Forgiveness

Whose Approval Do You Seek?

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“I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” – Jesus (John 5:43-44)

Ouch! How often do we “receive glory” from one another – in the form of adulation, approval, applause, affirmation and adoration – and place that “glory”, or opinion, above the opinion that Christ holds of us?

We will receive the praise, and even criticisms, of man and take it to heart, allowing it to inflate our heads or damage our souls. However, when Christ says that He loves us, we question how that is possible. After all, we KNOW ourselves. And when Christ says that we are forgiven from our past and that He “remembers our sins no more” when we repent, we refuse to receive that forgiveness and, instead, allow our minds to be tortuously haunted by the enemy of our souls who would like nothing more than for us to be running scared and beaten by guilt and shame.
OR when His Holy Spirit reminds us of things in our lives that are keeping us from drawing near to Christ – or becoming more like Him – yet friends/family/society says “Its okay”, “Its no big deal”, or the ever-popular “Its your life/body do what feels right”, we receive the “glory” from man instead of the loving admonition from God… because it’s easier, more comfortable, and MUCH more pleasing to our ears and ego.

As long as our most valuable approval comes from men then we will never, not EVER, recognize and relax in who God created us to be. Which means that we will never, not EVER, be comfortable in our own skin or with our own unique set of gifts/talents.
What a miserable way to live… constantly changing opinions, convictions, and even appearance, to avoid being beaten around the head by the ever-wavering opinions of man.

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Regarding our pasts:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. – Psalm 139:13-16

In other words He KNOWs us better than we know ourselves

Regarding our value to Him:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:10

And although He KNOWs us – and everything we have ever done or said – He still sacrificed Christ for us

Regarding His love for us:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

He loves us and – despite things that we have said or done that may have wounded His heart or the hearts and lives of others – He never stops loving us.

Regarding His sacrifice for us:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—BY GRACE YOU HAVE BEEN SAVED…..For by grace you have been saved through faith. And THIS IS NOT YOUR OWN DOING; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:4-9 (ESV)

No, we truly didn’t deserve His sacrifice. Yet He gave His own life for us – in our undeserving state – because of His great love. If we deserved it, or could earn it, then Christ’s sacrifice was for naught.

Regarding our “nows” and our futures:
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

And when we receive His undeserved GRACE and FORGIVENESS, and commit our lives to following His will… not perfectly, but with the purpose of becoming like Him… then our past is no longer thought of by Him

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When we open our hearts and minds to understand that Christ GAVE Himself up to one of the most painful, shameful, “senseless” deaths in order that we might recognize how very much He treasures us, what sense does it make to seek the adulation… the “glory”… of man instead of the approval of God?

And why put the words/opinions of man above the words/opinions of God – Who gave all that we might rest in who HE created us to be?

In Galatians 1:10 Paul writes: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Go back and read Romans 8:28-29 again……..  Seriously.  Go read it…….

These 2 verses remind us that there is nothing that we can do to change how very much we are loved by Christ.
The love of man changes as quickly as the seasons and is as unstable as the winds.
The love of God never wavers.

Receive His “glory” and grace. Accept yourself how HE sees you.

Allow HIS opinion to be what governs your mind, will, emotions, actions, and speech. You may find yourself enjoying the freedom. I pray that you will. ❤

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CATALYST 2014 – Strengthen Your Core

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Core

Reviewing notes from the 2nd session of Catalyst, with Christine Caine, and my mind and heart are, again, challenged and convicted.  Following is a cursory summary of things my spirit – and pen – “caught” from her passionate fire. (Direct quotes are in italics)

Christine Caine:

Christine shared her own recent and personal battle with cancer, surgery, and recovery. She talked about how, in order for her body to be strengthened following surgery, it was necessary for her to strengthen her core before proceeding with more strenuous exercises.  She had been warned that, if she didn’t re-strengthen her core – and resumed running too early – her body would, eventually, collapse. She likened this to our spiritual life.

“If we haven’t strengthened our spiritual core, eventually our world will collapse.”

Matthew 22:34-40: 34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

“The typical ‘Christian’ is trying to serve God with a toxic heart, a wounded soul, and a tormented mind.”  If we don’t allow His presence into these, the deepest places where we have been hurt and damaged [our core], then we cannot be capable leaders.

“We are a bunch of Christians running around wanting to change the world but not willing to be changed.  Until we change ourselves we will never change the world.”

“My gift wouldn’t have taken me where my character couldn’t have kept me without a strong spiritual core.”  In other words, character has to be developed, and God must be granted full access to the darkest places in our heart, soul, and mind, in order to be effective with the gifts that He has given.

Addressing the heart:

“You do what you want when it’s a passion.  You do what you have to when it’s an obligation.  Remember when serving God was a passion?”

If our leadership is about us and our satisfaction, our ego, and/or our self-fulfillment, then how does God fit into this? “If your heart is so full of yourself then there’s no room for Him.”

As Christ-followers, if we aren’t seeking Him passionately…. “If Jesus is not enough for His church then why would he be enough for the world?”

“Get off of Facebook and in the face of God!”

“Skinny jeans and tattoos do not make you a powerful leader for God.  Being filled with the presence and power of God makes you a powerful leader!”

In reference to the soul:

When we prayed to receive Christ, our soul wasn’t instantly changed and all of the damage completely healed.  Our soul was saved… redeemed… yet still needed (or needs) to be healed and restored. But many of us have locked God out of the very place that – when healed – can be stronger and so much more powerful.

“The pain of recovery is often more powerful than the pain of injury.”

“If we don’t allow God to ‘go in deep’ and heal the wounded places in our soul it will become infected and seep out, like [disgusting and oozing] pus, into your leadership.”

We go to church on Sundays and yet don’t allow God to change the deepest part of us.  We don’t allow Him into our lives the rest of the week, so our souls are gasping for breath and life. “If we could stop surviving on church as if it’s life support then we could be the powerful and prophetic people we were called to be!”

And what about the mind?:

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Be ruthless about what goes into your mind!  “Don’t ‘jump on the enemy’s train of thoughts of worry, negativity… fear.”  2 Timothy 1:7 says for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

We often lie awake at night with our mind filled with worry and fear.  We forget that “My God never sleeps or slumbers!  He’s always working in every situation so God’s got this. I’m gonna get some sleep!”

And when we allow the All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Never Sleeping God access to the damaged places of our heart, soul, and mind then we become the called leaders that we were intended to be.

“The degree to which we are healed and free is the degree to which we can lead others to freedom.  We reproduce who we are.”

Christine shared a story about her youngest daughter and how her husband is always telling their daughter that she is beautiful, smart, and called by God.  Recently, she began attending school and a little boy was picking on her.  He grabbed her “wubby” from her and said to her:”You’re ugly and you’re stupid!”  To which she replied: “I am NOT!  My Daddy says that I am……”

Whenever the enemy comes against us – whether in our mind, or through the words/actions of others – we remind ourselves of who God says we are.  And we remind the enemy… “‘My DADDY says…..’ and we rebuke the lies of the enemy with what The Father says about us!”

Are there parts of your own heart, soul, and/or mind that you have not allowed God full access to?  Pray.  Ask Him.  Listen for His response.  And then take some “J.A.M. time” (Jesus-And-Me) and allow Him to peel back the layers of pain, and even shame, to discover the powerful core of you which yearns and longs for Him!

We All Are Peter

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Ever read a scripture passage that reached into your soul a grabbed hold with an iron grip as if to say “Pay attention to me! I have something for you!”?

This past week I was reading and came across a passage like this. When the women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they encountered a man who told them Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” – Mark 16:6-7

Go and tell His disciples…. and Peter.  In my mind this implied that Peter was being mentioned separately from the disciples possibly due to his sin of denying Christ 3x.

However, every Commentary that I read indicated otherwise.  They all agreed that Peter was not be distinguished from the disciples, but instead was Peter was being singled out to assure that he was informed along with the other disciples… to guarantee that he was included in this report of Christ’s resurrection and His promise that He would come to them again.

Peter’s name was called out to make certain that he knew he was included in the invitation to meet with Christ once again.

I can only imagine how his heart must have skipped when his name was called.  Such a mixture of excitement, anticipation, fear, and guilt.  He had, after all, sworn and uttered curses as he denied even knowing who Christ was in the midst of the God-man’s most physically/emotionally demanding… potentially damaging… days on Earth.  He had abandoned Christ. Turned his back on the Christ that he had walked with, talked with, ate with, slept beside, been taught by, and even been called by.  Peter had refused to acknowledge the One Who had – with all patience and understanding – seen the potential in Peter’s strong-will, brash personality, and impulsivity.

Peter had sworn he knew no such man called “Christ”. Three. Scandalous. Times.

And yet, Peter was being called out by the same, Christ, and acknowledged as His in the presence of all the other disciples… who, most assuredly, knew of his shameful denials.

Scripture later records that Christ appeared to the disciples when they were fishing and John recognized Who was on the shore. And rather than waiting for the rest of the disciples to row there in their boat – for that would take to long –  Peter jumped from the boat and began to swim to shore (is it any wonder with his impulsive nature?).  He wanted to be in the presence of Jesus.

Christ waited until all the disciples were together and had shared a meal.  He then called Peter’s name again. He singled him out once again in the presence of the others.  Imagine… “Peter?”

Was He going to rebuke Peter for his sinful, slap in the face, spurning?  Would he point out how Peter had denied Him and then, publicly, announce that he was no longer chosen to represent Christ?  After all, how could he?

How could Christ, in all good conscience, allow Peter to represent Him and His cause knowing that Peter had stood before many and, cursing and swearing, joined in His ridicule and refused to acknowledge his relationship with Him ?  How could the hand of God continue to anoint Peter’s life with such a blatant rejection?  So many thoughts and emotions must have been leaving footprints on Peter’s mind and heart.

“Peter”  “Yes, Lord?”

“Do you love me?”

Three times Christ asked if Peter loved Him. Scripture says that Peter was hurt because Christ asked him the third time.  Could it have been another painful reminder of Peter’s 3 rebuffs?

“Lord, You know all things.  You know that I love You”

And Christ, for the 3rd time, reaffirmed Peter’s calling to “feed My lambs”… to minister to those who are lost and hurting… to those who have no Shepherd.

“Lord, You know all things”…..

Indeed He does.

Christ knows all things.  He knows that we are human.  He knows that we make mistakes.  He knows that we even, at times, reject or spurn His place in our life with our actions and/or words.  He knows.

And yet, just like Peter, He continues to call out our name.  He continues to let us know that if our heart is still trying to find Him through the dense fog of shame that can cloud our view of Him… if we are still seeking His light in the midst of our own mental and emotional darkness… if we are willing to jump out of the boat and “swim” towards Him – not waiting for things to be just right or others to come along with us… if our response is that pain-filled, guilt-ridden, cry of “Lord, you know all things.  You KNOW that I love you”… then, in spite of our sin, He calls out our name and reminds us that we remain called, appointed, chosen, His.

 

Such marvelous Grace.

 

GraceLand

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I’ve sat this evening and pondered on the God-given, mercy-motivated, heart-full-of-love induced, grace that has been offered to me… and to you. And I have wondered…

Where could I be? Where SHOULD I be? Where would I be without it?

I could still be neck deep in the mistake-laden quicksand that has been my past. Struggling and striving to pull myself out of the muck and mire, yet also wanting to let the depths swallow me as I give up the fight with the darkness.

I should be lying stripped and marred in the dust by the side of life’s fractured and fragmented highway. Ashamed to lift my head because of the bruises and violent handprints from the times that I’ve been beaten up by the enemy.

I would be still wounded, insecure, looking for an enemy, while plodding through the day-to-day. I would be barely able to stand from the weight of rejection and fear of the self-perceived ugliness in the mirror.

If I dwelt upon my coulda, shoulda, woulda’s, I could – realistically – reasonably – relinquish hope for a joyful, purposeful, impacting existance. There would be no shame or blame in pitching a tent and deciding to resign and retire from life… if my coulda, shoulda, woulda’s were all that there was in my earth-encumbered journey.
But for the grace of God.

The God of grace observed every mistake I would make, before I existed. He had prior knowledge of what a damaged, baggage carrying, woman I would become. He was fully aware of how hard and fast I would run away from Him because I was furious at the injustice of life, unreliability of human love, and the injurious nature of ministry. And yet He saw me as precious and worthy of Him.
His heart-borne, blood-spilled, love-filled, grace opens its gates and allows me to walk through – with my head held high in spite of where I’ve been – and rest in the meadows of His forgiveness and peace. He will repair the brokenness in my bones, and the winds of His breath will restore life to my soul. If I am willing, the rivers of His Spirit will soothe my wounds and then stir me to action with the gifts and talents that HE created within me – to lead others into this place of safety. This dwelling in peace.

This… GraceLand where He is King.

Such and amazing place of grace.

 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. – Romans 5:1-2

Bob Dylan and Religion

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“Christianity isn’t a religion… “It’s a reality.”

My friend of 24 years said that to me during an interesting conversation last month.  And that should be the truth.

Christianity… following Christ… being Christ-like… should be a reality for those who wear the label of Christian.  Yet, in reality, how often do we justify our words, actions, treatment of others… (or hear them justified) by convincing ourselves that “our faith” (or the label of “Christian”) is the reason that we have reacted/responded a certain way?  Judged someone?  Mistreated someone?  How often do we claim to be “defending our faith”… “defending scripture”… “defending God”… when, in reality, we’re defending ourselves?

If your faith is, indeed, a reality – it does not need defending.  If scripture is, indeed, a reality – it does not need defending.  If your God is, indeed, a reality – He, most certainly, does not need defending.  These things… faith, scripture, and God have stood the test of time and do not need your “defense”.  They stand on their own.

In 1979, Bob Dylan publicly professed to have a relationship with Christ.  And in 1979 and early 1980 he wrote several songs that spoke – very clearly – about this relationship.  Songs such as: You Gotta Serve Somebody, Slow Train Coming, and he released a “gospel” album entitled Saved that brought Dylan heat from every direction.  His concerts during this time contained most of his new songs and Dylan, himself, “preaching” between songs, even as his fans cried out for him to play his older – more well-known music. 

In November of 1980, Bob Dylan began a 2-week concert run where he performed his older songs, and some of his newer songs recorded later in 1980.  When asked about why his newer songs were only “remotely religious” in comparison to the others written and recorded in early 1979-1980, Dylan replied: “They’ve evolved.  I’ve made my statement, and I don’t think I could make it any better than in some of those songs.  Once I’ve said what I need to say in a song, thats it.  I don’t want to repeat myself.’  [Dylan] saw no need to repeat himself by continuing to write gospel songs or continuing to preach from the stage; truth is truth, and it stands forever.” From the book Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan  

Dylan saw no need to continue to “defend” his faith, scripture, or his relationship with Christ.  Yet Dylan, like many others who have proclaimed faith in Christ and simply try to live out their understanding of Christ’s character the best way that they know how, is viewed by many who claim to be “Christian” themselves, as someone who saw Christianity as a passing fad and now has no relationship with Christ.  Why?  Because he doesn’t talk about it unless asked…  and doesn’t use every platform that he’s given as “an opportunity to share the gospel”.

When did being a Christian become so narrow-minded a thing?

Because Dylan, again like many others, doesn’t fit into the boxed in definition of how his relationship with Christ began (it wasn’t in a church saying “the sinners prayer”), how his gifts should be used in a way that CLEARLY separates him from the “secular” industry (he still does “secular” concerts/appearances), how he lives out his relationship with Christ (he still attends and supports Jewish functions – his children are raised Jewish.  He doesn’t make “Christian” appearances.  He supports “secular” causes.  He doesn’t “preach” aloud about his faith.  He doesn’t attend a church service regularly), then he is ignored as a Christ-follower by many in “the church” at large.  What a shame.

And all around us are other, not-so-public persons, who don’t fit into someone else’s narrow-minded, “in the box” definition of what a Christian should be.  Yet they live out Christ in their hearts, minds, words, and actions on a daily basis.  They believe fully in Him and His deity.  They want to model His heart and life.  They study Him and His words.  Quietly.  Without boasting.  Without pomp and circumstance.  And with much more success at demonstrating Christ, and reaching the hearts of others, than those who piously and publicly (and loudly) proclaim – from their perches of self-importance and self-righteousness – that they are “Christians” yet treat those unlike them with disrespect, shame, and contempt.

Do you know some “Dylan-esque” persons that say they know Christ yet don’t do what you think they ought?  Someone who professes to have a relationship with Christ but doesn’t fit into your God-box?  Perhaps your box isn’t one given by God Himself, but created by you in order to keep you safe (and defended) in your own mind.  …Perhaps.
Selah.

Sitting Idle In My Baggage

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Suitcases opened all around with clothes strewn about as if the bags had been carelessly dropped and everything had tumbled out.  Clean and soiled mixed together.  Wrinkled blouses and useless jackets.  Ripped jeans and hemless skirts.  Dirty unmentionables and odiferous socks.  Mismatched Shoes.   And in the midst of the mess I sat.

Unmoving.  Unused.  Seemingly abandoned.  Void in heart.

…Idle

I seemed to fit right in with the disarray that surrounded me.

Numb.  Disheveled.  Confused.

…Damaged goods.

Legs splayed.  Arms limp.  Head hanging down in exhaustion and “give up”. My mind was the only thing that was moving.  Rather, racing. Ever replaying mistakes and failures, words of ridiculers and critics, and images of the past.

After resting idle so long amidst the untidiness that had become my life, struggling to my feet began to seem impossible.  Picking up the clutter and discarding the stained garments such an overwhelming task when thoughts echoed reruns of blame and shame day and night, casting a fog over my understanding.

And so I sat.  And sat some more.

Until that still small voice that had persistently spoken from the beginning finally was heard.  The whisper of goodness penetrated through the clamor of condemnation.  And as my mind honed in on the words of grace, the winds of the spirit began to blow and the cloudiness began to inch away.  Clarity returned… accompanied by power… and a different kind of replay resounding between my ears.

The reminder of God’s unmerited favor, His immeasurable grace, and His irrevocable call seized my attention and gave strength to my soul and soundness to my bones.  And so I stood.  Determined to cease the lazy-mindedness that allowed past mistakes to stun me to stagnancy.  To render me immobile.

I stood and looked long and hard at the baggage around me.  At the chaos I’d created, and hadn’t known how to restore to order.

I took a deep refreshing breath from His Spirit.  And then I began to do away with the jumbled mess…

One soiled item at a time.

Send the Fire Is A Dangerous Thing to Pray

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In my years within ministry – and without – I have heard quite a few worship songs with the lyrics containing references to God’s fire or something similar.  Typically they are composed as a cry for God to send down his “fire” or his spirit, seemingly to cleanse us, so that we may better serve Christ – or to “ignite” our hearts so that we may carry His power in greater measure and witness with greater boldness and fervor.  When I hear these songs I often wonder if the lyricist – or the singer – is aware of what they are truly asking for.

Now before you write me off as a bitter cynic about to bash some very meaningful worship music, “hear” me out.  I think you’ll enjoy the read…

There are references to fire throughout the scriptures.  However, lyrically – in Christian music – references to fire are most often coupled with a request for God to “burn away the dross” as is mentioned in Malachi 3.  Many sing this lyric without even a full understanding of what dross actually is.

Websters defines dross as scum, waste or foreign matter, impurity, and/or something that is inferior.

In times of scripture a refiner would stoke a fire until it would be heated to over 1700 degrees F, which is the melting point for gold.  Precious metals would be placed in the fire and, as the gold would begin to liquefy, the impurities and waste would rise to the top and be skimmed away.  The refiner would stir the molten gold to bring more dross to the surface to be removed, until no contaminant or corruption remained.

Let me reiterate.  1700 degree flames.  Fire that is hot enough to completely liquidize one of the hardest substances on earth and expose all of the flaws for expunging.  That heat doesn’t sound comfortable, or even pleasant.  And most often that type of “fire” in our lives comes in the form of trouble, heartache, or soul-penetrating events.

Are you ready for that?  For your life to be heated by tests and trials, struggles and challenges so that your hardened heart begins to melt – bringing your flaws of anger, mistrust, unforgiveness, and/or doubt to the surface and forcing you to rely solely on the refiner?  Or perhaps your refining experience will involve finally grasping that overwhelming understanding of the Father’s white hot love for you and you will be overcome with agonizing gut-wrenching sobs, broken-hearted because of your own sin that you have attempted to hide in your encrusted heart.

Both sound painful.  Hard.  Excruciating even.  Neither one are encounters that stir a desire for a no-holds-barred, bare-feet leap into blistering flames of fire.  Yet that is what we ask for when we sing “Send the fire”.

I’m not asking that we do away with songs petitioning God for the refiner’s fire.  I’m not arguing that lyrically they are incorrect, or that the songs have no value.  On the contrary I believe they are most often penned from the hand of a lyricist who has endured extreme soul-anguish and, heart-broken, wants nothing more than to be purified and holy before God.

What I AM asking is if we, as worshipers – and as singers of songs – honestly consider the words that are passing our lips?  And are we seriously, for real, desiring the sin-revealing, agonizing, refining flames to ravage and expose our heart when we sing?  If we can authentically and heartily respond with a “yes” of conviction, then I say let’s throw our heads back, open our arms wide and cry aloud to our All-Consuming God: “Lord, Send the fire!”