Tag Archives | truth

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 Most Dangerous Beautiful Words

I’ll never overcome this, I’ll never outlive that, I’ll never fit in, I’ll never have what it takes, I’ll never change. We’ve all spoken variations of I’ll never and believed whole-heartedly in our own promises until we find ourselves doing and becoming exactly what we vowed we wouldn’t.

I’ve been absolutely sure for years now that rap music is not my thing. My husband loves rap music (of the Christian variety, these days). The words are too fast and too loud for me. I’ve vowed that I’ll never listen to rap music or, at the very least, I’ll never enjoy it.

I’m not very good at keeping my own promises.

My three-year-old (who loves to sing) also loves loud music, fast music, and rap music. She jams with her daddy with the windows rolled down, tiny fists pumping from her car seat in the back. Ever since she started talking, she’s made song requests each time we climb in the car, like I’m her personal DJ. Her song selection of choice is almost always her daddy’s beats.

Because she’s adorable and it elicits pure joy in her, I say yes every single time. And guess what? Those songs are some of my favorites now. Listening to them on repeat has helped me pay attention and learn the words, and the message is truth. I have no problem with my toddler belting out lines that proclaim Jesus’ name.

The Most Dangerous Beautiful Words

Photo by Matthieu A on Unsplash

When we use absolutes with regard to ourselves or others, it always sets us up to be proven wrong. “I’ll never” can be two of the most dangerous words. Here’s why: I’ll never is a derivative of you’ll never.

You will not surely die,” are the slippery words from the serpent recorded in Genesis 3:4. Because Satan cannot see our heart or the growth taking place within it, he clings to all he has access to: our past. Every mistake, failure, regret. He flings them in front of us, using each one to build a case of how we’ll never do such and such.

Ultimately, our enemy wants us to believe we’ll never be free.

It becomes the easiest thing to nod our heads and say, “You must be right.” We do it all the time. But with every nonchalant agreement, our hearts veer away from God and all He created us to be.

I’ll never do that again, we say, regarding trivial matters like wearing skinny jeans and monumental matters like trusting someone with our story. We say, I’ll never go there, until God leads us by the hand to that very place. I’ll never be like her, we believe, until we glance at our own reflection in an honest light and realize we aren’t so different after all.

We change our minds and somehow expect God to change His. But God c a n n o t  change. He is unchangeable. So, when the voice creeps in that says, I’ll never be enough, remember God already says you are. He won’t change His mind on that. Ever. God is absolutely sure of Himself.

The difference between God and us is being and becoming.

God is absolutely pure in His being. His perfections, His purposes, and His promises are all unchangeable. Unlike God, we are becoming. Not yet there. In progress. Our souls cannot support the weight of absolutes. The agreements we make might be simple like deciding our taste in fashion or music will remain the same, or they might be complicated and weigh heavy on our hearts.

An honest question to ask ourselves is, “Who is this absolute tethered to?” Only One is absolutely true to His word and not subject to change.

Peter said, “I’ll never deny you, Lord,” and then he did. Thomas said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” When Jesus held out his nail-scarred hands, doubting Thomas became a believer.

I can personally relate to their faith struggles, their battles with absolutes, the ease with which they make stone-clad agreements only to watch them crumble. But as we watch their stories unfold throughout scripture, we see Jesus love them, forgive them, change them, use them, and set their hearts free.

God invites us to live under the same banner of His absolute, unchanging love.

As Peter and Thomas walked in relationship with Jesus, they traded their own absolutes for His. Those same two words that echoed the first lie ever told, “I’ll never,” instead became beautiful words that defined their new faith.

Never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. Genesis 9:11

I will never leave or forsake you. Joshua 1:5

I will never break my covenant with you. Judges 2:1

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. Lamentations 3:22

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. Daniel 2:44

You’ll never thirst again. John 4:14

All that the Father gives me will come to me, whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37

I will never blot his name out of the book of life. Revelation 3:5

I don’t know about you, but I’m standing with absolute certainty on the promise that Love never ends and God never lies. I’ll be the momma in the car pool lane with the window cracked so that beautiful base spills out obnoxiously loud. 

Jesus loves you,
Kelly

2

A Stereotypical Scene

I carefully take each wooden figure out of the box and arrange them underneath the sloped stable frame. Wise men crowd in, shepherd accompany sheep and donkey. Every figure points to the tiniest among them. He is the center, the reason they all gather, the reason I take such care to recreate this birth scene in my own living room each year.

Others will unpack this same identical nativity set. They’ll haul it down from attics or pluck it off fully stocked shelves. Though cut from a pattern, it’s a beautiful scene.

I get to thinking about the process of cutting each block of wood, sanding and shaping each wise man, each shepherd, each baby Jesus in his manger. I consider the general mold that must be used. Cookie cutter stables. Familiar figures whose full stories remain unknown. This is the setting where divine Love intersected humanity. This is the site where a Savior was born.

Hardly a stereotypical scene.

Stereotype is reminiscent of the dated practice of printing by means of a metal plate. “Solid type” is its most literal meaning. Yet its negative connotations are the ones I’m considering as I arrange twinkle lights around this ordinary wooden nativity scene.

God reminds me through His word how the world crammed this story into unfair and untrue confines. Pregnant teen. Naïve fiancé. Illegitimate baby. Poor shepherds. Rich kings. Dirty stable. This one of a kind scene was perhaps one of the most misunderstood.

As people who’ve been assigned to our own share of stereotypes and burdened with painful misunderstanding, this nativity story offers much needed hope and a new beginning.

The world had never witnessed a birth story quite like this one and they would never see another. This nativity story was hand crafted by the Creator Himself and set in motion before time began. No mold was needed, no pattern to replicate necessary. This story doesn’t fit neatly into any tidy box, nor was it what anyone expected, but one thing was true then and is still true today:

On that holy night, God called this scene good.

God called Mary and Joseph into His plan. Mary fulfilled the bloodline and Joseph the legal lineage for the long-awaited Savior King. Both made an incredible sacrifice as they agreed with the words spoken by angels and stepped into God’s story. Their willingness to be used by God was more powerful than the constricting stereotypes thrust upon them.

No stereotype can prevent God’s plan to birth something beautiful in all of us.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18 ESV

Found. Like a dirty secret kept hidden now precariously exposed. Except it wasn’t dirty, nor would it remain a secret for long. No, this was the greatest treasure to ever be discovered on earth.

Mary was not found out; she found her life in Him.

Joseph considered divorce, yet he knew that the punishment for women caught in adultery was death. Many would judge this birth as sinful and impure. The angel that visited Joseph assured him that what was conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit. Would Joseph risk dishonor and choose to believe God?

Mary’s reputation and her own life were on the line, and when Joseph agreed to stand by her, he placed his own reputation right there with hers. Over in Luke’s account we get to hear Mary’s response to her own personal angelic message.

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. Luke 1:38 ESV Then Mary responded with song, a sign her heart was fixed on one thing and one thing only: God’s glorious story unfolding.

What seemed like a curse in the world’s eyes was God’s most precious blessing.

Mary and Joseph were misunderstood, yet they understood God’s message. They were lonely, but they carried the Savior of the world with them. Just as unsure of the future as we are, they treasured the good news in their hearts. They were judged unfairly and rejected by man, but chosen and honored by God.

Jesus would put his reputation on the line as well. He would be misunderstood as a young boy with gifts and perspectives no one else held. Rumors of illegitimacy would follow Jesus all the way to the cross. (See John 8:19, 41) His own brothers, James and Jude, (who would go on to write the Spirit-inspired new testament books that bear their names) did not believe Jesus was the Son of God until after His death and resurrection.

God chose the most vulnerable, marginalized vessel to birth His salvation plan. Though the stereotypes were harsh and untrue, Mary wasn’t sinless and she certainly wasn’t fearless. Mary was human like the rest of us, but she made herself available to be used by God.

God chose you to birth something extraordinary, too.

Your vulnerability, mistakes, and doubts are the very things that qualify you. We all need saving and God chose to save us by giving us Jesus. Our minds can’t fathom it. Fear convinces us we’re the wrong choice. But the wonder and mystery draws us in, and we take a moment to consider it. How can this be?

How can this be… because of me?

Yet it’s true. We can’t come this close to glory and turn back. Our faces shine and our hearts understand this one thing: much is at stake. So, we say yes. Yes, let your word be unto me. Yes, Jesus, have your way. Use me as your vessel. Birth new life in this humble heart.

God invites us to release our reputation, our plans, and our entire lives to Him. How will it look? A lot like this simple nativity scene. Humble, vulnerable, inconvenient, and misunderstood. Yet when the life and death of Christ are applied to this unexpected story, we see what we couldn’t before. We see a brand-new scene that’s part of a bigger story.

A gorgeous, one of a kind nativity scene that shatters every stereotype ever conceived.

John, the one Jesus charged with watching over His mother as He hung from the cross, recorded these words in red: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:26 ESV

May we all take our lead from Mary and boldly declare, I am the Lords servant. Let it be to me according to His plan. May we find courage to belt out our own praises to God as stereotypes, like Jericho walls, come tumbling down.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours.

Kelly

2

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

2

A Thankful Heart Is a Protected Heart

Last week my little one and I met my husband for lunch. As we settled down at our table, I glanced up and noticed the gigantic Christmas ornaments flanking the entrance to the outdoor space. A week before Thanksgiving. I chuckled and commented how the push to skip Thanksgiving seems to grow year by year. We moved on to another conversation, but the nagging in my heart lingers today.

Christmas decorating isn’t the problem. We will pull out red, green, and glittery gold ornaments to decorate our home while the kids are out of school. Probably before Thanksgiving. The issue isn’t our decor; the issue lies in our hearts.

We rush through Thanksgiving to get to Christmas just so we can turn it into a holiday that celebrates us. There’s a good reason this is the one of the most painful seasons for many of us. We just might be making ourselves sick… with too much of ourselves. I scribble a question in the margin of my journal and silently ask God to answer.

How do we cultivate gratitude in a self-ridden culture?

Most mornings my daughter comes downstairs and shares a verse she’s read earlier in her room that either stood out to her or one she doesn’t quite understand. We talk about it over breakfast, then she draws a picture in her journal of what it means to her. Before she hops out of the car at school, we pray God’s Word back to Him. It’s a simple practice we’re trying to turn into a habit.

This morning she shares Psalm 8:2 with me. Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of Your enemies, that You may silence the enemy and the avenger. (NKJV) Out of the mouth of babes. I silently acknowledge the irony.

My daughter’s NIRV translation puts it this way: You have made sure that children and infants praise you. Their praise is a wall that stops the talk of your enemies. She’s drawn a wall that reaches halfway up her page.

God reminds me right here on the couch next to my girl that thanksgiving is powerful. My own words of thanksgiving to Him are a sweet praise offering, and they act as a shield around my heart. I’m beginning to understand why self is such an attractive tool in the unseen spiritual realm. I can see why the enemy feels threatened by the simple habit of giving thanks.

Thanksgiving protects our hearts by silencing the enemy.

A thankful heart is a protected heart

When Jesus cleared the temple courts of those influenced by greed and hatred, the little children sang out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The religious leaders asked Jesus if He could hear what they were saying. (Insert indignant disdain here.)

And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing babies you have perfected praise’?” (see Matthew 21:15-16 NKJV)

Jesus used this same proclamation of truth to silence His own enemies, the ones dedicated to destroying Him and stealing His glory for personal gain. One of the most beautiful mysteries of the kingdom of God is strength made perfect in weakness.

When praise erupts from our weakest, most vulnerable places, the enemy is silenced. Hearts full of thanks literally push back the darkness. When we thank God for who He is and what He’s done, a wall of protection shields us from the enemy’s harmful lies.

Truth destroys the lies meant to destroy us.

When we worship God in spirit and truth, we believe in our hearts and proclaim with our mouths the very essence of His character. We can offer up thanksgiving in the bleakest of circumstances, not because we are strong, but because He is the One from whom all blessings flow. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

May this Thanksgiving be a time to remember God’s faithfulness yesterday, to acknowledge His goodness today, and to trust Him to carry us through whatever tomorrow holds.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

5

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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Love and the Power of Prayer

I hope God is speaking to you in powerful ways through this collection of voices; I know He’s speaking to me. Today Leigha Balchus is leading us into Part II of the Contenders of the Faith series: Jude’s instructions to pray in the Spirit. Leigha is fluent in the language of prayer, because prayer has been foundational in her personal story. Her words invite us to notice this hidden yet significant element of our faith.

If you missed any of the previous posts, you can read from the beginning of the series, right here.

Part 2

Love and the Power of Prayer by Leigha Balchus

But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. (Jude 1:20)

As I sat in the prayer circle waiting my turn, I could feel my heart racing, my palms getting sweaty. I desperately tried to gather my thoughts.  What would I say? Everyone else’s prayers sounded so eloquent, so perfect.  I didn’t know any scripture to quote.  What if I froze and couldn’t find any words at all?  I’d look like a fool.  I felt like a total fraud.  Everything in me wanted to run away and hide.  I loved Jesus with all my heart, but what kind of Christian was I if I didn’t know how to pray out loud?  I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Have you ever been there?  If so, you are not alone.

We are often intimidated by prayer, both corporate and private, because it requires vulnerability and the world tells us that to be vulnerable is to be weak.  However, author and researcher, Brené Brown, has discovered through her research that the opposite is true.  Being vulnerable actually takes great courage, and with great risk comes great reward.  In her book Daring Greatly, she shares that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.  It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.  If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

If we want to grow spiritually and strengthen our prayer life, we must be willing to be vulnerable, not just with our peers but with God, and even ourselves.  When we are vulnerable before God, it makes our hearts open to receive his love, and when we receive his love, our faith grows.  There are no magic words and no script to follow when we pray. He simply wants us to come to him, hearts wide open.

He already knows our burdens, but the free will he offers us means that he allows us the choice of whether to bring them to him or not.  God isn’t so much interested in our words TO him as he is in our hearts TOWARD him.  I love how R.K. Hughes puts it in Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ, “Prayer is not so much the articulation of words as the posture of heart.”

Praying in the Spirit

When we are filled up with the love of God, when we are rooted and grounded in his love and when we believe that we are indeed the apple of his eye (Zechariah 2:8), the power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed in us.  In fact, in the book of Ephesians, just a few chapters before Paul talks about putting on the full armor of God, he prays these words over the Ephesians.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

Paul prayed these words because he understood that when we grasp how much God loves us, our eyes are opened to the power that dwells within us as believers in Christ, thus enabling us to pray in the Holy Spirit.  It was important for the Ephesians to know this because it is through the power of the Holy Spirit in prayer that we unlock the power of all the other pieces of our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-17).

In her bible study, The Armor of God, Priscilla Shirer says this about it, “Prayer is the mechanism that brings down the power of heaven into your experience.  It is the divinely authorized method that activates your spiritual armor and makes it effective.” Therefore, it is prayer that is our most effective weapon on the spiritual battlefield, so we must never believe the lie that our prayers are not good enough or that they won’t make a difference.  They make a huge difference!

We all go through times in our lives when we struggle to have faith and to believe in God’s love for us, but it’s in those times that, just as Paul prayed for the Ephesians, we too, can ask God to open our eyes to the power of the Holy Spirit within us and give us the strength to grasp the depth of his love for us.

If prayer is an area in which you’d like to grow stronger in your spiritual walk, I encourage you to begin each day praying Ephesians 3:16-19 over yourself and your loved ones, and watch God move in mighty ways!  The more we practice the discipline of prayer and the more we fill ourselves with God’s Word, the more comfortable praying becomes.  Yes, even when it’s our turn in the prayer circle!

Here’s an example of the verses from Ephesians turned into a personal prayer:

Dear God, I pray that out of your glorious riches you may strengthen me with power through your Spirit in my inner being, so that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith.  And I pray that I may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that I may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19) In Jesus’ name, Amen.

May you go forth and be blessed and always remember that “greater is HE who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

About Leigha

About LeighaLeigha Balchus is a wife of 18 years and mom to two amazing kids.  She is head-over-heels for Jesus and, for the past decade, has followed Him on a great adventure filled with many joys and much sorrow.  It is through this journey, when so many times God was all she had to cling to, that she has become so passionate about prayer and the power of His Word.

Leigha is a teacher turned stay-at-home mom who recently decided to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur as a Distributor for SeneGence International.

In her spare time, she loves to cook, read and, most recently, play with make-up because, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”

Final thoughts…

What is God confirming or clearing up for you in regards to prayer? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. This Wednesday (over on my Facebook page), I want to talk about how understanding the Spirit’s role in our lives can recharge our prayer lives as we contend of the faith.

Grab your free download of Jude1:20-21 here.

If you missed any of the videos from this series, you can tune in here:

[New Series] Intro: FAITH

Part I: IDENTITY

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A Faith That Grows

A contender gains strength when he or she understands the power of the weapon in his or her hand. My next guest in the Contenders of the Faith series possesses a bold and vibrant faith because she clings to the Word of God as her source of strength.  Join me as Misty Keith shares what it means to build ourselves up in our most holy faith.

You can read from the beginning of the series, right here.

Contenders of the Faith Part 1

A Faith That Grows by Misty Keith

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21(ESV)

Every living and healthy thing is expected to grow and at some point, reach maturity. If it becomes stagnant, it’s either dead, dull or slack. Healthy living things need nutrients to grow and develop. Without a constant supply of nutrients, there is no sustainability. A person’s faith is known to be synonymous with their spiritual health and maturity. In Jude 1:20-21, we see in that he is addressing Christ followers to essentially have a faith that grows and matures, so that when Jesus Christ returns for His Church, the believer will be ready to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

When we think of the word maturity, we think of something that is growing or becoming fully developed. For example, the sunflower is a healthy, vibrant and beautiful flower. It is recognized worldwide for its color, nutrients, sustainability, strength and most of all, it is valued for its growth. We see that some types of sunflowers grow thick in size and can reach between eight and twelve feet tall. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but sunflowers are known to be a symbol of faith. They are one of the fastest growing plants and rumor has it that sunflowers like to face and follow the sun throughout the day as it rises and sets. They are named “sunflower” because they are a flower that resembles the sun in appearance. You can especially see the resemblance in the larger, healthier plants.

Our personal faith in Jesus is a lot like the sunflower.

A Faith That Grows

In order to be healthy, vibrant, and beautiful, we need our faith to mature and grow. As we face Jesus (the Son) each new day and let His Word build us up, our faith becomes most holy (sacred and consecrated), growing and maturing into a strong belief which is ultimately geared and used to sustain us until Jesus returns for His church.

How does one build up their faith? There are three steps we can take as believers to grow our faith.

Step One: Read the Word.

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17 (NKJV)

If I never picked up the Bible and read God’s Word for myself, I would be clueless about my faith and the need to have my own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Reading or hearing God’s Word is like planting flowers. If you want to grow a bushel of sunflowers, you must first plant the sunflower seeds. God’s Word is the “seed” that grows our faith. Personally knowing Jesus, His promises, what He and the Father says about you, about your life, and Their plan for your eternal life won’t be known to you if you don’t take the time to read what they have already said. Get comfortable with the Bible, it will give you the basis for growing and increasing your faith.

***Christians are tempted to read what everyone else says about the Bible rather than going directly to the Bible itself. Which then brings up the argument for primary verses secondary sources. If you had an opportunity to meet the person who created something or the one who copied the original and duplicated it, who would you rather meet? Chances are, you would rather meet the author or original creator over the one who was the impersonator. This argument applies to reading God’s Word. Read what He says, over what others say about what He already said.***

Step Two: Attend the Word.

But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves for if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was… James 1:22-24 (NKJV)

Not only do we have to read God’s Word but we have to attend to His Word by doing what it says. Going back to the example of our sunflower, there is no possible way that the flower is going to grow if it does not receive personal attention and care. It has to receive water regularly and be rooted in nutrient rich soil in order grow. As the gardener plants, waters and attends to the sunflower, it matures and grows into a healthy bushel. It doesn’t forget to grow or all of a sudden stop maturing if it is being properly attended to. If we fail to heed what the Bible says and ignore what God is telling us, then our faith grows stagnant, dead, dull or slack. It took faith in Jesus Christ to become a child of God in the first place. Therefore, in order to grow and increase in faith, we need to use and attend to the “measure” of faith God gives to everyone in order to build it up.

Step Three: Test the Word.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

As we read and follow the Word, we are called to be critical and see the Bible through the lens of exegesis. Exegesis is the discipline of having textual criticism. We are not being “critical or judgmental” of God and what His Word says, but we are thinking in terms of dissecting, examining, picking apart, analyzing, interpreting and explaining the merits and faults of the scriptures. This critical approach is needed in order to comprehend and define the meaning of what the scriptures say. You see, taking an exegesis approach to the Word helps build our faith. It truly does mature us. We become complete and ready to do exactly what the LORD has called us to do.

Going back to our example of the sunflower, how does the gardener know that he has a beautiful bushel of flowers before him? He sees a fully grown, bright and vibrant stalk of sunflowers and he knows full well that they have been planted, watered, and have reached maturity. They are ready to shine in all their glory. The same goes for our faith. How does our faith become a built up and holy faith? By reading the Bible, doing what it says and allowing it to mature us so that we are equipped and ready for the return of our Savior. In the meantime, we who have faith get to shine like the sunflower at noonday. The sunflower is glorious! Those who see it, know full well that it is beautiful. It is a testament to the Creator and Sustainer of all life. The sunflower makes the gardener proud of the story behind growing it, especially when it reaches maturity.

About Misty

Misty KeithHello, my name is Misty. I am a daughter of the King of all Kings, wife to Richard, mom to Reagan (13 years), Kylee (10 years), and Karis Delaney (8 years).  I am a teacher by trade, an encourager and up-lifter by calling and a writer by practice. I enjoy being a friend to those who will have me. I currently live out in the country in Salado, Texas. My husband and I have the privilege of homeschooling all three of our children. I also teach Reading for a private college in the Master’s/Credentialing program. I like to stay busy and enjoy the hobbies of Reading, Writing, Scrap-booking and Running. As a family, we attend First Baptist Church in Georgetown, Texas. We enjoy traveling and taking “family fieldtrips” often. All of life is an adventure and we are thankful for every life lesson that the Lord teaches us in the process.

I would love for you to join me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, goodreads and my personal blog.

Final thoughts…

Read the Word, attend the Word, and test the Word. A great place to start applying these steps on your own or with a group is Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. Be sure and enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy. To enter, subscribe to carried by love and leave a comment on any of the posts written by my guest bloggers. I’ll announce the winner at the end of the series. [GIVEAWAY CLOSED]

Join me on Facebook for live videos every Wednesday at noon.  Let’s meet midday/midweek to talk more about how we can contend for the faith. Don’t forget to download your free print of Jude1:20-21 here.

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Lost & Found: A Story of Identity

We are kicking off this Contenders of the Faith series by talking about our identity in Christ. God’s love is the source of our identity, which is why God calls His children by the name Beloved. My first guest, Bethany, is sharing with us her journey to discover this amazing truth.

If you missed the very first post in this series, you can catch up right here.

Contenders of the Faith (new series)

Lost & Found: A Story of Identity by Bethany Dufilho

I was one of those kids who never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I liked singing so I was always in a choir at church or school. It was something I never really worked at but I experienced some success and enjoyed the sense of identity and belonging it gave me. I was a big-ish fish in a few small-ish ponds.  As I got older, the ponds got bigger.  I played into a comparison game full of my own perfectionism and pride and eventually, my tender ego was deflated.  Add to that a neurological issue diagnosed in my 30s causing tremors in my voice and I gave up singing for a while. It was a painful stripping of an identity I hadn’t realized I had clung to so fiercely.

After I was married, still not really knowing what I wanted to do, I enrolled in graduate school. Holding some identity also in “being smart,” I had always known higher education would be in my future. I was training to become a school psychologist. I also very much wanted to become a mother. I knew these two could coexist, but seeing things as very “all or nothing,” I struggled with the pieces of understanding how I could be good; rather, perfect at both. My identity felt at odds with itself.

When I had our first child, my outward achieving stopped for a while. I developed the slower pace of stay at home motherhood. Here I threw my perfectionist tendencies into overdrive, pouring my anxieties onto my tiny babe.  Was I doing this the “right” way?  If not, oh God, I’m screwing him up!  The struggle to identify myself as what I thought a mother should be was frightening and real.

After emerging from the fog of new parenthood, I then developed a hobby for pure enjoyment: painting and rearranging my house.  Friends and family took notice and I prized the recognition of a new identity forming: decorator. I ran with it, eventually creating a small business.  Was this now my identity? I decided to go all in: taking classes, ordering business cards, even making a website. I took comfort, dare I say, pride, in finding my thing.

After a while, I took on too much.  The work, impinging on my introverted self, also became a burden on my desire to still be a stay at home mother to my now three children. I felt resentful when I couldn’t be my version of perfect for both my family and my clients. The stress was hard on both my home and marriage. I was disappointed in myself but also relieved in admitting my need to pull back.

So here I am now. I still decorate, though in a smaller way than I once imagined. I’m still a wife and mother of course.  I’m even singing again- every Sunday morning along with my husband, for a group of eager and antsy first and second graders.  I have no labels or job descriptions to succinctly tell you who I am or what I can do.  Looking back though I can now see the thread running through every turn in my life.  It’s always been the same, because it has always been me.  I still bear the same sin struggles, the same personality, the same weaknesses and strengths.  I am the same soul.  Whether I have been singing, mothering, in school, decorating, it has always been me.  And at times I found myself wondering… is it enough?  Am I enough?

I’ve been studying the enneagram lately.  I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, but it’s really just a tool, similar to anything else that can help you know yourself better, like seeing a therapist or reading a book on personal growth.  It teaches the importance of knowing yourself fully– the good, the bad, and the ugly.  It’s an uncomfortable act of faith- to bring into light the sins you bear, but also (at times equally uncomfortable) to develop compassion and grace for yourself, seeing and loving yourself as God does.

So how would my life change if I could fully and daily embrace that truth- that God loves me entirely, imperfect as I am?  So much so that Christ died for me while I was (am) still a sinner (Romans 5:8)? How much more would I be able to love others when, freed from the trap of perfectionism, I could set aside my own needs for approval and acknowledgement?  I could lay down comparisons, defensiveness, and pride.  How healing this is- this embracing of the gospel message in my own identity: as a beloved child of God.

This very struggle is what I think it means to contend for my faith; to work out my salvation with both fear and trembling (Phillippians 2:12).  Sometimes I want contending to look more like a sword fight- a big battle fought and won, once and for all.  But I think it is more quiet and small, done in hidden and daily stillness before the Lord.  Seeking His wisdom; His love.

I cannot do this on my own, because truthfully many days I find myself unable, un-remembering to even cry out from the very outset of the morning. I start to again believe the lie that it would be easier to have a job title or task to hide behind:  “I’ll serve you in this way, Lord!”

And this is why I need Him. Oh, I need Him.  Every hour I need Him.  He has entrusted to us the gospel, this good news of love and redemption through Christ.  This message is not only to be received once and then shared, but also to be remembered over and over in our own lives- we are loved. May we seek Him and may we cry out to Him, for our healing and for His glory.

Lost & Found: A Story of Identity

About Bethany

Bethany Dufilho has been married to Paul for 13 years and they have three children ages 9, 7, and 4. They live in Katy, TX where she is a stay at home mom and part time interior decorator. She is a lover of beauty and a seeker of Truth and occasionally blogs over at thehouseoffigs.com. There you can read about her adventures in decorating and hear the heart behind her beauty with a purpose philosophy.

About Bethany

Final thoughts…

We’ve been given gospel identities, rooted deeply in perfect Love. May Bethany’s story remind us all that Love is greater than our doubts, fears, and insecurities. I love how she describes contending as a quiet, hidden wrestling of soul. As God transforms us into the image of His Son, may we remember that our faith is a precious gift to nurture, protect, and defend.

Grab your free download of Jude1:20-21 right here.

Follow me on Facebook and tune in for live videos every Wednesday at noon (Central Time).  Let’s meet midday/midweek to talk more about how we can contend for the faith. You can watch this week’s video here.

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What Can Outweigh All the Suffering in the World?

A quick trip to Colorado this summer uncovered a beautiful aspect of God’s creation. Stunned by layers on top of layers of solid, unmoving rock, I began to wonder how my understanding of God as my Rock would become crucial in the next season of change.

I really had no idea what was ahead. In mid-August, I braced myself for a million minor changes like a new school for the kids and other small beginnings; by the end of the month, Harvey had changed my community forever.

Every attempt to capture on camera what moved my heart in those Colorado mountains only led to frustration. Even when I tried to express on paper what had inspired awe in me, I couldn’t come up with the words. I found my struggle to articulate the beauty before me extremely uncomfortable.

God gave me a phrase to sink into: Rock of Ages.

Rock of Ages seemed too massive and weighty when I tried to grasp its deepest meaning. The further I prodded, the less sure of myself I became. Maybe that’s right where God wanted me.

Rock of Ages

Months later, now surrounded by images of devastation and the very opposite of beauty, I recognize that same frustration and discomfort. During the last few weeks, when I scroll through my social media newsfeed, the most common caption is this: “No words.” And there aren’t any that can describe, explain, alleviate what remains after disaster. Words cannot possibly convey the heavy, heavy heartbreak of extensive homelessness and upheaval.

Devastation has crept up to my doorstep forcing me to notice, yet suffering lies in every nook and cranny of this groaning world. Fires, floods, earthquakes, persecution, hatred, violence… all hover beneath that banner of indescribable suffering.

In the absence of adequate words, we face our own vulnerability.

Vulnerability not only feels uncomfortable, it well acquaints us with frustration and confusion. We can’t control suffering or catalogue it; we can’t box it in or fix it. No formula or bulleted list will help.

Moses led a people more comfortable with another rock. Though I wish this idea was foreign, I completely get it. Humanity craves clarity, definition, control. We’ll take a tidy checklist over an inconceivable glory just to avoid facing our own vulnerability. We don’t naturally move towards discomfort or dependence.

But when we take this collective picture of indescribable suffering—whether death or divorce or disaster—and hold it up to the Rock who has remained constant throughout all of time, the need for understanding is washed away by mercy. And rich, rich love. The most grace-filled words in all of Jesus’ ministry were these: “Come to me.”

Our indescribable Rock is the only One who knows just what to do with indescribable pain.

I’m tempted to boil it down to a simple equation: unfathomable pain meets inconceivable glory, as if they are two equal and opposite poles. This is entirely false. If we wanted to compare, to sort out the difference, we’d have to examine the extent of each.

In every layer of rock, I saw the depth of God’s character. His love, mercy, goodness, faithfulness like bands of strength, visible and solid, trusted and true.

Hold up suffering to the Rock Eternal, and we find a vast difference in weight.

When Paul wrote about suffering and glory, he used a word to examine this difference. He assigned our seen suffering and God’s unseen glory with the terms, transient and eternal.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)

Nothing about the suffering here on earth feels light, but Paul was making a case for comparison here. The word that translates in English as “beyond all comparison” is the Greek word hyperbolḗ. We use hyperbole to illustrate extravagance; we rarely take these figures of speech literally. They amplify, enhance, and exaggerate the truth.

Hyperbolḗ means beyond all measure.

Most hyperboles sound incredible, but they just aren’t true. This weight of glory beyond all comparison is every bit true as it is awesome.

Suffering has a definite beginning and a definite end. Pain and loss entered the world at the fall; we find every detail recorded on the pages of Genesis. In Revelation, we read that all suffering will come to an end when Jesus returns. He is the beginning and the end, the One who was and is and is to come.

We don’t need formulas, descriptions, or human attempts to alleviate suffering. We need faith in Jesus and constant, daily reminders that we will one day see Him face to face.  And on that day, our only response will be indescribable praise.

When we embrace our own vulnerability, we find ourselves embraced by Christ, the living Stone.

Scripture References

You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. Deuteronomy 32:18 (NIV)

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. Isaiah 26:4 (NIV)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8 (NIV)

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