Plant Killer

“Hi, my name is Lindsey, and I’m a plant killer.”

{mumbled group response}: “Hi, Lindsey.”

So, is “black thumb” a thing? If it is, I have it. Maybe it’s not “black thumb.” Maybe it’s “dead thumb”? “Shriveled-to-actual-dust thumb”? Anyway, whatever the thumb that I have, it’s apparently not going anywhere. Roses left in my care? Dead. Plants given to me with the promise that I can’t kill them? Ha! Give me seven to ten days and watch the magic. And don’t get me started on my venture into fall-inspired mum-dom. That mum was full and beautiful and yellow, and I killed it. I don’t get it because I did exactly what the less-than-specific tag said!  I watered it. (Did I over-water it? Likely. Did I water it too little? Also possible.) I even nurturingly pruned it ON THE REGULAR, taking time to carefully snap off the dead blooms so that new, healthy ones could grow up in their places. Did it help? Did my mum grow big and beautiful and glorious like my neighbor’s from across the street? Negative, Ghost Rider. See what I mean. You know, I’m thinking “dead thumb” might be most accurate.

Given my pruning skills–or lack thereof, for the ten-thousandth time I’m reminded of how fortunate we all are that I’m not God (can I get an AMEN?!). That promise of “beauty for ashes” would’ve clearly been DOA. As it turns out, the Bible confirms for us that God is, in fact, a VERY “green thumb.” Check out Jesus’s words from John 15: 1-2. “I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit” (AMP). Look at all that life and pruning and growth–no dead mums anywhere!

A few short years ago, I knew absolutely zero about process mentioned in the verse above that God puts us through during the growth and development in our walk with Him. I didn’t know it existed; I didn’t know its name (sanctification). I recognized that God was working on me. I noticed that every time I experienced issues within my life, instructions for how to overcome those exact struggles suddenly appeared within my readings of the Word and/or my devotionals. It was too often and too dead-on not to be God at work on and within me, but I didn’t know it had a name. I had never heard the term sanctification. I had never heard a sermon on it, never read a book about it, never discussed it in small groups or Sunday school classes. But you know how once you hear a word you’ve never heard before it’s suddenly everywhere and being used by everyone? This is how the concept of sanctification was for me. That term showed up in Bible verse after Bible verse, scripture lesson after scripture lesson.

In an effort to shed brighter light on this process in which God plucks off our non-fruit-bearing parts in order for growth and healthier fruit to bloom, let’s turn (yet again) to my dear friend Joyce Meyer (some might even call us BFF’s). In her book How to Succeed at Being Yourself, Ms. Joyce explains sanctification as, “the state of perfect holiness, reached by degrees through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives” (pg. 254).

There are a couple of very important take-aways from her definition that, to me, help make this unfamiliar term a little more understandable. 1) Our end-goal is holiness.  2)We will never reach holiness all at once. It requires lots and lots of tiny steps (by degrees) in the right direction. 3) Most importantly, we cannot be sanctified of our own doing. The pruning of our destructive areas, our dead areas, MUST be done by God via His Holy Spirit.

Just to show you how important and essential to our spiritual maturity this process is, I want to provide for you several pieces of scripture where God speaks to us about it. I’m sorry to be list-y (ten points to Lindsey for excellent word creation!), but I truly believe that seeing and reading these verses will help God speak to you about this process so that you can better identify it and allow it fully into your own walk with Him.

Let’s begin with Leviticus 19:2, because, in my opinion, it truly explains WHY we need to go through this sometimes-uncomfortable process. “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Surely this is clear enough. Our job as a child of God is to become more and more and more like Him, to strip off those things that encumber us, those sins that entangle us, that hinder us from preaching His message to those unsaved and unfamiliar with Jesus (Hebrews 12:1). If we keep all of our human faults, all of our “dead blooms” then this becomes impossible. As we learned from the Joyce Meyer definition earlier, our end-goal is holiness. Thus sayeth the Lord.

But of course God doesn’t just mention sanctification one time and hope we understand its necessity and importance. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 it states, “…God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in truth.” Back up a little to 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and you’ll find this: “And may the God of peace Himself sanctify you through and through [separate you from profane things, make you pure and wholly consecrated to God].” Again and again, our Heavenly Father reminds us that sanctification is something we all must go through, that it’s something only He can initiate and complete within us, that we must allow this process to occur so we might become more like Him. “Sanctify them by the Truth; Your Word is Truth. As You have sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. I sanctify Myself for them, so that they also may be sanctified by the Truth” (John 17: 17-19).

The final scripture I want us to look at is Joshua 7:12-13, where God speaks to Joshua about the necessity of personal sanctification and the very real distance and danger we let into our lives when we aren’t constantly working WITH GOD toward great holiness. “I will cease to be with you, unless you destroy the accursed things among you. Up, sanctify (set apart for a holy purpose) the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow; for those says the Lord, the God of Israel: There are accursed things in the midst of you…You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away from among you the things devoted [to destruction].” Okay, so maybe you and I aren’t standing before golden idols as were those who this scripture references. However, you and I have PLENTY of strongholds: destructive habits that lead to our demise and keep us separated from God. And careful reading of this portion of Joshua 7 makes it very clear that not only do strongholds make us vulnerable to Satan and his attacks, but they make it impossible for God to draw near to us. I don’t know about y’all, but that is the OPPOSITE of how I want my life and my relationship with God to go! I want ZERO to do with Satan and his lies. I want EVERYTHING to do with Jesus. If that’s my true desire, there’s only one way to make that happen: sanctification via the Holy Spirit.

Chances are good that at least one of you reading this has had or is about to have a thought like this: well I don’t really think there’s any area that I need to work on right now because God’s not really pointed one out. To that I can only reply: GET BEHIND ME, SATAN! With all due respect, that’s the enemy talking to you and through you, friend. How do I know? Because you’re not holy. Relax, I’m not saying I am or others are either. None of us are…hence the need for personal sanctification in our lives. Prayerfully consider these areas in your life where God might be urging you to loosen some strongholds:

*Pride                       *Unforgiveness             *Hate/Prejudice/Racism

*Anger                      *Judgment                     *Worry/Fear

*Bitterness               *Selfishness                   *Doubt

*Worldliness           *Addiction (of all kinds)

And, y’all, this is just a very general list. It’s not person specific. God, however, is very individual. When He addresses issues with you that need work, He’s not going to give you a broad category. He’s going to be very, very specific to your behaviors, your beliefs, your strongholds.

Friends, our goal is progress; it is not perfection. Yes, holiness is what we’re straining toward, but we know we can’t reach that while here on this earth. But. We can get better. We can improve. We can work hard on ourselves, letting the Holy Spirit minister to us by pruning off those dead blooms. We can’t do it alone, and honestly, we don’t want to. We like comfort, and boy, sanctification is NOT comfortable. It does, however, bring us closer to Jesus, the same Jesus who promises to uphold us and walk hand-in-hand with us. The same Jesus, also, who restores to us, in degrees, everything that Satan steals from us.

It’s understandable to ask ‘why bother working so hard to rid my life of this stronghold or that stronghold when I know I have 12 more to address once it’s better controlled?’ but as with everything else, the answer is simply JESUS. Think about it like this: each stronghold is a wall, an opaque barrier between you and Jesus and all the good God has in store for your life. With each conquered stronghold (Romans 8:37), your mind gets stronger, your heart gets stronger, your earthly relationships get stronger, and most importantly, your relationship with Jesus and your testimony as a Christian gets stronger. While studying this subject, I came to understand something crucial: when we tear down in the name of Jesus the walls put up by our strongholds that stand between us and Jesus, it creates the opportunity for Jesus to re-erect those walls, instead, between us and Satan, protecting us further from the lies and schemes of the enemy.

Maybe you don’t feel like you’re currently working on yourself in any way in response to God’s process of sanctification. Maybe you feel like God hasn’t spoken to you so you’re good. Again, I don’t mean this like it probably sounds (although, I kind of do) but you are absolutely wrong. God is right there. He doesn’t teach us time and time again in His Word about the need for Holy-Spirit-led sanctification in our lives only to sit back and wait for us to do it ourselves. As He patiently reminds us, it requires the Holy Spirit, and more often than not, the Holy Spirit doesn’t yell. Being the wonderful, loving, provisional God that He is, tucked in Psalms is a portion of scripture that directly addresses what we’re talking about. If you know you need God’s sanctification in your life but you’re not sure how to even begin that process, adopt this scripture as your prayer (I’ve gotten you started below). God is waiting. God’s blessings are waiting. And Satan is REALLY hoping you won’t be brave enough to begin.

Holy Father, thank You so very much for loving me too much to leave me as I am. Thank You that I can grow and mature in my walk with You, that I don’t have to stay bound to these strongholds any longer. Father, I know that there are areas in my life where I desperately need the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that I might untangle myself from the enemy’s lies and strengthen my relationship with You. Just like it says in Your Word, Lord, search me and know my heart. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Help me not to hear those lies of the enemy, the ones that tell me I’m fine like I am and the fault lies with others. I want to take responsibility for eradicating unfruitful areas of my life, Jesus, and I know I need You to help me make that happen. I thank You for hearing my prayer. Be with me, sanctify me, and help me become what You have designed me to be. It’s in Your holy name that I pray, Jesus. Amen.

 

My Buddy Bart

Let me ask you a little question. When was the last time you prayed? I mean really prayed. This morning? Last night as you put your kids to bed? Lord, PLEASE let them stay in the bed this time. Not too long ago, my answer to this same question at any given time would’ve been this: the last time I prayed was whenever I needed something I couldn’t make happen for myself. Shockingly enough (<–that’s sarcasm), that’s not at all how our prayer lives should exist. To help make my point about what God’s been teaching me recently about prayer and how my prayer life should look, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Bart. My buddy Bart–that’s just what I call him ’cause we’re buds; his real name is Bartimaeus–used to be blind. Yep! It’s true. He was blind until an encounter with Jesus healed him and restored his eyesight.

The story of blind Bartimaeus can be found in the tenth chapter of Mark, verses 46 through 52. Because it’s only a few verses long and because there are critical details within those verses that we really need to discuss, please take a quick second and read the following story so that my buddy Bart can become your buddy Bart.

46 Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar…was sitting by the roadside.

47. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, saying Jesus, Son of David, have pity and mercy on me [now]!

48. And many severely censured and reproved him, telling him to keep still, but he kept on shouting out all the more, You Son of David, have pity and mercy on me [now]!

49. And Jesus stopped and said, Call him. And they called the blind man, telling him, Take courage! Get up! He is calling you.

50. And throwing off his outer garment, he leaped up and came to Jesus.

51. And Jesus said to him, What do you want Me to do for you? And the blind man said to Him, Master, let me receive my sight.

52. And Jesus said to him, Go your way; your faith has healed you. And at once he received his sight and accompanied Jesus on the road.

As it turns out, you and I have a couple of things in common with Bartimaeus: we both have needs that we can’t meet ourselves; we both have desires that must be taken to Jesus; we both agree that Jesus is a healer, a restorer, and He alone can solve our problems. But oftentimes, I realize, I’m not as smart as Bart. Oftentimes I try to “regain my sight” of my own power. Thankfully I have a Heavenly Father who is too interested in perfecting my faith to let me stay as I am. And lately, He’s really been working with me to develop a more substantial prayer life, one that sustains and emboldens my relationship with Him, instead of one that comes and goes as needs arise. It was during this time that God led me to this story about Bartimaeus and some of the very substantial lessons it teaches His children about prayer.

Per my usual, let me give you a little precursor before delving into the few points I want to make. First, I have always prayed. HOWEVER. My prayer life has ebbed and flowed depending upon my circumstances. Over the last few years I have gotten better about my prayers; I’ve prayed more often, prayed for more people, asked for God’s voice and spent time listening, but I’ve always struggled with the consistency. For me, part of the issue is that Nathan and I pray together every night before going to sleep. We pray for everything from our daughter to our friends and family, even offering up prayers for celebrities whose lives appear to be floundering. (They’re people, too. We got you, Demi Lovato!) Just being completely honest, I sometimes felt like that was enough. Actual truth: it is not. God wants personal time with each of us. Yes, PRAY OUT LOUD TOGETHER WITH YOUR SPOUSE! (Your marriage depends on this!) But don’t let that be the only time you spend with God. In other words, don’t be like Lindsey. Be like Bart. And speaking again of our joint friend, let’s take a minute to see why God felt it necessary to include his story in our Bibles.

So what exactly can we learn from a blind beggar’s story?

1. Speak up and speak out…loudly if necessary.

*In verses 47 and 48 above, the Bible says that when Bartimaeus heard Jesus was coming, he began to shout to the Lord. It also says that many around him tried to shut him up, urging him to be quiet and get it together in the presence of Jesus. But did Bart get self-conscious or start questioning his own faith? NOPE! It says he cried out even louder. Take that, haters! Y’all, we have GOT to be like Bartimaeus here. We must call out boldly to our Lord when we need Him. In fact, we must get to the point where we are willing to risk it all if necessary to be in the presence of Jesus. If those around you shame you or try to quiet you into apathy about your needs or desires, do not let yourself be held back; do not let your faith atrophy because you are afraid to exercise it in the presence of others. SIDENOTE: if the people you’ve surrounded yourself with make you feel uncomfortable about crying out to Jesus publicly or boldly, it is time to reconsider your relationships. (Amen? Amen.) Friends, big faith is born of taking big risks in the name of Jesus. When we have unmet needs, we must speak up. We must cry out, and we’ve gotta get okay with getting loud if need be. Jesus isn’t afraid of our voices. We shouldn’t be either.

*With regard to this same point of speaking out, it’s absolutely necessary that we purposefully vocalize our needs before God. WE CANNOT EXPECT GOD TO READ OUR MINDS AND CONSIDER THAT PRAYER. It is not. Our prayer activates God’s power. It is not the other way around. We must step out in faith and call on our Father. We must tell Him what we need. Check out verse 51 above. After calling out and being heard and recognized by Jesus, Bartimaeus approached the Lord, to which the Lord replied, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Um, hello. As if Jesus didn’t already know that ole Barti needed his sight restored. Of course He knew! But Jesus isn’t in the wish-granting, magic wand waving business. He requires and desires direct communication from us of our needs. What is it that you need from God, today? Have you been direct? Have you intentionally (and boldly and expectantly) approached God through prayer to ask very specifically for what you need? Simply wishing this, that, or the other will change isn’t enough. We’ve got to speak up, speak out, and verbalize what we need. Yes, God already knows, but our sitting and waiting on Him to answer prayers we don’t offer up is foolish. At the risk of being redundant, our faith activates God’s power. Prayer is an excellent projection of that faith (even if it’s a tiny mustard seed of faith). Speak up, friends, and be specific.

2. Share your outcomes!

*I’m sure we all know that AMAZING feeling when we’ve been praying and praying for something that finally we see come to fruition. What a joyous weight-lifter that is! But how often do we see and feel the hand of God move in our lives, only to keep quiet about it? After Jesus healed blind Bart’s sight, the story closes with this statement in verse 52: And at once he received his sight and accompanied Jesus on the road. You’re probably substantially less dense than I am and have already realized the significance of this last verse, but it took my slow self three full readings of this story before seeing it. After my second read-through, I thought the ending was kind of anti-climatic. I mean, here’s this guy who is blind, who gets loud and boisterous despite being hushed, who cries out to Jesus faithfully in his time of great need, who is fully healed for crying out loud (you see what I did there!), and then all of a sudden Jesus and Bartimaeus leave and the story ends. I couldn’t make that make sense. So I tried again, and…lightbulb! Bartimaeus accompanies Jesus on the road. Do you think for one second that our good buddy Bart went with Jesus on to the next stop and never told a single person about what Jesus did for him? NOT. A. CHANCE.

*You and I must do as Bartimaeus did. When we cry out to God, when God hears us and answers, we have a duty. It’s our job as His children to further His Kingdom, to win souls for Heaven. Y’all, answered prayer can do exactly that! And it doesn’t even have to be our own answered prayer. Yes, the prayers that you offer up and receive answers to are definitely used by God to strengthen your relationship with Him and build your faith, but your testimony can be used to build others’ faith, too. Share your story! Share your victories and help others understand that if God helped you, He’ll help them, too. Accompany Jesus on the road. Help spread His message so that others can see Him better.

~~~~~~~~~

While praying over this blog post, I asked God to help me communicate His message through it. The two points above are those from the Bible reading that I felt He’d placed on my heart. However, I also felt Him leading me to two others that weren’t necessarily from Bartimaeus’s story, but points that are definitely biblical truths about prayer. {Serious voice} Let us continue.

3. Don’t forget to praise God!

*As believers and children of God who want to grow closer to Him and get to know Him better, it’s crucial that our prayer time not be simply a presentation of needs. Yes, as we’ve seen, God truly desires that we bring our needs and lay them expectantly at His feet. However, if all we ever do is come before God with a “laundry list” of wants and needs we’re missing the point of prayer. If all we ever do is come to God ONLY once we’ve exhausted our own resources and avenues, we’re missing the point of prayer. Friends, PRAYER IS POWERFUL! Prayer was created by the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE so that you and I could personally contact Him any time we wanted. Take that in for a second. But if we only ever exercise this immense privilege as a last resort or when we need something, we are handicapping our relationship with God. This is a lesson I’m currently in the very midst of learning, but it’s one of those that I can already tell is a HUGE game-changer in my walk with Jesus. We must devote time to simply praising God, regardless of what our circumstances look like. Y’all, I am testifying to this first hand: Praise is a heart-changer. It strengthens our bond to the Father in a way that nothing else can. It changes us from the inside out in a way that simply getting an answered prayer (that we quickly move past and often forget about) cannot.

*Recently I found myself praying about an overwhelming situation pretty often. On one hand I was doing well–I was taking my issues to the Lord instead of trying to work things out in my own power. But I was missing the boat still. I was so focused on what I needed and how much I needed and showing God that I was doing what I was supposed to (look at me, God! I’m praying and showing I have faith. Look, look!) that I forgot to praise God in the midst of my storm. I felt so convicted about my behavior that I decided for the next day, despite a great need, I would offer up only prayers of praise. Instead of begging for God’s hand, I simply thanked Him for His power. Instead of calling Him into action, I simply thanked Him for the work I was determined to believe He was doing even though I couldn’t see it just yet. I even made sure to thank Him for the incredible privilege of being able to cast my cares onto His shoulders so that I didn’t buckle under their weight. Words cannot describe the impact those prayers of praise had on me. No, my situation didn’t immediately change. But my heart did. I am not articulate enough to describe the internal shift within me after purposefully choosing prayers of praise, but I can promise you that if you’ll do the same, it won’t take long and you’ll know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

LAST ONE! Hang in there!

4. Be real and get real

*Can we all just agree to talk like normal human beings when we talk to God? I promise He can still understand you if you hum-haw around or stutter or talk in circles. You don’t have to sound like the King James Version of the Bible in order to get your message across. You don’t have to sound like Beth Moore for God to answer you. Just be you. Say normal words in a normal way.

*Also, tell God what the REAL you is feeling. Do you feel too overwhelmed or upset to pray? Tell Him that and let Him help you. Are you too exhausted (mentally/spiritually/emotionally?) to pray? Tell Him. Do you feel too confused, too sad, too crushed, too hurt? He understands. Just be up front. You don’t have to hide those feelings from Him. Try this with me: Father, I want to pray because I know Your goodness and might are exactly what I need the most, but, Lord, I just feel too hurt to get my prayers out. I don’t know what to say because my emotions are too strong right now. Help me, Lord. I don’t want to feel this way.

*Are you so busy and your life so cram-packed that you truly do not know where to begin with praying regularly? I mean, sure it’s easy for this person or that person, but they don’t have your schedule, am I right? They don’t have your responsibilities. Let me ask you this: Have you talked to God about that? Here’s a start: Father, I truly desire to spend more time with You, but I don’t really know how to make that happen. Can you help me, please? Show me times in my day, Lord, that I can use for prayer. Help me, Father, to be obedient in using those times you show me to communicate with You in prayer instead of doing other things. Thank you for your help, Lord.

Before I close, let me apologize for this post being so lengthy. The topic of prayer is such a personal one because of how intensely God’s working with me on it right now, and obviously I had lots to say. If you’ve made it this far, thank you. You guys all bless me more than you know. Until next time…

Dear Lord, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the privilege to come to You in prayer any time. Thank you, Father, that I can be myself, that I can speak plainly and You will still appreciate my words. I want to do better with my prayer life, but I need Your help with it, Lord. Help me to seek You, not just what You can do for me. I love you, Lord, and I desire to be closer to You. I recognize that prayer is how to do that, and I ask that You work with me and within me to refine this area. You are so good, God, and as Your child, I worship You. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.

How To Be Miserable

Full disclosure: I have been struggling with my attitude lately. With the recent start of school, we have faced some new challenges, and because they seem so large to my limited thinking, I’ve let myself get consumed by them at times. Per His usual, however, God has been making this trying time work for my good by helping me see how crucial time spent with Him in prayer is, and He’s leading me into losing more of my focus on myself (man, I am SO SLOW at this lesson!!!).

Recently I was listening to a Joyce Meyer sermon (Y’all, if you don’t already know, she has a FREE app with radio shows, full sermons with video, various resources, etc. GET. IT.), and she was teaching on the dangers of being so caught up in ourselves, specifically the dangers of self-centeredness. This really struck me because I wouldn’t describe myself as self-centered. But you know what? I am! I focus on myself, on my life, on my problems, and on my wishes a lot. A whole lot. Even an embarrassing amount at times. Through this sermon I really felt God pressing upon my heart the necessity of getting outside my own feelings and my own mind. I felt Him encouraging me to stop ruminating on my problems. Ephesians 5:15 says, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.” Praising God is wise. Celebrating His work in my life is wise. Pushing my emotions to the side and not allowing them to dictate how I’m going to go through my day or my life is wise. Keeping my mind stayed on God, the fixer of all my problems, is wise. Allowing my circumstances and my emotions to determine my course for the day/the week/the month? Very, very unwise. And even more importantly, it’s not just unwise, it’s sinful!

So, after listening to this sermon, I broke out my pen and paper to write down a little good-humored list that Mrs. Joyce gave during her teachings. No matter what’s going on in my life, I can usually (and unfortunately) find myself doing at least one of these things. Even on days when things are going well, I find that this list is a great reminder of what to avoid so that I can be the best me and share God more vividly with others I come in contact with throughout the day. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (Prayer is below list.) So without further ado…

HOW TO BE MISERABLE (By Joyce Meyer)

*Think about yourself constantly.

*Use “I” as often as possible.

*Mirror yourself continually by the opinion of other people.

*Listen greedily to what other people say about you, and if it’s not what you want to hear, get angry.

*Expect to be appreciated by everyone.

*Be suspicious.

*Be jealous and envious.

*Be sensitive and easily offended.

*Never forgive criticism.

*Trust nobody but yourself.

*Insist on respect and consideration at all times.

*Demand agreement with your own views on everything.

*Sulk and feel sorry for yourself if people are not grateful to you for what you do for them.

*Never forget how much you’ve done for other people; think about it at all times….BUT, always remember what they have failed to do for you.

*Shirk your duty and seek at all times to entertain yourself, and do as little as you possibly can for other people.

Dear Lord, I see myself so much in this list above. I am so thankful, though, that I can come to You for help in getting over myself and that You always hear my prayer. Gently guide me, Father, so that I might be able to lose my grip on my own self-centeredness. I know that when I’m focused only on my life and my wants and needs I’m less useful to You. Help me to see those times when my focus needs to change, Lord, and help me be immediately obedient to You when You point those out. I love You, Lord, and I am so grateful to be Yours. Help THAT to be my focus, even when things are challenging and upsetting. Help me to keep my mind stayed on You; give me an attitude of gratitude, Lord. Thank You for the life I live, for my many, many blessings, and thank You for teaching me how to better serve You. I offer this prayer in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

 

Put On Your Jesus Clothes

Turns out I’m a liar. Not an intentional one, mind you, but a liar all the same. At the close of the last blog post (part one about the resurrection of Lazarus), I told you that I’d have part two ready for you soon. Ha! Clearly four weeks later isn’t soon. In my defense, my only child did start kindergarten last week, so surely that buys me some good graces and extra time, right?? At the end of last week I mentioned something about really needing to get my blog completed, and my sweet child said, “Oh wow, you still haven’t written that yet? Part one was a long time ago!” Such an encourager.

So, in keeping with my long-ago issued promise, let me provide for you a part two. But first, let’s have a quick review since it’s been so long and so much life has happened you probably totally forgot I even write a blog. (Back to school shopping anyone? Start of new morning routines, yes? Heart palpitations and tears? No one else? Just me? Okay, great.)

As we left off in the post entitled “Don’t Get Fooled By The Stink,” we saw that Jesus fulfilled His promise to Mary and Martha by resurrecting their brother Lazarus four days after he was declared dead and subsequently buried. We discussed how important it is for us, as Christians, to maintain our faith in what God’s doing for us and in our lives, no matter how dead something seems. To us we might see our marriage as dead or our will-power as dead or our ambition or our job or our creativity as dead, but Jesus is the Resurrection. In John 11 we are reminded that NOTHING it too dead that Jesus can’t heal it and restore it, better than it ever was before.

But our story of Jesus breathing life back into Lazarus doesn’t end there. It doesn’t stop with his reminder to Martha that nothing is impossible for Him (John 11:40). For this second half, this final portion of the story, I want us to start with John 11:41-43. As is His usual, Jesus sets the example for us in how to approach any situation into which we need God’s divine intervention: He starts with prayer. He lifts His eyes, lifts His hands, and thanks His Father for listening even before a single action has been taken, before any stirring in the grave had begun. While this isn’t the main focus in this post, I’d hate for us to pass up the lesson here. How often do we begin praying with just a list of demands we’re bringing before God? How about instead of that, we start with thanking Him? I say we should get all manner of wild and crazy and even thank Him for answering our prayer before we ever even see any change! What?! I know, pretty wild. Consider what kind of faith that displays before God. And even better than that, it focuses us on worshiping Him, on recognizing His mightiness and His glory without our need to see Him “perform” first. More God, less selfish ambition. Such a simple yet excellent example.

Let’s get Brother Laz outta that grave, though, shall we? In John 11:43 it happens. The verse tells us that after Jesus prays, “He shouted with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!” Bet you can’t guess what happens next…“And out walked the man who had been dead, his hands and his feet wrapped in burial cloths (linen strips), and with a [burial] napkin bound around his face. Jesus said to them, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Okay, so we have officially made it to part two, our next step. Yes, we must thankfully and prayerfully submit our seemingly dead areas to Jesus, allowing Him to do what no other can. Yes, we must trust while we wait. But then. Then, when we see that He’s answered our prayer, that our formerly dead relationship/self-worth/career/hope has been resurrected, we must go one more step toward the land of the living and take off our grave clothes.

You’re right; our grave clothes don’t look like Lazarus’s. In place of the burial linens that, for Lazarus, symbolized his once-dead existence, we have negative qualities and emotions. We often wrap ourselves in those negative emotions during those  days/months/years we spend nursing our dead/dying circumstances, and sometimes, even once we walk out of those metaphorical graves, we keep those grave clothes with us. Jesus tells us, just like He’s instructing Lazarus, to take off those grave clothes.

What do our “grave clothes” look like, you ask? It’s pretty simple. We are wrapped for dead in those qualities and emotions that we incorrectly believe shield us, that we incorrectly believe protect us from more hurt, more disappointment. See if any of these sound familiar to you:

*Anger               *Bitterness                 *Rejection               *Shame

*Hurt                 *Guilt                           *Unforgiveness      *Distrust

*Worry              *Disbelief/Doubt       *Addiction               *Distractions

*Negativity/Pessimism                         *Isolation                *Hate

So what’s the truth? Do you see any of these “grave clothes” in your own life? While it doesn’t say this directly in the Bible, I feel pretty confident that Jesus didn’t resurrect Lazarus so he could walk this earth in misery, spreading his rejection (he literally died after all!), his bitterness, and his anger over how things turned out. There’s just no way that God has that plan in place for us, either.

So now what? If you aren’t dead anymore but you can’t wear those same negative emotions anymore, then what? Well, we get purposeful. We start thinking about what our lives should look like, what our attitudes should be like now that we’ve been saved (yet again!) by the grace of God. PUT ON YOUR JESUS CLOTHES, PEOPLE! Romans 13:14 states that, instead of living in the dark (or the dead), we should, “clothe [ourselves] with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Get rid of those stinky, moldy grave clothes and put on some Jesus clothes. That sounds great, but what exactly do these Jesus clothes look like, and where do we get them?

Throughout the Bible you’ll find example after example of Jesus’s own interactions with others, showing us how we should treat people, the ones we like and the ones we would rather not even look at. But for me, Colossians 3:12-13 provides a simple list of the characteristics of Jesus we should be wearing daily. It reads, “Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.” Maybe we could collectively decide that this list, along with the addition of a few more such as joy, gratitude, compassion, trust, and love is a pretty full wardrobe of Jesus clothes.

And, of course, that other question, where do we get these Jesus clothes, pretty much answers itself: Jesus. Y’all, we aren’t miracle workers. We get hurt and angry and bitter, and despite a desire to change those feelings, we just can’t get past them. So instead of deciding that you’ve been hurt and this is just how you are now, or you’ve been rejected and now you’ll never be loved again, how about we spend some time talking to the single most qualified person to help us clothe ourselves in a way that blesses our lives, the lives of those near us, and that glorifies the Savior who brought new life into our mess in the first place. This world and its issues cannot be handled without prayer. No relationship can be sustained, no body controlled without the help of Jesus. (Did you catch that? You literally CANNOT DO LIFE without prayer!) Yes, Jesus showed up for you (or will show up, if you’re still praying), but it’s our jobs to sustain that new life He’s given our dead areas. It’s up to us, now. It’s time to take off those grave clothes, pray to our Resurrector and Savior for His help throwing off all our old garb, and put on our Jesus clothes (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Yeah, okay, so maybe they’re a little scratchy, a little tight, a little uncomfortable at first. Hang in there. It may not be fast and it may not be easy, but those Jesus clothes will feel like years-old sweats in no time, and I can PROMISE you, no matter how long you wear them, you’ll NEVER be able to say that about those grave clothes. Friends, it’s time for an outfit change, don’t you think? I’m pretty sure that other one is starting to smell.

Dear Lord, as Jesus taught me to pray, thank You in advance for hearing my prayer, for always hearing my prayers. I ask, Lord, that You help me to throw off my grave clothes and clothe myself in You. I continue to pray that You breathe life into any dead areas in my life, just like You did for Lazarus, and I ask for help throwing off those negative emotions that might cling to me because of those areas. Help me to successfully trade those for the qualities of You, Jesus, so that I can glorify You with how I live my life. I want others to see what You mercifully did for me, to see that change in my life and my attitude as well, and to recognize that it can only have come from You. Thank You, Father, that in my weakness I can come to You, be made new, and have my “clothes” completely transformed. I love You, God, and I worship Your greatness and love. It’s in Jesus’s name that I ask these things. Amen.

(1 Samuel 2: 16) So stand still and see this great thing the Lord will do before your eyes now.

 

Don’t Be Fooled By The Stink

I feel like I have started off multiple blog posts by saying something like, “let’s try a little experiment,” and yet, here I am doing it again. (I am obviously incredibly spontaneous and creative.) Over the last few weeks, I have been mentally wrestling with the Bible story I’ve felt God leading me to address and the specific points within it that I hoped to make. I had too much I felt I needed to discuss; a good problem to have, but with a story that spans more than 45 verses, it was clear I had to figure out a more reader-friendly approach. CALM DOWN. I came up with a solution. I mean, who has time to read 45 Bible verses when all those unseen Facebook posts await, am I right?! (insert good-natured eye-roll emoji here)

In this post, I’d love for us to spend some time going over the story of Jesus resurrecting his good friend Lazarus, which can be found in John 11. So in order for us to dig deeper into the goodness of these scriptures, we’ll consider today a “Part 1” if you will, with “Part 2” to follow soon. Sound okay? As I told you…I’m super creative.

At the risk of repeating a story many of you already know, let me take a quick second and summarize our main characters and the situation taking place as we enter the 11th chapter of John.

We are back with our friends Mary (of feet-washing-with-her-hair fame) and Martha (of griping-about-her-sister-not-helping-in-the-kitchen fame), and they are urgently reaching out to their dear friend Jesus, asking for his healing help for their dying brother Lazarus. Because Lazarus is literally on his deathbed and because Jesus is the Messiah and because they are all three very dear to Jesus’s heart, they contact him for his help, fully expecting his immediate arrival and subsequent answering of prayer.

Verse four tells us, “When Jesus received the message, He said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death; but [on the contrary] it is to honor God and to promote His glory, that the Son of God may be glorified through (by) it.'” (Side note: Have a seriously sick friend? Are you dealing with a scary, challenging illness? This is a FABULOUS scripture to pray over it!) Now to me, this sounds exactly what I would expect Jesus to say. I mean, after all, his dear friends have reached out to him, asking for his healing, which he can easily give, and it’s all in an effort to save someone very special to him. I read a reply like that and think yep, Jesus has got this. But wait! In verse 6, it clearly says that although Jesus was aware this was a dire situation, he still remained TWO DAYS longer in the place where he was. Do what?! WHY???? Maybe Jesus knows something we don’t? (Um, yes, always true.) Maybe ole Laz isn’t quite as sick as his over-reactive sisters made it seem? Sadly, no. In fact, it was serious. It was VERY serious. “So then Jesus told them [the disciples] plainly, Lazarus is dead” (vs. 14).

Unfortunately, I know exactly how Mary and Martha must feel. They had been faithfully praying and praying for God to hear them, for Jesus to show up and heal, to prevent the death that was getting more and more eminent. And yet nothing. No arrival of Jesus. No healing of Lazarus. Only death, with its dark cloak and sharp scythe appeared at the door of their dusty home.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who knows what this feels like…to watch things within our lives that once were so full of life, so healthy, wither and practically die. Let me tenderly ask you today, because man does this subject often hurt, what in your life has that look of death, that feeling of hopelessness? Let me guess…

*your health?                *your marriage?               *your ambition?

*your career?                *a particular relationship or friendship?

*your self-worth?         *your will power/self-control?

*your relationship with God?               *God’s favor over you/your life?

*your future?                *a particular dream you’d held onto for years?

*your will to live?

Friends, Lazarus was IN THE GRAVE dead when Jesus finally arrived. In fact, he was so very dead (four days dead…with ZERO embalming fluid, might I add) that when Jesus approached Lazarus’s grave, which was basically a cave with boulder against the entrance, and demanded that the stone be rolled aside, the Bible says “Martha…exclaimed But Lord, by this time he [is decaying and] throws off an offensive odor…” (vs. 39). In all her grief and upset, Martha is so aware of the finality of her brother’s condition that she warns Jesus: What are you thinking, Lord? He’s gonna stink so bad! Amen, girl! This sounds like some common sense I can get behind.

What is your marriage, your career, your self-worth smelling like these days? Are you convinced that Jesus didn’t get there in time to save whatever it is you’ve been begging him to heal for so long? Mary and Martha felt just as you do, as I have. You’re too late, Jesus. I cried out to you, and you delayed getting here and now look! I’m too sick. The love between my husband and I is too far gone. My current circumstances have completely killed my dreams and plans. You’re too late, Jesus. It’s dead.

Y’all there is NEVER an absence of hope, of possibility, when it’s Jesus who’s in charge. You and I? We are Mary and Martha. We can pray all day and beg and plead, but ultimately, we have no power within ourselves. We can’t heal, and for those circumstances having already crossed over into the grave, we certainly have no ability to resurrect. But let me hook you up with someone who does. When you and I allow Jesus to handle our dying parts in His way, with His power, He fixes things that we swore could NEVER be fixed.

“Jesus said to her, I am [Myself] the Resurrection and the Life…” (vs 25). What in your life desperately needs The Resurrection HIMSELF? You see, for us, things look dead. For us, things even smell dead. But for Jesus, death is no big deal. He’s already overcome it. How can Jesus, who mastered death and for whom death holds no power, be limited by it? He. Isn’t. He. Cannot. Be. Don’t stop praying and expecting! Don’t stop taking to Him your marriage or your career or your zest for life simply because in your human weakness you have decided it’s past the point of help. Lazarus was dead for four solid days. He was buried and starting to literally stink. His skin would have been beginning to decay. But then Jesus arrived. Mighty, mighty Jesus. And he simply spoke, “He shouted with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!” and out walked Lazarus (vs 43-44). Whatever you think is dead and buried, friends, it is not. There is nothing too far gone for The Resurrection Himself to breathe life back into.

And for those of you going through something like this, I’m sure you’re feeling hurt and frustrated and confused about why God is even allowing something like this to happen to you, to your family, to your body in the first place. Mary and Martha certainly were. When my marriage was all but dead despite our praying and our counseling and our trying (see previous post), I felt so abandoned. I felt like God had turned His head and His ear; I felt like, instead of coming to help in response to my urgent requests, He was staying those extra couple of days where He was, just letting death win. But He wasn’t. He just wasn’t on my schedule, and Satan used that to whisper doubt into my heart and my head. The same was true for Mary and Martha, and the same is true for you.

You probably feel like screaming WHY WOULD HE LET THIS HAPPEN?!, and I get it. I’ve been there. Chances are, I’ll be there again someday. But God knew we’d feel this way. In fact, if you read this Bible story carefully, He even explains Himself to us.

If you look back at verse 15, before Jesus ever leaves to go to Mary and Martha’s, after telling his disciples that Lazarus is already dead, he says to them (and he says to us, too), “And for your sake I am glad that I was not there; it will help you to believe (to trust and rely on Me).” My friends, God is most interested in our relationship with Him. If when we have a problem, we pray, He snaps His fingers and all is set right, we don’t develop much character and we don’t develop a very deep relationship with Him, do we? It would make us happier and it would make our lives easier, or so we think. But you know what? Sometimes God isn’t interested in only affecting you and your family through your challenges.

The Bible tells us that others’ lives were changed when they witnessed Lazarus’s miracle. Mary was changed, no doubt. Martha was changed, for sure. And there’s zero debate that Lazarus was completely changed. But a number of other lives were affected for God as well. “Upon seeing what Jesus had done, many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Him” (vs 45). Whether you realize it or not, people are watching you. They’re watching your decisions and your life and your faith. Because you are Jesus’s friend, because you are a joint-heir to the throne of God with Jesus Christ Himself, you are a testimony to His power and His love. Yes, Lazarus was dead. Yes, it appeared Jesus was too late. But God is never late. He’s never without the ability, and He’s always able to use any situation, any circumstance, no matter how stinky it might be, for His glorification. Will you let Him use you? Will you stop declaring a time of death and prepping for a funeral and instead let Him breathe the breath of life back into your life? Keep your faith, friends. Don’t be fooled by the stink.

Dear Lord, thank you so much that I can ALWAYS count on You, that I never have to believe that it’s too late for Your power to work. Father, I bring to You today those parts of my life that I’ve mistakenly declared dead. I ask that You do what only You have the power to do: resurrect them, please. Help me to keep my faith, to trust that You’re at work even when it’s impossible to detect. Use me, Lord, use my life and my situations so that others may witness You and Your goodness and grace. Father, help me to remain patient, to stand firm when challenges and trials don’t get resolved as I’d like. Heal my dead parts, Lord. May all I go through in my life ultimately bring You glory and honor. I love you, God. Thank you for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s mighty name that it’s offered. Amen. 

 

You Do You

Disclaimer: actual scripture-focused post coming very soon!

Each Wednesday morning during the summer months, our local library hosts an arts and crafts activity for young kids. My tiny buddy and I love these and have gone to them all. Last week, as we stood lined up in the hallway, awaiting the opening of the meeting-room door, I overhead two moms talking. Both ladies were mothers to 3-4 kids each, of varying ages, and both were wholesome-looking moms with natural faces and adorably messy mom-hair. They were discussing the quintessential “stay-at-home mom” topics: essential oils and diets free of unprocessed foods, gluten and sugar (by choice, not necessity). One of these moms not only managed to feed her children and presumably keep them happy while running a sugar-free establishment, but she even disallows sugar substitutes (i.e. Splenda, Stevia, etc.). Despite it being abundantly clear that this mom was a witch (maybe both moms?), I began playing that deadly game of comparison. Y’all, my kid eats a popsicle and a cookie EVERY DAY OF HER LIFE. She’s never met a Lucky Charm marshmallow she didn’t annihilate, and I can only pray she loves her future husband to the extent that she loves as a French fry. Compared to these moms (of more than one kid!), man, I was falling far behind the curve.

So, time came for us to go into the craft room and put together our mosaic. While waiting for my child to stop people-watching long enough to actually complete our task (she get it from her momma!), I happened to glance behind us where these two earth-mothers and their broods were clustered. One of the kids (of the sugar-nazi mom), a boy of about three years old, was sitting in the floor, very near a large dark stain that for my own peace of mind I decided HAD to be a previous crafter’s spilled drink. As I looked at him, this kid reached out, plucked a piece of something right off the top of that mystery stain, AND ATE IT!!!! Zero exaggeration. Obviously, I continued watching until I was finally able to determine what he found so utterly irresistible: paper. Yep, this child who ate only clean, unprocessed foods, who was refused sugar and sugar substitutes except on Friday night family nights, was eating pieces of paper straight off one of the nastiest, dirtiest floors in this city.

Now, let me clarify. We’ve all been there. If it’s not paper off the public library’s decades-old indoor/outdoor carpet, it’s a booger. I mean, kids are weird. They’ll eat anything. Seeing this, I had ZERO judgement toward this mom. Instead, this let me off the hook with regard to judging and comparing myself. No matter what it seems like to someone else, none of us are 100% awesome. None of us are total rockstars. But you know what? We try hard. That lady, those ladies, are doing a great job as moms. And as hard as it is to say it and as much as it chokes me on the way out, I’m doing a great job, too. Hey, you…yes, you…the mom who questions herself and feels inadequate pretty often…you are doing a great job too! We don’t all make the same choices, but that’s okay. We aren’t the same people, and we aren’t raising the same people. God gave us the kids He chose for us ON PURPOSE. No one could be the mom to your kid(s) that you are.

So for us here in the Thomas household, we’ll continue eating that daily popsicle, and we’ll have those cookies. As for those others folks, well, you do you, kid…eat that paper off the floor. All my money says you turn out just fine regardless.

Ps. Our mosaic took forever, but it turned out beautifully.

I Will Walk In Freedom

Happy 4th of July, everybody! I know you guys are all super busy, so I promise I’ll make this short and sweet. WHO JUST CLAPPED?!

I owe you guys a gigantic THANK YOU! A couple of weeks ago, just before Father’s Day, The Samaritan Woman blog had her very first birthday. There are no words (ironic indeed) to explain how grateful I am to those of you who have read even half a paragraph of what I’ve written. Blogging this past year has taught me about God in a way that I didn’t expect. He’s broadened my understanding of His character and His heart in such an expansive way, and because you’ve shared in this with me, I just wanted to thank you. I want to especially thank those of you who have read every single post, and if you aren’t related to me by blood or law and you still read every post, you get an even bigger thanks! This has been such an incredible blessing to me, and you guys are all so wonderful. I don’t feel God pressing me to stop the blog at this time, so I’ll just keeping reading and studying and sharing with you, if that’s okay. Thank you for being receptive to straight-forward truth that isn’t always very comfortable or pretty. Thank you for sharing the posts on social media so that others can read scripture, maybe for the very first time. Thank you for sharing the posts with your families. It still absolutely blows my mind that even one person would spend his/her time reading something I write, and I pray that God helps me to continue to find messages to share that are useful to you and relevant to what you’re going through. I am forever grateful for this blog experience, and that gratitude extends to each of you (all 5 of you) as well. 🙂   Just…thank you. Truly. From the bottom of my heart.

And while we’re on this topic of thanks, I’d like to take a second to thank any of you who might be reading this who serve, have served, or whose spouse serves in the military. You guys are beyond-words incredible, and you do what those of us living in the freedom you provide cannot do: you make it happen. I would like to take a moment before closing and simply pray over you and your families:

Dear Lord, thank you so very, very much for our military personnel and their families. Father, I ask that You provide Your mighty, mighty hand of protection over each of those serving our country, and I ask that You also protect their families back home in the wake of their absence. God, we lift them before You, asking a special blessing on them for the sacrifice they each make on our behalf. Thank you that You have personally selected each person and his/her family to do exactly what they’re doing, that You have a plan in place. We pray Jeremiah 29:11 directly over them, Father, that no harm would come to them and that You would deliver abundant blessings over each and every military family. We are so very grateful for the freedom to worship and live as we choose, and we take this moment to thank You and all branches of our armed services for that precious privilege. It’s in Jesus’s name that we pray. Amen.

And one last thing. Y’all, we know who is ultimately responsible for our freedom: Jesus. During this holiday, while we’re celebrating with our friends and family, let us take a moment to be grateful not only for the freedom that comes from being blessed to live as a citizen of the United States of America, but let’s intentionally lift a praise to the good Lord whose death set us free from the bondage that comes with being human. There are so many fabulous scriptures (constantly re-amazed at the gloriousness of the Word!) regarding the freedom that is provided for those of us who recognize Jesus Christ as our Savior. I encourage you to simply Google “Bible verses about freedom” and read those promises for yourself. But until you get the chance to do that, let me leave you with a few of those that really stood out to me. May we all take a moment to pause, recognize ALL of our freedoms, those provided by our military and our country AND those provided by our Savior. God bless you all. Thank you all so very, very much. Happy 4th of July, and may God continue to bless America (the land of the free and the undeserving)!

Psalm 118:5–In my distress, I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free.

Psalm 119:45– I will walk in freedom…

John 8:32–You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:36– So if the Son sets you free, you will really be free.

Galatians 5:1– So Christ has truly set us free.

2 Corinthians 3:17– Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

1 Peter 2:16-17– Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat EVERYONE you meet with dignity.     (Emphasis mine)