Posted in Character, Faith

Taking off the Mask of Pride

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Pride can take many forms. As a long-time Christian, I like to think that I’m free from it. Just when I feel pretty comfortable about my relationship with Jesus, He reveals a hidden area of pride. The Lord recently unmasked some pride in my life at a doctor’s appointment. I have been dealing with some health issues for many years, all my life really. When he mentioned that I will probably need to be on medication for the rest of my life, tears filled my eyes. I didn’t like hearing that news, and I told him so. Ever so wisely and I believe he was led by the Holy Spirit (My doctor is a Christian), he asked me to explain. I told him I know the Lord uses medication to bring healing, and I would completely support my husband or kids or friends taking medication to support their health. But I don’t want to be that person…the one needing to take the medication. Gently my doctor inquired, “Do you think that might be a form of pride?” Immediately I sensed the Lord’s conviction, and I said, “You have definitely given me something to pray and think about.”

I went home and prayed about it. Sure enough…the Lord shined His gracious light into my soul. I want to be the one person in my circle of family and friends to be untouched by physical or mental pain. I want to be free from the need of any medical or emotional assistance. Why? Because I want to be the person lending encouragement and support without requiring anything in return. Because I want to be available to minister from a place of strength to those that are hurting. Suddenly I saw it clearly. Beneath the noble looking veneer lay spiritual pride. My desire centered on being adequate in my self rather than dependent on Jesus.

Spiritual pride is deceptive and sneaky. It disguises itself in many forms, and it can take prayerful discernment to recognize it. Here are just a few ways it shows up.

Being ungrateful. Pride blinds people to their blessings. What we have is not good enough, and we complain about it. When asked how he was doing, my former pastor would always answer, “Better than I deserve.” He was keenly aware of God’s grace. In reality, because of our sinful, fallen natures we deserve nothing good, and yet the Lord blesses us far more than we deserve. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1).

Wanting recognition. Pride causes people to seek attention from others with a desire to please them. If our efforts are not noticed, we feel rejected or resentful. As Christians we are to do everything as to the Lord and not to men. If you serve others, God notices. That’s all the recognition we need. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ” (Col. 3:23-24).

Acting defensive. People that struggle with pride are unteachable. We are not receptive to learning from others, and do not listen well. We do not readily admit to making mistakes, and often will blame others. “Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning” (Pro.9:9). Pride is also highly critical of other’s shortcomings, quick to notice and point out other’s faults, while deflecting or making allowances for own own. The Scriptures in Gal. 5:22-23 describes the fruit of the Spirit that should characterize our lives. Our approach to others should be loving, patient, kind, and gentle.

Seeking independence. This is one I struggle with most. It manifests in two thoughts: “Don’t be a burden” and “Do it perfectly.” God created human beings for relationship with Himself and each other. His Word instructs us about the vitality found in community. Somehow though we still buy in to the “self-made man or woman.” As we try to be self-sufficient, pride isolates us. Not wanting to burden others (or the Lord) with our problems cuts us off from the life-giving source we need. Spirit-filled community is highlighted throughout The Book of Acts. Then there is “Do it perfectly.” That belief is a slave driver. Perfectionism torments us to strive to be perfect, which is absolutely impossible. Perhaps, then, we will be pleased with ourselves and worthy before the Lord. Pride tells us our value is determined by our works and we are capable of achieving it ourselves. It ignores the grace of God He so lovingly gives and upon which He builds His Kingdom. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

So I have surrendered this area of pride to the Lord. I am taking my medicine every day and thanking the Lord for it. I believe that He is ultimately my healer, but I am not the one in charge of how that looks. He is.

“…The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8, NLT).

Friends, I issue you a personal challenge. Ask the Lord to reveal an area of your life where you allow pride to affect your thinking or actions. Refuse pride access and open your heart to His humility and grace.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I come before You, knowing that I am prone to pride. Forgive me for the times I am ungrateful and seek personal recognition. Forgive me when I am critical of others and for the desire to be sufficient and perfect in myself. Open my eyes by the Holy Spirit when I open the door to pride. Teach me to walk in humility, love, and complete dependence on you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith

Location Really Matters

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If you talk to a real estate agent, they will tell you about the importance of location. “Location, location, location,” they will say. A house can be beautiful, but if it’s in a bad neighborhood, it will be difficult to sell. An office building can be appealing, but it will be overlooked if it’s in the wrong part of town. Our location as Christians is vital to our faith, as well.

The Bible speaks of two different locations for believers.

First, Christ is in you. When we trust Christ as Savior and Lord, His Spirit dwells within us individually. This would seem impossible if the Scriptures didn’t say so.

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, NIV).

“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).

We are more than followers that are helped by Christ. He literally lives in us, empowering us by the same Holy Spirit present in the Resurrection. He dwells in us and is with us every moment. We have more than enough power to live for Him and accomplish the plans He has set before us.

Do you realize that Christ is in you? What difference does it make to know that He makes His home in you?

Equally important, you are in Christ. This provides an image of the greatness of Christ and the Church.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).

Sometimes I limit the power of God in my mind by the way I view my own humanity. I know the Holy Spirit dwells in me, but I also know myself—my weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. However, I also know there is something so much greater than myself. I am part of the fullness in Christ and share in the glory of His body. I am blessed to participate in beauty, diversity, and corporate strength.

Do you realize that you are in Christ? What difference does it make to know that you are at home in Him?

Location really matters. Christ is in you. You are in Christ. Let the truth of both locations sink into your mind and heart, and set you free.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that Christ is in me, and I am in Christ. Open my eyes to truly understand what that means. Let me believe the truth of Your Word. Empower me by Your Spirit to thrive in life, in my relationships, and as a leader. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Vision & Goal Setting

Hold on to God’s Promises

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This weekend I got to spend time with all five of my grandchildren. Ariana and Bianca live with me (and their beautiful mama—my daughter). We changed up our routine and went to a park for some sunshine and fresh air. It was heartwarming to watch them run and skip and jump across the grass, at age five still uninhibited by what others might think.

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Then we had a short visit with sweet baby Emma. She is growing so quickly. A cuddly two and a half month old, she is becoming more alert and is starting to coo. Papa (my husband) even made her laugh.

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We also decided to take a day trip to see our little grandsons, Rhett and Macallan. Rhett, age two, is adjusting to his new brother. He is charming, expressive, and always on the move. Macallan, who arrived less than a month ago, slept peacefully as my husband and I took turns holding him.

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My life is so blessed. I love my kids and grandkids. Being available to my family is one of my ministries.

Several years ago, the Lord spoke to my heart, “There are more children for you to love.” I was pretty certain that didn’t mean I would be having more babies. My four older kids had already left home and my youngest daughter was a teenager. So, my husband and I applied to become foster parents and took all the required classes. Unfortunately our house didn’t pass approval, because our in-ground pool was in disrepair and didn’t have a fence around it. We didn’t have the thousands of dollars to fix it, so our application was denied. That was a confusing time for me, because I was certain the Lord had given me a picture (although fuzzy) that there were more children for me to love. If it wasn’t foster children, what else could it be? Looking back, I have the benefit of knowing that the Lord revealed a long view of my life, while in the moment I could only see things from my limited perspective.

Sometimes the Lord’s vision for our lives and ministries is so compelling it feels like it will be accomplished immediately. However, we need to take the long view, remembering that vision is meant for the future, and the future may be distant. The Lord asks us to take it step by step, day by day, opportunity by opportunity. As we go about life, we hold onto God’s promises.

I think of the story of Joseph, the eleventh son of twelve boys. God showed him dreams of the future, a vision that he would one day be the ruler of his family. In the ignorance and arrogance of youth, he misinterpreted those dreams. He ended up in an Egyptian prison, but he held fast to his faith in God and the dreams he was shown. In the fullness of God’s time, Joseph become the second in command, Pharaoh’s right hand man with responsibilities to manage the nation’s abundant resources during an extended famine.

I also think of Mary, the mother of our Savior. The angel delivered God’s message that she would miraculously give birth to a baby. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33). She raised Jesus, knowing He was on a mission. But his mission unfolded in unexpected ways. Mary kept God’s vision close to her heart, often pondering what it all meant. She endured her son’s horrific crucifixion. It was not until his resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that Mary understood. Even then, she couldn’t have imagined the powerful influence of Jesus Christ two thousand years later.

These two examples of taking the long view are more dramatic than most of us will experience, but they still remind us to serve God and His people faithfully while walking out our call. What has the Lord placed in your heart or given you a vision for your family? Ministry? Organization? Do what you can do with passion and excellence. Trust the Lord to bring the vision to pass, realizing He has revealed the long view to you. Don’t give up in the midst of difficulties and darkness. Detours, challenges, and failures can all be preparation leading to the God-sized picture He has shown you. Hold on to God’s promises, and keep moving forward.

Let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

The revelation awaits an appointed time: it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and not delay (Habakkuk 2:2-3).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of vision. While I take the steps that make sense, help me also to trust that You will accomplish Your purposes through me. Encourage me when it seems that my efforts are failing. Remind me that You have shown me the long view, and You are faithful to complete the good work You started. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith

Easter Every Day

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I love the glorious Easter season. There is such joy in celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, worshiping Him for His supreme sacrifice. He paid for the penalty of sin by dying on the cross. I marvel at the miracle of new life. Christ defeated the Enemy and conquered death when He rose from the grave on the third day.

Around the world the Church proclaims, “Hallelujah! Christ is risen!”

“He is risen indeed!”

It’s effortless to join the multitudes in declaring praise to our God on this pinnacle holiday. It’s easy to embrace the truth of who we are in Christ.

  • The power of sin is broken over our lives.
  • We are no longer slaves to sin.
  • We are made new and walk in the freedom from the past.
  • We stand in victory over darkness and evil.
  • Eternal hope springs from our souls.
  • We are royalty, adopted into the Family of God.
  • We are deeply loved by our Heavenly Father.

There is so much more. I’m sure you could add to this starter list.

It feels natural to rejoice as we participate in the splendor of Resurrection Day.

But then, what happens on Monday and the days that follow? Is it life as usual, back to normal?

And, what about the truths that seemed so real on Easter? Are they placed on the back burner until Easter rolls around again?

Here is a challenge for myself, as well as those who read this blog:

If Easter is real, then let’s live like it is. Every day. Sunday through Saturday. January through December.

I don’t have to try harder or be stronger. I embrace the truth of Easter and live by Resurrection power.

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you (Romans 8:11, NLT).

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

Jesus is alive, and His Spirit lives in me. Come what may, He makes all the difference! Now that’s Easter every single day.
Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for showing Your great love by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. My faith is based on Your Resurrection and the power You provide. I believe that Easter is true. Help me walk by Your Spirit and live in Your Spirit today and every day. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Vision & Goal Setting

Set the Record Straight

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As a young girl, the desire to set the record straight was perhaps one of my strongest traits. To me accurate facts and figures were absolute necessities. It was never good enough to give a ball park figure when the precise data was available. If something cost $1.09, one should never say it cost $1.00. I was quick to set the record straight.

Correct grammar, in written and spoken form, was even more important to me. Nobody was safe from my scrutiny. I adored my sixth grade teacher, but every so often she would misspell a word. I would approach her during recess when the other students were gone and point out the misspelled word on the board. She was very gracious, and sometimes she would disagree with me. Then, we would go to the dictionary. I was right every time! I felt so proud, not because I was smarter than the teacher, but because in some small way I had made the world a better place by setting the record straight.

My poor mom, however, was the recipient of treatment that was less than honoring. I was ready to pounce on any misspoken phrase.

“Dad and I, not Dad and me.”

“This time, it’s correct to say Dad and me.”

“Argh…don’t end a sentence with a preposition!”

Needless to say, my mom felt disrespected by me and exasperated at me. “Just let me speak!” she would exclaim.

I really wasn’t trying to be difficult. In my heart, I wanted to help my mom. I was driven to set the record straight.

Today accurate facts and proper grammar are still important to me, but I have learned more appropriate ways of addressing errors. Thankfully I have become more flexible and actually overlook mistakes from time to time.

Overlooking errors can be helpful in our relationships with others, but it is harmful when it comes to errors in our own thinking. We must be swift to set the record straight with negative and self-defeating thoughts that enter our minds.

At the start of every new year, there is a huge push to make a New Year’s resolution for better living. We are encouraged to develop new behaviors that eventually become healthy habits. However, before we can consistently change our actions, it is imperative to address the thoughts behind our actions.

Perhaps there is an inner critic who pummels your sense of worth.

Perhaps there is an inner skeptic who tells you how impossible your goal is and casts gloom on your pursuits.

Perhaps the Enemy unleashes fiery darts of condemnation until you feel ready to give up.

Or perhaps there is something else.

Whatever it is, we must pay attention to the lies that threaten to sabotage our progress, and then set the record straight with the truth.

One serious error in my own thinking comes in the form of believing I am too weak to accomplish what God asks of me. I am too weak; the task is too big. I use Scripture to set the record straight, and allow the Holy Spirit to redirect my attention to the truth.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me…For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10b).

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you (Romans 8:11).

Where do you get sidetracked in your thinking? What truth can you declare to set the record straight and thrive in your pursuits to grow and change?

I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:16-18).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I want to please You. I desire my life to reflect the image of Christ. As I set goals in this new year, help me identify the errors in my thinking and the lies I believe that stand in opposition to the truth. Help me set the record straight with Your Word, in order to grow in You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Servant Leadership, Vision & Goal Setting

Telescopic Vision and the Wise Men

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When we think of the Christmas story, some important characters come to mind. First and foremost is the Christ Child with His mother Mary and Joseph. There are the angels and shepherds. Almost every nativity scene includes the magi, wise men from the East who travel to find the Holy Babe in order to worship Him. Historically the wise men arrived at His residence some time between His dedication at the temple (eight days old) and before He turned two years of age. It is entirely possible that Jesus Christ was walking and talking when the wise men presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Even though the wise men aren’t technically a part of the birth of Christ, their dedication to find and worship Him is remembered and celebrated. January 6th is designated as Epiphany—the Day of the Wise Men—and marks the end of the Christmas holiday.

The magi were men of vision. Men of great learning, by studying the stars they had discovered that the King of the Jews was born. They made it their mission to seek Him. During the same time, Israel was in upheaval because of the census. Everyone was required to go to their birthplace to register. The typical person wasn’t concerned with looking at the sky and pondering the meaning of the arrival of a new star. Their focus was to deal with the inconvenience of Caesar’s decree and to get through the day.

Rev. Ken Williamson describes the contrast in approaches as telescopic vision versus microscopic vision.

Like the wise men of old, telescopic vision looks beyond the here and now. It focuses on the possibilities and recognizes God’s presence in the future as it unfolds. It is full of faith and hope, relying on the Lord to lead the way.

Microscopic vision looks at the infinitesimal details of the current situation and gets weighed down. It is realistic and practical, but is also easily distracted by the stressors of the present.

It would be ideal to combine the best of both visions. Unfortunately, we tend to favor one approach over the other. There is definitely a time and place to tend to the affairs of today, but we must guard against operating in survival mode. However, in order to thrive as leaders, we must develop the habit of telescopic vision.

We gaze at the horizon, trusting in God’s goodness and unlimited resources. We walk forward faithfully, confident in God’s incredible plans, and invite others to join us.

Tradition says that after the wise men worshiped Jesus Christ, they returned to their homes and shared the good news of His birth. They continued to practice telescopic vision and looked forward to salvation. Eventually they were baptized by the Apostle Thomas.

Be encouraged by the wise men’s pursuit of Jesus Christ this Christmas season. With eyes of faith, pursue God’s love and will for you, your family, and other places of influence.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of the wise men. Thank You for their vision to find and worship Jesus. Thank You for their obedience to not go back to Herod and return to their home by another way. Help me to follow You with telescopic vision, being full of hope and trust as You lead the way. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith

May We Never Lose Our Wonder

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Thanksgiving is over, and the Christmas season is officially upon us. Carols are playing; people are rushing around to buy the perfect gifts for their loved ones; schedules are filled with parties and social events. It truly is an exciting time of the year.

In the midst of the festive hustle and bustle, I am challenged to remember the reason for the busy-ness in the first place. Christmas is all about the Christ Child coming to the earth to bring salvation to mankind as foretold centuries before. Angels fill the back drop of the Christmas narrative. An angel visits the Virgin Mary. Joseph has a dream where an angel encourages him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. A choir of angels proclaim the birth of the newborn King to the shepherds. It is a season of wonder.

The problem is I have become too familiar with the story. The miracles have become mundane; the extraordinary has become ordinary. Somehow I have put the Savior of the world in a box and placed Him under the tree. And sadly my heart is no longer stirred.

Can you relate to this, my friend? The condition goes beyond the month of December. Losing our sense of wonder for the God of the Universe can plague us throughout the year.

First we lose our sense of wonder, and then we lose our sense of hope.

What can we do to regain our amazement for the Lord?

We must replace apathy with a passion for our Savior. It is not enough to go through the motions of faith. We must engage our hearts and minds with openness and curiosity. No matter how much we think we know about Jesus, we must cultivate an eagerness to learn and discover more.

In the case of the Christmas story, put yourself in the place of the characters. Imagine what they personally thought, felt, and experienced. Allow the story to become alive in your soul.

When it comes to knowing God, ask the Holy Spirit to teach you. Study the Scriptures, trusting the Lord to show you more about Himself. Don’t be complacent about your relationship with Jesus. Expect Him to reveal Himself to you.

My grandson, Rhett, is one year old. The last time he visited me, he started a new game. He motioned for me to pick him up. As I carried him around the house, he would point wide-eyed to items for me to name. At first they were things he hadn’t seen before. After several times of this activity, we returned to the same objects. Rhett never grew tired, and even though he had seen some of the items again and again, his eyes continued to be wide and he studied them with renewed interest.

Oh, that we would be more like Rhett! Allow our Heavenly Father to carry us along, with wide-eyed wonder, learning more about Himself and His glorious Kingdom.

As wonder is restored, hope springs forward in our lives. Faith comes alive. The impossible looks possible. We can see light in the darkest situation.

May we never lose our wonder. Let us continue to grow in amazement of our truly awesome God.

Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare (Psalm 40:5).

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High (Psalm 9:1-2).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, may I never lose the wonder of who You are. Help me to grow in childlike faith. I want to see light in the darkness, and embrace hope instead of fear. During this Christmas season, increase my amazement in You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

All You Need is Love???

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“They are way too young.”

“They are totally incompatible.”

“They’ll be divorced within a year.”

These words were spoken over my husband and me in 1985 shortly after we were engaged to be married. Yes, we were young. On our wedding day I was barely 18; he was almost 20. We were opposites in almost every way. Except for our love for Jesus and each other, and our desire to change the world, we had little in common. We’ve had some rocky seasons in our marriage, but I’m happy to say we just celebrated our 31st anniversary.

The years have flown by. It almost seems like yesterday that Jonathan and I decided to get married. We were so full of hopes and dreams, and convinced that it was God’s will for our lives. I believed that the Lord had spoken a promise to my heart.

“This is the one I have chosen for you. Through your relationship, you will learn about My love.”

My heart longed to experience God’s love more deeply. Learning about His love through marriage to my best friend sounded like a fairy tale. What more would a girl need?

You’re probably shaking your head at my naivety.

“Relationships are complex,” you’d counsel.

“You can’t expect that much from another human being,” you’d caution.

I’m not sure my teenage self would have listened though.

Fast forward twelve years, and I would have been ready to listen. Jonathan and I were the pastors of a small church in a small town. Jonathan worked a full time job 60 miles away to support our family. My days were spent homeschooling four kids, caring for a newborn with special needs, and holding down the fort of ministry. I struggled with depression that, in hind sight, should have been treated medically. I loved my husband, I loved my kids, and I loved our congregation, but I felt lonely and empty. The Lord’s promise spoken to my heart was a distant memory. I wondered if I had been hallucinating.

As I questioned the Lord through tears, I felt prompted to read 1 Corinthians 13. I argued, “But I already know what it says. That’s the Love Chapter.” Nevertheless, I opened to the passage.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV).

I continued with my defense. “Lord, I’m doing my best to love, but I’m not receiving this kind of love from anyone.”

Ever so gently, the Lord pointed out my error. “This isn’t talking about human love. This kind of love comes only from Me.”

Suddenly my eyes were open to God’s precious love poured out on me. Beyond the gift of new life through Jesus, and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit (which would be more than enough), He cared intimately for me. Because I had experienced His faithful love, I was able to love my husband, children, and church. They were doing their best to love me, but I expected their love to make me whole. Human love, no matter how wonderful, can never do that.

Are we expecting too much of our human relationships?

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Please understand, I believe we should invest in our marriage, family, and friendships. God designed marriage to be a picture of Christ’s love for His Church, and we should strive for that (Ephesians 5:25-33). Our relationships should be healthy and respectful. There is no room for abuse.

However as human beings, even with the best of intentions, we love imperfectly. In healthy relationships, we let each other down. We get in trouble when we expect love from people to fill the emptiness in our souls. That place belongs solely to the Lord.

It’s true. All we need is love. But it’s God’s love we need. As we live in His love, we are able to love others whether or not they deserve it. Our relationships may be lacking or even broken, but they never determine our worth. When our hearts are filled with God’s love we thrive as His dearly loved children regardless of the circumstances.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your perfect love. I am grateful for the kindness and acceptance you have poured out on me. Help me experience Your love and receive worth from You alone. As I live in Your love, empower me to love those You have placed in my life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Three Things My Mom Taught Me

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A few days ago I had my 49th birthday. The Lord has been so good to me. Not that life is easy. In fact, the last few years have been painful because of significant loss and also with intensive emotional healing. I have lifted the lid to my past and acknowledged the dysfunction and brokenness of my childhood, inviting Jesus to heal me. Excruciating and yet liberating.

But it has been tough for my parents too. I understand. Almost every parent, Christ-follower or not, tries their hardest and wants the best for their kids. It’s heart wrenching to find out that despite your best intentions and efforts, it wasn’t enough to protect them from being damaged in some way. However, in celebration of my birthday, I want to reflect on the rich blessings poured out on me. For starters, I give thanks to the Lord for my mom.

My mom was 18 years old when she found out she was pregnant. The doctor recommended she have an abortion. After all she was young and had just started college. Despite the conventional wisdom of the day, she chose life for me. For that reason alone, I am deeply grateful.

My parents got married and wanted a happy family, but it didn’t work out. It was difficult and confusing to navigate divorce as a child. I would have loved to have been raised by two parents on the same team in the same household. Nevertheless, they invested in my life in different ways and taught me some valuable lessons that continue to shape me. Today I want to share with you three things I learned from my mom.

  1. It’s never too late to change. My mom committed her life to Christ at the age of 32. She had done a lot of living before then, marked by broken relationships and poor choices. I have heard her compare herself to the woman at the well in John Chapter 4. And like the woman at the well, my mom was radically changed when she encountered Jesus. The Savior lovingly reached out to her, she took His hand, and I have witnessed her walk out the process of glorious transformation. No matter her age, my mom is committed to growing personally, in her relationship with Christ, and in her relationships with others. In fact, her marriage to my step-dad speaks loudly of her desire to change. After suffering through three divorces, my mom recently celebrated twenty years of marriage to her beloved husband.
  2. Always take the high road. Most of my mom’s career has been focused on public sector and non-profit work. She is an excellent administrator and has great skills in networking and building partnerships. Unfortunately, she has also been viewed negatively by others who felt that she threatened their agendas. My mom has been the recipient of ugly words and treatment. At times, she has endured immense pressure. Regardless of how she is treated, my mom will not stoop to their level. She stands firm in her position, but extends kindness and respect. She is not two-faced; she does not speak negatively about others. My mom relies on the Lord to help her respond with truth, honesty, and integrity. And, no matter what, to love and pray for those who opposed her.
  3. Be brave enough to acknowledge your mistakes. It is hard for most people to admit they are wrong. A sense of fear or shame can be powerful when looking at our failures. We want to hide or bury the mistake, or we respond defensively out of self-protection. Yet, my mom can look at fear or shame, take a deep breath, and muster enough courage to deal with past and present issues—whether small or large. She taught me to be brave enough to acknowledge little mistakes. Rather than lying to cover it up or getting angry at the one who pointed it out, she takes responsibility. Having nothing to prove, she says something like, “Oh, that was me. I did it. Sorry about that!” My mom also taught me to be brave enough to look at the big mistakes. This ability has been a gift to me especially while on my own healing journey the last few years. As I have talked with her about childhood abuse and trauma, she has listened with grace. She does not justify herself. She does not minimize my experiences. Instead, she tries to understand my perspective and see how she contributed to my pain, even though her motivation as a parent was not to hurt me. I have tried modeling this approach with my own adult children. I know I have not parented perfectly. Even though it is scary, I want to be brave enough to acknowledge my mistakes, and see my kids experience the healing they need.

As I embark on a new year and approach the age 50, my goal is to incorporate these lessons into my life more fully. I am so thankful for my mom and the things she taught me. I hope that her example is an inspiration to you, as well. I encourage you to use her lessons as tools to help you thrive in life and in the positions God has called you.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7).

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen (2 Peter 3:18).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank you for teaching me and speaking to my heart. Help me to learn from parents, mentors, and others you have placed in my life, and to apply their wisdom. Continue to mold me and make me to be more like You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Sacrifice Doesn’t Have to Hurt

man-in-pain

“How much do you sacrifice for the Kingdom of God?” It was a profound question asked by the pastor during the Sunday morning message. The challenge was to live with a Kingdom mindset, passionately putting others’ interests above our own. It caused me to examine my life.

I began to wonder if there is any area that I truly sacrifice. Certainly I try to live in obedience to the Lord and have an open heart to the needs of others. But most of the time it doesn’t feel inconvenient or like a burden. I tithe ten percent of my income and give extra as the Lord leads, but it is a blessing for me. Is that sacrifice? Can sacrifice be sacrifice if it doesn’t hurt? I spent some time prayerfully searching the Scriptures for answers.

This is what I believe: Sacrifice doesn’t have to hurt.

Of course I agree with the concept of sacrifice. After all, sacrifice is a recurring theme in the Bible. Sometimes we get the idea that sacrifice must be painful, or, at the very least, uncomfortable. There is no doubt that the Old Testament sacrifices involving animals were painful for the animals. However, for those who believe that Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice given once for all, sacrifice takes on a different flavor.

Romans 12:2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

To interpret the passage, it’s important to know that “bodies” refer to the whole person—spirit, soul, mind, will, and emotions—as embodied individuals.

Because of the final blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike belong together as the people of God. In response, we offer our entire selves in an attitude of thanksgiving as people spiritually alive, in active relationship with Him.

As I look at the responses of the early Church leaders to sacrifice and suffering, they mirror thanksgiving and joy.

The Apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name (Acts 5:41, NIV).

Wait a minute, they had just been flogged for preaching the Gospel.

At about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and signing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).

Really?! They had just been attacked, flogged, and unjustly thrown into prison.

If it were me, I’m afraid my response might be something like this.

“Oh, Lord, look at me Your humble servant. Do you see how much I am sacrificing for Your Name? Gloom, despair, and agony on me. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all (insert dramatic moaning). I think I’ve sacrificed enough for a life time. Would you please give me a place to live on Easy Street?”

Thankfully my responses haven’t been recorded for everyone to read.

I believe that we can pay so much attention to the acts of sacrifice that we lose sight of what it means to live a surrendered life. Sacrifice by itself is empty. Sacrifice can look impressive, but if it does not flow from surrender the motivation is selfish and the results fleeting.

Surrender is the root; sacrifice is the fruit.

When we surrender ourselves to the Lord, we give the control and use of our lives to Him. All of our time and resources belong to Him. We live with a constant realization that everything we are is a gift from Him, and we offer it all back in worship to Him.

When we are surrendered to Jesus, sacrifice is not drudgery. Not always easy, not always comfortable, but never drudgery. There is freedom and joy to sacrifice—to give up something, because something else is more important. What is more important than loving and serving people, so that they experience the love of God?

When sacrifice feels painful or when resentments begin to surface, it’s time to examine our hearts again. We thrive when we are fully surrendered to Jesus. Sacrifice is a glorious by-product.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:16).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I give my life to you anew. Help me by Your Holy Spirit to live a surrendered life before you. As I surrender, may sacrifice flow with love and joy. Use me to sacrifice so that people are touched by Your love. Let me be Your hands, feet, and heart to others, so that Your Kingdom is built. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.