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)

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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)
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When we watch the sunset over ocean waters
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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.

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.”

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.”