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
mountain
or stare amazed at the perfectly knit together body of a newborn
newborn
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.
jesuswept

He championed the cause of the oppressed and the broken.

He gave up His glory for this:
jesuscross
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.

Guided

I am currently teaching a women’s Bible study. The focus of this week’s lesson was on the (often mysterious) Holy Spirit. I was so moved by the study and the group’s discussion on the subject, that I knew I would need to add to the story I had already planned to write in this entry. Consequently, I spent a lot of time teaching today and then end this post by telling a tale about one particular instance when I was led by the Spirit!

Here are some of the verses about the 3rd Person in the Trinity that help to explain His role in the lives of Believers:

• The Spirit teaches us what to say. (Luke 12:11-12)
• He prays for us when we don’t know what to pray. (Romans 8:26-27)
• He gives us power! (Acts 1:8)
• He guides and teaches truth. (John 15:26-27)
• He produces fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-25)
• He advocates for us and helps us. (John 14:15-26)
• After belief in Christ, the Spirit seals us to guarantee our inheritance in God’s Kingdom. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

These are just a few passages (and there are many more!) that describe the absolute vital role the Spirit plays in Believers’ lives. It is clear that in order for Christians to walk in power, we must begin to hear and heed the soft whispering voice of the Spirit.

A question I often get from others when I relay some of my experiences and conversations with Jesus is, “How do you hear the Holy Spirit?” That is a loaded question. Volumes of books have been written on this subject, and I am not on par with great theologians. What I can relay is what I have learned from experience. God has taught me as I searched to know Him more, and I will try my best to explain what I know here.

First of all, there is no magic formula or four step program to guide you in discerning the Voice of God. Also know that we will make mistakes and misunderstand sometimes! Paul says that “we see through a glass dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), and for this reason, we will hear wrong or misinterpret what is the Lord is trying to say. However, when we hear incorrectly, God still sees our heart and our desire to please Him. He is the Good Shepherd that will gently and firmly redirect us with His shepherd’s staff whenever we get off course. So, don’t let a fear of hearing wrong keep you from stepping out in faith to try to listen!

Secondly, the Spirit speaks differently to each of God’s children. Just like every parent approaches their kids uniquely based on their individual personalities and gifts, the Spirit will speak differently to each one of us. I have a couple of friends that can sit down and study the Bible for hours and hours because the Lord has chosen to gift them with research ability. God speaks to them mightily as they read His Word and logically consider the facts. These friends get joy from looking up the original Hebrew and Greek meanings of individual words, and they cross reference passages for long stretches of time. These friends own Strong’s Concordance and use this resource often, and almost all of the pages in their beloved Bibles are highlighted, notated, and tattered from use. The amount of understanding and wisdom God gives them through their study is amazing, and it is their delight to spend long afternoons mining for nuggets of truth in the Word.

Unlike my friends, I cannot sit for hours studying. It is my prayer that the Lord will help me be more of a student of His Word like my friends, but I know that I will never be a detailed researcher. It is not the way the Lord made me! I approach the Word conversationally. I can almost hear Jesus speaking directly to me when I read scripture. Always as I read, I reply back to my King in both silent and audible words of repentance, wonder, joy and praise. The Lord has also given me the ability to retain information that I hear. When I first gave my life to Christ, God generously afforded me many hours a day to bathe in His truth. I needed to be washed from the wrong thinking and disobedience that had gotten me into great messes! I spent almost all of my free time listening to sermons from great teachers like Ravi Zacharias, James McDonald, Alistair Begg, John MacArther, Charles Stanley, and David Jeremiah. Whenever I traveled in my car, I tuned into Christian radio to hear God’s Word or listen to His music. I soaked up every morsel like a sponge. Many times a sermon would come to speak to me exactly where I was, meeting my needs in God’s perfect timing. The Lord used great Bible orators as His vessels to speak to me and guide me into greater truths. The knowledge I gained from these precious years in His Word is still guiding me today as the Spirit prompts me to remember this learned wisdom on a daily basis. Finally, I often perceive the Spirit’s voice in prayer and in dreams and visions because Jesus, in His perfect will, has chosen to speak to me in this way. Again, God approaches His sons and daughters differently, and the Lord responds to all His children uniquely and always in the perfect love of a Father.

A couple of words of warning: When trying to discern God’s Voice, we must never approach Jesus as if He were a genie in a bottle or a vending machine. God is altogether valuable and worthy, and He deserves our total respect and overwhelming gratitude. He responds to humble hearts that are desperately seeking Him first, instead of the works of His hands. The Lord’s mission statement from the beginning was to restore our broken relationship so that He would be our God, and we would be His people (Jeremiah 31:33). We see over and over in His Word that Father desires a relationship with us, and we would be foolish not to want a relationship with Him above all things! I hope you can clearly see from what I’ve written here that just as we must cultivate our earthly friendships, we must spend time with our Heavenly Father by talking to Him in prayer, learning about Him in His Word, and meditating on His wonderful attributes and creation. As we hang out with Jesus, we begin to recognize His voice (John 10:27). There are no shortcuts to intimacy.

Unfortunately, my last word of caution is to point out that we also have to compete with the enemy’s voice trying to clamor for our attention. The Lord will never… and I mean NEVER… say anything contrary to His Word. It is our duty as Christians, therefore, to know what the Word says and to examine all messages in the light of scripture (Acts 17:11)! If you hear a message, sermon, voice or book saying something different than what the Bible says, run fast and pray harder! Satan is constantly throwing fiery lying arrows at us in his desperate attempt to get us to doubt God and live in fear (Ephesians 6:16). We must be diligent to use the sword of the Word of God and the knowledge of the truth to combat these falsehoods and assaults on our faith (2 Corinthians 10:15).

Very recently, I asked the Lord a direct question about the location of misplaced car keys. I prayed this prayer in anger and in a state of unforgiveness as I believed (wrongly as it turned out) that my spouse had lost them. After I prayed, “Where are my keys, Lord?” in heated frustration, I heard a “voice” answer, “They were thrown away.” I believed this lie, and of course the result of this false belief was that my anger at Jason grew even more intense. Days later when the keys were finally found in my yard, it was obvious that the voice I heard was not Jesus’s but Satan’s. Again, I believe the reason our enemy’s voice came through so clearly to confuse and destroy was because I was sinning in my anger. In white hot fury, my tongue cut my beloved husband to the quick, and I said things no Christian should say. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” I obviously gave the enemy an opportunity because of my unbridled temper, and the slimy opportunist took it! Today as I prayed before work, I heard the Lord say that He would not answer my prayers until I sought my husband’s full forgiveness for the unholy way I treated him in my unrighteous selfish anger by verbalizing an apology face-to-face. God said He would not hear me until I did (Matthew 5:21-26). The unresolved conflict felt like an unseen wall between me and my King during our conversation, and I resolved then and there to apologize as the Spirit commanded.

I can rejoice in the above lesson. While the enemy hoped to create lasting division in my relationship with my spouse, the Lord turned this experience around for good. Jason, being more mature in this area than I am, was gentle and kind even after the keys were found and he was vindicated. Because of his self control, we were reunited in love within hours after the blow out. As for me, I learned an absolutely vital lesson about how the enemy plots and schemes, and I will be more wary next time when anger temps me to sin. My faith in my ability to hear God was shaken until I examined scripture in Ephesians 4:26-27. Once I learned more of God’s truth on this particular subject, that faith was restored. In addition, I will be harder to trick next time! Hallelujah and praise Jesus because He “causes all things to work together for the good for those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose!” (Romans 8:28)

Finally, I must be absolutely clear when I say that the Spirit speaks to those who will listen- as in heed His instructions. Many times, Father’s will is obvious without a huge billboard or booming voice because we are mercifully and graciously given instructions for all circumstances in His Word (as the above situation clearly demonstrates). Those that don’t read the Word, therefore, are extremely vulnerable to grave error, for God declares “My people are destroyed by lack of knowledge!” (Hosea 4:6) Don’t be destroyed! Seek God’s will in your life by reading His Word! For instance, God asks us to “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Papa God does not want His child to marry a non-Christian because, as I can personally testify, it causes great heartache and division in the home. Although God is gracious, slow to anger, and merciful, if His child disobeys these explicit instructions in outright rebellion by marrying an unbeliever, then he/she will have a harder time discerning the Voice of God until true repentance takes place. Furthermore, what’s sobering and very scary is that those that continue in this kind of outright rebellion will eventually be given over to a “reprobate” mind (Romans 1:28). Basically, God says that after continual disobedience He will eventually cease speaking to these folks at all! Our Just Judge will leave defiant people to wonder through life without truth because they chose to abandon it. Eventually, these people will spend their lives chasing their own lusts and desires without any conviction by the Spirit because their hearts have turned hard and arrogant. The final result is that they believe improper behavior acceptable and even champion it. This is what has happened to many today in America. People have refused to listen to God’s truth, but instead have created their own value systems based on culture, political correctness, and feelings. The end result of these choices has been and will continue to be great pain, suffering, and finally utter destruction. Isaiah says to the reprobate, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” May this very stern warning cause us to tremble before the Mighty Judge in continual repentance and to seek His will above our own at all costs.

When I first starting seeking God’s will, I timidly began to try to hear His whispers. If I heard the Spirit, I would, like Gideon, almost always ask for a “sign” of confirmation. Jesus would often answer my request for a sign in ways that made it impossible to doubt that I heard Him correctly. Even now the Lord still gives me signs in special circumstances (read my post entitled Beloved written on November 17th, 2013). However, as I continue to mature and obey the Spirit, God’s voice gets louder. As this happens, Abba Father is less willing to give a sign of confirmation when He speaks. Instead he says, “No. No sign this time, Julie. You know My Voice. I’m stretching Your faith.”

An example of this came about a year ago when I got an invitation to attend my neighbors’ Halloween party. Now if you know me at all, you can probably guess that I would not normally attend a Halloween party. First of all, I have studied the dubious history behind this “holiday”, and it seemed hypocritical for a Christian to participate. Secondly, I don’t enjoy parties that are centered on alcohol consumption, and I knew this particular gathering would be. However, because I had been praying for my neighbors and specifically for my neighbor, Amy, I desperately wanted to develop a relationship with her. This seemed like opportunity for me to spend time with her on her turf in a non-confrontational way. So, I prayed about it asking for God’s will. “Should I go, Lord?” I asked. That night, I had a dream. In the dream, I was at my neighbors’ house at the Halloween Party. I was dressed up in a white sweatshirt with a huge red heart in the middle. My “costume” was literally LOVE. When I woke up, I knew the Lord wanted me to attend the party and love on my neighbors while I was there. I was given no additional “sign” of confirmation. I just had to obey. (In case you are curious, no, I did not dress up as “love”. I admit that this was my plan until I started looking for wire headbands with hearts sticking up like antennae. As I began shopping for heart accessories, God stopped me by explaining that I was being too literal and that coming dressed up in actual hearts would be too heavy handed! LOL!)

The day of the party came, and I was understandably nervous. Amy is in an atheist group, and I knew many of her friends from this community would be there. I felt like I would be a sheep among wolves! When I got to my neighbors’ house, however, I was excited to be there. Amy has the gift of hospitality and humor, and I felt welcomed and happy within a few minutes. I had fun catching up with old friends from high school and enjoyed laughing at the different creative costumes. Towards the end of the party, however, something strange happened. Amy came up and hugged me hard. In tears she said, “Why are you so nice to me? Why are you so loving?” In a rush of words, Amy began to refer to a time when she was sick and my kids made her cards and I brought her soup and medicine. Amy said as she hugged me and petted my hair, “My friends weren’t as nice as you were to me when I was sick!” and again she asked, “Why are you so nice to me?” After Amy finally ended the hug, I stood in the middle of the festive atmosphere dumbfounded. A few minutes later, my friend came up to me to hug me again. And then again! Amy hugged me over and over for minutes on end with tears staining her lovely face and smearing her beautifully applied makeup. “I love you,” she would say. All I knew to say in return was, “I love you too.” Every time my arms wrapped around her beautiful frame, I prayed and asked God to remember this precious soul. I asked Him to break through the pain and unbelief in her heart so that Amy would be His child and that she would call Him Daddy.

I believe with all my heart that He will answer my prayers for Amy. And, wouldn’t you know it, the Lord was right! If I had listened to my “church girl” opinion on the matter of attending a Halloween party, I never would have gone. However, I obeyed the Spirit’s leading even though it made no earthly sense. The fruits of that decision are lasting. After the party, Jesus swung open the door to a friendship that is still developing. Amy and I no longer see each other as adversaries but as friends. I love her dearly. Praise God!

Months later, the Lord brought the original dream to memory out of the blue one day. He reminded me of the white sweatshirt with a heart on it. Suddenly, a minor detail hit me like a lightening bolt. The sweatshirt I wore in the dream was the very same sweatshirt I wore when dancing on the sidelines at Indiana University the day I sacrificed my will for God’s so that the Lord would hear my prayers for Amy. (See last post) This realization was the exclamation point and cherry on top! God had seen my love in action as I danced at IU for Amy, and He used that same love to propel me to go the party. Wow. Only the Lord could arrange things so perfectly!

The mysterious, wonderful, magnificent Holy Spirit is what gives us power to impact our world. He tells us what to do, and then gives us power to do it! He teaches us truth, and then brings that truth back to remembrance in times of need. He comforts us, indwells us, and lets us live a life that is truly separate to shine for the world to see.

“Father God, I pray that my readers would have ears to hear what You are trying to say through this broken vessel. Draw them near. Help them to begin to seek and hear your Voice. Fill them daily with Your Spirit so that Your children would be a beacon of hope, truth, and light in this dark world. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.”

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)

Knock and Keep on Knocking

I’m not a naturally patient person.  While today’s fast food, text message, Instagram, I-need-it-now culture hasn’t helped me develop patience, Jesus has.  The fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) take years of walking with Jesus to cultivate.  While I can be patient and kind in my flesh for a short time, only the Holy Spirit can develop a heart that is truly patient and joyful. 

When I started praying for my husband’s salvation, I honestly expected a quick answer because I had been so loved and “spoiled” by my kind Daddy those first few months.  Living with Jesus as a baby Christian felt like living in a holy bubble.  Everything was sweet, colors were bright, and I was always protected.  Most importantly, God was merciful and gracious by answering many of my childlike prayers almost immediately.  When I prayed for my brother’s salvation, for instance, it happened within months!  Many days I would pray for the Lord’s provision because our budget was super tight, and within hours of those prayers, I’d often find an unexpected check in the mail or a surprise gift of food, clothing, or whatever it was that we needed.  One day I prayed that a high fever would leave my daughter.  She was well within ten minutes!  Sometimes my prayers were silly.  “Lord, please give me a good parking spot so I don’t have to walk in the rain!”  He almost always answered.  Eventually, though, I had to stop acting like a baby Christian and grow up a little. (1 Corinthians 13:11)  So, Father began to wean me of immediate answers so I could begin to crawl and then walk in faith.  He also allowed me to face trials and storms that refined and caused me to mature. 

I’m not going to lie.  The transition from baby Christian to toddler was hard!  When I prayed for Jason’s salvation, I was shocked when my prayer wasn’t answered as others had been.  Months and then years passed with no visible change in my husband’s heart.  In response, I’d cry manipulative tears to Jason and yes, even to God.  “Please change him!” I’d beg.  When that didn’t work, I‘d indignantly stomp away from God’s presence and peace to accomplish this important task on my own.  Like a three-year-old, my actions said to my Lord, “I do it by myself!”  I argued with Jason.  I coerced and reasoned.  When that didn’t work, I’d relent and admit it was beyond my power and then go back to praying harder.  I’d anoint his pillow and his shoes and weep into my pillow until it was ruined with tear stains.  Still my prayers for Jason’s salvation were not answered.  As my past entries have clearly demonstrated, God was not silent on my husband’s future salvation.  Jesus gave me words of encouragement and signs to keep me hanging on in faith that my prayer would eventually be answered.  God also stretched my faith further and promised that one day Jason would serve in youth ministry.  In order to see these promises, though, I would have to be patient whether I wanted to be or not!

After three or four years of praying fervently, however, my husband had almost no interest in the things of God.  It was about this time, however, that my prayers began to change.  I realized that the “change him” prayers were wrong.  Instead, I really needed to pray, “Change me.”  I searched the scriptures for much needed advice and decided to at least try to take the first steps to obey Peter’s instructions to unequally yoked spouses: “Wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives…” (1 Peter 3:1)

I’ll talk more about the often volatile topic of submission in another entry.  Today I’ll focus on the second half of Peter’s instruction when he said, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that it was my behavior, not my words, that would do more to win Jason to the Lord. 

Men are creatures of action.  They want to see results.  Advertisers know this, so men’s ads look very different than women’s.  To demonstrate the point, I suggest taking a trip to your local grocery store and meandering through the soap isle.  Look at the descriptions of men’s body washes and compare it to the descriptions of products made for women.  The difference is almost comical!  A man’s body wash might say something like, “Fresh.  Clean.  Triple action formula to remove daily dirt and grime.”  A women’s soap description might read something like, “Rich moisturizing soap that sooths and protects.  Beautifully scented and enriched with chamomile, hibiscus, and Vitamin E.  Relax and rejuvenate as you wash your cares away.”  If you watch TV ads, you’ll notice the same pattern.  Also notice how males spend their free time.  Think about the activities guys choose when spending time with other guys.  Gentlemen fish together, attend a sporting event, or canoe up a river.  Men were created to want to fix, do, take charge, and conquer.  In short, they want results!

In 1 Peter 4:1, the Lord wants wives trying to win their husbands to know their audience!  If we don’t, we can make the mistake of trying to win a guy with what comes naturally to almost every female: words and conversation.  Talking makes sense to us!  While men cultivate relationships with activity, women develop friendships face-to-face.  We meet for coffee or have breakfast together so we can talk, vent, and share!  God’s advice to me regarding winning Jason to Christ was to ignore my girlie instincts that told me to present hubby with lofty arguments for my faith (which he would probably consider nagging), but instead to change my behavior so Jason could see the results of living a life for Christ.  This request was a whole lot harder than giving a speech or well-reasoned argument! 

So, in short, I shut up.  I let the Holy Spirit speak, and I just continued to try to be more like Jesus every day.  I directed all that pent up talking energy at the Lord, kept praying, and never gave up!  I went to church.  I guided my children in the ways of the Lord as best as I could.  I served Him where and when I felt led. 

One of the ways that I chose to serve was in a ministry called Kairos Torch Prison Ministry.  For those that are familiar with fourth day movements like Walk to Emmaus and Great Banquet, Torch basically ministered in a similar way except inside prison walls to juvenile inmates.  Team members conducted three day weekend retreats on a biannual basis.  (To learn about 4th Day movements, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_day_movement .)  Torch team members then followed up weekend retreats with hour long mentoring sessions once a week for the next year (or until the inmate was released) to make sure boys were cared for, loved, taught, and discipled long after life changing weekends. 

During my very first weekend retreat inside the prison, a man from another Torch chapter in a different state came to observe our new team and give notes for improvement.  As I prepared to leave the facility after a long, exhausting, and exhilarating time with precious boys, the observer came up to me specifically and asked if I had ever attended a 4th day event like Great Banquet on the “outside”.  I hadn’t and in fact didn’t even know what he meant or that Walk to Emmaus or Great Banquet existed.  He suggested that I attend a weekend on the outside as soon as I had the opportunity. 

The very next day, I attended a Bible study with my mother that was being held at a local Christian radio station through Moody Bible Institute Broadcasting.  During that study, a woman I had never met approached me and said, “Can I sponsor you at a ladies’ Great Banquet event?”  Obviously, I knew immediately that this was a God moment, so I said, “Of course!”  Although I was in another city for the Bible study, the Banquet was to be held at my home church, and it was scheduled for that very weekend!  For a girl who doesn’t have a lot of patience, this kind of timing was AWESOME!  I knew I would find out what the Lord had in store for me in a few days!  I could not have been more excited.

As expected, my Great Banquet weekend was life changing.  I have never felt more loved by God’s people- the Church- than during those few days.  I won’t ruin the surprise for any reader who may be prompted to seek out and attend a 4th day weekend in your area by sharing many details about the weekend.  However, something happened that particular October ladies’ Banquet that is critical to my husband’s salvation story.

On Saturday evening, the women at Banquet prepared to go to dinner.  I waited in line to enter into Fellowship Hall where tables were set up and food was being served.  When I entered the room, a very polite volunteer greeted me kindly and offered to escort me to my table.  I took his arm, and we began to walk. 

Suddenly the Lord spoke, “Ask him his name.” 

Um… okay.  “What’s your name?” I asked in obedience.  The young man replied, “My name is Jason.”  I started to cry almost immediately because I knew what the Lord was saying.  Because I had spent years walking with Jesus, I knew His character enough to know by now that this was another sign that He was going to save my husband.  When Jason saw my tears, he began to fill the dead air with more conversation.  “I attended the men’s Great Banquet two weeks ago.  It changed my life.  I gave my life to the Jesus and now I’m here to serve as I was served.”  Wow.  It just got better and better!

I immediately had a new mission: GET MY HUSBAND TO THE NEXT MEN’S BANQUET!!!  How was I supposed to do that, though, without nagging (something the Lord specifically warned me against in 1 Peter)?  I went home from my weekend and immediately asked both Jason and my brother to go to the next men’s Banquet scheduled for January.  (I had to wait 3 months for the next event!  Ahhhh!)  I thought it would make Jason more comfortable if he had a friend to go with him and thus make it more likely that he would agree to attend.  Of course my brother, an “all in” believer, was willing to attend. My husband’s answer was, “I’ll think about it.”  What a frustrating response!  I couldn’t push him on it though.  I had to be patient and believe that he would somehow make it to the weekend in January.

Finally, the month of January came and Jason finally agreed to go.  I was bursting with excitement because I just knew that all those years of tears and waiting were almost over.  My prayers were about to be answered!  A few days before it was time to drop Jason off at the church for Banquet, we went out for a dinner date.  After years of reserved silence on the issue of his salvation, I finally spoke.  I know that I wasn’t 100% loving and patient as we chomped our burgers and chewed over this most important of all issues.  I could and still can be a bulldog when it comes to apologetics and matters of faith.  However, I knew the Lord led me to point out something painfully obvious that evening. I told Jason quite frankly that he couldn’t spend his life living on the fence or just ignoring Jesus.  In so doing, he was really saying no to Jesus’s offer of grace.  I said, “Indecision is no.”  Jason got angry and clamed up as usual as I began to push- so I dropped the subject and moved on to safer topics.  I sighed inwardly knowing that I had done everything I could do- it was up to the Lord and His timing.

When I went to Jason’s Great Banquet closing ceremony, I found that the Lord did indeed answer my prayer to save Jason.  My husband went up to speak to the crowd gathered, and because he was choked up, he could only manage to get out, “I’m on a new path.”  I cried.  Others sitting with me in the audience who knew my story rejoiced with me and held my hand.  I no longer had to walk the faith walk alone in my marriage- Jason would be walking with me and my King.  I would learn later that Jason had been moved and forever changed by the true agape love and transparent fellowship of other believing men.  The brotherly love that he felt in that vulnerable, tough, broken, and rugged group had chipped away at any remaining doubts leading to final surrender at the cross.  Praise Jesus!

Because of my experience with Jason, I have come to believe that many churches have missed the mark in ministering to men.  Again, it’s clear that men want and are moved by action.  How much “do” can they experience on Sunday mornings when they are expected to sit, listen, and take notes for an hour and fifteen minutes?  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for teaching, expository preaching, and studying the Word of God.  However, I am of the opinion that it might be a good idea to pair solid Biblical teaching with outreach events beyond the walls of our church buildings so they our men can experience the love and grace of God first hand while “doing”.

Through the years, I’ve also come to the conclusion that men need other men. I spent so many years talking about Jesus with no change in Jason’s heart. However, Jason spent one weekend with “the guys” and that did it! While I rejoiced in Jason’s rebirth, there was a teenie part of me that was indignant. I thought, “One weekend? SERIOUSLY? Why would he listen to them and not to me?” But then I noticed with cursory glance at my Bible that Jason was no different than other men in scritpture. Moses needed Joshua.  David needed Jonathan.  Timothy needed Paul.  The disciples needed each other.  Even Jesus needed Peter, James, and John!   It’s clear that men desperately need other men to grow! For this reason, I began to pray shortly after Jason’s Banquet that he would get a spiritual mentor. The answer came a couple of years later when the Lord sent a man named John to pour into my husband’s life. The friendships that he has developed with other Godly men have done more to help him in his walk than I can express here. God is so good!

A year to the month after Jason’s Banquet, he was baptized.  He is currently serving every Sunday as a teacher in the youth ministry at our church and hopes to serve Jesus in full time ministry one day soon as God has willed and promised. 

The difference this time is that we can (hopefully) patiently wait together for this particular promise to be fulfilled.

Luke 11:19 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”