Unrefined Evangelism

Before they came to be known as the Twelve Apostles, they were just some men who dropped what they were doing and said yes to the invitation to follow Jesus. They weren’t seminary students, temple dwellers, priests, or skilled with anything other than the tools they used to make a secular living. They had rough edges and obvious flaws—issues to be worked out. One of this team would even become His betrayer. And in a critical time when He needed them most, they fell asleep instead of watching and praying, or fled when He was arrested. In other words, they were ordinary, very imperfect people who were blessed to become part of something way bigger than the scope of their lifetimes.

And yet, when among all the followers, Christ hand-picked his core, The Twelve (and even an inner core of three of those), He “deputized” 😉 them to do something great. It was on-the-job training like the world had never seen. He was continually having to work on them, cultivate them, correct their attitudes, even referee when they disagreed with one another. They sounded a little bit like…us, don’t you think? We’re in on-the-job training, too.

So when you see an unlikely someone whose testimony attracts a whole crowd and compels them to follow Jesus Christ, don’t be so quick to write it off as counterproductive, not genuine, a ploy for attention, or even “another gospel.” Don’t pick apart his or her fledgling faith and the untrained tongue that simply tells what God has done in that person’s own life. If you or I or these excited new witnesses wait until we are all “qualified,” there will never be carriers of the Good News. We are the unqualified called—all whom Christ has rescued!

Yes, there’s always that risk that the person won’t get everything just right. We ourselves don’t always get everything just right, either. If God has called him or her to a higher place of ministry, He will groom that new disciple with time, experience, and correction.

Inexperienced and untrained as he was, one of the most powerful “witnesses” in all the Bible was a man who didn’t even know Jesus was the Christ, in the moment he was asked to give account for the unusual miracle which been done to him. The Pharisees were hoping he would give evidence to support that the miracle didn’t really come from God, because they were already accusing Jesus of being a sinner. The man, when asked, simply told the people what had been done for him: “Whether he (Jesus) be a sinner or not, I know not. One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25). Isn’t it interesting that the Lord healed people who didn’t have a clue who He really was? What love for a humanity who were so unprepared to host such a Guest among them!

I believe that the last days will see more non-“preachers” leading souls to Christ than suit-and-tie clergy behind podiums in ornate buildings with stained glass windows. In moments when people are desperate for hope, they won’t be asking the witness for a copy of his/her ordination certificate; they will instead be wanting honest answers as to why we actually believe in this God we call our Heavenly Father, with whom we embrace a relationship. A hundred bullet points of theology won’t resonate to a troubled, unchurched soul like the simple words, “This is what He did for me. He will do it for you, too, if you put your trust in Him.”

The theology will come. Spiritual maturity will take place all in good time. But let the Good News run through the streets like floodwaters, spilling out of those who don’t even know the fullness of the gospel…but they DO know that, once they were blind but now they see. Don’t beat down their zeal or crush their spirit just because they’re not as schooled in the Word as you, yet. Let the babes in Christ wave their palm branches and cry, “Hosannah!” who aren’t even old enough in their spiritual birth to know why He is who they proclaim Him to be. God will use for His glory and purpose those whose gifts may have been used elsewhere. He will pull His most grateful out of crack houses, gutters, jail cells, and nightclubs. He will turn the once foul-mouthed fisherman into a follower, then a disciple, and then perhaps even an apostle—and a fisher of men!

And never hesitate to be one of those inexperienced, uneducated carriers of the gospel yourself. While many argue who can be a “preacher” and who can’t, remember: the moment you tell someone else what Jesus has done for you, you have just, in a roundabout way, done the work of an evangelist! Do it and allow the Holy Spirit to inspire someone else to put his/her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, too! There is no advertisement more powerful than word-of-mouth from someone who has, firsthand, tasted and seen that the Lord is good!

Proclaimed—in spite of the fact that I am one of the “unqualified” —with love!

Honoring and Guarding Our Sabbath: A Devotional and Prayer for Ministry Leaders (and Workaholics in General)

“So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath-rest reserved for the [true] people of God; For he who has once entered [God’s] rest also has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested from those labors peculiarly His own. Let us therefore be zealous and exert ourselves and strive diligently to enter that rest [of God, to know and experience it for ourselves], that no one may fall or perish by the same kind of unbelief and disobedience [into which those in the wilderness fell].” (Hebrews 4:9-11, Amplified Bible, Classic Edition)

I remember once hearing Joyce Meyer say something to the tune of, “The Lord’s the author and finisher of our faith, but He’s not obligated to finish what He didn’t author.” The following paragraphs are not intended to make you bail on your calling, lie down on the job, or abandon your work ethic or loyalty; but rather, to compel you to work smarter instead of harder, and to actually consult the Holy Spirit before you start filling up your daily planner with what God may not have told you to fill it with! And you guessed it. I’m talking to me here…

Take care, friends, that you begin to respect your bodies and minds and start cutting ties with what God didn’t author, even what appears to be good or productive. Some of us are addicted to busy-ness and we gauge our stock value in the Kingdom (and everywhere else) by how far we can push the envelope abusing our bodies. Sometimes we feel a little more important, pious, “martyr-ish,” and yes, even prideful when people are fawning over our dedication with, “Wow, I don’t know how you do all you do.”

Let me lovingly submit to you that God doesn’t violate His own precepts! If you are not allowing yourself a Sabbath–on whatever day you choose to celebrate it–you are walking contrary to the system He Himself set in place and was the first observer thereof! God doesn’t need downtime…the God who never slumbers or sleeps doesn’t actually need to recharge; but He set the example for us by resting on the seventh day. Now, I realize that a “Sabbath” looks different for everyone–folks have work shifts, assigned workdays, etc., that are set for us without negotiation; but the point is, there must be designated downtime; set-aside blocks of time. For someone whose job mandates unreasonable 7-day schedules, I can’t tell you that you must leave that job, but I will tell you to make yourself a Sabbath block of time. That block may be hours instead of a full day; but I urge you, set aside your block large or small and guard it as sacred! For those of you who have the luxury of a 5 or occasionally 6 day workweek, you don’t get to fudge in this, either. Start establishing a Sabbath in your life instead of treating your quiet time with God like a power nap.

And full-time ministry leaders who aren’t under secular workplace mandates, this applies to you, too–perhaps especially to you. Start setting a better example for those in your circle of influence! Even a 3-shift coal mine sets scheduled downtime for maintenance on its equipment, if it wants to stay in business! Keep running that machine without greasing and regularly changing hoses, etc., and see how costly it gets when things start burning out, locking up, and falling apart… In Exodus, when God established the Sabbath, He did it not just for that head of a household and his family, but also for the sake of the animals and hired servants/slaves…He even designated Sabbath years for the sake of the land, which could be overworked out of zeal, greed, or a variety of motivating factors. Relentless leaders not only abuse their own bodies, they wear out anyone or anything who’s close to them or under their authority!

So why do we people in leadership feel compelled to give the “do as I say, not as I do” excuse for abusing our bodies? We reference Scriptures like “work while it is day because night comes when no man can work” to justify never, ever taking a break? And we tune out the voice of reason who urges letting go of a few things so that the remaining works we do are done more effectively. Are we letting the enemy guilt us into walking in rebellion, deceiving ourselves into thinking that because we are in the last days, we must override common sense (and the Word) to be as busy as we possibly can be? Can we do so and expect to be exempt from the health and emotional consequences of priding ourselves in being workaholics?

I submit to you as well, we as spiritual leaders have a moral obligation to live in balance, for the sake of those who emulate our example. If we don’t respect our own body/soul/spirit, we must, MUST think of our families, our constituents, and a lost world around us–all of whom look to us for at least a reference point of guidance. Hebrews 4 doesn’t beat around the bush here…suggests that we can actually be a spiritual liability to ourselves and others if we disobey God’s directive on right balance. It’s not legalism to suggest that we treat the rest-time He has given us as a holy thing. God engineered all of creation to flow with that same protocol. You aren’t too important to observe some form of a Sabbath, and neither am I! Let’s start re-drawing the boundaries in our lives so that we can be healthy and strong–emotionally, physically, and spiritually–for these last exciting days before our Lord returns!Pray with me…

Lord, I sincerely appeal to You first for mercy, as a person who is guilty of making myself busier than I should be. My spirit man suffers and my words tell on me when I have spent myself beyond reason. While I don’t like the stress and aggravation of no downtime, I confess and repent before You that I’m a recovering addict of work. I drive myself to be busy while making others miserable, because I make sure they’re busy too. I’m working twice as hard for half the impact, because I’m breaking Your rules and expecting You to bless my dismissal of common sense and Your example.

I’m sorry for thinking that You make special exceptions for me because I carry a heavier responsibility. Yes, to whom much is given, much is required–but the “much” is in terms of a closer walk with You and a deeper level of consecration. And even if it were much more required in the physical realm of activity, there are a lot of things on my plate that You didn’t give, Father. Oh, I like to think of all these responsibilities as given by You, but some of them are of my own doing. Some of them are just because I won’t say no to people who can’t wait for me to get even busier doing things THEY want me to be doing! And I say yes and pencil it into my bloated calendar, knowing all the while that I need sleep, I need study time, and just a break from having to think and run so much.

Forgive me, Lord! You gave me a healthy body meant to carry me well-into old age; and I live like I intend to wear it out in half its life expectancy. I pass up sleep and exercise; and I rationalize that if I’m spending that time doing good works, it will never catch up with me.

I repent and I appeal to You for mercy on all others, too, who have become the work adrenaline-and-approval junkie I’ve allowed myself to become. We don’t know how to change except by submitting ourselves to You and listening for Your counsel. We will have to hear from You because we can no longer hear the appeals from our own bodies. We shush our compromised adrenal glands by pumping them full of caffeine. We have a pill for everything. You in turn have a Scripture for everything and a word MODERATION that we ignore because we convince ourselves that we must be always working 24/7 because of who we are.

I will find a way to be less busy, Lord, with Your grace. I will respect this body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and stop giving You an efficiency apartment with worn-out furniture and tired, cloudy windows to look out of. I will make not just room for You, but the best room. I won’t be merely shooting You a copy of my to-do list after I’ve filled it and crammed more into the margins and started on a new sheet. No, I will say, “Here, Father. Take Your eraser and start removing the sacred cows of a busy addict.” In fact, wad up my to-do list and just start me a new one. Put only Your agenda on my list, in Jesus’ name I ask. And I’ll start asking Your permission before I make all those plans that leach the life right out of me and anyone else who has to tag along.

What? You just wrote in a full night’s sleep and a Sabbath! More time with relationships with real people and less time on computers and electronic devices? And even orders to put healthier foods into my body and more time walking and moving! Wow, You are ordering me to get my act together so that You can get maximum return on Your investment in me. I thought maximum return meant how many items were on my list.

You’re after quality. You are after a ten-ring shot and not a broader spray pattern. Most of all, You are after my heart. You want me chasing after You, walking with You in the cool of the day for RELATIONSHIP, not for my sales pitch to You of all the things I did in Your name (or rather, in the name of “ministry”) which You may or may not have instructed me to do! You want me to know You. Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light? Wow. I guess I wasn’t listening to that (even though it was…written in red).

And Your way of governing balance will help me be first a better daughter to You, and then to be a better leader and better family and society member, too?

Yes.

Selah.

(Adapted from a Facebook post I made 03/31/17)

An Angry Spirit and Why We Must Deal with It

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

You will always be enslaved to a bad temper, rage, anger, and offense as long as you coddle the idea that you deserve to be angry and behave badly—or that this is “just the way you roll.” We credit that temper, sometimes with great pride, to our red hair, our family tree, our upbringing or social lot in life, and sometimes even our gender; but in truth, anger finds its place in a soul that has surrendered self-control to the enemy of our souls.  If it stays in us, it stays in us because we allow it a place.  Maybe up until this moment you thought you had no choice, but I beg to differ.  If you want to be free and find some peace to that unsettledness that drives you to boil over at every available chance, read on…

The devil wants you to always be exploding, brawling, quarreling, cursing, flipping people off, in others’ faces giving them what-for. It’s a rush of adrenaline; a high; a bizarre release of sorts for someone who’s got some deep unhappiness issues…a release that’s only momentary but doesn’t heal the anger. It becomes enjoyable to watch people be afraid of you or dreading you, and it makes you have a false sense of empowerment. It becomes the norm for you to think it’s ok to blow up on people only to come back later and say, “but I was just ticked off/didn’t feel well/had a bad day already/etc.; or somehow always shifting blame to the other person’s actions for one’s own unrestrained reactions.  How many abusers tell their victims, “…but I won’t let it happen again,” only to come back and do it again and again?

Yes, there’s an oppressive, controlling spirit that attaches itself to the person who just continually allows his/her temper to run unchecked. It will turn a home into a house of horrors, a school or workplace into a source of dread, and it will kill a thriving church. An angry spirit has a way of developing into iniquity that then transfers to your children and on down the line. Don’t be proud of that “(Your Surname) Temper.” If it runs in your family, you’d better find a way to end it in your generation!

Is it ok to get angry? Sure, it’s a legitimate emotion, and sometimes a little righteous anger will light a fire under us to make needed changes in the world around us. We actually SHOULD be moved by abuse, human trafficking, murder of the innocent, oppression, etc.; but only to the extent that God can use us to right wrongs, not so that we can go out and commit crimes against others in the name of being angry at what they do. Even when others provoke us, believers must remember that it’s not a war on the ground we’re fighting, but spirits of darkness in the heavenlies that compel humans to do the bad things they do. We are told in the Word to be angry but sin not. We are told not to let the sun go down on our wrath. It also says that anger rests (finds a permanent place) in the bosom of fools. We are to exercise self-control, and yes it can be done; but we have to invite peace into our lives and reject strife.

So what happens if you allow anger to find a welcome spot in your soul? At best, you’ll just be hard to live with. At worst, you may wind up in jail or dead, unemployable, alone, alienated, resented, or you may irreparably harm someone you love. Satan’s goal is always eventually to take you to hell, after he’s made your life hell on earth, with you and everyone around you miserable. He wants people to feel as if this is just who they are and that they can’t change. Yeah, it stinks when the soda pop machine steals your money. It’s normal to get aggravated, but not normal if you don’t stop till the machine is on its side with boot holes in it and smoke rolling out. It’s not normal to run people off the road just because you can’t control your anger over their perceived lack of driving skills. It’s not normal to terrorize people with your temper at ballgames, school assemblies, church, the workplace—and the saddest of all, in your home, where everyone should feel safe and loved. If you can’t deal with everyday minor inconveniences and issues without going into a cussing, stomping tantrum, you need help. If you don’t want to die of blood pressure, heart attack or stroke, or be caught up in some costly foolish act from allowing yourself to just explode at everything that fails to go your way, you need delivered from an angry spirit.  I think you know in your knower if I’m talking to you in particular.

Father, we live in an entitled-mentality generation who feels that we deserve to behave however we want to. Forgive us for feeling that we deserve to allow our emotions to become a sinful repetitive way of life. Father, forgive us for enjoying the little bit of power we feel when we bully or manipulate others through fear.  Forgive us for taking advantage of a reputation for being hot-tempered, to use for our own selfish ends.   Forgive us for the stress we have put on others around us and for the words and maybe even the physical altercations which took place because we failed to put a control on anger. It’s become a way of life for some of us and we aren’t sure we know how to undo it.  We cannot shut the door without Your help, so we humble ourselves before You and ask for Your intervention.

We reject the root spirit of jealousy that manifests as anger, hatred, bad temper, and abusiveness. We reject pride that says others aren’t as good as us or that we must always have our own way.  We reject rebellion, lawlessness, and a manipulative spirit.  Lord, would you cleanse our hearts; and pour the oil of gladness and the love of God into us?  Cause us to fall in love with Your nature and desire to emulate the good in You.  Would you help us to change? Us not being able to change is a lie from hell. You can help us. We release You to go to work in our lives and break everything off us which isn’t like You—even the strongholds that we enjoy being bound by. We ask You, in situations where health issues, mental health issues, medications, hormone imbalances, and the like are at work, reveal to us a strategy to manage the physical problems themselves which manifest as ill-temperedness. Heal our sicknesses and help us govern our life choices more wisely.  Father, we release and forgive those who have wronged us, so that unforgiveness doesn’t open us up to a host of bad spiritual repercussions.  Help us say no to what opens a door to violent behavior–the wrong movies, music, influences, or friends. In other words, don’t let us remain content and justified in behaving badly! Don’t leave us alone, until we have a Christlike spirit that knows the difference between a righteous passion for justice and a tendency to always get angry over all things that don’t go our way.  Father, we don’t need to just get better at stuffing down anger only to have it resurface in other unhealthy ways or all at once; heal us in the area of our soul that needs healing, so that anger dissipates rather than just temporarily going into hiding.  O God, show us the people to whom we owe an apology or restitution for the way we have allowed anger to injure our relationship with them.

For those of us with more dominating, aggressive personality types, help us to channel that passionate or forward nature toward good and not evil. Sanctify us and use even our personalities in a positive way to make a difference in this world and bring You glory. Bring balance into our lives so that we aren’t excessive.  Holy Spirit, we invite you into ourselves. Be the dove of peace that rests in our spirit. Displace the spirit of anger which was never meant to occupy the high throne of our hearts. Break up the fallow ground of our hearts and cause gentleness, meekness, peace, love, patience, and every fruit of the Spirit to begin to flourish where the works of the flesh once overran our lives. Baptize our every word, thought, and deed in Your pure love.

In Jesus’ name, we accept Your forgiveness and Your deliverance. We will continue to verbally reject every temptation to explode with anger every time it tries to manifest; over and over, until the habit of overreacting is broken. We will not die prematurely from an undisciplined life that destroys our health and well-being, and we will not allow our behavior to destroy our relationships. We take responsibility now to walk as children of the light! We walk as free people, not bound people!

Kids and Grownup Church–They Belong, Too

Our family was far from perfect, but I’m thankful to have been born into it. I was a church kid, born to one of those families who believed in gathering for worship…and not just on rare occasions or when something else more interesting wasn’t going on. Whatever else they did or didn’t get right, my parents/grandparents raised us to be Christ-followers, within a larger group of other imperfect believers and families.  They modeled putting God first, in their tenacity to carve out Sunday for the Lord’s day (they definitely didn’t confuse us with on-again, off-again faithful attendance).  My parents didn’t fight with us or threaten to ground us on the issue…it was just our way of life, so since it was all we ever knew, we kids weren’t really exploring other options. If I may, I would like to just transparently share a little about kids and “grownup” church, and why I believe it’s important that kids experience more than just the nursery and the children’s program alone; we tend to try to keep it all so separate that our kids aren’t integrating into a grownup worship experience. So to keep babies from crying or parents from having to teach a wiggly child to behave for a little while and reverence God’s house, we just never bring them into where there’s grownup church going on.

Parents don’t seem as motivated as they once were with exposing their kids to a very spiritual encounter with God. So when it’s going to put any kind of kink in the routine, or if there’s an inconvenience of any kind; or if it’s not a service where there are kids’ activities running in tandem; or if church night clashes with other activities they like to participate in, the whole family just stays home. And our kids can develop a mindset that church has to be all about entertaining them–if there’s no cotton candy or egg hunt or pizza or face painting–it isn’t really worth the investment of their time. So as soon as they outgrow the games, they just stop coming, period. I grew up in a time when I wasn’t the excuse for my parents to stay home from church at night or during revival. Oh, there might be a sick day factored in there once in a while, but they never kept me out of evening worship services and said it was because I needed my sleep for school the next day. They had me there even when there wasn’t something special just for the little kids. Even if we should have to leave a little early (maybe we did…I don’t remember), they still brought me. Worship wasn’t the obligation we had to hurry and get over with just so we could rush out to go do what we would have rather been doing all along. I got to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of my church family from a young age, and you know…it was a healthy thing. So what was the benefit of my parents bringing me to grownup church, too, and not just kids church?

For starters, I learned a lot about Christians in the real world. I saw people who had to deal with some hard circumstances who didn’t give up. I saw others give up. I saw some quit and come back. I saw the saints and I saw the hypocrites. I saw church conflict, and when it was and wasn’t handled properly. I wasn’t shielded from any of it…and it taught me by example what to do and what not to do. I even saw sincere believers and family members whom I loved, who battled to the death with strongholds they wouldn’t break free from. I heard the way parents and grandparents prayed. I watched them forgive hard things. I saw them volunteer countless hours, hammer and saw, cook, serve, teach, sing, and just…be present.

And yeah, sometimes I got a little less sleep on a church night. It didn’t stunt my growth and I graduated in the top five of my class.

As a little girl, I fell asleep on the church pew and woke up in my own bed many a night. I got to stay back and see the things people miss who cut out early to catch their show on tv. I saw people get saved, get demons cast out, be healed, women shout their hairpins down. I remember watching my Grandma make homemade Communion bread, and I remember how that, as a small child, I knew it was serious that we not take the Lord’s bread and cup with unrepented sin or unforgiveness in our hearts. I took turns with all ages washing the saints’ feet (ladies in one room, fellas in another) in that old ceramic washpan, and sometimes the water got a little dirty in my little country church–and how that people often cried, rejoiced, forgave and made up with one another during that humble sacrament. I got baptized in a creek under an old bridge long before I attended a church that had a fiberglass baptistery. Sometimes I got taken to church when I had the sniffles or a cough…and when I did get sick (as kids will do), my parents didn’t hesitate to get me prayed for and even more importantly, they didn’t hesitate to lay hands on me and pray for me themselves. We had a special bottle of olive oil just for that purpose in our house! And they brought me to church…they didn’t just send me. I’m saying these things not to criticize or judge you if you’re a parent who’s raising your kids different from the way I was raised–but to encourage you to press in closer and let your kids have more than just a sterile, disconnected, indifferent, occasional relationship with the entire household of faith.

Don’t shrinkwrap your kids’ church experience in just the parts you think they should see. Please don’t opt to keep them home whenever the service isn’t tailored to their age group!  You’d be surprised at what a five-year old understands from a grownup preacher’s sermon, and what he or she picks up when it looks as if there’s absolutely no attention being paid at all. You’d be surprised at what your kids can come to understand about prayer, giving, serving, living with integrity, and sharing their faith.

Believe me when I tell you that world doesn’t dumb down what it shows kids now. Your elementary school kids have probably seen more on tv than you knew on your wedding night. Why, then, do we try to ration their experience of real faith in the lives of real people who need grace and redemption and patience with one another? Bring them to all the fun, memorable, age-appropriate stuff..they need that, too. But be thinking ahead to where you want them to be spiritually once they outgrow puppets and VBS.

Integrate them into a full, multigenerational worship experience. Let them know what it’s like to experience conviction, to get lost in worship, to pray in the altar for the Holy Spirit. Moreover, may they learn from watching how you worship and respond to the move of God, how you give, how you serve, how you interact with others in the church family, how you deal with hard times, and how you pray.  Please understand, I’m not undermining the value of children’s Christian education, at all.  I am grateful to be a member of a local church that has a phenomenal childrens program.  I’m just saying, your kids will learn more from watching your life than they ever could from just children’s church alone.  They need both.  They’re going to need to know how to bear up under persecution, how to live without compromising their moral ground, how to do spiritual warfare, and how to pray the prayer of faith when sickness, tragedy, or injustice happens. And make sure that, in spite of some occasional inconvenience, their opportunity to witness the church in all its organic guts and glory isn’t lost in just pacifying them with an electronic babysitter to keep them from being bored (yeah, they can make it for 90 minutes without the iPad and earbuds!).  It is, after all, us visiting God in His special place. He didn’t just leave us the key and tell us to lock up and turn off the lights when we’re done–He wants to come down among us. If we are excited about meeting Him there, and our kids catch the spirit of that excitement too, talk about some quality family time…

I was seven when I gave my heart to Jesus–and it was in a grownup revival service. I was ten when I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit…at night, lingering long in the altar. In both situations, I was a child but yet I knew enough about the presence of God to experience hot tears flowing from a sincere heart who wanted to know Him. It changed my life. Regardless of what your denomination teaches about these things, I’m just sharing with you the precious experience I got to have as a child raised in a Pentecostal church. And just think…had my parents kept me at the house either of those nights, because I was young and because they wanted me in bed at a certain time, or because they reasoned that I would probably encounter Jesus sometime after I got a little older…I might never have made a decision for Christ that translated into a lifetime of rich, growing faith. It was just two church services on the timeline of my life; but oh, if I had missed them…

I’ve had my ups and downs spiritually, have made some good decisions and some unthinkably foolish ones; but I’m 52 and I’m still deeply, deeply in love with my Savior. This didn’t happen by accident. My parents steered me toward a relationship with God–very intentionally–and part of that involved raising me not just as an occasional visitor to His house, but a regular. It was all I ever knew. Sunday was His day, and very few times was it pre-empted for something else. And because I got to experience needing to exercise my faith, worshiping God in a setting of young and old, being encouraged to seek out my gifts and use them for His glory; and seeing the consequences of when things aren’t handled right by believers actually protected me. It kept me from becoming jaded from offenses and hurts and church splits and injustices–because unfortunately, those things happen. Your child needs to be conditioned to deal with the very things you wish they didn’t have to see.  I learned that men may fail you, mistreat you, withhold favor, betray you…but that God will not. Ever.

If you will live Jesus Christ before them, and be genuine in your faith, your kids will be ok even if they see others who don’t walk the walk. If you’ll value their spiritual growth as much as you value them making first string on the ball team, you are securing something even more important than whether they get skilled enough to win a sports scholarship and a free ride to college. Your kids need to be able to cope with life in a wicked, wicked world. They will worship somethingand if you don’t teach them and model before them how to put the Lord God first in their lives, you may lose them to the world system. If they see you indifferent about your commitment to Christ, don’t be surprised if they grow up completely detached from faith. It’s not going to be enough for your children to say, “Oh yeah…I believe there’s probably a God.” Or, “Hey, I might not be where I ought to be, but I still pray…sometimes”. The time to sell them on the value of that relationship is now, while they’re still impressionable. Your kids need Him for eternal life. They need Him, because drugs and alcohol and debauchery and pornography and crime and suicide are all waiting to grab hold of them.

Some of you prayed that God would bless you with children. Now that you have them, will you truly dedicate them to Him or will you instead teach them that life is all about what they can achieve and get and buy and own and collect and play? Will they encounter His presence or will their lives be all about getting numbed out by newest level of their favorite video game? Don’t raise them up not to know who their Father is, and don’t raise them not to know about a hell that’s to be shunned and heaven to be gained. it’s a matter of eternal life and death.

Being a church kid wasn’t–and isn’t–a bad thing to be. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

That’s all.

Matters of the Heart: Character

Good EggGod, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. Examine me through and through; find out everything that may be hidden within me.  Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares.  See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on,  and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting ways—the path that brings me back to you.  —Psalm 139:23-24  (The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.)

#Character issues disqualify us from promotion by God far more often than lack of talent, geographic advantage, education, or even resources. Can God trust me….you….us? God wants to use us to fulfill His purposes in the earth. Some of those purposes are big, some are small. In either case, we need to be reliable and trustworthy to the One who created us, just as much so as if He were calling on us to be the next Billy Graham! Even if we perceive ourselves as little fish in a big pond, our character still matters very much to God!

We can choose to be assets or liabilities. How? By honest self-examination and surrender to God. David did this. He invited the Lord to search him, to try his heart, to uncover any wickedness. We know David had a fall, from which he recovered…but his fall was not an ongoing character issue that became his identity. He remained humble and repentant before God, and God honored that. We need to ask ourselves, in the neighborhood, the church, our family, our school/workplace…what are we known for? The reputation that precedes us, yes, can be tarnished by the lies/misconception of others…but how often is the origin for our tarnished reputations our own words and actions (or inactions)? I don’t want people to say of me, “You’d better steer clear of Lisa…she will stab you in the back, she’s lazy and unreliable, you have to walk on eggshells around her because she’s so easily offended, you can’t believe a word she says, don’t say anything in front of her that you don’t want spread all over the place, she won’t finish what she starts…” On and on.

If in our dramatic laments about why things aren’t going right for us, it’s always the other person’s fault, it’s probably not.😉 If we hear rumors about ourselves that are unsavory, it’s a great time to evaluate what we need to change and then go to God for help. Those character flaws CAN be healed if we will own up to them and work on them. Left undealt with, we are driving through life with bad brakes and it eventually will catch up with us.

Lord, help us to be very honest with You and ourselves. You know our weaknesses and You also know our willfulness. Your strength is made perfect in our weakness when we lean on You to help us. Our will, however, is sure to get us in trouble if we rebel from aligning with Your will. Jesus, over and over, submitted His will to Yours; and He was the example for us to follow.

Reveal to us, Holy Spirit, when there is an ugly nature in us that needs dealt with. Whether it’s lust, infidelity, pride, unforgiveness, spite, cruelty, intimidation, prejudice, a lying spirit, dishonesty and cheating, a talebearer, a betrayer, a spirit of laziness, rebellion, hatred, insecurity, negativity, undisciplinedness, grumbling, jealousy, or fear—we lay our entire selves on the altar and ask You to sanctify us and purge us of anything unholy that would cull us from kingdom usability and trustworthiness. We renounce and reject any spirit that would attach itself to us and defile the pure gifts You have given us. We will not make excuses or blame others or be offended over Your attempts to prune away what disqualifies us. When we represent You in the earth, may we represent You well. Help us never to bring reproach on Your name, Your family, Your kingdom!

May it be said of us, even by those who don’t necessarily like our personality quirks or the way we look, “Blessed is he/she who comes in the name of the Lord!” Conform us to the image of Your Son. Fill us with a refreshing overflow that lifts the atmosphere in every room we enter. Make us fit for the kingdom—assets and not liabilities! And Lord, help us to reverse undesirable reputations whether or not we earned them. Make us willing to prove ourselves and to submit to those You would place in our lives as mentors and leaders. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

In Whose Shadow?

shadow-1-1545067
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will remain secure and rest in the shadow of the Almighty [whose power no enemy can withstand].”  (Psalm 91:1 AMP)
Do you have a parent, sibling, coworker, spouse, ministry constituent, or friend to whom you feel inferior? Does someone close to you in that way shine so brightly, so talented or gifted or just favored, that you feel there’s no room for you to ever excel and be lent credibility? You may feel like you’re in someone else’s shadow, but I encourage you today to choose WHOSE shadow you’re going to stand in. Choose to stand in God’s shadow. Learn to be at home in the shadow of the Almighty…you don’t have to stand in anyone else’s shadow, but you belong to Him and you need the rest and comfort and protection of His wings! That’s the only place where you won’t be plagued by the temptation and bondage that comes with comparison!
Stop comparing yourself to other people and viewing yourself as less-than (or for that matter, as more-than!). Stop buying into what other people have said or implied about you…a teacher or a parent or boss or someone who may have said, “Why can’t you be more like ____ (a sibling, a peer, or someone else who was/is used a measuring stick)?” You were not placed on this earth to fulfill His plan for their lives, but to fulfill the plan He tailor-made just for you. It is an insult to the power and imagination of our Creator, for us to try to make ourselves signed-and-numbered prints off of some priceless original. No, each of us is a priceless original, and He never runs out of creative power.
Be free from the spirit of comparison, from pride, from inferiority, from any other emotion or mindset that hinders you from living life to its fullest.
Lord, we cast down these crazy imaginations and “high, lofty things” that work overtime, which cause us pain and limitation whenever they run contrary to what Your Word and Your will for our lives has spoken. Forgive us for spending so much time looking at ourselves and comparing and lamenting and walking in fear. Fear tells us we will never be good enough because we cannot excel past certain other people. Fear tells us not to even try because we are doomed to failure. Your Word, however, says we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
 
Forgive us as well for carelessly speaking damaging words over ourselves or others out of ignorance. We are not guiltless in the area of having made statements like “He/she sure is no ____” and compared one of Your precious originals to someone else we perceived to be be more skilled or talented or good in some way. You don’t create counterfeit, cheap knockoffs, and You don’t use a cookie cutter to mass produce lives void of authenticity. We are sorry for ever trying to establish the standards for excellence over ourselves or anyone else! We are not the Creator. We submit our words and actions to You again on the potter’s wheel and ask that You give us clean hearts that in turn compel clean words. We will resist the devil when he tries again to make us feel intimidated by the giftings and abilities of others, and if we resist–as often as necessary!–he will flee.  We forgive and release anyone who may ever have hurt us by comparisons, and we ask You to forgive them too, because they knew not what they were doing.
 
In order to stay in Your shadow and to dwell in the secret place, we have to be on the move, as well! You don’t stand in one place with your wing of protection stuck out for us to stand under. No, You are moving and working constantly—so our secret to staying in Your shadow is to move with You, to go where You go, to do what we see the Father do, to speak what we hear You say. What worked for Jesus works for us today–operating under the canopy of submission to You. We submit ourselves to You today and we will stay under Your protection, fulfilling every wonderful thing You have ordered for our lives! We are free from approval-seeking and self-exaltation and self-deprecation and any other tool the enemy would use to shift our eyes onto ourselves and off of You. Be glorified in us today, Father—all of it—You get all the glory and we will gladly stand in Your shadow, we pray in Jesus’ name!
#Psalm91 #2Corinthians10 #callthosethings

 

The Mandate of Teachability

teachable“For everyone who listens with an open heart will receive progressively more revelation until he has more than enough. But those who don’t listen with an open, teachable heart, even the understanding that they think they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 13:12 TPT*)

Are you still being taught, still learning, still seeking to know more tomorrow than you know today? The day you stop being #teachable is the day you begin to stagnate spiritually. We are all meant to be in a continual state of growth, right up until the day we go home to be with Jesus. To remain teachable, we have to deliberately push ourselves beyond those things we already know (and sometimes feel like we know it all! Yeah, I’ve been guilty of that a time or two myself!), and place ourselves in the hands of people who know more than we do. Being teachable requires a bit of humility–for when we think we have it all figured out, sometimes we begin to disdain those who are trying to teach us what we feel is old hat. We are so conditioned to wanting variety, variety, choices, choices, drop down menus, where we can skip the stuff that is boring and go on to what stimulates our curiosity and makes us feel good about ourselves.

I remember one time being with a friend, and we went to a church meeting with a special speaker. We rode together. She sat about 10 minutes into the meeting, long enough to find out that the teacher was going to teach on the subject of healthy marriages and being a godly wife. She leaned over and said to me, “Let’s go. This is of no benefit to me. I already know all this.” How sad that I followed her lead and left, even though I was the driver! My friend may not have felt she needed the help, but I needed (and still do!) all the help I can get!

“To learn the truth you must long to be teachable, or you can despise correction and remain ignorant.” (Proverbs 12:1 TPT*)

While we can learn a lot from our peers, and while we can be iron sharpening iron to one another, there’s only so much someone else on our same level can impart to us. It can be a hard hurdle to leap over because we want to be with the people we enjoy most and feel we have the most in common with. Sometimes we have to deliberately place ourselves outside that common area for a season so that we can be more open to the meatier part of spiritual maturity–those hard lessons that aren’t learned over coffee and a game of cornhole. Some of the most valuable elements of growth you will ever receive are waiting to be imparted from people who don’t fit your parameters–some (and likely, most) will be older…some may even be younger…some will be from a different walk of life and not always what you consider to be a level up from your own…some will be people you don’t consider to be particularly interesting to hang around. Sometimes God will even pair you with someone that you have to pursue, who doesn’t offer you any encouragement to pursue him or her–like Elijah with Elisha! We have many spiritual brothers and sisters but very few spiritual mothers and fathers—and those, friends, are who we need to seek out IF we want to grow. Enjoy spiritual sibling-ship (if there is such a word…lol), but pursue mentors and spiritual parents.

I am not in any way downplaying the importance of fellowship and small groups—if anything, we need to connect more and more as the days grow more wicked. I hope each of you reading this will find such a group of people and get plugged in. It’s much needed and it will bless you. However, it’s been said that if you are the smartest person in the room, you need to be looking for another room. You can still enjoy common union with the others, but I encourage you, find the people God wants to use to TEACH you and include them in your life. If everyone you’re close to and gleaning from is on the same level as you, who is going to be able to rally the others when discouragement or crisis comes to the whole tribe? Or, think of it another way…would you really want to be operated on by a med student who’s not actually certified yet; whose only instruction is being taught by fellow med students and a correspondence course? Yes, we are all still learning, no matter how many years we are into our Christian walk—even surgeons have to do continuing education—but we will never be qualified to teach others if we avoid being under the authority of someone who can correct us when we are wrong, and protect us from ourselves when we are full of zeal and less full of wisdom.

There are many things I wish I’d asked my parents and grandparents before they died, both about spiritual matters and life lessons. It was only after they were all gone that I began to think of certain pieces of information I would’ve liked to have passed down to me, and now they’re no longer here to give that information. We sometimes surmise that because the generation up from us isn’t tech savvy, or that they had limited opportunities, that they are no longer relevant to who we are today. We couldn’t be more wrong! These folks may not have had Google search or a college education, but they knew how to survive in hard times—from depressions to child rearing to staying put when commitment to a family or to a cause was hard or lackluster or less than what they hoped it would be.

Lord, crucify pride in our lives that would cause us to become root bound, pride which says to our teachers, “I don’t have to listen to you, I know all of that already!” Send people into our lives who can impart and equip us to be what might be the final generation–and if we aren’t, then we need to be able teachers of those who come after us. Help us, then, to be teachable. O God, help us to welcome correction and to welcome accountability instead of leaning to our own understanding. We cannot give what we have not yet received. With all of our getting, may we get wisdom and understanding. Help us not to avoid relationships with trusted mentors who can speak transparently into our lives. Place us in the position of being discipled, that we in turn might disciple others. Cause us to develop maturity and humility and receptiveness to a right word in a right season. Empower us, Holy Spirit. We pray in Jesus’ name…

*Scriptures quoted from The Passion Translation® of the Holy Bible, Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.

 

The Filter of Virtue

 

filter“Delightfully loved friends, don’t trust every spirit, but carefully examine what they say[a] to determine if they are of God, because many false prophets have mingled into the world”

(1 John 4:1 TPT The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC)

I wonder over the years just how many lies and half-truths we have believed about other people just because rumors got started…or news stories got published/aired…or how many times a tale got repeated with a little “yeast” added to it in increments? How many people have had a stain permanently grafted onto their reputations because of spoken/written words which weren’t true but just a matter of conjecture? We put so much stock in what we hear or read because we put stock in what we perceive to be “reliable sources.” Unfortunately, perception, even false perception, becomes the reality to whoever buys into it. We would all do well to ask ourselves more often, when exposed to information, “But what if it isn’t…true?”

We are bombarded on all sides with too much information. It’s yet another reason why I’m spending less time around social media. I don’t want to hear the dirt on people or situations. I don’t want to have to decide, in situations which aren’t my business, whether what I hear is fact or fiction; and truthfully, fact or fiction, some things I just don’t need to know! I don’t want to hear things that violate the peace in my spirit, or invite unnecessary drama into my life–or even open doors for the enemy of my soul to have legal access. Not everything passes through the filter of Philippians 4:8: things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy.

I’m trying to be more mindful of this. I have gotten swept into believing certain things before, just because I put confidence in “they” when I heard that “they” said or say. As I gasp at how easily people buy into believing horrible things and how anger and outrage and hatred explode, I’m reminded of times when I too have believed reports that weren’t true. It’s a time to pray daily for revelation and discernment so we won’t be deceived; and it is a time to pray daily for fortitude when we could find ourselves in the crosshairs of the accuser.

Persecution and opposition will come, believers…we haven’t had to see much of it here in this country, but we need to brace ourselves for the idea of being hated for what (and Whom) we believe…and a lot of it will come through people who believe lies. Be quick to repent, and be quick to forgive. Remember that the Word says to be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…and it also says not to believe every spirit but to try the spirits to see if they be of God; but to try the spirits, because there are many false messengers in the world.

Lord, help me not to be deceived even in seemingly inconsequential things, because it never is inconsequential. Help me to shut down what I allow into the gateways to my soul–my eyes and ears. Help me to be courageous enough to tell people, “I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to know,” instead of having to try to cleanse my spirit of what I’ve allowed in. Help us not to be deceived by false messengers, and help us not to be guilty of being a relay runner of false messages by passing on what is not true.  Keep me pure in heart, in motives, in intentions, and in truth always!  In Jesus’ name…

 

Release and Renew: Prayers for Those with Heartbreaking Jobs

”I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13 NAS1977)

Be deliberate today in your pursuit of the goodness of God. I speak especially to those in careers where you daily see the ugliest side of humanity, or perhaps the most hopeless-appearing situations. Soldiers, law enforcement, social workers, oncology nurses/doctors, ministers, teachers, counselors, and others–at the end of your day you must find a way to disconnect from the despair, lest you become a casualty instead of a catalyst for healing and hope. You can find that in prayer. At the beginning of your day you have to coat yourself in the hope of the Word to shield yourself from what you’re going to encounter. You might say, “why aren’t you suggesting I pray for the people I encounter instead of myself? This feels so selfish. What about their problems?” I’m writing this today to help keep you strong enough to do the hard work you do. You can’t help others if you wind up taken out by despair. It’s time to gear up because we NEED you doing what you do. Please, stay strong! Take care of your spirit!

Our world is sad. It’s bad out there. There’s so much despair and so many wicked activities taking place. There’s so much sickness and tragedy and cruelty. So many children, elderly, weak, innocent who are preyed upon. So many people operating under demonic influence inflicting pain and suffering on themselves and others. So much ADDICTION.

I’ll be honest. I went through my Twitter feed earlier this morning and the bad news was exhausting. I wanted to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. I honestly thought, “Death’s not such a bad thing…it’ll be a relief to leave this world and go on to heaven!” But then I remembered what Paul said about it being more expedient (needful) that he remain behind to help others instead of going on to be with the Lord. I want heaven. I want to go and be with the Lord and be away from all the madness for all eternity…eventually. But what I really want to do first is effectively hold back the worst of evil by collectively offering up effectual fervent prayer. I want to point others to Jesus and be someone who hammers signposts in the ground of life that show a lost world the direction in which to run to find hope. THE ONLY way I can remain objective is to have God’s Word tattooed on my heart and mind, and to stay close enough to Him to hear His voice. Otherwise I just disappear into the sludge of despair with everyone else who’s given up and is waiting to die.

So for all of you who are so bravely doing the jobs I could not do (or rather, don’t necessarily WANT to do), I just encourage you this morning to cover yourself. Even if you’re already well into your shift, there’s no time like the present to start. Pray with me:

“God, thank You for helping me survive all the situations I encountered yesterday. Your Word says Your mercies are new every morning. Today I receive Your new mercy. Clothe me with salvation, with humility, with strength. Just like the “whole armor of God,” I put on my tactical gear. My head’s covered with salvation. My heart’s covered with righteousness. My tactical belt is truth…I can attach every tool I need to do my job to this truth. My feet are covered with peace. My shield is faith. My defense weaponry is Your Word and Your Spirit! That said, Lord, I’m getting ready to walk into the unknown today. I will encounter messed-up lives. I will meet hurting people. My heart will break over what’s not fair. Use me to make a difference, to be Your light bearer in a dark place. Help me to respond not out of anger, but with great wisdom.

Help me to do my best while I’m on the job and then help me to LET IT GO at the end of the day. Lord, help me not to carry these problems home to my family. I need my family and they need me. Help me to appreciate and be ministered to by the innocence of the home I’ve worked so hard to build and protect.

Keep me safe today, guard me against burnout; help me to strategize with the mind of Christ about how I can use my gifts to bless others and my strengths to help those who are in the place of need. Help me not to lose my sense of compassion nor my sense of duty to minister to the disparaged. I don’t want to be callous or insensitive when someone is needing treated gently. Help me to be just and fair with all people, even those who aren’t just and fair with me. Remind me that I represent YOU and can’t afford to let my words and actions go contrary to Yours. Help me not to think as the world thinks, but as YOU think about situations. Keep me from being jaded. Keep my heart tender even as you keep it from breaking in two at the things which also grieve YOU. In Jesus’ name.”

And at night (or the end of your workday, whenever that is 😉 ):

“Father, thank You for helping me to make it to the conclusion of another day. These burdens I bore all day long, these suffering people I worked with, the situations I can’t necessarily fix with an easy button…these worries and cares all want to come home with me. The memories want to invade my ability to wind down, to hear my spouse and children’s conversations, to keep me from the place of prayer and the much needed place of recharging and sleep.

But just like a set of coveralls, I choose to unzip the activities of the day and I step out of them. What I couldn’t fix today, I will deal with tomorrow, but for now I let it go. I’m not God–You are. I trust You to put things on hold, to keep the people I can’t help 24/7, to send others alongside to help, and to keep this world spinning on its axis for another day. In Jesus’ name I reject the effects of constant exposure to negative forces. I will not cope with frustration and sorrow by engaging in substance abuse or destructive relationships. I will seek out things that keep my heart pure and guileless, I will freely laugh at every possible opportunity, and I will give mindful thanks for the simple blessings You afford me, like a beautiful sunrise or the giggles of a small child.

I boldly declare that the helmet of salvation will keep my mind and protect me from becoming a walking case of PTSD. You are strengthening me, You are renewing my mind, You are restoring my innocence, and You ARE my joy, my strength. I will run to You and not be so “tough.” You’re the One I run to when I’m out of my league. It’s ok for me to be vulnerable in Your presence because You heal me and help me. I plead the blood of Jesus now to wash me clean, to cleanse the portals of my mind from what I need to let go of. Thanks now for blessing my family time, my worship time, my downtime and strengthening me to fight another day. I love You and trust You. Amen”

Running the Backup Plan Aground…for Good

fiashing-netProbably the loneliest day of Peter’s whole fishing career was when he re-launched the S.S. Simon and tried to just be a fisherman again after following Jesus. The romantic call of the sea and the nostalgic smell of the salty nets held little sway over him now. After all, a Simon reed can easily sway in the wind; but now his name was Petra, a solid rock. The wind of recklessness and wavering was no longer his domain. I wonder if his pivotal decision to finally return to the disciples and Jesus came from an instant replay of that day when Jesus asked the twelve whether they, too,  would abandon Him like others who were turned off by certain elements of His teaching. Peter replied, “Where else would we go…YOU have the words of eternal life!” Perhaps it was the memory of this moment that caused him to finally sever all ties with his backup plan and dedicate the rest of his life to serving his True Source.

Once God has expanded your boundaries to accommodate the person He’s growing you to be, you can never quite fit back into your original container. Oh, to be certain, we have to make a living, support our families, and in general, be exposed to the world if they are to be exposed to US and to the Gospel we share. However, if you feel your failures have put you out of commission to serve the Lord and carry the Good News, I beg you to think of Peter and his brief turning away from his calling. His most victorious, passionate days would come after he realized that his success lay in Jesus within him instead of in his own strength.  The pages in his dossier that revealed days of his least savory performance were only left in the file because they were amended to show the amazing comeback in each circumstance. It no longer mattered that there were blotches on his record…the blotches were a setup for an amazing finish of, well, Biblical proportions. Peter’s last half of his journey as God’s “petra man” far exceeded his former days; for just forty days after Jesus ascended to heaven, the Comforter came and Peter got to be one of the first people on earth to operate under this release of power from on high!

So why are you reverting to your backup plan, minister, leader, disciple, pioneer?  If God called you, and you have undealt-with wrongs, right them. Even if it means you have to prove yourself all over again and feel the humiliation of a tarnished reputation, be quick to repent, to forgive, to make restitution, to accept the mercy and forgiveness of the One Who asks nothing more of you than to “feed My lambs…feed My sheep.” You can build character, stability, integrity if you’re willing…and if you can’t return to the place where it all went south, God can absolutely redeem you to a different assignment, with perhaps even more powerful impact!  Eventually your failures will be yesterday’s news to those around you; and even if they should never quite be forgotten, God will weave a victory comeback into even that part of your story. The truth is, whether you’re used in the same way, a lesser way, or a greater way, you’ll never be free of that call to a destiny of His design.  It’s bigger than that small, safe, predictable life you once envisioned for yourself.

Run that backup plan into a sandbar and be done with it.  Put a “For Sale” sign on your escape vehicle.  Boom or bust, go all out this second (or even third or fourth) time around.  Have a Peter kind of finish. Even as a martyr for his faith, he went out on his own terms–better yet, he finished on God’s terms. Come back home, wandering servant of Christ. He still has need of your part….

Save

Save