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Vulnerability

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A few years back, I heard a song titled Arms Wide Open. The song talks about how Jesus loves. He loves with arms wide open, bleeding. He’s naked and nailed to a cross. He is completely exposed. Unprotected. And while many of our pictures of the cross show Him raised well above the crowd, it’s more likely that He was just off the ground, eye level with everyone who walked by.

A few years before that, I participated in a Beth Moore study on Daniel. At some point  during our 12 weeks, I realized that if I was going to speak about Jesus, my faith, or God’s desired changes in our lives, I was also going to speak about my messy past. Getting real with people about who I was and what I  had been would be part of the process. If Jesus has come to set us free, to set me free, what did He set me free from? And that was going to take some real vulnerability.

Fast forward to a few weekends ago at church, our Youth Director gave the first message in a series called Be Brave. The title of his message: Bare it all!

Vulnerability requires great bravery.

I have blogged about my past battles with anxiety and depression, neither of which were really an issue until I became a Christian. And while that may seem strange to some, the reality is that it was easier to protect myself before my relationship with Jesus. If I didn’t want to talk to someone, I just didn’t. I could be mad, walk away, talk about them, and puff myself up all for the sake of protecting myself.

But once I became a Christian, I was going to be exposed. I had to willingly admit my sin. That’s repentance. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven as come near.” (Matthew 4:17) Jesus commands it. But not only do I confess and repent to Jesus, I need to be willing to share my story of faith with others. If I can now see, what was I once blind to? If I’ve been found, where did I go and what did I do when I was lost? Why did I even need to be found?

And, most importantly, I needed to be willing to talk about Jesus with people who don’t know Him and maybe don’t agree. It’s great to talk to people who do agree! It’s encouraging and inspiring and comforting to know I am not alone. We lift each other up and move forward together.

At the same time, others need to know Jesus. There are people who are blind and lost, and they have no idea. It’s not a matter of being wrong so much as it’s a matter of not understanding. There came a point in my seeking God that He asked me to make a decision. What did I make of Jesus? Who did I really think He was? And how would that decision change my understanding of my faith, my sin, and where I would go next in my relationship with God?

As I sat in a church service 13 years ago, I recognized Jesus as the Messiah, God himself. And He made it clear that things would change. Over time, anxiety grew as I recognized the ways Jesus was calling me to step out in faith. I was continuing to look to myself and others to protect me. One day, Jesus made it very clear that I was not trusting Him to protect me. That day, as I repented of my lack of trust, everything changed. There are still times when I’m tempted to give into anxiety, but I recognize it as an opportunity to pray and be honest about what’s going on in my heart and mind. To be honest about our feelings, cares, concerns or whatever is causing us to pull back from God or others is to be completely vulnerable. Not everyone will be gentle and compassionate. Some will take the opportunity to stomp all over you, emotionally, mentally, potentially physically. Some will shut down the conversation, maybe even the relationship. Not everyone will be vulnerable in return, but without it we have superficial rather than authentic relationships.

I’m still in the learning process. I assume I always will be as God calls me deeper into my relationship with Him and calls me out into real relationships with others.

Something to Consider…

What risk are you willing to take to grow in vulnerability and be brave for God? What fear keeps you from moving forward in the ways God is calling and wanting to grow your faith and trust in Him?

If you experience anxiety or depression, seek help. There is no shame in admitting your struggles and you do not need to go into the battle alone. God calls us to bring into the light what we want to keep hidden in the dark. It’s where we are truly set free to love with arms wide open.

Pursuing Holiness

“But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all that you do; for it is written, “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16

© Depositphotos/ PetarPaunchev

I didn’t grow up going to church. I did, however, grow up hearing about church, and what I heard wasn’t very good. “It’s full of hypocrites, judgmental people who just want your money.” It was all a farce.

So here I am, a Christian, loving God, Jesus and the church He built. Why? How could I go from being taught the “church” is for fools to becoming the church myself?

People are people.

You don’t need to go to church to be judged. That happens in our own families. You don’t need to go to church to experience others hypocrisy. That happens in our places of work. You don’t have to go to church to be asked for money. That happens with our schools, sports programs, and countless non-profits.

We find these people at church because that’s just how people are. We are all pursuing something and we use the means we know to achieve what’s important to us, what we think we really want. In our brokenness we use and misuse the emotions and understanding God gives us. And if we are not careful, we will pursue what’s temporary and short-lived rather than what will last forever.

God is God.

I don’t go to church because of who people are. I go because of who God is. The church is not a building or a place we go. Church is the coming together of those who follow Jesus. In our brokenness we encourage and love one another. We support each other in our pursuit of Christ. And while not everyone who goes to church fully understands the temporary versus eternal, over time the pursuit becomes more clear.

The Pursuit of Holiness

I used to think of holiness as a vague, hard to understand religious term. What exactly is holiness and how do you know when you’ve achieved it? Is it about being perfect or following some set list of rules? And who decides what is perfect or on this list? Hopefully, it’s not the broken people at church.

In pursuing holiness, we are actually pursuing Jesus. It’s only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can even want to pursue holiness. Jesus has set the standard, not the people at church, and it’s too high for us to achieve in our brokenness. We cannot be perfect in this lifetime and yet, in Him, we strive after Him. We strive after His perfection. His death on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection from the dead makes it possible for us to pursue holiness in this lifetime and achieve it in the next. It’s in our pursuing of Christ and His holiness that the Spirit of God transforms us into the image of Christ throughout our lifetime. It’s in the pursuit that the things of eternal importance win out.

Something to Consider…

What do you pursue in your life? You can look at your calendar and your back account, but I challenge you to look at your heart. If one thing in your life could change what would it be? What would be the source of that change?

In our pursuit, we do nothing on our own. The Spirit draws us to Jesus. He softens our hearts to hear and accept His grace and truth, and yet we can choose to participate in this pursuit. What one thing can you start doing to pursue Jesus and come to know holiness?

An Easter Reflection

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“It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.” Luke 23:54

Isn’t it interesting that the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is the Sabbath?

It’s Saturday, a holy day. For the Jewish people, Saturday is the Sabbath. People go to the temple and there is no work done.

Jesus is dead. He’s been crucified. Just a few short days before, people were shouting His praise on Palm Sunday. He was their King come to save them. And over the course of the week, everything changed.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday everyone is going about their business. The Passover is coming and there are preparations to be made. Jesus is still teaching and His messages are bold and convicting. He appears steadfast and confident, unwavering in His purpose. Of course He’ll succeed. The Jewish people will soon be freed from their oppression.

Thursday comes and Jesus is betrayed and arrested.

“Wait. What’s going on? Who’s been arrested? How can that be? I thought…”

By Friday, Jesus has been convicted. He’s nailed to a cross to die a criminals death.

“NO! This can’t be happening! He was supposed to become King. He was supposed to save us. How do we move forward? How can we move forward? Everything we had hoped for is gone. Is there even any hope left?”

Saturday comes and so does the Sabbath. Nothing can be done. And even if something could be done, they can’t do it. The law doesn’t allow it. All they could do was seek God, go to the temple and wait.

Did the disciples of Jesus go to the temple? Or did they remain in the upper room, quiet and afraid, uncertain of their fate should they show their faces?

Regardless of where we are or where we go, one of the most holy things we can do is seek God and wait on Him. When everything is falling apart around us, or seems to be, we seek and wait. We pray and trust.

On Friday, Jesus said, “It is finished.” And He’s right. There’s nothing left for us to do, but rest.

And then Sunday comes. Answered prayer. Truth revealed. A miracle. Hope is restored in a way even better than we could have imagined!

Too often though, we want to skip from Friday to Sunday. We want instant answers and results. And while the truth of what God does on Sunday solidifies the foundation of our faith, our faith is grown on Saturday. And sometimes, Saturday lasts a long time, much longer than we like.

This is a constant pattern in our life. Everything is great. We see a bright future ahead so we go about our business assuming we know how it will all work out. Then, out of no where, we are blindsided. We don’t know what’s going on, how it happened, or what to do next. Time passes. We do what we can feeling like it’s not enough, feeling like there’s no end in sight. And then, God breaks in. Something changes and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Hope is renewed.

As Christians, this week, Holy week, is our state of living all wrapped up in each day. We know Jesus is King and has come to save us. We go about our business in this world steadfast and confident, unwavering in our faith, boldly teaching and preaching through the power of Christ in us. We prepare because the hope on which we wait could come at any time. And when times get tough, almost unbearable and there’s nothing else we can do, we seek God. We rest in Him. We pray, trust and wait.

Sometimes the weight of God’s word, His glory revealed through His word is heavy. I can’t speak. I can’t think. I can’t process. In the presence of the Lord, Isaiah recognized His sinfulness. He thought for sure He was done for. Daniel lost all strength and felt completely helpless. He trembled in the presence of God’s messenger. Saul, on the road to Damascus, fell to the ground at the flash of light and the voice of Jesus. Even the Apostle John, who had walked with Jesus on earth, fell as though dead in the presence of the transfigured Christ.

This is my struggle: to get the words out when the weight of God’s word overwhelms me. It is so good, and it is so, so important. I had meant to post this going into Good Friday. Maybe it’s good that I didn’t. Maybe it’s good that we don’t just get on with our day once Easter is over, the dishes are done and the crowds have gone home. Every day is Holy. Every day is an opportunity to consider and reflect on what “Sunday” will bring.

Something to Consider…

As you think about the different days of Holy week, where do you find you spend the most time?

  • Are you looking to the leaders of the world to solve your problems?
  • Are you going about your business assuming you know how things will turn out?
  • Are you feeling like your unsure of what’s happening in your life, like you’re trying to hold on, but are losing control?
  • Maybe you’ve lost hope and feel defeated. You don’t see a way out.
  • Maybe you’re unsure of what to do next, where to go or what to do.

Jesus is returning. A new Sunday is coming. How does this truth affect how you spend your time? How does this truth change the day in which you live?

May you know and believe, seek and trust, while finding your rest in Jesus. We can live every day in the reality and truth of Easter.

 

Jesus Intercedes

“The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. We do not even know how we ought to pray, but through our inarticulate groans the Spirit himself is pleading for us, and God who searches our inmost being knows what the Spirit means, because he pleads for God’s own people in God’s own way.” Romans 8:26-27 (NEB)

My husband I went through a season of life that lasted approximately four and a half years. It stared when my father developed a throat-clearing cough. Ten months later he passed away from complications associated with lung cancer. Fast forward another ten months and my husband’s mother was diagnosed with bronchitis. Except it wasn’t really bronchitis. It was lung cancer. Following six months of treatment, one week before Easter, she passed away as well. We spent the following Easter with Craig’s grandmother, his mother’s mother. Within a few weeks of the visit, the next call came. They had found a cancerous lump on her shoulder. The original source? Lung cancer. Six months later, three years after my father went in to the hospital, we buried her in her home town.

It was during the six months of his grandmother’s illness that the full weight of these verses hit me. We had been making the five hour trek to see her regularly and visit while her condition changed and eventually landed her in hospice. I had been reading Come Thirsty by Max Lucado and during one of these road trips, I read out loud to my husband while he drove. As I read, a lump rose in my throat. I struggled to get the words out as the tears began to well. (I am a cryer so it’s not surprising. However, at this point in my walk, Scripture didn’t always move me to tears. I was just learning to grasp the truth of it all and so much of it was still difficult for me to understand.)

My husband didn’t quite get what was going on inside of me as I continued to read.

“It’s not up to you to pray your prayers. None of us pray as much as we should, but all of us pray more than we think, because the Holy Spirit turns our sighs into petitions and tears in entreaties. He speaks for you and protects you. He makes sure you get heard. He makes sure you get home.” Max Lucado, Come Thirsty

After three years of wanting “normal” back, of feeling frustrated and tired, hopeful and sad, encouraged and defeated all at the same time, I realized that even though I didn’t know what to do with all that was going on inside me, God did. He knew exactly what I was thinking and feeling, what I needed in order to keep going and not only that, but what I need so that I could come out of it all in a better place. The normal I thought I wanted wasn’t God’s best for me. My new normal was going to bring me to a place of greater dependence on and a deeper intimacy with Jesus.

When I cried because I didn’t have words, the Spirit of Jesus turned my words into the perfect prayers. I still get choked up when I think of it. Not because He does or can, but because He wants to. In His great love of me, for each of us, He takes our uncertainty, confusion and questions and places them before the throne of God, the One who knows completely, understands thoroughly and has every answer. And there is a gratitude beyond words.

While everything on the outside seemed to be falling apart, everything on the inside was being made whole. I’m not happy that my family members are gone, but I am glad that He worked out the difficulties I was having for my good. And while He was using these for my good, He was working in the way each of them needed as well. Every seemingly good or bad situation has a multitude of purposes. Every individual touched by a single event has the opportunity to experience the overwhelming love of Jesus as He knows exactly what and how to plead for us personally.

When you don’t have the words, Jesus does. When you’re not sure, He’s positive. And it’s all for the good of those who love Him. It’s all in accordance with His good and perfect purpose and will: That though our circumstances, we would be transformed into His image as we continue to draw near to Him.

Something to Consider:

In what situations do words fail you? Are you sad, angry, hurting? As you come before Jesus, be honest with your emotions – He knows them anyway – and trust Him with your needs. He knows who’s involved and what’s happened, even the things you don’t know.

Is something eating at you, but you think it shouldn’t be a big deal? Is it something you should be able to let go of or “get over”, and yet you find yourself dwelling on it time and time again? As you lay it before Him, as His Spirit intercedes on your behalf, even in the small things, be open to what He reveals to you.

As we come to Him without words, without a full understanding of why something is happening, His prayers are complete. His prayers may have less to do with what you think is wrong around you and more to do with what needs to change inside of you. Your answers may only come through your own transformation.

Transformed

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

 

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One way this verse gets interpreted is this: “God, I love you so I know you are working in all things for my good. Change this situation, work in that person’s life. I trust you to work this situation out for my good so my life is better.”

But really, if we want to understand the fuller meaning behind it, we also need to read Romans 8:29.

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Romans 8:29

The “good” God works for those of us who love Him is not so much about our situations, comfort or convenience; it’s about our character. It’s about our personal transformation.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking about growing deep roots. Our ability to grow deep roots will be determined by our source. Where do we put our trust, find our hope and seek our satisfaction?

If I put my trust in the world and other people, I will be disappointed at some time. We are flawed human beings with a skewed sense of satisfaction. We will eventually let each other down. We can be trusted only so far.

If I find my hope in the world and other people, but ultimately know I can’t always trust them completely, my hope will be in question. My hope will turn into good wishes that may or may not come true. I may even begin to believe that it’s nice to think about such things, but they will never really happen.

And, if I look out to the world and other people for my satisfaction, my roots will grow out, not down. I will be looking for what I can get from the world. My roots will remain shallow seeking what is temporary even if I believe God is the one bringing the good.

Because what happens when my situation, circumstances and relationships don’t change? Where’s the good God is supposed to bring?

I may begin to ask, “Does this mean I don’t really love God? Are my circumstances a reflection of my love for God? His love for me?”

But, on the other hand, when I ask God to work in me, transformation begins to take place. I ask Him to work in my heart so I can respond appropriately to my circumstances, so I can love those in my life who are difficult even if they never change. If I ask Him to help me be a blessing to others, not be the one who’s being difficult; this will require my roots to go deep! This will require me to let God work the soil of my hearts.

And where there is work, there is at least some pain.

There have been times when I’ve wanted to send the email, the text, make the phone call and tell the person just how frustrated I was; how hurt and angry. I want to know and control my environment and then when everything is just right, it will be good.

But with God, I can know it already is.

Something to Consider…

It’s easy to say we trust God. It’s easy to say we hope what He says is true. And it’s even easier when things are good to say, “God, you are all I need.”

Take some time to consider in what situations do you worry? In what ways or areas of your life do you question the truth of God’s word, doubting or explaining away what He has said? What causes you to become angry and want what you don’t have?

As you are honest with God, let Him work the soil of your heart. As you do, He will bring good according to His purpose. His transformational work will begin.

For Those Who Love God

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

© Depositphotos/Abigail210986

There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my children.

Now, if you asked them, they’d say there’s plenty I wouldn’t do for them. And they’d be correct.  This statement is only half the picture. The truth is there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my children as long as it was good for them. In the moment, it may not seem good to them, but as their parent who has lived through many more experiences, I may have a better idea of where things are leading and what is good for them.

There are times I offer help and there are times I wait for them to ask. There are times I take care of a situation completely and there are times I won’t touch it. It’s theirs to see through to the finish and then we can reassess if needed. Sometimes I (try to) teach a lesson and others when I let them learn on their own. In some circumstances, I make the decisions and in others I give them the reins. In all of this, I’m right here. Watching. Waiting. Ready.

And I always pray for them to know the Lord. I pray that Jesus would be at the center of and in all that encompasses their lives. It matters what they believe and who they go to for guidance, direction and understanding. It matters that they know their true value and that they believe the truth of who He says they are.

I pray this for myself as well. In this life, I will never arrive at the place of perfection as an individual or as a parent. I seek His wisdom and guidance in raising my children because without Him I would fall short of His best for me and for them. And even with Him I make mistakes, miss the mark, don’t quite understand and sometimes, admittingly, refuse to listen. I know that I’m an imperfect parent.

It’s one reason I’m so grateful that God knows, sees and understands all things. He can make something good come from my shortcomings. He can work things out according to His good purpose even when I misunderstand. In every situation and in all of my character traits and flaws, I can seek His will rather than my own and allow Him to change me according to His purpose.

As His child, there are times when He helps without a word from me and there times when I need to let go of my pride and ask for help. There are situations in my life where I have no control and I can trust that He is in complete control. Then there are times when He says, “You need to do what you can do first.” It’s how I know where I end and He begins. God teaches me lesson after lesson as I read His Word and experience His wisdom through others who know Him well. I love when He breaks into my day to give me a glimpse of who He is right in the middle of some mundane task that appears to have no purpose. Or when I can’t imagine a more excruciating pain from rejection or a deeper love for another and He says, “I know. I’ve been there. It’s a reflection of my love for you.”

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. But we also know this is only half the picture. God has a great purpose in the good that He works.

Something to Consider…

As you’ve come to love God, how has your perspective of what is considered “good” changed?

When you struggle to trust God’s good purpose, what can you do to remember that He knows and sees what you can’t yet understand?

How does knowing His heart for you help trust Him more?

Rooted and Established

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT)

© Deposit/sonerbakir

© Deposit/sonerbakir

In Christ, the Spirit of Christ lives in you. You are in Christ. Christ is in you.

Do you see how fighting God could make you frustrated? You’re one with the living God and you’re trying to work in opposition to Him.

It’s not that you don’t understand God, at least in part, it’s more that you do. You realize deep down what it’s going to take to follow Him fully. You realize what you’re going to have to give up, what will be sacrificed in your journey with Him. And less than money, position, influence or relationships, but more of your pride, excuses, vices, comforts and conveniences.

But here’s the deal: fullness of life comes from God, not these other things whether material or self-satisfying attitudes and motivations.

When we hold back even one part of our heart from the saturating living waters of the Holy Spirit, we lack fullness. Our relationship with God can seem stagnant, but it’s not. It’s always moving. We are always moving. He is the same. He is constant. We are always moving closer to Him or farther away. We can choose to let His fullness invade our hearts or we can close off more and more pieces to Him. Because when we find reasons and justifications to keep one area closed, we’ll find reasons and justifications to close Him out of others.

Even a tree planted by streams of water, a tree that has no mind, knows that it’s best to grow deep roots into the ground that’s saturated with water. And it’s best to be saturated with the Spirit.

Streams of water move. The Spirit within us moves.

Ground saturated with water from streams has a fresh supply of oxygen. The stream feeds fresh water in while pushing old water out the way our lungs pump oxygen into our blood and our hearts move it through every part of our body. And just like our bodies know how to dispose of toxins, this flow of water in the ground allows for drainage of anything that may hinder the growth of the tree.

The stream flushes the ground and the Spirit flushes our hearts.

A heart saturated with the Holy Spirit has a fresh supply of God’s fullness. The Spirit brings all of God’s goodness and glory into our hearts and we can tap into this fullness through the roots we grow. When the Spirit reveals those things in our hearts that are damaging or harmful to us, we need to let the Spirit remove them. We have to let go and stop fighting Him.

God’s resources are unlimited. He will never run out of what we need to live, move or have our being in Him. As He empowers us with His strength through the Spirit, we learn to trust Him more. Our roots grow deep. We choose Him sooner, we choose Him first. We look to Him to satisfy rather than other people, other things or our surrounding circumstances. As we come to understand how deep His love runs, we realize our roots will never outgrow Him. His love is long and wide. There is nowhere He won’t go to find you and no pit too deep for Him to pull you from. How high is His love? Higher than any cloud, any star. Higher than the most powerful telescope can see.

This is the love that loves you.

When you allow your heart to be saturated with Him, every dark and secluded corner filled with His light and love, there will be nothing that can bring you down. He will establish you in a firm foundation and strengthen you with His strength that stands for eternity.

Something to Consider…

Does the understanding of God’s great love for you escape you? Do you feel like you have too many questions and not enough answers? God wants to you to ask your questions with a willingness to listen. He wants you to know Him in the depths of your heart. He is strong and His love for you can handle any question you throw at Him.

Do you have a hard time letting Him into the deep recesses of your heart? Does the thought of what He will reveal worry you? He already knows what’s there and He knows how to bring healing through the living waters of His Spirit. As cool water refreshes our bodies, His Spirit refreshes our hearts and our souls.

Every success and accomplishment along with every difficult decision or situation will cause you to choose where your roots will grow. Find your satisfaction and fullness of life in Him.