Archive for Encouragement

The “Golden Rule” of Love

On this day that society encourages us to celebrate “love” through cards, candy, jewelry, and special dinners…I am so grateful God spoke to me continually as to what the love of Jesus really looks like.  His kind of love truly is worth celebrating – every day!  This revelation brought lots of conviction and repentance.  It is a truth that is difficult to walk out because my flesh gets in the way so often.  But what God is showing me is that it’s not that love doesn’t have expectations of others.  Jesus Himself set the relational standard pretty high when He told us, ” ‘Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you’ “ (Matthew 7:12 – The “Golden Rule”).  So human nature would be tempted to think, “Well, I did this good thing for them, so they should return the favor.”  All throughout the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John), Jesus does indeed give us a clear picture of what we should expect in relationships.  Expectations keep us accountable, and often challenge us to walk in our God-given roles.  However, the key is that while even Jesus has high expectations of us, His love is NEVER conditional as to whether or not we meet His expectations.  He is fully aware that we are flesh, and we will fall short of His standard (expectations).  He loves us anyway, and He doesn’t take offense or get hurt when we miss the mark…which we often do unintentionally.  This is also the case many times in human-to-human relationships – unintentional falling short of anothers’ valid expectations.  Jesus doesn’t dwell on the unmet expectations.  I imagine most of our relationships** would be vastly improved if we could do the same…consistently apply the “Golden Rule of Love” so to speak: “I have expectations of you in this relationship, yet my love for you is not conditional to your meeting those expectations.  So as I love you, I would like for you to love me in the same way…”

** This is not including abusive relationships.  Love does not mean you should stay in a situation that would an enable an abuser to continue deliberately causing further harm.

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Obstacle or Opportunity??

My favorite season is autumn, and the colors and weather we have this time of year in the South are amazing!  Today was beautiful outside, so I headed off to the mountains to hike on some trails.  As is so often the case when I am outdoors, God uses nature to parallel for me what is happening in my life.  Shortly after I got on the trail today, I sensed God speaking deeper meaning to what I was seeing with my natural eyes.  So I begin to listen intently as I walked.  The messages He spoke could not have been timelier!

The trail was by far the slowest moving of any I’ve ever hiked.  I had to be extremely cautious with each step.  God used the boulders I encountered on this trail to paint a picture for me of the obstacles or hindrances we encounter on our journeys through life.  Here are a few of the thoughts He shared with me:

I was surrounded by a breathtaking view of trees with their autumn leaves, bright blue skies, mountains, bluffs, and the Tennessee River snaking through it all.  The wind was blowing, the leaves rustling, and a nearby waterfall flowing.  Yet because the trail was so rocky, I had to keep my eyes down and intently focus on each step to be sure I didn’t trip…

“Stop.  Look.  Listen.  You are so focused on how you’re going to make it past the rocks beneath your feet, or the boulder right in front of you, that you are missing the gift I’ve provided you through your surroundings.  You do this in life as well. When you focus on the obstacles directly in front of you, you miss the bigger picture – My view of your circumstances, which is one of awe and wonder at the grand picture I have painted.  Not to mention My perspective makes your boulder look more like a pebble!”

I recall seeing a natural-made staircase, formed of massive rocks. As I walked toward it, I heard Him say…

“Boulders – or challenges – in your path are really stepping stones necessary for you to move forward on your journey.  What may appear to be an obstacle slowing you down has actually been crafted by My hands as the only way in which you can proceed forward.”

I could only walk a few steps without having to slowly work my way over or around massive stones.  I’m a person who would rather be running than walking, so the slow-moving journey could have been a bit frustrating had I not been listening for the message in the parallels…

“What you see as obstacles and hindrances to your progress, I see as stepping stones, teaching you lessons like patience, perseverance, reliance on Me…and giving you the increased ability to hear my voice should you choose to ask for My guidance in navigating your obstacles.  These stepping stones are vital for you to move forward on your journey.  You see them as a nuisance slowing down your progress; I see them as a necessity growing you in the process.”

Several times there were boulders in front of me that were at least 3-4 times my height, equally as wide, and obviously immobile.  Some were rounded; others were pointed on the top.  But all shared a similar quality: they weren’t going anywhere!!  If I wanted to move forward on the trail, I had to find a way over, under, across, or around that particular rock…

“Those bigger obstacles that tempt you to panic, be overwhelmed, annoyed, worried, angered, or distracted…those are the opportunities that most excite Me because I know what lies on the other side of them.  You have no idea how much I am rooting for you, encouraging you not to quit right before you encounter the victory that is within your reach, once you get past the obstacle.”

And when I got past those massive boulders, oh my goodness…I was shocked at the beauty.  The trees parted and from my view thousands of feet in the air, I could see mountain ranges on all sides…a massive river cutting a path through…cliffs made of rock…blue skies and nature at its best, free of any interruptions from mankind…

“I told you!!  You never know what is directly on the other side of what feels to you like the biggest obstacle you have ever faced.  Even when you are momentarily gripped by fear and uncertainty as to how you can possibly make it through this circumstance, thank Me for those obstacles, because when you get past them, you will have an even deeper appreciation for what I already know is waiting for you on the other side!  And yes, what I have prepared for you will always take your breath away!”

Some places I had to stop altogether because I could not see any way to get past the boulder in my path.  I was tempted to blaze my own trail, determined to find a way.  But instead, I chose to look off into the distance, find where the trail continued, then with my eyes follow the trail back to the boulder to discover the way around it.  What was a huge obstacle moments prior didn’t seem like a big deal after all…

“If you get frustrated and choose to go your own way instead of staying on the path I orchestrated, you put yourself at great risk.  Instead, ask for wisdom.  Seek it from me first and foremost, but also ask for counsel from those I’ve placed in your path who have journeyed ahead of you.  No doubt they have faced similar obstacles.  They will show you the way past your current challenge.  Their support, encouragement, and wisdom will give you a confidence that you too can overcome this test.” 

At one clearing I came to, there was a massive rock sitting right on the edge of a cliff thousands of feet in the air.  I observed several people walk up to the rock and lean against it so they could safely look out at the panoramic mountain view…

“Just as that boulder was actually protecting people from falling off the cliff, so at times do the seeming obstacles in your life offer protection for you.  Perhaps they slow you down in a way that annoys you at the time, but you later realize it kept you out of trouble.  Or maybe the seeming delay caused by the obstacle provided enough extra time for you to think and choose wisely, instead of making a sudden decision. What appears to you to be an insurmountable obstacle has actually been designed by Me to keep you from making a much bigger mistake in the future. That same boulder, if placed on the trail in front of you, would have caused you concern as to how to get around it.  Yet when placed on the edge of a cliff, you saw it as a place for safety.  It’s all a matter of perspective.  The very thing you believe stands in the way of your progress may have been strategically placed by Me to prevent you from slipping over the edge.”

Only once throughout the entire hike did I encounter a place where the “obstacle” had already been removed.  This was done so that we could walk through effortlessly.  It was a massive tree that had a portion sawed out of its middle…

“On rare occasions, I will supernaturally deliver you from the obstacles you face.  But more often than not, your deliverance will come only as you proceed forward through the obstacle…you won’t be delivered from it, because My desire is that you mature and be further equipped in the process.” 

In a trail that took about 45 minutes each direction, there were only 2 brief strips that were clear enough for me to run…

“In life, there are the occasional periods where no hindrances seem to be present.  You feel like nothing can stop you; you are free and cruising along.  Then, once again, the inevitable boulder crosses your path and you are forced to slow down and choose your steps wisely in order to be able to proceed forward.  Enjoy those seasons free of challenges, but learn to be even more grateful for the rocky paths – because that’s when you are growing. When you aren’t being challenged, you likely aren’t growing.”

Perhaps your current obstacle is a result of poor choices made.  Maybe it’s an ongoing health issue, relational struggle, or some other difficult circumstance.  Whatever the case, I encourage you to adjust your perspective.  Those challenges look a lot different when you view them with gratitude, knowing they are being used to grow, prepare, and progress you on your journey of life.  They are literally your stepping stones forward.

I am so thankful for a God Who is alive and always speaking.  I pray to be one who is always listening.

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What it Means to be Held

This time of year, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and Easter, it’s impossible for my mind not to go back to 4 years ago, when I was living in Bethlehem.  Though many days and months have passed since then, the sights and smells of the Holy Land are only a moment away from my memory.  That’s not surprising, since Israel is about the closest to “home” that we as Believers can get ’til we are in heaven.

I will forever be grateful for the incredible privilege to experience this sacred season in the very place where it all occurred.  I’ll never forget standing on top of the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday, watching the “parade of nations” where thousands had come from all over the world to walk the same path Jesus followed 2,000 years prior, as He made His entrance into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  The King of all Kings, on a donkey…knowing His destination less than a week later was death in the cruelest form imaginable.  What love.

This Easter season I find myself appreciative beyond words for the place God has brought me to.  A place of healing and freedom that I would have never dreamed possible just over 6 years ago.  A place of abundant life and joy, a purpose that compels me to continually share His love, and a position that enables me to daily be a conduit to others of the same hope Jesus offered me when I needed it most.  None of this new life in me would have been possible had Jesus not humbled Himself and chosen to suffer in my place.

The suffering that Jesus endured is part of what makes Him so approachable for us.  He is a Savior Who understands deep grief, loss, abandonment, false accusation, and so much more.  He is a Friend Who walks with us on the journey, never leaving us alone.  There is a song that spoke volumes to me when I 1st heard it 6 years ago.  God was taking me through serious heart surgery – emotionally and spiritually speaking.  At times on the journey to wholeness, it felt like the tears and “bleeding” would never end.  But it was during those days that I began to understand a truth that religion failed to teach me…that truth was what it really “means to be held”, as Natalie Grant sings about.  Religion keeps the heart cold, lifeless, and striving for acceptance.  Relationship warms the heart, bringing hope and life back to the places that were dead, and establishing acceptance in areas of insecurity.  That’s really what Easter is all about.  The resurrection of Jesus, yes.  But also the reminder of the “resurrection” of sorts that I experienced when I allowed Jesus to walk with me through a season of healing, breathing life into the places of my heart that were seemingly dead from years of suppressed pain.

I am so grateful that God’s allowed me to understand this: “what it means to be held…when the sacred is torn from your heart, and you survive…what it is to be loved, and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we’d be held.”

As the song goes on to say, we all have to choose how we respond to hurts in life – whether those hurts were a consequence of our own choices, or the result of actions done to us.  One response leads to further heartache, while the other leaves room for life to break through again: “This hand is bitterness, we want to taste it and let the hatred numb our sorrows.  The wise hand opens slowly, to lilies of the valley and tomorrow…”

Whatever your loss – whether it be the loss of a relationship, the loss of a dream, the temporary loss of a loved one who is alive in heaven but currently separated from you…whatever your deepest sorrow, I pray this song brings hope to your heart, knowing that the One who conquered death, is the very same One Who carries you during life’s most difficult seasons…which is what it means to be held.

(Due to blog restrictions, you may have to click on the link twice to watch it!)

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A Miracle Waiting to Happen

Have you ever had an encounter with Jesus that transformed your life?  If you have, you know that one touch from Him truly does change everything.  I’ve been so blessed to have experienced many “touches” and “encounters” with Jesus over the past six years.  My life won’t ever be the same.

A couple nights ago I was reading in I Corinthians 13, as I frequently do because I need constant reminders of what God says “love” really is.  I had a friend on my mind and was rather frustrated and discouraged with what seems to be a lack of movement in this individual’s life.  I realize that there is likely a lot going on in the spiritual realm, but as far as my natural eyes can see, nothing positive appears to be happening – and it has been this way for years and years.  This person has been hindered for far too long because of the multiple blows and setback s life has dealt them.  They have more-or-less determined the impact of these blows to be no big deal, and have thus survived their way through life.  I very much believe God has an amazing destiny and purpose for every person on this planet.  So when I see people living below their potential, it generates a lot of emotions  – because the devil has succeeded in his plan to hinder from the abundant, fruitful, and impacting life God offers.

While reading and praying, I was contemplating what the balance is between unconditionally loving someone yet choosing not to accept that they settle for less than God’s best for their lives.  I firmly believe true love helps draw out the best in others – talents, gifts, callings, etc that the individual may not be able to see on their own…and that they may actually resist because they don’t yet see themselves as God and even others see them.  In the midst of my thoughts, I asked God if He could give me an example from Jesus’ life…of a time Jesus loved unconditionally, yet offered the choice for change and a more abundant life. God was so gracious to immediately respond with a story that I was already familiar with, yet He applied it in a most amazing and different way.  This has forever altered the manner in which I will pray for individuals who are “stuck” – for lack of a better word – in a way of life that is less than what God has for them.  I cannot think of another time in my life where a story from the Bible has impacted me on such a deep level.

The Holy Spirit directed me to the story of the man by the pool of Bethesda, in John 5.  Often when we hear that passage discussed, the focus is on the physical healing that took place, as well as the question Jesus asked the sick man: “Do you want to get well?” On this particular night, however, I was led to this story for a few other reasons.  I hope the truths I’m about to share will encourage any of you who have grown weary in watching and waiting on God to intervene in the life of someone you love who seems to be trapped and blind to the reality of their own dilemma…as well as its effect on everyone else in their life.

First, the simple reminder of how long the sick man had been laying by the pool – 38 years! That’s 13,870 days – extremely hard to comprehend!!!  In all the times I’ve heard or read this story, the depth of this man’s sickness didn’t hit home until the other night.  The words “man” and “laying” and “38 years” don’t seem to go together.  Men are problem solvers and fixers by nature.  They are go-getters.  So for this man to be contentedly lying around for that many years tells me he not only had physical limitations, but he also had MAJOR emotional and spiritual issues as well.  His physical sickness may have been the least of his problems!!  Most men would have found a way to get into that pool – whether it was by screaming at the top of their lungs until someone finally threw them in, or some other means…they would’ve taken care of business and been on their way.  A normal man would not likely have spent 38 hours by the side of that pool – let alone 38 years!  That was a long time to lay around doing nothing pro-active in life…waiting on someone else to make the next move for him.  The friend I am so concerned about has also been “lying by the pool” so to speak, doing nothing to move forward…just simply surviving, and watching as life passes by.

Next is the description of those by the pool – “Hundreds of sick people—blind, crippled, paralyzed – – there is much spiritual and emotional application here.  The “sickness” that has had my friend for years has literally “blinded” (spiritually…causing them to not even see the depth of their own illness), “crippled” (emotionally…from being able to walk out the full of their God-given gender roles and responsibilities), and it has “paralyzed” (spiritually and emotionally…preventing this friend from moving at all. They are motionless, opinion-less, and directionless unless someone gets behind them and pushes them one way or another).  This is incredibly difficult and sad to watch.

John 5:6 says Jesus found the man “stretched out by the pool.” To me this sounds like the man was comfortable right where he was at.  Comfortably sick; functionally dysfunctional. Nothing was being required of him.  People expected him to do what he had done for 38 years – lay there, watching other people get healed.  My friend has stayed comfortably sick for years, while watching family members, as well as numerous others who have passed through their life, pursue and take hold of their healing.  For the sick man in John 5, as well as for my friend, the possibility of living healed was not yet as inviting as simply staying stretched out in a position of “comfort.”  Though very disabled, this man had grown accustomed to his lack because being sick was easy…he was quite good at it.  Going after that healing was too much work, too much effort.  It was so much easier to just watch others at the pool, then blame people for not being willing to toss him in the healing waters.  It is doubtful that he ever even asked.

38 years. How many people gave up on him?  Did family ever come visit him by the pool?  Did his friends consider him to be a lost cause?  Did he even have a clue that his constant presence by the pool meant that other people were robbed of all God had equipped him to share with his sphere of influence?  It is very likely that no one believed he would ever be healed.  Most probably thought he would die just as he had lived – stretched out by the pool…so close to life-changing healing, yet too far to experience its power.

UNTIL…HE ENCOUNTERED JESUS!!!! I wonder how many other people – sick and whole alike – had talked to this man in those 38yrs.  No doubt many who had experienced those healing waters approached him and told him – “Just go for it!  Life will be so different for you when you do.  At least start moving toward those healing waters.  If you’re worried that you can’t get in the pool in time, let us move you to the very edge, so all you have to do is roll off the side and into the pool when the waters start moving.” I am certain that this man, like my friend, had countless opportunities to pursue his healing long before he encountered Jesus.  I also have no doubt that MANY were frustrated with him because they saw how different his life could be – if he would just go for it!!!  But they couldn’t do it for him, just as you, I, or anyone else cannot make that move for those we love.  This story is such amazing proof that a personal encounter with Jesus – even a very brief one – can alter a person’s life forever!!!

This is what really blew my mind about the love of God and Jesus.  I am sure it grieved the heart of God that this man wasted 38 years of his life lying beside a pool that seemed to offer the solutions to his issues.  Yet God loved this man, and still had hope for him because He saw the man’s past, his present, and most importantly, the man’s future – and that future did not include another day of being immobile and ineffective. God’s answer for this man’s sickness wasn’t the same as it had been for others.  The healing waters had made many well, but for this man – who was doing absolutely nothing pro-active to change his current lot in life – God sent the greatest solution of all: Jesus!!!!

Something major happened when Jesus entered the Bethesda pool area.  The atmosphere changed because THE Healer had walked in.  Those “healing waters” suddenly became just a shadow in His presence.  While there were many at the pool in need of healing, we are not told that Jesus approached any of the others.  Jesus’ focus was solely on the man who was no doubt the sickest, and who had been there the longest…the one most people likely wrote off as lazy and content to remain that way ‘til he died.  Jesus saw the sick man through different lenses – the lenses of unconditional love (by the way, He views you and I through these lenses too!).  Jesus pursued that man, asked him if he wanted to be well, and then invited him to walk into his destiny – literally.  The man accepted the invitation, and his life was never the same.  His life changed IMMEDIATELY – no residual effects of the seemingly lifelong sickness.  It was gone, forever!!!  The man who had been physically, spiritually, and emotionally paralyzed from any type of movement stood up and walked into his destiny!!! But he only did it after he encountered JESUS!!!!  No other human being could convince the man to pursue and take hold of his healing – and his destiny!!  My friend – and those you are concerned for – needs an encounter with Jesus, not another human being advising them what they need to do.

What great hope this has given me!!  My faith has increased dramatically because it is no longer in the ability (or the lack thereof) of my friend to see their need for help.  Rather, my focus is on Jesus, the One Who is powerful enough to reveal and heal in a moment.

Notice something else: the man at the pool’s initial answer to Jesus’ question was an excuse“Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.” I have heard my friend offer similar excuses such as, “There’s nothing really wrong with me” and “I’ve been this way so long I can’t change.” But Jesus lovingly ignored the man’s excuse, and simply offered the solution!!  The man responded, and his life was forever changed – in an instant.

Do you feel your faith level rising, as your focus shifts to the One Who is able?!!  I hope you are encouraged.  I am choosing to stand on this story for the sake of my friend, until I see them experience a similar life-changing encounter with Jesus.  This man who had survived so many years in a debilitated state was healed in a momentwhen it was the right time, his time!!!  For those of you who are weary in your concern for a loved one, do not entertain thoughts like “well this man was at least pursuing his healing…at least he was by the pool and my loved one is not” – because that isn’t true.  This man was not pursuing anything except the same ‘ole same ‘ole in his life.  We are not told how, but somehow he got to the pool.  Then he stopped, content to remain sick, to not ask for help, and just to lay there and let life happen.  But Jesus pursued him, and when He did, this man responded.

I am praying my friend soon has an encounter with Jesus where they will be forced to answer that question: “Do you want to be well?” Even though my friend is unaware of the depth of their sickness – just like the man camped out by the pool, when Jesus asks that question, revelation will come, and I have no doubt that my friend will respond to Jesus’ invitation.  I cannot wait to celebrate this much anticipated and prayed-for moment!!

You may think that your loved one has had plenty of “invitations” to change, heal, grow, etc.  But the reality is that they’ve been invitations from humans.  Your loved one likely needs an invitation from Jesus Himself.  And when that invitation comes, it will be the right time, and they will respond.  Because Jesus is Love and trustworthy, and offers hope and solutions in a way that you and I never could.

For some of you, the wait for a spouse or child or other loved one to have a life-changing encounter with Jesus has been so long, that you would admit your faith is weak, with unbelief attempting to dominate.  This is for you…

As I was praying for my friend’s encounter with Jesus, my mind went back to that scenario by the pool.  I felt like I was seeing how many people – healed and unhealed alike – tried to ‘warn’ Jesus, “Sir, You are wasting Your time.  We have tried talking to that guy ‘til we’ve been blue in the face.  We’ve even offered to move him to the edge of the pool.  We know he needs to be healed, and we know how that can happen.  But he just isn’t listening to us.  Hope you have better luck than we’ve had, because we’ve given up on him.” Many around that man had lost faith, because their faith was in themselves, as well as in the sick man’s ability, desire, and motivation to want to be healed – which he had none of.  It’s quite likely that the sick man was fearful of what a healed life would look like, because he had known nothing but sickness for so very long.  The thought of doing something other than lying by the pool watching others be healed probably scared him to death.  UNTIL, he encountered Jesus…Whose faith was in His Father, and doing His Father’s business.  Those doubters by the pool…I like to think that at least some of them actually recognized Jesus as the Man who had been healing people…and when they realized Who He was, they likely got a small glimmer of hope that perhaps Jesus could do something for this motionless man.  He did.

So I encourage you again, keep your eyes on Jesus and off of your loved one’s actions or the lack thereof.  Ask Jesus to pursue them, and invite them to be healed.  Choose to believe that they will stand up and respond to the answer Jesus gives them.  Like me, you may have needed a story/Scripture to stand on as you wait for God to move.  Now you have one.  I pray you are as encouraged as I have been!

The long wait can be very wearisome.  The greatest cause for us being discouraged or tempted towards unbelief in difficult circumstances is that our focus is on “man.”  The verse that keeps repeating in my mind is: “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). My friend’s situation is literally impossible from my limited perspective.  Yet I am more hopeful than ever that my friend’s healing and opportunity to move into their destiny is going to be supernatural, orchestrated by Jesus Himself – because Jesus sees what I can’t see, and knows what I don’t yet know.

Do not leave one tiny open door for doubt, or negative thoughts.  Let this be your heart’s theme until you see your miracle happen: “With man, this is impossible.  But with God, all things are possible…  All things are possible to him who believes.” (Matthew 19:26, Mark 9:23)

One touch from the Healer changes everything.

Takes a couple minutes to listen to this song about Jesus, the “Gentle Healer”

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“I will love you for you” — God

Who will love me for me?
Not for what I have done or what I will become
Who will love me for me?
Cause nobody has shown me what love
What love really means

Is that a question you have ever asked yourself?  Who will love me for me? The above lyrics to JJ Heller’s song, “What Love Really Means,” have struck such a deep chord within me the past few days.  One of the saddest things I encounter are people who have not yet grasped the incredible truth that God loves them for who they are…not for anything they have done, or ever will do.  And while people rarely voice that sentiment, its presence is evidenced by their constant striving towards the pursuit of worth via success and accomplishments, or the attainment of greater possessions or more fulfilling relationships.

What about you?  Are you relying on false identities to help you feel loved and accepted?  For those of you who are weary of trying to cover up that longing of your heart to be known and loved on the deepest level, and for those whose busy lifestyle doesn’t stop the nagging thought – “Who will love me for me?”…I encourage you to listen to JJ Heller’s song below.  As you do so, try to embrace the reality that the God of the universe sees you, and is saying the following to you:

“Now that you’ll listen, I’ll tell you that I…I will love you for you…
Not for what you have done or what you will become.
I will love you for you.  I will give you the love…
The love that you never knew”


May you be comforted in knowing you are loved deeply and without condition by your Creator, Who formed you with a specific and mighty purpose in mind.  He says to you:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew [and] approved of you [as My chosen instrument], and before you were born I separated and set you apart”
(Jeremiah 1:5, AMP)

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Christmas Snow: A Reminder of Christ’s Purity

I woke up this morning to a beautiful blanket of snow several inches deep covering the grass and trees.  It’s been many years since we’ve had snow on Christmas morning, so this “White Christmas” is a pretty big deal!  I’ve spent much of the morning going back and forth from window to window in my apartment, watching the snow continue to fall.  What a beautiful gift from above.

I’ll admit that I have struggled this morning with anger and sadness – not exactly ideal emotions on Christmas…especially because they are so self-centered on a day that’s not about me.  But even in my sometimes unsuccessful effort to walk in the spirit as opposed to reacting in my flesh, God is so good to speak and teach me much.  These conflicting emotions stem from wondering why my presence seems to continue to elicit reactions of jealousy, rejection, and offense from others.  I don’t at all expect that people will have these reactions; yet I see it happening more often than my heart would like.  Although I am well aware of my imperfections, my spirit realizes it is not really me that is offensive; rather, it is the One Who is my constant companion…it is His love that I carry and attempt to live out, and His message of Truth that I stand for at all times.  His presence in me is attractive to some, but unfortunately generates seeds of division and offense from others.

I am reminded again of Jesus…the One Whose birthday we celebrate and honor today.  Jesus’ entire life – from conception to death to resurrection to ascension, elicited offense, jealousy, anger, accusations and a host of other reactions from people who chose not to understand His purpose for being on this earth.  Jesus’ scandalous conception generated offense and shunning for his teenage mother.  Before Jesus had even taken His first breath, the mere thought of His birth caused Joseph and Mary to have to flee – for their lives and His.  King Herod was so threatened by this Infant King, that he had all the male children two years and younger murdered, in an attempt to end Jesus’ life as quickly as it had begun.

As Jesus grew older, His actions were at times even offensive to His parents.  He disappeared from them for days while preaching in the temple.  His response when they found Him: “Didn’t you know I’d be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49, KJ21).  Even as a pre-teenage boy, Jesus’ focus was singular – intent on daily, moment-by-moment, fulfilling the will and plan of His heavenly Father.  Years later, Jesus’ words would again offend family members: “ ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?  …For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother!’ “ (Mathew 12:48, 50).

The Pharisees and Sadducees, religious leaders of Jesus’ day, were highly offended at His message and jealous of the authority and power Jesus operated in.  They were forever trying to trap Him with questions.  Perhaps Jesus’ greatest offense towards the religious leaders was that He was the fulfillment of the law they prided themselves in knowing and following.  Jesus was the very One their souls hungered for, yet offense, jealousy, and pride caused them to miss out on what He came to offer them.

The examples are endless.  Ultimately, this Man Who was guilty of nothing but loving people and speaking Truth was so offensive to the masses – the same ones who had welcomed Him into the city with praise just days prior, that they had Him nailed to a cross while choosing to let Barabbas, a vicious criminal, go free.  To this day, the name “Jesus” is offensive to many…from those who believe in other gods, to those who would seek to be “politically correct.”  Jesus, though no longer here in body, continues to cause quite a stir.

So the question remains…if I am a follower of Jesus, and my desire is to become more and more conformed to His image, then why am I surprised when my pursuit of Christ-likeness is a stumbling-block to others?  Why am I shocked, and why do I allow sadness and anger to rule when those who have had opportunities to know my heart and motives still choose to believe falsely about me?  Should I not consider it an honor to suffer (in a very small way) as Jesus did?

God speaks to me so much through nature, and this morning has been no exception.  As I watched the freshly fallen snow, I could not help but think of purity.  That beautiful white blanket, spotless and yet untouched by dirt, car pollution, or footprints.  One of my many thoughts as I watched the snow fall came in the form of a couple questions: “Jesus, how did You manage to stay spotless – like that fresh snow – without sin or blemish, when people were so ugly to you?  How did you keep from having one sinful, fleshly thought, when those You literally poured Your life out for – those You loved to the point of death, treated You so cruelly…choosing to falsely judge Your character, lying about You, and eventually…crucifying You?” Apart from my choice to believe by faith, it truly is incomprehensible to me that a man could endure all Jesus did, yet remain sinless.  Not one angry thought towards those who wronged Him.  Wow.

Even though Jesus was Immanuel – God in the flesh, He was still fully man.  It’s not like He had one up on us.  There was no unfair Divine advantage in His ability to respond to judgments, criticisms, and rejection.  Rather, this morning I have realized again the stark difference between Jesus and me: He was fully submitted to walking in the spirit at all times. That means He was also submitted to responding in the spirit.  So regardless of what people said or thought about Jesus, He had purposed beforehand to choose to forgive immediately and to love unconditionally.  That didn’t mean people weren’t still highly offended by Jesus’ message and jealous of His power and authority.  Nor did it mean Jesus didn’t have some solid boundaries in place.  Scripture makes it clear that Jesus did not come to bring peace; rather, He came to bring a sword (Matthew 10:34).  But what I recognize about Jesus is that He was a Man Who was so focused on His mission in life, no response by men or women around Him had the power to distract Him from His purpose. Not their praise, not their rejection, offense, or jealousy.  Because He was fully man, Jesus no doubt experienced deep emotions just as we do.  But His spirit-led emotions sent Him right back to His Father, asking for grace and strength to accomplish His will.

So today, Christmas 2010, I thank God for the gift of snow, which brought with it the reminder of the pure and spotless heart and mind of Jesus.  While I am so grateful for the gift of Christ’s birth, I’m even more thankful for the example He lived out for you and me…showing us it is possible to respond in the spirit, no matter how people react to His message flowing out of us.  I desire to respond as Jesus did…a somewhat scary thing to admit, as in doing so means I’ll no doubt be given more “opportunities” to practice my responses!!   Yet I’m willing to practice as long as it takes in order for my fleshly reactions to become spirit-led responses that no longer distract from God’s ultimate purpose for my life.

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Father, Forgive Us… Confessions of an American Follower of Christ

Yesterday evening while driving and talking with God, I sensed Him asking me to take humble yet powerful action…similar to that of an Old Testament hero.  In Daniel 9, we see Daniel – a man of consistent and fervent prayer – humble himself before the Lord and offer up a prayer of confession and repentance on behalf of himself and his people…

“I, Daniel…turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting…I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed…”

In recent weeks and months, my soul has been deeply grieved at much of what I have witnessed going on in Western churches.  I’ve experienced the extremes of movements – from traditional legalism, to charismatic hype…and everything in between.  Please understand that I am not at all writing this from a viewpoint of believing I have a full and complete understanding of how God desires His church to function.  But I do write from a place of desiring the body of Christ to walk in Truth, first and foremost…never compromising the unchanging standards of the Word, or watering down clear parameters set in place by God Himself.  Truth mixed with deception = Deception.  We as Believers can no longer toe the line between worldliness/fleshliness and holiness.  There must be a definitive difference, characterized by our pursuit of righteousness and our devotion to the highest standards of integrity.

A study of the Gospels, as well as the Book of Acts, gives a pretty clear indicator of the model we should follow as we walk out the Christian life.  The Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John all portray the life of Jesus…the simple yet powerful way in which He lived and loved.  Thousands of lives were eternally transformed after being touched by Jesus during His earthly ministry.

In Acts, we see a model of how the church should function – truly as one unified body, with none of its members lacking anything because those who had excess would share with those who were in need.  This model of sacrificial and generous living proved to be quite the witness to the watching world.  Many were saved, healed, and delivered because of the simple ways in which the early church lived out the command of Jesus to love one another.  I encourage you to go through the first five books of the New Testament.  See what you think…is the modern-day Church doing a good job following Christ’s example?  Is the watching world being positively impacted by us?

In similar fashion as Daniel, I humbly pray the following, offering this plea for forgiveness on behalf of myself and all who claim the name of Jesus.  If you are in agreement, feel free to pray along with me:

Father,

You are the Most High God.  There is no other name worthy of praise, no other being worthy of our devotion.  I speak with a heart of gratitude, as You have done so much for me.  Just like the leper in Luke 17, I was one who lived with much shame.  But when I encountered the life-giving and freeing love of Jesus, I experienced healing and wholeness on a level I’d previously not dreamed imaginable.  With each moment You give me on this earth, I choose to live, and move, and breathe as an expression of my thanks to You.

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands” (Daniel 9:4)

I wonder what You must think as You watch us day in and day out.  Are You proud, or are You grieved at what You see taking place in Your name?  Do You feel respected by our actions, or do we dishonor Your name more often than we are aware of?  Do we include You in the moment-by-moment events of our lives, or are You keenly aware that we only approach You when we have need of Your help?

“But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations” (Daniel 9:5)

Jesus told us to “Go into all the world” – sharing the Good News with all we come in contact with.  Forgive us for replacing Jesus’ mandate with our own agendas – our building funds, programs, performances, and so many other man-made ideas that all-too-often take precedence over the simple yet eternally life-changing instructions to offer a cup of cold water in Your name…to love our neighbor…to give our lives away.  Forgive us for getting so comfortable in our cushioned seats that we forget the widow, the orphan, the homeless…or our co-worker, who just needs to know someone cares.

Forgive us for worshiping men who were made in Your image more than we worship You.  Forgive us for elevating and exalting those who have been gifted by You.  Forgive us for setting them up to fail, as we promote their gifts and charisma more than we value the character necessary to maintain the responsibility of the gifting they carry.

For those of us who have been placed in positions of leadership, forgive us for not carefully shepherding the hearts of those You have entrusted to our care.  Forgive us for allowing wolves to devour our sheep.  Forgive us for not using our discernment to detect false prophets and deceptive teachings.  Forgive us for trying to be so ‘user-friendly’ that we’ve turned worship services into venues for entertainment.  Forgive us for not boldly walking in the authority You have given us…as Your sons and daughters, and positionally, as You are the One Who sets up those who lead.

“You have kept your word and done to us and our rulers exactly as you warned. Never has there been such a disaster… We have refused to seek mercy from the Lord our God by turning from our sins and recognizing his truth.  Therefore, the Lord has brought upon us the disaster he prepared. The Lord our God was right to do all of these things, for we did not obey him” (Daniel 9:12-14)

Forgive us for not revering Your Spirit.  On the one hand, we dismiss Him completely…minimizing His role in our lives, and believing the gifts He equips us with have long since ceased to be in operation.  Thus we often silence His still small voice with our religious reasons as to why He can’t possibly be moving in power today.  On the other hand, we shift to the extreme of worshiping the Spirit’s manifestations – exalting His presence and power above the person of You.  Forgive us for desiring the Spirit’s gifts more than we desire His conviction, His counsel, and His discernment that will guide us into all Truth. Forgive us for trying to manipulate the Spirit, and for attributing such foolish and outright mocking manifestations to the Spirit Who is by name and character “Holy.”  We ask that You bring us back into proper balance, as our desire is to be those who worship You in Spirit and in Truth.

“Lord, you are in the right; but as you see, our faces are covered with shame. This is true of all of us…because of our disloyalty to you.  O Lord, we…are covered with shame because we have sinned against you.  But the Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.  We have not obeyed the Lord our God…” (Daniel 9:7-10)

Forgive us for putting a price tag on the gifts Your Spirit has freely bestowed upon us.  Forgive us for not following the model of Jesus, Who sent His disciples out with the instructions to cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead…and to give as freely as they had received (Matthew 10:7-8, NLT).  Forgive us for charging the spiritually hungry and needy, and requiring payment for gifts of healing, prophetic words, and counsel that would not otherwise be possible without the flow of Your Spirit.  Forgive us for using Your Spirit for our own financial gain.  Forgive us for not recognizing we are simply conduits for Your Spirit to flow through.  Apart from Him, we have no wisdom or power.

Forgive us for turning Your house into a place where we peddle our talents on center stage.  Forgive us for using Your house as a means for self-promotion and exaltation.  Forgive us for modeling greed to a world that desperately needs to see sacrificial living and loving.  Forgive us for lifting our hands and voices as we sing songs of devotion and commitment and dependence on You, when our lifestyles speak the opposite.

Forgive us for begrudging the times we face rejection on account of our association with You, or when we attempt to proclaim the Truth.  Forgive us for seeking to defend our own names when falsely accused.  May we be like Jesus, Who spoke not a word in response to His accusers, but was secure in knowing You saw His innocence.  May we embrace the reality that You consider us worthy to take part in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.

Father, have mercy on Your children.  We recognize that the One Who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.  We desperately need You to help us navigate the challenges we face as we attempt to walk out this journey as Your children…Your ambassadors to a lost and dying world.

“O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary.  O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair… We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.  O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people. I went on praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people, pleading with the Lord…” (Daniel 9:17-20)

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