Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

The Worst Years

My Worst Years

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jesusabizanda/ (changes mine)

The two years before this one have been the pits. The absolute worst. They haven’t been the worst years of my marriage – those were the seminary years – but they’ve been filled with suffering, pain, depression, and doubt.

The pattern of pain started with postpartum depression after having my second child. It lasted for several months, and while I am fulfilled as a mom, it just left me feeling empty and alone.

Then, on our road to adopting a beautiful 4-year old from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we found out his birth mom was alive and had taken him home. A mixed blessing filled a hurting heart.

For some reason, my marriage wasn’t so hot by this point. It didn’t worry me, but we needed help. After a marriage counseling intensive, we were able to heal tremendously and move forward.

Then, my mom found out she had breast cancer, and she went through a year of hell to be free of cancer.

It was in the middle of her treatment that I found it I was pregnant with Katherine. Oh boy, did this surprise make me cry out to the Lord in doubt and fear.

He didn’t mind that I yelled at him inside. He patiently listened while I ticked off the reasons I could not have another baby. He assured me that He was giving me a gift, a gift I was afraid to accept.

He intended all of this for His own glory. My story is His story, the story of Him always, always drawing me closer to Himself.

I don’t have a conclusion here, or a poignant point. It’s all been said in His holy word, after all. I’m just laying this out there because it is. It was. It may be again soon. But He doesn’t change. He’s there, holding me close. An unmoving rock of grace and mercy.

We Don’t Need to Add to the Suffering of Sin

The consequences of sin are many.

So why do we feel the need to make them worse?

When someone hurts us, we change who are. Despondent. Unconnected. Unwilling to move on. Or maybe we’re loud; verbal abusers. We want to hurt them like they hurt us.

Once we’ve decided to forget (instead of truly forgive), we hold onto that hurt. Just in case we need to use it again later.

I found this interesting this week: Paul is writing about a person who offended the Corinthian church, so much so that he was separated from its members.

Because sin separates.

But Paul says,

this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. (2 Corinthians 2:6-7, ESV)

I think we know that when we are sinned against, we are supposed to forgive. But this takes it a step further and says instead that we should comfort those who have sinned against us.

We don’t like that idea, do we? After all, we’re the victim! They sinned against me! Why should I be the one to comfort them for something they did to themselves and us?

Because it’s the gospel. It’s antithesis. That’s what Jesus is.

Even more:

So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. (v. 8)

If my husband has hurt me? It’s not my turn to be hurt and all put out. I’m called to reach out, forgive, comfort. For he’s already destitute in his sin!

When we act codependent in this way (your behavior affects my behavior which affects your behavior), we are giving Satan a foothold.

if I have forgiven anything, [it] has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (vv. 10-11)

Our enemy would love to have us sit and quarrel and complain about our feelings and our hurts instead of living the gospel out. It will keep us busy enough that we will reject our families, ignore our lost neighbors, turn to drugs/alcohol/food.

We’re too busy healing to do what we’re really called to do: make disciples. Jesus already took our hurt upon Himself on the cross. That is what heals us.

Forgiveness is the salve we’re really looking for.

How Do We Experience God’s Promises?

Floored. That’s how I feel.

I shouldn’t, because, you know:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV)

Do you ever feel like you’ve heard all of the Bible quotes? Or you’ve heard every sermon/translation/interpretation? Do you ever feel like your walk with God is stale?

READ THE BIBLE.

I swear I’m no scholar or power reader, but he knocks me on my socks when I open His word!!! (Thank you Lord!)

Yesterday, I read this, and it blew me away:

For the son of God, Jesus Christ, … was not Yes and No, but in him it was always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. (selections from 2 Corinthians 1:19-20, ESV)

I have read through the entire Bible once before, but I don’t remember reading this! I’ve been a Jesus follower for a long time, and I’ve been going to Bible-focused church for over 13 years.

If you don’t know how to daily experience God’s promises, you only need to look to Jesus. He is the fulfillment of them all. Every part of the Bible, even the Old Testament points to Him – they’re not distinct!

I’m sorry for all of the exclamation points, I just feel like yelling! Haha.

What passage has hit you like a ton of bricks lately? Is there a promise from God you don’t feel like you’ve experienced?

Fighting the Comfort Idol

Part of the reason I chose my word of the year last year had to do with fighting my idolization of comfort.

I love to just be my old self. The fleshly self.

I have always been a very negative person. When I’m just seeking my own comfort, I can see it staring at me through a wall of frowns and pessimism.

My poor husband sees it the most because around him, I don’t have to hide it.

Last week, I was sitting in my chair, about to open my Bible. The day before, I had decided to start reading 2 Corinthians because of its theme on suffering (and I thought I might need to hold onto that amid our adoption!)

Instead of opening my Bible first, which is what I usually do, I prayed first. I prayed for deliverance from the gigantic black hole that is my emotions sometimes. I asked for God’s power to fight my comfort idol, to be really satisfied in Him – and GRATEFUL!

Then, I opened up to 2 Corinthians 1…. where I was blown away by a treatise on comfort! Oh God your faithfulness astounds me!

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1: 3-7, ESV)

Y’all. I just don’t have the words. I want to memorize this:

 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (v. 5)

I really have nothing else to say. I think He said it all.

Do NOT Follow Your Heart

“Follow your heart.”

“Trust your feelings.”

“If you feel it, then it must be true.”

What do you think about the truth of these statements? I mean, these are sentiments we are taught growing up. These are things we feel are true (there’s a little fallacy there for you logic buffs).

God gave us our feelings, our emotions, our heart. They’re not bad, are they?

I was a little blown away by something I read this morning in 1 John – one of the great “love” books in the Bible.

In 1 John, John is telling us that the world will know us by our love. The way we love each other and the lost is our greatest witness to the world.

But in chapter 3, he tells us how we can know we are saved. How we can be assured our lives have been changed by the gospel. The answer is still love… but it’s interesting that there even has to be a question.

And here’s the real killer. In verse 19, he says

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; (1 John 3:19, ESV)

“Reassure our heart”….Y’all…

OUR HEARTS LIE TO US!

Eve’s gut lied to her in the garden when she trusted the serpent. Once we are saved, our heart continues to doubt our salvation. You’re really not a believer. Look at you! 

But when we see our love, our fruit, we reassure our hearts with the evidence of our faith.

Does it surprise you that we have to do this? I know that my heart is a liar, and yet this truth blew me away.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9, KJV)

He goes on in chapter 3:

for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;  (vv. 20-21)

Our Father sees us through His son, Christ. He knows our heart through that filter. And when we fight down the lie about our heart, we are confident to do the work that God has called us to. Otherwise, our heart is so busy tearing us down that we are incapacitated!

Don’t let the lies win!

Action item: If you’re having trouble believing this truth, get with another believer and identify the lies you’re believing that are not Biblical. Memorize scripture that fight those lies, and pray for each other.

 

Does God Owe Me?

Does God Owe Me

Have you ever thought God owes me ?

1 Peter 1:14-16 has been hitting me and those near me so hard that I feel like I could write about it for a few weeks! I’m thankful that the Spirit is pushing this so hard in my life and pray that I will continue to be open to God’s will.

Anywho.

Some of you out there are very righteous people. Not self-righteous, but righteous. Your heart truly seeks God; God’s word plus His Spirit lead you to a righteous life.

You don’t ask for much. You ask on behalf of others: help them get that job, heal them by your power, bring them to a saving knowledge of Your son. For yourself, you don’t pray for wordly things: you pray to grow deeper, gain wisdom, want what God wants.

So when that one little thing comes along that you’re really passionate about or that one big thing is taken away, it’s tempting to think, What!? God owes me! I’ve lived a righteous life. I always seek Him! Why me!?

But this is not Biblical. The Bible doesn’t say, Be righteous, and then God owes you. Live a sacrificial life, and God will make sure you get that one thing you want.

Sounds kinda nice, huh?

We don’t live a righteous life and then get served by God.

Holy God served us first and calls us to a life of holiness.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,  knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:14-21, ESV)

I’m learning this with my children. Just because I try to live my life for God and to serve His people, it doesn’t mean that my kids will know Jesus. It doesn’t mean that my children will choose to love people. I certainly can’t just coast. My flesh wants to abdicate their care on someone else, and yet God knew all that about me and still put His very own Son in my judgment place.

And I want – I long – to be like Him.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4, ESV)

Lord, align my heart with yours so that I want what you want. Thank you for showing me that I owe you my very life, but you’ve given me grace so that I do not live out of fear or guilt. But in freedom, I hold out my children, my marriage, my failures, and my flesh. Take them and refine them.

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What to Get, What to Reject

Not only do I hear this from others, but I also seek this answer myself,

How do I know what to do?

Sometimes, I am so consumed with the answer to this question in a situation that I am frozen. Halted. Pondering all of the pros, cons, working every scenario out in my head. As if my risk analysis could lead me to a satisfying life.

It can’t.

Only Christ satisfies.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,  knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:15-21, ESV)

So I see first of all that I need to reject what I used to live for. Maybe that’s fame, money, status, popularity, a hot bod, knowledge, position, things.

We turn away from these things because our holy God became our substitute and won us back to the Father. So we seek a different life. A life that exists to glorify God and show Him to others.

In Proverbs 4, some more insight is shared on what things we should seek and what things we should cast off. We are told over and over again to pay attention to these words, to listen, accept, take hold, not forsake, hold on, guard, keep your eyes fixed. And the message is? Seek wisdom. Reject unrighteousness.

Notice what we can get rid of:

  • wealth v.7
  • evil acts and associations vv. 14-16
  • cheap emotions v.23
  • gossip, foul words v.24
  • dwelling on the past v.25

It seems from this proverb that wisdom and righteousness are intertwined – what are your thoughts on this? Do you agree? If you agree with your head, do you think your actions agree as well? (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!)

Getting the Zing Back in Your Relationship with Christ

You know, this thing happens when you’ve been a follower of Christ for awhile. The ZING from salvation feels like it’s wearing off (sort of being choked out by the weeds – Mark 4).

So how do we return to desiring God? How do we reset our focus back to our first love?

There are many answers to that question, but I noticed one while reading Mark 5.

In this chapter, there is a man who is so possessed by demons that he cannot even be chained up (or he will rip through the chains). So the people just cast him out to some desolate land where he can live like only a crazy man can.

Until Jesus. The God Man gets out of a boat on His way to more healing and preaching.

And it says this demon possessed man “when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him” (v. 6).

Watch what he said:

 “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”

He:

  1. Recognized Jesus’ deity.
  2. Pled for mercy.
  3. Asked what he was called to do.

Now, there are three big lessons right there!!!

But on the story goes – the demons are released from the man, and he goes to town where everyone is in awe of the change in his life.

As Jesus is leaving the town, the man begs to go with him. But Jesus has plans for Him to go tell his story instead (Mark 5:18-20).

The way Jesus wanted this man to serve was by sharing the testimony – his encounter with Christ! That’s the zing we’ve lost, ol’ believer.

Relive that moment. Relive it yourself and praise the Lord. Relive it with your friends and family members. Remember it like you would a joyous wedding or birth. Because it is a new birth.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

Hallelujah!

A Teachable Heart

There’s been a little crazy going on in  my world. Not just the busyness of life but also heartache, anger, and the blues.

I think of myself as a teachable person, but for some reason, when things are troubling me, my teachability goes out the window. I know the truth, but I don’t want to hear it from anyone. I just want to soak in my misery.

I can hear God reminding me to have a teachable heart. Mark 4 reminds me of this. Jesus is teaching in parables, and he keeps ending with, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mark 4:33-34, ESV)

“as they were able to hear it” … I wonder if I am ABLE to hear God’s word, of if I am purposefully stuffing my ears shut.

[To the disciples] … “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.'” (Mark 4:11-12, ESV)

A teachable heart opens ourselves up to God, even at the point of salvation. Which really makes sense, doesn’t it? At salvation, we’re finally saying, “OK God, Whomever You are. YOU are in charge, and I’m not. I get it. I want to submit my life to You!”

So as a believer, we start with a teachable heart, but how quickly do we close that teachability up? Maybe we’re following God for a season, and then when we don’t feel that ZING that salvation brought, we’re not excited about following anymore.

One of the parables Jesus teaches here is the parable of the sower, a man who cast seed in different types of soil and yielded corresponding types of fruit.

Which type of soil would you categorize your teachability in today (Mark 4:1-20)?

  • The path – the birds (Satan) quickly devoured the seed (I.e., you have not yet chosen Christ to rule your heart and life)
  • Rocky ground – the roots were shallow and immature, so the plant sprang up with joy and quickly died out
  • Thorns – the seedlings were choked out by the desires of the world
  • Good soil – the word was accepted and the crop yield was plentiful

I yearn to be the good soil, but lately I feel like the rocky ground. I pray, I read the Bible, I serve and talk with others about my faith. But they are quick jolts of joy. I’m hoping for gigantic fruit when I’m only watering once a week.

To be fair, I truly think anything we offer to God is pleasing to Him. But at the same time, I can’t ignore the calling of the Holy Spirit to nurture and protect and shore up the soil that His word is coming into.

Where are you with this today?

Finding the Time to Pray Together


Y’all should know by now that I’m not good at sitting still and reflecting. (This blog is what makes me do that!)

I blame this for why I have such trouble with good, consistent prayer time. I feel like I wear so many hats that to be doing well at one thing, I have to put something else on the back burner. And so it is with my prayer life. I ebb and flow and have good weeks and bad weeks.

And the less I pray, the less I am connected to the Father and His will for my life. The more I pray – the more I want to see His work done. The more I want to love others. The more I crave the fruits of the Spirit.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think,yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” (Luke 18:1-5, NIV, emphasis mine)

God gives us permission to BOTHER Him! You know that song (which I love because I remember singing it as a young believer), “You are God in Heaven and here am I on earth, so I’ll let my words be few…”

We don’t need to let our words be few! They also don’t necessarily have to be many. All I’m saying is prayer is important; prayer is vital; God wants to hear your prayers!

God already knows we are dependent on Him, but in prayer, we are opening our hearts to the reality that we need Him.

And I want to encourage you to find time to pray with your spouse.

For Brad and I, we had to get a little creative. Praying before bed wasn’t really working anymore because of baby feedings and sheer exhaustion. Early morning definitely doesn’t work for me (I’m usually taking my third nap of the night – otherwise known as sleep!).

I’ll tell you how we found the time. We fasted.

Brad had a great idea to fast from one thing each month of the year for 2013. For February, it was TV. In the evenings, it’s so easy to just plop on the couch and turn on the tube. Fasting from TV re-oriented our evenings in so many ways, but the best benefit we got was by finding a pocket of time for prayer.

Once both of the kids are asleep, we usually have uninterrupted time! We could choose to do dishes, turn on the TV, talk, take a bath (ahhhh), read a book, and on and on with our precious couple of hours. For us, the very beginning of that time pocket is the best for prayer. We’re not ready to crawl in bed, we haven’t turned our brains off yet, and it’s quiet in the house.

So if you have fallen off the marital prayer wagon, look at the natural rhythm of your day and see if you can find a pocket. If you can’t , consider fasting from something and using that time to seek God together.