Thursday, October 23, 2014

Following Perfection

I was in a dark forest.  He was walking close to me, just ahead and to my left when he offered, "Follow me." His invitation awakened something inside my soul and I was compelled to go with him though I could only see the shadow of his eyes behind his hood... 

I must digress.  Two things: First, have I mentioned I'm a recovering perfectionist? I've started a couple entries about it, but they weren't good enough. (Ba-dum-dum. I only wish I was kidding.)  For some reason I grew up thinking if I could be good enough, I would be happy and accepted. If I earned the best grades, won my dance competitions, looked good enough and behaved properly, life would somehow be better and people would like me. As you might imagine, because I obviously am not and cannot be perfect, I became angry, frustrated and unhappy. Even though I knew in my head only Christ is perfect, I still thought perfection was expected from me as well. "Be ye perfect," right? (Somehow "perfect" still meant "perfect" instead of "complete in Christ.")   It was a weird dichotomy - trying so desperately to perform something I knew was innately impossible and still being angry at myself for not meeting my own ungodly expectations. Weird, right?  I know.  That's the worst part.  Second, everyone's been hurt. I get that.  Everyone's hurt someone else. I get that, too.  That's why we all must forgive.  The hardest part, for me, was being hurt by people in the body. Feeling abandoned, rejected, ostracized and disqualified has been a tough road.  I'm not meaning to complain because there are times of both discipline and pruning and God ordains those times and I accept them. I don't have a victim complex.  I will say navigating through it all has certainly been an interesting journey, one I wouldn't have chosen for myself, but one God has used to teach me many lessons.  

...back to the forest. A few days before this dream and within a period of about a week, I'd heard not one, but two radio teachings where Jesus simply said "Follow me.

John 21:18-22
Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”  Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”  

 You   Follow   Me

I had heard it many times before, but this time it was different. Tears ran down my hot cheeks (thankful my kids weren't in the car with me) as my heart realized I hadn't been following Him. Yes, I knew Him; I knew many things about Him. I prayed. I read. I pondered. Yet faced with the personal question His Spirit was was asking my mine, I had to admit with grief my heart had been wandering. I had allowed hurt and fear to paralyze me. I'd been wondering, "What about this or that person, or what they'll say about us?" I realized why Proverb 29:5 had been floating around in my mind for so long, "The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe." And I definitely hadn't been trusting Him.   In fact, in the more honest moments of my mind I'd wanted to turn and walk away.  Run, maybe.  Still He was beckoning, "You follow Me." "You." "I want you."   When it was just Him and me in my car, there was no one to blame but myself.  Nothing else mattered but what He was speaking to my heart.  He reminded me of how I was as a child, how I used to love reading His words in red in my bible.  He asked me to do it again, to search for Him through those red words.  As a child, my faith was strong.  I had always wanted to follow Him.

Within the week I'd heard it again, "Follow Me." The next Sunday during music/worship, the worship leader sang love songs proclaiming wholehearted abandon and adoration for Jesus. As I sang along, I wanted so badly for those words to be true for me again. Then came the same question Jesus asked Peter, "Do you agape Me?" 

"Oh, Lord, I phileo You. I want to agape you," I answered, grieved at my confession. 

"Do you agape Me?" "I phileo You. I can't agape. I don't know how." 

"Feed my sheep. As you've done to the least of these my brethren, you've done to Me."

And then what song played?  "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus."  One of my favorites as a child and one new meaning has been ascribed to as an adult. 

"I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus, 
No Turning Back, 
No Turning Back"

"Follow Me," - I heard it again in the teacher's message after worship. Life outside the church box, as he described it. Not getting so caught up in "church life" that we miss the opportunities outside the four walls of a building -  the things I had been feeling for years. He encouraged us to focus on practically serving others outside those walls and sharing Jesus' love with them. 

There's another conversation Jesus had with His disciples including Simon Peter in John 6:67-78. Jesus told them something they didn't understand or like and it caused many disciples to leave and walk away from Him. Then Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  

That's what I come back to.  Whom have I but You, Lord?  There's no one else.

He wants want us to have His heart, and I've been so caught up in the bad things that happened in "church life" I've neglected simply following Him.  

Lord, Life is a dark and deep forest - so dark I can't see where I'm going no matter how badly I want to be good enough/independent/cable of figuring it all out myself...but I'm unprepared and lonely and lost and still drawn to You with an aching in the caverns of my heart and soul. You haven't given up on me or disqualified me from knowing and serving You. You are still drawing my heart and mind back to You with Your invitation and burning presence. It's just You and me as You gently lead me with your invitation,  "You follow Me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Peace, Rest, and Stillness

Peace, rest, and stillness.  These are the things the Lord has been weaving through my heart and soul. These are the things I share here with you.

Psalm 1:1-3
1 Oh, the joys of those who do not
    follow the advice of the wicked,
    or stand around with sinners,
    or join in with mockers.
2 But they delight in the law of the Lord,
    meditating on it day and night.
3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
    bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
    and they prosper in all they do.

Colossians 1
We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.
So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son,  who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

I want to be a woman who is like the tree planted by the water in Psalm 1.  How does that happen?  By meditating on His word to us.  We grow as we learn to know God better and better. This is why the Psalm 1 tree can bear fruit in every season.  It's also how we can be filled with joy and choose to be thankful every single day, because He has saved us from darkness. Do you remember the darkness He rescued you from?

Psalm 1:3 tells us the tree's leaves will never wither and will prosper in all they do. The word “prosper” is fascinating to me. It means “to advance, prosper, make progress, succeed, be profitable.” Strong's Exhaustive Concordance adds “break out, come mightily, go over, be good, be meet, be profitable, cause to, effect.”

How we spiritual prosperity is not the same as the world's definition of prosperity. Spiritual prosperity is growing in the knowledge of His will and having spiritual wisdom and understanding.  It's honoring and pleasing the Lord and producing every kind of good fruit, growing as we learn to know God better and better.  Through this knowledge and His glorious power, we are strengthened, having all the endurance and patience we need supplied by Him.  Through this, we are filled with joy, thanking the Father.
 I am so thankful He supplies our endurance and patience.  Mine runs out.  Sometimes I'm astounded by how quickly.  Other times, I am reminded we are running a a marathon.  Just. Keep. Going.  And when it's hard to keep going, trust Him to carry you.

Colossians 1:13 NKJ

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,

As I started thinking about these two sections of scripture, I noticed the word “planted,” in Psalm 1, which also means “transplanted.”  Then I looked at verse 13 in Colossians which tells us we have been "delivered," which means “to draw to oneself, to rescue,” and we have been conveyed, or “transferred,” into the kingdom of the Son, Jesus. I love that word picture. He has drawn us to Himself and rescued us.  He scooped us up at just the right time, didn't He?  Jesus' work of reconciliation with the Father was the payment for our being transferred into His kingdom. He has transplanted us from darkness into His light. That work has already been done. Yet it's the daily walking out of our faith, our choice to continue to allow ourselves to be drawn to Him, (to think about, rely, and wait on Him,) that is when we will be strengthened and become like the tree in Psalm 1:3, firmly planted along the riverbank – by the water, the Living Water Himself, Jesus!  As we stay by the water (Him,) meditating on His words and ways, resting in His Spirit, we will naturally produce good fruit each season. We will have strong, healthy roots, free of bitterness and anything else that will ultimately bring death in our lives – our leaves will not be withered, and we will prosper in what He's called us to do, because it will be in His strength and timing.

Isaiah 26:3-4 tells us,

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
4 Trust in the Lord forever,
For in YAH, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”

Peace... what the world, and so often, we Christians, lack in our lives. This world is busy and spinning and everything around us calls us and beckons us and seeks to persuade us to keep ourselves busy, too busy for Jesus...too busy to spend time in His word, resting in His presence, sitting at His feet. I am convinced this is the enemy of a fruitful life in Christ. When trials attacks come (and they are PROMISED to come,) the LORD is the only One Who keeps us in perfect peace. “Keeps” means "to guard, watch, watch over, to preserve, to keep from danger, to guard with fidelity, watchman." “Perfect peace” means "completeness, soundness, welfare, health, prosperity, peace, safety, welfare, quiet, tranquillity, contentment." “Stayed” - to lean, lay, rest, support, put, uphold, lean upon, sustain, refresh, revive. As we lean on Him (keep our mind "stayed" on Him,) we rest in Him, let Him support, sustain, refresh, and uphold us, He keeps (guards and watches over) us in perfect peace (complete safety and contentment.) Isn't that amazing?  When we choose to lean on Jesus, we are putting our trust in His ability to handle it. To  “trust” is "to have confidence in, to be bold, be secure, to be safe and carefree." As one Hebrew lexicon explains, “to confide in, to set one's hope and confidence be secure, to fear nothing for oneself.” fear nothing for oneself.  When we're trusting in Him, we are relying on His everlasting, unwavering, unchanging, continuous strength.  We don't need to fear.

Isaiah 26:4 
Trust in the Lord forever,
For in YAH, the
Lord, is everlasting strength.”

Strength – rock, rock wall, block of stone, of course, Jesus is the rock.
...I knew a couple whose baby girl was injured during labor and delivery and she was born only to pass on a few hours after her birth. I remember watching them walk through that trial, leaning on Jesus and trusting in His goodness even when they didn't understand. Later on, the husband shared with us that after going through that trial, he's not afraid of anything anymore. He had been through the worst, and his faith in Christ had been strengthened through the testing of that fiery trial...he is a very dangerous man in the kingdom of God - one who fears Christ alone.

Isaiah 26: 12-13
 Lord, You will establish peace for us,
For You have also done all our works in us.
O Lord our God, masters besides You
Have had dominion over us;
But by You only we make mention of Your name.

"Establish" means "to set, place, put, ordain."  This tells us He will place peace in us. He is the one working in and through us. Isn't that a load off?  Do you realize He never intended for you to do it on your own? He intends for us to come to Him, you who are weary and heavy laden, and He will give you rest.  We were once ruled by our flesh and worshipped other gods, but now, in Christ, we worship Him alone. We don't have to be overwhelmed with life. We don't have to yell rant and rave and complain or let the storm rage in our hearts.  We can choose to have peace and thank and worship Him, no matter what the circumstance may be.

Psalm 46:10
"Be still and know that I am God. I will be honored by every nation.  I will be honored throughout the world.

What does that mean, to be "still?"  It means "to sink, relax, sink down, let drop, withdraw, idle, abandon, refrain, forsake, to let go, let alone, to be quiet, to show oneself slack."  "Know" means "to learn to know, to learn by experience, perceive, be instructed."

Is this what a gentle and quiet spirit looks like?  The stillness in this verse allows us to let go, to be quiet, and relax.  As we do this, we learn by experience Who God is as we sit still, quiet our hearts and minds, and experience Him as we learn from Him.  Thankfully, we can also rest in knowing that He will be exalted. We are blessed to exalt Him now as we look forward to the day when He will be exalted by all, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is LORD!

Jesus spoke to the storm and said, “Peace, be still,” in Mark 4:26. "Peace," "to be silent, hold one's peace, metaph. of a calm, quiet sea, to close the mouth with a muzzle, to muzzle."

As we cast all our cares on Him, pouring our hearts out to Him, we can let it all go.  Then we are able to sit quietly and listen, allowing His Spirit to work in our hearts and bring the peace, rest, and stillness we so desperately desire.  Go to Him.  Everything you need - your deepest, innermost heart's desires are only met in that deep place of intimacy with your maker.  Pour out your heart.  Let it go.  Let Him carry it.  It's not for you anymore!  He will watch over you.  Trade in your heart's hurts and longings for His gift of perfect peace and overflowing love. Let Him weave a beautiful work of peace and rest into your soul.  He is the one doing all the work in you (Isaiah 26:12.) Let Him. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

It's All Grace

A few years ago I really began my gracelessness.  My natural default is to be critical and short; both with myself and others.  I started realizing I really didn't understand grace.  You can't give away something you don't have.  Although head kind of got it, and although I knew grace has been explained as:


aka the "great switcheroo,"  I was still needing...more, a deeper knowledge of grace - grace searching the caverns of my soul and rooting out everything ugly and loveless and lifeless.  I began my investigation by reading a few books and as I picked and gleamed some insight from them, I continued to ask God to show me His grace so I could better understand and live in His grace.  As I searched for the thing (grace,) I discovered, as always, it wasn't the thing I desired, but more of Him, my Jesus.  He is grace.  What I ached and longed for was more intimacy with my creator.  As I drew close to Him and allowed Him to teach me, I began to experience His grace in my inmost being, and realized that was what I had been craving all along.  What's fascinating to me now is that I see grace everywhere.

Grace is God reaching into my life and saving me from myself.

Grace is God condescending to reside in my heart and soul and giving me new life.

Grace is simply waking up.

Grace is coming alongside someone who's fallen down and picking them up, washing their wounds, and tending their broken heart.

Grace is a kind word replied to a cranky one.

Grace is a hug when I'm grumpy.

Grace is receiving forgiveness and forgiving others.

Grace is open arms to the hurting.

Grace is loving even when it's awkward.

Grace is friendship with the "unworthy."

Grace is Jesus calling me "friend" when I've been unfaithful to Him.

Grace is patiently teaching me the same lesson over and over, until I finally understand, even if it means discipline.

Grace is realizing His goodness and mercy do chase after me, and all I need to do is turn to Him to receive it.

Grace is His holding onto me when I can't hold on anymore.

Grace is learning to love after a heart break.

Grace is feeling joy again after loss.

Grace is realizing my own insufficiency and allowing His power and abundance to live through me instead.

Grace is His Spirit living inside me, leading me, whispering to my heart throughout the day.

Grace is the ability to receive and give love.

Grace (and truth) is what Jesus is full of.

Grace is Jesus being enough in all things, every situation, every moment of the day.

Grace is my Savior giving me dreams, speaking to my heart, and revealing Himself to me more and more every day.

I pray as I grow in Him, my days will be marked by His grace.  I pray for His bride, that we will be a people who are so attuned to His lavish grace for us that we can't help but pour it out on everyone around us.  That's the heart of this blog - learning to recognize, receive, pour out, and simply live in His miraculous grace - Grace Dwelling - Him living in and through each one of us.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Big Picture and Sweating the Small Stuff

You've probably heard the phrase "Don't sweat the small stuff," right?

I was thinking... it's all the small things that become our life's sum...the big picture is comprised of all the little moments, isn't it?  There are so many seemingly small things every single day...we wake up.  Brush our teeth. Take a shower. Shave. Take care of children.  Take care of spouses.  There are toilets to clean and dinner to be made, home work to help with and laundry and dishes, driving and our car needs gas (all the time) to take us to voice and karate classes, dentist appointments, church and school meetings, clothes shopping and laundry (oh, the ever piling chore) and then we wake up and begin again...we spin like clay on a potter's wheel - the wheel turns, the world turns, and we, like clay, are shaped and formed in our Master's hands.

Oswald Chambers said this:
A spiritually vigorous saint never believes that his circumstances simply happen at random, nor does he ever think of his life as being divided into the secular and the sacred. He sees every situation in which he finds himself as the means of obtaining a greater knowledge of Jesus Christ, and he has an attitude of unrestrained abandon and total surrender about him. The Holy Spirit is determined that we will have the realization of Jesus Christ in every area of our lives, and He will bring us back to the same point over and over again until we do. Self-realization only leads to the glorification of good works, whereas a saint of God glorifies Jesus Christ through his good works. Whatever we may be doing— even eating, drinking, or washing disciples’ feet— we have to take the initiative of realizing and recognizing Jesus Christ in it. Every phase of our life has its counterpart in the life of Jesus.

I happen to believe he's right...and at the end of the day, it's all the little things that make a life.  For in Him, we live and move and have our being, Acts 17 tells us.  So all those "small" and insignificant things are not so small or insignificant.  Everything was created in Him, for Him and by Him, and He is the One Who holds all things together, including me! (Colossians 1)

Maybe there's nothing small or insignificant - even cleaning toilets and doing dishes or wiping little noses - not when it's done for Him.  When the pieces of my life are shattered - broken relationships, broken dreams or broken hearts, I simply offer them back to the One who holds my heart in His hands and trust that He is using all those smashed up little pieces of my life to fashion them into a beautiful mosaic, a work of art, that reflects His love in and through me. We are His "poeima," His work of art. (Ephesians 2:10)

So I don't sweat the "small" stuff, instead I entrust it all to the Master Artist of my life. Even if I don't see a beautiful mosaic, I trust Him (the Author and Finisher of my faith) to finish the process, as He sees fit.