How do you fit?

I wonder, have you been at a church gathering and experienced the uncomfortable feeling of not quite fitting in with the norm when it comes to how you encounter Jesus? Do you feel like the tried and true formula of experiencing His fullness and love doesn’t quite work for you or that you never really arrive; are somehow found lacking? I have; often. You watch everyone nodding in earnest agreement, when the sermon urges you to follow the formula of reading the Word daily, for a specific amount of time, in a certain place, in a specific position, saying specific things and following a proven formula to bring you close to Jesus. However, your Spirit is not connecting with this and your attempts at following these rote formulas fall flat. It must be you, your mind tells you. Everyone else is nodding and looking sagely about them, confirming that yes, this is how it must be done. The closeness you felt to Him as you worshipped just moments ago seeps away, as doubt and failure cloud your thoughts. “Yes,” says Satan, “you don’t fit in the body of Christ; you can’t even follow a simple formula to fill that void. Look at all these others believers. They get it. They are doing it. They succeed, you fail. Maybe you don’t belong.” Lies.

In the teaching series by Larry Osborne, A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God – Spirituality for the Rest of Us, one of his comments leaped out at me and brought me to tears. It touched a spot in my heart that has been hurt. Larry says we can’t practice all the spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, time in prayer, memorizing scriptures, worship, thanksgiving, etc) all the time! All disciplines are not good tools for us based on our personalities. There is great value in listening to and obeying God in each season of our lives. He urges us to never allow spiritual tools to turn into rules. The freedom I felt fall over me at these words was incredible.

This is something I have wrestled with for a while. Hearing other people say what we must do to be a good Christian and strong believer is very crippling in our journey with Jesus. When you know in your spirit that you adore Jesus, seek Him and find Him in that soul deep place where He meets with you, but are told it isn’t enough, unless a formula is followed, it wounds and taints something that should be precious, intimate, beautiful and deep. A stench of doubt permeates the very thing I believe Jesus celebrates about us; our uniquely individual personalities, gifts, quirks, responses, that HE CREATED. He made each of us just exactly how He wants us; no one identical, no one better or more loved or more cherished or more valuable. We each have such a specific purpose and that is so beautiful.

I react and buck and kick at being boxed in to a formula for doing anything in life, especially when it comes to journeying with Jesus. I may not always outwardly thrash at the formulas (sometimes I do!), but in my mind and spirit I certainly do.

What Larry Osborne said resonated with me on many levels. Spiritual disciplines are wonderful, necessary and amazing ways we each get to use, as our personality dictates, to become closer to the Father. I love that some of us pour over His word, intently study it and soak it in; others worship, sing and dance to connect with Him; some pray without ceasing; some share Jesus with strangers and others sit silently in His presence for hours, just soaking Him up. Some of us need to be in nature with our senses fully activated, experiencing Him through sights and sounds, movement and the wind in our faces. It’s all good and it’s all ok. All ok.

Listening to God and being who He says we are is freedom.  It feels really good to know that my way of connecting to my Father is good, just right, pleasing to Him and completes me, when I follow how He is prompting me to connect with Him. For me and my personality (introverted, empathetic, discerning, observer), I connect most deeply with Jesus when I’m alone; in nature observing or hiking, biking, gardening, camping, swimming; listening to worship music; observing people and praying for them as He leads me; talking to Him throughout the day; meeting someone’s needs anonymously. This is me, and it may not be you, and that is fabulous!

So get out there and connect with Jesus in the ways He created you to do it. Be free in that and enjoy every second! There is only one you and I believe that Jesus wants you to celebrate that in all its fullness. He sure is!

Zephaniah 3:17

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

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Holy Ground

Easter is upon us. As I reflect on the most tremendous sacrifice of love the world has ever known, I am overwhelmed. I can’t wrap my mind around this kind of love. Before Creation, Jesus knew the sacrifice He was fully willing to make for you and for me. He knew every doubt, sin, unbelief and evil thought we would harbor; every selfish, unkind act we would commit; every self-sufficient attempt we would make to be in control of our lives and ignore the leading of His Spirit. He knew. He died for us anyway.
John 3:16 – “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
One of my favorite songs is Holy Ground by Passion. When I hear and sing the words to this song, I tear up. Not out of sadness or pain. These tears come from a heart that’s grateful for the grace, mercy, healing and compassion that is beyond what I can understand. Tears come out of love, awe and reverence for the power that is in the name of Jesus.  As the words to the song convey, the power in the name of Jesus changes everything! Absolutely everything. The personal encounters with Jesus I have been blessed and honored to have, of His presence, power and healing, leave me without adequate words. As you read the words to part of the song, I pray that they reach out and touch you in a personal way that is just between you and HIm. I pray the words you are desperate to hear from Him, the love you desire to know, the peace you have been so long in seeking, will fall down over you.
“Chains fall, Fear bow
Here, now
Jesus, you change everything.
Lives healed, Hope found
Here, now
Jesus, you change everything.”
He knows where healing and renewed hope are desperately needed. He knows every single detail about the chains that need to be broken and what caused them to bind you in the first place. He can heal all of that. Fear will be cast down and put in its place before the power of His great name. Jesus knows exactly why we need Him and in what circumstances we need to see a miracle. May our burning, beating hearts become holy ground, where the divine and humanity intersect and dwell together, creating something beautiful, miraculous and eternal.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

 

Living with Hope

1 Peter 1:6-9 NLT “So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while.  These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him, you trust him; and even now you are happy with a glorious, inexpressible joy. Your reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.”

These can be hard words to read when we are in the midst of a painful trial that seems to have no end in sight. Sometimes the trial blindsides us and we reel with feeling overwhelmed, unprepared and totally out of control. Maybe this trial was caused by the result of someone else’s choices and we didn’t see it coming. Other times, the trial is born out of our own poor choices and we are left stumbling through consequences that our own actions brought to our doorstep. We have all been there at least once in our lives. It hurts, we are confused and we desperately want Jesus to take it all away. It becomes easy to feel helpless and to want to throw our hands up and say, “forget it, what’s the use, God?”, especially when the trial we are going through is one that God wants to use to change us and move us away from destructive patterns and steer us in a new and healthy direction. Remember, that feeling helpless is NOT the same as being helpless. With God, we are never truly helpless. He is always close to us. We are not without hope because our God is the source of all hope. He never leaves us to face our trials alone.

The authors of the Life Recovery Bible (NLT) offer these words that bring comfort to the pain and weariness that the trials of life bring us. “The refiner would heat the gold in the fire in order to separate the worthless and impure dross from the precious and beautiful gold. The dross would be skimmed off until the refiner could see his image in the liquid gold. God uses the fiery trials and tribulations in our lives to purify and beautify our faith so that one day he will see clearly his image in us. This truth offers great comfort to those of us who struggle to make sense of a past marked by suffering. We can be confident that God will separate something priceless from the dross of our experiences.”

Imagine God looking down on us as he skims off the gunk and begins to see HIS image in us; something priceless. Oh, that I could see something priceless from the mess of my life experiences! I hope it makes you smile, that the God of the universe, Creator of galaxies, is so invested and in love with us, that he takes all the time necessary, with infinite patience, to allow us to feel the heat of trials, so that he can one day bring forth, for the world to see, the radiant beauty of our life testimonies; so that we can be a beacon of hope, salvation and love to a world full of his children who are hurting and need to hear a word of hope and see a life redeemed.

1 Peter 1: 3-5 NLT “Now we live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation, because you are trusting him. It will be revealed on the last day for all to see.”

Something About the Rain

There’s something lovely about the rain, isn’t there? That moment when the first anticipated drops touch your face, hair, eyes.  Refreshing. It brings joy, despite a fully or partially cloud-hidden sun, trying to peep through. You know it’s there, the sun, but it’s hidden. It’s a bit mysterious to wonder what the sun might be up to up there, veiled from sight.

Or hearing those first drops on the patio cover in the wee morning hours; pattering, plopping; like a sky-song flowing down. So soothing, as I lie in bed. The blankets covering me, I am enveloped in warmth and safety, listening to nature’s lullaby.

Sometimes the dreary sky and rain damp air offers the unmistakable scent of clean; washed and rinsed; a sort of gentle, yet sometimes fierce and unrelenting, opening of the heavens; as if Creator is gifting a new start, a clean slate. All is well, the old is gone and here is the new.  Life giving water. Living water. Ancient and elemental.

The sound of the faithful pattering, dripping and beating of a good steady rain soothes and gentles the spirit and often my hectic mind, with nature’s rhythms; like an intentional chorus put on repeat. Truly one of my favorite sounds and scents.

Something about the rain dredges up childhood memories of wildly exciting, yet terrifying thunder and lightning storms, windows rattling and trembling. Such an electric feeling of exhilaration and fear, joy and safety; intertwining emotions that shouldn’t mix well together, but they do, when nature moves and does her thing. It is deep and wild. I love it.

Memories drift up of hot summer days, when a sudden rain storm cools and refreshes with the unforgettable scent of rain on hot sidewalks. That is childhood.

Something about the rain and wind and the slashing at trees, rose bushes and the apple tree reminds me that not everything in life is predictable and controllable. It’s not tamable and quieted and soothed, but roars and bucks and thrashes at the whim of the One who commands it. There is such beauty and raw power there. It is thrilling and terrifying; beautiful and fierce and unrelenting as it does the Creator’s bidding, yet it draws me in. Nature, all of it, in its pure undiluted elemental form, nourishes my soul like nothing else. It’s a God-gift I treasure and ponder. The mystery of it speaks depth to my soul. I will never get enough of it. There is just something about the rain…

Jesus with Skin On

Have you heard the expression, “Jesus with skin on?” There was a woman speaking to a group I was part of, who explained the analogy and it made a lot of sense.

When Jesus, who was fully man while remaining fully God, was born into this world, He literally had skin on, human flesh and blood. He knew, intimately, what it meant to be us. He understood and experienced everything we do; hunger, pain, the feel of sunshine on our faces, exhaustion, fellowship with others, belly laughs, belly pain, sadness, joy, etc.

Jesus also knew the deepest fears, sorrows, regrets, worries, and loneliness that humans experience. He created us in His image.

When I think of being created in God’s image, I think about how I am created to be like Him to my fellow sojourners, on this journey of life; to love people. To ask myself what He would do in everyday life situations.

What might that look like? Well, we see Jesus spending time with people who didn’t have it all together. They lied, cheated, were selfish, lived less than morally acceptable lives, were deeply hurt and outcasts from society. They were ill and in physical and emotional pain. They may have had mouths like sailors, drank too much and did things they regretted. They persecuted those who believed in Jesus and they rejected Him. These are those with whom Jesus spent a lot of time.

What did He do? He spoke to them and treated them as being made in His image. He healed them, fed them, listened to them, spoke truth in love, was with them when society rejected and shunned them. He didn’t tolerate the sin and pretend it didn’t exist. He called it out and forgave them. Most important of all, in my opinion, is that He saw them and their potential, and He LOVED THEM.

How might it look for us to be Jesus with skin on? Smile and acknowledge the existence of someone down on their luck, who might not be as clean as you prefer and might use words that offend you. Jesus loves them. Say hello to teens in the mall who glare and dress in ways you don’t like. Bring meals to those who are dealing with a job loss, illness or death in the family. Give someone your warm jacket or umbrella when they are stuck in the rain. Buy an extra burger combo or tacos and look for someone to bless. Listen to the one who’s hurting. Seek them out. It is ok to be with people who may not believe as you or don’t believe in anything at all. You can show them Jesus. He deeply loves them.

I have learned a lot about being Jesus with skin on from my two children, now 19 and almost 15. They have come from the little shopping center near our home, with stories of the homeless woman they talked to, who poured out her sadness over the loss of her husband. They were young teens and didn’t know exactly what to do, so they bought her whatever she wanted for lunch, listened to her and told her they hoped she would be ok. The woman cried because no one else had cared or even seen her. There is the time my daughter rushed home from 7/11, grabbed a backpack and filled it with non perishables from the pantry, water bottles, a gift card, blankets, a hat and other items she found in her room, and hurried out the door to go back and give it to a man she met who needed help.  That is Jesus with skin on.

It isn’t hard, but it does require us to look beyond the exterior picture we are seeing and find the one that Jesus loves so deeply. that He gave up His life for them, just like He did for you. My hope is that we all will find someone in our spheres to love on – to be Jesus with skin on.

Why Are You Afraid?

We’ve arrived at the last recalibrating question in this 4 part devotional series, so let’s dive right in! Our question today comes from Matthew 8:23-27 (NLT): “Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”

Why are you afraid? This is the question and it comes from The Quest written by Beth Moore.  We are all created in His image, but in unique and distinct ways. This is true with what we fear. Our fears may differ, but we are all afraid of something. Fear comes in many forms; fear of the dark, of being alone, of spiders and snakes. We fear the unknown and the known; strangers and sadly, even our own families. Some of my fears are not physical or tangible things; such as the fear of not being enough and that I will never be safe. Sometimes I fear the gifts God has given me – I’m afraid of feeling too deeply and being too sensitive; I fear discernment because of what I might see or feel or discover.  Sometimes we are afraid of being afraid! How fearful we anticipate being can keep us from ever doing the thing God placed in the essence of our being to do.  Fear, like sin, crouches at the door and desires to take up residence. Fear plots to rob us of any joy we find in life, in our callings, in our relationships; especially in our relationship with Jesus. Do we fear that He really doesn’t love us unconditionally? That there is that ONE thing we did, that just can’t be forgiven? Do we fear that He has favorites and we are not one of them? Do we fear that perhaps He isn’t enough and then we fear our own fear and our own unbelief?

Fear is a consummate robber, always watching, waiting, and pouncing on our insecurity, every drop of unbelief and every crumb of crumbling trust in God. Fear is a major hurdle for me personally. Until I began to look deeper into what was holding me back, and at what was keeping me paralyzed in a cycle of unhealthy patterns stuck on repeat, I had no idea how all-encompassing and crippling fear truly is for me, and maybe for you, too.

This quote from Beth Moore in The Quest is an eye opening visual of the fight between faith and fear. “Fear and faith fight for the same space. Each is territorial…think in terms of your soul being a house and Fear and Faith are knocking at your door. Each desires to occupy expansive square footage in the house of your soul…Any square foot or inch where Fear abides in your life is the precise ground Faith exists to occupy. Fear and faith cannot be roommates. They will not coexist. The one assigned authority automatically elbows the other off the space. Fear can’t stand on a carpet of faith…if you find your fear, you can always know where to send your faith.”

I love this and am typing it in bold – “Write a question mark at the end of the Welcome on your doormat then decide who and what get to come into your house!” I have been taking this idea with me as I go about my day. We get to choose who and what we let into our house/soul.  We decide. We get to send forth our faith, to any space currently occupied by fear, and evict it.

Pour out the fear that has taken up residency in your heart, mind, and soul. It doesn’t have to come out in perfect sentences, because He already knows and wants you to tell Him. This is where the divine exchange takes place. Right here in raw and open conversation with Jesus. He is waiting to exchange your fears for faith, hope, love and joy.

Psalm 23:4 – Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.  Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

Joshua 1:9 – This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

What Are You Seeking?

John 1:38a says, “Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?”

When was the last time someone asked you what you wanted, besides the barista in your favorite coffee shop? I mean really asked you and wanted to hear the answer? Close your eyes for a moment and picture Jesus, sitting across from you, looking intently into your eyes, asking (insert your name here) “__________, what are you seeking?” How would you answer Him? Would you, in a panic, try to use your arsenal of Christian-ese, to impress Him with a lofty, holy, righteous answer? Would your mind go blank, because maybe you aren’t sure what it is you are seeking? Like me, you might want to blurt out, “I’m seeking You, Lord!”, but are we really? We may deeply wish that He was always our deepest desire, but if we are completely honest, sometimes He isn’t.  He is not impressed or fooled when we answer Him with what we think He wants to hear. Jesus can handle our honesty and already knows the real, raw, nitty-gritty answer.

What are you seeking? Is it to feel safe? Wanted? Accepted? Do you want to be known and seen? Are you seeking rest, because life is hard and you are worn down? Are you seeking a soul-mate or a good friend? Healing? These are all good things to seek; human things that humans need, desire and crave. Jesus knows this and doesn’t reject us for wanting them. The thing is, Jesus use these worldly, human desires to bring to us what He knows we seek most. It’s Him. Even if you don’t know it, feel it or believe it, it has always been Him.  In Jesus, the void is filled. In Jesus, we find meaning and value, safety and rest, healing, joy and peace, a best friend and an eternal soul-mate. I think that sometimes our most powerful testimony, is that what we were seeking, we ultimately found in Jesus.

So, what is it you are seeking? What does your soul crave? Tell Him and trust Him with the desires of your heart. I truly believe that whatever it is that your heart and soul seek, above all else, will ultimately be found in Jesus. Always. He is enough.

Psalm 38:9 (HCSB)

Lord, my every desire is known to You; my sighing is not hidden from You.

Psalm 27:8 (ESV)

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

Jeremiah 29:13 (ESV)

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.