Deep Grief

James 4:7-10 New Living Translation (NLT)

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

IMG_6986Although I was raised in a Christian home, attended Sunday school, church services, VBS and youth group, I didn’t believe in the Lord until I was 9 months pregnant with our first child. Feeling like a beached whale lying on our bed, waves of tears streamed down my face as the reality of my separation from God began to crash over me. I knew I was completely unworthy of being loved and forgiven. Yet, at the urging of my husband, I poured out my sorrow to the Lord, confessed my sin, and proclaimed His Kingdom come, His will be done in my life.

It was many years later that my soul experienced the deep grief James speaks of. Like a child, I had been sorry for getting in trouble with my heavenly Father. I was even sorrowful for my disobedience…but I never felt grief.

Getting past the obligatory “I’m sorry” takes a depth of humility that only comes through continual submission to the Lord. When we humble ourselves in the light of His glory, we choose to surrender our will so that we can come close to Him. When He comes close to us, the power of His living water begins to pour over our filthy hands and the intense heat of His all-consuming fire purifies our hearts. His truth exposes the lies that are hidden within the dark places of our soul, proving that we are divided between our worship of Him -and the world. When we SEE the object of our worship, we realize our sin nailed Him to that cross. Tears drip down our face, like the blood that dripped from the thorny crown upon His head. Sorrow pierces our soul like the spear that pierced His side.

Then death comes, followed by deep grief.

Confession, which is simply admitting sin, brings tears and sorrow. But, repentance, which is acknowledging that our sin produces death, brings deep grief.

Jesus died for our sin. He overcame death. By believing in Him, trusting Him, loving Him and obeying Him, we can have LIFE- eternally and in abundance.

Are you stuck in a continual cycle of confessing sin?

Have you been doing all the “right” religious things (Sunday school, church services, VBS and youth group) to try and stop?

Have you shed a few tears?

Have you felt sorrow (distress, disappointment) over your actions?

Then do you sin….again?

My fellow disciple,

Tears and sorrow won’t deliver you from evil. JESUS is the deliverer. You must confess and repent of the sin that is lurking deep within your soul. Trust me, God will give you the grace to do so, if you humble yourself (James 4: 6).

YOURSELF.

Humble yourself.

No one else can do it for you. Not your spouse, not your friend, not your pastor.

When you humble yourself, confess and repent, the Holy Spirit will enable you to resist the devil and he WILL flee! You will draw close to God and He WILL draw near to you! There WILL be tears and sorrow and deep grief for your rebellion! There WILL be sadness and gloom. But, God WILL lift you up in honor!

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

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

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!

At the Lord’s Feet

Luke 10:38-42

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

IMG_4461When our schedule is overly busy I often become distracted by all the details of life. As a result, I fail to take time to be with the Lord. A few weekends ago, after traveling home from several days away I returned to my secret place with my bible, journal, pen and devotional. After I sat down and took a deep breath I muttered “hey, God….” in which He replied, “you’ve been worshipping me every day, but its been a while since you sat with Me.” My soul agreed. I deeply missed His presence.

So often, “worship” becomes another thing I do. In my daily effort to serve God, I forget that sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He wants to teach me is the greatest act of worship. Like Mary, once I realize there is only one thing to be concerned about, I can just sit at my Saviors feet, and nothing- nothing else matters than being in His presence. In those moments, I am able to completely submit my soul (mind, will & emotions) to the Father, which is the heart of a true worshipper.

As I sat this morning at the Lords feet, I prepared nothing. I didn’t work. I didn’t worry. I wasn’t upset over all the details of the day. I just sat literally and spiritually in His presence. And as He spoke, my spirit confirmed His truth. My mind knew that He is God. My will obeyed His voice. And my emotions gave release to the longing in my heart- to be greatly loved.

Romans 5:8-11

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Truly Free

John 8:31-36

31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”

34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.

When I exchanged death for eternal life by believing in Christ, I assumed that as a daughter of God, I would no longer be a slave to sin- instantaneously.

I was wrong.

As I’ve continued on my journey as a disciple of Jesus, who wants to know and remain faithful to His teachings I’ve discovered that being set free is also a journey. A journey of knowing the truth.

How do I know the truth?

-I must get to know Jesus.

John 14:6

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

How do I get to know Jesus?IMG_2963

-I read His Word.

-I worship Him.

-I talk…and listen to Him. I tell Him my needs and my wants. I ask questions, then listen for His still, small voice:

“Lord, what do I need to repent for?”

“Father, who do I need to forgive?”

“God, what do You want me to do/not do?”

After I’ve heard Him speak, I have the opportunity to obey Him- or try harder not to sin. Trying harder by reasoning, avoiding temptations, reading self-help books or depending on others to fix the problem never brings freedom. All my efforts, all my discipline, and all my sacrifice may cut the top off the weed temporarily, but it won’t eliminate the root system of sin.

If I want to experience freedom in Jesus I must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit in order to believe Him in every area of my soul (mind, will & emotions). Only then can I be released from captivity and be truly free to bring Good News to others.

Luke 4:18

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
 He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
 that the blind will see,
 that the oppressed will be set free…