Sometimes Freedom Requires Hard Pruning

At the beginning of this year, Chuck heard from the Lord these words, Free and Clear. This message created a domino effect in our lives with many changes to follow.  New job.  Changes in relationships. New goals. Changes in the rhythm of our lives.

Add to this domino movement, the passing of my Dad, and I suddenly found myself in a whole other space. There is an awakening in me, a mental and emotional capacity to breathe and dream again.

Imagine my surprise then, when the Lord invited us to do some hard pruning.  Here I am thinking , “I will finally enjoy the  freedom and flexibility I have been craving.”  But instead, He asked us to go one step further into free and clear.

What was I willing to give up now, so I could go into the next season undistracted and unfettered?
READ THAT AGAIN.
It’s one thing to have callings, plans, goals, and purposes. It’s another thing to surrender whatever diminishes those from becoming a reality.  And let’s be clear. I had oh-so-many conversations with the Lord.

“Ohhhh wait. You want me to prune something I love?  Something I prayed for and you gave me?”

(Anyone else getting hints of Abraham here? smile)

“This is a hard prune. So you will be even more fruitful.”

But, but, Lord…

The questions went something like this: How will I ever get this again? How will this affect my people? How will you meet my deepest desires if I give this up now? How do I know the New thing is WORTH the present thing?

BOOM. THERE WAS THE CORE QUESTION.

Our God is so loving that He helps us follow Him into the unknown.
His answers:

Does the rain have a father?
Yes He said that. It’s from the book of Job 
If you haven’t read it lately, go back and read the last chapters of Job where God reminds us all of who He is and what He is capable of.

Hold on, don’t grow tired. Don’t give up. He’s better.
A line from song Wouldn’t it be like you?   He’s better.
Being with Him, being loved by Him, and following Him is better than any present from His hand.

Two different double rainbows. This is your inheritance.
Double portion of his promises from Isaiah 61:7
This whole last season has been about my inheritance from the Lord. This is the next step of trust.

It probably seems obvious to you by now. But Trusting God is more than a t-shirt.  It is the very life we breathe and it comes from His heart of goodness and kindness in every season. Every. Season.

So here’s to hard pruning. And to letting go — so that we might see more of Him.

After all, He’s better.

It’s For Freedom Christ Set Us Free!

Happy Fourth of July! And God’s favor on the freedom you enjoy today. I can’t help but ponder the 4th because, like most of our holidays, we are removed from the real pain and sacrifice of the individuals who broke the ground before us. It’s embarrassing really. I am trying to decide whether to grill hamburgers AND hot-dogs, as compared to my ancestors who were literally fighting with their lives for the independence I am now enjoying.

As a lover of Jesus, my freedom is doubly significant. He also fought with His very Life for the freedom I am now enjoying.

So what do I do with this outrageous gift?

Paul’s letter to the Galatians has thoughts about it.

“Plant your feet firmly therefore within the freedom that Christ has won for us, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the shackles of slavery.” (Galatians 1:5, Phillips Translation)

Did you enjoy my oh-soft-intro? Let’s heat it up a bit.

Here are the shackles of slavery we have been freed from:

Performance and legalism — futile efforts to try and to earn God’s love.
Politics and public opinions — attempts to deceive and distract us from God’s truth.
Selfishness and Pride — focusing on our accomplishments rather than God working in us
Fear of man’s rejection  — raising others above God’s opinion of us
Fear of death and hell — obsession or denial of a certain act and decided future

We are free from all of these, and so much more, in Jesus.

Which leads to the same questions spiritually we are asking as a country?

Can we maintain our freedom?
How do we maintain our freedom?
Are there areas where we have lost our standing?

“Beloved ones, God has called us to live a life of freedom in the Holy Spirit. But don’t view this wonderful freedom as an opportunity to set up a base of operations in the natural realm. Freedom means that we become so completely free of self-indulgence that we become servants of one another, expressing love in all we do. For love completes the laws of God. All of the law can be summarized in one grand statement: “Demonstrate love to your neighbor, even as you care for and love yourself.””  Galatians‬ ‭5:13-14‬ ‭TPT‬‬

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

To which the pundits cry, what is love? How do I know if your idea of love is the same as mine?

It’s neither. It’s God’s idea of love because it’s God’s Son who bought our freedom.
We are grateful recipients of a life we could never attain on our own.

“But the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit within you
is divine love in all its varied expressions:
joy that overflows,
peace that subdues,
patience that endures,
kindness in action,
a life full of virtue,
faith that prevails,
gentleness of heart,
and strength of spirit.
Never set the law above these qualities,
for they are meant to be limitless.

We must live in the Holy Spirit and follow after him.”
‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23, 25‬ ‭TPT‬‬

It’s for THIS kind of freedom you have been set free. Free to be loved perfectly by Perfect Love.

 

The Heart of a Mother

I was blessed to attend a baby shower the other day. A long-awaited miracle baby. A baby of promise.  The air was thick with celebration. It’s as if we all let out a collective sigh of relief that this prayer had been answered. Finally.

As we began a blessing and prayer time,  I looked around the room of women and choked back a sob.

This was holy ground.

There were so many stories. Some had no children of their own. Others had birthed children. Many had miscarried babies. A couple of women grieved babies lost through abortion. Several had adopted children. Some had glowing little toddlers, some had heart-wrenching prodigals.

Despite these stories, our own hurts, and sorrows, we still rose up to prophesy over this new mama.

But what to pray?

Why pray some pie in the sky future that every woman present already knew would not happen?

There would be terrible, sleepless nights in the beginning.
And in the elementary years
And in the teen years.

The child would rend her heart over the years as much as he would rend her body in delivery.

The road would be blissfully filled with hand-drawn art and sloppy kisses. But the road most assuredly would also be filled with broken dreams and promises as this mother, like all mothers, weathered her child developing and testing his free will.

What to pray?

Do we pray for God to shield her and her child from all hardship?
We know that trials and hardships drive us into Him more deeply.

Do we pray for a fairytale birth story and golden child reality?
We know full well that our enemy thrashes our faith with a weapon called disappointment, so why fill her head with unrealistic expectations?

And tell me what on earth does God have to say about all this?

Enter the Heart of a Mother.

If you are a woman, you know what it means to be a mother. Child or no child, there is an innate God-given fiber of your very being that rises up around the weak and defenseless. We somehow don’t have to be taught to nurture, teach, tend, or protect.

Some women are warm hugs and soft places to land. Some women are more like fierce pioneers who cut a new path for others to follow. Regardless of the varied expressions of a woman, one common thing to watch is what she does if her loved ones are at risk. Think mama bear with cubs.

I have been walking out a beautiful revelation from the Lord about the feminine side of God. I am writing a book on it actually.

But for today—because it is nearly Mother’s Day—because of the days we live in, when many already-born persons want to debate the validity of un-born persons—I want to speak truth.

God is a God of Life.

God, even uniquely expressed in the Holy Spirit, holds all the tenderness and nurturing we need to exist but also to model. The Holy Spirit contains and holds our sorrow, strengthens and undergirds our weakness, teaches and leads us into Truth. The Holy Spirit defends and protects. The Bible draws so many parallels of the Holy Spirit to women that finally, FINALLY,  we find our feminine place in the Godhead.

And because we find our place in the Godhead, the beautiful, powerful, life-giving God, we find our place in the world. We are life-givers. We are life protectors.

Would you like to know the theme that formed in our prayer time for this new mama, and actually every woman present? That we would come to embrace the overwhelming love of God.

This baby shower was a God shower. Reminding us that the Holy Three of Them created each one of us and delights to sing over us in every season, heartache, milestone, success or weakness. That’s what we prayed.

May each of us receive the love of God as fully as this new mama loves her baby.

Too Good To Be True?

If I am being really honest…I mean shockingly honest…the story of the cross sounds crazy to me. I’ve heard different iterations of it all my life. 

One man. A world of Sin. My debt. His sacrifice.

Then there is the part about rising from the dead. I mean, what even? 

And then I met Him. Really met this Beautiful King. Heart to heart and Spirit to spirit. 

Suddenly,  all of the pieces of this God sized, crazy-to-my-brain puzzle came in to place. I was reshaped. Or maybe, I became uncontorted by the world. Either way I found home and peace and this deep satisfying love.

The unbelievers say it’s a religion and a weakness of the masses.
The unbelieving believers say He is confined to a book and put in a box.

But the believing believers, the ones who “yāḏa” Him, who know Him intimately, are surely aliens in this world. Transformed by His love, we pour out our lives advancing an Eternal Kingdom and living for an Unseen King.

We are supernaturally alive in a natural world. Just like the power of love raised Jesus, He has raised us.

We have been raised to life again. Sound crazy? There are millions of witnesses, millions of miracles, millions of redemption stories that make crazy look like the sanest, truest thing ever.

“You will know the truth and truth will set you free.”

We celebrate you today Beautiful Jesus. Be honored in our hearts this Resurrection Sunday. 

Singing, how marvelous! how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be
How marvelous! how wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!

Prepare the Way

I have a deep call from my spirit to yours. This Holy Day season, don’t get lost in the bunnies and eggs, and spring flings, proms and Final Four.

Instead, remember the call of Mary and Joseph to make room in the inn. Take to heart the call of John the Baptist to “prepare the way of the Lord.”  Now. Today. This moment is the moment to see the Coming King.  Prepare your heart for His embrace, His affection—bow in reverence for His sacrifice. Point your families in the direction of  Mercy poured out on an unprepared, unaware, and even unwilling world.

How great the Father’s love for us…

This is no religious or political dictator. There is no gold star for pious duty.

This is His Holy eyes locked on mine, and yours, so that all our sin is washed in His love. But we are not just free of sin, but we are finally free to be all that He created us to be. How creation groans under the weight our slow revealing.

To know and be known by Eternal Love is the true meaning of Resurrection Sunday.

The Veil was rent. For me. For you.

Will you prepare your heart, your attention and step into this True Living with a Loving God?

Burn the Root. Just Do It.

It was a beautiful sacred moment. We women sat around a fire asking Holy Spirit to reveal what was the mountain between us and His love. What were we hiding behind, holding on to, or avoiding that was hindering the flow of His life into our lives. That’s when the Lord pricked my memories.

I’m listening, Lord.

You have burnt a root before, do you remember?

The Spirit flashed scenes of my early relationship with God. It was like a movie trailer, moments of a story being unfolded. Yes, I did remember.

Chuck and I had moved to a country estate. The former owners had divorced and the property was likewise tired and neglected. I had a vision of resurrecting it. What I didn’t know is that God had the same idea about me.

So much deep heart work happened there with Jesus.  Dreams, visions, counsel in the night. I discovered my gifts and calling; I was embraced by His intimacy; I was equipped for warfare.

But before all of this was The Root.

We noticed a hairline crack across a sidewalk. Thinking nothing of it, we walked over it. For months.  Until we noticed the hairline was wider and deeper. And yet we walked over it without action. Years passed and now the hairline was a gaping crack and the concrete bulged up from the unseen issue underneath.

We tried the lazy man method first and dug out the flower bed beside the sidewalk to get a view of the culprit. Sure enough, it was a tree root. Just a tender slip of a thing, the width of two fingers, had caused extensive damage. Even so, the repair seemed too big, too much effort, and no further action was taken.

As you can imagine, it became a huge point of contention in my marriage. I wanted it fixed, Chuck did not. However, my heart shifted the day I walked over it and saw crocus blooming right by the root in the flower bed. I told the Lord I was sick of fighting about this with Chuck, and sick of complaining about it to Him. Turns out God was sick of both too.

I’m bringing beauty even out of this ugly. So bless it instead of curse it.

Okaaaaaay, I said. So instead of cussing Chuck and that damn root, I started blessing the story God would reveal in the process. Needless to say, all the while the root continued to grow.

One unexpected day, Chuck said, “I am going to dig up that root today.” I almost fell out of my chair. And dig he did. He pulled up the concrete step, shoveled the dirt out and we stood aghast at the root.

It was now the size of a man’s thigh.

‘I’m listening, Lord, I’m listening,’ I whispered in my spirit.

To Chuck’s credit, he cut and hacked and dug until the root was out. He filled the hole and replaced the concrete step, everything was back to normal. He took the gnarly, mud-covered root and threw it on the burn pile.

And there it lay. Ugly and exposed.  For weeks. I couldn’t stop looking at it.

The Lord was up to something and I avoided His dissection almost as much as Chuck had avoided digging up the root.

Finally one day it bubbled out. I had run aground relationally, again.  When I asked the Lord about what my problem was He just kept repeating the same thing, take care of The Root.

Honestly, at this point in my relationship with Him, I felt like a blind person groping around with my hands stretched out in front of me. Oh, but how He used this root to tutor me for the rest of my life.

To take care of my root, first I had to name it. To name it, I had to let Him search me and reveal the hurt and heartache I had experienced. They all had a common theme or root. For me it was rejection. What’s yours? That sting or ache or reaction that keeps getting triggered over and over.

The second step after naming it was literally giving it to Lord until I meant it. God wanted to know if I actually wanted it gone, or if I wanted to say I wanted it gone. There is a big difference.

This got flushed up when we went to burn the root. We stacked other wood around the root and started a fire. We had a beer, laughed and talked, and went to bed. When we got up the next day everything was ashes EXCEPT the root.

Okay God, I said. What is happening here?

I am not playing games. I am changing you. Do you actually want to be different?

Yes, Lord. Yes.

I remember I went out alone to the firepit and sat and looked at the root, acknowledged its sheer ugly, now-charred existence.  I confessed all the ways rejection had made me bitter, small, and hard-hearted. I acknowledged all the damage that had been caused by my unwillingness to address it. I forgave all the people who had rejected me. I forgave myself for all the people I had hurt through my rejection of them.

I sat in the presence of this ugly thing in me— with my God.

I finally, finally got to the place with God that I didn’t want this root anymore and asked for something better instead.

Burn the root, He said.

That night we went out again, but instead of roasting marshmallows, we took lighter fluid. We watched the root burn long and slow. When we got up the next morning for church, I went to the window to see the firepit. The root was gone.

I ran barefooted outside and stood over the pile of ashes. For some unknown reason, I started crying.

“What is happening Lord. Something is different.” I prayed out loud.

This is what freedom feels like. The root is gone.

That was 25 years ago. It is a profound spiritual marker of my journey. Every time rejection has raised its head, I have this place with God to return to, where beauty came from ashes. For real.

Do the hard work. Dig up the root. But don’t just leave it there. Burn it.

 

 

Let the Lion Roar

I still remember it. I took my daughter to the zoo. No big deal. I had been there so many times.  It was almost a ho-hum parent box to tick off.  But this day, this particular day was very different. We came up to the big cat area and we heard this sound that shook the ground. Literally— it shook us. We didn’t see the source but we felt the presence of the lion.  As we rounded the corner, there he was. He roared again. My daughter covered her ears and pressed closed to me. I just started crying.

That moment is fixed in my spirit.  The irony of this majestic creature inside a cage. The realization of “why” lions are called the king of the jungle, that mere roar invokes fear 5 miles away. The tears, however, were spiritual tears. The reality of the presence of Jesus hitting me as powerfully as the sound of the lion shook the ground.

CONQUERING LION.  This is who we love. This is who loves us.

Not a weak, passive, meowing kind of love.
But a fierce roar kind of love that breaks every chain.
Breaks the bones of the enemy.
Shakes the ground we walk on.
Shakes the hearts of those who fear Him and comforts every heart protected by Him.

Do you know what we are going after at the Roar Encounter? A deep spiritual wake up for believers and not yet believers alike. We want to get near enough to the Lion of Judah to feel our fears and lies and apathy shake to the ground as His presence washes over us.

Let the Lion Roar.

Shook out of Slumber

Shook.
That is the word that keeps reverberating through my spirit. I have been Shook. Chuck and I got away for a few days and in our attempts to unplug I took a “random” book that brought me to tears. Then to sobbing. Then to repentance for small thinking and living. The next day, we watched a “suggested” movie that Crystal had sent me a while ago. It was hanging out on my To Do list and kept grabbing my attention. This movie, like the book, had me sitting in the Lord’s presence in tears.

Why?

The stories of radical love and radical faith shook me. Shook my comfort zones, shook my lagging faith and actions, shook my weak love for God and others.

Here is only one story out of many.

A Christian husband and wife left Iran to find refuge in the US. After just a short period in the states, this wife pleads with her husband to return to Iran. The husband was incredulous. Why would she want to return when it was so hard to even live and they faced the threat of death, rape, prison, and other horrible things just for sharing their faith?   Her response was sobering.

“There is a satanic lullaby here and all the Christians are sleepy. And I am feeling sleepy.”

I trust those words shake you like they shook me.

Are we awake to our Living Jesus?
Are we willing to convert our rights and comforts into devotion and obedience to God so that others might see Jesus lifted up?

I am asking myself these same hard questions. It boils down to this. Christ’s life is the role model of sacrifice. Why then does my life look so self-absorbed? How about yours? How do we rouse ourselves from the satanic lullaby to respond to His voice of life-giving love?

The Spirit shook me awake. I can know no longer be satisfied with lukewarm living. Everything is under review.

Father, help us spur one another on to truly live for heaven’s purposes. Amen

*Pictured: a brick & mortar Church that never took root, as seen in the “Sheep Among Wolves” movie. It is now a popular tourist destination for many Muslims.

What’s In It for Me?

What’s in it for me?

If we are honest that is an engine that is always humming in the background of our lives. It is, after all, part of what helps us survive.

So let me get straight to it. The Restore Intensive is Feb 19. What’s in it for you is a long pause with the Lord. Maybe you have done the hard work in your heart and now is the question, what’s next? Restore is next. You will have opportunity to explore how you can rethink and rebuild places in your life the look a lot like ruins, or underdeveloped landscapes.

Soar is March 5, 2022. May I be candid? In our staff retreat yesterday we identified that our annual women’s encounter is for kittens and lions, and everything in between. It is for women who have been shut down, shut up and shut out of their own voice for so long that they don’t recognize themselves, or God.  And it is for lions who have grown in their love and life with God so that when they roar the enemy shakes.

We gather all these women, different ages and stages of life, different walks with God, churched and unchurched, and then we do the most important thing together. We seek His face.

There are real women telling real stories of real mess and how God showed up. It gets honest around here real fast.

So if your starving, stone cold, or white hot, both of these offerings actually are for you.

Ready to go deep!
Jana

Is Grace Enough?

My 92-year-old dad’s health is rapidly declining. My dog just had surgery and we are awaiting test results to see if it’s cancer. My kids are each going through their own wrenching challenges. My husband’s job has been erratic. And on and on it goes. What’s your list look like?

This is just the obvious stuff. The next layer is even more tender. There’s the grief of losing my mom and the anticipated grief of losing my dad soon. The fear and helplessness of not being able to influence my children can take my breath away. The decision fatigue of managing so many things at the same time sometimes leaves me wanting to run away at best, or zone out and binge a show at worst.

And underneath all of this is my love for God. And the love from God.
I have to stop and pause. I have to stop and remember. He is the way maker.

More than a great song lyric, He really is the one who makes rough places smooth. His light leads through the darkness. He takes me on well-worn paths and to uncharted trails. He guides me through the fire, through the flood. He sets me high upon a rock.

He leads me to green pasture. To rest. To settle. To focus again.

Since I know that nothing is a surprise to Him,
since I know He plans ahead for me,
since I know that He is always with me,
I can turn to Him, see His face, hear His voice, and understand what He wants to show me in these very harried moments.

Today, He says that life is a gift. Don’t waste it by complaining about what is wrong but look for the good, His goodness in the moments.

Today He says that my faith in His provision is my gift to Him. Regardless of the swirl, He has already provided for me and I “get to” watch and anticipate His movement in my life.

Today He says that grace is a reality for me to pull on, to expect, to stand on. It is a divine presence in every situation. I can bank on it.

Last year, God gave me this beautiful revelation about the word grace as represented in Hebrew letters. Hebrew letters are pictures that reveal a much deeper meaning. The word “grace” is literally the letters that mean “beautiful camp.”

The Israelites were a nomadic people so they would travel and then set up tents in a circle close to each other. They would overlap the tent cords on the outside circle of the tents to form a barricade from animals and invaders. Then they would open up their tents to the inside of the circle so that they could freely visit, the children would play safely inside the tent circle. More on this later.  However, God gave me the phrases:

Protection from without.
Provision from within.

That is what I can expect and hope and trust and rely on when I say I need grace. His grace.

God’s protection from without. God’s provision from within. He’s got me, and you, fully covered in grace. I truly am in good hands. And so are you.