Tag Archives: grace

Breaking up with My Morning Routine

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13 ESV

Breaking up is hard to do, or so they say. It’s not that a pile of devotional books almost a foot tall isn’t helpful to read each morning in my desperate search for a peaceful beginning to my day. You know the drill: plop out of bed, make a pit stop, stumble to the kitchen, make coffee, grab your stack of devotion material, then sit down and try to have some quiet time with God before things get too crazy.

There’s the kicker. What happens when crazy hits before the routine has been perfectly executed? Unfortunately, the alarm clock failing, kids waking up too early, the dog having an accident, or any other unauthorized interruption to the hallowed ritual can ruin the whole day if you hold onto it with white-knuckles.

Though most days went fairly smoothly and I gained such wisdom and revelation from my early reading sessions, this spring and summer were full of opportunities for me to visit and be visited my grandchildren. Little ones don’t seem to know their Oma needs at least one cup of coffee and a couple of devotions under my belt before I start spoiling. They rise and shine and need certain drinks, food, and entertainment before I can even turn on the Keurig in the morning.

In addition to all of my hard copy devotionals, I get 2-4 email devotions per day, I use my prayer app to pray, and listen to my Bible app reading plan for the day. Oh, and I also click on videos or podcasts from social media to make sure I’m not missing something.

When I got behind on all of this stuff I thought helped me seek God in the morning, I felt like I had not lived up to God’s expectations of me. I remember Joyce Meyer saying that we shouldn’t make our quiet time an idol. Was that what I was doing?

One day while I was shopping in Hobby Lobby, God drew my attention to a journal that had one Bible verse for each page. He wanted me to read a verse, ask Him what it means to me for that day, and write about it. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13. I bought the journal that day.

I’d love to say that I broke up with my morning routine the next morning and used the journal to digest instead of ingest what God had to say to me, but I didn’t. It took a few months before I surrendered to His request for me to slow down and spend quality time with Him.

Maybe I’m not the only who gets out of balance by performing for instead of being with Jesus each morning. Breaking up with my morning routine was the best thing for me to when my heart was anxious and overwhelmed, and the result was peace and rest.

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In God’s Presence There is Grace

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 ESV

It sounded like the perfect job for me. A new Christian school in the area where we were relocating had exploding enrollment for the next year and needed an elementary principal.

Wasn’t the Scripture verse the same as my former school of fifteen years? Didn’t the heart of the administration mimic my own heart for Christian education? It felt so right.

Taking the position without asking for my husband’s opinion, I immersed myself into the maze of trying to hire teachers, admit students, prepare classrooms, and order books that summer in a school where the number of students had more than quadrupled for its second year of existence.

Fast forward a couple of months, and my mornings started at 5:00 a.m. with reading the newspaper to see what I would face later at school. Unrest in the church leadership made the front page headlines on a daily basis.

Though I was determined to make sure God’s work was done despite the chaos, my husband intervened and asked me to resign after only three months on the job. Incredibly, I didn’t even know who to notify that I was leaving. My boss had already been fired and things were in such disarray.

I emailed my letter to the only one I thought was my authority, phoned the elementary teachers, and packed up my office in defeat.

Eventually, I was able to see that what had seemed like God’s plan was merely a cloud of smoke hiding my delusion that I could be the heroin who would save the day. Pride made me susceptible to deception. Instead of producing humility, this revelation humiliated me. Would God ever want to use me again?

Am I the only one who is tends to hide behind a bush of shame instead of fall before the throne of grace in my time of need? If we are saved by grace, why do we forget we are also sustained by grace?

Desperately needing to be restored, I had to push past my feelings of failure and confidently approach the throne of grace…to receive mercy…to find grace.

In God’s presence, I did not feel His disappointment with me as I feared. I felt His grace.

This was written for Faithfully Following Ministries mini study and can be seen here.

https://faithfullyfollowingministries.org/category/in-gods-presence/

Tangled-Up Messes

As she handed me a purple tangled-up mess of what once was her long, flowing hairpiece, Sarah said, “Mommy, can you help me? I tried and tried, but I just can’t get the knots out by myself.”

It looked pretty hopeless to me, so I replied, “I’ll work on it, but I wish you’d brought it to me sooner! Trying to fix it yourself made it much worse.”

Just as soon as I finished speaking, I heard God whisper, “That’s what you do to Me.” Convicted by the boomerang effect of my words, I received a moment of mercy and grace that needed to be extended to my five-year-old daughter.

Why would God use that moment to remind me of my habit of tackling life’s tangled-up messes in my own strength instead of coming to Him while they are still small?

Somehow, I had it in my mind that my heavenly Father was too busy running the universe to bother with something I could solve myself. It sounds crazy, but that’s how most of us act.

Is there a Scripture somewhere that says “God helps those who help themselves?” Or, maybe, this kind of thinking is a lie that separates us from moment-by-moment dependence on the One who knows us best and loves us anyway.

Bringing my problems to God requires humility and trust that His ways are higher than mine. Pride causes me to think “I can do it all by myself.”

Who gets the glory if I can live victoriously in my own strength? Self-sufficiency takes me down a path that leads to devastation and undermines God’s plan to take care of me and exalt me at the proper time.

When I get the idea that I’m “helping God” by handling what I think is a small matter and save the “big deals” for God, I ultimately make things worse.

Do you, like me, fall into the trap off thinking God is too busy to care for you?

Is there an unseen line that a problem must cross before casting our anxieties on God is an option?

Does pride prevent us from the enjoyment of living in freedom as a child of God?

Can we believe God delights in us and longs for His children to cast our anxieties upon Him?

I don’t know what difficult situation you’re struggling with today, but we are promised that God cares for us.

We cannot “fix” ourselves, but in the midst of this messy life, we can fix our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith.

We can lay pride’s tangled-up mess at the feet of Jesus and trust Him use it for our good and His glory.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he  may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV

 

 

 

It’s a Matter of Life and Death

Cross_in_sunsetWhat in the world is wrong when you have everything you’ve ever wanted and are still miserable?  That’s where I found myself at the ripe old age of 29. Being happily married to my first date and having the privilege of staying home with our two children in our newly renovated first home just didn’t cut the mustard.

I was going downhill fast, thinking I was going crazy, dealing with a  strong-willed 4-year-old daughter and a bulldozer 3-year-old boy.  My gynecologist who had delivered my two children in two years advised me that the chronic pain I had been enduring was probably the source of my misery, so after a hysterectomy, I’d be fine.  I clung to that hope.

Fast forward a few months, and the absence of pain made no difference in how I was feeling. I was a “donkey on edge” and couldn’t figure out why.  There was no real trouble in my life. I should have been happy. Lots of women stay home with their children and many deal with strong-willed children. What was wrong with me?

A search for the source of my problems began. My childhood was pretty tainted with the divorce of my parents at the age of 6, sexual abuse at the hands of my alcoholic father,  and living with an abusive, unfaithful alcoholic step-father. Maybe growing up in such dysfunction was why I was so despondent. Look no further than the new Oprah Winfrey show to see that all of your problems can be linked to your past.

Reaching back to find what I needed to go forward, I looked inward to fix myself. At that time, the mid-1980’s, self-help books flooded the shelves of bookstores and libraries. I had always been successful when I put my mind to do something, so it never occurred to me this time it might be different.

At this time in my life, I believed in God and knew He could be the solution to my emptiness, but I refused to turn to Him. Like a 2-year-old, I wanted to do it myself. He would come in and change me, and I wasn’t willing to be changed. None of this was my fault, after all.

Spending time in meditation, talking to my “inner child”, wallowing in my sorrows, playing the blame game, talking to my family and friends, trying to “pick myself up by the bootstraps”, nor any other thing I tried to do on my own worked.

Thankfully, I discovered shame to be at the root of how I felt. It didn’t matter how much I had accomplished, I just didn’t measure up to my own expectations. I couldn’t do enough to ditch the shame I carried. That lead to reading John Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, which pointed to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous for recovery.

Desperate for relief, I began to explore the 12 Steps, which began with admitting I was powerless over my shame and my life was unmanageable. I also saw that only with God’s help would I ever find freedom. My depression was caused by the anxiety in my heart from trying to be my own god. “I did it my way” had to be replaced by “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.”

Sin was the root of my sorrow. My own sin, not those who had hurt me. As a young girl, I had walked the aisle of my church, said a prayer to give my heart to Jesus, talked to the preacher, was baptized the next Sunday, then set out to live my life to the best of my ability. This was a little girl who was being sexually abused on weekend visits to her father’s house looking to feel clean, not a surrender of control to Jesus and trusting in His righteousness.

A pastor told his testimony of having a two-step salvation experience, much like mine. He repented of his sins as a child and of his righteousness as an adult. It was sin for me to live my life on my own power, on my own terms, without the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells me that anything done without faith is sin. My best is considered as filthy rags in the sight of a Holy God.

Believing I could be a “good Christian” without God’s power seems so absurd, but that’s what I was doing. I hadn’t given up any control of anything to God, except for where I would spend eternity. There was no abundant life in me, only death that comes from the sin that separated me from my gracious heavenly Father who longed to set me free from the chains that bound me.

When I wrote the prayer of submission to God, the weight of sin and death fell from me immediately. I was overwhelmed by His grace and love. The shame that had consumed me was carried by Jesus on the cross. Admitting I had been spending my whole life working for the righteousness God had freely given me set me free from despair. I forgave those who had harmed me, and asked God to forgive me for spending so many years pushing down the pain without asking Him to heal me.

It is a matter of life and death. God gives us a choice. “Years I spent in vanity and pride” led me to desperation that would have ended in death. Life begins when I come to Jesus daily “just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me.”

#livefreeThursday

Suzanne Eller’s Live Free Thursday

Guilt-Free Me or Pharisee?

Imagine this little girl returning to her home, where she lived with her mother and two younger siblings, after a weekend visitation bearing the guilt and shame of being molested by her father each night she was away. How does a second-grader live in a world where she was expected to be the “good little church girl” while dissociating herself from the “bad Daddy’s little girl” who was being abused?  What could she do to wash away the feeling of not being good enough to be loved by either parent? She felt like she disappointed everyone, because she just wasn’t enough. Never enough. Love seemed so illusive, and the pursuit of it so exhausting. And if she couldn’t do enough to please those she looked to for affirmation and acceptance, dare she believe a holy God would love her?

So, turning to the church, she did what any little girl who went to Sunday School, when she wasn’t at her father’s house for the weekend, would do in her situation. She made a profession of faith in Jesus, because she knew she was sinner and needed a Savior.  Baptized shortly afterwards, she thought she would experience her new life now. Beginning again at eight years old is a somewhat baffling concept, even to an adult.  She may have thought Prince Charming had come to whisk her away to the land of happily ever after. But that’s not what happened. No one told her what to expect in her daily experience. Sadly, the sexual abuse continued. The dissociation protected her from memories but not from guilt and shame. Though she was glad to know she wouldn’t go to hell if she died, she was on her own in this world.

Striving to be perfect to please God and everyone else led her to a life of being a great pretender. Keep up the façade or risk being rejected. There is no safe place. Never let them see you sweat. Don’t make any waves. Smile, the show must go on. God helps those who help themselves, so get your act together. Fake it until you make it. A Christian believing these lies of the enemy will end up becoming a Pharisee. Judging everyone else by your own standards, measuring yourself by others instead of God’s Word, and refusing to show any signs of weakness are symptoms of being a hypocrite. Guilt doesn’t make room for grace. Shame keeps you in shackles. Exposure requires excuses. It’s like trying to balance too many spinning plates at the same time, which can lead to disaster or deliverance.

Thankfully, that little girl, who grew up to be a woman and had her own little girl (and boy), dropped her spinning plates, came to the end of herself, and cried out to God. She faced the giant of guilt and shame, covered up by the “Pharisee,” and found that God had already won the victory. His strength is made complete in our weakness, so she didn’t have to muster up her own power. He loved the best and worst parts of her and delivered her from the kingdom of darkness into His marvelous light. Her guilt and shame from what was done to her and by her was covered by the blood of Jesus and could never be repaid by her attempts at perfection. When God exposes a flaw, it is done with love for the purpose of healing and restoration, not to heap guilt and shame on His child. Freedom from the enemy nipping at our heels to paralyze us with our past gives us peace. I can be the “Guilt-Free Me” because of His mercy and forgiveness, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

#livefreeThursday

A Response to Bill Muehlenberg’s Essay, “On Leaving Church”

On Leaving Church

The essay in the link above addresses the possible causes of people leaving the church. I think it should be noted that this problem does not exist in countries where It is illegal for Christians to gather together. They are desperate to assemble, despite the risk to their lives. Authentic Christians will be in fellowship with other believers, even if it’s in home churches. There is a huge difference between those who are disillusioned by the modern-day Church and those who refuse to be part of a church that has the appearance of godliness but denies its power. Thanks be to God for Grace Presbyterian Church, which is a refuge for all who are looking to Jesus, has a pastor, Bob Vincent, who unashamedly preaches the gospel from an attitude of humility and gratitude, and does not deny the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, whose works are as alive today as in Acts.

In the past, when I was not active in church or seeking the fellowship of Christians, it was because I had not yet trusted Jesus with my life. I had some very precious people who loved and prayed for me during that tumultuous time. I didn’t want to “play church,” but I wasn’t ready to turn control of my life over to Jesus. I saw peace in the faces of those who loved me unconditionally and wanted that for myself. Once I had nothing to lose, I surrendered to the lordship of Jesus and joyfully became part of a local church. Words from hymns I had grown up singing mindlessly now jumped off the page and gave me encouragement in my journey. His Word became alive to me, as the Holy Spirit gave me understanding.

Out of my gratitude for the peace and joy that Jesus gave me when I deserved hell, I served in that little imperfect church. There were times I wanted to give up and leave, but God used those imperfections to refine me. When I would return from chaperoning a youth conference or camp, I would cry out to God to make our worship services more authentic like I had experienced with the youth. I longed to see people openly embrace the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Once, as I was bearing my heart to the Lord about the lack of life in our church, I felt Him tell me that I was a missionary there. It changed my whole perspective and still does to this date. It’s all about Him, not our preferences.

I was wooed by the Holy Spirit to turn my life over to Jesus, but God used church people who loved me unconditionally OUTSIDE the church to cause me to want what they had. For over 20 years, I believed I was a Christian because of an emotional experience. Being supposedly “saved by grace” and living in the flesh to live up to a biblical standard did nothing but exasperate and confuse me. Obviously, I could not live a Christian life out of my own strength, so I gave up. Who wants to go to church and feel like you’re the only one who is a failure? Preaching the partial gospel which denies the power of the Holy Spirit to help us persevere in holiness to the end leaves us with an irrelevant Church. Thankfully, God showed me the truth in His Word that He saved me by grace and keeps me by grace. I love being with others who have been set free from trying to earn favor with God. Praise God for His indescribable gift!

The Sound of the Brass Bell

As the ornately embossed brass bell rang out in the orderly classroom, every little soldier knew what that meant. Everyone was to be seated with eyes to the front, feet on the floor, and mouths zipped shut. Any nonconformity was simply not tolerated. Children quickly understood that foolishness would result in the crack of a ruler on the hand of an unruly classmate. Although the fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom, shaking in your boots all day long in school, afraid of a teacher tirade was no place for learning.

Imagine what I must have felt when I joined that first grade class, changing schools for the second time in the last year. I didn’t fit in, since we lived in a meager apartment in a neighborhood of affluence. The move from a spacious home in a middle class neighborhood, large enough for the massive Barbie house my aunt had built and furnished for me, had been difficult, especially having to give that beloved Barbie house away. At school, no one wanted to be my friend, and I was absolutely terrified of my teacher. The oversized ruler used to dispense justice hung on the wall beside my desk as a constant reminder not to make a peep. Just be still, do what you’re told and keep your mouth shut. That’s the way to stay out of trouble.

Later that same year, my father drove my mother, little sister, baby brother, and me to my grandmother’s house and left us. My parents were getting divorced. This meant another new school for me, but at least I had a nurturing teacher for the first time. But the old pattern of staying out of trouble was set in my mind. In just a few months, sexual abuse that would last for years at the hand of my own father during weekend visits began. Be still, do what you’re told, and keep your mouth shut was my coping mechanism for dealing with yet another terrifying situation.

Sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and touches can bring back joyful or fearful memories. God has walked with me as He allowed me to relive moments from my past to heal my soul. When triggers resurrect painful experiences, I receive grace and peace as I roll them onto Jesus. They are part of my story, but they don’t write the ending of my story. God is glorified when we allow Him to recycle our junk. And, after years of teaching first grade myself, a bell on my desk brings order from chaos without a word. Looking back with eyes of maturity, maybe that teacher wasn’t such a scary lady after all.