That’s the devil’s game.

bible picI had a revelation this morning when my Bible fell open to this page. I shared with my small group last night that I’d been angry with God since we lost the baby. I knew the anger was there. In fact, I’d kind make a joke out of it and my prayers would sound like, “I love you but I’m a little ticked. I’ll get back with you.” Only I never did and just drifted and drifted for months until I was sick of myself–exhausted from trying to heal without the Healer.

Anger is a normal, necessary stage of the grieving process, but I can’t forget the One who walks through my grief with me hand in hand. When I saw the note on the top margin where the devil tempts Jesus, all the dots connected. Satan places conditions on Jesus, tries to strike a little bargain with the King of Kings. Huh. What a dangerous game–to attempt to thwart the plans of someone who is in complete authority over you, the Living God. But now I realize that this is the place where my anger has taken me. I’m not going to pray, or study, or worship right now. I’m angry! Fix it, and then we’ll talk.

But Jesus doesn’t play. When I enter into that negotiation, I’m playing the devil’s game.

Last night at Bible study we talked about obedience. When God tells you to do something, you do it or you sin. No two ways about it. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t simultaneously holding your hand and heart as you grieve. And just like I draw so much support, affirmation, and comfort from unpacking my grief with my sisters in Christ, conversations with the Father have all of that to offer and MORE.

My act of obedience today will be to bring my grief to worship with me. I think Jesus is eager for us to unpack this together. Here’s a verse I’m meditating on: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…” II Peter 1:3

If you’ve lost your way in the grieving process, I invite you to come with me to the Father and claim this promise. Wait expectantly for His divine power to heal your broken heart.

 

Before a launch, you gotta yield . . .

Tomorrow we will open Renew Church’s doors for our first ever Sunday morning worship service. Actually Renew Church’s doors are really the doors of the Boys and Girls Club of Saline County, AR. After 18 months of bible study in a living room, it’s time to launch.

Church plant!

Church plant!

The vision for this ministry prompted us to leave comfort and security in Texas and trust God to provide all our needs in coming to Arkansas—when Todd told the church staff in Texas that he was resigning, neither of us had jobs. When we rolled up to our rent house for the first time in Benton, Arkansas, we had one part-time job between us. I can’t claim that I had faith through all of this; I was simply too afraid to not take that leap.

God began working in Todd years ago, first with this little whisper plant a church, plant a church, plant a church which gradually increased in volume and intensity. Then finally in 2012, we catapulted into this wild free fall of faith—if God is saying go, I’m afraid to say no.

So, here we are.

It is glaringly obvious that the Lord went ahead of us and put each piece in place. In the beginning, I was concerned about basic needs and where the money would come from so that we could survive. Looking back, what is most impressive to me is not really about money, but more about comfort and sustenance. It’s about how he drew us into relationships with godly friends who also have visions for ministry that seem impossible. But God builds the ministry and nothing is impossible for Him.

With all this awe and gratitude bubbling over in my heart, I am especially aware of the years God has spent preparing me for this.

Me. The one who said rather pointedly, “I will not go back to teaching school so that you can plant a church.”

Me. The one who scoffed at the idea of leaving Texas for Arkansas. Plant a church? In Arkansas? Psssh. Try that one on your second wife.

Evidence of changes that would come are found in the notes I jotted down in my bible over the years. There are many, many references to God’s authority scribbled in the margins. Even this morning as I read about Jesus’ baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit, I wrote, “Jesus—God and sent by God—demonstrates submission to God’s authority. Does this demonstration of submission and willingness open the door for the power of the Holy Spirit?” Looking back, I see that pattern played out in me. At each milestone as I yielded more to God’s authority, I experienced His power to change me.

This morning I also ran across an old note on the first page of I Thessalonians. Sometime in the last few years I wrote this–

            Faith–>Work

Love–>Labor

Hope–>Endurance

Serve the living God and wait for His Son.

Then on the opposite page, I added later—

            Share the gospel and your life. The fruit of the ministry is your joy and crown.

Faith compels us to work. Love for the Savior inspires us to labor for His purpose. Hope of seeing Him face to face creates an indomitable endurance. And all this happens by the power of His Spirit as we yield to His authority.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that I’m teaching school in Arkansas to provide for our family so Todd can co-pastor a church plant.

The woman who wrote all that down is so drastically different from the 26 year old who naively vowed to be joined for life to a minister. Want to know something funny? For the first few years I toyed with the temptation to walk away from this marriage. What a dumb kid! I would have missed out on all this JOY.

A healthy fear—or reverence, if you prefer–of God’s authority has made all the difference. It prevented us from ending our marriage. It guided us through miscarriages to adoption. It prompted us in the very decision that brought us to Arkansas. It instigated all the changes that make us want to fulfill our purpose. I’ve seen something good born out of every instance where we yielded to His authority.

Church, we must stop dodging God’s authority and looking for loopholes in the things He expects from us. It is a gigantic obstacle to fulfilling our purpose in this world. Don’t hesitate to yield. By the power of His Spirit, good things will come.

I’m pretty excited to see what’s next.

ADVENTures Day 22–Dark Games

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

I come from that generation who played outside until dark. “Be home when the street lights come on!!” my folks would say, and mostly we obeyed. This is a bit of a problem since, well, it’s fun to play in the dark. Every once in a while, in the wintertime when it is dark by 5:15, we would stay outside and play and play until someone stepped out and called us in.

We made this a habit during Christmas break, and I think my mom would let us get away with it just to keep us out of her hair. I understand this, now that I have my own two bairns–my two sweet little angels who woke me up on the first of my 10 vacation days with loud shrieking and the unmistakable sounds of trading punches. Sigh. Peace on earth.

One year during Christmas break, we took to playing hide-and-seek in the dark. I. LOVED. IT. No one could beat me. I had the very best hiding place–right on the front porch. This would be the proverbial hiding in plain sight strategy, except I could just step back into the shadows and no one knew I was there. The biggest danger is giving yourself away by laughing. Someone would come so close, even look directly at that dark corner and never see me.

We were out there until someone called–someone with authority called me by name out of the darkness .

My life before Christ was a little like this. I was a good kid–mostly, but some things about the darkness I found hard to resist. Generally I wanted to be obedient, stay out of trouble, and stay safe. But I held back a little darkness here and there, because it was fun–exciting even. It was obvious from watching the people around me that the darkness–as attractive as it seemed–was truly dangerous. After seeing one or two lives in shreds, I worked at maintaining a balance between light and dark.

But it doesn’t really work that way. You can’t love the light and flirt with darkness.

‘It can be bright with joy if you will do what you should! But if you refuse to obey, watch out. Sin is waiting to attack you, longing to destroy you. But you can conquer it!” Genesis 4:7 (TLB)

And this . . .

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. I Peter 5:8 (NLT)

God had allowed Israel to be devoured by the nations around them. He spared a remnant, brought them home, and promised them a Savior. The Lord had to teach His own people not to love the darkness–that they couldn’t be His chosen people and sprinkle in practices from pagan religions. What a treacherous, painful lesson for all those people. Yet, we repeat that pattern, don’t we? Isn’t it all too frequent that those who claim Christ as Savior are holding a little bit of darkness back for themselves?

That was my life for a number of years. I had made the decision to follow Christ, but I tried to bring the darkness with me. The Lord in His mercy knew that I had to be taught just how dark the darkness is. I love Psalm 110:75, “I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”

My husband’s testimony is a dramatic example of being rescued from darkness. He would tell the story better, but in a nutshell, he made a decision to follow Christ as a kid. When he grew older, like so many of us, he rebelled because he loved to play in the darkness. One night as he was out with some friends, God simply spoke to him. Clearly, Todd heard Him speak. “You don’t need this anymore.” I love this story. I’ve heard him tell it so many times that I knew there was a specific spot on a particular street in Marion, IL, where my husband heard and obeyed the voice of the Lord. When we went home for Thanksgiving, I asked him to take me there and I snapped this picture.

Boulevard

That night put my husband on a collision course with so many things that followed–a call to the ministry, college, seminary, me. I’m so grateful. He shook us both loose from the darkness so that we would be ready for each other.

God, in all His authority, has stepped out of Heaven and called you home. He gave us Jesus, the Light of the world, so that we would have no fear of being devoured by the darkness. If you have received the gift of the Lord Jesus, then you have so many things to praise Him for this Christmas.

If you are still flirting with darkness, are you tired yet? Maybe your life is in shambles because sin has devoured you. It’s not too late. Light has dawned on those living in deep darkness. He has done all these great things for each of us–and yes, also for you! Don’t refuse His gift!

Leave your darkness and run home to the light.

Merry Christmas.

 

ADVENTures Day 18–Highly Favored

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the ]bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.  Luke 1:26-38 (NASB)

Well, friends, I’ve missed a few five days. I have no excuse, really. Wait, yes I do. I’m a teacher which means that (pretty much all the time) I chase my tail, herd cats, and all that jazz. We are giving final exams this week, which must be graded, and I am also in the middle of a pile of essays—the ones that I now regret assigning. Anyhoo . . . I’m back with a word.

Today brings us to Mary. Gabriel brings news that turns every atom in her universe inside out. She had been looking forward to a wedding; now she’s to be pregnant and unwed—albeit a virgin, but you know how people are! And these aren’t just people we’re talking about here. These are 1st century Jewish folks. Churches today give a lot of attention (or they should, and if you aren’t, shame on you) as to how to welcome people into our ministries regardless of their background. But back then? It was perfectly acceptable to shun a sinner. In fact, because of the legally binding status of engagement in that society, Mary would have been considered an adulteress. Remember the woman caught in the act of adultery? (John 8:1-11) Was this the kind of treatment that a woman in Mary’s situation would expect?

Still, I don’t see the terror that I would have felt if this announcement had been made to me. The tone of the passage indicates Mary’s thoughtful consideration of the matter. She’s perplexed—not quaking with fear. The angel gives her the rundown of how the Holy Spirit would bring about the pregnancy. I love how he punctuates this explanation of the miraculous—“she who was called barren is now in her sixth month . . . nothing is impossible with God.”

To me, Mary’s reaction to the news indicates precisely why she is favored. God highly approves of this young girl. That’s quite an endorsement. And for this role in human history, it must be. She was given the responsibility of raising our Lord. The amount of trust that God places in Mary is difficult to imagine.

I think Mary’s quiet confidence is an indication of her faith. She must have trusted that if God chose her, He would bring His plan to completion. Any actions her community might take against her were the least of her worries at the moment. Perhaps she already saw the pain that lay ahead—a pain unlike any other, and infinitely deeper than that of an unwed mother. “A sword [would pierce her] own soul,” Simeon said in the next chapter. Absolutely it would.

Then, notice how Mary concludes the meeting, not Gabriel. It almost sounds like she is dismissing God’s angel. “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture. You see, I think Mary realized that being highly favored meant that a lot would be required of her. In the book of Exodus, a bondservant is described as a slave who loved his master and did not wish to go free. He would then demonstrate his devotion to his master by having his ear pierced with an awl. Mary realizes that she is God’s servant, but she chooses the word bondslave and indicates her love for Him with a willingness to obey in very difficult circumstances. What I hear Mary saying is, “I love the Lord. Go back and tell him I’m ready.”

We are also highly favored. In Christ, God offers His grace—unmerited favor, approval which we don’t deserve and cannot earn. With His favor comes enormous responsibility—to take up our cross and follow Him and bring as many as we can with us. I wonder if we need to hit a reset button somewhere, and like Mary, thoughtfully consider what God requires of us—but also consider what He has done for us.

Honestly, in light of the gift of Christ, I think Mary’s response is the only response.

I love you, Lord. I’m ready.

ADVENTures Day 12–Barren

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.     Luke 1:5-13

Don’t get me wrong–I like all the prophecy/Old Testament connections in Advent readings. But I LOVE THIS. I love the story–THE STORY–of how the arrival of the Son of God came about. Here, all the pieces start to come together. People who had never dreamed of playing a role in Messiah’s story get visits from an angel. Today’s part of the story I revel in–because I remember my days of being childless.

I addressed this passage in a very recent post, Pray Boldly, which I’d love for you to read, but I have more thoughts to add here. Women who can’t have children suffer from peculiar feelings of failure. No matter what the doctor said to convince me I was not to blame for the miscarriages, and I knew there was nothing I could do any differently, I simply could not carry a baby to term and so, was a failure. So I thought. It felt like I wasn’t able to do something that was automatic for every other woman around me. For several years, I kept these feelings to myself; I never even told Todd. Finally I said something to a counselor, who, thankfully, validated those feelings and all of my anger.

For Elizabeth, I imagine these feelings were magnified exponentially because of their culture. If you can’t have children, you must be a sinner. Surely there is a reason God has denied you His blessings–His favor. My generation is kinder, thank God. Yet, in general terms, I struggled with the why. A genetics counselor said to me, when I broke down after sitting in a waiting room for over an hour with a bunch of very pregnant women, “You feel persecuted, don’t you?”

Yes, that’s it. Persecuted. Maybe I’m a little old-fashioned, but I’d imagined my future a certain way. I would work until I got pregnant and then stay home and raise my children. That was my purpose; I was sure of it. Everywhere I turned women were great with child, talking about nothing but motherhood, positively giddy about being stay at home moms.

That’s as close a connection as I can make with Elizabeth. Still, it seems pretty close to the heart of things. If this isn’t to be my role, then what is? And what’s so wrong with me having this role in the first place?

Look what God did for Zechariah and Elizabeth. He gave them the son that Elizabeth said took away her disgrace. More than that, he birthed a new purpose in them. They raised the child that will herald the King of Kings.

I was recast as an adoptive mom. Believe me, I don’t regret it. Looking back, this is just one of many times that God placed my feet on a different path than I would have chosen for myself.Road Sometimes it takes years to see how God was working out some purpose, but it has all been worth it.

You may be in one of those seasons of life. Something you had felt sure of didn’t materialize. What you had believed was your purpose is off the table. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? This Christmas, look at those circumstances through the lens of God’s purpose. He works it all for good if you love Him and are called according to His purpose.

I’m praying that this post finds its way to readers who need these words. Grace and peace to you, friends. Merry Christmas.

ADVENTures Day 11–Unwrap

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.   John 1:1-8 (NIV)

I just wrote a piece over today’s scripture right before Thanksgiving, and I don’t think I can dig deep enough to come up with any additional insights right now! I’m actually quite proud of that piece, so I hope you take a look at An Inestimable Masterpiece for thoughts on John 1:3-5.

But I’m not posting without anything new to share. I’d love for you to take a look at this video produced by the students at the school where I teach. I started on my ADVENTures with the goal of meditating on the scriptures and looking expectantly each day to Christ. What I’ve found is that the running theme through my ADVENTures posts has been Christ’s worth, the incomprehensible value of our salvation. This video so beautifully portrays how easily we brush aside a truly priceless, phenomenal gift.

God uses circumstances to get our attention. But His real purpose is to reveal our need for salvation and point us to the Cross. I hope you will unwrap that gift this Christmas and recognize its worth. Glory to the newborn King!

 

ADVENTures Day 9 or (10ish)–Rights? What Rights?

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'” Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.  John 1:9-18 (NIV)

So . . . I missed another day. But I didn’t miss because I was too tired. I missed because I was spending time with my family! That’s a good excuse, right? After a game of Wahoo that put my daughters at each other’s throats, we went light lookin’ (my husband’s term). I had about half of this post written and wanted more time to finish than thirty minutes before my face hit the pillow. Here ya go . . .

I tell my students routinely that they don’t have rights. As you might expect, this provokes some protest. “What??? We have freedom of speech! Freedom of expression!!” And we’re in Arkansas, so, figure on at least one kid per class getting really upset that I’m not acknowledging their 2nd amendment rights. But obviously I’m not in favor of wiping anyone’s Constitutional rights off the books.

Follow me on this. Do you have a right before God to say whatever you want in any way you want? No. The bible says we’ll be held accountable for every careless word that drops from our lips. Women’s rights activists claim that I have the right to choose what to do with a pregnancy. Is that a claim that can be made before God? I’d like to see you try. Or maybe I wouldn’t. The government and its laws allow me plenty of room to act immorally. Do I have a right before God to do those things? Certainly not.

I’ve only seen a couple of places in scripture where the word right is used in this way. Prior to in-depth bible study, like any American, I assumed that documents written by the founding fathers were akin to the gospel. And like any American, I’m grateful that I live in a country where I can speak my mind without fear, assemble to worship the one true God–again, without fear–and I’m not giving up my 2nd amendment rights either.  Political rights and human rights–these are good things, very necessary things, to ensure (or at least strive toward) the safety and equal treatment of all people.

But in terms of my relationship with God, having rights is an illusion. Rights empower me, and when I feel empowered, I tend to make myself an idol. Then I quickly screw something up, rather badly, and find out that I’m not God for a variety of good reasons. As I’ve come to know Him more intimately, I realize how I’ve allowed that American sense of entitlement poison my perception of things. Everything that I have came from Him. Everything. I said to my students once, “Breathe in. Breathe out. God did that. Now thank Him–because you didn’t give you life.”

In this passage, we find that those who receive the Lord Jesus and believe in His name are given the right to become children of God. It’s a curious use of that word. He may be extending to me a right, but it’s the right to be a child–dependent, maybe even helpless–under the absolute authority of an all-powerful God. My political rights give me the power to challenge authority if the need arises. God is in authority over all of us–whether we choose to acknowledge that authority or not. His power is absolute, which would be threatening if He weren’t also just, righteous, and good.

The right to be a child of God means that my status has changed–my days of slavery have ended; the King has adopted me and paid for it with His blood. Forever I will have the right to lean entirely on the power of my Father. That’s a radical gift for many, many reasons–not the least of which is that I get to depend on Him rather than myself. I’ll gladly give up entitlement in order to have the pressure transferred to someone who can truly handle it!

What we have in the Lord is favor which is unmerited and cannot be earned. “Out of His fullness, we have all received grace . . .” Lots of gifts will be exchanged this Christmas, some quite expensive. We will interpret the value of each gift, sometimes because of the expense, sometimes based on a gift’s usefulness, or maybe a gift is priceless in our eyes because of the identity of the giver.

In being given a Savior, we have value in all three. It is priceless, it is eternal. The Giver of Grace IS THE GIFT, and He IS priceless and eternal.

giver of grace

 

Lord, open our eyes to see the incomparable value of Your gift to us.