About Me

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I'm a wife, a mom, a singer/songwriter, an author, a public speaker, an abolitionist, an encourager & freedom coach, a seminary student, a worship leader, a lover of life and joy, and most importantly, a follower of Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Freedom Friday: Focus Roles for New Year's Resolutions

I'm fully engrossed in the process of creating my focus priorities for the coming year. Let me tell you - I'm excited about 2012!

If you Google "new years resolutions" and limit the search to the last week, there are 111 million hits. 111 million! According to this article, 44% of Americans make New Year's resolutions. Depending on the source, somewhere between 80-92% of those people will fail at keeping those resolutions.

I've been doing some variation on the theme of New Year's goals, resolutions and focus roles for a decade now. One of my favorite parts of this process is looking back on prior years and seeing what I chose to focus on in the past. I don't have a typed up copy from when I began to do this (I believe it was 2002), and I haven't had a chance to dig into my journal bin to try and find it. Each year since then, I have a record of what I focused on.

I can honestly say this method of creating resolutions (I prefer to call them "roles, priorities and goals") really has made a difference.

Why does creating focus roles help?
1. Fixed target. I'm a very different person than I was a decade ago. Much of that is simply God's grace and the work He has done in my life. But another good portion involved moving toward a goal, a fixed target. I can look back on many of those focus roles and see I absolutely did grow in the areas I purposed to grow in because I kept my sights on a specific aim.

2. Focused motivation. Once I've created the focus roles, I brainstorm and come up with a statement concerning what I want to work on within that role, in addition to why I wanted to work on that role and make it a priority. This becomes my motivation for working on the roles when I'm feeling discouraged.

3. Intentional energy. Having 2-3 focus roles has allowed me to center my energy on specific areas of character growth. Once I have my focus roles, brainstormed statements and purposeful priorities, I come up with goals that are representative of these.

As I am presented with various opportunities in my life, or see things I might want to be part of, I can ask: does this line up with the roles in my life that I've chosen to work on? Will this help me achieve my goals & priorities? It also allows me to take the energy I have and be intentional as to where I will use it, rather than having my energy going in too many directions.

4. Deliberate reminder. I shared last week that I'm taking my running to the next level. When I wake up and it's 16 degrees out, I need a deliberate reminder of why I'm putting myself through this! I remember how much more at peace I feel after running, and how regular exercise is a sanity saver for me. The focus roles serve as a deliberate reminder of what I'm hoping to achieve.

You can read more about creating your own goals in last year's "Make It a Break-out Year".

I've already brainstormed my roles and picked basically 3 that I want to focus on. I'm still working on creating the specific goals I'd like to accomplish.

As I brainstormed my roles, I took some time to reflect on 2011. What kind of year was it? How had I changed? I went through my journals and gathered some highlights of the year, some Scriptures that had touched my heart, as well as some words I felt God had spoken to me. And I prayed: did God want me to incorporate any of this in my 2012 roles, priorities, and goals?

I also asked myself: what kind of year do I want 2012 to be? I asked God the same question in prayer. Then I brainstormed: what focus role would bring me closer to that goal?

Are you making New Year's resolutions? Why not try the "focus role" method this year?

What kind of year do you want this to be? More importantly, what kind of year does God want this to be?

Praying for you as you end the year and ask yourself some of these challenging questions and prepare for the new year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Freedom Friday: Take It To The Next Level

I've been "a serious runner" since about June. I decided I could call myself "a serious runner" after I had run 25 miles in a week and ran over 8 miles at once.

Since then, I've run a 5K race (3.1 miles), 2 10K's races (6.2 miles) and a half marathon (13.1).

My longest run has been 17.3 miles.

I recently decided to find out if there were any running clubs in my area. I found one local to me that has early morning runs twice a week.

Honestly, the thought of joining with them made me nervous. Would I be able to keep up? This fear was warranted, as I already knew they ran faster than me. Would I even like running with other people (something I've only done once since I took up running again)? What if I looked goofy? What if they weren't nice to me? Yes, even I have these thoughts :)

I went, despite my fears and insecurities. We ran. We ran fast (by my standards). In fact, we ran the 5.26 mile route at a pace that was an entire minute per mile faster than I had previously run on a really good day.

I made it through. I even talked during the run without gasping. It was challenging.

For the rest of that week, I decided I would continue to push myself on my personal runs. I ended up running about a minute per mile faster for all of my shorter runs (5 miles or less).

The next week came. I was nervous again. I went anyway (even though the run starts at 5:30 AM). The person I ran with last week, who runs a bit slower than the others, wasn't there. I ran anyway. We ran a whole minute faster than the week before. And it was cold.

My running had been going well. I was happy with my race times and the completion of a half marathon. I had been doing what was comfortable (well, as comfortable as running is for someone who is not a natural). Then something came along to shake me up from my comfortable place, challenging me to take it to the next level.

As I pondered this, I came across this blog post, Why You Should Embrace Discomfort by Michael Hyatt, Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing (and a fantastically challenging blogger!). Ironically, the two examples used are running examples.

Michael Hyatt references a Wired magazine article about Dean Karnazes, a long distance runner. It describes an experience where he put on his shoes and started running one night, after coming to the realization one night that this was not the life he'd imagined for himself. At the end of his run:
He had covered 30 miles. In the process, he'd had a blinding realization: There were untapped reservoirs within him. It was like a religious conversion. He had been born again as a long-distance runner. More than anything else now, he wanted to find out how far he could go.
When I started running, I hoped to be able to finish a 10K someday. I certainly never even considered running a half marathon. This was only made possible because I made a choice to push past what was comfortable and take it to the next level. Now I'm looking forward to the next one, as I hope to improve my time significantly.

I have begun to relate this concept to my spiritual life. Have I become too comfortable in my spiritual habits? Are there reservoirs within me, or within God, that I have yet to tap into?

I read the Bible most days. Being that I'm the director of a faith-based ministry, rarely a day goes by that I don't read the Bible for ministry purposes. But most days, I read 1-2 chapters of Scripture for my enrichment. Sometimes, I journal. Sometimes, I read a devotional. I take a chunk of time to pray, though this is something I often do while I run.

This has become a fairly comfortable routine for me. None of these things are bad, and nothing in particular jumps out as needing to be changed. But the question I've been asking in prayer is this: God, is there something You want me to do to take it to the next level?

As I refine my running schedule, I have decided to also refine my devotional schedule. I am aiming to run 5 days a week. The other 2 days a week, I will try to get up extra early to read the Bible, pray, listen, and read from some books and devotionals (I did this on Monday and today). I have already been doing this about 1 day a week, except I usually sleep in. I've decided to stop that. If I can get up at 5:30 to run, shouldn't I also be able to get up at 5:30 to spend purposeful time with God?

I have a goal to finish several books that I'm in the middle of, as well as finish editing the booklet I've written, by February.

I also set some running goals for this winter:

1. Run in the freezing cold. I have never been a consistent runner, and I have not yet run through a winter. I decided to make that a priority this year. The coldest weather in which I've run had been 20 degrees F, feels like 8 degrees. I ran 14 miles on Sunday in this weather. See my attire below.

2. Run at least 100 miles a month. In the months of August through October, I ran 124 miles, 132 miles and 148 miles. November, due to illness and 2 races, I dropped down to 90 miles. I'd like to keep it above 100.

3. Find another half marathon to run and shave at least 30 seconds off my pace.

What about you? Is God challenging you to take it to the next level? Are you feeling too comfortable? Or possibly feeling stuck? This is the perfect time to evaluate any goals you had set for 2011 and reassess for 2012 (this post might help).
"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14, emphasis mine
Press on. Embrace the discomfort. Ask God what it means for you to take it to the next level.

If you're disappointed that I didn't talk about Christmas, you can read last year's post :)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Freedom Friday: Resources for the Journey

I'll need your patience today.

I'm having trouble concentrating. Lack of sleep, illness, end of a long week: lots of reasons. So bear with me :)

As I was pondering today's post as well as the next few posts that will end the year, I began to reflect on my journey toward today. I reflected in writing for quite some time before I determined that needed a post of its own :)

Suffice it to say if you've been reading this blog for a while, you have heard me write a lot about learning to walk in freedom, as well as the process of becoming (or reconnecting with) who God created you to be by reconnecting with our power source, the giver of life, our Heavenly Father.

I'm so thankful for the people and resources that shaped me into who I am today. I decided I'd talk about some of those resources here. Also, if you get a gift card for Christmas, or are still looking for a book to give us a gift, I thought I could offer some suggestions, resources that have been helpful to me along the way. I'm linking to the actual book, but if you have a Kindle or something similar, there is a link to the other options on the Amazon.com page. Almost all of these books have a Kindle option.

The Gift of Being Yourself by David G. Benner and M. Basil Pennington

I'm actually not quite done reading this book, but I'm so impressed I will go ahead and mention it now. Plus, it came to my attention through the recommendation of someone I deeply respect. I'm just so taken by the title! The concept fits exactly with what I often speak concerning: true freedom is found when we live in the fullness of who God created us to be.

Think Differently, Live Differently
by Bob Hamp

Bob Hamp is someone I've mentioned frequently in my speaking & writing. I've been familiar with his work for a while, but I finally had the privilege of meeting him this summer and now, through multiple correspondence, consider him a friend. This is a fantastic resource for completely reframing the way you approach your struggles. It is so impactful that leaders with decades of ministry under their belts have told me how this book, and Bob Hamp's teaching in general, have caused them to completely revamp the way they do ministry. You can actually download quite a few podcasts of Bob's teachings for free, as well as watch videos of his classes, here.

Boundaries and Safe People by Cloud & Townsend

Boundaries is a well-known book with many variations: Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, etc. It really is a must-read if you haven't picked it up before. While it's certainly valuable to own a copy, I found Boundaries and Safe People at my local library.

I pair these 2 books together because they have an even more powerful impact when read side-by-side. I read Safe People first and found that to be invaluable. If you struggle with knowing who to trust, where or how to find help & support, or you find that you don't always make the best choices in friends, this book addresses that clearly. I then read Boundaries, which helps the reader to implement some healthy limits in our personal lives and relationships with others.

Breaking Free and Relational Masks by Russell Willingham
Of course, I have to also recommend these 2 books by one of my favorite authors. I especially recommend Relational Masks as a good way to dive into the core beliefs behind your actions, as well as a way to unearth the masks that keep you from discovering who God created you to be.

Anonymous by Alicia Britt Chole
I highlighted one of her resources last week in my post on disillusionment. I'm finishing up this book Anonymous now. I'll let the author's description of the book speak for itself. "We all experience times of hiddenness, when our potential is unseen and our abilities unapplauded. This book redeems those times by reminding us that though we often want to rush through these anonymous seasons of the soul, they hold enormous power to cultivate character traits that cannot be developed any other way!"

And some leadership resources:
Preventing Ministry Failure by Brad Hoffmann & Michael Todd Wilson
Every time I mention this resource to a pastor or ministry leader I respect, I am shocked they haven't heard of it! This is a truly phenomenal book concerning an issue close to my heart. I have always asked the question, "Why do leaders fall?" I mean, I know the literal answer to that question - because they made destructive choices. But how did they get to the point of making those choices? Have we set up such an unattainable standard in our churches and ministries that leaders are not allowed to be vulnerable with their struggles?

Years ago, I read this article, 5 Lies That Lead to an Affair by Julie Ferwerda. The main thing I took away from the article was this: it's the tiny compromises that become the huge compromises. This woman didn't wake up one day and decide to have an affair. It was a slow progression of little, only slightly destructive choices that may have appeared harmless from the outside. I also believe part of the issue was that she felt she didn't have the freedom to be honest about her real-life struggles with those around her.

Back to this book: it's written in workbook style and explores a myriad of issues, including having a life purpose statement, creating an adequate support system, understanding our calling, and setting up adequate safeguards. A must-have for ministry leaders today.

And last, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni
This book was given to me by my spiritual mentor. The minute I started reading it, I barely put it down unless I absolutely had to (feeding the kids, changing diapers, you know!). I read it in one day. Lencioni is a powerful storyteller who creates a fictional tale about an organization that needs a major overhaul. He concludes the book with practical help for creating a unified and constructive team.

I hope you are able to pick up one of these resources for yourself or someone else. And no, I don't know most of these people and I'm not getting paid to endorse these products!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Freedom Friday: Dealing with Disillusionment

transitive verb

: to free from illusion; also : to cause to lose naive faith and trust

Disillusionment: the state of being disillusioned.

Have you ever experienced disillusionment?

I have. I went through an extremely painful time in the early years of my faith. I've mentioned it here in bits and pieces.

I doubted everything. I questioned everything. And my doubts and my questions tore me to shreds.

Recently, I heard Alicia Britt Chole speak at a conference. I had been looking forward to it for quite some time. Her DVD series Choices was one of the first things we studied in Bible study after I became a Christian, and it was eye-opening and heart-changing.

She spoke about disillusionment, particularly as it relates to the disciples and Jesus. The disciples were incredibly disillusioned with Jesus at times, despite the fact that they walked with Him. They were disillusioned with His timing, disillusioned with His ways, and disillusioned with His words.

One example of this disillusionment is in John 6. Jesus had just done a miracle with a young boy's lunch, and the crowds were following Him around to see what else He could do, as well as to see if He might feed them again.

In the midst of this, Jesus shared this:

“I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him."

Imagine how you would have replied to this, had you been one of Jesus' disciples. I think I would have stood there, thinking, "Huh? Jesus, that doesn't even make sense!" Let's read further to see what the response was.

Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining........At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.

They complained. They were disillusioned. This isn't what they were expecting from Jesus. They wanted a meal, and maybe a miraculous sign. They wanted a concrete explanation of what on earth Jesus was talking about. When they didn't get any of those things, they left. Not everyone, but the passage says "many".

Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

What is the difference between the two groups of disciples in this story? Why did some turn away? Why did some stay?

Some responded to this difficult command by grumbling among themselves. They turned to each other for wisdom, and complained about this strange leader of theirs.

But others react to this statement of Jesus' quite differently. They chose to look to Jesus. They knew enough about Him to chose to believe that there was nowhere else to go. They chose to take their questions to Him.

They asked their questions while looking into the safety of their Savior's face.

So often when we start asking questions or having doubts in our faith, our tendency is to take our questions elsewhere. We turn away from God - out of fear, anger, hurt, or general disillusionment.

I did this. I did not take my questions to Jesus. I stopped reading the Bible. I stopped praying. The questions felt overwhelming, suffocating.

There is nothing wrong with questions and doubts. That's something I love about the disciples' example. They weren't afraid to ask questions, even questions to which the answers seem obvious to us today. Jesus wasn't afraid of or offended by their questions. He just wanted the disciples to bring their questions to Him.

Sometimes, Jesus would answer them right away; other times, He shared that His words would make sense eventually.

He says the same thing to us.

I've heard disillusionment described as gaining a reality. Through this period of questioning, I gained a new reality. A reality that trust is a choice. A reality that not everything is going to make sense in the moment. A reality that God is good, He is on my side, and that His plans are for my prosperity and hope.

Now I take my questions to my Savior. Not always in a timely manner, but my doubts no longer cause me to run. My questions no longer feel like abandonment. They no longer send me spiraling to my default setting. I am able to simply take them to Jesus and trust He will show me the answers, with time.

If you'd like to hear more about disillusionment, I highly recommend the CD "Real Life, Real Pain, and a Real God" from Alicia Britt Chole's resources. You can also find many of her books on Amazon.com (I'm loving the book anonymous right now!).

Your questions are OK with God. Just remember to ask them to Him, to His face, and in the safety of His arms.

Freedom Friday: Fear of the Unknown

I became a Christian halfway through my 3 years at Second College (I went to college elsewhere for 2 years, took 2 years off, and transferred to a new school to finish).

Initially, I was amazed. God revealed Himself to me, daily, in big ways and little ways.

He came through.

He showed Himself strong.

He was faithful.

Then life happened. I made some bad choices. I didn't ask God for His help in certain areas. And I found myself in a destructive, and yet familiar, relationship with a woman who "needed my help."

It's no secret that I was gay-identified for almost a decade. By the time I came to know Jesus, my identity was firmly planted in being gay. It was who I was, and it was what I knew. It was familiar. It was comfortable in its discomfort (as I talked about last week).

I didn't know anything else but being gay. So when this relationship began, it simply stood to reinforce my fear: the fear of the unknown.

The fear of the unknown is a powerful force. It keeps us in unhealth because the unhealth we know is familiar. It's a known pain, a known chaos.

It also keeps us in situations that aren't necessarily unhealthy, but are not God's best for us. They are not the next step in God's plan.

Fear of the unknown keeps us chained.

It keeps us from moving forward.

It keeps us from our Promised Land.

Exodus 14 begins with the Israelites camped by the Red Sea. Pharaoh decided he made a mistake in letting the Israelites go and began to follow them.

We pick up the story in verse 10:

As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD. Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

People stay in or run back to miserable situations because of the fear of the unknown. The above quote from the Israelites is a perfect example of that.

I was a perfect example of this. The woman I was in a relationship with had a lot of problems. I had a lot of problems. Even in the best of circumstances, we would have made a horrible match! Underneath that rebellious choice to enter into a relationship that I knew to be wrong was a broken child crying out to her heavenly father, "Are You really enough for me? Can I leave behind everything I've known and built my life upon for the unknown that is a relationship with You?"

I have to remember, as I read the above passage, that the Israelites were just beginning to walk out of generations of slavery. It was all they had ever experienced. It was all they knew. They had no context for the Promised Land.

Continuing on in Exodus:

But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward."

Moses raised his hand over the sea, and God opened a path through the water for the Israelites. In my case, my girlfriend dumped me, and I decided, painstakingly, one-step-at-a-time, to choose to trust God, not only in the area of my sexuality, but also with my whole life.

When God calls us to something new, it's not surprising that we will experience fear. Like the Israelites, we have no context for this new journey; all we have is context for the old one. The "what if's", the questions, the obstacles - they overwhelm us. They keep us standing still.

But in those moments, you have a choice: stick with the pain you know, or choose to trust God and forge ahead into the pain you don't know. The latter is a choice to trust that God is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do. It's a choice to believe that He must have something better for you, that this can't be all there is, that if He's asking you to move forward, then He will carry us through.

If you are overcome by a fear of the unknown today, surrender it to God. Give Him your questions and hesitations; He's not afraid of them. Then, stand by. Wait and see how God will fight for you and what He wants to accomplish for you. And "do it afraid", as Joyce Meyer says. As God commanded the Israelites, go forward, despite the fear. Do not let fear of the unknown paralyze you or keep you from living in the fullness of all God has for you.

I'm praying Romans 15:13 for you today: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Freedom Friday: Black Friday Edition

Happy Thanksgiving, Freedom Friday readers!

This is Freedom Friday, the Black Friday edition. While some are out and about, partaking in this Black Friday, by shopping till they drop, others are experiencing something quite different.

Thanksgiving, for some, was a joyous time to gather with family and friends. It was an opportunity to practice family traditions, eat lots of food, and overall rejoice at all God has given them over the past year.

For others, Thanksgiving wasn't quite so joyous.

The past year for them may have been full of growth and victory, setbacks and forward motion. They may have gone into the holiday with high hopes for health, for maintaining appropriate boundaries, for showing their family how far they have come.

Yet they walk away from that day, feeling like a failure, wondering if they've grown or changed at all.

For still others, Thanksgiving was a wake-up call, a realization that things cannot continue the way they have been. Boundaries need to be set, words need to be spoken, and possibly some relationships need to be put on pause or even severed. Just the thought is likely completely overwhelming.

All of these people are experiencing their own emotional Black Friday.

They find themselves rapidly plummeting into their default setting, experiencing despair instead of trust, falling into complete and utter hopelessness. They might struggle with turning back to old coping patterns, or even attempt to paint a prettier picture of the past than is the reality (a concept I discuss in the article "Craving Egypt").

Freedom no longer feels attainable, and we wonder if we put in all this effort for nothing.

Before you make any rash decisions, wait.

Pause. Take a breath.

There is still hope.

When we experience the petri dish that often is our family, it is normal to fall back in to old patterns of relating. We revert to the way we've always interacted because that's what we know.

Egypt was all the Israelites knew as they wandered in the wilderness. The promised land? They could only guess what that would be like. But Egypt, despite being slavery, felt familiar. Familiar was comfortable for them.

Even unhealthy patterns of relating can have their own level of comfort, even in the midst of their discomfort. That may seem odd, but this is why people generally fall into certain roles within the family. That role, healthy or unhealthy, becomes familiar. The reactions of other to that role, good or bad, is predictable. If one tries to fit into a new role, people react in new ways. Conflict creates a new type of discomfort. Thus, we often revert back to our unhealthy role with its own discomfort and chaos because at least that discomfort is predictable.

This is also why we often revert to our destructive coping mechanisms. The pain they bring is at least familiar. The pain of growth and change, as we strive to let go of those damaging patterns, is new pain.

The distress of trying to break into new patterns is also new, but necessary, pain. Just as believers need to learn to walk in freedom in our journey of faith, we also need to learn to walk in freedom in the ways we relate to our families.

What can we do to avoid another emotional Black Friday?
1. Remember what God has done. Pull out your encouragement file. Grab your journal and your Bible to recognize who He is and what He's done in your life and the lives of others.

2. Recognize what happened and still needs to happen. Ask your Source to show you with His eyes what really happened on Thanksgiving. Ask for His perspective. Was there a moment when a boundary was crossed that you should have left the room or stood up for yourself somehow? Was there a time you did stand up for yourself where you should have been silent, that the energy you used was like throwing your emotional pearls to the pigs? Did things really go as well as could be expected or hoped for, and yet it was simply your perception or expectations that were off? What boundaries need to be set and what healing needs to take place?

3. Reflect on what God can do. Look back on your stones of remembrance, the ways God has shown Himself strong and faithful in your life. Practice gratitude. Find something to give thanks for. Put your hope in Him based on His character, His love for His children, and His desire to bless you richly. He desires that you become who He created you to be even more than you do! And finally, choose to trust Him.

Even today can be turned around. Make one good choice. Choose to turn to God and not self-medication. Choose to call a friend and not isolate. Choose to share how you are feeling, out loud, to God rather than stuff it down with too much pie.

Choose freedom. My prayers are with you.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Freedom Friday: The God Who Bends

Every once in a while, I stumble across a characteristic of God, an attribute of His, a behavior, a response, that catches my breath.

I wrote a few months ago about the God who sustains, the God who stoops to make us great.

I'm still reading the books of 1 Chronicles and Psalms, and yesterday's psalm was Psalm 86 (a prayer of David).

The Psalm begins:

Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer.

The God who bends.

I had to pause as I was overcome with this image. Our Heavenly Father, all-powerful and all-knowing, able to speak just one word and entire universes are created - this awesome God. Was He really the God who would bend down to hear our prayer?

First, I wanted to learn more about this word that is translated "bend".

The transliterated Hebrew word is "natah". Here are some other ways it's translated:

to bow
to bend, turn, incline, to bend down
to stretch out, to spread out
to incline, influence, hold out, extend

I then went to the Word to see if there were other mentions of God bending (using my Life Recovery Bible, which is the New Living Translation).

"Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see!" 2 Kings 19:16

"Lord, hear my prayer! Listen to my plea! Don’t turn away from me in my time of distress. Bend down to listen, and answer me quickly when I call to you." Psalm 102:1-2

"I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God. Bend down and listen as I pray." Psalm 17:6

"Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see!" Isaiah 37:17

Thus far, these are all declarations from people, requests that God bend down and hear their prayers. These are desperate cries from people desperate for God to show up. Psalm 102 even contains the description: "A prayer of one overwhelmed with trouble, pouring out problems before the Lord."

And then I read Psalm 116:1-2:
I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!

The God who bends. He bends down to listen. He inclines His ear. He stoops, and then He sustains. He rescues. He comforts, and He answers.

He is the God who bends.

The ultimate picture of God bending is when He sent His Son, Jesus, to carry the cross in order to correct the problem of sin and disconnection from our Source. The perfect picture of Jesus, literally bending under the weight of the cross, so that we would be freed to become the people God created us to be, His flawless sacrifice of love, so that we would walk in the freedom and abundant life that only became possible through Jesus' death and resurrection.

Verse 5 of Psalm 86 says, "O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help." Verse 15 says "You, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness."

That is a picture of the God who bends.

Ready to forgive.
Full of unfailing love.
Slow to anger.
Again, full of unfailing love.

The God who spared no expense, who gives, and gives, and gives some more.

Today, the God who bends is calling you to call to Him. Stop trying to become "good enough" to come to Him. There is no such thing! As the song "I will arise and go to Jesus" states, "If we tarry till we're better, we will never come to all."

Come. As you are. It sounds trite, almost too simple. That's the beauty of grace, the beauty of God's character.

We serve the God who bends.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Freedom Friday: We Can't Stay Here

At the time I should be posting Freedom Friday, I will instead be speaking at a women's retreat. I'm looking forward to it!

I want to leave you with this thought.

I have a stirring in me lately, a "holy discontent" as Bill Hybels would say.

The whisper to my soul is this:

"We can't stay here."

Last week, we talked about feeling stuck. Sometimes, we stay stuck of our own accord. We make choices that keep us stuck, or we don't make the choices we need to in order to get unstuck.

Other times, we are just content where we are. That can be complacency, but more often, it's a sense of peace and satisfaction at what God has done and is doing in our lives.

Then comes the whisper to our souls. The tender, loving call of God.

The gentle prodding, the kind yet persistent nudge, that is saying, "We can't stay here.

"I know you're comfortable and content. I am amazed at the child of God you are becoming, of the person I created you to be that is emerging.

"I love you. Passionately. Lavishly. But I'm asking you to take my hand.

"We can't stay here."

Have you heard this whisper? Have you responded? Or are you trying to ignore it, content in where you are?

It often comes without guidance. Its purpose is sometimes not to promptly direct us, but it is a preparation, a depositing of an expectation.

God is moving, and I have a choice. I can go with Him, or I can dig my heels in and not move.

If God is speaking this to you today, I encourage you to pray about it. Surrender your fears and desires. Dive deep into His Word. Tell someone about the stirring in your soul, and ask them to pray with you. Prepare yourself for His direction.

Despite the choice we make, God's calling is clear.

"We can't stay here."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Freedom Friday: Feeling Stuck

Sicks kids again today! But here are some short thoughts for you to consider.

I've been hearing from a lot of people lately who feel stuck. Stuck in their spiritual lives, stuck in their jobs, stuck in their recovery - just stuck. They feel as if so many things are working against them, and not many things are working for them.

They are asking: what do I do? What can I do? How do I move from this place?

They feel as if their hands are tied.

I read the following verse in my psalm this morning. It actually appears three times in the psalm.

"Turn us again to Yourself, O God. Make Your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved." Psalm 80:3, 7, 19

Sometimes, we overcomplicate things. We forget to pray. We don't ask for help. We neglect reading God's Word. We stop trying to hear God's voice. We don't utilize the tools we've learned are helpful. We lose hope.

As I've been praying for these people, God spoke these words to me: they are fearfully and wonderfully made.

How our lives and hearts would be changed if we could begin to grasp the fullness of all that means! He knit us together. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He is the One with the plan and purpose for our lives. He knows us intimately. He alone is able to save us - from our sin, from our struggles, from our bondage in all the forms it takes.

If your hands feel tied today, open your journal and write. Use it as a way to talk to God about what you're experiencing. Or simply speak to Him out loud. Lay it all out before Him: every circumstance, every doubt, every concern, every emotion, every situation that has you feeling bound & overwhelmed. Ask God to breath life into you once again. Ask Him, as the psalmist did, to turn you to Himself again, shine His face on you. Have a friend pray with you. Read Psalm 139. If it's familiar to you, read it in a different translation. Read the posts about being a child of God, being His favorite. Trust that He wants to speak to you and pause to listen.

"Turn us again to Yourself, O God. Make Your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved." Psalm 80:3, 7, 19

Friday, October 28, 2011

Freedom Friday: Learning Contentment

Most babies are born content. (Not all. Ask my first!)

My 2nd son was the most peaceful baby I had ever met. He seemed completely unaware of any disruption around him. Sometimes, I'd put him down in his bassinet to do something, and he'd spontaneously fall asleep.

He didn't have to learn to be content. He didn't have to study to become that way. He just was.

Unfortunately, as we go through life, we seem to unlearn contentment. Our trust fades. We become jaded. The cares of the world seem overwhelming and burdensome. We take them on ourselves as a burden we think we should be able to carry.

I have this excerpt of Philippians 4 by my desk on my office wall.

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

If you would like to see the passage with clickable links to the Greek words, here it is.

After staring at this passage for quite some time one day, I noticed something: Paul said, "I have learned to be content." It wasn't something that just came naturally to him.

The Greek word that is translated "content" in verse 11, Autarkes, is not used anywhere else in the Bible. Here are some of its meanings:

sufficient for one's self, strong enough or processing enough to need no aid or support
independent of external circumstances
contented with one's lot, with one's means, though the slenderest

Paul goes on to say that he has "learned the secret" of being hungry or full, having abundance or want. The Greek word used there, Mueo, translated as "learned the secret" is also not used anywhere else in the Bible. It means:

to initiate into the mysteries
to teach fully, instruct
to accustom one to a thing
to give one an intimate acquaintance with a thing

To become instructed in. To become intimately acquainted with. To learn, independent of external circumstances, the mystery of contentment.

How are some ways we can learn to be content, no matter the circumstances?

1. Rest
. Stop striving. Stop trying to fix everything. Hand it over to God. And then hand it over again. Let Him give you strength, as the passage recommends.

A month or two ago, God spoke to me and said, "If the burden is too heavy, then it's not yours to carry." Stop "should-ing" on yourself, and start resting in God, allowing Him to speak into your life and teach you to be content.

2. Pray. Something I've realized is that being content in all circumstances does not mean we don't pray for our circumstances to change. In fact, earlier in chapter 4 of Philippians, Paul commands, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." It simply means we're content even if they don't.

As the Greek implies, contentment is based on the internal, not the external. This is a lesson I'm still learning. It's Christ in me, strengthening me, working in me, changing me, that is the source of my contentment. And yet we're commanded to ask & keep on asking, like the persistent widow in Luke 18. I need to find that balance between acceptance and prayerful request.

3. Trust. Learning contentment means we choose to trust God, even if our circumstances don't change. It means we actively choose to trust that He is good, He is faithful, and He will show up. As Paul says later in chapter 4 to the church in Philippi, "my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

In what areas of your life could you use some contentment today? How is God wanting to teach you contentment, and in what areas is God waiting for you to ask for His help?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Freedom Friday: When God Isn't Showing Up

I've been working on a post on contentment for...well, months. Maybe longer. That was my plan for today. Finish it up and share it with you all.

But I just can't. I can't. My heart is heavy. A good acquaintance of mine is going through an unthinkable tragedy. After a long & excruciatingly difficult trial, the unimaginable has happened.

They did not receive the answer they were looking for. Their family is being torn apart, and the end is not in sight.

God isn't showing up as they had hoped.

This family has been on my heart since I received the news last night. Not only is my youngest sick (and he woke numerous times last night), even when I tried to sleep, I could not get this family out of my head.

I could do nothing but pray. Pray for peace. Pray for encouragement. Pray for protection.

As I ran this morning, I asked God to help me with my writing today. I was trying to wrap up the contentment post in my mind.

I just could. not. focus.

I couldn't stop thinking of my friends.

I came home, showered, and realized my youngest was awake. Again. As I laid down next to him in hopes of getting him back to sleep, I read my psalm for today on my phone.

Psalm 77
New Living Translation (NLT)

For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of Asaph.

1 I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me!
2 When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord.
All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,
but my soul was not comforted.
3 I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help.

We've all been there. When we've asked for God's help so many times that the thought of one more prayer literally has us moaning and overwhelmed. The times when comfort is nowhere to be found, and it seems even God is nowhere to be found.

The Psalmist continues:
4 You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray!
5 I think of the good old days, long since ended,
6 when my nights were filled with joyful songs.
I search my soul and ponder the difference now.
7 Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me?
8 Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?

I imagine this friend of mine, thinking back to the days when her family was together and full of life and peace. What happened to those days? Where are those songs of joy? Will they ever come again? Where's God's kindness, His grace, His faithfulness? Where is His compassion and love?

Where is God? Why isn't He showing up?

10 And I said, “This is my fate;
the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

There have been times I myself have wrongly come to this conclusion.

I remember an excruciatingly challenging time about 8 years ago. My world, and my faith, had been turned upside down. I no longer knew what I believed or why. Add to that I was dealing with chronic illness, clinical depression (that could not be medicated, as the medication exacerbated my chronic illness), and my husband and I were both unemployed.

My experiences were not lining up with my theology, and it was seriously messing with me.

One example of this happened when I realized I was being overcharged for car insurance, going on 5 years. Rectifying this was not an easy process, as the reason I was overcharged in the first place was the state I received my license in and the state I lived after did not communicate with each other, and would not easily communicate with the state I currently lived in.

From my perspective, God could be helping me with this. He could be making it all happen more smoothly. Didn't He know I needed that money, and I needed it now, not whenever He decided to notice my needs and finally help me out?

I was faced with a challenge that faces all of us: if our experience does not match our theology, if our feelings do not line up with the truth of Scripture, whom or what will we trust?

The Psalmist continues:
11 But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
12 They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

13 O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
14 You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
15 By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
Please do read the rest of the psalm here.

So what can we do when God is not showing up?

1. Ask people to pray for you. This needs to be the first step. Tell your friends what's going on, and ask them to hold out hope for you, even when you, like the Psalmist, feel as if God's promises have failed you. We need the support, both in tangible help & prayer. We need friends like the paralytic man had; he was healed because of their faith.

2. Be honest with God. Tell Him exactly how you feel, even if it isn't pretty. None of it will surprise Him. He knows your thoughts even if you don't tell Him.

3. Think about what God has done in the past. Reflect on what He has done rather than what He hasn't.

4. Ponder who God is, what you know of His character. Memorize Scriptures about His nature. Contemplate the many facets of His being, and declare them to be true. I even challenge you to try doing this out loud. Words have power.

5. Cultivate hope. I talked about hope last week, that it is a choice. It can also be learned, even in the most tragic situations.

My reimbursement check from the insurance company did show up, and it was far more than I thought it would be. It also took far longer than I wanted, but in that time, God allowed me to see that I needed to work on my relationship with Him, who I thought He was, based on my reaction (my core beliefs were that He was unkind, uncaring and unconcerned with my needs).

Jesus did not ever promise an easy life, unfortunately. He did not promise that it would even go the way we hoped. What Jesus DID promise is that His grace is sufficient, that His promises really are true, and that His purposes will prevail.

Please pray for this family, that justice would roll like a river (Amos 5:24). And if you need prayer, comment on this post, and I and others will pray for you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Freedom Friday, Tools for the Journey: Hope

One or two mornings a week, I get up extra early to try and spend some uninterrupted time with God.

Some days, I read the Bible and pray because I've made a habit of it.

Some days, my time with God literally feels like breath and life and sustenance.

I was still reeling from some challenging events. Earlier that week, I had fought the overwhelming urge to sink into my default setting. Then my uncle, who everyone had been praying would be healed, passed away.

I knew I needed to make some carved-out time with God a priority.

After reading some Scripture, I opened a file on my phone where I keep a list of prayer requests. The first thing I read was this:

"Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him." Psalm 62:5

Hope. Not in people, things, or a certain outcome to prayers. But a pure hope that is only in God.

I needed to read that.

As I ponder hope, I feel I can't talk about hope without also talking about hopelessness.

As Russell Willingham said in his book Breaking Free, "Hopelessness is not only a response to traumatic losses; it can also become a habit-forming coping mechanism." Hopelessness, despair, depression are all part of my default setting.

As I wrote about a few months ago in a post on hopelessness, "If God is real, if He is who the Bible says He is, then hopelessness is not an option. If His promises are true, if He doesn't change, and never lies, then we have to reverse the pattern in our lives of getting sucked into hopelessness."

A couple of things to remember about hope:

1. Hope is a choice.
I read recently Christians need to be self-leaders in the area of hope. I agree. Hope is a choice, just like trust is a choice.

For most of my life, I based my hope solely on my experience of life. I was used to looking for hope in the things around me, clinging to my circumstances or glimmers of hope I saw in people. When I became a Christian, I needed to learn an entirely different way of living.

During this time, I clung to all Scriptures about hope. I read them, I breathed them in, I memorized them and quoted them to myself frequently.

Romans 8:24 was one of my favorites: "Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?"

I needed to learn to stop hoping in what I could see with my limited vision and perspective, and starting seeing with God's eyes.

Hope is a continuous choice for me. When I felt myself slowly sinking into that default setting earlier this week, I had to make a conscious choice to head in the other direction. I had to decide to choose God, to choose His breath and His life within me.

To choose to hope in Him.

2. Hope can't be conditional.
If my experiences tell me that it is pointless to trust God, useless to put my hope in Him, that I've tried that before and it didn't work, maybe the problem is not God. Maybe the problem is my perspective. Maybe the problem is that my hope, my trust, is conditional.

My hope in God cannot be reliant on Him answering my prayers in a certain way. I'll be honest. When my uncle died earlier this week, in addition to grief & loss, I felt frustrated, disappointed, confused. So many people were praying, and even fasting, for his healing. Why hadn't God answered those prayers?

Rather than doubt God, doubt His goodness and His faithfulness, I chose hope. And God opened my eyes to His perspective.

On the day my uncle died, I was getting my boys down for a nap in the afternoon, as I always do. I usually ask Bear, my 4 year-old, what he is thankful for and what he'd like to pray for before we go to sleep at night. We don't usually pray before nap, but we did that day. Bear prayed for the first time ever, using his own words. "God, I please pray that Uncle Greg would feel better." I found out that evening that Uncle Greg died just minutes later. I can only believe that God answered that prayer and that Uncle Greg now feels better for eternity.

3. Hope can be learned.
If hopelessness is part of your default setting, it is possible to change that. We can learn to hope.

Dive deep into hope. Ask a believer what hope looks like for them. Ask a friend to pray for you, hold out hope for you. Memorize Scriptures about hope. Read stories in the Bible about people who chose to hope in God and what that looked like. When you find yourself sinking, speak truth to yourself. Say out loud some of those hope Scriptures you have memorized.

"Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you." Psalm 25:5

Pure hope is a belief, a trust only in God, that His will be done.

"Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him." Psalm 62:5

Please pray for my uncle's family. He left behind a wife, 2 daughters, 9 siblings including a twin sister, his parents, 20+ nieces and nephews, as well as many other friends & family who love him and are deeply feeling this loss. Thank you,

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Freedom Friday: The Desires of My Heart

What are the desires of your heart?

The longings? The dreams?

What are you passionate about? What drives you?

As I wrote this, I asked myself this question: what are the desires of my heart today?
-To be a patient and kind mom.
-To be a loving and encouraging wife.
-To be a faithful and prayerful friend.
-To model God's love & freedom to those around me.

At a leadership meeting for the ministry I work with, we all wrote a life purpose statement. I wrote this almost a year ago: "To see the Church & its individuals learn to walk in the fullness of freedom that is available to every follower of Jesus Christ, finding healing in the context of community, through music & teaching, and seeing themselves reflected in the image of God and the cross."

Yep, that still about sums it up.

Psalm 37 was read in church a few weeks ago. My eyes were opened to the fullness of all this psalm speaks of, and even all it asks of us.

3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
7 Be still before the LORD (NASB says "Rest in the LORD") and wait patiently for him.

We can get really caught up on verse 4 because we like verse 4. I like verse 4 as well! I want the desires of my heart to be fulfilled. But when I focus on verse 4 alone, I lose sight of all the other things God would like us to do.

Do good.
Be still.

Yikes. That's intense.

If you had asked me a decade ago what the desires of my heart were, some would have been the same as today; some would have been different. As God has grown me and refined me, as I am slowly becoming the person He originally created me to be, my heart has changed in some ways, and in others remains the same.

What I think I want isn't always good. Some of what I want is just plain selfish. Other desires may seem unnecessary or frivolous, but God cares about those, too. I was once told that God was too busy doing important things to answer my "small" prayer request. It wasn't small to me, and so I kept asking (and He did grant my request eventually).

When I choose to trust God (this short passage tells me to do that twice), when I enjoy Him & dwell in Him, when I am still before Him, resting in Him, waiting on Him, when I am good to His creations, when I commit myself and my ways to Him, I am changed. My heart is changed to be more like His. My desires are sometimes even changed.

I started this blog post a few weeks ago. I opened my saved drafts this morning, and this was on top. I needed to be reminded of this psalm today. The week has been challenging, and a dream I have, a God-given dream, is slow in coming to fruition. I start asking myself, "Is God's timing really perfect? Can people's choices mess with God's will? Will someone stand in the way of my dreams?"

I needed the reminder to stop. Be still. Rest. Commit. Trust. I know that I know that I know that God is good. He doesn't give His kids stones when we ask for bread. He just doesn't! I am once again presented with a choice: a choice to trust in Him. To trust in His goodness, His faithfulness. To trust in His character. To give my heart with its sometimes broken and sometimes God-given desires back to Him, let Him shape it some more, and wait for Him.

Today I will trust in the Lord. Over & over. I will do good - to my kids, my husband, my family, friends and even strangers. I will dwell, enjoy, delight, commit, and choose to trust again, as I rest in Him & wait on Him.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Freedom Friday: Tools for the Journey, God's Word

I talk about trusting God a lot.

I mean a lot a lot :)

I was talking to a friend last week about something and, of course, I was sharing about choosing to trust God. "Just like you say in your blog," was the response I received.

Yep :)

As I've shared before, I write what I know. I write what I've lived. I write what I've experienced, what God has shown me, or is showing me.

I don't write about it if it hasn't already begun to pulsate in my blood.

I write about this because I hear from people, at least on a weekly basis, that they don't know how to trust God. I hear from people who have been Christians for decades that God is confronting them on the fact that they don't really trust Him.

They may trust Him for salvation - but they do not trust Him with their daily lives. They don't really trust Him for provision or healing or freedom or any of the other things they desire or need.

Why don't we trust God?

There could be a million reasons. There may have been a time He didn't come through. He didn't heal a loved one. He didn't give us that job we really wanted. He didn't come through with that miracle.

He didn't provide - or at least not in the way we wanted Him to.

Trusting in God isn't just about trusting that He is going to do certain things for us as His adopted children, or that He will give us certain things because He loves us.

It's about trusting in His character, that He is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do.

Ultimately, I think one of the main reasons we don't trust God is because we don't know Him. Yes, we have been adopted as His children through Jesus' gift of salvation, but we don't really know Him. We have unrealistic expectations of Him. Yes, God can do anything, even the impossible - according to His perfect will. Yet our method is to come up with a plan, and expect Him to bless it and carry it out in our timing.

"Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:21

We need to grow to know His character, His attributes. We need to know His heart.

We cannot surrender our struggles to and grow to trust someone we don’t know. The primary ways we get to know God are through spending time in His Word and in prayer.

Let me pause and clarify. Lots of people (and I do mean lots) who have life-controlling issues (and especially relational brokenness issues) have been told that if they read the Bible and prayed more, their problems would go away. I'm not saying that at all. There is a reason that "Spending Time with the Freedom Giver" is only 1 of the Freedom Steps in my "Learning to Walk in Freedom" series. It's only 1 step in the process, but it's an important step.

BUT I think those of us who have been indoctrinated with this "try harder, do more" mentality of "read the bible and pray more" sometimes throw the baby out with the bath water, as the saying goes (um, and being a parent, what a strange saying!).

Since we've already "tried harder" and it didn't "work", we don't invest the time & energy needed into having a regular, set aside time with God and His Word. I fell into this trap for a while. I continued to read some Christian literature, sometimes a devotional book, but I did not spend much time studying the Bible unless I was preparing to speak (kind of embarrassing to admit that!).

There was just so much baggage attached to the Bible for me. I had to get over that. I had to release that baggage and those misconceptions to God and recognize what I'd already experienced the truth of: when I read His Word consistently, I walk away changed.

Now I can't live without the Word of God in my life.

If you feel lost in how to begin studying the Word of God, here are a few ways you could start digging in.

1. Start with a gospel. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John are the 4 gospels in the New Testament, 4 accounts of Jesus' time on earth. They are all very different. Mark is a shorter book with rapid-fire description of what Jesus did here on earth. John is slightly longer, but it provides a fuller picture of the person of Jesus, with quite a few of His longer teachings and speeches, as well as an intimate look into His time with the disciples.

2. Get a study Bible. Ask a friend (or friends) what study Bible they use. Go to a book store and check a few out. Currently, I'm reading the "Life Recovery Bible" which is the New Living Translation and includes thoughts about recovery and the 12 steps. I generally read the NIV (I have a Serendipity Bible from my campus ministry days that has thought-provoking, and sometimes silly, questions to ponder) or the NASB, so I wanted to read something a little different.

One word of caution: even if you are using a study Bible, you don't need to always be reading the little boxes and interpretations of the passage. You can simply read the Scriptures and work through them yourself (see #3 for some suggestions). If you tend to rely too heavily on other's thoughts about the Bible or trust too much in others to interpret Scripture for you, you're likely better off with an old-fashioned "pew Bible".

3. Use a study method. When I was a student, I used the PROAPT method.
Pray: Begin your time of study by praying for God to open your eyes and your heart to what the passage might be speaking to you today.
Read: Read the passage you've chosen for the day.
Observe: Simply observe, by asking the questions how, who, why, where, what & when, what is going on in the passage. Who are the characters? What are they doing? Where are they? When is this happening? What are they feeling and experiencing?
Apply: Apply the passage to your life. What might this passage have to teach me today?
Pray: Pray again that God would make what you have read have His life breathed into it.
Tell: Tell someone about what you have learned in your Bible reading today.

Another similar resource is often referred to as "the Navigators Word Hand". The "Word Hand" shows five methods of learning from the Bible: Hear, Read, Study, Memorize, Meditate.

A friend of mine likes to take Scripture and put it in his own words by writing his thoughts out in his journal.

4. Think outside the box. Your "quiet time", as it's often called, does not need to look the same every day. Mine doesn't. Ask God to help you figure out what works best for you. Be creative. Gary Thomas' book, Sacred Pathways, has some great suggestions.

There are lots of options.

Next week, I will share more on this topic :) See you then!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Freedom Friday: Practicing Gratitude

Last week, my husband & I went to see a documentary on modern-day sex slavery.

It opened my eyes to the challenges, economic, political, emotional and spiritual, of addressing this type of slavery. My heart both broke and soared at the victories and obstacles in the real-life stories of women who are trying to come out of prostitution.

Yesterday morning, I read the blog post of a woman named Sarah Lenssen. She started the Ask5for5 campaign in an effort to help families suffering from famine in the Horn of Africa. Two of her children were adopted from Ethiopia and born in regions now affected by the drought that is causing millions to go hungry.

Sarah brought tears to my eyes when she said:
If my children still lived in their home villages, they would be two of the 12.4 million. My children: extremely hungry and malnourished? Gulp. I think any one of us would do anything we could for our hungry child. But would you do something for another mother's hungry child?

I have NEVER once opened my cabinets and found nothing to eat for my children. Never. In fact, my cabinets literally overflow with food. Roy & I will adopt a child at some point (we are homestudy-ready and waiting). Is our child (or children) out there going hungry right now? I wept and prayed at the mere thought.

After reading this, I headed to a moms group I attend. A member of this group died of cancer on Tuesday. She was 36, married, with 2 daughters, age 5 & 12.

I didn't know her, as I joined this group a year ago when she was already in intense treatment. But I've been praying for her. Yesterday as the moms group gathered, there was much pensiveness, gratitude, and grief.

It all makes me thankful for every breath. We're not promised another.

I have been praying for many sick relatives and loved ones this week, people facing unfathomable challenges. On Monday, I happened to pick up a little book off my shelf that was recommended by a relative. This book talks about the importance of giving thanks in all circumstances. I can't say I completely agree with some of the author's theological conclusions, but his thoughts encouraged me to search the Scriptures for myself.

Upon study, I found the Bible implores us over 60 times to "give thanks", as translated in the NASB. Over 60 times, God commands we give thanks!

Here are a few examples:
1 Chronicles 16:34
O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

Psalm 7:17
I will give thanks to the LORD according to His righteousness And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.

Psalm 9:1
I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders.

Psalm 54:6
Willingly I will sacrifice to You; I will give thanks to Your name, O LORD, for it is good.

Psalm 100:4
Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.

Psalm 109:30
With my mouth I will give thanks abundantly to the LORD; And in the midst of many I will praise Him.

Psalm 139:14
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.

I think Paul summed it up when he said the following:

"Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Give thanks in everything? Really? I should give thanks when I get sick? When my car breaks down? When my bank account is empty?

The answer is YES.

I gave this a try today when I suddenly had a bad headache. It was time to get my younger son down for a nap, and he was not giving up without a fight!

The best I could come up with was this: "God, thanks that I have a head. If I didn't have a head, I wouldn't have this headache right now. I'm really thankful I have a head."

I know, I know, kind of pitiful. But that's a start!

Honestly, I have a good life. It's hard at times, but I have SO much to be thankful for.

Gratitude flows naturally when I compare my present circumstances to the challenges others are facing. Gratitude causes us to get our eyes off ourselves for a minute. It challenges us to look at the bigger picture, to ask for God's perspective, to get a glimpse of His tender heart for us and others.

It's God's will that we give thanks in everything.

What are you grateful for today? What can you praise God for? What difficult circumstance can you thank Him for?

Today, I'm thankful for breath. I'm thankful for my boys, who keep "interrupting" me as I try to write this. I think I'll end with that and go hang out with them!

Aren't they sweet?

"The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song." Psalm 28:7

Friday, September 16, 2011

Freedom Friday: Finding Peace

Ladies & gentlemen, we are leaving this afternoon to travel to a conference where I will be speaking. I can hardly contain my excitement! I know that God is going to do something amazing in the minds & hearts of the men & women attending the conference. That's just who He is.

I'm just going to leave you with a short thought today.

I'm struck more & more by the fact that peace is not external. Even after a challenging day with the kids, a difficult conversation with a friend, a phone call with painful news, I can still have peace.

Jesus said in the gospel of John 14:27 says, "Peace I leave with you." He has given us peace. I once heard a speaker say we don't need to pray for peace because we already have it. That'd be like praying for a chair you're already sitting in. It's more accurate to pray that the peace Jesus left you with would rise up within you and give you a sense of calm, no matter what is going on around you.

Let's look at the context of Jesus's words: "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

The world will always give you things that have the potential to frustrate you, worry you and trouble your heart. When that happens, you have a choice. You can choose to embrace those worries and frustrations and let your heart be troubled. Or you can choose to turn to God. We can ask God, through the Holy Spirit, to remind us of everything Jesus has taught and given to us. We have a choice to let our hearts be troubled - or not. We have a choice to receive Jesus's peace - or not.

Later in the same talk that Jesus gave to the disciples, He says, “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.”

Take heart! You can choose internal peace today, no matter what is going on in your world.

Ask God to teach you about maintaining a peaceful heart.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Freedom Friday: Who is Your Strength?

This is going to be short today! It's been a crazy week, and my desktop computer is being temperamental. Today, it won't turn on, so I'm typing to you from my super-slow, barely functional little netbook.

An exercise in patience, for sure!

I am still reading through 2 Samuel and the Psalms, and earlier this week, I read through Psalm 59.

"You are my strength; I wait for You to rescue me, for You, O God, are my place of safety." Psalm 59:9 (NLT)

God is our strength.

The Hebrew word translated as "strength" here is also translated as fortress, loud, might, mighty, power, stern, strength, strong, or stronghold.

Stop & think of a moment this week when you needed strength. What source did you draw on? Friends? Coffee? Food? Untapped energy reserves?

I wrote in "The Freedom Found in Brokenness" about Paul's realization concerning God needing to be the source of His strength. When we're doing well, feeling pretty free, experiencing some victory, we can slowly forget who our source is, who the giver of strength should be.

Verse 16 says, "But as for me, I will sing about Your power. I will shout with joy each morning because of Your unfailing love, for You have been my refuge, a place of safety in the day of distress."

This verse struck me on this particular morning because I had not gone running, but had attempted to sleep in (and failed). Instead, I was sitting on my chilly porch, shivering in the early morning hours, hoping to get some quiet time in before the kids awoke. I decided I should stop, read that verse aloud, and (quietly) shout for joy!

That word "power" is the same word translated in verse 9 as "strength". We are encouraged to sing about God's power, His strength, and His might.

If we are going to learn to walk in freedom, if we are going to become who God created us to be, we will need to learn to continually rely on God, to draw from Him as our source of strength. It comes much more naturally to me, as a sleep-deprived mom, to rely on coffee! But Gods' strength is much more effective than caffeine :)

The Psalm ends with this declaration: "O my Strength, to You I sing praises, for You, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love."

Say that with me today. Stop for a minute, take a deep breath, open your heart and allow God to be your strength.

Make Paul's declaration your own: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Friday, September 2, 2011

Freedom Friday: How Did We Get Here?

Lots of exciting things going on over here at Living Unveiled :)

I'm not sure if I shared that I'm turning my "Learning to Walk in Freedom" series into a booklet that we will hand out at the ministry I direct. I hope after that to convert it to an eBook for sale.

I did the "final" edits about a month ago and was quite excited to be done. Then I got into some discussions with two of my unofficial mentors/really cool guys who have eye-opening things to say about recovery, addiction, and how to become free. Those 2 guys are Bob Hamp and Russell Willingham. Yes, I talk about them a lot. Yes, you should really, really go check them out if you haven't already. Like, right now. I even provided links for you.

I decided after those discussions I should do one more read-through.

Something (or some "things") was missing. Something big.

After hearing Bob Hamp speak at the Exodus Freedom Conference, I felt I needed some clarification of my freedom step #4: Think like a free person. Bob's take on 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 intrigues me (he uses the NASB translation, whereas I've always used the NIV), so I asked him to further discuss this with me.

Herein lies the moment where I crack myself up.

So....my short 21-page document has now become 24 pages. I still have 3 more sections to re-read. And I haven't even rewritten the original section that spurred many of these questions!

The reason I'm telling you all this is because I want you to read the information I added to the intro of my booklet.

For those who have read the "Learning to Walk in Freedom" series, the following excerpt now comes after "What is Freedom? Part 2".

How Did We Get Here?
It's important if we want to walk in freedom that we understand why we don't walk in freedom now. In order to understand how to get free, we need to know how we got bound.

I don't mean we need to dig deep into our past and find out the root causes of our struggles. That can help, of course.

What I mean is we need to have a foundational understanding of how we all got to be the way we are, and how to get back to how God created us to be.

As believers, we can get hyper-focused on the “eternal life” aspect of our faith. Before you dismiss me as a heretic, hear me out.

Jesus did in fact come so that we may have eternal life. Most of us know the oft-quoted verse, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I believe this is only half of the equation. Too often we see in the church people who have eternal life but are not walking in freedom. I was one of these people.

There is another very important reason Jesus came. He states it clearly in John 10:10 (NASB): “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” The Amplified Bible states it this way: "I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)."

Is that the current state of your life?

Jesus was not talking about eternity there; He was talking about our life here on earth.

Let me explain this more fully by going back to the Garden of Eden.

In Genesis 1:26-27, the Bible talks about the creation of mankind: “Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

God created Adam & Eve in His image and likeness. His characteristics, His attributes, His image were within Adam & Eve. As if this wasn't amazing enough, we read this in Genesis 2:7: “The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

God not only gave them life through shaping and creating them and giving them His image and likeness; He went a step further and breathed His very breath into them.

He was, quite literally, their source of life.

In the Garden, God walked with man. He spent time with man. But that all changed when Adam & Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When they ate from this tree, not only did they pass down the bondage of sin to generations to come, even more significantly is the fact that they became disconnected with their source of life.

Remember John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” This is exactly what the serpent did in the Garden. He stole their freedom from sin, he killed them in the sense that they would now age & die, and he destroyed the deep connection they had with their source of life.

Jesus certainly came to give us eternal life. This is important. But I believe we don't fully understand the ramifications of what Jesus accomplished on that cross.

He came rectify the problem of slavery to sin in our lives, by becoming the perfect sacrifice on the cross, and by being resurrected – brought back to life. He does this, rectifies the killing, stealing and destroying of Satan, by reconciling us to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19) – in other words, reconnecting us with the ultimate source of life.

“I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (NIV1984)

Eternal life is one piece of the puzzle. It's the first piece, and it's an important piece. But so is learning to live an abundant life here on earth.

God is thus our source of life and ultimately the source and the giver of our freedom through Jesus Christ.

If you want to hear more about the more practical side of learning to walk in the fullness of the freedom that is available to all of us as adopted children of God, start here.