Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

Could God Ever Use Me?

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Judges 6:13-15

I love that scripture is filled with weak and reluctant heroes of the faith. I love it, because I know how feeble and hesitant I am. People often tell me they think I am so strong for all I’ve endured, but without Him there’s no way I could even stand. He has been my strength when mine was depleted. Gideon’s story could have turned out much differently if he hadn’t expressed his doubts and weakness to God. He had seen God work miraculously when he consumed the meat and bread Gideon prepared with fire (Jdgs. 6:21), but that was not enough to overcome his doubts. Next he laid fleeces before the Lord to test him, although the second time he apologized for doing it.

Finally, Gideon became convinced that God would keep him promise to defeat the Midianites, but in an interesting turn of events, God turned the tables on Gideon and tested him. He reduced the number of troops to fight Midian from 32,000 to 300. The amazing thing is that this previously trembling man did not hesitate to obey God. God did give him another sign that he would bring victory, but somewhere in the process Gideon had changed.

Not many of us start out strong in faith. We all come to God with brokenness and doubts. Life experiences and hurts have shaped our thinking, and warped our faith. The biggest difference between those who become heroes for the kingdom, and those who continue to wallow in doubt is that the heroes come honestly before God and confess their doubts. Then, they choose to act on the little faith they do have. Gideon’s story would not have made it into scripture if he had failed to act.

In my years as a Christian, I have let fear and doubt paralyze me, and the result was catastrophic. Even after I broke free of years of abuse, anxiety continued to rule my heart until it almost destroyed me. One day in the midst of a crisis, it dawned on me that I was living by fear rather than faith, and I knew that was so wrong for a Believer. I made a decision that day to choose faith over fear, and since then when doubts come, I refuse to allow them to control my actions. Instead I act on His promises, and the outcome is usually amazing. He never ceases to amaze when I choose to act in faith (in spite of my doubts)! I don’t always get it right, but I’m learning and I know that the God who could use Gideon and 300 men, with cracked pots, to defeat and entire army can use even me. And he can use even YOU.

For the entire story of Gideon, see Judges 6-7.

Stumbling in the Darkness

Have you ever tried to walk around in the darkness? It’s not easy! Without some source of light, you are bound to stumble and fall. That’s exactly how scripture describes our lives without God. I know it’s how I felt before I came to know him. I felt lost and empty. Nothing made sense. I knew that God had created the world and me, but I had no idea why. It was only after his light shone into my darkness that life began to make sense. And while I still stumbled from time to time, his light was ever with me. I could depend on him. I had been rescued!


The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Pet. 2:9


I came across both of these passages this morning, and they reminded me of how wonderful it was to step into his light all those years ago. God did not leave us on the earth to stumble blindly through life. He revealed himself to us! The Prophet Isaiah spoke foretold of how God would reveal himself to those “walking in darkness.” In another passage, he proclaimed that a virgin would conceive and bear a child whose name would be Immanuel (which means God with us! -Is. 7:14).  Isaiah 9:6 predicted that a child would be born who would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Over 700 years before Jesus came to earth, his birth was promised. God promised not to leave us in the darkness, and in him, there has always been hope.

Scripture says that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3). The promise Abraham believed was that through his Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Around 2000 years later, that promise was fulfilled in Jesus. The Light came into the world, but many did not recognize it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:9-13

When I first became a Believer I remember my pastor telling my mom, it seemed like I had swallowed a light bulb. I also remember reading Colossians 1:12-14 and thinking that’s exactly how I felt. I had been rescued from the dominion of darkness.

“and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:12-14

Since, I stepped out of darkness into the light, I have longed to share the freedom and joy of walking with him with others, but I’ve found that many prefer the darkness.


 

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:19-21


I know what it’s like to prefer the darkness. I had resisted Christianity, because the people who claimed his name were too flawed for my liking, but picking up a New Testament and reading about Jesus for myself changed all of that. I saw that he was nothing like the religious hypocrites I had seen all of my life, and I chose HIM. We all have a choice. Reaching God is not about following a bunch of rules, but rather about stepping out of darkness into his light. When the light replaces the darkness in your soul, your life will change automatically. You will not have to clean up your act, but suddenly you will shine. My prayer for you today is that you will see his light, and make the choice to receive it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Cows in the Church.

When Christians Honor Marriage Over People

Recently our ministry hosted a conference on domestic violence in the church. We promoted it to pastors and church counselors, but the majority of participants turned out to be former and current victims of abuse. As participants introuduced themselves, I heard an all to familiar story. Several mentioned surviving abuse only to find themselves being hurt again by their churches.

One dear lady said she left the church altogether after she reported the abuse and separated from her abuser. Her husband was in leadership at the church, and the other leaders believed his story over hers. Rather than finding help when she mustered up enough courage to reach out for help, she received blame. According to the church, she was desecrating the holy institution of marriage by separating from her husband, and there was no way she could convince them otherwise. Eventually, she chose freedom from bondage over the church, and she has been out of church ever since. She gets sermons online and on the radio, but she is afraid to trust Christians in a community setting again. There were other participants with similar stories, but most moved to other churches rather than leaving the church altogether.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this story over my years as an advocate of domestic violence victims. Why do churches so often seem to honor institutions over people? Apparently, it’s fairly common among religious people. Jesus regularly offended the religious leaders’ understanding of the Sabbath. In their eyes, he was constantly violating it, but Jesus responded with “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, when God ordains something, it is out of love for his people, but too often we get religious and elevate the institutions above the ones they are intended to bless. Even in ancient Israel this was a problem.

Say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to desecrate my sanctuary—the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection. The sons and daughters you left behind will fall by the sword. Ez. 24:21

It’s interesting to me that when God brought judgment on Israel, he even destroyed his own sanctuary. The thing he had set up as holy and valuable would become completely desecrated. As a parent, I know how difficult punishing my children could be—sometimes it hurt me as much as it did them. This had to be the case for God. He could no longer sit by and watch their self-destructive course, and the only remedy was severe consequences, because all the warnings in the world had not even fazed them.

They had turned his sacred sanctuary into an object of idolatry, and as a result he even allowed it to be destroyed. He cares far more about our devotion than any institution. The modern church certainly seems to have their own set of idols, and marriage seems to be at the top of the list. When we allow a good thing that was instituted by God become more important than those it was intended to bless, we miss his heart. It reminds me of the sacred cows in India. People die of starvation daily while they walk around unfettered and unused as a source of food.

In the modern church, marriage has become a “sacred cow.”  Yes, marriage is a wonderful thing, but when one partner chooses to break the covenant it can become a source of harm rather than blessing. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to save failing marriages, but when that is not possible, we must never condemn someone for leaving a harmful situation. God cares more about people than institutions—even those he established. Legalism cares more about the institutions, even when people are perishing in the midst. My heart grieves for people like that dear lady who came Saturday. Since she was not honored above her marriage, she has walked away from another institution (the church) that should be speaking life into her wounded soul.

Lord,  awaken your church, and help us learn to love you and your people above anything else– even good things you have ordained. Amen

Sometimes Sleep Really is Overrated

Many mornings I struggle to rise and shine early enough to spend sufficient time in the Word before I begin my day. There have been seasons when I found it easy to wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 and didn’t even feel tired, but other times it’s such a battle. My desire is to have uninterrupted God time before all the distractions of the day start chiming in, but it seems to come in waves. I have periods where I don’t seem to need as much sleep, and other times I can’t get enough. Nearly every night I ask God to wake me naturally, because I know that setting an alarm doesn’t work. When I force myself to get up, I find myself so sleepy I can’t function. It seems like the only time an alarm clock is successful is when I stay up and moving. It definitely doesn’t work for quiet times, because sitting still is too conducive to dozing off.

Today, as I was reading in the book of Acts, I noticed in chapters 16 and 20 that Paul didn’t seem to get a lot of sleep. In chapter 16, we get the account of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi. They were praying and worshipping God around midnight when a great earthquake occurred. Paul was then able to share the gospel in the prison to the jailer and all the prisoners. After that, the jailer took them to his house, cleaned them up, and let them share the message with his family. The entire family was baptized in the middle of the night, and then Paul and Silas were back in jail by daylight. In chapter 20, Paul was preaching “on and on” till midnight (Ac.20:9) when young Eutychus fell out of the window and died. After Paul raised him to life, they broke bread, and he talked to them until daylight.

When I read the Gospels I see the same sort of pattern with Jesus. He would often withdraw to lonely places and pray all night, or rise way before daybreak (Lk. 6:12, Mk. 1:35). On the night of his betrayal he lamented that his disciples kept falling asleep, and told them “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41). I find it interesting that Jesus told them to deny their bodies, and fervently seek God instead. Still, I can sure relate to those disciples. Some people might think that since Jesus was divine it was easier for him to go without sleep, but we know that on at least one occasion he was so exhausted he was able to sleep through a violent storm (Mk. 4:38).

God designed our bodies to need sleep, and even Jesus was not exempt from this need, but there seem to be times when his Spirit can enable us to deny that need. I have noticed that when I’ve gone on mission trips in the past, I have managed to thrive on much less sleep. Beyond that, I have had sporadic bouts of insomnia that I am sure were from God. As I determined to watch and pray through those nights, amazing things happened. I saw spiritual breakthroughs in my life, and on a few occasions received specific answers to prayers. Occasionally, very specific ideas would pop into my head about actions I should take to receive the answer to my prayer. When I later acted on those “ideas,” the outcome was simply amazing. I often tell people that those “middle of the night” times of communion with God are most powerful, because I am finally quiet and still enough to hear.

So, as I sit contemplating these patterns of sleeplessness in scripture (and there are more! Check out Gen. 32:24, 1 Sam. 15:11, Ps. 63:6, Lam. 2:19), I can’t help but think that sleep actually is overrated when it comes to our spiritual lives. Science has shown that some people are “short sleepers” who actually need less sleep, but clearly I’m not one of them. Chances are you aren’t either. However, I believe that having periods of missed sleep in order to seek him can be as effective to our spirits as fasting from food. There is something powerful about denying self, and seeking him wholeheartedly. I believe we just need to avail ourselves to his Spirit, and allow him to speak to us through the watches of the night.

I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. Ps. 119:147-148S

Not to Worry!

“But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.  For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Luke 21:14-15

We’re living in scary times. The world seems to be spinning out of control. Terrorism is a growing problem at home and abroad. Political tensions abound, and our politicians seem ineffective to accomplish anything worthwhile. Police officers, the very people who are charged with keeping peace, have become targets of radical factions and our nation is more divided than ever. To top it off, I don’t see anyone rising up to bring us back together. In times like this, worry would seem to be the natural response. So when I read this passage from Luke 21 this morning, one little phrase jumped out at me like never before– “make up your mind not to worry beforehand.”

What an amazing statement! In this passage, Jesus was talking about the end of the age, and what his disciples should expect. The entire passage indicates catastrophic events, unfair persecution, and even martyrdom. Yet, Jesus tells them to decide in advance not to worry about their response to the persecution. Further down in the passage, he indicates that some would even be put to death, but not one hair on their heads would perish. It almost seems contradictory. However, we are looking at someone who would soon face death himself. He knew that this life is merely a shadow of eternity, and that his Father had a good plan even in the midst of his suffering. If you look at the whole passage, Jesus is warning about awful events, but always reminding his disciples of their hope in God.

I was listening to a interview with a Munich mall shooting survivor this week. He said one reason he and his girlfriend were able to avoid harm was that he had already considered what he would do in a crisis. He said that each time he goes somewhere, he assesses his environment and makes a plan for escape, but says panicking can only make things worse. His final advice to listeners was that everyone should have a plan in place to deal with crisis. I think Jesus is saying the same thing, but in spiritual terms rather than physical. If we do not stop and consider how we will respond to crisis, our response will likely be one of panic, and more harmful than helpful.

Basically, it comes down to making a choice. We can choose to let fear rule us, or we can choose to believe that God holds us in the palm of his hands, and that is the safest place to be, whether on earth or in heaven. We must choose to make his goodness bigger than the evil all around us, and believe that his Spirit will empower us to stand no matter what happens. We do not need to worry, because his promises towards us are sure.

Many of us spend time worrying about what we can say to convince others that some political system holds the answer to our problems, but I say make up your minds now not to worry about it. Frantic debates over politics reveal a lack of faith that he is ultimately in control. Perhaps God has called you to politics, but fear should never be the motivation. Choosing to worry is a choice to refuse the peace he offers his children. In John 16, just before his death Jesus told his disciples about the troubles soon to come, but followed it with, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). Once again, he was letting his followers know that they had a choice to walk in peace in spite of outward turmoil. Today, I am deciding beforehand not to worry, and to choose his peace instead. I pray you will do the same.

When Self-Pity Becomes Toxic

I must admit that, in the course of my life, I have had more than my fair share of pity parties. Life has not always been easy, and people have not always been kind. I could say that nearly everyone in my life has let me down at one time or the other. Clearly, I have had plenty of good reasons to feel sorry for myself, and on many occasions I have done just that. In fact, I spent several years doing it so much that I slipped in and out of depression on a regular basis. I even became suicidal a few times, but thankfully God intervened in my life, and I found a way to escape the negative thoughts and feelings that consumed me. Jesus said the truth will set you free, and that is what happened. I realized that my feelings were contrary to truths in his Word, and I had to choose to allow those truths to transform my mind. It was a choice plain and simple.

As a counselor, I run across people who refuse to ever make the choice to believe God over their feelings. Among my own personal acquaintances there are those who seem to believe that their situations are not included in God’s promises, because they continue to wallow in misery. By nature, I am an encourager, but I’ve learned that people like this cannot be encouraged. It makes no sense, but it seems as though they enjoy being miserable. And if that were not enough, they also seem to love dragging everyone else into their wretched state. They like to blame others for their misery, and try to make them responsible for improving their lot in life. In fact, over my years of working with victims of domestic violence, I’ve found that most abusers are consumed with self-pity. They manage to use it to control their victims. The problem is you can never please someone like this. Nothing you do is ever enough.

In scripture we see an example of this harmful attitude in John 5:1-15. When Jesus asked the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda if he wanted to be well, he simply blamed others that he wasn’t. After Jesus healed him, he reported him the religious officials rather than thanking him. In the end, Jesus warned him to “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” When I read this story, I am amazed that this man received such a great miracle, and yet did not show an ounce of gratitude.

At the heart of those ruled by destructive self-pity, you will usually find ingratitude. Their eyes are so focused on self that they become blind to the blessings they do have, and their lack of gratitude is like poison. It spews to everyone around them as they use their misery to try to control those who love them. They want people to feel sorry for them and bend over backwards to make them happy, but it’s nearly impossible to help someone who has decided that their pain is greater than God’s provision. They would much rather drag you into their misery than to allow you to help them out of it.

Recently, God sent two new friends into my life. If anyone has a right to self-pity these ladies do, but both have refused it, and I admire them so much. In 2013, my friend Terri passed out while standing in her kitchen, and woke up paralyzed from the neck down. As anyone would in this situation, she has struggled with depression, but she has chosen not to give in to feelings of despair. Recently, she wrote on her blog that a friend challenged her to find something to be grateful for each day, and she did. Although Terri might have good reason to feel sorry for herself, she refuses to give in to self-pity. As a result, she has become an inspiration to many people. I so admire that.

God sent another amazing woman into my life back in April. Two years ago, her estranged husband stormed into her parents’ house, shot and killed them both in front of her children, then beat and shot her—leaving her for dead. She was in a coma for a week, but after that God miraculously touched her body and raised her up. Although Latonya grieves the loss of her parents, she is the picture of gratitude. She shares God’s love and blessings with others powerfully, and the hashtag she uses on most of her social media posts is #gratefulheart. How amazing is that?

Both Latonya and Terri are victors, because they have made a choice to be grateful rather than self-centered. Their lives are making a positive impact on the world, because of that choice. The people I know who choose self-pity on a regular basis do the exact opposite. They are takers rather than givers. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive, and to be blessed in biblical terms means to be happy. These ladies bring joy to my heart. They encourage me, and enrich my life.

There is only one difference between my new friends and my friends who wallow in self-pity. It’s simply a matter of the choices they have made. We can choose to allow misery to rule us, or we can choose to be grateful for the blessings we have. Ephesians 1:3 tells us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, and Romans 8:37 says that as his children we are more than conquerors. Scripture is filled with God’s good intentions towards his children. We just need to choose to believe what he says about us. It’s not always easy to do that, but with determination anyone can move from defeated to victorious, and become a blessing rather than toxic.

Something New

It seems that God is doing something new in my life lately, and I have found myself at a loss as how to proceed. Even though I am not a very structured person, I still find myself wanting to do things the way I’ve been doing them for such a long time. Change is difficult for us. Even the most flexible of us create our own traditions, and breaking out of them is HARD. This passage from Mark seemed to be exactly what I needed to read today.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22

Jesus came and challenged everything the religious leaders valued. He questioned their way of doing things, and even their interpretation of the law. They constantly criticized him for violating the Sabbath, but he pointed them to the heart of the Law, rather than the letter of it (see Mk. 2:23-28). As Believers, I am sure most of us see ourselves as far more spiritually savvy than the Pharisees and Scribes, but I’m not so sure we are. We get used to our traditions, and begin to see treat them as though they are the very oracles of God.

In my own case, I’ve been doing good things–even spiritual things, but I’ve come to realize that I may have been focusing on things that were not my calling. So now, I find it difficult to figure out how to order my time. Should I continue to do the good things, or should I jump out in faith? God is calling me to take some huge steps of faith, but continuing on the path of least resistance is so much easier. The problem is that it’s not so much more blessed. I know that until I am obedient, I will not be able to walk in his best for my life. So today I’m making a choice to throw out the old wine skins. I reject my own “old” way of doing things, and choose to embrace the “something new”to which he is calling me.

How about you? Have you held on to your old ways for too long? Are you willing to walk in the newness of life he calls us to live? I know it can be hard, but it is the only path to blessing. So out with the old! In with the new!

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. Is. 43:19

BeginningIsNear