.  Joseph Smith did not test Moroni to see if he came from God.  Moroni did not preach the Jesus Christ revealed in the Bible.  Moroni preached another message!  May Moroni be cursed!  An angel named Gabriel appeared to the prophet Mohammed commanding him to recite verses that would later be included in the Quran.  Mohammed and his followers went on to establish Islam.  The angel that appeared to Mohammed preached a message different than of the Gospel: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  No man comes to the Father except through Jesus!  (John 14:6)  May Mohammed’s angel be cursed!   

I’ll end today’s post by describing how God has used my gift of discernment to do war in the spirit realm.  I am a Joshua when I am awake, and I am a Joshua in my dreams.

When the Lord first began teaching me about spiritual warfare, I fought demons attacking me in my sleep.  Evil entities screamed lies that echoed in my head as I dreamed.  Their main goal was to scare me.  In the beginning it worked!  Even in my sleep I cried out a desperate prayer, “Jesus, help me!”  As my unconscious mind sought God’s help, my physical body floated closer and closer to consciousness.  The demons attacking me did not want me to get fully awake.  They knew that when I was awake, I could speak, pray, and really fight them off.  Proverbs 18:21 says that “life and death are in the power of the tongue”.  If awake, I could send the demons packing with one word: Jesus!  So, as I fought to regain consciousness, the demons fought to keep me asleep.  In really tough battles, I felt evil spirits choking me.  As soon as I finally wrestled myself awake, I prayed.  I turned worship music on very low and tried to relax.  It was hard to not panic even after I was safely conscious!  These experiences were scary!  To try to calm down, I always meditated on scripture.  One that always gave me solace was 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”  I often heard Jesus say through His Word, “Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)  Eventually, as my faith got stronger, the demons got weaker.  When the attacks first began, they came almost nightly.  Eventually, as I gained victory night after night, they stopped bothering me.  Today, the only time they have a window to get to me is if I fall into unrepentant sin.  Demonic scare tactics do not work anymore… I’ll write about this in my next blog post!

Occasionally, I have gone to battle for others in my dreams.  A few years ago, I went to visit my friend Valerie’s house in Oklahoma over spring break.  I met her four gorgeous daughters while I was there.  Her second oldest, Amanda, was clearly struggling with some very personal issues.  I thought of Amanda and prayed for her while I was there and on the plane ride home.  Valerie and I had stayed up late talking and sharing while I was away, and I was exhausted when my plane landed in Indiana.  As soon as I got back to my apartment, I went straight to bed to get some much needed sleep.  My nap was anything but restful.  

The Lord allowed me to have a dream.  I found myself floating in a huge turbulent gray ocean.  Clouds and darkness consumed my vision.  Rain poured down and lightening flashed.  Amanda was next to me in the water, struggling.  She was fighting an unseen force and failing.  Suddenly, I looked up and saw not an ordinary demon, but a higher ranking principality.  This horrifying creature looked like a pterodactyl and had a huge wingspan of maybe 30 feet.  My spirit knew the monster was a spirit of suicide.  I could not fight this principality on my own.  I had to get awake.  I fought harder than I ever have in my life to get awake.  The demonic spirits did not want me to get other people praying as I knew I needed.  Finally, I was able to open my eyes and stumble to the phone to call my friend and prayer partner/warrior Dani living in North Carolina.  I tried to explain in an almost drunk like state that I had been fighting a spirit of suicide and that I desperately needed back up in prayer.  I wasn’t able to stay awake long enough to explain the entire dream because I simply didn’t have the strength.  After I hung up the phone, I said a quick prayer and collapsed again into my bed totally spent.  Mercifully, I slept peacefully when my darling Dani took over.

The next day, Dani called me to say that Amanda had attempted suicide.  Thank God Amanda failed.  The only conclusion that I can draw from the above is that God loved Amanda so much that He moved on His children to pray and thwart the efforts of the enemy. 

Beloved readers, God’s Word is true.  We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but we do indeed fight unseen spirits in the air that work tirelessly to destroy (John 10:10).  This invisible spiritual battle waging around us between light and dark will continue until Christ comes back.  Even though Satan roams around like a roaring lion to persecute and distress us (1 Peter 5:8), ultimately, those that are in Christ have total and resounding victory.  God’s Word ecstatically declares in Romans 8:35-39,

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Just as it is written, ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Folks, God wins!  He wins the big battles, and He wins the small wars.  Even when Satan throws great heartache, pain and suffering our way, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Praise Jesus because the deciding war was already won 2,000 years ago when Jesus declared, “It is finished!” and gave His life as a sacrifice for you and for me (John 19:13). Our conquering King “disarmed the powers and authorities, (and) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:5) The demons tremble at the Name of Jesus.  When I say His Name, they must flee in terror!  Someday in the future, when God’s people finally see Jesus face to face, we will all be witness to the moment when,

“…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10)

Glory Hallelujah! 

In my next entry, I will continue to talk about spiritual warfare.  I’ll speak about going to battle for one lost soul and the victory that is rightly mine through the power of the cross.