Game-Changing Prayers

What is the most under-utilized arsenal within the armor of God? The Breastplate of Righteousness? The Helmet of Salvation? Shoes of Peace? The Belt of Truth? The Sword of the Spirit or the Shield of Faith? All of these are critically important, and if you lack one you intrinsically hurt the effectiveness of the others. Hang with me, because this is a bit of Taraology here, but I tend to think the piece of equipment we most often dismiss is the one Paul tacks on at the end of Ephesians 6:18.

“Pray at all times…” ephesians 6 18

I know. We’ve heard it until it has lost its effectiveness. Pray and read your Bible. Read your Bible and pray. Why do you think pastors and leaders urge us to do it until they are blue in the face? Because these two things are our life lines to God. They are the game changers, yet we treat them as a chore in our spiritual checklist.

We tend to use prayer for the “heal the sick, help my children follow you, restore, guide, provide” kinds of situations. Those are awesome things to pray for and about. Sometimes, though, I think we should dig a little deeper. Perhaps we have resigned ourselves to the way things ‘just are’ before we have ever prayed about them. Let me give you a couple of examples.

A dear friend of mine told me how much she struggled after she was saved with the kind of music she listened to. She loved Jesus, loved reading her Bible and attending church but had listened to rock and roll all her life. That was what she connected to, despite the dark lyrics contained in many of the songs. She tried listening to Christian music and found it to be dull and vanilla. worshipThe songs all sounded the same, the melodies and chord progressions unimaginative and it didn’t help that the stations kept playing the same thirty tunes over and over again. (To be honest, I’ve frequently heard this same criticism from seasoned believers.) Instead of throwing up her hands and saying, “I’m just not into Christian music,” my friend prayed fervently that God would give her a deep love for Christian music. She continued to listen to the Christian radio stations and over the period of a few months, she fell passionately in love with it. When she tried to listen to some rock not long after, she said she felt disgusted and wondered why on earth she ever liked it in the first place.

Another woman was struggling with feelings of intimacy towards her husband. With the passing of time, their marriage (from her perspective) had grown cool in the romance department. Instead of growing bitter, or worse yet, looking for fulfillment from someone else, this wise woman prayed to God that she would once again thrill to her husband’s touch. God restored the intimacy of their marriage in profound and beautiful ways. She says they have never been happier.

Here’s a little story from my own life…

The first time I went to sing in prison, I was terrified. I almost turned the car around three times and headed back home. I’ll never forget my white knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel, or the moment I pulled off the road trying to breathe.

“Lord, I’m not sure I can do this. I’m afraid.” prison bars

He pressed a directive into my heart so simple, but it has changed everything.

“Ask me to take the fear away.” And that’s what I did.

For a year my daily prayer was, “Lord, make me fearless. I want to be bold in Your strength but never my own. Take every ounce of fear away and fill me with joy instead.”

There’s not much that can rattle me these days and it’s all because of Him. Stepping into a prison is no different than going to the mailbox now. (To be honest, I see much scarier stuff in Walmart.) planet walmart

If you’re struggling with obeying God because of fear, perhaps you should ask Him to take your fear away. Fear and love cannot coexist.

Don’t be afraid to pray “game-changing” prayers. Pray for those things you know align with God’s will. Pray believing He can do all He says and more.

Nothing is too big for Him.

The Broken Piano

“Great musicians should have only the finest instruments in their homes.”

The caustic comment from the piano tuner who had curled up his nose at my old spinet piano has bothered me for fourteen years, though I’ve had a hard time figuring out why.

I thought maybe it was the man’s attitude when he entered my home. I had been desperately searching for a tuner willing to take on my pawn shop find but from the moment this guy laid eyes on it, his annoyed smirk told me the piano didn’t meet his criteria. Maybe it was the chipped places around its edges. Or perhaps the slightly yellowed keys. I don’t know. But before he even sat down to play it, he judged it and found it lacking. 

Looking over the brim of his glasses, he shot me a scolding glare. “You are a musician, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You should be asking me to tune a baby grand then. Or least a piano with some kind of merit. But this…,” he shook his head sadly, “this piano is not fit for a musician.”

He then launched into a sales pitch about the wonderful pianos he had for sale in his store and grew agitated when I wouldn’t bite. Needless to say, that was my one and only experience with that particular tuner.

Great musicians should have only the finest instruments in their homes…

I thought perhaps his statement bothered me because it was the lead in to his sales pitch. But no, that particular comment has circled around and around in my brain for fourteen years. It bothers me. It shouldn’t. That piano has been long gone and I haven’t seen that tuner since the day of his barbed comment yet it nags me. Why? broken piano keys

I finally figured it out.

Recently a friend sent me an email about a little boy who somehow escaped his mother at a prestigious concert hall and crawled up on stage plunking himself right next to a world renown pianist just before the man was beginning his concert.

boy at the piano

The little tyke clumsily tapped around on the keys before looking up to the famous pianist with a grin. The poor mother was horrified and jumped out of her seat, preparing to retrieve her wayward son but the pianist only smiled down at the little boy and begin to imitate the toddler’s finger strikes. Then something amazing happened.

As the little boy squealed with delight and pounded the keys harder, the pianist began to improvise melodies over the boy’s tapped notes. The entire audience was spellbound. When the little boy finally tired of the game, he hopped down and the musician stood and applauded him, causing the entire crowd to cheer and smile.

I love that story. And in a flash, I finally understood why that tuner’s comment bothered me.

Great musicians are not great because they have the finest instruments in their homes. They aren’t great because their fingers and ears are only trained for the best the world has to offer, or because they have sold X number of CDs or because they fill up concert halls. A real musician can make music out of the hardest situation. It doesn’t matter whether the keys are chipped, whether it’s a Bosendorfer or a dusty spinet, whether the action is smooth like honey or stilted, or even whether a little boy interrupts their Rachmaninoff moment.

The sign of a great musician is not in owning the finest instruments, but the ability to make the most broken instruments sing once more. broken keys

From this perspective, God is the greatest musician of all. He takes our broken strings, chipped edges, places His hands on those battered keys and coaxes out a song. A melody. An unspoken story. And the more broken the instrument, the more amazing His ability to make it sing.

Do you feel broken, chipped or used up? Don’t let the enemy’s lies discourage you. You are valuable and treasured. God doesn’t have a room full of glistening new grand pianos. He prefers the spinets.

Under his touch, they make the sweetest melodies.

Learning Joy in Failure

 

learning joy in failure

The Arkansas State Police is a happening place to be, especially in the motor vehicle office and even more so from one to four when they are administering driving tests.

I recently took a family member to fill out some paperwork, which provided me plenty of time to sit in the waiting room and watch people coming and going. Anxious teens milled around, some of whom were too cool to show their jitters. Nervous mothers smacking gum contrasted against parents who rolled their eyes, muttering to the person on the other end of their cell phone that young Anthony “better not fail again. I’m tired of dragging him down here over and over if he ain’t gonna study.” Middle aged men getting their CDL and motorcycle licenses, female bus drivers, terse police officers and everyone in between. It felt like a cross between the DMV and America’s Got Talentdrivers test ecard

The hour long wait provided me quite an education in one particular area: the art of failing. During that entire time, only one kid passed his permit test. Just one. He, of course, was all smiles. The others…well, that’s an entirely different story.

Some slunk out of the room with a scowl, shoving their paperwork at their parents with a grunt.

“Didn’t you pass?”

“Do I look like I passed?”

Others bit back tears or merely shrugged with a careless attitude. “No big deal. I’ll try again later. I didn’t really care about it anyway.” One particular boy stomped up to his dad and glared. “Stupid test. That’s the fifth time I’ve taken it. I think they deliberately make it harder and harder each time. They want me to fail!”

Some parents offered hugs or condolences. Some told their child, “You’re right. It’s just not fair.” My favorite parent was one very wise mother who, after her daughter had fussed because she’d flunked, stared her down and spoke with a stern calmness I envied. “You know why you flunked? Two reasons. Your attitude stinks and you haven’t been studying like you should have. Both reasons tell me you’re not mature enough to drive yet. So guess what? We’re not coming back to try again next week. We’ll try again in six months.”

Go, Mom!

My favorite of all was a sixty year old man who’d taken his CDL exam. He ambled into the waiting room and stared at his wife. She put down her magazine and stood.

“Well, let’s have it. Please don’t tell me we drove all the way down here for nothing. Again.”

He chuckled. “Sorry, sweetheart. I failed.”

She groaned. “Dale, that’s makes the fourth time.”

He walked up and kissed her on the cheek. “The good news is I only failed by one question this time. Only one! I’m getting better each time. I’m failing my way to success. Next time I should have it. I’m learning all the ways not to pass my CDL test!” His wife giggled. “Say, you in the mood for cheeseburgers or Mexican?” And off they went.

That sweet man is the perfect example of how to find joy in failure.

failure vs successLife is a series of mistakes with a few successes thrown in. Some of us have become so paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, we’ve stopped learning. Stopped discovering. Stopping crawling outside our boxes and exploring the beauty around us. We hold on the illusion of control, somehow thinking all will be right. No pain, no discomfort…that is, until we fail and our world tips on its axis.

How you handle failure reveals more of your character than how you handle success.

ryan-riggins-216051Adversity reveals our true nature. Pressure, heat, resistance…all of it is like a hand squeezing around a toothpaste tube. It isn’t until the fist squeezes that we see what is truly inside. When pressure is applied, the inner man is revealed. It’s easy to blame others, the system, or any other host of issues for our mistakes, but we still won’t learn a thing, will we? We may even find some folks who will agree with our finger pointing, but then what? It doesn’t bring us one step closer to our goals or dreams.

The only way to learn from failure is to embrace it.

Some of the most beautiful things can be birthed from the messiest. God has shown it to me over and over in my own life, but it takes a heart willing to say, “I have no pride. I have no agenda. I want to learn, both what to do and what not to do. Teach me. I’m Yours.Failing doesn’t feel like failure at all in that state of mind. It’s just…learning.

What a great place to be.

The Civil War, Messy People and Jesus: Why I Write

 

With my debut book release with Tyndale scheduled for summer of 2018, this week I’ve begun the daunting task of writing another story. It’s set in one of my favorite time periods…the Civil War.

This isn’t a new assignment for me. This will actually be the fourth Civil War story I’ve penned, uh, typed, but the research involved is always staggering. Always bloody and gruesome, yet filled with heroism, astounding tales of beauty and forgiveness…even humor.

lincoln beardPeople like 11 year-old Grace Bedell who wrote Abraham Lincoln a letter when he was running for President and convinced him the population would find him much more appealing if he grew a beard. (He listened.) Or fiery John Brown or the reckless zeal of Roger Pryor who, after firing the signal cannon that launched the attack on Fort Sumter, thought to celebrate by grabbing what he thought was liquor from the physician’s supply. Instead he swallowed iodide of potassium and almost poisoned himself to death. belle boydOr the eccentric Belle Boyd, who rode horses into parlors for attention and fancied herself the most beautiful, heroic feminine star the Confederacy could ever produce.

There are other stories of drunkards and misfits, spies and traitors, women and Zouaves, generals and cowards . All of them fascinating. I suppose what is most interesting to me in studying these odd assortment of lives is how often they acted, and reacted, and lived and died for a cause or an ideal. They all claimed to be ready to meet their fate with a hero’s fortitude, but peeling back the surface, most of these fascinating legends were terrified of one thing…the hole inside.

In reading their journals, the cry for significance screams from the pages of now still ink pens and dry blotters. They signed up to fight or spy or whatever their task was without a moment’s hesitation. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in the Union or the Confederacy or the Underground Railroad or whatever ‘the Cause’ was. But for some of them, it was their chance to be seen. Heard. To matter.

They wallowed in insecurity. In fear. They were desperate for a father’s love. For a mother’s love. To catch the attention of a beau or a spurned lover. They were tired of being rejected, or had been pampered and spoiled to a sickening degree. Some were abused. Some were desperate. All were messy. All were broken. All were consumed with a need to “make their mark”. vinicius-amano-145607

Yet most refused to look deeply at the reason why. Scores of these legends would have rather thrown themselves in front of bullets or screamed through a hellish battlefield than look at the demons inside.

We’ve often heard it said “History repeats itself.” I don’t know that history repeats itself so much as human nature repeats itself. We’re all a jumbled mess of broken hearts desperately yearning for love, stumbling about in the shadows looking for that illusive something. No. Correction. Someone. Jesus.

Heart _But it’s easier to fight for a cause than look at our own pain. Easier to drown in noise than face the truth of silence. Easier to follow the crowd than stand the rejection of walking alone.

That’s just one more thing that makes Jesus so remarkable. As I sat watching the sun break through a cloudy sky during our church’s sunrise service, the pastor said someone I’d not considered. He spoke softly. “Upon having the nails driven through his hands and feet, and being lifted high, Jesus could have chosen at that moment to say ‘It is finished’ and breathed his last. He didn’t just die for us. Instead, He chose to suffer for hours and feel our pain as well.”

jesus painJesus chose to feel the pain. He leaned in to the crushing agony, the numbing screams of severed nerves, blood loss, asphyxiation, rejection, shame. He stared unflinchingly into the darkness. And because He smashed death and darkness to pieces when He arose, He offers freedom from the misery of it all.

This is why I love to write. Whether past or present, real or allegorical, all people are broken. Over and over, the human condition reminds us of our need for redemption. For Hope. For a Savior. As I write, I unearth more of my own brokenness as well. Writing is discovering the shadowed, scarred corners of my heart and understanding how God has redeemed them. How He has redeemed me…that discovery then bleeds over the pages of my story world and the struggling characters inside.

So I begin again. The names and characters will change. Plots and places will be altogether different. Their motivations and crises will alter but the Hope that will transform their lives will remain the same. Praise God, He is forever the same.

CHAPTER 1

Washington D.C., 1861

            Cadence Piper walked down the darkened street, clutching her reticule to her middle. Her booted footsteps clicked loudly against the gritty walk. She winced at the echo that drifted back from the inky alley to the right. A shiver crawled down her spine…

dark street

The Seeing Blind

In this present darkness, most of us feel oppressed at every turn. We sense spiritual forces battling it out. Good versus evil. Angels versus demons. Light against shadows. We’ve been taught to be good soldiers for Christ. Take up our cross and fight. Fight for truth. Fight for our children. Fight, well, for everything.

boxing ali

Speaking the truth is always the right thing to do. We must speak what God has declared to be true, omitting nothing. But one thing most of us forget is this: truth never needs a defender. It stands on its own. That’s what makes it truth.

And as far as the cosmic battle goes? The war has already been won. Yet some of us speak and argue and live our lives like the outcome of the spiritual war depends solely on our own effort.

fight from victory

In the past few years, I’ve traveled to many churches, speaking and singing, sharing the transformative power Jesus has displayed in my life. One thing I’ve noticed is that far too many churches are pounding the horribleness of sin, which is true, but no mention is made of forgiveness for the sinner. We talk of the heartbreaking slaughter of millions of innocent babies through abortion, shake our heads and take up arms, yet how many women sit in the congregation silently bowing their head in shame because they were one of the scared souls who made a choice that has now haunted and scarred them forever?

We talk about staying away from vices like pornography and the foul decay it brings to our minds, while a teenage boy on the back row struggles with the images his brain refuses to erase…images he was forced to see by an abusive father who thought showing such things to his young son would ‘make a man out of him’.

peter-sjo-190966

Alcoholics and adulterers, drug users and ex-cons, the hot-tempered and misfits. They are desperately trying to hide their past. To fit in. To pretend it never happened. That the scars they wear are not visible still.

And while we’re busy shaking our fists at sin, and the world’s system, boycotting and ranting on social media about the very things Jesus told us the world would never understand, the hurting Jesus entrusted to our care are bleeding at our feet. And we don’t even notice. We’re so consumed with our righteous indignation, we’re blinded to the broken.

My personal opinion is this: generally speaking, the world should know us by what we’re for…not by what we’re against.

Please don’t misunderstand. This is not a call to stop fighting the good fight. Far from it. But in our zeal, may we be careful to keep compassion before campaigns. Truth should never trample love.

The gospel was never meant to shame the sinner. The gospel of Jesus is Good News. The God of the universe not only sees you, but outrageously, desperately loves you so much He died to make you His. This is a scandalous love. This is what we should be shouting through the streets. This is what we should be flooding through social media. This is the One Who can transform your life from broken to beautiful. Jesus.

In our lists of all the things that God is and what God does and doesn’t do, what He embraces and what He cannot, let us never forget this most beautiful, fundamental, and scandalous truth…the truth that all else rests upon: God is love.

ephesians 3

Pursuing Dreams

It’s an odd thing to see a long awaited dream fulfilled.

You reach, you pray, you cry, you plan, you anguish and lament, you work and beg, and pray some more. Hoping, wondering. Sometimes, your focus can become muddled. That was the case for me a few years ago. My dream was to become a published author. An admirable goal, especially since I wanted to write stories that pointed people towards Jesus, right?

9idqigrlute-joshua-earle

The problem with dreams, with any dream, is they can become gods if we let them.

In all my dream striving, I lost my joy and instead became plagued with despair. God tenderly revealed to me I was pursuing the dream more than I was pursuing Him.

Pause. Time for a heart check and reevaluation. My prayers changed. Instead of asking God for a publishing contract, I asked Him to help me write stories He could bless. I asked Him to reveal my own wounds and give me the courage to expose them to His healing light…and then have the audacity to write about the scars afterwards.

He did.

I’m happy to announce I recently signed a three book contract with Tyndale House Publishers! me-signing-contract-with-tyndale-houseThe very first book of this Civil War series, Engraved on the Heart, will be released sometime around May of 2018. Books two and three, tentatively titled Where Dandelions Bloom and Cadence’s Song will follow in 2019 and 2020. I have no idea why God has blessed me so, but I’m typing this through tears, still amazed. To be among such talented authors like Francine Rivers, Candace Calvert, Rachelle Dekker, Allison Pittman, Joel C. Rosenberg, Diann Mills, Lisa Wingate, among numerous others, is humbling. And to work with Tyndale’s incredible editors, artists and businessmen leaves me in shock. I’m so thankful to God for their willingness to embrace me with open arms. When God said, “Yes”, He said yes in a big way.

I’m excited to step foot on this new adventure, yet I pray I don’t lose sight of the beautiful lesson He’s taught me during the past few years of waiting.

The world will tell you to reach for your dreams before time runs out. God says to trust Him because His timing is perfect. The world says the only way to be more is to work harder, push, do, strive. God says if you’ve given yourself to Him, you are His child and heir. Your identity is already rock solid. (Rom. 8:15-17) The world says the only way to reach your dreams is to become a better multi-tasker. Cram in more. Do it all and have it all. God says to be still. He will give you rest. The world issues demands and still, many people never see the fulfillment of their dreams. God promises if you delight yourself in Him, He will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4) road

Goals are wonderful things, but they are not the destination. True satisfaction and lasting joy can only be found at the feet of Christ. Jesus is not walking with me towards a dream. He is my dream. 

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Check out Tyndale publishers here. www.tyndale.com

The Mean Stepsister

 

fairytaleRedemption is a beautiful thing. There is something so poignant, something almost sweeping and, dare I say, romantic about someone with power and position plucking a nobody from the crowd and claiming them as their own. Perhaps that’s why I’ve so frequently heard the Gospel compared to a fairy tale story. A king sweeping the lonely girl away to a land where all her dreams come true.

Not long ago, I heard someone compare what God has done to the story of Cinderella. I understand the gist of this kind of thinking, but it just doesn’t ring true. Not for me. See, Cinderella was pure and sweet and perfect. She deserved to win the heart of the prince. We root for her from the very beginning. We see how blameless she is. We witness the unjust circumstances thrust upon her and pray that all will be right in the end. And it is.

But I’m not Cinderella.

I’m not perfect. I’m the one setting traps for the mice and chasing the too-cheerful birds away with a broom. Too often I’m the selfish, mean stepsister, demanding my own way, wanting what I want now! stepsisterScheming, manipulating, taking whatever scraps of affection are dropped my way because, deep down, I’m so hungry for love, I’m sick with it. The only way I know to get love is to whine, parade, beg, and needle. Be more. Say more. Be seen. Be heard. And I turn myself into a royal pain in the process.

So there I stand in the middle of the crowded ballroom, watching all the beautiful girls around me, feeling ugly and out-of-place. My Jimmy Choos are actually knock-offs I found in a bargain basement and they pinch my toes. My spanx are too tight and I feel fat. Worse yet, I know how cruel I can be to those I love most. I see the bright eyes and dazzling smiles of all the other women and I know…I’ll never measure up. The Prince will never want me.

But then He turns to me and smiles. He extends his hand and asks me to dance. Me? No. I shake my head. Tears burn my eyes. He doesn’t understand. If He only knew. If He could only see the ugliness inside. hand

“No, my Lord,” I cry, tears weaving warm tracks down my face, “I’m not worthy. I’m ugly and mean. Broken. You don’t want me.”

The Prince smiles and tucks my hand into his. “Ah, but don’t you know? I mend the broken.”

The Gospel is not a message of God reaching down to elevate those who already have it together. The Good News is that He laid down His life and rose again to save broken and messy people who cannot save themselves. The Gospel is power, dynamite, revolutionary…an inside-out and upside-down message of hope for the unlovable.

It turns murderers into preachers.

It changes thieves into saints.

It transforms mean stepsisters into Cinderellas.

And isn’t that good news?

 

The Innkeeper

“No room.” no-vacancy

Most of us have heard the story. The fabled innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph in their hour of need. The calloused man has become a staple in the Christmas story, though he’s never mentioned in the Bible.

No, really. The only Gospel that makes mention of there being ‘no room’ is Luke chapter two. Check it out:

and she gave birth to her Son, her firstborn; and she wrapped Him in [swaddling] cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no [private] room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7 AMP)

No innkeeper, only a stated fact. There was no room for them.

With Caesar Augustus wielding his power and demanding a census of the entire Roman world, anyone with family roots in Bethlehem would have been forced to go back to the tiny city. If there was more than one inn there, Mary and Joseph may have heard more than one resounding “no” that night. Slammed doors in their faces. Careless attitudes amid the press of scurrying people and shouting peddlers clogging the roads.

Get this…some scholars even disagree on what is meant by the word inn. We tend to think of it like a hotel. But what if the writer meant something different? I recently stumbled upon this information written by Todd Bolen that made me pause:

“The word translated as ‘inn’ is the word kataluma, which is used elsewhere by Luke and translated as ‘guest chamber’ or ‘upper room’ (Luke 22:11; cf. Mark 14:14)…The result of this mistranslation leads to a different understanding of the story. It’s not that Joseph and Mary were late to town, but it’s that they were rejected by their family. Clearly they had family members in town, as that was the reason they returned to Bethlehem for the census. That there was no room in the guest chamber for a pregnant woman indicates that they chose not to make room for this unwedded mother. The birth of Jesus in a room where animals lived suggest shame and rejection.” (http://blog.bibleplaces.com/2006/12/in-typical-christmas-pageant-one-of.html)

mary-and-joseph-stable

This puts a whole new spin on the birth of Jesus, doesn’t it? Rejected by His own, even before birth. The thought of what Mary and Joseph endured as a young couple pierces my heart. In times of desperation, we see the most despicable callousness of humanity, yet also stand in wonder at the sweetness of God’s grace and the gentle touch from the kindness of strangers.

Whether “No room” was the result of a stressed out innkeeper or judgmental family members, the result was the same…those who pushed Mary, Joseph and Jesus away missed out on the greatest blessing to ever sweep planet earth. If they only knew Who was coming…if they only knew there were shepherds trembling on a hillside, watching the heavens flood with angels proclaiming the Good News…if they only heard the sound of God filling the quiet room with a lusty cry. The Author of Life crying peace into the darkness. What beauty, what mind-bending astonishment.

Those who pushed Him away missed it all. This Christmas, you and I are in danger of doing the same.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in hanging the lights and rushing around to get all the shopping done, but ignore the homeless shelters. It’s far too convenient to plan our Christmas menu and fight the crowds at the grocery store than to give our time visiting someone who is lonely. It’s easier to check off our do-list than forgive the family member who hurt us so deeply.

“No room.” “No time.” “I’m tired.” “That person asking for help is different than me.” If we’re so busy doing things for Jesus that we can’t stop and lend a hand to the least of these, then we’ve missed Him.

merry-christmas

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father [you favored of God, appointed to eternal salvation], inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 I was naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me [with help and ministering care]; I was in prison, and you came to Me [ignoring personal danger].’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You as a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘I assure you and most solemnly say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it for Me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40 AMP)

Don’t be an Innkeeper, keeping the love and light of Christ inside. True joy comes in giving yourself away. No slammed doors allowed.

It Must be God’s Will…Really???

This past week has been a rough one. Why does it seem like holiday time is a tractor beam for bad news?

Someone I love dearly received an unexpected diagnosis. My heart ached to hear it. As this person shared their news on Facebook, one person remarked, “Well, this must be God’s will.” My eyes bugged out as my blood began to boil. God’s will? Really?

oh-really

I’ve been mulling over this concept for quite some time. When someone receives a medical diagnosis, people often blanket it under the guise of “God’s will”. When hurricanes drop devastation, we say it was “God’s will”. When an entire family is tragically taken in a car crash, we say “it was God’s will”. But was it really?

Before I sat down to write this blog, I went to social media to gather up opinions. I asked them this question: “Are all bad things that happen God’s will?” This seems to be a hot topic—my Facebook page was flooded in only an hour. Here are just a few of the responses:

Kathleen said, “A question I’ve asked again and again. After losing a friend to cancer, we went to a church where the pastor said, ‘Everything that happens is God’s will, and we should be big and strong enough in our faith to take it.’ We walked out. Were we weak? Maybe. But plenty of yuck happens that is not God’s doing. People make evil decisions that hurt children. People go with their selfish needs and desires, despite God’s soft whispering voice that said, ‘This is not for you.’ I have seen it again and again. God does help us grow and learn through our terrible experiences, and maybe, just maybe, give us the courage to write about it and help others grow through, as well.”

Jeremy said, “This mindset makes God the author of pain and suffering…which he is not. Pain and suffering are the result of original sin. This means that for us to judge that someone is suffering due to a particular sin, as in the case of Job’s friends, is always bad theology unless the suffering was a direct cause of that sin rather than an inferred consequence. When we make God the author of pain and suffering we create confusion rather than comfort and guilt instead of solace.”

fork-in-road

Dana added, “Bad things happen to good, Godly people. Like my sister getting cancer at 45. Was it God’s will? No. Did he know it would happen? Yes. The worse thing anyone could have said to us was that it was God’s will. I do not believe God willed for her to suffer so terribly as she did. I believe it broke God’s heart to see her suffer and for all of her family to be sad and crying. He was with us and I believe he caught every tear drop in His hand. Someone suggested to one of the family members that maybe she wasn’t prayed for enough. What a slap in the face and an insult to our faith. If that person had been correct then every person prayed for nonstop would be healed. But we live in a fallen world and this world is not perfect. This is not our home, thankfully!”

I love how my friend Cathy said it:

“Tara, I agree with most of what has been said above. Even if certain statements seem at odds with one another. His ways are not our way and His thoughts above our thoughts. When my eleven-year-old son was killed in a tragic accident, I learned about God’s allowable or permissive will (as Jolene says) vs His perfect will for us. Sometimes He permits things to happen for reasons we cannot understand or know. Was it for my own maturity? So that my son would be spared from drugs in his teen years? To increase my love for my daughter who was left? No idea. And I, too, don’t think God works that way, though these outcomes could result from such a tough situation. Sometimes He allows these hurtful things to happen to His own for reasons only known to Him. When it happened to me, He gave me a deep knowing-that on the day I see Jesus and am reunited with my son in heaven, I will have all my questions answered. Yet, I will be so thankful and overwhelmingly happy to see them both, I won’t care about those ‘whys’ anymore. After that, I didn’t waste time wondering because I trust the One who holds my hands through it all. I know He knows. So all is well.” Heart _

My husband and I were recently discussing all this and he said, “I suppose when it comes down to it, we blew God’s perfect will to smithereens in the Garden of Eden, didn’t we?”

Indeed.

We are locked in a cosmic battle whether we realize it or not. Good versus evil. Light versus darkness. God, the King of all, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer versus Satan, a fallen angel. Ever since Satan lifted up his heart in pride and said, “I will be like God” (Is. 14:13-15), he declared war against the Almighty, His creation and all God’s kids.

And here’s the thing, Satan will never be like God. He can’t be. He tries over and over again and fails every single time. Evil might be good at imitating Light for a little while but what it ultimately births cannot be hidden: death, disease, and chaos. Satan knows this. So if he can’t be like God, he does everything in his power to make God appear to be like him: cruel, vindictive, and indifferent.

liar

Personally, I think it’s one of Satan’s techniques as an accuser to have us believe it’s God’s will when bad things happen so we can then turn around and say, “God must not be good”. If we begin to believe God is not good and doesn’t have our good in mind, we will begin to question everything else about Him and the unraveling of our faith begins. Our enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy. He loves nothing more than for us to face crippling loss, and then have us turn to God with an accusing finger and say, “How could you?”

To say everything that happens is God’s will just leads to a directionless life, one full of personal irresponsibility and doubt in whether God really does have our best in mind. What a terrible way to live!

But God does indeed have a will. What is it? Scripture makes it clear.

1) For all men to be saved. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

2) To give thanks in all circumstances. This strengthens our joy and dependence on God in adversity, as well as building patience, endurance, and forming us into the image of Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, James 1:2-4)

3) To live a life that is that different from the world, unpolluted, holy and set apart. (1 Thess. 4:3, Hebrews 13:20-21, Ephesians 5:15-20)

There is another type of will we need to talk about. Free will. God granted us all freedom to choose. Free will comes at a high price. He will not force us to love Him. He will not force us to do the right thing. Some choose love and light. Some choose darkness and evil, and their actions ripple far and deep, effecting generations in profound ways. Remember that cosmic battle we talked about? We are locked in war, whether we want to be or not. But take heart, child of God. We win. Read the Bible all the way to the end. Jesus will make all things right. As my pastor often says, when Jesus is finished, you’ll be able to look at all those horrors, the tormentors, the abusers and say, “Jesus took care of it. Boy, did He ever take care of it.”

In thinking over all this, God keeps bringing a passage back to mind. Luke 7: 11-17. A funeral procession was passing by Jesus and when He saw and heard the intensity of their grief, the original language says His compassion was so great He couldn’t help Himself. He had to move and intervene. He touched the funeral bier and brought the dead boy back to life.walking

He is the Author of Life. Nothing grieves His heart more than suffering. Some day all will be made right. Our enemy does not have the final say. He will be crushed.

And the beautiful thing about our Savior is that, even in the here and now, we can say, like Joseph, “what you intended for harm, God used for good.” He births beauty out of the most broken messes.

All will be well. Cling to the Hope of Jesus. He is holding you even now.

Lie #3: “I’m Worthless” and Other Labels

worthless

Welcome back to our blog series “Liar”, a look at our enemy and the lies he tells us. As a refresher, we’ve discussed Lie #1 “God’s Main Concern is my Happiness” and Lie #2 “If my life were different, I would be different”. This week’s lie seems to be an arrow flung with far too much frequency by the enemy and one believed by far too many of God’s children. Lie #3: “I’m worthless.”

Whenever I’m teaching at retreats about the enemy’s lies and I come to this one, I ask the ladies to raise their hands if they have believed lie #3 at some point in their lives. Without fail, every hand in the room has gone up. Why? count of monte cristo quote

After listening to story after story, one common denominator seems to resonate through most of these women’s issues…someone at some point gave them a label that stuck.

Names have power. Nicknames can be fun but when nicknames turn into labels, it can be a problem. Let me explain.

I recently conducted a Facebook and Twitter poll asking my friends what their nicknames were growing up. Some of my favorites were Snicklefritz, Squeaky, Casper, Noodle, Idgit, and Sassafras. Cute. Sweet. Then things took a twist.

Soon people started sharing their, uh, less flattering nicknames…monikers like Tubby, Fatso or Motor Mouth to name a few.

Names can turn into labels. Labels stick. Soon we begin to believe the lie that we are what the label advertises.

peachesTo put it another way, labels usually tell us what’s inside, right? If I walk into my pantry and grab a can that bears a label of plump, juicy peaches, I don’t expect to open the can and find black eyed peas inside. The label system works great for canned foods and organizing closets, but not for defining our own worth.

Some of us are slapped with a label just once, maybe twice by some cruel person and we believe the lie. We mistakenly believe we are what the label advertises.

“That boy said I’m ugly. So therefore I must be…

*unattractive to everyone.”

*I’ll always be unattractive.”

*I’m unattractive on the inside too.”

*No one will ever want me.”

On and on the lies go.

A dear friend of mine was told from the time she was young that she was unwanted and it wreaked havoc in her life. Why? Because she believed it. A lie is only detrimental if we believe it.

Maybe you have a label stuck to you that refuses to come off. Maybe it’s “Unwanted”. “Unlovable”. “Black Sheep”. “Depressed”. “Divorced”. “Loser”. “Mess up.” “Victim”. “Condemned.” “Never Good Enough”.

You are more than the label someone has given you.

value and worthThis lie of feeling worthless is based in rejection. Sometimes it may be more than words or feelings. You might have lived through the slicing pain of divorce. A nasty break-up. Perhaps you’ve been rejected by your family, mistreated by your coworkers, or fired from your job. For some, the most devastating blow of all is being forgotten by your children. For others, you might be dealing with the mess from your own consequences and poor decisions and you just need a little grace from people unwilling to give it.

Here’s the thing…your worth does not change based on someone’s ability to see it. 

Consider a priceless work of art. A Van Gogh painting. Pretend you are walking down the street and are stunned to see an original, authentic Van Gogh painting carelessly tossed into a dumpster. Why would anyone do such a thing? Clearly the owner had no idea of its worth. trash

Did the painting’s worth change based on its location or who owned it? No. Its value remained the same. This scenario only shows us the ignorance of the person who discarded it.

Don’t let someone who doesn’t understand your value define your worth.

As always, we need look no farther than Jesus. The Prince of Peace knows exactly what it’s like to be labeled worthless and rejected. 1 Peter 2:4 says this:

“Come to Him [the risen Lord] as to a living Stone which men rejected and threw away, but which is choice and precious in the sight of God.”

Did you catch that? Men rejected and threw away Jesus…the Creator, Redeemer, Savior, their Hope and King. There aren’t enough books in the world to contain all the words to describe the worth of Christ, yet men still rejected Him and threw Him away. It said nothing of His worth, only the inability of the people to understand that God Himself had come down to them. They didn’t understand the treasure they’d been given.

You are precious to God. He loved you so much He would have rather died than leave you in the dark. If you’re still battling lie #3 in your mind, you need look no further than the cross. jesus

Jesus didn’t die for junk. You are immeasurably priceless and loved by the God of the universe. When He gave up His life for you, He gave your life its worth.

Never let anyone tell you differently.