Repentance: Don’t Hide–HEAL

Don’t let the enemy guilt you out of your #destiny. If you have sinned or otherwise failed or fallen short, repent. Yes, I know there’s seemingly nothing profound in that advice, but it’s still true. I didn’t say resign; I said #repent.

#Repentance isn’t just being sorry for something you’ve done (or in some cases, haven’t done), it’s evaluating where you went wrong and making the necessary corrections to keep it from happening again: a change of heart and action. Maybe you’ve done something or allowed something and it’s wrinkled the fender of your reputation and distanced you from God. Maybe you’re just disappointed in yourself and it’s easier to bail than to humbly start all over. The first thing Adam and Eve did after they sinned was to HIDE. And may I even say, the more we are respected and admired, the harder it feels to get back up when we stumble because the accuser wants our shame to be very public.

Yeah, Satan’s goal is to take us out and damage as many people as he can in the process…but friends, when we’ve taken a faceplant, the world needs to SEE us recover, even if a few folks (and particularly some who are supposed to be on our “side”) hurl a few insult-and-accusation stones as we are picking ourselves up. Sometimes we privately recover, but truthfully, sometimes what we resolve to just do in private enables us to wallow a little longer in the mess–and kept hidden, sometimes we fix it, but sometimes we just choose to stay broken. Don’t stay in that place. It’s a rat’s nest.

There may be shame in failure but there’s no shame in turning to God to fix us when we have failed. Last night before I went to sleep, this verse went through my mind and I just meditated on it as I drifted off: “So now, those who are in Christ Jesus are not judged guilty. Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit that brings life made me free from the law that brings sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 NCV) The KJV says there’s “therefore now no condemnation.”

Because of our trust in the redemptive power of the cross, we can machete our way through the choking, dense growth of sin’s effect on our lives and emerge back onto the right path intact. Paul realized the possibility of preaching to others but himself becoming a castaway–so he held himself accountable. So should we.

It’s just where we are. Sharing the good news is relatively easy. Being the “living epistle read of every man” part, not so much. The best thing to do is to keep ourselves holy, on guard, prayed-up, free from bondages. It’s a lot easier to maintain than to break down and repair. But if you are reading this from the cave where you went to hide after your embarrassing fall, please know there is HOPE for you. Sure, there’ll be a few who would remind you of your inadequacy, but there is a whole host of witnesses crying out just beyond your earshot, “Get up! Try! Finish! Keep going! You’re almost home!” There’s a Father checking out the window, pacing in the roadway, wanting to put a ring on your stinky, stained hand and restore you with full privilege instead of demoting you from sonship to servitude.

I remember once when I was still in school, one of my schoolmates wound up getting badly burned when he threw gasoline on a bonfire. The kid was ashamed/afraid to tell his parents because it was a foolish act of disobedience, messing with fire and flammables; and because he hid the terrible burn under his clothing without getting help, the burn got badly infected and became a serious, dangerous problem much worse than a parent’s chastisement for disobeying. No doubt the scars are still on that leg, decades later. We hide our burns too, sometimes, don’t we?

Peter had to repent when he fell. Yep, one of “the three amigos” whom Jesus kept privy to His most important missions actually betrayed Him in a most contemptible way when things got too dangerous. But Jesus WANTED him back. He even said to him, “when you’re restored, strengthen the others.” See, your recovery is never just about you. Jesus didn’t choose to just gloss it over and strengthen them Himself in Peter’s absence; He in essence told Peter, “YOU do it.” There’s going to be a visible restoration of the part of you that needs healed, friend, and the people who’ve been let down by your absence are also going to be strengthened…by YOU. It is this action that will bring you full circle and it will keep you accountable in the future because of its humbling quality.

As much as it feels to the contrary, you aren’t expendable. God needs you on that front line. Replacing you is not His ultimate will — redeeming you, however, IS! He saw in ages past where a you-shaped piece of the puzzle needed to go, and He created you to fit exactly right there in the big picture. He doesn’t have a bunch of spare you’s just lying around in case you malfunction! Repentance says you are willing to let Him rebuild you to keep doing what He created you to do. And sometimes, we need rebuilt not only because of our sins, but also even from just being battle-weary, worn-out, and hyperextended. Let Him.

Lay aside what’s holding you back. Phooey on what anyone might say or think, don’t you wallow in condemnation one more day. Your destiny is right where you left it, and Jesus can recalibrate the driving directions from WHEREVER this moment finds you…to make sure you arrive safely. Come home.

Cast Down, But Not Destroyed

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This is Dana and me, pictured just doing what we’d loved ever since 2001.  We logged thousands of miles on motorcycle rides and long road trips. Who knew that one seemingly uneventful night in October 2010, just miles from our home, it would all take such a frightening tumble?

 

 

In commemoration of God sparing our life on a cold October night, I’m expanding a little devotional I wrote in April 2011.  Most of what’s in here is taken from the piece, “Trust and You Won’t Be Crushed.”

It was just at the edge of dusk, 6 years ago this evening, when I woke up to find that I was lying flat on my back on the cold pavement. I remembered seeing the dog run out in front of our motorcycle; and I remembered us bracing and hitting it, then it was like being tumbled in a dark clothes dryer. There hadn’t even been time to be scared, much less avoid the impact. How long had I been unconscious? Someone had already stood up our motorcycle, and a couple of men were looking through the tour pack for some ID. I could see out the corner of my eye that Dana was lying about 10 feet away from me, but I couldn’t hear him speak and I couldn’t see if he was moving. People standing over us were saying things that indicated to me that we were both bad off.

At first I couldn’t even talk, and it was so hard to breathe—I suppose from having had the wind knocked out of me. My helmet was shattered. Later I would find that I had a basal skull fracture as well as a fractured bone in my neck. I vaguely remember a woman holding my helmet and talking about how messed up it was. Someone commented that my head was bleeding. I wanted to get to Dana but I couldn’t raise up; and they were trying to keep me still so they could put me on a backboard. My arm was twisted over my head and I thought it was dislocated, but was told later that the shoulder was broken in two places. In the midst of the confusion and the excruciating pain, reality began to set in about what had just happened.  The loud noise of onlookers and emergency workers was making me more and more uncomfortable as I struggled to get someone to tell me whether my husband was ok.  A couple knelt on the ground and asked if they could pray with me; and as they prayed, the Holy Spirit rose up inside me and I began to pray loudly in Him.  It sounded like an authoritative voice not my own was declaring boundaries around the two of us!  As the noise of urgency began to subside in His presence, I could hear, quite clearly, the Lord whisper just one word to me…“COVENANT.” And in that moment, I knew exactly what He meant. I began to cry and say, “Thank you, God, for rebuking the devourer for our sakes!” A peace I can’t even begin to describe rested on me, one that would get me through the longest night of my life.

I’m told for a little while at the first hospital, Dana was conscious, and he was giving them fits; wanting to come and get me and take me home.  We were airlifted, one at a time, from Williamson Memorial to St. Mary’s.  I begged the paramedics to elevate my head.  I felt like I would absolutely smother to death flat on my back, and would feel that way for the remainder of the night.  No one would move me though, for fear of a spinal cord injury.  I was more afraid of suffocating than I was of being badly hurt.  Once at St. Mary’s, my stepson Coby held my hand and coached me to breathe in sync with him while they repositioned my broken shoulder.  The only relief I had from the discomfort was to occasionally lose consciousness.  Then, as I lay on a gurney in the hallway, waiting to go into a CT scan, a doctor came up and with no expression whatsoever, told me, “Your husband is unconscious and has a serious brain injury. His brain has begun to swell. We’ll do what we can.” With that, she turned and left. I had to make up my mind right then and there…am I going to trust God or am I going to collapse under a weight of fear? I chose to trust God, and that’s exactly what I called out to her back as she was walking away.

For just a little while, they wheeled me into a holding room with Dana. He was lying there, eyes closed, not moving.  I reached my fingers through the bars on our gurneys, gripped his hand, and prayed for him. Looking back now, I wonder whether the doctors might have thought he was going to die, and they were giving me a chance to say goodbye. But I spoke to him this Scripture which came to my remembrance, before they wheeled us in two different directions, “(You) shall live and not die, to declare the works of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:17) 

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Dana, lying near death and comatose for 17 days after our accident. Swollen almost beyond recognition, he had multiple brain bleeds, and fractures throughout his body, and had developed the deadly condition called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. This picture was a couple of weeks into the ordeal…I couldn’t bring myself to photograph him at first, and wouldn’t again for at least another month.

That was a long first night in the hospital.  Eventually, by the wee hours of dawn, I felt like I could breathe again, but I would have to watch for the next several weeks as a machine did the breathing for Dana.  Angels on assignment kept vigil over him, as did family and friends around the clock for the first nearly three weeks.  I was too sick and injured to sit up with him for the first week or so, even though I stayed nearby and spent as much time as I could in his room.

There are those times when we have to choose to believe, or be crushed under the weight of despair. And there are times when we can’t just think it or hope it…we have to hear ourselves say it—I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE.  I learned to say it out loud, and often, beginning that first night.  I stood on the Word and quoted Scripture as I stood in the gap, and prayed day and night over my husband.  When anxious or despairing thoughts tried to do war internally in my soul, I smiled on the outside in front of others; and I would privately share my sorrows and fears with Jesus.  I bet some folks thought I’d knocked my brains out on that pavement, when I’d counter the negative news with what God’s Word says… but I really didn’t care.  This was a battle for my husband’s very life.  The Holy Spirit cautioned me to set a watch on my lips.  Had I allowed myself to give voice to fear or unbelief, my actions would have followed.  Sometimes I actually wanted to let my vulnerability show, to cry on someone’s shoulder, but the Lord made me brave in the face of a lonely secret:  my words were declaring what I didn’t always feel in the natural!  Faith does it even when we are scared, friends.  And God proved faithful.  When pneumonia and infections came, He kept Dana from succumbing.  When acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) threatened to cause his lungs, one of which had already been collapsed, to just deteriorate and stop working altogether, God was there.  When Dana lay so long with his eyes partially open that the whites turned into what looked like pink sponges, God spared his sight.  Through blood clots, through huge wounds that were left undiscovered and untreated on the back of his head because of the position he had to lie in, through an unbelievably high fever that could have cooked his already-damaged brain, God kept him.  And when they had to bring the crash cart as he came out from surgery for being trached, God did not let him die.  When I had to sign consent for them to give him a special paralytic drug that totally disabled his functions so that his body would stop fighting the respirator, God gave me peace that He would keep Dana alive.  So many miracles that came, so much blessed assurance just in the nick of time.  I still marvel over how the Lord preserved my husband through the next six weeks without a bite to eat or even a sip of water in his parched throat and mouth.  He was tube-fed and intravenously hydrated all that time.

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Dana had to go 43 days with nothing by mouth. In this picture, he had not yet gained the ability to swallow and had to be fed through a tube in his stomach. We still had about 5 weeks to go before we could leave the hospital, and then another 5 months before we could move back into our own house.

When Dana regained consciousness in the second hospital, he couldn’t speak, but because he made eye contact with us and seemed to understand us when we talked to him, we assumed he was ok; however, when at last they capped his trach and he was able to speak,  it became apparent that the head injury was affecting his personality and his cognizance significantly.  He was hallucinating, saying things out of character, behaving not like himself.  I didn’t recognize the man inside the man; and I thank the Holy Spirit for holding onto me and numbing the pain of uncertainty of how long Dana would be this stranger.  His behavior begin to grow worse just as we moved him to the rehab hospital, and the brain injury made him very combative and angry and hard to handle.  Because he only slept for very short periods of time, so did I.  He acted at times like he despised me, but would go into an anxiety mode if I even left to step into the restroom.  He couldn’t even walk yet without a walker and a person or two at his elbows; but one night managed to get out of bed and wobble around on that walker, swearing he was going to find the exit and go home…in 6 inches of snow.  I had to lie to him (forgive me, Lord!) and tell him they bolted the exits from the outside after visiting hours were over…it was the only way to settle him down and make him go back to his bed!  At one point, the hallucinations were so bad, he even thought he was married to two different women at the same time–me and me.  He told me, “She’s good to me, but YOU are the one I love.”  Folks, this wasn’t a cake walk.  At times it has been downright scary and it took every ounce of faith I could muster.  If God hadn’t held us in His hand, we couldn’t have made it.  I only share these very private memories with you because I want you to understand what God’s brought us from, and how He kept bad situations from spiraling completely out of control. I knew from the start that there were ways this situation could’ve been infinitely worse…yet the Lord was merciful.

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Learning to stand—and walk—again. It was at times a very hard process.

The Word and our prayer partners kept me together as I stayed for nearly three months either right there with him or close by.  I only left Huntington to come home a few times to catch up my work, to get clean clothes, pay bills, etc., then right back to the hospital.  Until he was able to be moved to the rehab hospital in December, I’d stayed at a hospitality house. I’d come come home on a Thursday afternoon, work for 24 straight hours on the parts of my job that couldn’t be handled remotely on my laptop; and then Dana’s dad would drive me back (I was in a neck brace and a sling, so I couldn’t drive for quite some time).  At the rehab hospital, I was finally able to move into his room with him.  I just set myself an office up in the corner and kept working! And, friends and family kept driving the nearly two-hour drive to Huntington to those three hospitals. We had a steady stream of visitors.  I’ll never be able to thank them for being there for us…that they even cared this much for us moves me to tears.

On January 21, 2011, Dana was finally released from the hospital.   Even now, he remembers nothing about his hospital stays except for vague little bits the last couple of days or so.  Leaving the hospital was another chapter, and another time when trusting God was critical to survival.  I still was concerned about his healing brain and whether I’d be able to do anything with him if he had another “episode” like the night he tried to leave the hospital!  We weren’t able to go directly home.  We would spend the next four months in his dad’s den–him in a hospital bed and me on a couch beside him, because Dana was still in a wheelchair and walker and couldn’t climb the steps to our house.  He also still had to have his liquids thickened and his solids very soft, to keep from choking on his food from his damaged trachea.  God bless Joe and Thelma for persevering right there with us.  We couldn’t have made it through this without them.  Near the end of May, seven long months after our ordeal, we got to sleep in our own bed again for the first time.

Dana spent 82 days in 3 hospitals, and couldn’t even swallow an ice chip for the first 43 days. He lay in the ICU trauma ward for 17 days comatose, and running an insanely high fever for several days. He had multiple fractures, multiple brain bleeds, and a series of serious complications; but when Satan tried to take him out, God drew the line and said, “No.”

Though it’s been at times a physically and emotionally exhausting 6 years for both Dana and me, we have not lost our joy and we have not lost our love for life and one another. God has been so good to us.  We have adjusted to a “new normal,” and part of it is to lighten up a little and find humor in what would otherwise be frustrating or difficult or just…different.  The head injury left Dana’s personality and behaviors a tad changed from before, but mostly in very good ways.  I think of it as “Dana’s personality—on steroids.”  😉   Dana has a childlike, literal faith that God can and will do exactly what He says.  I’ve watched the Lord transform a lukewarm/backslidden man who’d completely stopped serving God before our wreck into a mighty man of God who prays for hours each day, witnesses to others continually, and encourages folks to believe and speak the Word. (I will draw an exception here however, and I would be remiss in leaving this out:  when he had stopped professing faith and attending church before our wreck, he was still diligent to tithe and give.  He would repeatedly tell me on payday:  “Whatever you do, don’t forget to pay tithe and give offerings on my check.  I may not be living right but I won’t rob God!”  Could it be that, in the time where our lives hung in the balance, God honored a man’s tenacity in this small thing????). What God has done and continues to do in Dana’s life, inside and out, is quite miraculous.  We still confess and believe for the areas of restoration that are yet to manifest.  We believe that what still needs to become whole will be whole again– as our friend Cathy had confessed over us repeatedly, “nothing broken, nothing missing, nothing lost.”  We have surely come from a mighty long way.

And God proved to me that He doesn’t leave;  He didn’t leave me and He won’t abandon you, either!  Even on those days when you feel frightened, alone, ashamed of your personal struggles, numb to all emotion or crying uncontrollably, He’s there.  He watches over His Word to perform it.  Our job is to take that Word and keep speaking it over our lives even when there’s no evidence whatsoever yet that it’s doing a bit of good.  We are to speak it even when our hearts are hollow and the words seem to fall to the ground.  The answer will come if you and I will pray and not faint; or if we fall, we keep getting back up as often as it takes.  There were days when I was so overwhelmed that I wished I’d died that night on the pavement, but God restored joy to my life and a stronger faith in His faithfulness!  God helped Dana and me to emerge from a catastrophic situation to become more resolute in our faith, more devoted to one another, and hopefully better people for having persevered during this detour on our journey.

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10/28/2014 – Standing in the approximate area where our bike went down four years earlier. A sobering feeling of gratitude washed over me as we looked around this spot where God spared our lives! Even now when I drive through that area, sometimes emotion wells up inside me as I ponder the goodness and mercy of God.

I’m telling you, friends, you need Jesus. You need Him, your marriage needs Him, your family needs Him to carry you through times like this.  It’s not a matter of if you’ll ever have to go through hard seasons, but when..and when you do, faith in God can preserve your very sanity.  Covenant relationship with God doesn’t mean you’ll never face difficulty. It can, however, mean the difference between you surviving or being mowed down by the enemy.  It will keep you when you go through depression, through loss, through grave uncertainty, through the outright unfair happenings of life in this fallen world; and on the other side of your storm, God will pull out a mysterious parcel and hand back to you.  You will find that you didn’t lose your joy and innocence after all; He’d wrapped it securely in the Holy Spirit’s comfort and kept it from being annihilated by the tribulation of life.

Sooner or later, we all have to face the most difficult time of our lives. Are you prepared? God can keep you from falling apart. I can say that because, six years later, Dana and I are still held together by the duct tape of God’s wonderful, saving grace. Even these fractured pieces form something beautiful…like a prism of glass that scatters light in every direction, testifying that truly, love never fails.

“But the LORD God keeps me from being disgraced. So I refuse to give up, because I know God will never let me down.”  Isaiah 50:7 CEV

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Mirror, Mirror

It is so critical that we put our attitudes and hidden heart issues on the altar, and become so immersed in the Word that we aren’t blind to undealt-with sin and/or weights. We can have every potential to do great things—even have had prophetic words spoken over us about our gifts elevating us to leadership or notoriety—and negate the prophetic word through pride, narcissism, jealousy, or fear. Instead of being angry at those we perceive to hold us back, and instead of being envious of others who possess our same potential, we must deal with that pesky hidden man of the heart. If there are unforgiveness issues stemming back even to our childhood, or healing that needs to happen when we release those who’ve hurt us, we must do the work. If we fail to do so, we will taxi the runway back and forth but never gain the momentum to get off the ground. Still more tragic, we risk imprinting our character flaws on our children by forcefully living vicariously through them, by repeating abuses on them that we experienced, or by failing to desire success for them that exceeds our own. Even very good people can be trapped in a holding pattern, mind you…disqualified over things that could be fixed!

Father, help us not to be our own worst enemy. You are fully-aware of even what we don’t see about ourselves–those damaged, flawed, or underdeveloped matters of character that we haven’t yet recognized or owned-up to. We will stop blaming others for our lack of success and begin to look inwardly, with humility and a quick-to-repent heart, for what needs purged from our character. Even if we don’t aspire to promotion of some kind, coddling wrong attitudes and negative emotions is a behavior not pleasing to You; and as badly as we want not to feel like a failure in our destiny, we want to find favor in Your sight even more. As David prayed after his hidden sin bubbled to the surface, likewise create in us a clean heart and renewed right spirit. See if there be (expose) any wicked way in us; and after the diseased element in our hearts is purged, restore the joy of our salvation. May we bear good fruit—30, 60, 100-fold, unhindered by toxic emotions, attitudes, and behavior.

You discipline those whom You love…and we know You love us too much to leave us messed-up. We don’t want to be those Your Word speaks of whose neck becomes hardened from having to be chastised often. Help us get it right, to learn and be willing to change. Remove the blinders, and after we’ve seen ourselves without the wax coating, make us whole—perfect and entire, lacking nothing. Give us courage to allow ourselves to be overhauled from the inside out. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Vagabond Spirit

ghostThere are a lot of paranormal shows and books that talk about ghosts being the wandering souls of the dead who still seek closure. Though I’m not blogging today to argue the existence or nonexistence of ghosts (smile), hold that thought about wandering spirits. I’m really going somewhere with this.

All around us (perhaps even a few are reading this post) are millions of living people who walk around with a spirit of restlessness that they’ve not been able to shake; this spirit sabotages everything they set their hands to. That’s a haunting far scarier than the things that go bump in the night—being stuck with an inability to commit or to find satisfaction in our already-blessed lives.  So these persons are constantly changing careers, in and out of relationships, church-hopping, changing college majors a dozen times, moving from state to state, and in general, never able to just unpack all the boxes and sink roots.

I’m speaking both figuratively and literally here.  And while I realize the nature of some vocations, ministries, and dreams involve being flexible and open to frequent changes, many people simply have issues with “stick-to-it-iveness.”  One foot is planted firmly while the other has the sprinter’s shoe firmly laced up and ready to bolt.  One eye is on the spouse or fiancé while the other is scanning other options, just in case the relationship fails to remain exciting and new.  And church membership?  Seriously?  That person has a laundry list of every pastor who has hurt him or her, of every church that’s failed to be stimulating enough to earn permanent home status.  Ask where he or she is connected and you’ll get an uncomfortable stuttering of, “Um, I’m kind of in-between churches right now.”  I bet you know at least one person like this…and I hope for your sake that person isn’t staring back at you in the mirror.  If he/she is, don’t be discouraged or feel condemned!  We are going to talk a little about this issue and pray together.

There is nothing wrong with God-ordained change.  Moses was getting up in years when God had him switch from herding flocks to herding people.  Sometimes we even make bad choices that warrant change.  Outside factors can leave us trying to find a new job, requiring us to move.  I’m not talking about these types of occasional milestone situations; I’m addressing the curse of never being willing to commit—truly sell out for a cause–that can rob an entire life’s sense of accomplishment and fruitfulness.

The existence of a vagabond spirit  is just as prevalent in seemingly-stable environments as it is among people who abandon their families and go live under bridges. Oh, it may not manifest as being the same thing, but the end results are not so dissimilar.  Person can’t deal with mundaneness of stability, so person exchanges stable environment for a possibly unhealthy, unfruitful lifestyle of hobo-esque wandering.  And sadly, the very thing which the person overtaken with a vagabond spirit is hoping to gain is the thing he or she forfeits in the name of freedom.  Yeah, just like a ghost…wandering aimlessly in search of resolve.

There is hope for the wandering soul.  It lies in submitting ourselves totally to God’s will; reading His Word, talking (and listening) to Him, disciplining ourselves, and admitting we have need of deliverance from the fear of commitment.

Father, break the “ghost syndrome” off Your people, we ask in Jesus’ name. We were not meant to be in a perpetual state of limbo in our lives. You began a good work in us and will finish it; and You designed us to walk in completeness. You have assignments for us–jobs, families, churches, life plans, goals, callings–that were meant to have a victorious, finished outcome. When we are faced with hardships, help us not to abandon our posts in continual hope that the pastures are perhaps greener somewhere else. Sure, it’s easier to quit, to lose by default; but why should we not instead…win?

Help us not to have chronic detachment that never allows us to stay and see things through. Help us to be people of covenant, people of our word, people of principle. When You end a particular season in our lives (and on occasion You do), it’s never left in chaos and confusion; that’s not how You operate. No, You have right order and a peace that accompanies every change that You orchestrate personally in our lives. Give us tenacity—the kind that sets us up for favor, promotion, and utter blessing. Give us an ear that hears the voice of the Good Shepherd and is keener to His voice than even to the sound of opportunity knocking. Not every knock is something or someone sent by God! We won’t open doors You don’t instruct us to open. We will be neither unable to commit, nor too stubborn to obey when You order change.  We will be balanced; we will be able to be in a fixed place/circumstance for as long as You ordain, without being attached to the world and things of the world.  We will find joy in the assignments You give us; and instead of being driven to find the next big thing that fuels our adrenaline, we’ll linger long enough to rest, reflect, give thanks, and enjoy the work of our hands!  Bless us with a deep appreciation of commitment that makes having variety and mobility safe instead of destructive to Your best for us.  We will bring the fruit of finishing to You instead of leaving a littered path of abandoned missions.

By allowing You to establish borders in our lives through accountability and covenant relationship, we poise ourselves to be fruitful and multiply. We prove ourselves fit, through our faithfulness in a few things, to be made rulers over many. Thank You, Lord, that Your children are being loosed from the “ghost” mentality.  Thank You for casting out the vagabond spirit that denies us satisfaction in commitment.  We are alive in You–and we are not aimlessly wandering souls!  In Jesus’ name we ask and give thanks for answered prayer!

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Listen, Heed, Move

PillarOfFireTherefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.  Hebrews 2:1

How critical is it that we move with the voice of God? I’m pretty sure we don’t know the answer to that question; for if we did, we’d be so much more attentive.

In the wilderness, God protected His Hebrew people with a pillar of twofold phenomenon: the cloud by day, the fire by night. By day, His cloud was a visible banner that went before them; but think of all the other things that cloud was capable of! It could shield them from the burning desert sun, even block the view of the enemy if necessary. By night, it was a bright luminary that could not be missed in times when their trek required after-dark travel. It radiated warmth against the cold desert nights. No doubt, to their enemies, a wall of fire was a frightening and intimidating warning to back off!

But this pillar didn’t operate on the people’s schedule. It was as much a test of obedience as it was a beacon to follow to the Promised Land. There were times when God chose to park and stay a while–times some of them may have preferred to just keep moving instead of having to unpack and set up camp. Other times, when they were content to stay in a particular area, God might decide to start moving again. There wasn’t an option. God didn’t say, “I’m going to go ahead of you…just catch up when you feel like it.” No, He was their guide, their map, and their only hope of survival. They weren’t traveling a well-worn freeway equipped with GPS and road signs that said, “Next watering hole 150 miles.” A people not nomadic by culture, they had to rely totally on Him to help them deal with movement…that is, after being enslaved for 400 years!

So what does that say to us about the importance of our attentiveness to God’s Word and His voice? We are in the same place of need. We were a people in bondage, and we aren’t used to navigating in strange territory.  When the responsibility of walking in freedom gets tough sometimes, bondage beckons for us to return.  Bondage was hell, but we were used to it. We may, at times, look back and think it was easier because it was consistently bad. Still, we can’t go back. Oh technically we could; we could listen to the voice of the enemy wooing us back. “Come back to the leeks and garlic! Come back to bread and meat and a roof over your head. Come back to a steady job and neighbors you were accustomed to! It’s not so bad!” The enemy would of course laugh at us and slam the cell door shut the moment we stepped into his lair. And just like institutionalized hard criminals who commit a crime just to go back to their familiar society, we could go back to Egypt.

But…even if we were to wrangle free a second time, how long would it take us to retrace our steps and find the Cloud? How fast could our feet carry us as we doubled back, trying to remember which landmarks we passed on the way when we were first liberated?

Perhaps I’m overshooting in my example. Even if you don’t plan on going back to Egypt, there is a great price to pay for choosing not to move with the pillar.

How many times do we sleep in on a Sunday, or ignore the Holy Spirit’s urging to lay down our petty toys and get alone with God through the week, or leave the Word gathering dust on the coffee table? We won’t know until we get to the Bema just what these diversions cost us. I would say this to you: the opportunity you passed up to sit under anointed preaching or teaching, that one phone call you chose not to return, that one time when you failed to take the high road, that one opportunity that sounded good but seemed to require too much sacrifice…that choice on that one given date could’ve set your destiny back by months, by years!

And what about just your physical survival?  I interviewed RIck and Cathy Simpkins years ago, after her first bout with cancer. They shared that the whole key to her survival became a matter of daily listening for God’s voice. What would seem to others as arbitrary turns in the road were, in fact, them responding to the suddenlies of God’s urging. He led them on a carefully-timed pathway to her healing. He directed every turn in their journey. At times it seemed as if she was ricocheting between treatment plans and doctors, but in the end, it became clear why. Their urgent advice was, don’t miss the voice of God! Keep your ear tuned to hear Him! Get under good leadership and instruction and walk under authority. She got nine extra years of life out of this choice to remain steadfast; got to see her two grandchildren born, got to minister to and help many more people, build a home, travel, and live with the man she loved. Had they given in to despair, or failed to seek His counsel, the alternative was probably not good.  What could you do with extra years of life?  Could you afford to sacrifice even one of the years you now have?

So, if you knew that your very life depended on this next encounter with God, wouldn’t you go out of the way to ensure that you didn’t miss it? You’d set your clock, clear your calendar, toss the excess overboard, and wait as long as it took! You’d shush every other voice that threatened to drown out the Still, Small One. I’m urging you, whatever you have to do, don’t let the pillar start moving without you. God is merciful and full of grace…we can make critical errors and still be just as saved. However, those lapses in judgment can turn a two week journey into forty years.  He redeems time for us, absolutely; He is the author of the Plan B of our lives when we get it wrong.  But there’s seldom if ever been a time when someone got the exact same outcome as if he or she would’ve simply obeyed or sought God’s voice to start with.  As a result of our foolishness or laziness, we may lose some souls along the way we were meant to harvest. We may wind up in a lesser rank of advancement than we otherwise might’ve gotten, had we been on time. We for sure will have our regrets if we miss that critical hour of our visitation, that one seemingly just-like-every-other-day that was in fact our tipping point.

Listen for Him, run hard after Him, no matter what it takes. The hour is late; there’s not a lot of time for playing catch-up. Remember the five foolish who tried and weren’t able to get back there in time, all because they failed to be prepared for the most important moment of their lives.

Listen.  Heed.  Move.

Prayer Confession Over Anxiety

Prayer over anxietyI am sitting down in Your presence, Papa God, spending the night with my Most High God. I am pressing in close to You–close as I can possibly get. I’m Your little shadow–right under Your wing! I say to You, “Abba, You’re my refuge. I trust in You and I’m safe!”

That’s right…and even now, I thank You for rescuing me from hidden traps, shielding me from deadly hazards. Your huge outstretched arms are protecting me— under them I AM perfectly safe; Your arms fend off all harm. YOU LOVE ME AND I’M CERTAIN OF IT!

I will fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night, not flying arrows (or bad news, or big bills, or negative doctors’ reports, or money worries, or even family drama) in the daytime. None of these things will cause me to lose my peace and not one ounce of sleep!

I’m not affected by fear of disease that prowls through the darkness, nor of disaster that erupts at high noon. When the enemy does his worst, YOU WILL DO YOUR BEST!  When he tries to flood me with despair, YOU are my floodwall of protection and YOU ARE SHUTTING THE FLOODGATE ON DESPAIR!  I am safe until the torrent subsides.

Even though others succumb all around, drop like flies right and left, no harm will even graze me. I am standing untouched, watching it all from a distance, I watch the wicked turn into corpses, watching it on tv news, yet not being a part of it. I DON’T FEAR THAT THOSE SAME THINGS WILL HAPPEN TO ME!

Yes, Papa, because You are my refuge, the High God my very own home, evil can’t get close to me, harm can’t get through the door. You’ve ordered Your angels to guard me wherever I go…and that’s just what they’re doing! Even if I would stumble, they’ll catch me; their job is to keep me from falling. Thank you, Papa God, for having my back (and all the rest of me) covered!

There may be feisty young lions and cunning serpents lying in wait on my pathway, but You’re keeping me safe. I walk safely along just as though they’re not even there…and if they try to attack, You’re empowering me to just kick them out of my path. I will treat them as the nuisance that they are and nothing more. They will not break my spirit and they will not break my stride.

Abba, You’ve said, “If you’ll hold on to Me for dear life, I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call Me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party. I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!”

Well, that’s just what I’m doing! Thank You for getting me out of trouble, for giving me the best of care as I strive to know and trust You more. Thank You for always answering when I call, for staying right with me through thick and thin. Thank You for rescuing me and then making me feel celebrated and special…because I’m Your child and I know You love me! Thank You for quality of life, a satisfied life, and a perfect salvation which will last me all of eternity.

I am taking a deep breath now and breathing in LIFE. I receive Your Holy Spirit with every breath! I am exhaling and pushing out every negative thought. I expel any thoughts that would crowd my mind from the knowledge that YOU are in control. I clear my soul of any problem that tries to look as tall and strong as my Lord Jesus! Any idea that violates my peace, any thought that would cause me to doubt that YOU are Sovereign, I arrest, handcuff, bind, toss into jail and throw away the key!
In Jesus’ name, anxiety has no more control over my life!

(Adapted into a prayer from Psalm 91:1-16 Message and KJV translations; and also from Isaiah 59:19, John 20:22 and 2 Corinthians 10:5)

The Cheerfulness of Obedient, Smart Giving

basketWe have an abundance of “smart” electronics these days, don’t we?  Smart phones.  Smart cars.  They weren’t designed to keep us from having to actually be smart, though!  I’m talking today about giving, and how we can give intelligently by giving OBEDIENTLY.

There’s really a difference, you know.  The difference is the fruit that is borne from the seed we sow. Generosity is a noble and wonderful trait (the Bible says for us to be givers!) when it works in tandem with obedience to God.  We should indeed be cheerful and liberal givers; but it’s doubly important that we listen for God’s instructions, because foolish generosity is, well, FOOLISH. The whole of that text says this (I love the Voice Translation of 2 Cor. 9:7): Giving grows out of the heart—otherwise, you’ve reluctantly grumbled “yes” because you felt you had to or because you couldn’t say “no,” but this isn’t the way God wants it. For we know that “God loves a cheerful giver.” When our giving is God-directed, it is smart giving; obedient giving which isn’t given for ulterior motives, or given out of guilt or compulsion or a need to just feel good!

A generous parent, for instance, can harm his or her child through excessive giving not tempered by wisdom.  Would you give your child candy for breakfast just because he or she wants it?  Of course not!  But would you breed a materialistic appetite in your child by enabling him or her to get every single thing the child wants, just for the asking?  Do you operate in fear of not being your child’s friend, when in reality, your child needs you to set boundaries, to say no once in a while?  Following God’s direction will keep perfect balance instead of making the child entitled, spoiled, selfish, wasteful.  You can actually TEACH your child by anointed example as you give wisely.  This applies in every area of our lives, not just parenting!  Sometimes we have to say no to ourselves!  I know I sure do!  Read on.

Remember the song, “What a Friend We Have In Jesus?”  Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer…

That familiar verse perfectly sums up our lives when we don’t listen for His voice!  Yes, it’s true.  We’ve gotten used to just asking for things…perhaps we need to return to asking for Him to reveal His will in decisions we are facing.  It even applies to our giving of our time, talent, and treasure. I know all too well what it’s like to give just because it feels good.  The importance however goes beyond my flesh feeling good, and therefore, my motivation must have a higher purpose than gratifying my flesh!

How can one be a selfish giver, you might ask…sounds like an oxymoron!  It’s taken and is still taking time and experience, and also a deeper knowledge of my Lord through intimate relationship, to know that responsibility accompanies our ability to say yes.  My ability to say NO has in times past gotten me into trouble.  Hey Lisa, can you join this club?  Can you go here and do that and can you be available at all hours for anything anyone asks?  Oh yeah…I’ve been so bogged down with to-do’s which I agreed to in order to be a people pleaser.  Then, exhausted, I would find myself bitter at having no downtime, or nothing at all left.  Often, I’ve had not one piece of fruit to show for it, because I didn’t have the courage to say, “I’ll get back to you…I really need to talk to God before I commit to this!”

Well, go back to the passage in the Bible where Saul took the spoils of war after God had specifically told him not to…and then he tried to appease God by sacrificing some of the livestock on altars to justify his disobedience of a direct order!  Talk about insulting God’s omniscience!  The Scriptures tell us that obedience is better than sacrifice.  Saul’s disobedience would eventually cost him his kingdom…even his descendants would suffer consequences because of his foolishness.  We ourselves can undo all the good of our generosity whenever we sidestep what God has already instructed.  Why would we not take the counsel of the One Who actually KNOWS the outcome?  When we have His voice, we already have the inside track to what is going to be a blessing, be blessed, and bear fruit!

Bear in mind, He will sometimes direct us to give when it DOESN’T have that euphoric, how-wonderful-it-feels effect!  Can we respond when there’s a need in our own life?  Can we be as the widow who cooks her last meal for the prophet before there’s evidence we will have enough for ourselves? Don’t stop being generous, for heaven’s sake…but lay your heart and your feelings on the altar and allow Him to direct you to good ground.  Even good ground can’t produce its best yield if you cram the seeds too closely together!  Give your acts of kindness the best chance for a harvest by being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  Instead of it just being said that you’d give someone the shirt off your back, let it be said that you heard from God and responded with the right thing at the right time!

“In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.”  Proverbs 3:6 (AMP)

Velcro Devotion in a Teflon World

Velcro

“But if your servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life.”  Deut. 15:16-17 NIV

In these last days, it seems harder than ever to find people who will serve in any capacity—much less ministry–with lasting devotion.  In the era of contractual service, we seek an “out clause” in almost everything we say ‘yes’ to.  Marriages dissolve once the honeymoon is over; parents abandon their post and leave their children to be raised by the grandparents (an alarming trend); and, few places of employment are left where someone can hope to work clear up until retirement. We all tend to want to milk the best out of something and then discard it once it no longer profitable or fulfilling to us.  It makes me think of the Winans song, “Bring Back the Days of Yea and Nay.”

The above Scripture related to someone who had sold himself (or herself) into servant hood.   It was an understood law that in the seventh year, that person would be set free from the master, at which time the master awarded a blessing for the service before releasing the servant.  Now, I’m aware that sometimes it’s entirely fitting for someone to operate in a season, or an agreed time of service, and then be released from it.  I don’t wish to condemn anyone if that has been your chosen path; on the contrary, I respect and am grateful for all these days who sign on for any level of service, even the temporary!  Laborers in the field are often hard to come by!  What I do want to encourage in this writing, however, is for a special remnant of people to catch the vision of becoming a servant for LIFE.  Can we say to the Lord, “I will faithfully tend this patch of Your field, in good times and in bad, in season, out of season, when I’m praised for it and when I’m an unsung hero too.  I’ll be so predictable and so constant, You and my leaders won’t have to wonder if I’ll show up to serve…it’ll be a given!”

In terms of commitment in our service to the Lord, Who has so abundantly blessed us all, I would just challenge you today to examine yourself. Do you consider His work and His priorities something that you do ala carte, or is it an integral part of who you are?  You may never be called upon to sell completely out and go full-time into ministry, but if He were to ask, would you be willing?  What material possessions, hobbies, or other preoccupations would you find hard to push aside in favor of going to a higher level in your commitment to the Lord and His work?  Do you ever bow up and feel offense rising within your spirit whenever the pastor or a leader asks you to give up some of your closely guarded leisure time for a worthwhile investment in kingdom work?

Most of us who serve in the ministry do so on a purely volunteer basis; but may we, from this day forward, never look at it as a “favor” that we do for God.  Whether the time we invest in ministry is a few minutes a month or several hours each week, may we treat our offering of ourselves in this way as a holy thing unto the Lord.  May we not look at our service as something which we can do with less than excellence, or with less faithfulness than someone who is, for instance, a pastor.  May we not feel as if we are exempt from accountability just because we do what we do on a volunteer basis. The truth is, all of us are “paid” by the Lord.  As you are sowing your service into the work of the Master, He is returning blessing upon your life and upon your family’s lives in ways money can and cannot buy…and He has an excellent memory when it comes to keeping record of your faithfulness!

Those servants released at the end of the period of service walked away with their masters’ blessing—and reward–with no questions asked.  God will not withhold blessing from you for going no farther than what you may have originally pledged in His service. And He also knows that there are times in your life when you’ll be able to give less of yourself—He knows babies will be born, times of sickness may temporarily slow your pace, aging parents will need cared for.  He is not a tyrant Master! That said, in whatever capacity you choose to give yourself to kingdom work, I pray that, beginning today, you will do so with joy and with excellence, and with a renewed sense of zeal for His purposes.

Just know that you are a set-apart, unique, and treasured member of His household—bearing the mark of His awl, if you should choose to say, “Use me Lord, however You wish, for the rest of my life!” What a testimony of the goodness of our Master, when we declare to Him in the presence of a mixed-up and ambiguous, fickle world, “It’s unthinkable that I should ever be separated from my submission and service to You!’

My prayer today:

Heavenly Father, thank You for bringing us into Your family, both as sons/daughters and as Your servants.  I pray today that all of us will be consumed with zeal for Your house; may the plight of the lost and the destitute move us like it moves You.  I pray that we will always have a godly, meek attitude with regard to our giving of time, talent, and treasure—and that we will never look at what You ask of us as encroachment upon “our” territory.  Father, we love You, and we love being a part of Your family and Your work.  Whether our involvement is to serve in ministry in the church, or to be salt and light out in the secular world, we pledge to You that we will let our light so shine among men, and that we will take Your kingdom wherever we are planted.  We may not always be asked to serve in the same areas we start out in, and that’s ok–we realize the importance of times and seasons—but we yield ourselves in undying devotion to Your will, knowing that You’ll find ways to make us fruitful in every stage of our lives. You will never ask more of us than we are able to perform; Jesus assured us that His burden is easy and His yoke is light!  Bottom line, we make ourselves permanently available to You, to do with as You will.  With our ear against the door, willing to be pierced in covenant, we say to You, “Yours, unconditionally.”  In Jesus’ name, Amen.