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It’s that time of year when we reflect on the past and set goals for the coming year.  Dear one, if you feel lost, discouraged, overwhelmed, or hopeless heading into the new year, then I hope you will find comfort and encouragement as I share my journey from this past year.  I am praying for all who read this blog to experience your own resurrection year.

Nearly three years ago I wrote a post about how God had asked me to surrender my desires for comfort, acceptance, and security from anything but him.  However, by January of 2014, I realized that the past 5 years of “dying to self” had left me just feeling dead inside.  I had surrendered my selfish desires and dreams as God brought them to light, but it had not yet occurred to me to ask God to replace them with new ones.  That’s when a small spark of hope ignited as the phrase “resurrection year” began to resonate inside me.  The word resurrection seemed to leap off the page of everything I read.  In Romans 6, Paul talks about our old self being crucified with Christ so that we can be raised to new life in him.  I felt challenged to believe – and act like I believe – that the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead can raise me to a new, victorious life in Christ Jesus!

The beauty of surrendering to Jesus is that the new life he has in mind for us is his original design for us.  God doesn’t want me to be someone else; he wants me to be the lovely girl he envisioned when he knit me together in my mother’s womb.  (Praise God, because the past 40 years of trying to be who I think everyone wants me to be has been exhausting!) Not coincidentally, it was on Easter – Resurrection Day – that God revealed that picture to me.  He brought to my mind the image of my daughter, still untainted by the devastation of bullying that I’d already experienced at her age.  I see so much of myself in her, and catch glimpses of who I could have been had the seeds of insecurity not been sown in me at the tender age of 8.  That day, God impressed upon my heart that he still sees me as that sweet little girl, and through his resurrection power he was going to restore me to that original design by mending what was broken and turning the chains the enemy had used to bind me into tools for compassion and mercy.  Hallelujah!

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 

Believing God for a new resurrection life means believing that God can make every part of us whole.  Is it really possible for our whole spirit, soul and body to be kept blameless?  Yes, when God himself, the God of peace, is the one doing it!  When I try to live a blameless life on my own strength I will absolutely fail because at the first sign of weakness my conscience condemns me.  The reason why we rejoice as Christians is because God – the only rightful Judge – invites us to approach his “throne of grace” with confidence to find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).  We are not perfect, but because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for us we can be sanctified (set apart, made holy) through and through.  The result is that according to Romans 8:1, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  We are meant to live blameless lives, free from condemnation.  But how?

A Blameless Spirit and Soul
My resurrection year can best be described as one of “extreme cooperation.” While God is the one who sanctifies us through and through, we must invite him in to every part of our lives and past.  For the last 15 years, I’ve been diving into God’s word.  As promised in James 4:8, as I drew near to God, he drew near to me.  But what God’s been teaching me over the past year is that in order for me to live in continual victory each day, I have to practice the preceding verse: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  And I mean active resistance by taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  Every part of my life that has not been brought under the umbrella of Christ’s authority – habits, activities, thoughts, emotions, even unhealed wounds – is like a hole in my armor.  These vulnerable areas are where the enemy attacks, so learning how to resist the devil and cooperate with God is the only path to daily freedom for me.

My “resistance” began by simply avoiding those things that trigger an emotional response in me.  You see, years of battling insecurity based on lies and fear has led me to realize how misleading my emotions can be.  God’s been teaching me that in order to be able to trust that my emotions are based on reality (I’m feeling blah because I need some sunshine and exercise) instead of lies (I’m feeling blah because I have no friends), I have to cut down on the emotional stimulus in my life.  Articles that begin with “The Shocking Truth About…” or “5 Things Mom’s Should Never…” or anything that’s designed to produce shame or outrage are off limits to me, as are movies that glorify dark themes and open the door to fear.  If I expend all my energy dwelling on fearful thoughts, getting stirred up over the latest injustice, or feeling guilty about not measuring up to someone else’s standard, then I have none left for the real responsibilities in my life.  This leaves me wide open for the enemy to swoop in with blame because I’ve traded my productivity for an emotional trap.  (Maybe that’s why it’s called the worldwide “web”…)

This deprogramming has also been accompanied by reprogramming of my mind with God’s truth.  This part of my journey has been painful, but oh so rewarding!  By cutting out the noise, I’m now able to recognize when something has produced a strong emotional response that’s out of proportion to the trigger, indicating that there’s a past issue that needs to be dealt with.  God used Beth Moore’s book, When Godly People Do Ungodly Things, to show me that I can’t just try to put my past behind me; I have to put it in front of God.

In the process of doing so, God took me back to key moments in each decade of my life when I either was or felt like a victim.  It was an uncomfortable, but crucial, exercise because it shed light on how the enemy continued to get the best of me as an adult.  All he had to do was press my “victim” button to elicit a strong, emotional reaction from me. Of course, I didn’t know why I was having the “yucky feelings,” but felt powerless to overcome them, nonetheless.  By going back to the origins of those initial hurts with Jesus, I not only had the opportunity to ask God to heal the wounds, he invited me to speak truth to the younger version of myself who fell prey to the lies because she didn’t know the truth.  Instead of feeling ashamed of her, I now have compassion toward her, which undermines the enemy’s attempts to keep me in captivity over past failures.

There’s a reason why Jesus says, in John 8, that the truth will set us free.  Every stronghold is built on some sort of deception by the enemy.  He then uses guilt over falling for it to keep us in bondage.  But somehow, in the timeless mystery of God, by speaking God’s truth into our past he can free us from bondage to it.  It doesn’t change the past, but we no longer have to feel like victims of it.  Now, whenever I feel that telltale victim response begin to rise, I ask God to take me back to where it started so that he can bring truth and healing.  That’s how I actively resist the enemy, and he does flee to the glory of God!

A Blameless Body
In order for my body to be kept blameless, I had to ask God to do in me what I could not do on my own, to align my eating and exercise habits with my beliefs.  Now please pay careful attention to this distinction: I’m talking about my beliefs, not some imaginary holy diet God has for all believers.  I am purposely saving the details of my physical transformation for another post because I don’t want anyone to get the impression that there’s One Right Way God wants us all to eat or exercise.  That’s legalism, and I won’t put words in God’s mouth.  However, I mentioned earlier that my conscience condemns me when I try and fail to do what I feel is right.  In order for me to be free of blame – from myself! – I needed God’s help to make permanent changes.  I don’t “work out” or eat perfectly every day, but God has shown me how to live in freedom (from cravings, energy crashes, and from discouragement) – which requires adherence to tighter boundaries for my own safety and good. When all our hope and joy comes from God, the things that were once toxic to us (addictive foods, unhealthy habits or relationships) either become completely undesirable or are made safe because they no longer hold power over us.

It’s the great paradox of following Christ: we are set free to choose the narrow road where there are fewer choices, but the ones that remain all build us up in Christ and lead to freedom instead of enslavement to the multiple counterfeit pleasures offered by the enemy.  This path to freedom is not about what you do (or don’t do) for God, but simply pursuing a deeper relationship with God each day.  The result of finding your satisfaction in Christ alone is perfect peace.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. – Isaiah 26:3

God taught me how to have a steadfast mind in the process of teaching me to take better care of my body (because our mind, body, and spirit are all connected). He invited me to literally walk with him along a dirt road on the edge of our subdivision, which I’d forgotten about, that looks out over a farm edged by mountains in the background.  When I was frustrated, my normal response would be to vent to someone or drown out the noise in my head with more noise on the internet, which only made things worse.  But God began inviting me to take a walk with him instead.  I would bring my thoughts before him as we walked in one direction, then allow the Holy Spirit to remind me of who God is, what he’s done, and what his Word promises he’ll do for me on the trip home.  (The Holy Spirit is our Counselor, a gift to us to remind us of all God has told us – but we’d better be actively reading the Bible so God can tell us in the first place!)

Am I feeling fearful, anxious, in turmoil?  I bring my feelings to God’s throne of grace and invite the Holy Spirit to speak truth over them.  He then reminds me that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love and a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).  He also reminds me that God’s perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18), so God has the authority to drive out my fear and replace it with his power, love, and a sound mind.  I then thank him for who he is, all he’s done, and in advance for what he’s promised to do for me because praise is the key to joy in all circumstances, and trust in God alone is the key to a steadfast mind.

I learned during my resurrection year that the God of peace is able to keep our whole spirit, soul and body blameless. He is faithful, and he will do it for you, too.  Praise God!

If you’re feeling that same sense of longing for God to “clean out your closet,” like I did last year, please leave a comment so I can be praying for you.  In addition to the Bible, perhaps some of the books that God used to guide me on my journey might be useful to you, as well.  (I don’t get any money for this blog, so I’m sharing this purely for your benefit, not mine.)  May God bless you as you seek him and invite him to raise you to new life in Christ this year!

 

 

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 “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.'” – Luke 2:8-11

Has there ever been a time when you were in pitch black surroundings?  How did you feel when you finally saw light?  These are dark days for our country.  If ever there was a time when we needed the Light of the World, it’s now.  The shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks at night when the angel of the Lord appeared to them.  God could have sent the angel in the daytime, but sometimes we only notice the light when we’re surrounded by darkness.

In the midst of tragedies like we’re experiencing in our country right now, it’s important to remember that our Savior has come to our dark, hurting world to bring hope, healing, and light.  As Christians, I believe we can look to Romans 12 for answers to how we should respond when we feel overshadowed by the darkness of evil that will continue until Christ comes again:

v. 12 – “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”  We pray for those who are suffering, and patiently remember that this world is not our home.  Our time on this fallen planet is short, in light of eternity, and so we patiently wait for Christ’s return, joyful in the hope that he will one day restore his creation and wipe away every tear.

v. 13 – “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”  While we wait for Christ’s return we have work to do.  We are the Body of Christ, which means we are supposed to continue his work on earth.  If we ignore the needs of our fellow man, then we should not be surprised at their acts of depravity, and according to James 2:15-17, our faith is worthless.  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  Acts of violence should not make us shrink from the world, seeking solace in our churches and homes, but rather drive us into the world as Christ’s redemptive agents.  Your act of kindness or hospitality might change the course of someone’s life, preventing a future tragedy.

v. 14 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” When we see senseless tragedies, our natural response is to cry out in anger, looking for someone to blame.  We can even turn our anger toward God, blaming him for the violence committed by men.  But God does not condone evil.  On the contrary, “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).  “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:12).  When we are suddenly thrust into darkness through tragedy, we can turn our backs on others and God, or we can run to the One who knows suffering, betrayal, torture and death.  Only He can heal our wounds and turn our ashes into a crown of beauty.

v. 15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  As I watch my children eye their presents under the tree, my heart goes out to the parents with presents under their tree for children who will never open them.  We mourn the loss of innocence for the children who survived.  We lift up our grieving brothers and sisters in prayer.  And yet, we continue to rejoice at Christmas because God so loved this dark, messed up world that he sent Jesus, the Light of the World, to save us from our sins so that all who believe in him will one day rejoice in heaven where there is no darkness.

The nighttime message to the shepherds is the same message to those living in darkness today: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

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