Opposite Day

Who has two thumbs and actually managed to sit down and type a blog post? THIS GAL! I have had every intention of writing this for literal weeks now, but boy, does life interrupt my plans sometimes. I felt 110% confident I was going to get this written yesterday, but then I attempted to put some playroom furniture together and promptly lost my entire religion. Fear not–my attitude is better today and I no longer feel as though I might self-combust. Progress!!

Do y’all remember in school when kids would say and do things that were in complete contradiction with truth, only to declare “it’s opposite day!” and we’d all just act like that was real thing? For example, someone would say “I hate recess!” and after receiving dirty looks from his peers, he’d declare “It’s opposite day!” and we’d all laugh and laugh. Well as it turns out, opposite day kinda does exist after all. You see, God Himself operates on a very “opposite-day” system. Here, let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I was perusing Twitter and all its fussy discord (why do I do this to myself?!), and I ran across a post from a semi well-known evangelical figure’s feed. Her post really elevated my blood pressure; let me share it with you:

Today’s spiritual self-care looked like skipping church to drink an overpriced pour at a hip, L.A. cafe and stare existentially at the rain outside while attempting to finish a big project I’m working on (that I can’t wait to tell you about!)

Um, I’m sorry, what? Uh, come again? You’re telling me that you felt spiritually exhausted and overwhelmed, so much so that your soul was FED by being away from the house of Jesus? That your soul was healed to some degree by expensive coffee and working? I’m sorry but, like all the cool kids say, I just cannot with this. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Silly me, here I thought my Bible said things like 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

This tweet was just one in a long line I’ve noticed lately that push, push, push this agenda of “self-care,” of making sure I/ME is well taken care of. While making sure you’re not neglecting yourself is a valuable use of your time, it’s certainly not what our Bible tells us should be our focus. I began thinking about how socially we’re encouraged to think “Me! Me! Me!” and “First! First! First!” while never considering what God says about where we should place our focus.

So, I took a deeper look at God’s economy and compared it with what we, as a society, believe is important, and –spoiler alert!–things don’t line up. I would love to input a chart here so that this next part could be graphically displayed, but because my computer screen and your phone screen aren’t the same size, that just doesn’t work out. Instead, I’ll list these, one on top of the other and just apologize in advance for the lack of neatness in this presentation of information.

In the following groupings, the mentalities/concepts that we as human beings value are listed first, with the Biblically-supported, God-ordained mentalities/concepts listed immediately after. Left side: what we value and promote. Right side: what God values and promotes.

(Us) Strength/ (God) Weakness in our humanity (Is. 40:31, 2 Cor. 12: 9-10)

(Us) Being first/ (God) Being last (Matt. 20:16)

PrideHumility (1 Peter 5:5)

Being servedServing others (Mark 10:43-45)

Being rich/ Being poor in the things of this world (2 Cor. 8:9, Rev. 3:17)

Focus on the outer (appearance)/ Focus on the inner character (1 Sam. 16:7)

Busyness/ Stillness (Psalm 46:10, Exodus 14:14)

Self/ Others (Luke 9:23)

Give up…quit….move on/ Persist (Gal. 6:9, Col. 1:11-12)

Indifference/ Compassion (Col. 3:12)

Instant gratification/ Slow, deep, sincere progress (1 Sam. 13:8-14, Rom. 12:12)

Y’all, God declared “Opposite day!” on us a long, long time ago, and for some reason, we just move right on pretending like self-care and personal-progress and monetary success and “not my problem” attitudes are desirable. But today I want you to ask yourself what I’ve been asking myself lately as well: what about God’s economy? Am I living my life in a way that promotes God or promotes me? Am I intentionally finding ways to serve others, to put myself second, to do what I don’t want to do so that I can show God’s love to someone else, or am I buying what the Twitter-verse voices are saying and focusing on serving me, myself, and I?

There are so many, many things to say about each of these pairings. Some of these concepts I’ve discussed in previous posts; some I feel led to save so that I might focus more in depth on them in future posts. Overall, for our purposes today, I feel it best to remove myself and my words, allowing God to simply press upon you the one (or ones, plural, if you’re like me!) you can spend some time talking to Him about later. Therefore, instead of focusing on these individually, let’s consider them as a group. Let’s focus on what they, as a whole, show us about behaving more like Jesus.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I assume if you’re reading a scripture-based blog, you’re likely interested in becoming as much like Jesus as possible. If that’s the case and you are, the God-breathed fundamentals from the Bible that are listed above, along with a few additional verses can help us learn more about the character of Jesus so as to switch off the self-serving sermons. There is no one who exemplifies “Not me but You, God” more than Jesus.

Let’s explore these teachings as they appear in order of the books of the New Testament, starting with Mark.

**Mark 10: 43-45 But among you, it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever want to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many.

**Luke 9: 46-48 For he who is least and lowliest among you all, he is [the one who is truly] great.

**Luke 22:27 For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving?…But I am among you as the one who serves.

**1 Corinthians 1: 27-28 God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And He chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.

**Philippians 2: 5-8 (MSG version) Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Let’s recap, shall we? According to these scriptures, which are obviously just a mere sampling of those that show our subservient, humble, selfless Jesus, God is most certainly in the “opposite day” business. God’s economy doesn’t operate like our self-centered one. We can’t gain one bit of joy or peace by catering to our own fleshly desires and excuses. The value of our own personal convenience seems to be completely missing from scripture. Friends, quite frankly, as Jesus showed us again and again and again, our time on this Earth just truly is not about us.

God is our portion. Jesus is our peace. Prayer is our true self-care, and a relationship with the God of the universe is our reward. Don’t buy into this internet mumbo-jumbo (and yes, that’s the technical term). Sure, you can get your toenails painted instead of cleaning your house; you can drink your wine with your friends instead of attending that “triggering” family gathering; you can even spend your down time reading self-help books in an overpriced coffee shop. And you know what, that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you’re looking for long-term renewal of your spirit or peace that surpasses the logical, you won’t find it there.

Friends, we were meant to be like Jesus. Not once have I run across a scripture where it says that when Jesus was tired and overwhelmed with the multitudes CONSTANTLY needing something from Him, He shut it all down so that He could do a little self-care. Instead, He said repeatedly to God, not My will but Yours. All I do for Your Kingdom. As a Christian, I so desperately want to get better at this. I want to set my goals on heavenly concepts; I want to learn to die to self daily, hourly, even by the minute if that’s what it takes. I want to serve others first and myself last. I want to learn to care for others in the name of Jesus and with the love He’s given me, relying on HIM to take care of me, to restore my soul. I want to be less worried about myself and more worried about what I’m doing on a daily basis to show Jesus to others, to serve others in His name. I want to say, Here I am Lord, send me, without worrying if it’ll be convenient. I just want to be able to live in a way that makes it obvious He who lives within me is FAR GREATER than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Dear Lord, I thank You so very much for the guidance provided in Your Word. I want to live my life, God, according to Your economy, not the world’s. I want to focus on what You say is important, on what You describe as being worth my effort. Lord, this world is confusing. Everywhere I turn there is new and different advice about how to be happy or at peace or more content or more joyful. I recognize, though, Father, that without You, none of those things is even possible. I fully understand that all peace, all joy, all relaxation, all contentment come from You, and I fully understand that unless I live my life more in line with how Jesus lived His, I cannot achieve anything for You. I want to be useful to You, Lord. I want You to use me to share Jesus with others, so I ask sincerely and earnestly, Father, that You help me recognize when I’m serving self so that I might immediately switch it off and serve others instead. Work with me, please, Lord, so that I can become still, compassionate, persistent, and more interested in making progress for You than instantly gratifying some human need I’ve conjured up. I love You, Lord, and I am so grateful that I don’t have to stay as I am. Rescue me from myself, Lord. In Jesus’s mighty and holy name I pray. Amen.

 

Whatever He Says

So is May just struggle-bus month or what? I’m not even in the classroom anymore, but May showed up and now I’m struggle-bus riding (driving, perhaps?) all the same. Here’s the deal: this blog is messing me up! Two years of blog posting, and suddenly I’m all up in my head about it. I have a notebook full of topic ideas, and relatively often, I’m still able to come up with new ones. However, when it comes to putting pen to paper–er, fingertips to keyboard–I get all convoluted in my noggin. My biggest problem is that I am so concerned with not repeating myself. But because it’s been long enough, I’ve written way too many posts for this old broken-down, mom-brain to remember what I have and have not said. So, struggle-bus. Then, just when I thought I was feeling better about it all, I read a well-meaning devotional about how important it is for any message you share to be God-breathed because if you share a message that’s not, you can ruin everyone forever. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite so severe, but you get my point: it did NOT help.

You’ve probably already noted what it seemed to take me a long time to understand: I’m focusing on myself, on my own abilities and power, not God’s. I’m not taking into consideration that God can make any message fruitful; He can breathe fresh new life into my words, even if I do repeat myself. With that truth in mind, let me step out from behind the struggle-bus steering wheel and turn your attention to the lessons and promises of God, brought to us today by Mary. Given the recent celebration of Mother’s Day, I thought learning a valuable lesson from the mom of our almighty Savior was a useful way to acknowledge motherhood.

Many of you likely know the story of Jesus’s first miracle, when, while attending a wedding, He turned water into wine after the bride’s parents miscalculated their party supplies. Maybe it’s a story with which you’re very familiar (maybe I’ve even written about it before. Who knows? Not I, said the brain-dead blogger). But even if Jesus’s actions are well-known to you, there’s much to be taken away from Mary’s words and actions in John 2:3-5.

Upon hearing that a near-catastrophic event was at hand (The hosts had prematurely run out of wine, and for some of you, this is a terrifying thought.), Mary knew exactly where to turn for help: Jesus. At this time, Jesus had performed zero miracles, and He even seems–dare I say–hesitant, telling His mom it’s not yet time. Does she listen to Him? Of course not. Like all good mothers, Mary recognizes that although Jesus is holy and a set-apart creation, He is still her son, she’s still His mom, and she’s asked Him to help. Guess what…Mary wins! Moms: 1; kids: 0.

Mary provides an additional example of excellent mothering. After taking her problem to Jesus, drawing His attention to the issue and asking for His help, Mary doesn’t hover and prod and provide possible solutions for Him to consider. Instead, she walks away, confident that He’ll figure it out and handle it. In fact, she’s so secure in her son’s ability, she goes to the servants and directs them, “Whatever He says, do it” (vs. 5). And there you have it folks, one of the greatest pieces of advice to be found in God’s Word. A life-altering piece of advice that you and I would be wise to take to heart and return to over and over and over again.

Whatever He says, do it. Sure, that sounds simple enough, but is it? Let me gently and kindly and without judgement ask you this question: If you’re not in a close relationship with Jesus (not talking to Him and not listening to Him) and you’re not spending time in the Word, how can you know what Jesus is telling you to do? How can you be obedient?

Within a personal relationship with Jesus, sometimes the instructions we receive are personal; they’re answers to prayers for guidance and direction regarding our own unique set of circumstances. As important as it is to hear God and do whatever He tells us to do in those moments (and we’ll come back to this), we also possess many direct instructions from the Creator of the Universe Himself throughout the Bible. It’s these expectations of true Christians I’d like to discuss first. And like all good little Type A’s, I now present you with a numbered list (woot! woot!) of the things we are called to do in obedience.

1. Repent–true, honest, never-intentionally-turning-back-to-that-behavior-again repentance (Matthew 4:17)

2. Follow Jesus (Matthew 4:19)

3. Be joyful/rejoice because of what God’s done for you–be the kind of person who’s so full of Jesus that others desire to be in your presence and to know Jesus for themselves (Psalm 126:3)

4. Glorify Jesus with your life–see number 3 above (Matthew 5:16)

5. Keep your mind like Jesus’s mind–think on the things He thinks on (Philippians 4:8)

6. Forgive EVERYONE always–no exceptions, no exclusions (Matthew 18:22)

7. Love EVERYONE always–no exceptions, no exclusions (Matthew 22:39-40)

8. Seek God, His will and His voice, above all else (Matthew 6:33)

9. Judge NO ONE ever–no exceptions, no exclusions (Matthew 7:1-3)

10. Do not fear (or worry)–this instruction is listed 365 times in the Bible, one for each day of the year. As a favor to you, I will not list them all here (you’re welcome) but if this is your area of struggle, please Google a few

11. Serve God and others (in that order) above self–Don’t neglect your own needs, but your own convenience and appeasement shouldn’t be a top-of-the-list concern. (Matthew 20:26-28)

12. Pray–Duh. (1 John 5:14; James 4:2)

13. Share the gospel! Share the message of Jesus with others and bring the unsaved into salvation–When was the last time you directly talked about Jesus with someone? What about the last time you did so with someone you knew wasn’t a Christian? As scary as it is, we will one day be held very accountable for those times we could have spoken up and shared Jesus but gave in to pressure and fear. (Matthew 28:19-20)

14. Tithe–Because every good and perfect gift is from above, and it’s our job to glorify God with EVERY part of our lives (Psalm 3:9)

Obviously it’s impossible and unfair to summarize what being in relationship with Jesus means by concocting a list of actions to complete, but as James 2 states, if we declare to be believers but our actions don’t support that, our faith doesn’t count. And God doesn’t want us to stop with just these “typical Christian behaviors;” He’s interested in our full obedience.

So back to that aforementioned comment about doing whatever Jesus says to do with regard to our own unique situations. What’s God been pressing upon you to do, my friend? Help a neighbor? Talk sincerely with your spouse about that issue you’ve both been avoiding for far too long? Or what about one of these: seeing a therapist, returning your grocery cart instead of leaving it for someone else to worry about, engaging someone in conversation, letting someone go in front of you in traffic or a checkout line, getting your spending under control, slowing down your life/schedule, taking that new opportunity, staying where you are and learning to fix yourself/your own attitude, eliminating the “victim” mentality you tend to readily adopt, making Jesus more of a priority, putting your phone down…and the list goes on and on. Y’all, there is not much in life that’s super easy. But we’re not here to do it all on our own. Let me give you a little advice that I once got from a pretty smart, godly lady: Whatever Jesus says, do it.

Dear Lord, thank You so very much for the life of Mary and all that I can learn from her. Help me to be like her when difficult, even seemingly impossible circumstances present themselves. Help me to turn to Jesus, to ask for His help, and to walk away from that encounter confident in His ability to provide and care for me. Father God, I ask for Your help with my obedience. I want to stop trying to figure it all out on my own, but more importantly I want to get my direction from You and to be immediately obedient instead of creating justifications and/or excuses for why I can’t possibly do what You’re asking. I love you, Lord, and I pray that I become more and more like Jesus so that my life, too, can glorify You in every way. May my own personal convenience be the last thing I worry about so that I might better care for those around me. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen. 

Praise The LORD For Your Soul

Recently, for another blog post, I began researching the multitude of questions Jesus asks throughout His time in the New Testament. While so many are poignant (because that’s how Jesus rolls…loaded questions were His jam!), one really caused me to stop and seriously ponder what a truthful, heart-based, personal answer would sound like. I want to share this same question with you, and I ask that you genuinely pause and reflect upon your response as well. The question from Jesus comes from Matthew 16:15 (the emphasis is mine).

But who do you say that I am?

To me, not much else arrows straight to the root of our personal relationships with Jesus like this direct (and loaded!) question. And given the season that is upon us, the incredible celebration of Easter, I feel that it’s of utmost value (of necessity even!) that we truthfully, authentically, prayerfully answer this question for ourselves. Not to steal Christian comedian John Crist’s catchphrase, but let this question prompt us to check our hearts (and our lives and our thoughts and our words and our actions), to reorder our schedules /priorities/lives so that when our sacrificial Savior asks “But who do you say that I am?” we don’t have to answer back to Him things like “an obligation,” “unimportant,” “not worth my time,” or “someone I don’t ever talk about.”

I’d like to go ahead and warn you upfront (although maybe warn is a bit too strong) that for most of you, this particular post might not be for you. In fact, it might not apply to you much at all, especially if your relationship with Jesus is flourishing and mature. To be honest, it’s that fact that’s kept me from writing this post for several months now. Have y’all ever been there before? Have y’all ever sensed God lead you to do a certain thing, one about which your incredibly wise human brain said, “I don’t think that’s really all that necessary”? Yeah, well. That’s pretty much how I’ve reacted when God’s placed this blog post on my heart: Ya sure about that, God? I mean, like, fully certain? I’m sure You aren’t so I’ll just circle on back around some other time if that’s swell with You. The Holy Spirit did lead me in other (hopefully useful) directions with my writings, but this nudge never went away completely. And I don’t if it’s because God needs to use it right now or if it’s because it’s Easter or what, but apparently ’tis time.

You see, I pushed this idea to the side because I felt like it wouldn’t apply to many of you, as I mentioned before. However, after careful consideration of that biblical question from Jesus, I felt that it was too important to pass up. Besides, God works in ways that I can’t (hallelujah!), so I know that if only one person reads this post today, or in the coming days/weeks, and it touches his/her heart, it was so very worth the rest of us reading a message that may not apply to us.

Friends, while it’s my goal through this blog site to share Jesus in a real-world, relatable way, it’s all pointless if you don’t know Jesus on a personal level, as your very personal Savior. So let me very gently and in a very non-judgmental way ask you a critical question to go along with Jesus’s: Are you saved? Have you declared to God through your words that you believe Jesus is the Son of God, that He came to earth to save us from ourselves and our sinfulness and death by taking our shame and punishment up on that cross? Have you verbally declared that you believe Jesus died on the cross, was placed in the tomb only to defeat death (for good!) by raising from the dead three days later, eventually rising back up into Heaven to stay until He comes back for us one day? If not, if you’ve never made this life-changing declaration, how about today? Dear Beloved by God, how about right now?

Romans 10:9 promises this: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

John 10:9 says it this way, from the very mouth of Jesus: Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.

Acts 4:12 uses these words: There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.

And Ephesians 2:9 helps us understand that, Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done…[God] has created us anew in Christ Jesus.

So what’s the commonality here? Jesus Christ. We make it legalistic and complicated, but it’s really very simple. Do you believe Jesus is who He says He is, who the Bible says He is? If so and you feel led to follow the biblical guidelines to salvation, I ask that you just pray this prayer with me (out loud if you are comfortable with that).

Father God, thank You for Your Son–for Jesus Christ. Thank You for His death on the cross and His resurrection three days later. Thank You, Lord, for Your Word which I believe with my whole heart. I accept Jesus as my Savior, Father, and I thank You that all the goodness of Jesus and the guiding force of the Holy Spirit now reside within me. In Jesus’s holy name I prayer this prayer for salvation. Amen.

CONGRATULATIONS! Don’t you feel lighter already? You just signed a covenant with the Maker of the ENTIRE Universe, who loves you, desires you, and is so proud of you! (Be sure and check the bottom of this post for the “Now What?!” section to help you know where to go from here with your newly-accepted salvation.)

While I’m beyond excited and happy to potentially help someone make such an important, life-changing decision, I don’t want to skip past those of us who might be caught up somewhere in the middle. Maybe you prayed a similar prayer for salvation once upon a time and followed it with a relationship with Jesus. But maybe life has happened since then–maybe A LOT of life–and in an effort to keep your other relationships afloat, you’ve let yours with Jesus dissipate. First, before anything else, let me say this very seriously and sternly: GOD IS NOT MAD AT YOU. Zero upset on His part. He misses you. He loves you, and He anxiously awaits a renewing of that dedication to Him and a life full of Him that you once had. All it takes is for you to get tired enough of feeling Satan yank you around, speaking lies, that you change your course. My friend, you cannot do this on your own. It takes you in partnership with God, with Him at the reigns. How do you get there? The same way you get anywhere and everywhere: prayer. And I invite you to say this prayer with me to re-solidify your relationship with your Heavenly Father (again, out loud if you’re comfortable with that):

Dear Lord, I miss You, and I recognize that the distance between us isn’t because You moved away from me. Father, I recognize that I am not meant to do life without You, and I ask for Your help in returning to a right relationship with You. I desire for You to be at the forefront of my life, Lord, but I’m not even sure where to start. I ask today that You please move in my life; forgive me, please, for my choices and my distance. Help me to return to You. I rededicate my life to You, Father God, and I’m so grateful for the open arms with which You greet me today. Thank You for Your Son Jesus, whose death and resurrection make this possible. In His name I pray. Amen.

I trust that within at least one heart a small opening was created, one in which God has shown Himself. I pray that regardless of where your maturity falls with regard to your relationship with Jesus that you spend some intentional, prioritized time this Easter to study the precious Word of God for yourself, instead of letting someone spoon-feed it to you. I pray that during this time, you’ll be reminded of the incredible, unmatched love that He has for you. What a mighty God we serve indeed! Happy Easter, my friends! May you fully encounter Jesus this holiday weekend.

So…..now what?!

If you prayed that prayer with me earlier and accepted Jesus into your heart, you’re probably wondering where to go from here. Biblically, our acceptance of Jesus, our being saved, is a 2-parter. Part one, we have to pray and ask Him into our hearts…so check mark on that! Part one can be done publicly or privately; it counts no matter what. But part two is definitely for public consumption; part two is baptism. If you’ll reach out to a local church or a friend with a home church (or come go to church with me!), you’ll find it’s filled with fellow believers anxious to help you celebrate the private decision you made with public baptism. Trust me.

Afterward–or in the waiting while you’re building up your courage to get your face wet in public–get yourself a Bible, a highlighter, a notebook, and a pen. Set aside time on a DAILY basis to talk to God, to listen to God, and to read His Word. He’ll do the rest. I mean it–He will do ALL of the heavy lifting.

If at any point I can help you, pray for you, or encourage you, you can find me at lindseydt@gmail.com. Please reach out.

I mean, I am so excited! I hope you are, too. Praise the Lord for your soul; it is of UTMOST importance to Him. Now go celebrate Easter like never before. 🙂

Did God Really Say…

To start this blog post, I’m going to need a little class participation, umkay?

When I say “Girl Scout cookies,” you say “of the devil”! Got it? Let’s go!!!!

Me: “Girl Scout cookies!”

You: “Of the devil!”

Me: “Girl Scout cookies!”

You: “Of the devil!”

{clap!clap!clap!clap!clap!}

Y’all, what is it about those things? I have a sneaking suspicion that those sweet little Girl Scout pushers know their products are crack-infused and are purposefully keeping it a secret. I literally can not even like a particular type of Girls Scout cookie, but if that flavor is sitting on my counter (I’m talking to you, Tagalongs!), I will eat it anyway. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! And you know what’s even worse? I will sometimes eat the first one, think to myself, man, that wasn’t as good as a I wanted it to be, then eat another dadgum cookie like they’ll miraculously get better with a second one! Believe it or not, in most situations, I’m an intelligent person! Ugh, so stupid.

But, friends, isn’t this exactly how temptation works? We are such smart people. We make smart decisions in our lives; we understand how cause and effect works; we fully realize when foods/people/relationships/thoughts aren’t healthy for us, but you get us around any of those, and suddenly we are partaking of said temptation like it’s suddenly become a great idea.

Luckily for us, God knew we were weak. He knew that we would give in, that we would struggle to hold strong and steady when faced with something–big or small–that we really wanted but that we shouldn’t have. Remember that whole “And lead us not into temptation” part that Jesus taught His disciples to pray? Yeah, there was a reason for that. He knew that for His children temptation was going to be a big issue.  In fact, just like 99.9% of everything else we’ve discussed on here, God made sure to give us guidance and insight into temptation and how we’re expected to handle it within His Word.

There are a couple of scriptures I’d like us to examine, so let’s first start with James 1:13-14: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” If God is not the source of our temptation, then who is? We are! Y’all, James is so good about coming right out with it, telling us the truth about our actions without sugar-coating it for our tender egos. In these verses, I imagine him pointing his finger in my face and telling me to stop tempting myself; stop putting myself in situations where I’m likely to face temptation and then blaming God for the temptation I face. It. Is. Not. His. Doing. Thank you, James, duly noted.

Fortunately, like all earthly roads, we aren’t expected to travel this one alone. Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 with these words on temptation: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” This verse is a little denser than the one previous, so let’s take a minute to unpack it.

First, Paul wants us to rest in the fact that regardless of the temptation we are facing–no matter how many, no matter how serious–we aren’t alone. There exists not a single temptation that hasn’t already tried its hand on someone else.

Second, GOD. IS. FAITHFUL. (I say “God!” You say” Faithful!” HAHA! Kidding! We did that already.) In all seriousness, though, God isn’t going to suddenly decide you don’t need Him. He created us to need Him. He desperately wants us to recognize our need for Him. If you reach out to Him in the midst of temptation, He literally cannot be unfaithful to you. It’s not possible.  Being the God of abundance, He’s going to go even one step further. Not only will He make absolutely certain that you don’t topple over into this temptation, but He promises to provide for you a way out. I love how His saving of us is described here: “He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Friends, we will not be crushed by our temptations. We will not be defeated IF we make sure God’s facing off against it with us.

In the face of temptation, you and I have essentially two options: choose the temptation or choose to walk away. Let’s state this another way, though, that really drives home the fact that our choice in the midst of temptation is truly about whether or not we opt to let God be God. In the face of temptation, we have two choices: Trust (believe God and His promises for deliverance) OR Doubt (believe Satan and his lies that God can’t save us from whatever pulls so strongly on us).

As our verses from James told us, temptation isn’t from God. It’s from us, from our own inherently evil desires. And guess who ALWAYS has his nasty little serpent hiss right in our ears when our ungodly temptations get amplified. This isn’t new. In fact, this is the very oldest strategy of the enemy’s. You don’t even have to turn many pages in the Bible before you see Satan first whispering lies into the ear of Eve as she faces the first ever temptation. In Genesis 3:1, we are warned that “the serpent was more subtle and crafty than any living creature of the field which the Lord God had made,” and we see his plan for creating doubt begin with four simple yet life-altering words: “Did God really say…” How often I’ve fallen for this strategy. How often I’ve thought I was a believer only to realize, when the going got tough, that maybe I believed in God but didn’t believe God would do what He said He would. That’s exactly how Satan likes it. He knows that if he can plant that doubt in our minds, our temptation will sound out louder than the still quiet voice of our Father who offers so selflessly to help us through the fire.

My dears, let me share with you a list: doubt, confusion, anger, immaturity, resentment, lust, greed, unforgiveness, gluttony, depression, isolation, loneliness. Do any of these encompass what you’re feeling/facing today? Here’s a little secret…not a single one of these is from or of God. Not. One. However, every single last one–plus a whole bunch of other, equally awful ones–is straight from Satan himself. Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you fed up with deciding to stand strong against a temptation, caving, feeling awful about yourself, struggling with your shame, deciding unequivocally never to find yourself in that spot again…only to end up right back there time and time again? I am. I want to stop this cycle and tell Satan once and for all that YES, God really DID say that!

So how? When staring temptation in its dangerous eye, how do we ensure success over failure?

1. KNOW GOD–I mean, personally. Daily. Know Him well enough that your first knee-jerk reaction in the face of trouble (of any sort!) is prayer. Know Him intimately so that you can shut that devil up the second he comes at you with that “Did God really say…” nonsense.

2. KNOW THE WORD–Know what the Bible says about God because that’s the only way you’ll learn what His character and His heart are all about. Know what precious, faithful promises God includes in the Bible. Declare those at your temptation! Talk back to it and that jerk of a serpent! Let them both know that God won’t let you fail. You will NOT be sucked in this time. Stand on any and every promise that points you straight past failure and on to success.

3. KNOW YOURSELF–Know when you are most tempt-able. Is it mid-day when you’re home alone? Is it late at night when everyone else is in bed? Is it while you’re out running errands? Know your areas of weakness, be they physical, sexual, spiritual, mental, or a combination. Friends, it is imperative that you know yourself, because let me tell you this, you can bet Satan knows you. “Satan is the counterfeit god of perfect timing.” I recently ran across this statement by my other BFF Beth Moore, and I could not get that quote written down fast enough. Such truth. And we are absolute fools if we think otherwise. Know yourself and do something with that knowledge to protect yourself.

One last thing before I close us out with a prayer. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s another little dose of fabulous word selection and point-making from Mrs. Beth. “No weaker house exists than one that lacks authority. Lack of authority is a breeding ground for untold recklessness and sin.” Yes, this quote was written about our literal houses, but isn’t this also very true for our bodies? Friends, we have to let God have authority over our bodies and our minds, our hearts and our desires. We have to let His Word be law in our lives so that temptation and its pusher know their place. “And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). Know it. Declare it.

Dear Lord, thank You so much that when I am faced with a temptation of any sort, I am not alone. Thank You that You have promised to walk with me past that evil desire and to provide for me a way out. Help me, Father, to learn all I can about You, to develop such a closeness with You that Satan and his lies have no power over me. Help me to know Your Word so assuredly that I can declare it (out loud!) against the evil strategies of the enemy. Thank You, Lord, that You have already ensure my success if I simply hand my life over to You. I love You, and I am so thankful that You hear my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s name that I offer it. Amen.

Judas, Peter…and I

Do you ever have times when you’re tootling along, minding your own business and doing just fine, feeling content and okay about everything, only for your thought-life to go totally wonky? Where suddenly you’re questioning your decisions, maybe even how others feel about you (despite knowing they feel favorably and nothing has happened to change that)? For whatever reason, this is where I’ve lived lately, right smack on the corner of Insecure Circle and Self-Doubt Drive.

Here’s the deal. I guess because of age and experience, these days when feelings like these hit, I recognize them for exactly what they are: Satan’s attempts to thwart the vision God’s given me or to distract me enough, shifting my focus inward toward self so that I’m less effective in my job of sharing Jesus.

A few days ago, while in the midst of these less-than-uplifting feelings, I happened across guys from the Bible who definitely felt the weight and torment of the schemes of Satan. In truth, I’d previously judged these two rather harshly. One of them is likely in the top ten of most recognizable characters in the whole Bible; his name is Judas. The other guy, Peter, is fairly infamous himself. Continuing my full disclosure, I have always felt so scornful toward Judas (for obvious reasons) when reading his story, and toward Peter, too, to some degree, even though I do mostly understand why he chose to deny Jesus in the moments when he did.

This particular day, however, I read these stories with new eyes, I guess, because suddenly I realized that, although I love Jesus like these two fellas, I, too, have sold Him out and denied who He is. Breaking News: Judas, Peter….and I can be real jerks.

To better explain my newfound attitude, let’s focus on Matthew 26, and let’s look specifically at verse 15. Speaking to Jesus’s persecutors, Judas says, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?” Their answer: 30 pieces of silver, which, shockingly, is the equivalent of approximately $21.60 today. Let me type that again just in case you missed it. Jesus Christ was sold out by someone who claimed to love and honor Him for a measly $21.60. I can’t even make this compute in my broken brain.

My knee-jerk, gut reaction here is judgement and scorn. (Loathing, perhaps?) How dare you, Judas!! It’s not like any amount would be okay, but seriously, that puny sum?! I judge Judas’s choices, question his character, and reserve ZERO understanding or compassion toward this traitor. And just when I’ve gotten my own sense of self-righteousness good and inflated, God pokes a stick-pin in it, and I suddenly realize Judas and I aren’t so polar opposite after all.

You see, Friends, I, too, have sold Jesus out for a small price…and I’ve done it more than once. I mean, of course no one has ever paid me money to literally hand Jesus over, but I have turned my back on Him in an effort to gain other, worldly things:

*money

*human recognition or praise

*likes on social media

*personal comfort

*convenience

*appearance

*popularity/acceptance

And the list continues. I’ve even sold Him out because I wasn’t brave enough, because I let fear speak louder than He did. Can you identify with any of these yourself?

Jesus addresses this sort of behavior in Matthew 26:24. His words apply not only to Judas, but also to those of us who consider ourselves Christians while attempting to gain the things of this world. Jesus warns us, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better (more profitable and wholesome) for that man if he had never been born!” Yikes! Hard truths followed by exclamation points, so you know it was something about which Jesus felt very strongly.

Judas sold out Jesus with false devotion for a pathetic price. Turning Jesus over, Judas “embraced Him and kissed Him with [pretended] warmth and devotion” (Matthew 26:49). Sounds awful, right? Sounds horrendous and hurtful and unimaginable. But, y’all, we do this. We go to church (many of us even go twice a week! And all the good Christians said, Amen.). We raise our hands in worship, we serve, we attend small groups or Sunday school classes, and we wear our devotion to Jesus externally, making sure everyone knows. Then, we go home, and the rest of our lives and our behavior–at work, within our marriages, within our households–is void of Jesus and His love. You and me and Judas…we’re all sell-outs.

And let’s not forget our other comrade, Peter. Most of us are probably pretty familiar with his story. Convinced of his own unwavering loyalty to Jesus, he openly scoffed when Jesus predicted he would deny knowing Him, not just once but three times. And because it’s a familiar story and because (spoiler alert!) everything Jesus says is right, we know that’s precisely what Peter did. Upon Jesus’s apprehension, the Bible tells us that Peter was so eager to distance (and save) himself, he denied Jesus simply (verse 70), he adamantly denied knowing Jesus (verse 72), and he even threw in a few swears and curses to make it abundantly clear he was in no way associated with that King of the Jews guy (verse 74).

And at the sake of being repetitive here, y’all, we do this, too! Like Peter, we are so eager to prove our likeness to those around us, to do whatever necessary to avoid being excluded or “unfriended” that we, too, adopt behaviors we might have once sworn we’d never do. Peter, like his friend Judas (and like us), sold out his Savior because he was caught in a desperate desire to separate himself from the taunting, the whispering, the persecution, the shunning that can sometimes come from being close-knit with Jesus. Peter wanted to stay free. Peter wanted to stay alive. Peter wanted to save himself in the face of the popular crowd, and he sold Jesus out in an effort to do so. Ouch. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Being a “Jesus freak” is all fine and good and cool…until it’s not.

But like Peter’s, our story doesn’t need to end at our sell-outs. Friends, Jesus knew what Peter was going to do ahead of time, remember? Notice how He kept Peter around, nurturing His relationship with him anyway. In fact, Jesus was so not mad at Peter that after rising from the dead, Jesus chose to meet one-on-one with Peter, taking time just for him. I once heard a pastor say that had Judas asked for (and accepted) forgiveness instead of killing himself out of shame, he, too, would have been welcomed back into the fold of Jesus. Because I know the character of Jesus, I truly believe that’s 100% accurate. And it probably would’ve happened with no questions asked.

My dears, our God is a God of compassion, a God of love, and because of those dominate traits, He’s also a God of forgiveness. By zero accident, if we rewind back before Judas’s betrayal, back before Peter’s denial, all the way to Matthew 18, we’ll happen upon a VERY interesting conversation (hindsight being 20/20 and all that). Our old buddy Peter asks Jesus about this topic, which he’ll come to experience so personally. “Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? Up to seven times?” (verse 21)

Consider how much like Peter we are, even here. He’s interested in doing the right thing. He’s actually seeking Jesus for guidance, and he’s even stretching himself into forgiving this same repeat-offender of a friend seven whole times. I feel like he’s kind of expecting Jesus to say, “Wow, Peter, look how kind and forgiving and awesome you are!” but instead, Jesus replies, “I say to you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven” (verse 22). Not that I don’t feel his pain, but I get kind of tickled picturing what must have been Peter’s speechless jaw-drop at Jesus’s exceedingly high expectation of forgiveness. This exchange between Peter and Jesus, however, served to teach Peter (and us) a much larger lesson than some simple multiplication.

Return now to Peter’s epic screw-up, his selling-out of Jesus. It’s obvious he’s aware of his sin, but it’s also clear by his actions afterward that Peter believed Jesus was a master of forgiveness. He had seen it, and he was now personally experiencing it in a magnificent way. Friends, you and I serve this same Jesus. He loves you! He is anxiously awaiting the chance to forgive whatever sin you and I have committed so as to eradicate ANYTHING standing between us and Him. Listen carefully: you have never done anything nor could you ever do anything bad enough that Jesus can’t/won’t forgive you. He wants desperately to spend time with you, just the two of you, because it’s so often during those purposeful moments that you’ll get the outer noise quieted down enough to hear Jesus’s love-filled whisper: It’s okay. You might have messed up, but I forgive you. I love you.

Dear Lord, thank You for sharing with me the stories of both Peter and Judas. Thank You, Father, that I can come to You, ask sincerely and with a repentant heart for Your forgiveness, and You will remember my screw-up no more. Thank You for loving me exactly as I am. Thank You that Your compassion never fails, and I am never too far gone for Your reach. I’m sorry for times, both intentional and unintentional, when, like Judas and Peter, I’ve sold You out for the things of this world. Help me, Father, to be more concerned about pleasing You than others. I love You, and I am so grateful to serve a God so full of second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances. May I never ever take Your forgiveness for granted. It’s in Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

 

Getting Our “Buts” In Shape

Y’all. We are seven days into January, and I am already 110% over all this hot-air talk about resolutions. This is my least favorite part of the New Year celebrations (is capitalizing that correct? I have no idea). I do think it’s wise to self-evaluate, and I think it’s definitely worth your time to reflect on your life, your health, your choices, and especially your relationship with God, but if you’re only doing that once a year and only because it’s the trendy thing to do? Yeah, um, good luck with that. We’re a week in, so I’m guessing the fire’s already gone out of that plan, hasn’t it? (Don’t act like you haven’t already justified eating french fries in 2019.)

{steps down from soap box}

Since many, many people (and most likely some of you, dear readers) begin the new year with aspirations toward eating healthier and getting fit, just this once I’ll play along, too. See, I do play well with others after all. But before we strut into the metaphorical gym to begin working on our fitness (10 bonus points if you recognized that long-lost Fergilicious lyric), I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine, Naaman.

Our new comrade Naaman can be found in the book of 2 Kings in chapter 5. The Bible tell us, “Naaman, Commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, accepted [and acceptable], because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper” (vs. 1). Wow, so impressive. Here is a man who is not only given favor by God, but his favor with God has led to his having favor with his peers and with his king. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but no one has ever described me as a person of valor (definition: boldness or determination in facing great danger; heroic courage or bravery). There are so many remarkable things about Naaman, many notable qualities that stand out so much he makes it into the Word of God. But. Then that small yet potent word shows up and everything changes.

Look back at 2 Kings 5:1 above, and as that scripture draws to a close, pay close attention to the pivotal shift following “but”….ah, there we have it. Naaman’s “but” is leprosy. He is smart. He is strong. He is a capable and noble leader. He is favored by God and man. He is a battle-wise, brave warrior. BUT. He is a leper. And just like that, all that we saw Naaman as, all of those touted character traits of this highly-regarded soldier are tainted because now he is diseased. Now that we know he’s infected, covered in ulcerated skin and deemed wholly unclean, now that we know all of this, it changes everything.

Commander of the Syrian army.

A great man.

Accepted and acceptable.

Victorious.

A mighty man of valor.

BUT…

A leper.

Friends, as it turns out, you and I aren’t all that different from Commander Naaman after all. Each of us has a long list of admirable qualities. Each of us has particular traits that others appreciate, respect, admire, and even envy. And like our new buddy Naaman, each of us has a “but” holding us back from reaching our full potential.

Now, I don’t know what your “but” is: fear, anger/bitterness, rejection, unmet needs, failing health/disease, insecurity, doubt, spiritual apathy, lack of passion/contentment, addiction, past failure, shame, debt, unhealthy habitual behavior, sexual sin, and the list could go on and on. Despite not knowing exactly what it is you’re struggling to put behind you as you go into this new year, this season of personal resolution and renewal, I do know that Jesus is the answer. I mean, if you need proof that God can use you, that He can help you rise above whatever it is that’s tethered you to a mediocre life, just look at Naaman! He was a leper for crying out loud. He was someone who, in biblical times, was considered an outcast, who people would avoid walking by on the street, and here he is in the Bible! He’s applauded and used by God to bring victory to a chosen people. He’s successful. He’s the very opposite of shunned: he was acceptable and accepted. A leper, and yet commander and right-hand man to the king.

There’s not a thing you’ve done, not a thing you could ever do, that would make you useless to God. He loves you. He sees your diseased skin, your outcast status, and He patiently awaits your turning to Him to shower you with favor. He can make you well; He can heal your physical, mental, and emotional hurt. But we have to give those things to Him. We have to decide that we’re no longer going to be held back by whatever we’ve been carrying around. We have to choose to believe that God is bigger than our “leprosy.” To put it in New Year’s resolution terms, we have to get our “buts” in shape so that we don’t prevent the blessings, the favor, and the forward progress for His Kingdom that God can bring to fruition in our lives.

And guess what else God can do–He can fully heal you! Skip ahead in 2 Kings chapter 5 to verses 11-14. At this time, Naaman has gone to the prophet Elisha in an effort to have his leprosy cured. Totally able to help Naaman, Elisha gives him simple instructions for how to be fully cured, and verses 11 and 12 show us Naaman’s reaction to these directives: “But Naaman was angry and went away and said, Behold, I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and heal the leper…So he turned and went away in a rage.” I’m sorry–what? You have been told exactly what to do in order to cure yourself of this horrible, painful disease and you’re ticked? You see, Naaman had this other little problem, too, on top of the leprosy issue; Naaman was prideful. He was a great man, remember? And do you also remember he was a ranking official in the army and a brave warrior? Well then, how dare Elisha send a messenger and not come in person to cure him! How dare he suggest that Naaman the great and mighty wash in the filthy waters of the Jordan River when other cleaner bodies of water were nearby! Why was there no pomp and circumstance to the healing of such a man as Naaman?! (insert foot stomp here) And so Naaman walked away in a rage.

If you skip down to verses 13 and 14, you’ll see that after he’s cooled off some, Naaman’s servants are able to talk some sense into him, and he does eventually follow Elisha’s instructions. And because we serve a God who is so loving, who is the God of second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances, He doesn’t take back His power because Naaman acted like a toddler. Instead, once Naaman gets his act together and dips himself the required seven times in the Jordan, God heals him completely, “…and his flesh was restored like that of a little child, and he was clean.”

There is so much we could discuss from this. We could spend a long time discussing how leprosy in the Bible is always a symbol for sin. We would talk about this symbolic baptism, how Naaman took his leprosy/his sin, gave it over to the commands of God, accepted God’s sovereignty and ability, believed that God would do what He said He would do, and was healed. How he was washed totally clean in a river full of dirty water after giving up his pride and his own expectations, and simply placing his trust in God. For today, however, I think it best if we just focus on the near-miss of Naaman’s story. What if he hadn’t checked his pride and followed God’s instructions? What if he’d decided he was too important to dirty himself in the Jordan? What if he’d decided he knew more than God, that God couldn’t possibly be right to go about answering his prayer in this way? This story would’ve ended VERY differently, and, friends, if you and I don’t get pride eradicated from our lives, our stories might end very differently as well.

Proverbs 3:5-7 encourages Christ-followers to “Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes.” This right here. This attitude and mindset is my goal for 2019. Not only believing IN God, but simply believing God. Believing He will do what His Word says He will. Swapping my pride and selfish expectation for God’s Will. Reducing self and enlarging God. Together, let’s make 2019 the year of getting our ‘buts’ in shape and getting pride out of our lives so that God can both use us AND heal us.

Dear Lord, thank You so much that You are willing to use me just as I am. Thank You, Father, for Your unconditional acceptance. Help me, Lord, to give You anything and everything that holds me back, that encourages space between me and You. Father, I know You want good things for me, that You plan to bless me and prosper me. In this coming year, please help it to be one of health, of happiness, of restoration, and of healing. Father, I ask that You begin a work in me that doesn’t fade away with the coming months. Light a fire in me for You and Your Word, Lord, that never dims. Help me to get right with You, God, so that I can show You to others. May my 2019 be one of spiritual growth and maturity, but may it also be one dedicated to living for You. Please, Lord, help me to glorify You with each day. Thank You that perfection isn’t a qualification that You require me to have. I love You, Father, and I thank You for hearing my prayer. May Your Will be done in my life in 2019. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

The Weary World Rejoices

Upbeat, fast-paced Christmas songs are my jam. I don’t care if it’s one I’ve heard a million times (although I could do without 149,000 plays of Mariah Carey wanting me for Christmas. No means no, Mariah!). This year has been a tiny bit different in the music department, however. I am still NOT a fan of “Where are you, Christmas?” (insert all the crying emojis here), but one song that I’ve always thought of as being slow and melancholy turned out, after I actually listened to it carefully, not to be that way at all.

Now I know you all can probably sing this in your sleep, but please read the first verse of “O Holy Night” below (I did leave off the chorus because this isn’t choir practice after all).

Vs. 1          Oh, holy night! The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The reason this song caught my attention so very much this year is because of one tiny little word: WEARY. Sometimes, there is no better way to explain how you’re feeling about a situation than weary. According to my esteemed colleague Webster, weary can be defined in several ways, but definitions one and three cover it most thoroughly:

1. physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.

3. impatient or dissatisfied with something

Before I begin this next part, let me clarify that I talked this over with Nathan and got his permission to share this. I would NEVER betray his confidence, and in order to protect that, I am intentionally going to be relatively vague, but I know you can still identify with his experience.

Lately, Nathan’s work life has him feeling the fullness of both of these definitions of weary. He’s working harder at his job and for many, many more hours than ever before. It’s often times tedious, it frequently can feel purposeless, it has taken away his time with his family, and all of those factors have left him feeling both impatient and dissatisfied. Maybe your weariness isn’t job related. Maybe your weariness is due to a difficult relationship, maybe it’s because of a health issue you just can’t quite put behind you. Maybe you’ve been praying a prayer for so long you can’t even remember when you started and you’ve grown weary in the waiting. Watching our children struggle with their own problems (that we can’t fix!) can wear us down as parents. There is no end to the number of things we encounter on the regular in this life that can affect our souls and make even our bones weary.

But, friends, God knows this, and He knew what we needed. He understood what we were feeling from all the many, many pressures of this world, and so He gifted us with a beautiful, tiny baby who came to exchange our weariness and heartache and exhaustion and chaos for happiness and health and joy. Jesus: our thrill of hope, the reason that our weary, heavy-laden souls can rest. The weary world (that’s us!) rejoices because it is a new day once that baby is brought forth and laid in that manger. Our world was forever changed, and in the book of Matthew, Jesus Himself reminds us what His coming means for those who walk in His ways.

Do you feel that weariness, too? Are you entering this Christmas season just tired of what you’re carrying? Jesus understands you. In fact, He is so attuned to the soul-exhaustion we’re experiencing that He spoke out about it in Matthew 11, verses 28-30. When you read this, please know that Jesus is talking directly to you. He is saying to you, tired friend, “28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls]. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. 30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good–not harsh, hard sharp or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.”

Do me a favor (consider it your Christmas gift to me), and re-read that scripture again. Think about whatever it is that has you weighed down, and compare the traits of that burden you’re carrying to the traits of Jesus’s yoke.

Life our way                                               Life Jesus’s way         

*Heavy                                                          *Restful/gentle

*Tiring                                                           *Easy/light

*Burdensome                                              *Refreshing

*Hard/difficult                                             *Relieves us

*Harsh                                                           *Full/abundant

*Sharp                                                           *Blessed quiet (internal peace)

*Pressing                                                      *Good/wholesome

 

I don’t know about you, but one of these lists looks WAY better than the other to me. But you know what, I seldom set down those things that I carry, that I try to figure out myself. I seldom just hand those to Jesus and pick Him up. He’s right there offering that incredible exchange, telling me that He’s got it all if I’d only let Him have it and trade my worry for His wealth, but I’m so ridiculously stubborn sometimes.

Without going into all the nitty-gritty details (just read my previous blog posts for those), please know that I am fully aware of what life feels like when you’re weary. We all recognize that feeling, whether it’s present or past, and we all will face it again until we enter Heaven’s gates. That weariness doesn’t have to be ours anymore though. Just like “O Holy Night” says, Jesus is our hope, and when you take on His abundance and His will for your life, just like the Bible and those lyrics promise, you are entering a new and GLORIOUS morn. Lamentations 3:23 reminds us that “Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning,” and Isaiah 43:19 continues that promise: “See, I am doing a new thing! I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

I know that life can get exhausting. Just pretending you’re fine when you’re not sucks the life right out of you. Pretending your marriage is great when it’s not is draining. Going to a job each day that you can’t get excited about and feel zero joy toward is soul-sucking. Jesus says to us, though, Here, take me instead. I’ll give you my strength. I’ll give you my joy. And if you’ll invite me into your heart or your home or your marriage or your work day, I will ALWAYS show up. Here. Let me have that burden. Let me carry that for a while (and maybe even just fix it all while you’re off enjoying your life and not looking).

My friends, I want to encourage those of you who are weary because of waiting not to give up. I know what it’s like to tire your soul out praying for something for months and years. Exhausting isn’t a strong enough descriptor. It’s so crucial to remember, though, that just because life was one way yesterday and the day before that (and the day before that), and just because you got up this morning and it was still the same, it doesn’t mean tomorrow will be the same as well. Jesus is in your tomorrow, and tomorrow is a brand new day.

I was recently reading Liane Moriarty’s most recent novel, and a line in it just really stuck out to me. I felt like, given today’s world, she gave such an incredibly accurate description of the culture we in which we live. She was referencing society as a whole, American’s as a collective group, and she stated that we were the most overfed, malnourished people. What a sadly accurate statement! Our souls are malnourished, no doubt, but they don’t have to be. This Christmas season, spend some time with Jesus. Refresh and replenish yourself. Spend some time reading those biblical promises, reminding yourself–your weary self–exactly what the tiny baby in the manger means to you. Because it’s not a story from some history book. It’s a living, breathing Word that affects your day to day life here, today, on the cusp of 2019. Let’s agree that weariness will NOT over-populate our 2019. Let’s agree that, instead, we are going to exchange our earthly burdens for those of our Savior so that His birth and His death weren’t wasted on children who refuse to accept the greatest of all the gifts.

(Below the prayer, I have included some encouraging scriptures that I hope you’ll take the time to read. If you’re like me, sometimes those things go in one ear and out the other. So what I do is write down those that speak loudest to me. Put those verses on post-its on your bathroom mirror, on your car’s dashboard, on your kitchen cabinets so that as you go into tomorrow and next year, you purposefully choose a different, lighter, brighter way of doing life. Merry Christmas, and may God abundantly bless your 2019.)

Dear Lord, I am so grateful for the incredible gift of Your Son Jesus. I know, Father, that many, many times I attempt life at my speed and in my own way, and I get worn down and weary because I was not created to do life like that. I need Your help, though, Lord. Guide me, please. Speak to me, Father, and get my attention when times like this arise so that I might redirect my focus back onto Jesus and off of my circumstances. I greatly desire to exchange my pressing, burdensome way of life for Your peaceful, refreshing one. Thank You for Christmas, Lord, and for all that it means for me personally. Thank You that Christmas serves as a reminder to me that I have hope, that a new day is coming. Thank you, Father, that Your mercies are new every single morning. I look forward to tomorrow, Lord, because I know You’re already there. I love you, and I praise You. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

God’s promises/verses of encouragement

Psalm 73:26–My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

John 14:27–Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you…Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

2 Corinthians 12:9–But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Psalm 55:22–Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 107:20–He sent out His Word and healed them and delivered them from their destruction.

Isaiah 40:11–He will lead His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart.

2 Chronicles 20:15–Do not be afraid or discouraged…for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

Psalm 16:8–I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

 

 

Be the One in Ten

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I love Easter and Christmas, but there’s just something about Thanksgiving that tops all that. I like the time of year; I like the fact that it’s food-focused (can I get an AMEN?!); I like that it provides a reminder to stop life and pay attention to our blessings; I like that it’s simply about getting together with friends and family, with no gift-buying pressure or the tarnish of retail take-over.

Most of all, though, I like how Thanksgiving is so in line with God’s Word. Gratitude, a grateful heart, thanksgiving, praise…all of these are such emphasized, repetitive concepts throughout the Bible, and this time of year forces us more into these mindsets and heart-itudes than we might normally experience.

A few months ago during a church sermon, I heard a Bible story mentioned that I didn’t remember ever hearing before. I checked into it after I got home, and sure enough, I don’t really recall having ever heard it. It aligns perfectly, however, with the Thanksgiving holiday, so I saved it for us to discuss at this oh-so-timely occasion. (You are welcome.)

The story is from Luke 17 and can be found in verses 11-19. It’s a quick read, and I encourage you to read it yourself. I’ll wait……………………………………………………See! So easy, this Bible reading thing. Just in case you didn’t just read it yourself (for shame!), let me give you a brief rundown.

As this particular story begins, Jesus and His followers are on their way to Jerusalem, passing between Samaria and Galilee. Upon arriving at a village there, Jesus is approached by ten lepers, all crying out to Him for help and healing from their horrible, painful, ostracizing disease. In verse 14, we see Jesus acknowledge them and their affliction immediately, instantly instructing them and healing them. But it’s really on the next verses, 15-19, that I want us to spend our time.

After the lepers have begun to depart from Jesus, having been made clean, verses 15-16(a) state, “Then one of them, upon seeing that he was cured, turned back, recognizing and thanking and praising God with a loud voice. And he fell prostrated at Jesus’s feet, thanking Him [over and over].” Let’s make sure we get this: there were 10 lepers, 10 souls in need of Jesus’s attention. Ten people were answered by Jesus, being made well after crying out to Him. One of them turned back to Jesus to acknowledge what He’d done for him. One. Just in case that’s tricky math, that means NINE people whose lives were forever blessed, whose health was fully restored, whose prayers were answered by the Son of God went on their way without so much as a glance back or a quick wave. Don’t think for a second that this behavior went unnoticed by Jesus.

“Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not [all] ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was there no one found to return and to recognize and give thanks and praise to God except this [man]?” (vs. 17-18)

Y’all, it hurts my heart to recognize this truth, but I am so often one of those nine. The number of times I’ve prayed a serious, heart-felt prayer and gotten it answered, only to forget to turn back around and give Jesus His due praise is innumerable. I don’t know about you, but I do NOT want to be one of those nine. I want to be the one in ten who can’t move forward with my new blessing until I’ve appropriately praised the One from whom all blessings flow! And you know what else I want to learn from the only former leper who showed his gratitude? I don’t want to do it quietly, either. Like it says in verse 15, I want to show God my praise, to offer Him my sincere thanks with a LOUD voice! Yes, He appreciates and acknowledges my quiet offerings of thanksgiving. He recognizes my whispered prayers of praise. But that’s not good enough for me. I want to be so humbled by His presence in my life, so gracious for His help or His healing or His guidance that I just can’t keep quiet about it. I want to be vocally thankful for all that God does in my life! HOW GREAT IS OUR GOD!!! I want my heart to overflow so abundantly with thanksgiving to my loving, compassionate God that I absolutely cannot keep silent about it.

Also, like our healed friend, I want to WORSHIP the Jesus who is so actively a part of my life and my needs. This man, so full of gratitude for what Jesus did for him, fell prostrate at the feet of Jesus in full surrender and worship, thanking Him over and over (vs 16). If you can’t imagine physically lying prostrate while worshiping Jesus, surely our hearts can be positioned in such a way. Friends, let us first and foremost reach out to Jesus with our needs and our afflictions. Let us pray for and expect His healing hand upon our lives. And when that happens, because it most certainly will, let us shout His name from the rooftops! Let us tell our friends and our family of the wonderful works He’s done in our lives. Instead of posting on social media about what color socks we chose for today (insert HARD eye roll here), let us share the ways in which God is working in our lives. Let us use any and every outlet at our disposal to exalt His name so that others can see our thankfulness and witness the God we just cannot stop bragging about.

I pray that each of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving. I encourage you to take just a few minutes and spend them with Jesus, thanking Him for all He’s done for you. But don’t stop there. Spend some time and thank Him for all He’s going to do, too. If your “leprosy” hasn’t been healed yet, go ahead and thank Him anyway, making it clear that you trust Jesus and know He’s got it covered. If you’re like me, you want to make this heart-itude of thanksgiving something that’s not seasonal. I want to wake up each morning giving thanks to God for who He is (not just what He’s done for me). I want to reignite my joy for the life He’s given me before my feet ever hit the ground in the morning. I want to be so full of thankfulness over being a child of God that I have to do a little happy dance so that I don’t explode. I want to be the one in ten.

Dear Lord, thank You. Thank You for who You are. Thank You that as Your child, I have the privilege of bringing my afflictions to You and that because of the blood of Jesus, I can boldly expect Your deliverance and healing. Father, help me to spend my life trying to outdo Your graciousness with my thanksgiving. Help me never to see Your movement in my life or recognize Your answer to prayer without vocally thanking and praising You for it. I love you, Jesus, and I am so incredibly thankful to be Yours. In Jesus’s mighty name I pray. Amen.

God Sees Me

I woke up the other morning with this portion of a scripture in my head: nothing is impossible for God. I wasn’t sure why it was on my mind. I was in the midst of full-blown garage sale prep (like all crazies find themselves at one time or another), so I wondered if maybe that verse was God’s way of easing my sense of being overwhelmed by the mounds of junk I’d somehow managed to hoard over the years. Praise God for a large attic, am I right?! A couple of days later this scriptural truth was still floating around inside my brain when the story of Sarai (you know, Abram’s wife before he came Abraham and she became Sarah) and her maid Hagar joined it. I couldn’t understand how these two things fit together. One was about a frustrating, unhealthy relationship between a woman and her maid-servant, the other was a simple phrase boasting the power of God. Typically, when things get really confusing, I go to my Bible, so that’s what I did here. I spent some time reading the story of Sarai and Hagar, and after a couple of read-throughs, things clicked (which is quite the achievement for this ole brain because I’m 99.9% certain a LARGE part of it got washed down the drain in the labor and delivery room at Baptist Hospital a few years ago).

The story of Sarai and Hagar can be found in Genesis 16. To avoid simply retyping the first several verses with an additional recap of background info, let me do some mediocre paraphrasing: if you remember, God had spoken to both Abram and Sarai, who were unable to conceive, and promised that He would provide for them a child. That all happened in earlier chapters of Genesis, and when we get to chapter 16, we see that several years have passed and Sarai still hasn’t borne any children. While once a believer, Sarai has decided that God obviously is no longer planning to fulfill His promise, because where the heck is He? It’s been years with no babies, and Sarai is over it. In today’s terms, Sarai “cannot even” with all this waiting around for a baby as promised. So, our impatient friend decided that she would fix this herself since God was obviously busy elsewhere and had forgotten about her circumstances. (Her impatience and need for control remind me of someone….pretty sure it’s the person I see when I look in any mirror…)

So basically here’s what happens. Sarai decides that God’s forgotten her and that if she’s going to be a mother, she’s going to have to orchestrate this mess herself. Therefore, she goes to Abram and says, “Look, I’ve got this servant Hagar, and I think chances are good that she’d get pregnant easily and we could keep the baby. So, I need you to go spend some “quality time” with Hagar (wink, wink).” Abram apparently does not argue against this idea (enormously shocking), and after one thing leads to another, Hagar finds her womb occupied. ENTER IMMEDIATE DISCORD! Friends, I know this might come as a great surprise, but did you know that if you send your husband to impregnate another woman and it succeeds, afterward you might not feel so great about that? Do what?! I know! It’s like God knew this wasn’t the best way for all of this baby-making to go down.

Upon getting EXACTLY what she’d planned, Sarai is ticked. She’s mad at Abram. She’s mad at Hagar. (I’m guessing she’s probably projecting some of that anger that’s really directed internally, but we’ll save that topic for another post.) You see, Sarai believed that Hagar felt superior because of her pregnancy…or as those of us in the South like to say, Hagar got too big for her britches. Sarai was having none of it. Now the relationship between these two women is incredibly contentious and strained, and because she cannot take any more of Sarai’s poor treatment against her, Hagar flees.

Friends, God is talking to us big time here. He is showing us the folly of our own “wisdom” and our own ways. He tells us His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways are greater than our ways, but for some reason we feel like that’s not always true. Sarai did nothing more than what you and I do all the time; she decided that it was taking God too long to bring to fruition what He’d promised her, so she had to intervene. She decided that God obviously had forgotten about her, that He had moved on to more pressing issues and, therefore, needed her help. Guess what–He did not. Guess what else–He does not my help or your help either. God brings about solutions to our problems. God answers us with love and goodness and abundant blessing. When we get involved and we try to control our outcomes, we get headaches, we get snowballed problems, we get delayed blessings. Trust me, I FULLY understand the temptation to play God when He’s taking too long to visibly move. It’s a legit struggle, but it’s one that God promises to help us overcome.

While this Bible story is certainly about these two women and the problems created by Sarai’s impatience and doubt, it’s so very, very clearly about the love of our God as well. To see just how incredibly patient and forgiving God is, we only have to look as far as the last few verses of this story. How exactly does God handle this mess that Sarai’s created?

1.The Lord found Hagar; He met her right where she was, in the middle of the hurt and upset and division that came forth because of her circumstances. In verse 7, it says, “But the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness…” God didn’t sit around waiting for Hagar to get herself together, to call out to Him, to pray the exact right words so that He could then help her. No, He did just the opposite. He showed Himself to Hagar right there in her wilderness, while her way was unclear and her heart was hurting and her head was jumbled. This “nobody,” this maid who got caught up in her masters’ crazy scheme with a baby in her belly and nowhere to go, was important enough to God that He didn’t sit twiddling His thumbs until she learned her lesson. Instead, He found Hagar before she’d even sorted things out enough to call out to Him.

2.While He comforted her and showed her His love, God didn’t excuse Hagar and pretend like she was solely an innocent victim. He instructed her in verse 9 to “go back to your mistress and [humbly] submit to her control.” Y’all, God has zero interest in spoiling us. He’s not going to shower us with a pity party so that we can play victim and never own up to our role in our circumstances. No matter how much someone else’s actions have affected our lives, God isn’t interested in casting blame and pointing fingers. He is interested, however, in using whatever He can to help us grow and mature and become more like Jesus. Never once did Jesus play the victim. Never once did Jesus feel sorry for Himself. And never once was the Jesus the cause of His own pain. We won’t get anywhere, friends, running away from whoever makes our life tough. Sure, Hagar had many reasons why fleeing was an acceptable response. But that’s not what God allowed her to do. Despite the unpleasantness she faced living with Sarai and Abram, it was what was best for her. Making life easy/easier for us is not God’s number one motivation; it shouldn’t be ours either.

3.But of course our God is one of blessings and goodness, so for BOTH of these women, despite the mess they’d created, God blessed them. For Hagar, the first blessing came when God showed up, proving to her that she mattered, that He heard, that He acknowledged her troubles. “The Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will greatly multiply your offspring, and they will be too many to count…You have conceived and will have a son. You will name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your cry of affliction” (vs 10-11). Check that out! God could so easily have made Hagar’s life miserable because of this illegitimate child she was carrying, but instead, despite her mess, God chose to bless Hagar! Not only will you have a child now, but you’ll have many, many children (the greatest blessing for a woman at that time), and on top of all of that, she got to talk to God! Just a simple Egyptian maid, pregnant and mistreated, wandering through the wilderness, and God blesses her…even puts her name in the greatest book of all time!

But you’ll notice, God didn’t stop with Hagar’s blessing. Sarai, for all her situation manipulation and doubt, didn’t get overlooked. No one knows, of course, what God’s original plan was. Maybe Sarai would’ve gotten her fulfilled promise of a baby much earlier had she not attempted to play God by infiltrating Hagar’s womb, but then again, maybe not. What we do know for sure, though, is that God didn’t revoke His promise because Sarai was disobedient and sinful. Yes, her blessing was met with delay, a 14-year delay to be exact. But that baby God promised her did come, and 14 years after the incident with Hagar, Isaac arrived. Like Hagar, Sarai, too, was blessed abundantly by God despite her behavior.

In my thinking, it all boils down to this:

No matter what mess we’ve made or have gotten caught up in, God is able to bring about so much good from it if we’ll just trust Him (Romans 8:28).

There is literally no mess God cannot fix (Luke 1:37, Ephesians 3:20).

We can hold up under ANY situation because our strength comes not from ourselves, but from God (Philippians 4:13).

And, friends, God sees you. You are not forgotten, not ignored, not unloved, not a disappointment. Hagar named God “El-roi” meaning “God sees me” after her encounter with the Angle of the Lord, and that name stands true for us, too. Say that name. Make it personal. El-roi. God sees you, and He will meet you right where you are in the middle of whatever need you’re facing.

Sarai laughed at God’s initial promise of a baby. She decided He was an unfaithful God who had forgotten His Word, and because of that, she made a foolish plan to bring about what she thought God couldn’t/wouldn’t. She roped others into this sinful scheme to get what she wanted. She was mean and mistreated someone because of her upset with her own self. AND SHE STILL GOT GOD’S PROMISED BLESSINGS.

Hagar slept with someone who was not her husband, a man who belonged to someone else. She ran away from her problems instead of seeking God and facing what she’d done. AND SHE STILL GOT GOD’S PROMISED BLESSINGS.

“For nothing is impossible with God” Luke 1:37. There is hope for us yet. 🙂

Dear Lord, thank You so very much that no matter what, I know that You see me. I know that You love me and care for me. I chose to believe that despite what my circumstances might tell me, You are working on my behalf all the time, and You have so much good planned for me. Please forgive me, Lord, for all the times I have attempted to do what only You can do. I no longer want to spend my time and energy trying to orchestrate things in my life to go how I think they should go. Help me, Father, to trust in You. Help me to set aside my selfishness and my impatience. Work in my life, God, so that I can keep my eyes on You, allowing Your will to be done and not my own. Be glorified by how I live my life, Lord. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

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.