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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.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Monday Morning Meditation: The Fear of the Lord (Psalm 34 series)

This is part 4 of the Monday Morning Meditation Psalm 34 series.

Here are today's verses.
Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

Commentators say David did not have any children when he wrote this. Rather, he is talking to those he brought alongside him (mentioned in verse 3 and discussed in week 1). He emphasizes, "Listen; this is important. Learn this when you are young if possible. Fear God."

I'll be very honest and say I don't completely understand what it means to fear God. I have asked Christians I respect their interpretation of this concept, I've listening to podcasts about it and read commentaries. It's difficult for me to wrap my mind around.

Fear can mean to "cause awe or astonishment, revere and respect." That, I can understand. But to "be afraid?" I'm just not sure. I talked about this a little last week, as fear was also part of that excerpt.

I think the surrounding verses are very helpful in discerning what God means in this case.

Fearing God, in this case, means being careful of what you say, what you seek, and what you pursue. This is confirmed as well in verses 9-10. We are careful of what we say and what we set our mind to because we are in awe of all God is, all He has done, and all He has yet to do.

It's interesting to me that David says he will teach them about this fear, not that God will teach them. This is part of why I've asked Christians I respect what this means to them. Thus, this week, I'm asking God and you all: what does "fear of the Lord" mean to you? I'm asking God to show me in a new way how to revere, respect and fear Him. I'm also focusing on keeping my heart, my mind and my mouth in check.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Freedom Friday: How Do We Live in the Meantime?

I've shared here that my family is in the middle of many possible transitions. Big life changes with lots of uncertainties. Challenging stuff.

Someone asked my husband and I what God has been speaking to us during this time.

My husband spoke of God's comfort, nearness, and reassurance.

All I'm receiving is correction.

I feel a bit like Paul right now. In the midst of some amazing things, he was kept humble by a thorn in his side. The things God is showing me are humbling, to say the least.

I'm responding better to the correction than when I first wrote this blog post about responding to God's discipline. I'll be honest, though, and say I'm still hoping for some direction eventually and not just correction.

I'm living in "the meantime."

The space between where we were and where we want to be, between God's initial promises and direction and their fruition. The time of earnest waiting. When we try to push our doubts and fears aside.

This is the meantime.

How Do We Live in the Meantime?

1. Remain open.
A Sara Groves' lyric inspired parts of this post.
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic "yes"
To all that You have for me

In the meantime, we need to remain open. Am I really in a posture that I can nod my head with an emphatic "yes," no matter what God asks of me?

We can remain open, open-hearted, and open-handed, so when God's direction does come, we are ready.

2. Move forward with the direction you have.
"By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." Hebrews 11:8 (NIV1984)

I'll confess that I have really struggled during this time with how to proceed. I've taken on an additional job, and I'm just plain tired. A few weeks back, I began questioning everything. Am I really called to be a writer/speaker? This book that I've been working on forever, is it even any good? Is it necessary? How do I know God called me?

I went back to my journals, to prayer, to God's Word. Nothing had changed. I was just tired and feeling weary.

The meantime is like that. Abraham wasn't given the whole picture of what God had for him, but he had enough information to continue forward based on the information and vision God had given him.

Move forward with the direction you have, with the passion God has given you, and the vision He has instilled in you.

3. Don't compromise.
Character is vitally important in the meantime. Integrity is imperative. Who you are in the meantime is a direct reflection of the state of your heart and the solidity of your character.

When we can't see God working, how will we respond? We get the urge to strive, to take things into our own hands (above & beyond the direction God has given us), to stop resting and trusting.

Sarah & Abraham had this struggle (then called Sarai & Abram, before God changed their names). They didn't believe God was working quickly enough to fulfill His promise that they would have a child. So Abram slept with Sarai's servant so that they would have the child God promised. He compromised his values when he couldn't see what God was doing in the meantime.
"Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand." Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)

We need to continue to grow in character and integrity of faith in the meantime and not compromise our values.

4. Keep your eyes on God.
Though it'd be quite easy to become discouraged and lose sight of the God who loves you and has good things for you, the meantime should not be viewed as purposeless, or a useless period of waiting and delay. In John 11, Jesus delayed going to see the sick Lazarus, and Lazarus died.

Why did Jesus allow this? Why didn't He hurry up and get there and heal Lazarus?
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
And they did see the glory of God when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

God is glorified when we look to Him, wait on Him, and trust in him.

Keep reading the Word. Pray. Spend time with people who can encourage you as you move toward God and His plans. Keep your eyes on God.

The meantime can be a fruitful time of waiting on God, trusting in Him and growing in your relationship with Him and others. Look to Him. Don't compromise your values. Move forward with the direction you have in the meantime.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Monday Morning Meditation: Taste and See (Psalm 34 series)

This is part 3 of the Monday Morning Meditation Psalm 34 series.

I have seen God's hand of goodness and provision in about 15 ways this week. It has required a lot of trusting, a lot of waiting, a lot of resting, but it's been amazing. Our verses for today ring especially true for me (8-10, NIV1984).
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Let's unpack this.

Taste and see is an invitation. "Taste" can also mean or be translated perceive. This word is only used 10 times in the Old Testament, and this is its only appearance in the book of Psalms.

"See" can also mean perceive, find out, learn about or observe.

The psalmist extends an invitation (remember that he is coming alongside someone or several someones). It's an invitation to experience God with our senses, to observe His goodness.

Part of "taste and see" is also "take refuge." This phrase "take refuge" also means flee for protection, to put trust in (God), confide or hope in. Refuge: a hiding place. A safe place we return to. A place of trust.

Taste and see, perceive and sense His goodness. Take refuge and be blessed.

It continues: fear Him and lack nothing. Fear: to stand in awe of, to revere, to honor. To be amazed.

Lack nothing. It clarifies in the next verse: no good thing.

"The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing" is likely my favorite verse in the whole psalm.

Seek God, require Him. Lack no good nothing.

Have you responded to God's invitation to taste and see? If not, who in your life can you ask to come alongside you and walk with you as you observe and perceive His goodness? If you have experienced this, who can you bring alongside you to taste and see?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Freedom Friday: The Power of Service

My 4 year-old came to me recently and excitedly shared about his prayer life.

He said, "Mommy, when I wake up in the morning, I pray to God that......"

OK. I'm pausing in the story to say I was sure he was going to share he had been praying for a loved one's health, or the end to world hunger. Actually, no, I was pretty sure he wasn't going to say any of those things. Let's get back to the story.

"Mommy, when I wake up in the morning, I pray to God that I would see a ghost!"

After a discussion where he reassured me he knew ghosts aren't real, I asked if he was praying about anything else.

"That I'd have lots and lots of video games."

Well. There you have it.

I of course posted on Facebook to ask how to teach gratitude, compassion and social awareness to small kids. I got a lot of reassurances that his behavior is age-appropriate, we're already doing some good things, and also some concrete suggestions. It brought to mind some of the ways we served when I was a child, the most memorable being at the soup kitchen.

You may be asking, what does this have to do with freedom?

We know that Jesus came to serve. "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 (NLT)

Jesus served by laying down His whole self, both in life and death. How does following His example help us learn to walk in freedom?

1. Service helps us to love.
If you are still deep in the thick of your battle with life-controlling issues, you may think it silly or even inappropriate for you to consider working in service, especially to the church. There are many possibilities and places you could serve, however. Does your church provide coffee and snacks after service? Offer to bake or help with clean-up. What sort of outreaches are happening in your community? Assist at a food pantry.

"For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Galatians 5:13-14

In a mystery we can't fully understand, when we serve others we are serving Jesus Himself.

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’" Matthew 25:37-40

Service helps us to love. It helps us to love ourselves, to love God and to love others.

2. Service helps us recognize our gifts.
" God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another." 1 Peter 4:10 (NLT)

I heard a speaker once say that if you don't know how God is gifted you, or where He's calling you to serve, just try something. Ask the person in charge of greeting newcomers if you can try it one Sunday. Offer to sit in on a kid's Sunday school class. Fold bulletins. Find something that seems interesting to you, or where there is a need, and commit to serving there for a period of time. If it's not a good fit, ask the leadership of that ministry where you have strengths and where else you might consider serving.

3. Service requires God's strength.
The verse from 1 Peter 4 quoted above continues, "If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ." (NIV1984)

Serving requires God's strength. You won't always feel like getting out of bed early on a Sunday to set up chairs. Ask God to help you. Service is another way to grow in intimacy with God, as you ask Him not only for His strength, but His grace in empowering you to be a blessing to others.

4. Service gives us perspective.
My favorite answer to my Facebook question was from my friend who lives with her family in Guatemala. How do you teach children empathy and social awareness? She simply wrote, "Move here."

Service helps us to get our eyes off our own struggles for a moment. It reminds us that the whole world is struggling and suffering in some way. On the other hand, do not fall into the trap of shaming yourself about the time and money you have spent on your recovery. There is a time and a place for that as well. But those problem that seem so big and overwhelming can be put into perspective when we come face to face with the suffering of others.

This past week on Mother's Day, one of the pastors at church shared about his mother not eating for days to ensure she had enough food to feed her children. Still, the kids often ate once a day. Even in the most trying times, I could likely feed my children for a month with what I have on hand. Imagining opening the cabinets to find nothing for my kids is one of the most heartbreaking things I could imagine.

You might also consider going on a humanitarian missions trip with your church or other outreach, as my friend suggested in her "Move here" comment. Others agreed that nothing gives you perspective like seeing how the truly poor live, or walking through the devastation caused by a natural disaster.

In what way could be serve someone today?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Morning Meditation: I Call, I Seek, God Answers (Psalm 34 series)

This is part of the Monday Morning Meditation Psalm 34 series.

In a Freedom Friday from a few weeks back, "You Have Not Because You Ask Not", I highlighted the song "Came to My Rescue". I sang this with a group of people recently and could not help but think of these verses from Psalm 34.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

Wow. This is what our Lord is capable of, if we ask.

Remember last week's post, The Power of Together. This is being spoken to someone or a group of people. Read these verses out loud and ask God to allow faith and trust in rise up in your soul. Pray them with someone, for yourself, for a person in your life who is paralyzed, for the person you are praying with.

God is with you, Look to Him this week. Seek Him. Trust Him. Call on Him; He answers.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Freedom Friday: Bring the Paralyzed to Jesus

I recently finished reading the gospel of Matthew and have moved on to Mark.

Mark has always had a special place to my heart. We studied this book in one of my first Bible studies. I love its fast pace and concise stories.

Earlier this week, I read the story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man. I posted the whole thing here. I encourage you to read it. I guess that's obvious :) But I know my tendency is to skim over familiar Bible stories when I see them in blog posts. So that's why I'm encouraging you to actually read it. Maybe God will show you something you haven't noticed before, as He did with me.

When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man[a] has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

This is one of my favorite stories of Jesus. There's several things I love about it. I love that Jesus once again shows His heart for the lost by healing and forgiving this man. Jesus reminds us by forgiving the man first that forgiveness is His number one priority and the primary work He wants to do in our lives. It's more important than being physically healed. My number one favorite aspect of this story has always been the paralytic's friends. Not only did they team up and go out of their way to get him to Jesus, Jesus then forgives the paralytic's sins because of the faith of his friends.

As I read this earlier in the week, a new thought came to mind: who are the paralyzed in my life?

The paralytic in this story was unable to get himself to Jesus. He needed help.

Who in my life is unable to get him or herself to Jesus?

I'm not speaking of physical limitations, but who in my life seems completely paralyzed? Frozen? Unable to move toward God on their own?

I became a Christian in January 1999. In December of that year, I entered into what would be my last lesbian relationship. I knew this wasn't God's best for me. I knew what the Bible said about God's creative intent for sexuality. But I felt helpless to change. I had built much of my identity around being gay.

I felt as if a choice was being laid out before me: be a lesbian, or follow Jesus.

I couldn't choose.

I was utterly paralyzed.

I know there were people praying for me. They brought me to Jesus when I could not bring myself.

After 3 months, my girlfriend dumped me.

There are people around you who are paralyzed. Whether paralyzed by fear, inadequacy, life-controlling issues, self-loathing, or a particularly consuming trial, there are people around us who seem unable to get to Jesus.

As I read Mark 2 with fresh eyes, I prayed for some of those people. I prayed with my husband for some of them, noticing from the story that it wasn't just one friend who brought the paralytic to Jesus. It took the faith of four friends.

Who can you pray for today? Who is paralyzed in your life? Who can you and your friends bring to Jesus?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday Morning Meditation: The Power of Together (Psalm 34 Series)


I'm going to start a little mini-series here for our Monday mornings together where we study a psalm in its entirety. Today, we're going to begin Psalm 34.

I really love this psalm. I love it so much I decided to memorize it a few years back (only got up to about verse 14). I encourage you to read the whole thing (we'll be reading this psalm in the NIV1984 translation).

This morning, we're just going to cover the first 3 verses:
I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
My soul will boast in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

All psalms were meant to be read and sung. Sometimes, you'll see a particular tune mentioned. But when I read this out loud a few months back, I noticed something I had never seen before: King David (the author of this psalm) was speaking this psalm to someone.

He begins by praising God, declaring that his soul will constantly speak God's praise and boast of Him, in hopes that the afflicted will hear and find reason to rejoice. Then he says to the listener: "Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together." (emphasis mine)

David is emphasizing the power of together.

Our boasting in what God has done, even our soul's declarations of gratitude, were not just meant to be done in our prayer closet. They were meant to be seen. This psalm calls us to have His praise always on our lips, including in the presence of others.

Who can you bring alongside you today and encourage? Who can you speak to of God's faithfulness? Who needs to hear you boast in the Lord, even if you're not feeling as if there's much to boast about?

During this series, I'm going to encourage you to take the verses mentioned and read them daily. I set up a daily "event" in my Gmail calendar at 6 AM called "Psalm 34" and put the 3 verses in it. I set it to repeat daily and send me an email reminder 5 minutes before to the event, and I cut & paste the 3 verses into the description field. I personally set it to repeat indefinitely, so I can just change the verses next week.

Whether you put them on your bathroom mirror (a low-tech option), on your car dashboard, or set up your own reminder system, I encourage you to read the verses daily. Consider memorizing them. Be reminded of the power of together. And ask God to show you an opportunity to practice this, to come alongside someone and glorify the Lord together.

Have an amazing week!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Freedom Friday: Keeping Vision Alive During Challenging Times

Lots of reflections these days, friends.

Our family is currently in a challenging season. There are a lot of potential changes on the horizon, but when I look around, I see stillness. There is very little movement toward whatever the next thing is (God has not shown us clearly).

We are also in a season where many things are wide open. Lots of questions, soul-searching. What do I want for my life? For my marriage? My family? My ministry and calling?

More importantly, what does God want for our lives as a family? How does He want to work in all these areas?

I know that my deepest desire is to see individuals walk in the fullness of the freedom that is available to them through Jesus Christ, to live with a full understanding of who God created them to be. I don't have much time to work on my goals surrounding and connected to this vision right now, but the vision God has given me has not changed.

I've been asking, how do I keep this vision alive during this challenging and exhausting season?

1. Keep your vision visible.
Write down your vision and post it somewhere you can see it every day. Read it out loud to yourself. Set up an email reminder that sends you the vision daily. Remind yourself of why you are passionate about this vision, and thank God with a heart of gratitude for giving you the vision.

2. Find ways to feed your vision.
As is the case with me right now, you might not have time during this season to actively work on your goals related to the vision, but you can still keep it fresh in your mind. While doing mundane tasks, brainstorm in your head ways you will accomplish your vision. Listen to sermons, podcasts or music that would continue to fan your vision's flame during your commute. Call a friend and chat about the vision, praying together that God sustains it during this challenging time.

3. Be on guard.
My tendency during times like these is to fall into a very negative attitude. I start feeling sorry for myself. That leads to questioning of my vision, which goes something like this: "Did God really call me to this vision? Maybe I should start brainstorming other ways that I should be living, different choices I could be making, because clearly, I cannot carry out this vision right now. Maybe I thought I heard from God when I really didn't."

How does this questioning start for me? "Did God really say....."

Sound familiar?
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? Genesis 3:1
During a recent episode of this, God brought this above passage to mind. He knew I was tired, worn out, and confused. And he knew that I tend to be easily discouraged during these times.

The following scripture came to mind:
"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." 1 Peter 5:7-9 (NIV1984)
The way these verses are put together is strategic. First, we throw our concerns at God. During these times where we feel anxious, He calls us to be self-controlled and alert because the enemy knows we are struggling and is looking for a way to devour us. We must resist him. And we resist him by doing step 4.

4. Cling to what you know.
During times like this, I pull out my encouragement file. I remind myself of those stones of remembrance. I grab my journal and remember all the ways God has confirmed this vision for me. And I don't make any drastic decisions unless they have been thoroughly prayed through AND confirmed by people who love me, love God and know us both well.

Also remember what you know about God and His character. Remember His promises, His love for His children, and that He takes impossibilities and makes them possible.

I am reminding myself that God is faithful. He is good. He is my strength, my shield, and my sustainer. And He is giving me renewed vision for this season.