It’s Okay to Open the Present…

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I don’t know about you, but being faced with too many choices doesn’t always seem like a luxury to me. Now please understand: I don’t mean to complain, because I am well aware that many folks in our world don’t have choices at all. I am grateful for choices, believe me. At the same time, I can get overwhelmed by them too. This is because I tend to over think things (big surprise, I know).

This over-thinking thing I have? It serves me well in many ways and I could even venture to say that a lot of the time it does help me to live out my faith in really cool and creative ways that actually glorify God. At the same time, it can be a very bad, bad thing. Discerning when it crosses over into “bad” from good is a whole other story.

So for now, think of a child on Christmas morning. All of the presents are neatly wrapped in colorful paper under the beautiful, lit up tree. You, the parent, have taken the time to choose just the right gifts to bring a smile to your child’s face and capture those moments in which you get the gift back of hearing them squeal with excitement and delight as they tear through the wrapping and hug their gift close to their little chest. Then, if you are really fortunate, they hug YOU – even tighter than the gift.

What joy!

We know it’s not about the presents and the materialism when our hearts are in the right place, don’t we? We know it’s about those moments….the exchange of joy….the gift of giving and that of watching the receiver enjoy what you have freely given to them.

We know.

But so often I find myself getting caught up in thinking about the sacrifice of self, taking up our own cross to follow after Jesus, humbling ourselves and giving it all away, day in and day out; that I fail to accept the grace that just plain “feels good” along with the grace that is there no matter what the emotions are surrounding any particular situation, or issue, or day, or circumstance. Sheeesh!

Grace is BIG when it comes to Christ Jesus.

And yes, some of it is just the plain old feel good kind of grace too.

A wonderful new friend was sharing with me last week that sometimes, we are just given the blessing by God to make choices that don’t necessarily entail doing the hardest thing. Sometimes, we get to make an easier choice. He is our Father after all. He is going to do what is best for us, and even what is hard for us when it is time to learn tough lessons. But sometimes, He just wants to give us a gift and sit back and watch us enjoy it.

She is so right. Honestly, if we are truly following after Jesus with all our “heart, mind and soul,” no matter what choices we make, we will probably endure some growing and suffering in the process of living it out. But who are we to deny our Father the blessing of giving us His unmerited grace and favor? Who are we to say, “No, I don’t deserve that present”?

Sometimes He wants us to choose the fun gift.

If no one is in need of the better present, or if that great gift isn’t intended for someone else, or better yet – for you to give over to someone else, then why not take it if we have sought after God and what He wants for us? My pastor shares all the time that “sometimes, it’s like Baskin Robbins, and we get to choose what we want.” (Eric Cartier, Rocky Mountain Calvary Chapel).

Sometimes we get to choose.

I so often forget the other side of humility, friends. Yes, it’s true. I am so focused sometimes upon not taking too much pride in myself (which I definitely need to stay focused in on for the rest of my ever-loving earthly life!) that I occasionally veer into the abyss of condemnation, which is still just another way the enemy prevents us from exemplifying Christ-like humility.

Humility is knowing who you are in Christ – nothing more, nothing less.

Yes, if I have to err on one side or another, you can bet I will err on the side of surrender or giving something up or taking the hard road if and when I have any doubts about what the right thing is to do. But sometimes, we just flat-out aren’t being asked to do it!

Here is my little test I put myself through:

Go to God in prayer and stay there. Ask questions like “is there something You want me to give up here?” “Is there a hard road you want for me to go down first?” “Is there a sacrifice you want made in this situation that in all reality is probably not a sacrifice at all, but a way in which you wish to grow me further?” “Do I need to rely not upon my own understanding and go in blindfolded with this one?”

Then it’s time to listen for a while. Really listen. Listen for however long He leads you to listen.

Take action if moved to do so after listening and praying – even and especially if you don’t fully understand it at first. Then WATCH, with your eyes wide open to see how He is working His will out through the actions you took (or didn’t take). How is His plan now coming to fruition? Do you see that you had to take that action (move out of the way, surrender, back your words up with behaviors or choices) in order for that to be shown to you?

After all of that, if choices still are ahead of you and the Lord doesn’t tell you otherwise, go ahead and choose what you want.

Then ENJOY it.

There will be plenty of time for it to become tainted somehow later once the enemy is onto it. But for now, it’s okay to open the present and enjoy it for the gift tha it is. (I know that sounds negative, but it is true – the enemy is always crouching and waiting to destroy). For me, this yields positivity, believe it or not. Knowing to keep my eyes open helps me to enjoy the moment, because I hate being taken off guard by the enemy. He will still try, and sometimes he succeeds, but at least I am watching.

Finally, and most importantly, after you open your present, don’t forget to hug the One who gave it all to you!!!!

It’s just one small way we get to bring joy to the One who brings so very much to us.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

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Flower Fade Not

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If you love a flower, don’t let it fade away.
It needs a little light and a little care every day.
With this nourishment, its beauty will stay true;
And a loving, eternal reflection, will shine all over you.

A flower’s beauty loves, but it too, needs love back…
Without this mutuality, its petals begin to crack.
The stem then, isn’t so strong; with nothing there to show,
But leaves and dirt beneath it;  petals that lost their glow.

Yet that can never happen, with some attention every day
‘Cause it will plant new seeds, and won’t just whither away.
Those seeds will keep on growing, with you, your love, your care;
With that you will be showing that you truly want it there.

You say you love your flower? Then know it’s not perfection.
Without a place to grow, it loses all direction.
It’s not completely helpless; it can stand on its own…
But serves all of us better if your heart can be its home.

Let your flower give to you, all it wants to give..
But remember that it needs nurturing to truly bloom and live!
The flower is love and truth, me and you and you and me;
I don’t think it should die – I think we should just see…

That together we’re the caretakers; we can clip it, trim it, mold it…
We can form all shapes and sizes; we can do this bit by bit.
And with a little work – if we just put a little time in,
Our flower will grow and grow, and soon we’ll have a garden.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus. Romans 15:5

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It’s Not Safe Here!

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There’s something I need to tell you. It may not be something that feels good as you first hear it. Or maybe it will once you wrap your mind around it.

No…you’ll have to wrap your heart around it too. And then, like me, you may find that you have to do it over and over again.

The Christian life – the REAL Christian life? It’s not safe here.

If we are serious about allowing God to direct our every move, check every crevice of our hearts, turn our crazy minds over to HIM in all that we do, we aren’t going to feel or be safe in this world. That’s the facts, Jack.

We aren’t going to be able to hold on to those little safety nets and fuzzy security blankies that make us feel better about pretending we are taking a real risk when we’re really not because we had the “net” under us all the time anyway. We like soft landings, don’t we?

We aren’t going to be able to safely say that we are sure what we’re doing and where we’re going or staying and we have it all under control and are stable and solid at all times.

We aren’t going to be able to run or to hide from persecution, glaring eyes on occasion, mean-spirited folks who want to do us harm or even well-intentioned people who think they have all the answers. We can’t hide from our own hearts either. Our own dark. Our own breakable, vulnerable selves.

We aren’t going to feel safe in this world.

Can I tell you right now; THAT is really, really uncomfortable, friends!

But what a blessed and glorious peace and joy there is in knowing that the unknown here is very known by our Lord and Savior, Jesus. There’s something freeing about being willing to go where He tells us to whenever He tells us to do so. There’s something beautiful about staying put until He says so too!

He knows what is happening – in our little world and in the lives of everyone else too.

He knows exactly what is going to occur tomorrow, next month, or two seconds from now.

He also has His sovereign hand upon bigger stuff too: Things like eternity, all dimensions, the universe, and existence that can’t be pegged into time, space, or anything else that human minds can fully grasp.

I am starting to think that if it feels safe, we shouldn’t necessarily do it. That doesn’t mean that we can’t make choices that feel good either. I think it just depends upon what your challenge is.

We shouldn’t rule anything out if God is clearly telling us to do it or not to do it. We have to be willing to do the stuff that surpasses human understanding when He tells us to. But we had better be in tune with HIM every step of the way!

For me? It’s living day by day…in a lot of ways. That’s my challenge. It’s having the capacity to make choices now that would wrap things up in a nice little safe and pretty bow, but not making them yet. It’s waiting upon the Lord to tell me when to make the next choice, the next move, the next statement, behavior, action, sacrifice, gesture. The next anything.

It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small. Lately the enemy has been nagging at me because the areas in which I am struggling are so small compared to what others are going through. But pervasive is pervasive, and fear can gain a foothold no matter what we are grappling with, dear friends. Sometimes, it’s the smaller stuff that the enemy likes to use to throw us off track the most!

He is my safety net – that beautiful Jesus of mine. He always has been – always will be.

Too bad I have to remind myself of that every single second of every single day.

Or…maybe that’s not bad.

Maybe that’s quite a wonderful thing after all.

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Enough

Grace-has-appeared[1]When you hurt someone’s feelings and you didn’t even notice…

His grace is enough.

When words aren’t sufficient, and you don’t know how to comfort…

His grace is enough.

When your heart needs some healing but you don’t know what to surrender…

His grace is enough.

When bitterness is there and bad feelings are taking over…

His grace is enough.

When you make a mess out of the kitchen and leave it for someone else to clean up…

His grace is enough.

When your need came first and you left others in the dust….

His grace is enough.

When there’s so many to pray for and you forget about your promise…

His grace is enough.

When you take the last cookie, the first good spot, or the best for yourself…

His grace is enough.

When the hurt is so big and the ugly’s so bad…

His grace is enough.

When that movie, TV show, other book you’re reading took time from HIM…

His grace is enough.

When you’re going to be late and you promised you’d be there…

His grace is enough.

When you knew you should stop and you went on with your plans…

His grace is enough.

When you withhold and stew and don’t share and love…

His grace is enough.

When someone you love is hurting and you know you can’t fix it…

His grace is enough.

When nothing makes sense and you’re confused and alone…

His grace is enough.

When nothing else is….

His grace is enough. His grace is ALL.

Answer my prayers, O LORD, for your unfailing love is wonderful. Take care of me, for your mercy is so plentiful.” Psalm 69:16

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Pleasing God or Pleasing Man?

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This is a groaning-of-the-heart post. It’s not well-written. It’s not meant to be. I typically share from the  heart, but it comes across more coherent than today’s musings will do. But that’s the point. The Lord is asking me to share the raw stuff that I can’t fully do justice with mere words today. So, if it strikes you as you listen with your heart – as you think of the times you prayed and couldn’t even utter the words, but had to let the Holy Spirit just read your heart, please understand that you are hearing me as I do the same thing. I am typing it as I am praying this way today. Words do not suffice, but I hope you will still be blessed in some way by what I share as you read on.

Is it possible that sometimes we Christians hide behind the whole “you only have to please God” stuff in order to bypass our responsibility to honor and fully love one another? In not doing so, we aren’t pleasing Him anyway, are we?

This is what has been on my heart lately, and it’s been squeezed to the point of feeling it quite literally, friends.

Today, driving home from work, God gave me some clear revelations. This is that big thing that I think He was trying to tell me that I shared was “on my heart” about a month ago. I didn’t know what it was and it’s been driving me nutso!!!

But it was worth waiting upon the Lord to come to this place, which is still a strange place to be in, but wonderful too. Quite frankly, I didn’t expect to get this revelation at all driving home today. But God’s timing is interesting and always perfect, is it not?

I think we are often quite well-intentioned about this, so don’t get me wrong on this one. Sometimes though, we can get duped into thinking that if all we do is focus on God and pleasing Him and Him alone, that is enough. It may be enough for salvation, but it certainly isn’t enough to bear the fruit of it to the fullest.

We then do the exact opposite of living for Him and bringing Him joy when we focus on not needing to honor and please others because we start thinking we are in some kind of special relationship with God where we don’t have to answer to others IN FULL.

We stop placing value on the needs of others and the attributes that He asks us to live out.

We stop living like Jesus lives.

I have been so focused upon loving others well, that I forgot about some of the things that are equally as important.

Things like total and complete loyalty when it’s hard or doesn’t make sense.

Things like being okay with wanting to please others, especially when it comes from a heart of love and letting Jesus shine through that endeavor.

Things like being all right with wanting to know I am adding value to the lives of others, and to know it from them as well as from the Lord.

See, I don’t necessarily know that I need it from others – but it’s good to want it from others and I am starting to make peace with that again in my life. Telling ourselves that it’s not important is a lie from the enemy. As long as the intentions and motivations are right, then I believe God is telling us that it is part, and  a good and important part, of the greater purpose of edifying and loving one another.

In focusing upon pleasing God and only answering to others out of obedience, my heart started to leave the building in many places and situations.

Oh my aching heart. No wonder He was squeezing it for me!

Yes! We are to do all that we do for God’s glory, not to please everyone around us for the sake of pleasing man and fitting in with this world. That wasn’t my problem. I get the whole  “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23) I buy into that and want to live that out fully.

And, Yes! We ultimately answer to God and get our true value, worth and identity through Him, and who we are in Him, not this world or the men in it or all the stuff that we do or don’t do. I get that one too.

BUT……

This is just all the more reason to remember how very important it is to look at scripture as a whole.

God also tells us to…..

aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.” 2 Corinthians 8:21

Oh, and this too…

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Luke 6:31

Integrity: Doing the right thing even (especially) when it’s hard or may not make sense.

By this I know that you delight in me: my enemy will not shout in triumph over me. But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.”Psalm 41: 11-12

Honor:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these thingsPhilippians 4:8

Upright:
But hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.” Titus 1:8

Pure:
So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” Acts 24:16

Faithfulness and Loyalty:
“A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.” Proverbs 28:20

We are to “love others as Christ loved us.” That means to answer to Him and always remember HE alone is our God.

But at the same time, it means to love and  honor and cherish His bride in EVERY way possible.

His bride is part of HIM. A very, very big and important part!

Guess what? For now, my heart is resting. I still don’t have all the answers, but God does. I know that it’s okay to want to do right by others. Especially when it’s hard.

Are we bondservants of Christ or not? Take a moment and look up the definition in full of bondservant. And I shall leave you with this last word from the Lord:

“Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” Colossians 3:22

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Wanna Get Hammered?

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I shared this the other day with my co-workers as the Lord is really emphasizing this in my heart and throughout all of my devotions lately. Now, I am sharing it with all of you!

I have been thinking and praying a lot about how ever-changing our world is, yet how the fact that our flesh is fickle is something that has always been a constant. It’s a huge theme of what Paul, wrote about as the Lord inspired him to do, and it’s a common topic throughout the whole of scripture.

But so is redemption through Jesus Christ.

Our flesh is weak, but our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the ROCK. HE never changes. We are finicky and fickle little creatures, but our Lord and Savior is firm! Thank HIM that HE never changes!

God has really been working on me about how in order to die to self and live for Christ, it really is an intentional and day to day commitment and battle we must wage along with His divine grace and intervention. Crucifying the flesh is a daily and painful endeavor. Fact is, God’s not going to do it all for us – we have to take action – our part is important too. That’s why it’s painful.

Anyway, I decided to try to go back to how we used to do things when we were kids – you know? Keep it simple!

Here is what I am doing every morning and throughout the day and it’s beginning to help a little:

· “Jesus, help me remember that you are living inside of me and it’s YOUR life.”

· “Jesus, can you fight the devil if he comes near us today?”

· “Jesus, please tell me what to do and help me remember to ask you stuff throughout the day.”

· “Jesus, thank you for loving me and wanting to live in my heart.”

Oh friends, it is not easy to walk through this life with all of our responsibilities and tasks and remember it’s not our own. It’s hard to get the things done we need to and “take ownership” of it without taking ownership of our own lives and taking over at the wheel. Wouldn’t it be easier to just crawl up into a cave or go out into the mission field where there aren’t any distractions and live for Jesus there? Of course, there are lots of other hardships to endure there, but the distractions? What about them?

I don’t think that even in the mission field, immersed in God’s work amongst those who are lost is “safe” either. I think the flesh is strong and it will follow us wherever we go. There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

We can’t get out of this “nailing it to the cross” thing, guys. It’s part of the deal.

The battle of the flesh is going to remain – but so is Christ Jesus, living in us!!!! Let’s help each other remember who we are in Christ but emphasize how important it is to let HIM be in charge, let HIM shine through, let HIM make the decisions, and let HIM guide our every action, thought, deed.

Let’s help each other!!! Anyone got a hammer and a nail? (Tee Hee)

And if you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, won’t you come to Him today? Don’t let this flesh battle thing scare you out of it. Fact is, you are battling it either way  you go. At least with Christ on our side, we know the battle is already won and we will reign with Him for all eternity.

Look to the cross – what He has done for us. And place yourself at the foot of it. Turn your face upward and focus upon HIM, and He will be with you forever. He will live in and through us and help us to fight these earthly battles. But most importantly, because He sacrificed everything for us, we have the peace and the joy of knowing that this is just a blip on the radar screen of eternity.

He endured far more than we ever will here on this planet; here in this life…so that we can have a real and blessed life with Him one day in which suffering will be non-existent, and we will sing His praises and revel in His presence.

Not even a sledgehammer is going to prevent that day from coming if we know, follow after, and love our Christ Jesus with all our heart, mind, and soul.

BAM!

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 ESV

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