Further Still

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Jesus…

You have taken me from infancy to maturity,

From fantasy to reality.

But take me further still,

And set this captive free!

You have taken me from valleys to mountaintops,

From raging storms to calm seas.

You look inside of me,

And set this captive free!

Layer by layer, inch by inch,

You strip away idols in my life,

And give me your identity.

But take me further still

Reveal to me my destiny.

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If Only For A Little While

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I close my eyes to rest,

If only for a little while…

He beckons me to come with him,

If only for a little while…

I embrace his lovely face,

If only for a little while…

He spreads a quilt under the canopy of a tall tree,

And holds me in his tender arms,

If only for a little while…

I drink deeply of his presence and peace prevails,

If only for a little while…

He reaches for the basket filled with mouth-watering, fresh cool fruit,

And feeds me sweet chocolate covered cherries,

If only for a little while…

I cherish and savor each piece,

If only for a little while…

This is love,

This is beauty,

This is life,

If only for a little while…

Doctor Your Soul and Watch Others Grow

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imagesThere are various factors that make up a great leader: personality, skills, and gifts to name a few. Various leadership assessments are abundantly available to help us understand how God created us. Awareness of these is good, but have you considered a soul assessment?

If you want to be an effective leader for the God’s Kingdom, you”ll have to evaluate your soul too. This is a scary thought to some. We tend to shy away from anything involving our emotions. 

The world tells us to be a strong leader we must have it all together.  Transparency is viewed as weakness. But Jesus said when we’re weak, He’s strong. We experience His strength through His truth and grace. This is the place of soul rest Jesus talks about in Matthew 11.

Our soul is comprised of our mind, will, and emotions. We filter our world through our life experiences. How we think and feel about these things determine our beliefs about God, ourselves and others. Our beliefs affect our ability to lead others in a healthy and constructive manner that produce disciples who positively impact the world. Everybody has a sphere of influence for God. Your sphere may be education, media, government, business, family or arts and entertainment.

Consider this scenario:  a leader who has been criticized most of their life may seek approval of their co-workers and, therefore, make poor decisions instead of doing what’s best for their department. He may not tell those he oversees the truth about a matter; instead, he tells them what they want to hear or nothing at all.  This hinders the growth of both the company and the individual.

Recently, I was celebrating what God was doing in a person’s life when someone approached me and told me to settle down and stop pretending. This pierced my thoughts, emotions, and will. My wounded soul wondered will I be able to be me and free again or will I cower and be silent? 

Bill Johnson says he can’t afford to have any thoughts His Father God doesn’t have about Him. Neither can I. He loves my passion, enthusiasm and my authenticity because they’re an expression of Him. How do I know? Well…because He told me.

Most of us see a doctor for our physical health. Attending worship and small groups help keep us spiritually in check.  But when’s the last time you invited Jesus into your heart for a soul check?

Freedom is like a peeling an onion. It happens one layer at a time, but you have to come ready to get raw and real with God. In that place of vulnerability, He’ll speak beautiful truths to your heart that set you free. The joy far outweighs any pain.

I leave you with this thought….And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul (Matt. 16:26)? Spiritually healthy leaders take care of their soul and know who they are in Christ.

Prayer for the soul: Father God,  I recognize that I’m made in your image. I am a spirit with a soul who lives in a body. Holy Spirit, bring an event to my mind and show me where Jesus was at the time.  Reveal to me any thoughts and corresponding emotions that aren’t in line with your Word. What lie am I believing?  What is the truth? Is there anybody I need to forgive because of the lie or circumstances surrounding it?

As an act of my will, I choose to forgive__________________ (others, myself, you) for _________________(offense).  When that happened, I thought________________ and I felt __________________.  I come out of agreement with ____________(the lie), and I replace it with _______________(the truth). I choose to believe you and receive your forgiveness. Thank you Jesus. You are mighty to save! Continue to give me a fresh revelation of my identity and purpose. Amen.

 

It Takes Two

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imagesA puzzle comes with the all the pieces needed to make a whole picture. Without all the pieces, it’s incomplete.  A writer needs an intro that invites the reader into their world, a plot twist to keep them engaged and a hope-filled ending to complete a novel. Man needs a woman to reproduce. Everything needs something to be complete and fulfill their God-given purpose.  It’s God’s blueprint for life. He created us to be in relationship with Him and each other. Then He gave us dominion over the earth. That’s the beginning of His story (Gen. 1:28).

Enter in—the crafty serpent who seduces and entices man with a lie. Sin is born and a chasm is created between God and mankind. Everything that was right went wrong. We lost our identity and destiny because man chose to disconnect from the source of life: our creator. Darkness and doom surround us.

Until—God stepped down into humanity to destroy the works of the devil and restore the life that was stolen from us. Jesus died not only for us but as us. He who knew no sin became our sin so we could become His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Here’s the plot twist: the tomb is empty! Jesus lives! He died as a sacrificial lamb but rose as a victorious lion. That’s great news!

If you have invited Jesus Christ into your life as Lord and Savior, then you were buried and resurrected with Christ. The old has gone; the new has come. Hallelujah! Sin is no longer your nature. You have a new DNA: Christ’s nature. This doesn’t mean you don’t sin; It’s just not who you are. You’re a finished work of the cross. Flawless. Beautiful. Did you catch that? You have 100% of God’s approval.

We have access to everything God is and has as His heirs. We are fully in Christ. He is fully in us. We’re His hands and feet, and he’s deposited His Holy Spirit in us to live empowered.

The Lamb (crucifixion) completes the Lion (resurrection). The Lion completes the Lamb, and both complete us. Behold the Lamb and the Lion who conquer death and restore creation.

God’s calling His children to rise up in their true identity and again take dominion over the earth. You’re an important piece of God’s puzzle, and God’s story is not over. One day, all of creation will see Jesus return in all His glory—every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord and King! Blessed is His coming Kingdom. Hosanna!

 

Focus Matters

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Our focus shapes our reality.  We can choose to focus on God and all He has to offer or this world and all it has to offer.

When Moses got delayed on the mountain talking with God, the Israelites got fearful and said to Aaron, “We don’t know what has happened to this Moses who led us out of Egypt. Make gods who will lead us.” Aaron chose to cave in to the people’s demand, and they created a golden calf as their source of truth, comfort and security. As a result, they circled the mountain for 40 years instead of living the life God intended for them in the promise land.

When we change our source of truth, comfort and security we’re at risk of falling into idolatry. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s not. I always heard an idol defined as anything or anyone we love more than God.  Then I heard it defined as anyone or anything we look to for strength or affirmation other than God. That put a whole new spin on the word idol for me.

Perhaps, your idol is your spouse, children, boss, or pastor. Or maybe your golden calf is a hobby like golf, volleyball, gardening or crafting. How about Facebook or over-indulgence of food or drink? What about your bank account? It can even be a ministry you’re passionate about.
I believed God gave me a vision for a particular ministry. Discouragement set in when things didn’t go the way I expected. Ok. Let’s be real. I was offended. I asked God questions about my situation during my quiet time. I was desperate for truth.

But the issue grew bigger and bigger until Jesus became a blur. So the answer I received in prayer was tainted by my feelings. You see, our emotions can be good or bad. They tell us the truth about what we believe.  I Interpreted what I heard from God wrong because I believed a lie.

Then one day, I was in worship and I heard the Lord ask, “Do you love your church more than me?”

Hello? God doesn’t typically ask us a question because he needs the answer. He asks us because he is trying to get our attention. You see, I allowed my source of truth, comfort and security to become my church through the ministry I served in.

God wants our complete attachment to be exclusively to Him.  You may be blessed with a multitude of things, relationships and positions. But the moment any of those have a strong hold on you, His work in your life will be hindered, and you might just find yourself going around the same mountain.

Questions for prayer and reflection:

  1. Think about whatever consumes your thoughts, time and attention. Is there anything you feel you could never give up?

2.  What do you fear?

Begin to let go and surrender it to the Lord in prayer now.

Loving God, you are the sovereign Lord of the universe. I am a creature. You hold all that I love in your hand. My power is limited. Your power is unlimited. All things are possible with you! I give to you _________________.  I release _______________ to your grace and my fear to your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Ho-Ho-Hope!

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“May God, the source of hope, fill you with joy and peace through your faith in him. Then you will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 GW

Ho-Ho-Hope

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Glistening white lights fill our homes and line our streets. Parties and shopping fill our calenders. Christmas is the season of hope– the hope of presents under the tree, family coming together, and a prosperous new year.

The excitement and anticipation of children can be seen everywhere. But somewhere there’s a child whose precious momma is deathly ill, an unemployed person struggling to put food on the table and someone contemplating taking their life because they have lost hope.

Hebrews 11 tells us that faith directs our lives. In other words, our faith in directly affects our hope. Faith and belief are interchangeable. Dictionary.com defines belief as confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof. Hmmm, sounds familiar. What or who we put our faith in is where we put our hope.

In Scripture, Jesus shows up time and time again to demonstrate how important our faith is if we expect to see our hope fulfilled. He tells one woman her faith is so great that her hope will be met (Matt. 15:28). In another scenario, a father admits he’s struggling with belief and begs Jesus to help him so he can see his son well again (Mark 9:24). Jesus also commends a woman with chronic bleeding for reaching out and touching His robe (Mark 5:24). Immediately the woman was healed when fear disappeared. At the time, Jesus was traveling to the home of of a synagogue leader with a deathly ill daughter. Messengers arrived on the scene with news of the death of the daughter. They suggested that it was too late and to leave it well enough alone, but Jesus said to the distressed father, “Don’t be afraid! Just believe.”

We’re also told if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we’ll see miracles (Luke 17:6).

Are you facing a bleak situation? How can you heed Jesus’s words?

Consider the following:

  • Seek Him. Find a quiet place free from distraction to pray and seek God. This is the example Jesus set for us (Mark 1:35).
  • Focus on Him. Remember He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8). The promises of God in Christ are yes and amen (2 Cor. 1:20). Meditate on His word and character. What you choose to focus on often becomes your reality.
  • Worship Him. He is worthy of all your praise. You are expressing adoration to the one who makes all things possible. Worship is about how you live your life in response to the life he gave for you. Have you accepted His free gift of abundant life now?

If not, you can pray this simple prayer: God, I need you!  I surrender my life to you and invite you to live in and through me by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through Your Son’s death and resurrection you made all things new, including me. My hope is in You, alone.

Our hope comes from God when we receive by faith through grace. Joy and peace fill us because we simply believe.

Merry Christmas!

Stressed or Blessed?

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Blessed or Stressed

Health issues. Finances. Relationships. School or work deadlines. These are just some of life’s hurdles that cause our blood pressure to rise and our hearts to race.

I’m involved in a ministry that reveals truth to people’s hearts, freeing them to live life abundantly.  When I invite my Christian friends to our foundations of freedom classes, I often hear things like, “Thank you, but I’m blessed.”

I had lunch with a friend recently who said she has trouble with the word blessed.  Social media is flooded this time of year with various products and pictures sporting the slogan: Grateful, Thankful and Blessed.

However, is the person struggling with a chronic illness like depression blessed? Or the person who can’t make their next house payment? Or what about the couple who is going through a divorce? Or is grieving the loss of a loved one?

The answer to these questions lies in scripture.  In Matthew 5:11, Jesus says our blessedness is because of Him.  Therefore, it’s important for us to realize being blessed is not always contingent on our circumstances.

The Hebrew word for blessed is barak and the Greek word is makarios. It means to praise, give thanks, congratulate, or speak well of others.  In some contexts, to give a blessing is to act kindly or impart benefits to the one being blessed.

This Thanksgiving we’ll gather around a festive table with family and thank God for our many blessings: friends, family, good health, our homes, jobs…

God is certainly involved in such blessings, but these circumstances don’t have to be present for us to be blessed. Markario also means to be characterized by the quality of God. In other words, anything that God is in is blessed.

Let’s be real for a moment. Life isn’t always rosy. Terrible things happen. In 2013, my husband lost a prestigious and lucrative job he held for over 20 years. Overnight, our life changed drastically.  Instead of allowing my circumstances to rock my world, I chose to focus on God and His Word because He alone, satisfies my soul. We came into this world with nothing and will leave with nothing (1 Tim. 6:6-7).

The Apostle Paul learned to be content with nothing, because he experienced a deep satisfaction that came from an intimate relationship with Jesus. He drew strength from Jesus, not himself or this world.

In Charles Dicken’s  A Christmas Carol, the Cratchit family struggles to put food on the table and buy the medicine needed to care for their young, crippled son. Tiny Tim is expected to die unless their circumstances change. But through it all, we see the Cratchits’ giving thanks to God because they put their trust in the Lord not their circumstances.

Blessedness comes from satisfaction when we depend on Jesus to meet our needs. Every one of them. God’s life-long goal for us is to become more like Christ every day.  Since we can’t do this alone, He gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us.

Could blessedness be about our perspective then? When viewed through scriptural lenses, it’s progressive in nature as we learn to think and act like Jesus. This is a life-long process; we’re not made complete in Christ until His return (Phil. 1:6).

Questions for prayer and reflection:

  1. Think of a time when circumstances rocked your world. Did you see the blessing during storm?
  2. How did those circumstances change the way you previously thought about things?
  3. How did you draw strength from Christ and how did He meet your need?

At the Altar

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At the Altar 2Quiet chatter filled the church. Warm red light streamed down from the stained-glass windows on to the trail of pink rose petals. The organ pipes began to bellow announcing the bride. White waves of fabric rolled down the red carpet and abruptly halted just short of the altar.  This was the day she’d been waiting for—her dream come true. Yet, something briefly hindered her from moving forward.

The excitement and confidence she once held turned swiftly into a mountain of fear. Her thoughts became lost in a sea of doubt. I’m about to be a wife. What does this mean for me? She felt her identity and freedom slipping away, never to be found again.

The groom stood smiling and ready to receive his beloved bride. He looked forward to lifting her veil and kissing her cherry-blossomed lips. He marveled at the sacrifice she was making to live their dream together. The oneness and intimacy they longed to share together was about to become a life-long reality. What could be sweeter?

She took a deep breath and stepped forward. Her father stepped back and the pastor initiated the exchange of vows. From this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health each of them promised to love and cherish one another. Rings, symbolizing their new- found covenant, graced each of their fingers. The thoughts returned. What am I doing? Why am I doing this?

Then she remembered the day her mother presented her with a thin gold band with a small solitaire encased in a heart. The card read, “My dearest daughter, this promise ring is a reminder of who you are. You’re the bride of Jesus. He sacrificed himself for you so you could live freely in union with Him. You’re pure and blameless in His sight.  Someday, you will meet your prince, and the two of you shall become one. Until then, wait. Remain faithful.”

Her fear subsided and her thoughts returned to the altar. What a sacred place of beautiful sacrifice and union between man and woman. My marriage reflects my union with Christ. My sacrifices become gain because I’m living a life of unity with my true love. Oh, what we can accomplish together.

Jesus is coming back again to wed His bride, the church and restore His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven (Rev. 19 & 21).  The question is, are we ready?

Don’t dismiss what you are capable of when you surrender fleshly desires to live a life of unity with Christ.   Your life is not over; it’s just beginning.

Dive Deep

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Dive Deep

The Deep is calling your name. I’m not talking about the 1977 underwater adventure film. Rather, I’m talking about an underwater spiritual adventure with God. He’s calling His children to swim out into deeper waters. He’ll meet you there and show you mysterious and beautiful treasures you haven’t seen before. But you’ll have to leave the comfortable, shallow water and tread out. Further. Deeper. Explore. Trust.

Those who don’t explore are like children and less adventurous adults who splash around and play on the shore. Colorful Frisbees fly through the air and into hands, occasionally skimming the water’s surface. Excitement, fun, laughter lie within the borders of safety.

While the shore might be fun, outside the shore’s safety awaits a world of beauty. Divers who take time to learn scuba skills can float effortlessly at the bottom of the sea and gain a different perspective than those who stay at the shore.

In the depths of the deep blue, in solitude and silence, the darkness is brightened by neon yellow angel fish and orange clown fish. They swim around and beneath you, into the swaying coral. Joy, peace and awe flood your spirit. All is well with your soul. You realize there’s more to life than what the world offers.

When I was a child learning how to swim, the instructor kept me in the shallow end of the pool until I learned basic swim skills. Casually, she led me out to the deep end. I was afraid, but I swam out to meet her because I trusted her. She had my best interest at heart, and I believed she would save me if I was in danger.

It is not much different on our Christian journey. Our swim instructor, The Holy Spirit, comforts, teaches, and guides us into all truth. Playing in shallow water is fun and necessary as the first step to learning to get comfortable in our new-found relationship with Jesus.

But He stands in deep water beckoning us to swim to Him. Father God stands by His side. He is ready to provide for us and protect us from any immediate threat. He unveils more truth and beauty the deeper you dive. The Lord is saying, “Call to me and I will answer and reveal to you wondrous secrets that you haven’t known” (Jer.33:3).

Here are 3 simple steps to go deeper with God.

  1. Desire more of God. Don’t be content with the status quo. The more you seek God, the more you know God. The more you know God, the more you seek God. The spiritually hungry never get full; they get hungrier. Nothing compares to knowing Him. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You” (Psalms 73:25 MEV).
  2.  Draw near to God. And He will draw near to you (James 4:8). Jesus is singing, “Darling, if you want me to be closer to you, get closer to me.” Do something every day that makes you feel closer to God. Take a long stroll in the park. Contemplate His goodness. Converse with Him. Expect. Journal.
  3. Dive Deep. Don’t remain in a casual relationship with the Lord. But “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalms 37:4 NIV). When we open ourselves up to experiencing God in new ways, we mature in our faith and find enjoyment and rest.  Do something you haven’t done before like dancing, drawing or painting while you worship the one you adore. He’s bound to whisper wondrous secrets and unbury beautiful treasures. How exciting!

Going deeper is about intimacy with the one who made you and breathed life into you. Take the plunge, cool off and allow His Spirit to saturate you. Then emerge from the water refreshed and fully alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shine

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bride image“Shelley Renee!”  My mother would say about three octaves higher than normal. This familiar sound often sent me into a tailspin.  What did I do now? I knew this spelled trouble. “Shame on you! You should know better. Don’t smack at the table. Sit up straight. Share with your sister. ”

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t do anything right? Like you wanted to run and hide?

That’s how shame affects us. Many people confuse shame with guilt, but they are two different things. Guilt says you made a mistake while shame screams you are a mistake.

I unknowingly carried shame well into my adult years. Like a hermit crab buried deep within its shell, my growth stunted. Then I had a life-changing encounter with Jesus that reversed the way I saw myself, God and others. Although I wasn’t a terribly rebellious child, I wasn’t an angel either. The biggest way I acted out and caused my parents grief came in the form of talking back—in repressed anger. I sought to protect myself by blaming and manipulating others. Eventually, this played out in all my relationships.

I thought I had to perform well to be loved. So, I worked hard to please my parents. I made good grades, got a college degree, a husband, a job and had two beautiful kids. From the world’s standard, I was an American success but deep down I was a mess. I was swallowed up in people-pleasing and felt I didn’t meet the expectations of others. I thought I was a failure.

Finally, I had enough. I was miserable. I wanted to be free from the shame robbing me of the life God intended for me. My freedom journey began when a friend of mine suggested I meditate on scripture about who God says I am and journal what I heard Him reveal to my heart.

What happened next changed my life.  I read Ephesians 1:4-6 through different eyes. I inserted my name in the place of the general pronoun, us. “Before the creation of the world, God chose me through Christ to be holy and perfect in His presence. Because of His love for me he had already decided to adopt me through Jesus Christ. He freely chose to do this so that the kindness He had given me in His dear Son would be praised and given glory.”

 
I continued to seek the Lord’s heart for me and He whispered, “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, you are beautiful! My darling, everything about you is beautiful, and there is nothing at all wrong with you. My sister, my bride, you have thrilled my heart” (Song of Songs 4:1, 7, 9). Woah! A veil had been lifted from my eyes, and I knew I was created first and foremost for God’s pleasure and He fully accepted me because of Jesus. He took my shame and rejection and gave me His glory! I am the crown of God’s creation and so are you. He saved the best for last—humanity. After God completed all creation, He looked at it and declared it all good! You are not a mistake but an intentional vessel of His glory. You were created to shine.

Five simple steps to help you break free of shame:

  1. Meet with Jesus regularly. Find a quiet place free of distractions and ask Him what He likes most about you.
  2. Verbally disagree with the lies you have believed about yourself, God and others.
  3. Ponder and pray until truth penetrates you mind and heart.
  4. Verbally agree with God about who you are and what you can do.
  5. Keep a journal. Write down what God says and review it regularly.