Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

001

The tree is put away, the decorations are packed up for next year, and we’re now in the long winter of waiting until spring. We’ve celebrated the glorious announcement of Jesus’s birth; how angels sang, a star appeared in the sky, and wise men traveled from afar with expensive gifts to worship the baby Jesus. The gospels then fast-forward to when Jesus was 12 years old, to let us know that he was a student of the Scriptures and obedient son. But then…nothing until age 30. What did Jesus do for 18 years? He waited until his time had come.

We see this theme repeated throughout Scripture. Abraham was given a promise that he would be the father of a great nation, then had to wait 25 years for the child of that promise. Joseph had a dream as a boy that he would rule, then spent much of his adult life in prison, probably wondering where he went wrong and if he’d missed his calling. Moses was raised in a palace and groomed to be a leader, then ended up herding sheep out in the desert for 40 years. David was anointed by Samuel to be king, then had to wait at least 15 years to assume the throne, spending half that time running for his life from murderous King Saul. Each of these men had something in common with Christ: a calling that would not be fulfilled until later in life. Perhaps you do, too?

Perhaps you’ve felt since you were a child that God intended something great for you. Maybe God planted a dream in you that felt so real, but has yet to materialize; a career or even a family. Perhaps, like Joseph, something went horribly wrong along the way, and you wonder if you’ve been forgotten, passed over, abandoned. Or maybe you were the one who messed up, like Moses, and you assume that the door to the life you were destined to lead has now shut. Maybe it was an anointing for a particular ministry that started off strong, like David’s anointing that led to his defeat of Goliath and won him the love of the people of Israel, but an enemy has done everything he can to prevent you from fulfilling your calling.

How do you wait for a promise to be fulfilled without losing hope, giving up, or trying to force it to happen your own way, like Abraham and Sarah did with Ishmael? Waiting is hard work. Jesus’s brothers tried to goad him into making his announcement as the Messiah in Jerusalem, saying, “You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” (John 7:4). This is the way the world thinks. If you’ve got it, flaunt it! How many times has the enemy whispered similar temptations to us? “You’ll never make a difference in God’s Kingdom if you serve on a small scale. Unless you’re famous, you’re nobody!” But that is not the way of the Father. Jesus would not be manipulated by his brothers, and simply responded, “Now is not the right time for me to go” (John 7:6). Jesus would not force God’s timing, but patiently waited until the Father wanted to reveal his Son to the world. Those who are destined for greatness in God’s Kingdom are often the ones who must go through trials and periods of waiting in obscurity. Why?

Waiting on the Lord teaches us patience and perseverance. Only those who have learned to be patient with wandering sheep can lead God’s people through a desert, like Moses. Only those who have been humbled, like Joseph, can be lifted up without tripping over their ego. When an enemy is trying to destroy us, like Saul who pursued David, we learn to rely on God’s provision and protection. David wrote the most beautiful psalms of trust in God as his fortress. God may be writing a song in you right now that will someday bless others, the way David’s psalms have brought comfort and hope to millions. God may be training you to shepherd his people by herding squirrelly preschoolers through Sunday School.

We tend to think that those who have highly visible careers or ministries are the ones who are “producing fruit,” but there is fruit that can only come forth from a season of waiting on the Lord. Endurance, meekness, and confident hope in God are born in times of trial and waiting. Jesus waited until he was thirty to begin the ministry recorded in the gospels. Until then, he likely worked alongside his father as a carpenter. The fact that people in his hometown refused to recognize him as the Messiah tells us that he didn’t do much that was spectacular as a young man. Yet God was pleased with him.

At the time of his baptism, the Father spoke over his Son the very words prophesied in Isaiah 42:1 about the Messiah: “Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him.” Matthew 3:16 reveals the fulfillment of that prophecy: “After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.” Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy” (v. 17). What had Jesus done up until then that brought the Father joy? He fulfilled all of God’s covenant commands perfectly in daily life, and waited patiently for his time of ministry to come. And God was pleased.

Why is it so hard to grasp that God could be pleased with someone who is called to greatness, but hasn’t yet fulfilled their potential? If God was pleased with Jesus in his waiting period, is God any less pleased with me while I focus on raising a family, even though I’ve felt a call to ministry since I was a teenager? Not every calling or promise is a right-now promise. So how do we wait for it to be fulfilled? We wait like Jesus did. We study the Scriptures. We learn obedience to authority and work humbly in whatever work is assigned to us. We fight the good fight against our enemy, Satan, who may actively be trying to undermine the work we’ve been called to do. Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tested by Satan, and all who are called to lead must endure times of testing. We can endure it because we know that all who persevere will one day be victorious over the enemy through Jesus, who gives us the victory.

Abraham did become the father of a great nation and the ancestor of Christ. Joseph was eventually remembered and invited to rule at just the right time. Moses eventually took his place as leader of Israel who would dispense God’s covenant to the people. David eventually rose to be the king who was known as the “man after God’s own heart.” Christ ascended to heaven where he now sits at the right hand of God, the Father. Maybe your calling or promise from God isn’t as grand as kingship, but it’s every bit as meaningful because it’s yours. Hang onto it. Submit to your season of waiting and pray for perseverance. Believe that God is pleased with you for just living out whatever your right-now purpose is, even if you suspect there’s more to come. Keep studying the Scriptures and growing in your relationship with God, the way Jesus did in his waiting period.

How do we know when the time has come for God’s promises to us to be fulfilled or to step into our calling? Only God can answer that, and we can trust him to do it. Sometimes he moves an enemy out of our way, as he did for David. Sometimes he suddenly gives life to that which was barren, like he did for Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Sometimes our destiny arrives as an open door and invitation to do the thing God created us to do, like Joseph. Jesus knew when his time came to fulfill all the promises of God to us, and he is faithful to walk with us while we wait for God to say, “Now!” What if you’re in the latter years of life and fear that you’ve missed your window of opportunity? Moses was eighty when he stepped into his leadership role. Perhaps your time is now and you’ve let past disappointments put out the fire you once had, but don’t underestimate the power of God to rekindle it with a burning bush! Perhaps your greatest ministry is yet to come, either in this life or the next.

When Jesus told the Parable of the Talents (or Parable of the Three Servants) in Matthew 25, he was speaking about the way the Kingdom of Heaven works. We often interpret that parable to mean that we will be rewarded with more responsibility in this life if we are faithful with small things, but the reward of increased responsibility for stewardship may very well be granted in the new heaven and earth when Jesus returns. After all, the reward in the parable was handed out when the master returned, not before. If we could grasp the eternal nature of the Kingdom of God, and understand that this life is just the beginning of the real life yet to come, we would not despise the daily faithfulness of waiting. We would not despise the duties of child rearing and paying bills and emptying the dishwasher for the millionth time if we understood that they can be holy undertakings when influenced by the Holy Spirit in us. When the Master returns, he will reward all those who labored faithfully in small things, just like he did during those 18 undocumented years.

“God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Whether the dream God has planted in your heart is a right-now dream or an eternal identity to simply begin living now, keep believing, hoping, and trusting that he is making you beautiful for your time.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

“I’ve decided not to have a crabby attitude about Thanksgiving this year,” I casually announced to my husband yesterday. If you can’t imagine anyone having a crabby attitude about Thanksgiving, I call as my witness this post from Thanksgiving 6 years ago. I began this blog nearly 8 years ago to share my journey through several challenges: being gluten free (before it was the popular thing to do), homeschooling a child with behavioral problems and learning challenges, financial strain, health issues, and losing a parent to dementia. Over the past 10 years I have dealt with loss after loss, which has particularly affected me during the holidays.

For years, I dreaded Thanksgiving and Christmas. It began with my son’s gluten free diagnosis the week before Christmas in 2008. Back then, gluten free items were expensive, hard to find, and tasted terrible. You were considered strange if you said you didn’t eat wheat, and no one knew what gluten was. That Christmas, I grieved the loss of a normal life for my son, and I grieved for myself because I would have to learn how to cook all over again with new ingredients that didn’t play by the rules. To this day, whenever I hear the Amy Grant song, “Breath of Heaven,” I remember crying in the car while listening to it on the way home from my first terrifying gluten free shopping trip, and praying, “God, I need you to hold me together because my world is falling apart.”

Then, the week before Christmas in 2009 we took my son out of public school and made the terrifying decision to homeschool him because of his writing difficulty (which I would later discover is Dysgraphia). Again, I grieved during the holidays the loss of a normal life for him and me. Fast forward to 2010, when my husband’s workplace folded because of the recession, leaving him unemployed for both that Christmas and Christmas of 2011. In 2012, he had a job, but it barely paid the bills, and we struggled to rebuild our finances. Then, in 2013, my mom had a stroke that left her with vascular dementia, erasing her memory and personality. That was effectively the year I lost my mom, even though she didn’t die until 2016.

Thanksgiving of 2013 was a particularly low point for me. I already hated how much work it was (back then) to create all our family’s favorite holiday dishes from scratch because there were no gluten free shortcuts like cream of mushroom soup or stuffing bread cubes. I had to dip tiny onion segments in batter individually and fry them myself in order to make green bean casserole. I was bitter over all the work I had to do for one meal that was over in less than an hour. Plus, the expense of gluten free food compounded financial stress. Plus, I had to clean my house for company (which always made me grumpy) because we were hosting my parents since my mom could no longer cook due to her dementia. Plus, I still didn’t know how I could relate to the person who technically was my mom, yet she wasn’t. That ugly Thanksgiving morning, I snapped at my family and ruined breakfast. I cried in my closet over all the loss that came crashing down on me at once. I felt defeated.

In 2016, I reached a tipping point. I lost my mom and put my son back in public school within a matter of months. God redeemed the heartache of losing one of my best friends by strengthening my relationship with my sister through the whole ordeal. She is my best friend (aside from my husband) and also a spiritual warrior who has helped me overcome generational strongholds. That fall, we prayed together and forgave those in our family line who had normalized a life of bondage to fear, and asked God to break the cycle in us and in our children. Within a couple of weeks, God healed me of my food sensitivities that had arisen out of the stress of the past several years, and set me free from my fear of food.

At the same time, God began to whisper crazy things to me about my son, like, “The things you fear are not real.” What? Back in 2016, God challenged me to believe that all the fears I had for my son’s future were based on behaviors of the past that would not carry into his future. I dared to believe God and was able to break free from the stronghold of fear that had gripped me as a homeschooler. But things didn’t get better for my son; they got worse. The stress of school launched health problems for him that have lingered for over two years now.

The week before Christmas in 2016, I was once again on my knees before the Lord in tears, begging God for direction and healing. That’s when God whispered something else totally crazy: “I will heal your son. Just celebrate me.” I was about to put my son on a restrictive diet to see if that would help him get rid of his digestive problems, but God said no. He was more concerned with my son’s emotional health, and wanted him to celebrate Christmas without the loss of favorite foods. So we just celebrated God’s goodness and provision. It was my first Christmas with no mother, and my son’s health issues and school stress were still there. While we were not celebrating any improvement in our circumstances, we chose to celebrate God and fix our eyes on him.

That choice to celebrate God and rest in his provision while believing him for deliverance launched a season of spiritual renewal and redemption. God blessed my husband’s work, and steadily increased his salary. We thought we would never get rid of our second mortgage, but God challenged me to believe that he would help us do what we could not, and I dared to believe him. Last year, we paid off our $55,000 second mortgage after completely draining our savings just 5 years earlier. God heard my cries, walked me through those painful holidays when I had to choose contentment, and worked miracles to provide what we simply could not do on our own. He used those years of financial strain to bring to the surface deeply rooted issues relating to financial bondage, and challenge me to believe that God wanted to bless me.

God then released us from the gluten free diet a year ago, restoring freedom to our family. But most amazing has been the transformation in my son. When I exiled him from homeschool in 2016 it was because he had become lazy, argumentative, entitled, and exasperating (you know, a typical 14-year-old). Two years after I turned him over to God and the public school system to discipline him, he underwent a dramatic change. I can only explain it as a work of the Holy Spirit. His laziness is gone. His resistance to authority is gone. Entitlement has been replaced by humility. As we have celebrated God and continued to read his Word as a family, God has taken hold of my son and transformed him into a new person. The difference in his behavior caused nothing short of shock and awe.

He has learned how to suffer physically, yet choose joy in the Lord. He is uncompromising in his faith and commitment toward obedience to God, which translates into obedience to those in authority over him and being impervious to peer pressure. God has healed him mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. All that is left is the physical healing. Although I have often given credit to the gluten free diet and homeschooling on this blog for tiny improvements in my son’s behavior, he was eating wheat and going to public school when God miraculously transformed him, literally overnight. God gets 100% of the glory!

Yes, those things were important parts of our story because the gluten free diet is what prompted me to start this blog, which is how I discovered that I am a writer. And homeschooling gave me an opportunity to focus on raising my son in the knowledge of the Lord, which is ultimately how God is healing him in every way. While God’s path to change in my son and in my life has been watered with tears, I would not erase it. He is a new person, and the things I once feared no longer hang over me. This blog stands as a testimony of God’s faithfulness to lead us through some of the darkest hours of my life.

My sister-in-law designed this for an apron (which I can’t wear because it’s white – hence the wrinkles from being stored in a drawer). Each part of my blog story shows part of the cross I have carried, but Jesus has the final word over the cross!

Right Back Where We Started or Completing the Lesson?
As I reflect on the past 10 years, which have been documented on this blog, I can’t help but notice that some cycles seem to be repeating themselves. This past week, we determined that my son was trapped in a viscous cycle of health problems being disruptive to school, which in turn caused homework to pile up (despite his best efforts) and lead to more stress which feeds his health problems. So we decided to break the loop and found an alternative schedule that will allow him to take some of his classes online through the school district at home. Essentially, we’re returning to part-time homeschool, right before the holidays again. But this time, my son is determined to be responsible for himself and work hard with a good attitude. This time, we made a change not because my son couldn’t get good grades, but because his A’s came at the cost of his physical health.

We’re also working with a functional medicine doctor to reduce my son’s inflammation, and the doctor has asked us to take him off of both gluten and dairy while we’re in the diagnosing stage, to eliminate those as possible inflammatory contributors. So here we are, the week before Thanksgiving, on an even more restrictive diet than before. Oh, and all of his expensive medical tests and supplements, on top of other big expenses, have left us pinching pennies for the holidays. Again. Those old, familiar temptations to give in to grumbling and despair resurfaced last week. Sure, I’d worked through the trials and found joy, but would I still choose joy if all my freedoms were taken away again? Sometimes we don’t know how much we’ve learned until God gives us a test.

What do we do when we find ourselves right back where we were before, repeating a familiar cycle? Does it mean that we are doomed to repeat the same trials our entire life, or is God giving us an opportunity to apply the lessons we’ve learned and face that same trial with spiritual maturity? I have learned from reading the Bible that the cycles documented in the Scriptures were meant to give both the people in the Bible and us opportunities to learn from the past and mature in our faith.

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 

These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death.

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).

The struggles and temptations you and I face are no different from the temptations humanity has faced for thousands of years. Sure, the specifics may be different, but the temptation is the same. Israel was tempted to grumble when they were stuck in the desert eating manna. I was tempted to grumble when I was stuck with the gluten free diet restrictions during the holidays. Israel was tempted to give in to fear and unbelief when they had the opportunity to enter the Promised Land, and I was tempted not to believe that God would ever restore us financially or give my son – whom I could only view as broken for so many years – a good life. But God gives us a way out of temptation and cycles of brokenness. Jesus came to set us free from bondage to sin and shame.

How God Helps Us Break Cycles
When the children of the unbelieving generation of Israelites were ready to enter the Promised Land their parents failed to enter, God purposely led them in a way that would help them break the cycle of unbelief. He brought them through the Jordan River on dry ground, just as he had delivered their parents through the Red Sea on dry ground, but this time he had each tribe gather a stone from the middle of the river to set up as a memorial so they wouldn’t forget what God had done for them. That’s what this blog has been for me. It serves as a reminder not just of the trials I’ve gone through, but of how God has brought me through each one. He has delivered me around or sometimes through every obstacle, and brought me safely to the other side. So this Thanksgiving, instead of giving into despair over the battles still ahead, I choose to gaze at these stones of remembrance and thank God for his faithfulness to our family time and time again.

After crossing the Jordan, the Israelites were circumcised as a sign of God’s covenant with them. God then told them, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt” (Joshua 5:9). God named the place Gilgal, which means “to roll.” We cannot break the negative cycles in our past until God rolls away our shame. For a Christian, sanctification is the process of inviting God to “circumcise our heart” and replace our rebellious, hardened heart with a tender heart of obedience out of love for God, as promised in Ezekiel. “I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 11:19). That is exactly what happened with my son last summer.

Afterward, we encouraged him to be baptized because that is the “Gilgal” for Christians, when we physically experience God rolling away our shame. My son has felt a lot of shame over his behavior as a child and early in his teen years. God does not want him to live with that shame, so he washes it away in the baptismal waters. What a joy it has been to welcome my son “home” to do school and release him from his former reproach. That’s what our Heavenly Father promises to do for all of us! Just as Gilgal became the base camp for the battles in the Promised Land, when the enemy tries to pull us back into shame over our past, we need to return to our Gilgal to rest and declare, “I am not that person anymore. God has rolled away my shame.”

After the Israelites entered the Promised Land and began to eat the produce of the land, the manna dried up and was never seen again. The Israelites would now have to work for their food, and trust that God would provide through them, not just for them. Now that my husband has a good-paying job, as the cycle of financial strain repeats itself, I have to rely on God to help me be a good steward of our resources. I still have to choose contentment and live beneath my means, even though I have more choices available. When I had no confidence that we would ever get out of debt, I had to trust God to provide for our needs. Now that we are out of debt and financially stable, I still have to trust God and not panic when we dip into savings. God wants to end the cycle of fear and scarcity by giving me opportunities to choose contentment whether we have little or much. God is able to bring each of us to the place where we can join with the Apostle Paul in saying, I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

When it was finally time for the Israelites to face their first battle in the Promised Land, God gave them specific instructions that would help them overcome the mistakes of their grumbling parents. They would conquer Jericho by walking around it – in silence. “Do not shout; do not even talk,” Joshua commanded. “Not a single word from any of you until I tell you to shout. Then shout!” (Joshua 6:10). What was it that invited God’s discipline of their parents over and over in the desert? Grumbling! If they had been allowed to talk while marching, they would have no doubt returned to the grumbling ways of their parents. Someone would have complained or voiced their fear, causing the whole army to question themselves or grumble.

God knows it is in our nature to do what we’ve always done or what was modeled for us, so he disciplines us in a way that forces us to take a different approach in order to overcome the past. That’s why he gives us opportunities to face the same challenges our parents faced or that we previously failed to overcome, so that we can try again and do it right this time. The obvious lesson for me, in this holiday season, is to overcome the temptation to grumble about my circumstances. If I have to fix the entire gluten free, dairy free, Thanksgiving meal in total silence, so be it – but I would rather shout my gratitude to God, because that is what gives me the victory over the enemy!

When God brings us back to familiar territory – whether pleasant or unpleasant – the Christian who wants to grow in spiritual maturity will learn to ask God, “What lesson are you wanting to complete in me?” God is not punishing us by allowing us to go through the same trials over and over again; he wants us to learn how to be overcomers through them, no matter how many times it takes. God created the world to operate in cycles of seasons. Every spring we have to prune in order to make way for new growth. Every summer we have to pull weeds or suffer the consequences. Every fall we choose whether to share our bounty or hoard it. Seasons and cycles repeat regularly because no matter how many times we fail to do something right, God wants to give us another chance. The Scriptures show us that God is able to help us overcome our weaknesses by the power of the Holy Spirit, but we must choose to believe and obey the Spirit. As God begins to rewire our thinking through daily exposure to the truth of God’s Word, eventually thought patterns change and cycles of behavior are broken (Romans 12:2). That is my testimony which I have chronicled on this blog.

So here we are, right before Thanksgiving, choosing to be thankful. This year, I will make our gluten free AND dairy free Thanksgiving dinner with a cheerful attitude, and give God thanks for the hope of healing that we have. This year, I will choose contentment with a pared-down Christmas celebration, once again, and praise God for what we have while sharing with those less fortunate. This year, I rejoice that God has rolled away the shame of my past and my son’s past, and given us hope for the future as we prepare to enter our Promised Land. This year, I choose joy in all circumstances, which was and still is the purpose of this blog. The cycle is complete.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

Read Full Post »

We needed to be in the car in two minutes, so I called up the stairs to my daughter and told her to come down. “I can’t. My hair is all tangled and I can’t get the tangles out!” she replied in tearful frustration. My daughter has gorgeous, thick, long hair (which is a mystery to me because if I put my hair in a ponytail, it could fit in one of her orthodontic rubber bands). We learned the hard way that if you don’t brush it thoroughly every single day, it will get tangled underneath. She’d been sick the week before, and had let go of her grooming routine while resting in bed, so the tangles didn’t come as a surprise to me. I rushed upstairs to see if I could help, but quickly realized that this problem would not be solved in two minutes. So I smoothed the top of her hair down over the tangles as best I could and took her to school.

Life can get tangled in all sorts of ways, can’t it? Like my daughter’s hair, tangles are often a result of procrastination that we try to brush over with pride, hoping no one will notice. We put off balancing the budget for a couple weeks, then suddenly realize that we’ve spent our whole grocery budget and it’s only half-way through the month. So we start pulling money from other funds to cover our tracks, and tell the kids there’s no money for clothes or activities, when the truth is that there was money set aside but we spent it on impulse buys at the grocery store. Pride keeps us from dealing with the tangle, so we keep repeating the behavior and the tangle grows.

Or perhaps it’s our health that’s all tangled to the point of crisis. Pride makes us put off going to the dentist or taking care of that issue that’s been nagging at us because we don’t want to be scolded by a doctor for our failures or told to do something unpleasant. I finally took our dog to the vet last week because his ears smelled so disgusting that we couldn’t stand to have him in the same room with us. I initially put off taking him to the vet for financial reasons; when you’re barely scraping by, you don’t have $265 to spend on a dog. But even after our financial situation improved, I still put off taking him to the vet because I knew they would point out all the ways in which we have failed to take good care of him (and there are many). So our poor dog got tangled up in my pride and has probably had infected ears for years.

The thing about tangles is that they rarely just affect us. Other people get caught in our tangles when we keep ignoring the effects of our procrastination and pride. My son was almost late to school because of the extra time we spent trying to deal with my daughter’s hair. If the police had been watching for speeders that day, I would have been issued a ticket as I raced my kids to school. Our tangles rarely affect us alone. Even if we think we’re the only ones aware of our hidden tangles, the fact that something is wrong underneath will eventually affect our actions and attitudes in other areas and spill over into our relationships. After school, when I asked my daughter how her day was, she said it had been as bad as her hair that morning. It was time to deal with the tangle.

When we got home from school, I got out her comb and some conditioner, then sat her down in front of the fireplace and started working through the tangles while she watched a favorite show. As I wrestled with those tangles, I discovered they were matted with grime that had been missed in the shower. The only way to get the tangles out was to wash them. So I drew a bubble bath for her while she put on her swimsuit (because 13-year-old girls are the most modest people on the planet).

I lit a candle on the edge of the tub, and watched her slowly relax in the warm water as I washed and gently combed her hair. We talked about how I used bathe her when she was little, and as the memories of childhood washed over her, her spirits began to lift. After she dried off, I gave her a snack to eat while I braided her hair so it wouldn’t be dripping wet when we went to an appointment. Her entire countenance changed after that, and for the rest of the day she was joyful and content.

God spoke so powerfully to me through that experience, allowing me to give my daughter the gift of untangling that my Heavenly Father offers me when I bring him my mess. Sometimes it’s my circumstances that are a mess of procrastination entangled with pride, but sometimes the tangles are in my mind. Yesterday, God invited me to sit by the fireplace while he combed through the tangled mess of my views regarding food and their relationship to my health. It had not only entangled me, but my family and finances, and had grown into a twisted mess of controlling behaviors and slavery to food. In frustration, I cried out to God to fix what I could not seem to fix on my own. He gently separated out each strand of lies I’d believed that had been tangled with the truth in my mind, and washed them out with my tears of repentance and his healing balm of truth from the Scriptures.

God then invited me to choose whatever food I wanted to eat – not what I felt like I should eat, but what I really wanted to eat. While I ate, he began the process of retraining my thinking, much in the same way I’d trained my daughter’s hair into a braid. He would pull at one section of my long-held beliefs until we got to the root of it, then guide me to the truth. We traced many of my tangles back to my mother’s breast cancer when I was 5 years old. The truth that food is correlated to health was deeply entangled with the lie that by eating the “right” foods I can control my health (and the health of my family), which was also tangled with fear of what will happen if I don’t.

I was entangled in the belief that I must eat whatever “experts” say is healthy and avoid what isn’t – which we all know changes from week to week – so that I would not get cancer like my mom. But as God pulled on those strands, he shaped my thinking to reflect the truth that it was because of her cancer that she cried out to God and asked him for a sign if she would live to see her girls graduate from high school. The sign she asked for was a phone call from someone who had never called before. That person called within minutes. This story became not only a building block in my mom’s faith, but part of the bedrock of my belief that God hears and answers prayer. Where would my faith be without my mom’s cancer testimony? Where would my children’s faith be without my firm faith in God? My mother survived the cancer she had when she was 37, and went on to live another 37 years. If God was gracious to her in her weakness, will he not also be gracious to me if I should have to walk down that road?

Just as the memory of my lifelong care for her lifted my daughter’s spirits, and her braid kept her hair from tangling, training my mind to remember God’s constant provision for me and his promise to never leave me is what will keep me in perfect peace and protect my mind from getting tangled again.

I don’t know what tangles have come to your mind as you’ve been reading my story, but I know who is equipped to gently comb through them. God does not shame us when we come to him with our tangled mess. He says, “Oh child, come to me and rest awhile. Let me help you comb through this and be free.” We may cry a few tears because sometimes the tangles are painful to remove. Sometimes there is sin that must be washed out by Jesus’ blood that was shed for our sins, and it might take a lot of combing to remove the lies that led to our mess, but God’s discipline always brings healing and restoration when we cooperate with him. There is no tangle he cannot untangle.

I have heard Israel saying, “You disciplined me severely, like a calf that needs training for the yoke. Turn me again to you and restore me, for you alone are the Lord my God. I turned away from God, but then I was sorry. I kicked myself for my stupidity! I was thoroughly ashamed of all I did in my younger days.”

“Is not Israel still my son, my darling child?” says the Lord. I often have to punish him, but I still love him. That’s why I long for him and surely will have mercy on him.” – Jeremiah 31:18-20

Just as surely as God has been disciplining his children and restoring them with love and mercy since the beginning of time, God will have compassion on all those who bring their tangles to him. Come home, child, and be set free.

No more tangles!

Read Full Post »

I recently wrote about my experience of struggling to feed my growing kids on the expensive gluten free diet, and how my way of making ends meet was to give my food to my son. However, God had demonstrated time and time again that he is able to meet my needs, so why did I respond in this way? I think we all have blind spots in our lives. We see so clearly in some areas and are able to quickly see the error of our ways, but other broken ways may be so ingrained because of our personality and upbringing that we fail to notice how we’re sabotaging ourselves.

Jesus said that he is the light of the world. “If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12). We all have dark places where brokenness has not been mended and false beliefs have not been exposed to the truth. The truth that Jesus had to bring to light in order for my mind to be mended is this:

God does not ask me to do for him or others what he has not already done for me.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19

This principle of provision can be found over and over throughout the Scriptures. God promises his provision, then lays out his instructions for how we are to live in response as we trust him to provide for us. In the old covenant, God promised the provision of land, blessing, and his very presence to the Israelites, then laid out instructions for how his people should live in response to God as their provider and deliverer. The law was given to guide them to right living so they would learn how to relate to one another and to God, with reverence and obedience.

The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. – Galatians 3:24

The law trained the Israelites to consider God in every aspect of their lives, right down to what they ate and how they dressed. God wanted to be at the very center of everything they did so that they would seek him in everything they did. While God promised blessings for obedience, it was never their obedience to the law that made them prosper; it was God’s choice to prosper them because he chose to bless them and eventually bless all nations through them (in the person of Jesus, a Jew). Their obedience to the law was meant to show their dependence on God so that the nation of Israel would be an example through whom God would demonstrate to the surrounding nations that all power belongs to God and all provision comes from God.

God wanted to bless Israel and prove his might to other nations by enabling them to do in 6 days what others did in 7, so he instructed them to observe a Sabbath day of rest. God wanted to bless Israel and demonstrate his power of provision to other nations by showering them with abundant blessings as they gave back to God their tithe and lived off of 90% of their income. God’s instructions to us are not difficult to follow when we understand that he purposely positions us to be weak so that he can demonstrate his strength! He doesn’t ask us to tithe or rest in order to earn a blessing; he does it because we need opportunities to bear witness to God’s power and provision.

The self-sufficient person has no need of God, which is why there are so many Scriptures warning of the dangers of wealth. But to those who need God, he shows up with the promise of provision. Sometimes the provision is obvious ahead of time, and sometimes we don’t see it until after we respond to God out of faith in him as our provider. Our example for this kind of belief is Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son whom God had promised would be his heir, believing that God could bring him back to life.

God chose Abraham to bless and become the father of the nation of Israel because Abraham believed God when God made crazy, huge promises that wouldn’t be fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime. Because of Abraham’s belief that God would do what he said he would do, God declared him righteous (Romans 4). The law wasn’t given until 430 years later to his descendants. Abraham did not have the law to make him righteous; he had belief. Just as God declared Abraham righteous because of his belief, we are made righteous by God through belief in Christ.

God sent Jesus to perfectly fulfill the law as both God and human, to show us how the law was supposed to be lived out, and provide both a model and means to right living. Through Jesus’ obedient life, death and resurrection, God made a provision for the requirements of the law to be fulfilled and internalized through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ fulfilled both ends of the old covenant, paying our penalty on the cross, and providing a way for us to be made right with God. Our entry point into this blessing and provision is the same as Abraham’s: belief.

Why is this such a big deal? Because if we are trying to earn God’s favor by following rules and working hard at acting righteous, we miss the whole point of God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. We’re making our walk with God all about us and what we do for God, instead of focusing on God and what he wants to do for us, in us, and through us as we respond to him with grateful hearts. We sometimes act like God hands us an empty bucket and asks us to fill it for him, when the opposite is true. He asks us to believe by faith that he has filled our bucket with living water that will never run dry (John 7:37-39).

God does not ask us to perfectly follow a set of rules in order to be saved. He asks us to believe that Jesus has provided all we need for salvation and a holy life. God doesn’t ask us to just do our best to make ends meet and dig ourselves out of the financial messes we’re in, he invites us into a relationship of dependency on him so that he can demonstrate his love and provision for us. Everything God asks us to do is in response to the provision he has already made for us to do it.

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. – Philippians 2:13

We so often fail to realize that the very desire we have to obey comes from God. Without God, we are selfish and destructive. However, when God gives us a desire to obey, he also provides the means for our obedience. He equips us to do every good work he asks us to do. God does not ask us to give from our poverty, but from trust in his abundance.

Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus knealt down to wash his disciples’ feet. He told them,

Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me. – John 13:8

Later, he tells them to go and do likewise. First, he models what God wants us to do. He then sends the Holy Spirit to equip his followers to do what he does. Every word of instruction in the Bible is preceded by the provision of God to do it. Church, we’ve got to move past this age-old idea that righteousness is something we do for God. Righteousness is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives as we yield to him. It is what God does in us as we believe in Jesus and remain in him. Yes, we need to obey, but it is not to earn God’s favor; it should be in response to God’s promise that he will supply all our needs if we just seek a relationship with him and trust in his provision (Matthew 6:31-33).

Oh friends, if we only knew how great and mighty is our God! Most of us come to church expecting to confront our list of sins over the past week, and be admonished to work harder and be better Christians. But what if the only sin God wants to confront is the sin of our unbelief?

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29

What if we really believed that the God of the Bible is the same God today? What if our actions stemmed from the belief that God has provided everything we need through the Scriptures, the example of Christ and the work he accomplished on the cross, and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and equip us for all good works? If we believe God supplies the provision to do whatever he asks us to do, then when the Holy Spirit whispers, “Give that homeless man $10,” we can obediently respond, “Thank you, God, for providing enough to meet my needs and the needs of others.” When we find ourselves struggling with anger, instead of berating ourselves for our failure to overcome a feeling, we simply respond, “Thank you, God, for creating me with emotions. Thank you for providing a way through Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit to keep me from sinning in my anger. Thank you for your forgiveness that enables me to forgive those who sin against me.” Do you see how confidence in God’s provision can be life-changing?

All we need for a life of godliness is belief that God is God, and that he will provide the means for our obedience to do whatever he asks us to do. We just need to pray for discernment to know how God would have us respond to the situations we face. Again, God has already provided the means for discernment through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). We can confidently pray the promise from Psalm 32:8, trusting God to guide us along the path he has set out for us.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

When Jesus shines his light on the dark places of our lives, and we respond, “I believe! Help me overcome my unbelief,” he is able to change those ingrained patterns of thought and behavior that lead to destruction. Jesus never shames us in our brokenness, but simply invites us to come and be healed. He is our provider, and nothing can separate us from his love.

Read Full Post »

It was the end of a long, busy day at the end of a long, busy week. I was about to finally head to bed when I spotted blood streaks on the ottoman, then blood stains on the carpet. Our dog must have torn his claw on something and bled everywhere he stepped. In my state of exhaustion, I hastily grabbed the untested carpet cleaner and started working on the blood stains. The good news is that we got the blood out; the bad news is that our carpet now looks like this.

There are no words for this atrocity.

I was so irritated about the “clean” spots that have now ruined our uniformly dirty carpet that I barely slept that night. The real kicker is that when I found another blood stain later, I tried the Oxyclean that I’d forgotten was in our cupboard, and it worked perfectly to get the blood out without bleaching our carpet.

<insert your favorite Christian curse words here>

Why, Lord, why? Why couldn’t I have thought of that earlier, so I wouldn’t have these stupid bleach spots on my carpet! My husband claims that the spots represent the true color of our carpet, so if we just deep cleaned everything it would match again. I, on the other hand, feel like it would be a whole lot easier if we just muddied our shoes and used those spots like stepping stones to make them look like the rest of the carpet. I’m even willing to spill some coffee – cheap hotel coffee that’s been in my pantry for years, of course, not the good stuff – if that’s what it takes to avoid moving furniture to clean our carpet.

I wonder if you can relate. We don’t like spots that stand out and draw attention. It’s much easier to throw some mud on and try to look like everyone else rather than appear spotless and risk standing out. And yet, when Christ cleanses us by his blood shed for our sins, he removes our filthy rags of shame and clothes us with his righteousness. He sanctifies us, and whatever has been sanctified has been set apart as holy unto the Lord. But being set apart kinda makes us weird. We ought to celebrate our deliverance when God does a miracle in our lives, but sometimes we cover it with a rug or just keep silent because we don’t want to look different from those around us. Why do I have these spots on my carpet? To remind me that what Christ has done for me makes me different, and it’s time to stop worrying about blending in.

A few weeks ago, in front of a group in my church, I shared my testimony of God’s miraculous deliverance and provision for me over the past year. And I have never felt so weird. Church ought to be the place where we testify about God’s goodness, and yet sometimes it seems almost inconsiderate to say that God has been good to me when I’m surrounded by those who are suffering. However, when we’re suffering we need to hold on to hope that God is good and able to preserve us in the midst of suffering. How will we know that God still provides for his children and answers prayer if no one testifies that he does? I’ve blogged plenty about God’s faithfulness in my times of suffering. Now it’s time to share my testimony that God not only sustains, but delivers us to victory. So here’s my bleached-spot testimony because God deserves some glory for all his goodness to us.

Over the past year, God has delivered me from slavery to food after years of multiple food sensitivities and frustration with so-called “gut-healing” diets. After years of bowing down to food as my healer, God revealed himself to me as my healer. Even though my family still eats mostly gluten free by choice, we enjoy the freedom of knowing that God is able to bless any food to the nourishment of our bodies if he says he wants to because he’s the one who created it. In fact, he instructed me to go all out last Christmas with every kind of celebratory food my son loved while he was suffering from severe intestinal issues, just to prove to me that he is able to heal us in spite of an unhealthy diet. And he did. Because he’s God. Hear the Word of the Lord:

Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink – even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk – it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. – Isaiah 55:1-3

I find life in knowing that it is not bread – gluten free or wheat bread – that satisfies me, but the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ! God’s purpose in setting me free from slavery to food was part of his greater purpose of setting me free from slavery to fear – and I don’t mean little fears, like a fear of spiders. I’m talking heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, palm-sweating, panic-inducing, red-hot FEAR. My fear mostly had to do with people, so God started by dealing with my fear over my children. By the grace and power of God, I am now able to stand up to the enemy and pray mighty prayers of faith over my children because I know whose child I am and how big my Heavenly Father is. No matter how huge the obstacle is that’s facing my child, God’s answer is:

But the Lord says, “The captives of warriors will be released, and the plunder of tyrants will be retrieved. For I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children.” – Isaiah 49:25

While I await the deliverance of the Lord in some areas regarding my children, my victory is that instead of speaking in agreement with the fears I used to have, I am able to speak words of faith, hope and courage. I am wired to react in controlling ways when I feel fear, so being set free from fear means freedom to respond in accordance with God’s will in situations pertaining to my children, instead of reacting negatively out of fear. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control, and the victory God desires for me as a parent is to be directed by the Holy Spirit when I speak or react to my children. God has been in the process of rewiring my brain and changing my gut-reactions to my children so that I can now respond from a position of faith instead of fear. He has removed the chains of bondage to fear of failing as a mother, and given me this promise:

I will teach all your children, and they will enjoy great peace. – Isaiah 54:13

God has also delivered me from loneliness and slavery to the approval of people.  The day it sank in that I consider Jesus to be my dearest friend, he reached in and pulled out the root of loneliness that had been planted when I experienced rejection as a child. I realized that Jesus had filled my need for acceptance and love with his daily presence as he spoke to me through his Word, and the satisfaction of knowing there’s no need God can’t fill so permeated my heart that I was able to release others from filling my needs. Instead of caring about what people think of me, I am now free to just care about people. This is the purpose of God’s deliverance, the restoration of our relationship to him and others.

Delivering me from loneliness was not just God’s gift to me but to my husband, as well. He recently started his doctorate, which requires him to be in class or doing homework in the evenings. I am able to release him to pursue his dreams without worrying about feeling neglected because I’m no longer looking to my husband to fill what God is able to fill. I am free to love and enjoy whatever my husband is able to give without feeling desperate for attention because I know that God is able to bless me beyond anything I could ask or imagine from my husband.

For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. – Isaiah 54:5

As God set me free and began to restore relationships, he gave me the gift of rest this past winter. My oldest, whom I’d homeschooled for 6 1/2 years, went back to public school. My daughter remained at home, but directed her own learning. I was free to study God’s Word, worship, and rest. I experienced a desire for intercessory prayer like I’d never experienced before. Days would slip by as I soaked in God’s presence, and I felt like that was exactly what God ordained for me in that season. I sensed his delight in my delight for him! Out of this season of rest came a promise from God that he wanted to help us get out of debt by helping us pay off our second mortgage. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew God was going to help us because the day I asked him to confirm that promise in his Word, my daily reading happened to be in Jeremiah 29. The Holy Spirit stopped me on this verse, and spoke it over me as my promise:

I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. – Jeremiah 29:14

Seven years ago, we were unemployed and had to drain every penny from our savings and start over. During that time we learned to trust in God’s provision as he met our needs. Seven months after God gave us the promise that he would restore us financially, we paid off our second mortgage with money that God provided from an unexpected source. We are not only free of debt (except for our first mortgage), we are free from bondage to the stronghold of scarcity.

I know some of you are starting to think I’m preaching a “prosperity gospel” that says if we become a Christian, we’ll get rich and everything will fall into our laps. We are not free from debt in order to bless ourselves, but in order to bless others in need. God blesses his children so that we will share with those in need, causing them to give glory to God for his provision (2 Cor. 9:10-11). The greatest delight in being set free from debt has been the renewed ability to give to others. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says this regarding his “sheep” who listen to him and follow him:

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. – John 10:10

Rich and satisfying does not mean comfortable and easy. A rich and satisfying life comes from confidence that God is who he says he is and can do for us whatever he desires to do. The Word of God is full of stories of God’s power and ability to deliver. It is full of promises that God desires to provide for his children and bless them. Too often, we pray wishy washy prayers that lack faith in God’s ability to do what he flat out says in his Word that he desires to do for us. This isn’t about God providing for our comfort; I’m talking about God giving us victory! In some areas of my life, I have experienced deliverance – from intestinal issues, debt, fear of people – and in others, I’m experiencing the victory of joy in the midst of waiting to see deliverance.

God is not a Santa Clause to whom we pray for the stuff we would like to fill the “stocking” of our selfish desires for a comfortable, easy life. But if there’s a promise in God’s Word that God has pointed out to me and said, “This one is yours,” then I will pray for it with every ounce of faith God gives me, believing that it is mine – even before I see it. That’s how we get victory; we believe God to be God. We take our needs to him first, believing that he is able to provide. The thief wants to kill our joy, rob us of victory, and destroy our faith by keeping us focused on our areas of weakness, our failures, our needs. But the thief can only take from us what we willingly surrender. If you are a child of God, stand your ground and say out loud – as many times as you have to in order to believe it:

God is good.
He is my provider.
He is my shield.
He is my strength.
He is my deliverer.

Yes, this world is broken. We all have areas in our lives that are broken, but it’s time to stop wearing our brokenness like a badge of honor. If we believe that God heals, then let’s take our brokenness to him and pray a God-sized prayer of belief that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isiah 53:5). If you struggle with belief, God accepts you right where you are, just as Jesus accepted the man who acknowledged, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). God has not stopped doing miracles. He still heals, restores, delivers. But like my bleached carpet spots, we sometimes don’t want to trumpet our healing, lest we make others feel bad about their brokenness. Well, here’s the truth: I am broken, just like you. But I am healed, and that’s the label I will wear to the glory of God.

What has God done for you this past year? How has he delivered or miraculously provided for you? I invite you to leave a comment and give him praise. Let’s stand out as bleached spots together, giving God all the glory for his goodness and provision!

 

Read Full Post »

As soon as I stepped out my door to go on a walk, I could smell my favorite pumpkin spice candle. As strange as it may sound, the comforting smell alerted me to God’s presence. He had invited me to take a walk with him along the canal by our home on this very difficult day, and the wonderful aroma ushered me into a time of prayer.  Several things had happened that morning to trigger my familiar sorrow that the life I had envisioned for my son was not to be. It’s not that his life is bad in any way, really, it’s just not the one I would have chosen. The death of a dream can cause grief like any other death. I knew it was time for me to let it go and accept that God’s plan was also good, so I began praying a prayer of release and trust in God through my tears.

But then God utterly surprised me. As I walked past a bouquet of dead flowers that were in the middle of my dirt path, God whispered, “Pick those up. We’re going to hold a funeral for your dream, and those are your flowers.” So I picked them up and walked for a while in silence. Then God gently said, “Tell me your dream as a eulogy.” For the rest of the walk, I clutched those flowers and slowly released my dream for my son while I verbalized every aspect of it as though he had lived it, from childhood through adulthood. While delivering this eulogy, I realized that much of my dream for him involved my dreams for myself as a mother, so there was an added layer to my grief that I hadn’t realized before. When I finished describing every detail of the plan I had subconsciously pictured in my mind as I’d held my baby boy in my arms so many years ago, God simply responded with, “That was a lovely dream.” It was a good dream. I had good plans for my boy, and God honored them that day. He did not scold me or shame me for having my own plans; he simply listened and validated my good desires for my child.

I ended the funeral with the usual statement at the end of Christian funerals, that death is not the end. Because of Jesus, we have hope in a better life yet to come. I threw away the dead flowers as I laid my dream to rest. At the same time, I committed my son to God and asked him to show me his good dream. God had listened to mine, and I was ready to listen to his. The next day, I reversed my route and walked a little farther than usual. As I was about to turn the corner to head home, I saw a huge bush of the same dead flowers I’d carried on my funeral walk, only this bush was alive and growing along the side of the dirt road. I’d never seen it before. It wasn’t growing out of someone’s backyard, but seemed to be planted in the dirt among the weeds.

This is God’s dream: my son will thrive and blossom while planted in the dirt among the weeds. My dream may be dead, but God’s is very much alive!

God reminded me of the bold – but naive – prayers I’d prayed sixteen years ago, while carrying my son in my womb. I’d asked God to pour out his Spirit on my child and make him shine God’s light in dark places. I’d asked God to set him apart and make him bold in his faith so that he would make a difference in God’s Kingdom. Oh, the things we pray when we have no clue of what we’re asking…

Over the past month, I’ve begun to see glimpses of how God is using the very qualities that frustrated me as a mother to make my son bloom in the dirt. God is answering my bold prayers by giving me a bold son. The child who argued with me nonstop for years is now the teen who is not afraid to stand up and defend his beliefs. When asked to give a speech that describes him for speech class at school, he boldly proclaimed that he is a Christian, and that God is a huge part of his life because God has helped him through some difficult struggles. He declared that in front of a room of sophomores in a public school without even considering the possibility of a negative response. I used to joke when he was a child that he had two volumes: loud and louder. I now believe that God is going to use that loud voice and boldness to testify to God’s goodness in the most unlikely places, among the weeds.

My son has never cared much about what people think of him, which seems like a good thing, except that it made attempts at behavior modification challenging when he was little. While I recognized the dangers of my own people-pleasing bent, the fact that he didn’t have one at all was often frustrating. And yet, this character quality may be the very thing God uses for his glory. The child who could not be manipulated to do anything – through threats, punishments, or rewards – is the teen who will not bow down to peer pressure. I continue to marvel that he will not do things he believes are wrong or take shortcuts just to fit in. He is content to do his own thing rather than follow the crowd or try to be anyone other than who he is. Instead of responding to my pleas that he would just fit in, God has chosen to answer my prayer that he be set apart. Set apart for what?

God woke me up at 4:30 a.m. this morning to reveal to me that the very hardships we experienced when he was young – emotional struggles, gluten intolerance, learning challenges – were all part of God’s plan to set him apart for God’s purposes. We eat differently. We did school differently for 6 1/2 years as we homeschooled and prioritized character development over academics. Nothing about our lives has been “normal,” but every one of the struggles we’ve faced as a family – the things that didn’t fit into my plan – have shaped my son’s character and trained him in compassion.

  • The child who cried tears of frustration when things didn’t go his way is the teen who tenderly reaches out to a foster girl on the bus who is struggling with financial needs, and offers to help.
  • The child with whom I repeatedly pleaded to own up to his mistakes and take responsibility for his life, is the teen who brought a rebellious teen on the bus – who’d thrown a rock at our door at one time – to repentance with his kindness, and was sent by that child to seek our forgiveness.
  • The child who struggled with materialistic desires and learned to depend on God’s provision during our year-and-a-half of unemployment is the teen who joyfully comes home from selling items at the Farmer’s Market because now he can buy the Lego set he loved as a little kid for his younger cousins, just because he wants to share his joy.

I believe that God is sowing within him seeds of compassion for others so that he will not only be willing to be planted in the dirt among the weeds, he will want to be there because that’s where people most need to be loved. (At one point, when he was tired of being harassed by some kids on the bus, I offered to pick him up from school. He said, “I’d really like that…but I think I belong on the bus.”) The life he is living is the answer to my bold prayer for God to set him apart for his Kingdom; it just didn’t happen the way I envisioned.

I’m sharing my story with you not to bring glory to my son or myself, but for two reasons. One is to give hope to parents who are discouraged over what they see as the death of their dream for their child. I want to encourage you that God sees your good plans and may even agree with you that they are good. He’s not trying to rip them from you. However, until we lay down what is dead, we won’t see where there is life. God has a beautiful dream, too, and wants to open our eyes to see it so that we can enjoy watching our kids fulfill God’s plan for their lives, and rejoice with him. The very quirks that drive us crazy may be part of that plan, which is why we need God’s vision.

The second reason has to do with something surprising I read during my Bible reading this morning. (Hang in here with me. I promise this will tie together eventually!) While reading John 7, which takes place during the Festival of Shelters, I happened to glance down at the footnote in my Bible pertaining to Jesus’ statement that all who are thirsty should come to him.

A water ceremony was held each day during the Festival of Shelters, with prayer for God to send rain in the late autumn. The final day, called “the great day,” was the climax of the festival, when the ceremony was repeated seven times. Water was poured over the altar as Levites sang Isaiah 12:3. (“With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation!”) [By saying] “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me,” Jesus fulfilled an essential element in the Festival of Shelters. He himself is the source of living water, available to anyone who believes (NLT Illustrated Study Bible).

Some Christians believe that God’s appointed festivals, as outlined in Leviticus 23, were meant as rehearsals for future appointments on God’s Kingdom calendar. The spring festivals were when Jesus was crucified as the “perfect lamb” (during Passover), and when the Holy Spirit was given (during the Celebration of the First Harvest, also known as Pentecost). The fall feasts, like the Festival of Trumpets and Day of Atonement, are rehearsals for Christ’s second coming “at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52), when he will return to bring judgment and reward. So where does the Festival of Shelters, a celebration of the last harvest, fall on the Kingdom calendar? I can’t say for sure, but it just may be right now.

After googling it, I discovered that tomorrow, October 5, is actually the beginning of the week-long Festival of Shelters, according to the 2017 Jewish calendar! Just as the Jews in Jesus’ day enacted a water ceremony and prayed for the autumn rains, I believe that God is calling his people – the Church – to pour out our prayers for his reign to come in these last days. Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 tell us that our prayers are collected as bowls of incense that are offered on the altar before the throne of God in heaven. Like the water poured out on the altar, our prayers are offered to God. Jesus has already fulfilled the prayer for rain by standing before the people at the festival and proclaiming:

Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, “Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him.) – John 7:38-39

We no longer pray for physical rain, but for God’s Spirit to be poured out during this festival of the autumn harvest. God’s Spirit doesn’t just rain down on the earth, it is poured into our hearts and intended to flow out of us, spreading the good news to everyone around us that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

So what does this have to do with my son and the clash of my plans with God’s? Everything! I believe God is calling his people to pray for his Holy Spirit to rain down in order to increase the harvest, but if I want God’s river of living water to flow from my heart and through my children, it may require breaking down some dams. If God is going to raise up the next generation to help bring in the harvest, we have to release them to God. Jesus said that the wheat and weeds would grow side by side in the field until the final harvest (Matt. 13). If we, as parents, expend all our energy trying to uproot our “wheat” and transplant them into a field of wheat where we perceive they will be “safe,” we may be working against God. Like those flowers growing in the weeds along my path, God may purposely plant our kids among the weeds so that they will bring others to Jesus. That is God’s dream, and it is my prayer as I ask him to “send the rain” and use us for his glory. That is a prayer I am confident he will answer. That is a dream I believe will come true.

Are you thirsty for some living water that will satisfy you more than any good thing this world could offer? Come to Jesus and discover that “with joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation!” (Isaiah 12:3). Would you join me in echoing the prayer prayed in Jesus’ day at the climax of the fall Festival of Shelters?

God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.

And let it begin by your Spirit flowing through me.

Read Full Post »

After a rough morning of trying to calm my hysterical child’s fears, I dropped the kids off at school and started praying for them on the drive home, like I usually do. But something just felt off today. I had a hard time concentrating, and felt like my prayers weren’t getting off the ground. I got home and started thinking about the things that had upset my daughter, and caught myself engaging in imaginary arguments on her behalf. I looked at what was on my calendar for today and quickly decided to reschedule a creative activity for another day when I had more energy. I felt sapped. Blocked. Oppressed. “What is going on, Lord?” I cried out in desperation. I looked outside and immediately knew the answer; it’s the smoke.

In case you live elsewhere in the country and are unaware, pretty much the entire Northwest is currently filled with smoke, and much of it is on fire. I live in a valley where smoke from surrounding wildfires tends to settle and linger every summer, but the thickness of it right now is almost like fog. Fog and smoke are oppressive. The heaviness of the atmosphere can lead to a heaviness of the spirit. But it wasn’t just the smoke that had brought me down, it’s what the smoke represents: fear.

Sometimes smoke is a sign of danger nearby, but sometimes it’s someone else’s fire that is causing smoke to blow our way. My daughter’s fear was like a smoke screen that blocked out the sun and any ray of hope that she might be able to get through the day without disaster. I tried to reason with her and help her overcome her fear, but in the end, I succumbed to it. The smoke that clouded her vision hovered over me, temporarily clouding mine. Smoke can make it seem like the sun is not shining. Fear also lies to us about our surroundings, making it seem like there is only darkness and no light. Both smoke and fear can cause a false sense of panic. The only way out is to rise above the smoke screen and speak the truth.

I took this picture in the nearby mountains where you can see blue sky above the smoke.

The truth is that the sun is shining above the smoke, and God is still on his throne. The truth is that there is no actual fire nearby, so the smoke in my neighborhood is only a threat if I’m out exercising and breathing it in deeply, allowing it to fill my lungs. In the same way, fear can only hurt me if I immerse myself in it and allow it to saturate my mind. I can stay in my home, where the air-conditioner filters the air, and be safe from smoke. Likewise, I can invite God to filter my thoughts, and trust the peace of Christ to guard my heart and mind (Philippians 4:7). The Bible is the filter through which I distinguish truth from lies.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
– 1 Timothy 1:7

To put it plainly, when I am filled with fear – whether for myself or someone else – it is not coming from the Spirit of God. I mentioned that I “caught” myself engaging in imaginary arguments. The Spirit of God gives us the self-discipline to take our thoughts captive and bring them under the authority of Christ.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:5

When the smoke of fear is heavy all around us, it’s easy for fearful thoughts to slip in. We’re not under condemnation for feeling fear, but as mature believers we need to exercise the discipline of bringing our fearful thoughts to God and asking him to speak the truth over them. This self-discipline is God’s gift to us through his Spirit that resides in us.

God’s Spirit gives us power to overcome fear and temptation. The best way I know to exit the Highway of Fear is to get on the Scenic Byway of Worship. Whether it’s through singing praise songs, reading and agreeing with passages of Scripture that point to God’s majesty and sovereignty, or just praising God for all the ways he has delivered us and helped us in the past, worship expels the darkness and illuminates us with the light of God’s truth. Exalting God places our problems or fears in their proper place: at the feet of Jesus. And when I worship God, thanking him for his love for me, his perfect love casts out my fear (1 John 4:18).

The sun is shining, no matter what the smoke would have me believe. God will guard what I have entrusted to him (including my children); therefore, I will not give in to fear. It’s going to be a beautiful day, not because of my surroundings, but because I refuse to let the enemy rob me of my joy with his deception. Fear is just a smoke screen. I can rest in God’s provision of power, love, and self-discipline, trusting that he will always be with me and equip me to handle whatever comes my way. And that’s the truth.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »