Prepare the Way

Matthew 3:1-3 (NLT)
In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.[a]” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”[b]
 
11 “I baptize with[a] water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.[b]

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry. His message was simple: repent. John’s preaching cut through religion and pierced the heart: sin has destroyed your relationship with God. Repent! Be restored to God. John’s ministry tilled the hard soil for the One who would come to sew the seed of salvation.

I am John the Baptist. The ministry God has appointed and anointed me for is to prepare the way for Jesus.

You are John the Baptist. The ministry God has appointed and anointed you for is to prepare the way for Jesus.

The church is John the Baptist. The ministry God has appointed and anointed us for is to prepare the way for Jesus.

John 3:26-30 (NLT)
26 So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”
27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven.28 You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ 29 It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. 30 He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

But sometimes sin blocks the way…

In my pride, I can believe that MY ministry is who I am. In a struggle for significance on this earth or a desire to be esteemed by others I can hold on close fisted to the ministry God has appointed and anointed me for. Over a decade ago, I was preparing the way for MY ministry. I had served faithfully in children’s ministry organizing resources, soothing crying toddlers, changing stinky diapers on infants, singing and dancing to kids worship with 6-12 year olds – I did it all. Focusing solely on MY ministry, I neglected my relationship with God, my spouse and our children. My fist was so tightly closed around my role in the church that no one, NO ONE was gonna take it away from me.

But God.

God.

The associate pastor hired a new children’s director who instantly became my superior. She was also one of my best friends. As I struggled to submit to her authority, I simultaneously struggled to hold on closed fisted to MY ministry. Rebellion, chaos and disunity ensued. Eventually I was fired- from my volunteer position.

Angry? Absolutely! And I made sure God and everyone else knew it. I vomited insult after insult about my rights being violated and the evil actions of my fellow ministers in the body of Christ.

But God.

God.

As a loving Father does, when a child finally returns He welcomed me into His everlasting arms and the tension of my closed fists released. He was becoming greater and greater and I was becoming less and less.

DSC_0419During my discipleship journey the Holy Spirit has continually helped me to humbly turn back to God. I’ve learned to be still. I’ve come to know Him. I’ve started obeying His commands. I’ve been washed in His magnificent love for me. I’ve repented. I’ve been forgiven. I’ve forgiven others. I’ve been delivered from evil. I’ve been redeemed from my rebellion. I’ve been restored in my soul. And as I’ve opened my hands to the ministry He’s appointed & anointed me for I have had the privilege of preparing the way for others to meet and know Jesus. He has become greater and greater and I have become less and less!

Dear child of God,

Release the death grip you have on YOUR ministry. Willingly open your closed fists to the Lord. Otherwise, He may need to fire you from your role to save your soul. He loves you. He wants you to know Him. He wants you to worship Him, not your ministry. He wants you to obey His commands so that you may have everlasting and abundant life!

Let go.

Trust God.

He will work all things for your good if you love Him.

Love, Me (& John the Baptist)

You Must Love

Matthew 22:37-39 New Living Translation (NLT)

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

I’ve been told I can be very emotional (if you’re wondering….yes, I AM a woman!). Yet, just like Joseph in Genesis 50:20, I know that those judgments which were meant to harm me, God meant for good.

Emotions should be expressed (to God – and sometimes, others).

That doesn’t mean we should use our feelings as a drama queen to seek attention, allow them to control us, or yield them as a weapon to manipulate others, but God gave us a heart (soul); mind, will and emotions, for a purpose.

IMG_5968During a recent “discussion” with my groom I was expressing my heart to him about our relationship. Let’s be honest, I was telling it the way I saw it: he wasn’t loving me the way I wanted to be loved! Emotionally, I was all over the place- bouncing back and forth between love and anger.

Weird.

I mean, I knew I loved him and I knew his actions sometimes made me angry, but why was I feeling these emotions simultaneously? I decided to ask the Creator of the universe, the Creator of me, and the Creator of my husband: Lord, what in my heart is going on here?!

Be still.

Know that He is God.

Backstory: the previous day the Holy Spirit whispered “pride, self-righteousness….” when I asked, “what do I need to repent for?” Hmmm. I didn’t feel prideful or self-righteous. Trusting that the Creator of the universe and the Creator of me knows better, I confessed, “Father, forgive me for being prideful and self-righteous.”

Back to the story: As I sat in my comfy chair the next morning, listening to the birds sing and feeling the warmth of the light penetrating the sunroom, the Holy Spirit showed me that I had removed my heart and laid it down on the ground as an offering to my husband.

Um. What?

Wait.

“Love your neighbor (husband) as you love yourself,” right?

Yes.

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husband,” right?

Yes.

Then, what?!

Enter: deception, stage right.

Jeremiah 17:9 New Living Translation (NLT)

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?

What seemed like an action of a loving, submitted wife was actually the result of a desperately wicked heart. I loved my husband- not God- with all my heart. I was worshipping a man, not Jesus. Consequently, when my spouse broke my heart, I felt attacked (resulting in my anger). Failing to recognize the condition of my heart (deception), I assumed he was to blame for everything (hence my self-righteousness). Left unchecked, my heart began to suffer cardiac arrest (yo-yo feelings of love and anger).

Grieved by the revelation, I quickly confessed and repented to the Lord. He retrieved my wounded heart, washed it by the cleansing of His Word and performed a heart transplant (in case you’re wondering, I am recovering well. Thanks for asking).

My fellow wives,

I urge you to “guard your heart above all else” (Proverbs 4:23). If you’re having yo-yo feelings towards your husband, ask the Lord, “am I loving my groom with all my heart, soul and mind?” If the Holy Spirit whispers “yes,” then confess and repent for idolizing him. Receive God’s forgiveness and extend forgiveness to your husband if he’s broken your heart in any way.

Then, give Jesus all your heart. He gave up his life for you! He loves you. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. He promises to (as we say in the south) “bless your heart” – and your marriage.

Love,

Your fellow disciple

Something New

Isaiah 43:19 

For I am about to do something new.

See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?

I will make a pathway through the wilderness.

I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

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It’s a new year.

As the world makes resolutions to change old habits, I’ve been waiting in the wasteland for God to do something new. I don’t quite see “it” yet, but my spirit knows that He’s making a pathway through the wilderness. As I continue to seek His will for my life, my corrective lenses are beginning to focus on His Kingdom, instead of my own. Perhaps that’s just “it.” Perhaps the key element in seeing what He’s already begun is just a slight shift of focus away from the old things. Perhaps simply looking up changes my sight.

Psalm 121:1-2

I look up to the mountains—

does my help come from there? 

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth!

I didn’t deny or neglect the wasteland, however. Instead, I chose to trust God and go THROUGH it with Him. It was barren. It was hot. I felt isolated. I felt abandoned. I longed for refreshing. I lacked patience. I was angry. I expressed grief. Some judged me. Others accused me. But I discovered a powerful truth that has become a rock on which I stand:

Jesus was with me.

And He is with me still.

When I was thirsty, He gave me a drink.

When I was afraid, He protected me.

When I felt alone, He comforted me.
Without the wilderness, I wouldn’t have known Him in a deeper way.

Without the wasteland, I wouldn’t have known the need for the river.

Without going back to the old things, I wouldn’t be looking forward to something new!

This week, after following the advice of a friend, I decided to change our internet provider. Somewhat begrudgingly I chose to go with something new, which meant I was also going to have to get rid of the old. New email addresses had to be created. Passwords had to be updated. Promotions had to be surveyed. Phone calls had to be made. Appointments had to be scheduled. A technician had to make a house call. Cable jacks had to be installed. Chords had to be unplugged and re-routed. Furniture had to be moved. New Wi-Fi passwords had to be entered. Old passwords had to be deleted. Services had to be installed. Services had to be cancelled. And of course, bills had to be paid.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely.

It wasn’t open-heart surgery. None of it was hard to do. But it did take time, talent and treasure to get it done.

By embracing the new, rivers were created in the wasteland: no more buffering, no more loading, no more re-setting the router, no more lost signals!!!!

Newer. Faster. Cheaper.

Of course it was all worth it.

And so it is in the Kingdom of God. He exchanges death for life. Bondage for freedom. Beauty for ashes. Strength for fear. Gladness for mourning. Peace for despair.

Old for new.

Are you in a wilderness, my friend? Ask the Lord to show you where He is. And chose to stay with Him for as long as it takes to see Him create rivers in the dry wasteland.

It’ll be worth it.

Philippians 1:6

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Magnificent, Unfailing Love

Numbers 14:17-20

17 “Please, Lord, prove that your power is as great as you have claimed. For you said, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.’ 19 In keeping with your magnificent, unfailing love, please pardon the sins of this people, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt.”

20 Then the Lord said, “I will pardon them as you have requested.

Perhaps you have perfect kids.

Yay for you!

Perhaps you have been the perfect parent.

Kudos!

My children are imperfect….and so am I.

Romans 3:23

23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

I’ve been training our children for over 16 years. Some days my heart is overflowing with love for them. Some days I wanna deliver a knock out punch to all four! And some days I hang lifelessly against the ropes, bruised and bloody from the fight.

Ephesians 6:12

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Besides the relationship with my groom, there has been no greater opportunity for me to know the power of the Lord than in my role as mother.

Sadly, I must confess:

I haven’t always been slow to anger.

I haven’t always been filled with unfailing love.

I haven’t always forgiven our children’s sin and rebellion against me.

And sometimes, I’ve excused their guilt:

“Oh, that’s just ‘typical’ growing pains.”

“At least our kids aren’t as bad as so-and-so’s.”

“I did the same stupid thing when I was that age.”

“Ya know what? I’m sick and tired. I don’t wanna deal with them right now!”

IMG_0987The truth is: God knows our children are imperfect. That’s why He sent His Son. God also knows that I am imperfect. That’s why His Son died for me too. And in His magnificent, unfailing love, He has graciously given me the power of His Spirit to draw me into repentance so that I can love Him… and love our children.

This year we’ll have 3 teenager girls residing in our home. I’ve heard it said that these can be “tumultuous” years. Perhaps that’s because its evident that children between the ages of 13-18 seem to be wandering in the desert. Perhaps that’s because their rebellious behavior is more expressive than it was during their primary years. Perhaps that’s because the sins of their parents is greatly affecting their lives. Perhaps that’s because they’re tired of following the leader (Moses) and they’d prefer to grumble and go their own way (Miriam & Aaron). Perhaps that’s because they want to worship the golden calves of the world instead of submitting to the One who beckons them to surrender all to Him.

Whatever the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life, their Heavenly Father will pardon them when they repent. And He will lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey if they trust and follow Him. For He knew them before He created them in my womb. He knows the plans He has for them. After all, they are His children and He loves them far greater than I do.

IF your gift is…

Romans 12:3-9

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.[b] Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.

A dozen years ago, I was fired from serving— at church. Technically, I was told to take a mandatory sabbatical from my volunteer position in children’s ministry, but it felt like I was fired.

In the weeks and months that followed I became an offended, angry and bitter woman who acted more like a child than a leader of children. I began gossiping about the staff members who dismissed me. I pointed out every weakness in them in order to convince myself (& others) of my superiority and subsequent righteousness over them. And when I prayed (ranted) to God, I believed that the blame rested entirely on their shoulders- and that they should be punished.

But, as the months turned into a year, my heart began to soften and I was finally able to listen to God.

I forgave.

I repented.

And I realized that I needed to be fired.

The truth is, my motivation for serving was completely wrong. Sure, I was doing what church leaders told me to do:

“Don’t be a consumer Christian- SERVE”

“Find a ministry that has a need and fill it!”

“Its not about you, its about doing for others.”

I was using the talents God gave me to lead children’s worship. I was faithful to show up for meetings and practices. I trained other volunteers. I served almost every weekend…. during all 4 services. I enthusiastically sang and danced right up to my 40th week of pregnancy- and I only took a few weeks off after giving birth!

But I wasn’t worshipping God.

I was worshipping service.

IMG_4321I was offering “sacrifices” on the altar of ministry, but I didn’t love the One who sacrificed everything for me.

I read the bible occasionally.

I prayed even less.

I was neglecting areas of my relationships with my husband and our children.

I wasn’t submitted to other parts of the body of Christ.

So God allowed me to be fired to re-order my life:

  • Love God.
  • Love others (as I love myself).
  • Make disciples.

My fellow disciple, let this be a warning to you: don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourself.

Are you loving God?

(If not, take a mandatory sabbatical and begin worshipping Him alone)

Are you really loving others?

Then use the gifts He has graciously given you:

(out of your fear of God– not man)

IF your gift is serving others- do it!

IF it’s prophesying, deliver it!

IF it’s teaching – preach it!

IF it’s encouraging, speak it!

IF it’s finances – give it!

IF it’s leading – do it!

IF it’s kindness – release it!

Exposed in Public

Proverbs 26:24-26

24 People may cover their hatred with pleasant words,
 but they’re deceiving you.

25 They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them.
 Their hearts are full of many evils.

26 While their hatred may be concealed by trickery,
 their wrongdoing will be exposed in public.

IMG_0710On a recent trip to NYC I almost became a victim of tourism trickery- again. While standing in the middle of Times Square, snapping a picture of our eldest daughter, several bo-bo (my word for fake) cartoon characters swooped in beside her and began posing for a group shot. A moment later, ‘The Incredible Hulk’ grabbed my cell phone, while using pleasant words to coerce me to join the photo shoot. As I stood there, with my plastered-on-smile, I experienced an immediate gut check. I’ve come to recognize this particular physical indicator as the prompting of the Holy Spirit. So when I heard Him say “…they aren’t being kind” I responded at once by retrieving my phone, saying “thank you,” and turning to leave the area. But we couldn’t.

We were surrounded.

As the masks came off and the hands full of cash came out, the people began their plea:

“Please, ma’am…anything you can give.”

“Sorry- no.”

“Please…its for our college fund.”

“No”

“Please…any amount is good.”

“No.”

I locked arms with our daughter and we made a beeline down 7th Street. As we turned the corner onto 44th she protested: “I thought ‘Elmo’ was being nice!” “No- honey, I’m sorry, he wasn’t. Unfortunately, it’s the oldest trick in the book; hit up the naïve, gullible tourists for cash.”

Sadly, I’ve also encountered some non-costume wearing people that covered their motivation with pleasant words. In fact, during my family’s last visit to Manhattan, I was guilted into giving several greenbacks to a group of street performers. I walked away as I usually do, feeling used….and angry. Angry that they tricked me. Angry that their hearts were full of many evils. Angry that I didn’t tell them off! But not this time. This time I was grateful that I heard Gods warning, obeyed Him by saying “no” and that we were able to walk away without any retaliation verbally or physically.

This morning, as I sat talking with the Lord, He reminded me of the prayer I whispered on the train ride into the city with our daughter that day, “Father, protect us as we travel….”

He did.

Not only that, He exposed a few peoples wrongdoing in one of the most public places in America! Even though their trickery was concealed, the Holy Spirit was faithful to warn me not to believe them…and I didn’t.

Once again, my Father proved that He is sovereign. Once again He proved to be in control of every detail of my life. Once again, He proved that He can always be trusted….even when others can’t.

Psalm 118:8

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
 than to trust in people.