Tag Archives | transformation

Holy Ground

The road I take daily is an uneven mess of potholes and cracks. At least it used to be. A few months ago, workers showed up bright and early one morning to set up their equipment on either side of this road I’ve grown to mildly tolerate. I recognized the routine, because they’ve done it dozens of time before. They fill in the holes, yet it doesn’t seem to make the ride any smoother.

This time, though, they shut the road down temporarily. They allowed only one lane to pass by at a narrow crawl while they began a new thing on this road, something I’ve never seen them do in almost a decade of living here.

They covered the old road with a brand-new one.

It was time-consuming and inconvenient, and most days (if I remembered) I’d take another route to avoid that road entirely. When it was finished and all the workers cleared out their equipment and heavy trucks, it was as if there was never a hole or so much as a bump in the road.

Holy Ground

Photo by Maria Stiehler on Unsplash

A brand-new road was poured right on top of the old, broken one. The cracks have been leveled by a smooth, flat pathway. We can spend our lives trying to fill holes deep within us, when all we really needed is an altogether new heart.

For the last nine years, I’ve veered to the middle of the road every day to avoid a huge pothole right before the stop sign at the bottom of the bridge. Today I caught myself mindlessly swerving to miss something that is no longer there. Habits are hard to break.

God’s word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path, it’s true, but sometimes I turn to other things foolishly thinking they can light my way. Lies can drag me off God’s path, my own emotions and expectations can weigh me down to a stop, and other people and their plans for my life can distract and mislead me.  Like my driving habits, it doesn’t take much to slip into old mindsets I’ve outgrown.

This is how I will always be. Or I’ll never overcome this struggle. It’s just as ridiculous as trying to avoid a pothole that’s no longer in front of me. Jesus came full of grace and truth to renew minds and transform hearts. So rather than repeating accusatory (and false) words to my heart, I’m learning to replace them with these instead: This is how Gods changing me. I’m trusting God to help me overcome this struggle.

My identity is longer tied to my past.

Who I am is securely fastened to the One who bridged a sure path for my heart. I could never fill in these holes in my heart, but Jesus made every crooked path straight and every rough road smooth when gave me a brand-new heart. He’s paved direct access from my heart to the Father’s, a narrow way I’m learning to take.

Some days, I hate the inconvenience of it. I can’t stand the mess and the wait. I’d rather just go another way, avoid this road entirely. But in kindness and love, God keeps bringing me back to the very same road that used to be full of bumps and cracks and flaws. There, He invites me to learn His way, practice His truth, walk in His love.

A quick fix with no discomfort or inconvenience can seem so very alluring, but healing a heart and repaving a road hardly happen in a day. Jesus invites us to walk in freedom, and exercising that freedom requires time and trust. Every time we believe Jesus to lead us forward, we gain a little more level ground underneath our feet. And level ground is holy ground, to be sure.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

Scripture references:

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Psalm 25:4 NIV

The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth. Isaiah 26:7 NIV

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16 NIV

Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. Luke 3:5 NIV

 

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The Ministry of Morning Dew

As we walked to the bus stop, they asked the usual big kid questions (how, why, when) concerning the tiny droplets of water covering our lawn and everybody else’s. I reached way back to retrieve a solid explanation from my science teaching days. The word condensation left my lips (or was it precipitation?) with the same amount of grace I muster up each time I try to fold a fitted sheet into a neat square stack.

After completely confusing them, I finally said, “Guys, I’m not really sure. Dew just happens overnight, when we’re all fast asleep.” We moved onto a new topic, but I was aware of the sense that they had settled.

We all knew I hadn’t really answered the question.

When dew shows up the very next morning in Psalm 110, I prepare myself for a better explanation of the early morning mystery. I record verse 3 in my journal, a little confused yet trusting I’m on the verge of something sacred.

Photo by Jonas Weckschmied on Unsplash

Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. Psalm 110:3 ESV

Psalm 110 depicts God the Father speaking to God the Son.  I learn that it is one of the most cited passages in the New Testament. Yet, in my bible (the one I’ve read for the past seven years) not one verse is underlined. The margin where I normally scribble illegible notes to myself is completely blank.

I settle in, curious as to how these very words quoted by Paul, the gospel authors, and even Jesus Himself could have slipped through my grasp. How could I have missed this? Matthew Henry explains that the dew of your youth “is a numerous, illustrious, hopeful show of young people flocking to Christ, which would be to the world as dew to the ground, to make it fruitful.”

Dew is refreshing, but also purposefully mysterious.

I start thinking of my oldest girl’s tender heart, how she leans in to drink the things of God. A couple months ago, she claimed Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Her King and Priest, as this passage also declares.

Photo by A&A Newborn Photography

When we went to meet with sweet Miss Maggie, her Children’s Minister, I panicked when I realized I never wrote down the date of her life-changing decision. It was summer, or had school started? I couldn’t remember. The conversations spread out over days, months even. This giving her heart to Jesus was a long time coming. It occurred in the hiddenness of her own heart prompted by her own seven-year-old prayer.

As we sat there with Miss Maggie in October—everything got pushed back a bit thanks to Hurricane Harvey—I started to categorize this as another “mom-fail.” Then ever-so-gently, God assured my momma heart that my girls’ decision to follow Him stretches far beyond a single day, a single moment, a single prayer.

He’s been pursuing her heart for her whole entire life. This, too, is a phenomenon like the morning dew; it’s hard to pin down a certain date, a certain starting place, a certain measurable quantity. God knows the exact moment she handed Him her heart.

The hiddenness defines the beauty.

Eugene Peterson, in his book As Kingfishers Catch Fire, connects the phrase from the womb of morning to Mary’s womb delivering Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s covenant and refreshment of hearts. Gorgeous if you stoop low enough to notice, yet much easier to miss. Peterson relates the spectacular, dominating metaphors of royal king and holy priest to something altogether unexpected: the early morning birth of a baby who came to save the world.

Like dew, we celebrate His arrival every December, marvel at His beauty, share in His glorious refreshment. It suits Jesus to use an overlooked metaphor. Most days we walk right by unless we’re paying close attention. But those of us who dare to lean in a little get a sacred glimpse of His power and righteousness in this tangible phenomenon that greets us morning by morning.

On the soggiest winter morning, this brave girl of ours was baptized by her daddy in front of all her family and friends.

Outside under heavy fog and in full view of the glistening dew, she got to show everyone she loves that she now belongs to Jesus.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14 ESV

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

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When Your Heart Feels Heavy

Last week I wrote about thanksgiving—not family tradition or the celebration itself, but the kind of thanksgiving that flows from our lips as praise to the One from whom all blessings flow. This precious truth from Psalm 8:2 has been on my heart ever since: 

A thankful heart can silence the lies of the enemy. 

But sometimes, embracing gratitude is a struggle. The state of our hearts can feel out of sync with the cheer of the season. We wonder why our self-ridden hearts get to be so heavy and forget that Jesus came to us as a bundled baby to free our hearts from every weight.

When my heart feels defeated and I’m tempted to fix myself or turn to someone or something to fix me, this beautiful truth from God’s Word draws me back to Him: We can do nothing apart from Christ.

I wrote this prayer during a season when the words from Isaiah 46 both convicted and comforted my heart. If you’re heart feels heavy today and gratitude feels more like a chore than a choice, I pray these words offer some hope today.

Click the image below to download your own copy of this Prayer for a Heavy Heart.

A Prayer for a Heavy Heart

Click image to download PDF of prayer

 // Isaiah 46 //

 1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
a burden for the weary.
They stoop and bow down together;
unable to rescue the burden,
they themselves go off into captivity.

God, you name the idols, you call them out. You point out the ones I carry, as well, the things I love and serve, idols that cannot rescue, cannot love, cannot protect me. I name them now as I bow before you. I admit that these idols have weighed me down to a weary crawl. These are from you to be used for you and by you, yet my sin convinces me they are mine to worship, hold high, hold close. But I am yours; I belong to you. I was bought at a price. Love paid the ultimate ransom for my freedom. Lord, I’ve tried to steal your glory. Forgive me, Jesus.

“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Thank you, Jesus, for your love. Thank you for your ability and willingness to rescue my rebellious heart. You have carried me my whole life. Not a moment has passed without your hand guiding me. Your promise to continue carrying me brings a new peace to my heart. Your mercy is far beyond my understanding. You are my Maker, and you love what you’ve created. My heart is in your hands. These idols will never add value to the masterpiece you’ve made of me. You’re the adventure. You’re my prize. I choose to fix my eyes on you alone.

“With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
Some pour out gold from their bags
and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
and they bow down and worship it.
They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
they set it up in its place, and there it stands.
From that spot it cannot move.
Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer;
it cannot save them from their troubles.

It seems ridiculous to think for a moment that these idols could ever unburden me, save me, protect me, rescue me. It’s like strapping burdensome weights on my back and wondering why it’s hard to move forward. These idols cannot save, they cannot answer, and they cannot move me. They bind me useless, ineffective, and stuck. I empty my hands. Fill me with your love.

“Remember this, keep it in mind,
take it to heart, you rebels.
Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say,
‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.

11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do.

There is none like You, God. You are faithful and true. I’ve exchanged truth for lies, and I’ve worshipped the created rather than you, my Creator. Yet you made possible this great exchange to reverse everything we corrupted and tarnished: my sin for your perfect love. It cost you everything. You have not only carried me, but you’ve carried out your beautiful redemption plan. It is finished, Jesus, and I live in the glow of the resurrection, the promise kept, the Way made known to all.

12 Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
you who are now far from my righteousness.
13 I am bringing my righteousness near,
it is not far away;
and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
my splendor to Israel.

You initiated, Jesus. You drew near, even as my sin obstructed my view of you. You made this exchange possible for me while I was still stuck, immobile in my brokenness. In you I find rest and peace and freedom and salvation. In you I find purpose, joy, and acceptance. My idols have failed me, harmed me, drained me, and left me empty. But you, Jesus, have never failed; you are faithful. Thank you that I am kept secure in you. Thank you for carrying me in love.

Amen.

Artwork created by Julie Cassol

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{HER STORY} 08: Give Your Tears to God

My grandma is one of the strongest and most independent women I know. When I was eight, I wanted to run a lemonade stand. All I had to do was dream it up, and Grandma made it happen. Nothing seemed impossible for her. I cherish the independence she passed along to me, but through the years I’ve learned that my grandma’s strength comes from a deep dependence on God.

/ / This is her story. / /

Give Your Tears to God

I could not possibly convey in under one thousand words what my grandfather meant to my grandmother, but they had the kind of relationship everyone on this earth longs for. He was crazy about her, and she knew it. They married as teenagers, and the rest is history.

My Pop passed away just six short weeks before my twins were born. My boy is named for his great-grandpa with the big personality and uncanny ability to make people smile. When Grandma came to help me with the twins, I noticed a desire to serve others during a time no one would have faulted her for focusing on her own broken heart.

The source of her strength was her strong God.

Grandma has attended the same church for the last 50 years. God gifted her with selflessness and compassion for the most precious in all of God’s kingdom: the little children. She serves in areas hidden yet vital. For decades now, my grandma has loved on and prayed over babies, toddlers, and the littlest ones who’ve given their hearts to Jesus.

“The most rewarding part is to watch the kids go on with the Lord,” she told me.

She’s been there long enough to watch infants grow up to be worship leaders and missionaries in foreign countries. She’s watched them start families of their own. God has given her the joy of being a part of their stories from the very beginning.  Every baby she sang blessing over is a beautiful memory she treasures.

October 2015 / Grandma holding our youngest (one of her five great-grandchildren)

Grandma’s heart is just as much for young moms as it is the precious children she shepherds. In 2010, she brought her ministry to my front door. Those first three weeks flew by, and when it was time for Grandma to go home, I begged her to stay three more. Of course, she agreed.

At a time when she was grieving and missing her own Jake, she began each morning with my Jake, the child who still gets up before the sun even as a seven-year-old. My grandma used the gifts God gave her as if it weren’t up to her to decide how or when or where.

Blessing others seem to heal her heart in some small, mysterious way. It got her away from home, away from the painful memories. Serving her family gave her a way to continue ministering in the way she loved, yet God kept her hidden and gave her some much needed space to grieve.

I watched my grandma hand her tears to Jesus.

I’ve learned what it means to abide in Christ by watching my eighty-three-year-old grandmother lean heavily on Him during these last seven years of widowhood. When Grandma talks about my Pop, she speaks with the assurance that they will one day be reunited in the presence of the God.

She told me the other day that missing Pop gets harder as time goes on. I really can’t imagine the heartache, but I see the way she continues to love, serve, trust, and give. Her perseverance is rooted in a strong and vibrant faith, a faith that firmly believes God doesn’t waste tears.

When Grandma and I held babies together in a quiet house all those years ago, she told me how God comforted her through the Psalms. Tears rolled down her face as she described how His Word soothed her grieving heart in ways she had never known before. God’s Word became her lifeline on days she thought her pain was too much.

My oldest daughter and I began reading through the Psalms this fall. My grandma’s advice has been a gentle nudging in my heart:

“Don’t just read the words; dwell on them.”

Fill my heart with joy

God’s Word has strengthened Grandma’s faith, and it’s opened brand new doors of ministry. Her deepest pain in losing her soul mate has been transformed into a heart for widows. As she has drawn close to Jesus, He has placed a part of His own heart within hers. When I watch Grandma love on those God has placed in her life, I see the way God, too, cherishes the most vulnerable among us.

Jesus told his followers that the worst possible news would soon happen. He would die. They would be separated from Him, and their hearts would be overcome with sorrow. But they had no idea that He would also turn their sorrow into a precious gift, that His death was the beginning of really good news.

In John 16:20, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”  When Jesus spoke these mysterious words to His closest friends, He reminded them of something that’s relevant to every one of us, something I recognize in my grandma’s life:

No one will take your joy from you.

God is leading my grandma to new places far outside her comfort zone, to territory she’s never even considered before. In His Word, in her faith, and in a beautiful partnership with Jesus to further His kingdom here on earth.

May her story comfort those who grieve and encourage us to hand our tears over to God. We can trust Him to replace our deepest sorrow with abounding joy. These are Grandma’s words… for her great-grandchildren, but also for all of us.

“I love the Lord with all of my heart and have found Him faithful all of my years. Fall in love with Jesus. Love His Word and let Him lead and guide you. All your answers to life are found in God’s Word.” ~Joann Smith

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Shrug off Shame for Good

When I was much younger in my faith and less sure of who I was in Christ, I listened to a man break down Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians, and when I say break down, I literally mean it was a broken attempt to handle the passage in biblical context. His words did not line up with truth, so I dismissed the lies as best I knew how. Shame, however, hung around to bully my soul.

Shame choked my identity and called my ability to serve in the body of Christ into question. I’d feel shame’s hot, prickly breath on the back of my neck anytime I spoke up with conviction. Our enemy’s favorite tactic is to convince us there is something innately wrong with the way God made us.

Shame keeps us from the truth.

I decided early on that using my voice brought pain, so I vowed to keep my mouth shut. For many, many years, I kept this vow until God said, “Enough.” It cost me a great deal more to stay silent than speak up. A recent trip to the dentist with my seven-year-old gave me a whole new perspective on what it really takes to shrug off shame for good.

By the time our youngest daughter came along, my older girl had started brushing her teeth all by herself. When one of her permanent teeth pushed its way up, there wasn’t much room in her tiny mouth. She struggled to reach it with her toothbrush. When I noticed the yellowish-brown color of that same tooth, I encouraged her do a better job brushing.

I felt responsible for the neglected tooth. No amount of brushing could restore the brightness of her tooth. On her last cleaning visit, the dentist used a big long doctor word to explain the discoloration. Apparently, this happened when the tooth was still in the tooth bed. A couple of factors might be responsible, including a high fever or antibiotics. Poor brushing did not cause the discoloration.

As soon as we stepped into the hallway, I told my girl how sorry I was, how wrong I was to blame her for the condition of her tooth. As she dropped her head, I recognized that classic look of shame. I lifted her chin up so her eyes met mine. “Momma made a mistake. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”

She cracked a grin and broke the silence with, “Of course, Mom! Everybody makes mistakes.” And just like that, we both let it go. It doesn’t always happen quite like that, but God spoke through this situation like a megaphone to my heart.

Freedom from shame comes through forgiveness.

Freedom from shame is found through forgiveness.

The shame I allowed to silence me all those years ago originated from something false, something contrary to the Word of God. Just as my daughter’s shame about her tooth came from a misconception from someone she looked up to—her own mother.

Sometimes the people we look up to most—teachers, leaders, even parents—get it wrong. But no one is outside the reach of grace. When I told my girl that I was sorry, the truth exposed her shame, and forgiveness set her heart free.

Shame has no place in our lives as believers. Freedom isn’t found in walking out our callings or calling out our shame, though both are necessary and crucial as we defend our faith. We experience the freedom Jesus purchased for us when we forgive the very ones who heaped on shame intentionally or unintentionally.

When I first noticed my daughter’s tooth, I felt ashamed for the limits that caring for a newborn had put on me. I felt shame that I did not help my oldest do a better job brushing her teeth. In his memoir All is Grace, Brennan Manning says that shame that isn’t transformed is transferred.

Shame passes on shame.

As I apply this to my own story and my own wounds, I now understand that the shame I felt years ago could have been a result of my shamers’ own shame. And I have everything I need to shrug shame off at the feet of Jesus.

When we bring our shame to the foot of the cross, we discover the only place true forgiveness is possible.  Forgiveness breaks the shackles of shame, and apologies are never prerequisites. Jesus longs to transform our shame into radiant beauty. He’s the only One who is both willing and able.

If you’ve felt the weight of shame, you’re not alone. We’ve all been shamed, and we’ve all shamed someone else, intentionally or unintentionally. We’ve been wronged, and we all get it wrong from time to time. But as we take our wounds to Jesus, may we remember that we’ve been scandalously forgiven, so we really can forgive and shrug off shame for good.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

Jesus shamed shame on the cross so that our hearts could live in glorious freedom.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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What I’m Learning: Summer 2017

What I'm Learning: Summer Edition

I like the quiet habit of sitting down each season and looking back to remember. It remedies my rushed soul and invites me to recognize the lessons I tend to unintentionally discard.

I scribble out this causal list, determined to make it to number ten. At seven, I put down my pen. I’m learning that God’s ways are perfect, and since seven is synonymous with completion, I choose to accept that this list of seven things I’m learning is also complete… for now. For this season.

I’ll end with three tiny dots, a sure sign I’m still learning. The walk continues, the pursuit continues, growth continues, and love continues to carry me on into the next season ahead.

Seven things I’m learning this summer…

  1. Gratitude can turn any threat into encouragement.

My only defense against comparison for so many years was striving. Try harder, do better, be someone else. Striving only left me wounded. But then a friend’s precious wisdom helped me see a more effective defense when tempted to compare.

She challenged me to redirect my focus back onto God by thanking Him for the beauty I see in others. I’ve practiced this summer, (and when I say practice, I do mean it’s a work in progress) but I’ve noticed a faint trace of peace in my heart. I love the notion of imperfect progress, and this is where God has me.

  1. You’re never too old to try something new.

My picky eater tried ice cream for the first time this year. He’s seven. (I know.) Our family outings to the ice cream shop end with cups of ice cream for all but one. He’s always been content with his bowl full of toppings. Until he tried the delicious stuff at school towards the end of his Kindergarten year.

This summer my girl suggested we grab some ice cream cones on a weekly grocery run. That night after dinner, we all piled heaps of ice cream onto perfectly shaped sugar waffle cones—Homemade Vanilla for the boys and Southern Blackberry Cobbler for the girls, thank you very much Blue Bell!

You're never too old to try something new.

Watching my boy at age seven attack an ice cream cone for the very first time was a little bit like witnessing pure joy. When I start to tell myself I’m too old to try new things, I want to remember the grin on my boy’s face!

  1. The recipe for righteousness has always been and will always just Jesus.

Words like faith and abide fill my Christian vernacular, yet so often my understanding of their true meaning is lacking at best. I’m learning how to embrace the simple side of faith and how to let go of striving in my own strength.

Who knew an anniversary trip to Napa Valley with my man could have such drastic effects on my relationship with Christ? I’m thankful for the travel time, but even more thankful for the way Jesus is never ever finished with me.

  1.  God’s story cannot be silenced.

Our enemy is power hungry, but since He cannot steal the power of God within us, He comes after something else: our voices. I’m learning that God’s story cannot be silenced. Since my story tells His story, I cannot be silenced either.  

The stunning book of Daniel has captivated my heart this summer. God is teaching me that He is sovereign, unchangeable, and the ultimate pursuer of hearts.

  1. Only God can turn shame into beauty.

I don’t see my friend Julie very often, but when she visited a few months ago, I had the precious privilege of hearing her storyThough we grew up together, so much of what she shared was new to my ears. Her story gave me new eyes to view my own story.

I’m learning that my wounds and scars and battle stories reveal that I’ve been redeemed. The cross, the utmost symbol of shame, is a beacon of beauty and a representation of perfect love for all who trust in Jesus.

  1. One of the hardest, most costly aspects of discipleship is a willingness to let our hearts break.

I have struggled my heart out over this one this summer. Jesus washed the feet of His own betrayer and willingly gave Himself though many would never choose Him. My heart does not have the capacity to love like this, but Christ in me does.

This summer Love is leading me through rejection, hurt, and loss. I’m learning that love is always worth it in the end.

  1. Water balloons and sunshine are overrated. Bring on the rain!

We had big plans for our first day of summer with our box of 350+ water balloons and plastic water guns. When the rain came and stayed for a while, we exchanged our water war plans for puddle jumping instead.

When we finally got our day of water fun, the big kids and I raced to fill water balloons before their baby sister launched them into the grass, making a neon mess. The fun lasted minutes; the cleanup, however, lingered on and on.

The next day, as we wiped away the Texas sweat, the kids begged to pull on their rain boots and twirl their umbrellas. The impromptu shade made a hot summer day a little more beautiful!

Water balloons and sunshine are overrated.

I pray your summer was sweet and refreshing and full of learning adventures! I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Sharing what we’re learning connects our hearts in such a simple yet beautiful way.

Until next season…

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The War of Awe

A theme of conflict pulses through the book of Daniel. War, opposition, power struggle. Kingdom against kingdom. I notice the spiritual battle that surrounds me, and with God’s help, I begin to recognize the war within me.

My heart is the battle ground where flesh opposes Spirit. All I want to do is look away, look away because it’s too personal, too much. Spiritual growth is spiritual warfare, and the is struggle intense.

In his book, Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do, Paul David Tripp says that sin has made us not only lawbreakers, but awe breakers as well.

“Sin captures and redirects the motivational system of our hearts. Sin changes how our hearts operate… We exchange awe of Creator for awe of created… most fundamentally awe of self.”

War of Awe

Daniel 10 is a lead-in to the final vision of what’s to come for the people of God and for the end of time. 

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision. Daniel 10:1

It takes several reads to recognize Daniel’s name assigned to him by his captors, Belteshazzar. I think it’s intended to remind us that he is not free. Daniel is still in exile, in bondage; he has yet to be delivered.

God uses exile as a means to restoration.

God has given us hearts to know Him; He restores our hearts in this ongoing struggle between awe of self and awe of God. Tripp says, “Spiritual growth is about recapturing your awe.”

Reading through the book of Daniel this summer, I’ve seen the physical conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. The turmoil in Daniel’s visions mirrors the nightly news feed and reminds me of the ongoing unseen battle.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Galatians 5:16-17

In Christ, the flesh no longer controls us; the Spirit leads us instead. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Daily. We die to self daily. Though our eternal rescue is complete, we look to Jesus to daily rescue us from ourselves.

What God begins, He finishes.

My flesh longs to worship self; the Spirit knows my heart needs to worship God alone. It’s a power struggle called sanctification. It’s an all-out war between the kingdom of me and the Kingdom of God, and I want this war to end.

Jesus Christ has personally carried me from victim to victor. He has made a way—the only way—for this enemy of God to become a child of God. And in the very end, He will win this war of awe.

God recaptures our awe through an ongoing, grace-filled, intimate relationship with us. He created us to live utterly and completely enthralled by Him, and the Spirit gives us everything we need to intimately know Him.

A friend asked me recently to pray that God would light a fire in her to live for Him alone. I told her it would be my absolute honor to pray with her. This prayer reveals humility and an understanding that all we have to do is ask God to do what we cannot do for ourselves.

None of us can spark our own fires.

I can’t. You can’t. The Spirit is our fire, our sanctifier. The realization that sin has hijacked our awe can overwhelm, especially if you’re like me, and you’re just waiting for Jesus to give up on you, because you would’ve given up on you ages ago. This beautiful prayer invites us to turn to God instead and ask Him to do what we cannot do for ourselves.

Spark a fire in me. Keep the fire going. Kindle the flame when it starts to fade.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The Simple Side of Faith

My man and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary back in May by taking a kid-free trip to Napa Valley. The gorgeous scenery and fine wine were just the backdrop. The quiet was everything I knew it would be and more. Getting away reminded me just how much I love hanging out with this guy.

Napa Valley

At each vineyard we visited, I caught myself considering Jesus’ words from John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” I don’t often think of farming when I pour a glass of cabernet, but I learned that wine-making is a complex process.

The intricate relationship between the vine and the branches drew my heart to the sovereignty of the One who oversees the growth in my own heart.

The care with which the vine is tended, the way the fruit matures, and the process that manifests itself in a beautiful bottle of wine is anything but simple. Such extensive labor and creativity goes into making wine that we heard it called art.

We are the Father’s work of art, ever changing and growing, becoming more beautiful with time.

Later in the week, I grabbed my bible and read more of Jesus’ words in John 15, certain that He wanted to speak to me though this intriguing illustration. In just ten verses, He repeats the word remain eleven times. Abide, another interchangeable term, means to continue to be present, to be held or kept.

In my everyday moments, this looks like resting in God’s thoughts about me; it looks like claiming my identity in Christ, the true vine. When I take every thought captive and line it up with the truth in God’s word, I realize my part really is breathtakingly simple.

Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The times I’m most defeated, discouraged, and doubtful are the times I’m trying so hard to bear fruit on my own. Jesus says it’s not possible.

Apart from His love, nothing will grow.

I am the vine; you are the branches.

His love is the only love that’s pure and perfect and able to produce good in us.

Jesus continues, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9, 16-17)

After Jesus describes His own extravagant love, He gives the command, Love one another.

It’s beautifully straightforward yet I wrestle with the simplicity of it.

It’s beautifully straightforward, yet I wrestle with the simplicity of it.

Jordan Feliz has a song called Simple. These lyrics resonate particularly well with my soul: “In my dirt you call me worth it…” Sometimes, it’s so hard to receive perfect, unconditional love.

This occasional struggle in my soul plays out when I look to another love to sustain and carry me, when I’m anything but present to the whisper of the Spirit, or when I all-out reject my God-given identity, because accepting God’s love means I have nothing to prove and my selfish ambition becomes just a hair skeptical of this lavish love Jesus offers.

Receiving God’s love doesn’t have to be complex.

God does all the work. All we do is trust Him, believe Him, and let His love carry us. Then we watch how it changes the way we love others.

God is responsible for planting, tending, pruning, and plucking. This part is hard, complex. The produce at the end of harvest holds endless possibilities and combinations. Every minute detail gets adjusted to achieve the desired outcome.

The farmer—that’s God—is responsible for planting, tending, pruning, and plucking.

Harsh frost, direct sunlight, and changing seasons pose all kinds of threats to the fruit growing on the vine. Farmers use windmills to move cool mountain air along down the valley so frost cannot damage the grapes. They even consider the angle of the sunlight onto the fruit in the planting process.

The branches are not responsible for these challenges; they are the Vinedresser’s responsibility, and He knows exactly what He’s doing. The fruit He produces lasts for eternity.

Jesus, the true vine and true way back to the Father’s love, took care of the complicated part for us.

The vine produces fruit; the branches bear the fruit. This part is natural and straightforward and overwhelmingly… simple. But our part also requires a response: obey. “Do what He tells you,” wise words straight from the mother of the One who changed water into wine.

Abide in my love and my love pours out of you.

Fruit takes time. Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit we can count on when we’re united with Christ: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

This isn’t a list of rules, but a list of character traits, evidence of how deeply our character is altered when we put on the righteousness of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t a remedy for our sin; it’s evidence of Christ in us.

Christ is the only remedy we need.

Abide in my love and my love pours out of you.

Simple yet so complex. Profound in every way. Let’s leave the complicated part to Him and rest in the simplicity of reckless love.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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God at Work Within the Unchangeable

If you are faithful, expect enemies. The sixth chapter of Daniel opens with this in-your-face truth. If you’re a child of the King, you are a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Daniel’s enemies were accusers, and so is ours.

We’ve been studying the book of Daniel at church all summer long. Week after week, every story narrated, every vision revealed, every dream interpreted points to the rising conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. This tension will reach a fever pitch at Christ’s first coming, and again at His second coming.

We live in the space between. 

King Darius, desiring power and position, made a rule that all must bow and worship him for thirty days. Daniel continued praying, worshipping, believing and trusting the living God. Daniel did what he’d always done, and the story reaches its climax as he stands accused and gets tossed into a den full of hungry lions.

I tend to read through this story and forget it really happened. These were real lions, real hungry lions that had their mouths shut by God. Scripture doesn’t say God filled their stomachs and satisfied their appetites. It only says He shut their mouths. These weren’t sweet cats purring all night long. They were angry and frustrated and confused. And still very, very hungry.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den.

Daniel, prompted by prayer, exhibited gratitude in the middle of a horrible life-or-death situation. King Darius, stressed out and anxiety-ridden, decided in his own strength to try and rescue Daniel himself.

Before you get all tender-hearted for this hero-wanna-be, I’m pretty sure Darius’ rescue mission had to do with losing his best man, a key figure in his administration. The chapter opens with his great plans to promote Daniel to an even higher position. So, this had nothing to do with Daniel; this was about Darius and all he stood to lose if Daniel became dinner for some lions.

Darius could not deliver Daniel. In the meantime, Darius began spinning out of control. He was not only sleepless and peaceless, he was flat-out hopeless.

Daniel exhibited hope and peace. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “We do not grieve as those without hope.” We still grieve, but we have living hope. Faith helps us recognize the character of God when the all the world can see are the circumstances.

Our response is evidence of our faith.

When Daniel received bad news, he gave thanks. Daniel wasn’t thanking God for the bad news; he just knew there were plenty of reasons to give thanks based on God’s character rather than his circumstances. Gratitude prompted peace in his heart.

But if we walk away only hearing a try-harder, have-more-faith pep talk, we’ve missed the point entirely. These things—hope, peace, gratitude, faithfulness—aren’t ingredients for the perfect recipe for righteousness or a remedy for sin.

The recipe for righteousness and the remedy for sin has always been and will always be Jesus. Just Jesus.

These characteristics represent the visible fruit that comes from an invisible but thriving faith in a God who is greater than our circumstances. They depict how deeply our character changes when we put on the righteousness of Christ. Hope and peace and joy point to Christ within us.

It’s not about the size or the quality of our faith; it’s about the object of our faith. Mustard seed faith is all we need, Jesus says, as long as that faith is fixed on Him. As long as long He is the object of our faith.

As a young man Daniel relied on God not his circumstances. He is an old man at this point in his life, and this chapter reminds my heart that fruit takes time. Transformation is a gradual process.

Faith in God may not change every set of circumstances, but our faith in Christ over time changes us.

I remember when we got pregnant for the first time. We had tried for over three years at that point to conceive and infertility had left battle wounds all over my heart. My faith felt shaky, but we celebrated our hearts out, clueless that more heartbreak was right around the corner. We told everyone our news.

And then I miscarried.

Sitting in our living room, surrounded by devastation, my husband and I discussed how we would un-tell all these people. I remember so vividly this conversation with my husband, because God used him to speak truth into my life. I asked him, “What are we going to tell people?”

He looked right at me and said, “We’ll tell them God is good.”

My husband’s words to me were evidence of God at work within his heart, at work within our heart-breaking circumstances. His response was evidence of his faith. What will we tell them? We will tell them that God is good, because He is.

Even when circumstances aren’t good, God is still good. God’s goodness does not fluctuate because He does not change; He cannot change. God is constant.

Daruis’ signature on the decree meant Daniel’s situation could not be altered. Irrevocable. The stone at the mouth of the lion’s den and the king’s seal also indicated an unchangeable situation.

Daniel recognized His unchangeable God in the middle of his unchangeable circumstances.

Daniel knew nothing could change God. Nothing.  Not persecution or slander or oppression or rejection or accusation or life in a hostile culture. Not even a den full of lions. This incredible story highlights three aspects of God’s character that will never change.

God’s plan to rescue and redeem and restore cannot be altered.

King Darius was a powerful king, but he was powerless to change Daniel’s situation. The king’s plan involved keeping Daniel from the lion’s den altogether, but God’s rescue mission involved entering the lion’s den Himself.

God’s pursuit of us will never diminish.

God’s love fuels His plan. We are pursued and lavishly loved by God. Love prompted Jesus to willingly enter the dark, sin-infested pit of this world to suffer and serve and confront the lion. It was for love—so that we might live with God in an ongoing relationship forever and ever. Moved by a love that’s unchanging, God paid the price that we never could.

The power of the Holy Spirit within us cannot be revoked.

God promises the gift of His Spirit to all who believes in Jesus as an irrevocable deposit. His Spirit within us is proof of His promise. No matter how hard life gets, no matter how far we fall, God has promised He will never remove His Spirit.  This same Spirit was strong enough to shut the mouths of hungry lions and raise Jesus from the dead.  That’s the power at work within us!

God didn’t remove the threat from Daniel’s life; He rendered the threat powerless over Daniels’ life. The lions remained a part of Daniel’s story, but the lions could never overpower God.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den. 1 Peter 5:8 says that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Our enemy will try to scare us into compromise, or get us to settle, back down, or stay in bondage, but he can’t touch our souls. He cannot harm us.

The lion is part of our story, but God has revealed how the story will end.

The conclusion of Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den mirrors Paul’s description of the very, very end for all who have claimed their salvation in Christ:

So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23 (emphasis mine)

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Jesus will return, and when He does, we will be lifted out of the lion’s den. Until then, God’s unchanging plan, pursuit, and power remind us that He is with present, working all things together for our good and His glory.

May we embrace the promises of a God who never changes even as we are dealt heartbreaking disappointments. Let us give thanks, in all circumstances, especially the unfavorable ones.

May we cling to the One who holds in His hand the whole mess of our lives and every broken way we take, the only One able to rescue and deliver us. May we rest in the companionship of Jesus, knowing that no matter what unfolds in the here and now, His love will usher us into eternity blameless and unscathed.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Destined for Hard Times

Nothing prepared me for this. I mean nothing. I had seen flat, two-dimensional pictures, sure. My mind held a handful of facts, all amazing, but some things in life must be experienced in person for a deeper meaning to take root. My trip with my husband to Muir Woods this spring was one of them.

Muir Woods

It was only our first day of vacation, so we were still easing into that slow, unrushed pace. Distraction had not yet been fully chased away by rest. The fresh California air was helping, though.

My husband chuckled at my choice of shoes, playfully grabbed my hand, and assured me that we would take a leisure Sunday stroll rather than an intense off-the-path hike through the park. As we walked, we tipped our heads way back to peak at the towering redwoods whose branches jutted up into the clouds.

Muir Woods

“You know that the seeds of these things are tiny, right?” he said.

I hadn’t given it much thought. I mean, I know about the mustard seed, how size often has little to do with presence. We walked and talked, took selfies and shook our heads at the possibility of such gigantic trees. We snapped a picture of a cone that was the size of my thumb. Just one cone will shed anywhere between 30-100 seeds.

redwood cone actual size

As I absorbed these facts, something remarkable stood out to me: For seeds to germinate and grow into these gigantic trees, they must fall on fresh mineral soil that has somehow been exposed, either by fire, flood, or the downfall of an established tree.

A fire, flood, or fall helps a tree mature.

That same morning, I read Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica. Timothy’s role was to encourage believers that the presence of suffering shouldn’t leave them unsettled. Though trials themselves are always a genuine struggle, Paul urged them to not be shaken in their faith. His words apply to our hearts as well.

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

We are destined for hard times.

Floods may convince us we’re drowning and alone, fires often hint that God failed us, and every fall can feel final somehow, yet these things help us grow.

We look forward to an eternal paradise, but we are destined for trials here on earth. Appointed is another way to put it. When God anointed David as king, He appointed him as Saul’s main enemy. David was destined for this, because He was an integral part of the story God was telling. If you’re in Christ, you are an integral part of the story, too.

Paul shared his deep concerns about the church’s faith: In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain. 1 Thessalonians 3:4-5

Paul feared trials would cause them to abandon their faith.

Timothy reported back to Paul that their faith remained intact and was strengthened, just as Paul had hoped and prayed. Paul’s response makes me think of the redwoods that grow tall and strong from small, vulnerable seeds buried in some unshaken ground.

For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 3:8

redwoods

Suffering considered purposeless is suffering wasted.

Trials, persecution, suffering. All things we pray away and do our best to avoid. Sometimes, we forget to look for God in our heartache. Through every flood, fire, and fall, God prepares our hearts for something truly amazing.

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