Just Keep Swimming

It was one of those days where nothing seemed to go right.  I didn't sleep well (new baby in the house).  I had to get up entirely too early (did I mention a new baby in the house?).  I forgot to set up my coffee pot so when I got up and hit the "go" button, nothing happened.  Three of the four kids in the house wanted to do anything but what needed to be done and I was beginning to question whether I could handle taking in the two extra children God has placed in our home and still keep my cool, much less my sanity.  I felt so far from what I had pictured for my life at this point, and like many parents, I felt so alone.

Fortunately, God never leaves us (Deut. 31:8), and He always knows just what we need (Matthew 6:8).  I sat down the next morning and opened my Bible to Luke chapter 17 and began reading.  In verses 11-19 Luke tells us the story of 10 lepers that were healed by Jesus.  Leprosy was a disease that sentenced a person to a life of solitude and separation.  Those afflicted were forced to leave their home, their family and move outside of the city.  They couldn't walk the streets without announcing their disease so the "healthy" people could retreat from them.  Talk about being alone!

10 of them were gathered together and saw Jesus approaching.  They knew He was capable of healing them, yet rather than approach Him they yelled out to Him, begging for help.  I don't know why Jesus chose to yell back, rather than physically touch them.  He had done it before (Mark 1:40-45), so we know He wasn't afraid of the disease.  Whatever His reason, His response struck me as strange.  He didn't tell them He would heal them.  He didn't give them directions for healing.  He simply sent them to the priests.  According to custom, a priest had to examine a person that had recovered from leprosy and declare them "clean" before they could resume their life.  I wonder what they were thinking. 

"Are you sure He saw us?  Did He realize we have leprosy?  Maybe He doesn't think we are worthy of healing....  maybe He just doesn't want to be bothered with us right now....  why is He sending us away from Him?"  I admit that questions like this run through my head more often than I would like to admit.   I doubt that He is really interested in my problems.  I question if He really wants me or if I am just part of the package deal....

But the lepers, no matter what thoughts ran through their heads, obeyed.  Luke doesn't record them questioning Jesus, only that they went.  That's hard, isn't it?  Obeying Jesus when it just doesn't make sense to us?  We have to completely trust that He knows what He is doing, that His plans truly are what is best for us, that He is in control.  It truly takes faith to follow directions when you can't see where you are going. 

And it wasn't until AFTER they started on the path to the priests that they were healed. Sometimes, we have to just take that step in the dark, not knowing all the details or how it will turn out, and trust that it will work out.  And when it does, when you see God's perfect plan work out for your good (Romans 8:28), make sure you are like the leper that turned back to thank Jesus.  Remember who it is that blesses you with everything and respond with a thankful heart.  After all, doesn't He deserve it?

So I may not know how things are going to turn out for my family., whether the momma of these two children will recover from her addiction and be able to reunite her family, or whether they will remain with us until their adulthood.  What I do know is that God has a plan in this and I chose to trust that He knows better than I do what is best.  So if He never chooses to reveal His plan to me, I am OK with that.  He set me on a path and I am going to walk it, and not lose sight of the One that is truly in control.  Or, in the memorable words of a little blue tang fish, I am going to "just keep swimming". 

Patience in Trouble

The struggle is real.

We all have struggles in life. Whether it’s at work, in our marriage, with the kids, in our Spiritual life… Life can just be overwhelming at times.

I’ve, as of late, been struggling with balance. Balancing being a wife, a friend, an employee, a newly self-published author and a disciple of Christ. And if I’m being honest, I don’t think I’m faring well. I feel like every part of my life is only getting a subpar effort. And I’m exhausted.

What do you do when you feel like a failure and are completely overwhelmed? Remain steadfast in your trust of the Lord (Psalm 119:31). No one is perfect. [Amen!] We all stumble at times. We may have full seasons of stumbling, or we may just have a few moments. It may seem like all we do is stumble—but the Lord holds our hands and keeps us from falling (Psalm 37:23-24). Ground your feet, and keep going (Psalm 24:16a).

Take heart that God’s mercy never ends (Lamentations 3:22-23). We are typically our worst critics. But if God—the Creator, the All-Mighty Judge—forgives us and takes mercy on us, why can’t we? Be patient with yourself, as God is patient with you (Hebrews 10:35-36). Seek His counsel (Number 32:23) to show you how to do/be better. Trust His Word.

For me, I acknowledge the perspective of the ‘real world’ problems: poverty, hunger/starvation, threat of war, natural disasters, etc. These are the things that make me feel insignificant and selfish. But as I watch the news reports today bombarding me with reminders of 9/11 sixteen years ago and hurricane damage, I am grateful for the struggles I have. Yes, there are people that have it much worse than my very blessed life. But, it’s more than that. Our struggles shape us. We are a work in progress (some days, we see more work than progress) (Romans 5:3-5). When I feel like an utter failure at times, I gird my feet and allow Him to fill in where I fail.

Romans 12:12: Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. [Amen!]

Breathe In, Breathe Out...

Take a deep breath before you read:
You will never be worthy of Jesus’ love. You will never deserve His mercy and grace.
There, now that that’s out in the open, let go of the guilt of never measuring up. Because the beauty of His sacrifice is that you don’t have to. God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). God’s grace is omniscient (Psalm 147:5). God’s grace is circumferential (Psalm 34:18). God’s grace has made you worthy (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12). There is nothing you can do to earn it—it is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Now take a deep breath and accept that you are enough. You were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) [Breathe that in for a moment].

You are not a failure because you failed. Nothing you have ever done or will ever do will keep Him from loving you (Romans 8:29). God created you on purpose, for a purpose (Psalm 139:13; Jeremiah 1:5). You don’t surprise Him with who you are. You were intentional.

Carrying the weight of guilt and shame leaves you feeling exposed—naked—on display for the world to see. But you are not to be concerned with what the world sees, you only need to concern yourself with what the Lord sees; and He sees your heart (Luke 16:15). Don’t let the devil mislead you to believe that you can’t have the best of what God has to offer (Genesis 3:1). He is a liar and a manipulator (2 Corinthians 11:14). “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:11)

Remember when the disciples were in the boat and a storm raged around them (right after Jesus fed the 5000)? (Mark 6:47-52) They  were “toiling” among the storm. This word translated in Greek is “torment, test, pain, torturous”. How many times have you felt tormented by your shame and guilt? But notice what happened in the midst of the storm: Jesus met them (miraculously by walking on water). But when the disciples saw Him, they were afraid. Even though they’d just witnessed His miracle of feeding 5000, seeing Him walking on water towards them, they cried out in fear. The translation is “to raise a cry from the depth of the throat.” Have you ever been there? Have you ever been so fearful of what Jesus may think of you that you didn’t realize He came out to meet you amidst your storm, too? Notice His response: “Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid.” Not only did He comfort them through words, He got into the boat with them.

Sweet friends, let Jesus into your boat and into your heart. Let go of that guilt and shame you’re carrying around. Exhale it all out. Jesus carried it to the Cross, and with His last breath, He let it go (Hebrews 12:2-3). You can, too. Your sins are forgiven (Luke 7:48-49). The Greek translation of forgiven is aphiemi; it is also used for the English word suffer. We are forgiven (aphiemi) because Christ suffered (aphiemi). We are One with Jesus (John 17:21; 1 Corinthians 6:17; Galatians 3:28).
Allow that thought to sink into the depths of your soul. Allow yourself to forgive yourself, just as He has forgiven you. Allow yourself to breathe...
2 Timothy 1:9: “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. ” 

Winning the Battle Against the Enemy

Engaging in warfare against the enemy.
“The devil made me do it.” It’s a tale as old as time (see Genesis 3:13). When bad things happen, we quickly blame the devil. We use him as a scapegoat, but in actuality, the bad things are from him. He is in constant battle against God for our souls. Not because he cares for us so much (or at all really) but because he hates God that much. When you have those moments—those days that everything seems to go wrong—can I offer you a bit of insight? Don't take it too personally. Satan isn't after you, per se. He's after God. He knows the love that the Father has for us, and that the only way to hurt our All Mighty God, is to hurt our relationship with Him. And he does that by attacking us in our daily lives. (Ephesians 6:12)

I’m not typically one to jump on the ship of blaming the enemy. Mostly because I don’t want to give him the credit—I don’t want him to feel that important or to think that he’s affected me that much. But unfortunately, yesterday was not one of those times. He managed to deflate my excitement in a quick moment. The conversation went from elation to deflation in less than three seconds. It took all I had not to cry. And as soon as I got alone, that’s exactly what I did: cry. I hate those moments. I hate giving in to his deceit. And that’s what it is: deceit. (see Genesis 3:1- the serpent was the most [cunning, shrewdest, crafty, subtle, skilled in deceit]) He is a liar and a thief. (John 8:44; John 10:10) He seeks to destroy God by destroying us. Don't allow him the satisfaction. 

The enemy will attempt to deceive you, tempt you and accuse you. To help protect yourself from the enemy’s attacks, read more about the Armor of God to prepare yourself for the battle. (Ephesians 6:10-18). Gird your waist with truth: this means to have a true heart, unwavering resolve/allegiance [Side note: the belt was the last piece of armor attached by the Roman soldier—it symbolizes that having a pure heart for God will hold the rest of the armor together]. Put on the breastplate of righteousness: this means integrity, acting and thinking in purity to guard our heart. Shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace: the Word of God is to be our footwear—it will keep you grounded and protect you—it will be your foundation. (Matthew 7:24-25). Take the shield of faith…to quench all the fiery darts: when we are drenched in faith, the shield will stop the devil’s fire from spreading when we get hit with a ‘dart’. [Soldiers would light the arrows on fire before firing them- Roman soldiers would douse their shields in flame retardant material to keep their shields (and themselves) from catching fire]. Take the helmet of salvation: keeping your mind focused on your promised eternity will remind you that you are not (and never will be) alone in this battle (Deuteronomy 31:6). And the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God: [the only offensive piece of the armor] that represents the individual passages (not Bible as a whole). The Bible is full of many different weapons, depending on the need: it is not one weapon, but an arsenal.

 My Pastor summed up the Armor perfectly last Sunday as:
Stand in undivided devotion... Belt of truth
Live righteously against sin... Breastplate of Righteousness
Walk in sureness and boldness... Shoes of Gospel of Peace
Guard every thought and give it to God, before it inflames... Shield of Faith
Know you are His, know every work counts eternally... Helmet of Salvation
Learn your weapons of war with each Word of God... Sword of the Spirit

Staying grounded in God’s Word will help you fight the deception. It will also help you grow in your walk with Him, which will help you overcome his traps of temptation. (Matthew 26:41, James 4:7) Having God’s Word written on our hearts and in our minds will help fend off the accusations (lies). His condemnation is futile when you have accepted Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The war is raging around us. In order to gain victory with Jesus, we must engage and suit up in our armor. (2 Timothy 2:3-4).

Let Freedom Ring!

This is a long holiday weekend for many. [It’s been an even longer ‘holiday’ for me, as I’ve been on a five-week hiatus from my ‘day job’ to pursue my writing.] This holiday is about celebrating America’s birthday—our Independence Day; our freedoms—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. [The irony for me is that my ‘independence’ ends Wednesday. I go back to ‘real life’. But—that doesn’t mean my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness in Jesus ends.]

Do you realize this country was founded on Biblical values? I’m not looking for a debate regarding whether the founding fathers were Christians, or how many times the Declaration of Independence mentions a ‘Creator’, the display of the Ten Commandments to shape our laws, the fact that legislature and government didn’t count/work Sundays, etc. I’m talking about looking at the mere principle—the one thing America prides itself on, both sides of the political aisle spout, and what causes terrorist nations to hate us: Freedom. Do you ever think about how the Creator of the Universe, the One that spoke it into creation, gave us humans (created in His image) the choice to love Him? The One who can do anything, refuses to force us to love Him? He gives us free will—the power of choice. Adam and Eve had a choice in the garden—we have a choice now. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20) Not to mention, Jesus came to save the world (John 3:17)—to break (free) our chains from the bondage of sin. (Romans 6:15-23)

And just as many (most) Americans take our freedom for granted in this nation, so do we Christians in Jesus. We allow our sins (we all have them) to keep us bound to this world. (Romans 12:2) We are to be showing others Who Jesus is, yet all we manage to do is show them that we fail at being Christ-like daily—not just in the things we do and say, but also in the things we don’t do and say… We are to be Jesus to the world, with our lives. (Ephesians 5:1-2). Everything that we have (our time, our tools, our gifts, our money) are to be used for His good—not our own. Jesus gave up His will for our Father’s—why would we think we are any different? (Matthew 26:39, John 4:34, 5:19, 6:38). We need to stop focusing on ourselves, and focus on God and others. (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:30-31) This world needs Jesus—but it has youyou are responsible for showing them Who He Is. Being a Christian doesn’t just mean you get to sit back and receive His grace and do nothing else. It means you get out there and do—you show others Who Jesus Is. Galatians 5:13: You were not saved to sit; you were saved to serve. If Jesus gave up everything to come to this Earth to serve us, and we claim to be Christians, who are we to think we don’t have to follow His lead and reciprocate? (Matthew 20:27-28; Mark 10:45; Hebrews 9:14)

Yes—we are free to choose whether or not we believe (and want to follow) God… But, as a true believer in Christ, our choice is whether to believe Jesus was/is Who He claimed/s to be. Once we choose to follow Him, we accept not only our Salvation from Him, but also our duties. (Matthew 16:24-26, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23; John 12:26; James 2:17).

We should be spreading the ideals of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness—in Jesus—across the Earth…Let Freedom Ring!