Advent Reflections Week 2: The God Who Is

The God who IS. The One is not created, imagined or even ignored. The great I am that I am.

In the most basic way, the Christmas story confronts my Christian story.  The Christmas story is loaded with miracles, the unexpected, the impossible. It turns our socially acceptable religion upside down. Instead of the most likes and plastic fantastics, instead of going through the motions in a powerless life, it is a babe in a borrowed manger bringing a new reality to the whole world. Instead of us having it all together, the Christmas story holds all things together. Instead of settling in my small world thinking, this new born King releases all of Heaven’s glory to me and to you.

We talked about this at the Gala. How God looked at
—the state of our marriages
—the behavior and challenges of our children
—our fear anxiety, sorrow, selfishness
—the deep, deep need to be truly loved and known
—our helpless state to truly fix all that is broken.

And He said, “I know just what they need. I have the Perfect Gift for all of this. “
Yet even in this extravagant offering, He gives us the choice to receive or not receive it. Imagine it. The very Giver of our breath gives us the choice to believe.
“It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6
Christmas is an invitation to remember the Gift. To remember Wonder. To remember our faith in the God is so committed to His world that He would give His son. Not one day in heaven, but today. In the tears, sorrow, and madness of today’s world. And to remember the God who is, who rewards those who earnestly seek him.
The wise men. The shepherds. Something pulled them toward Someone greater. May your Christian story be renewed this year by the God who Is.
Enjoy this worship.

An Advent Reflection 1st Week: The God Who Was

We live in a world of multi-layered confusion. “Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes.” (Isaiah 59:10)  So many in and out of church ask questions about our origins, identities, purpose, and calling.

And yet a greater Truth proceeds the resounding “what about me” question.
It is the eternal matter of  I Am—the God who was.

The Ancient of days.
Before the foundation of the world.
In the beginning.

These words shift me. Much like standing on the shore to look out over a vast ocean, I am simultaneously overwhelmed with God’s bigness and my own smallness.

Whatever my life may mean, or hope to mean, whatever my list of needs or weaknesses or desires, whatever deep joy or grief I may experience, there is One who is long before me and long after. There is One whose power is plainly seen daily and whose love is revealed to any open heart.

When we read Isaiah 59 fully we see our great sin and wandering. But the chapter begins and ends with the hope of our Ever Existing, Ever Interceding, Ever Saving God.

1Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.

21“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord.
“My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you,
and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips,
on the lips of your children and on the lips of their
descendants
—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.

As we approach the Christmas season, with its built-in distractions and stresses, let’s pause and breathe in the comfort of The God Who Was.

Enjoy Him in these moments of worship.

 

 

Running out of the Desert

God has been talking a lot about Expanding. It’s a new season. I can feel it in my very spirit. At the recent Yes and Amen Beach Retreat, I could literally sense the excitement of Holy Spirit to unleash, unlock, begin a new work in all of us. It’s no mistake we call it the Yes and Amen Retreat.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.  2 Corinthians 1:20

This is what God is doing. But what about us? What is required of me, and you?

The Lord said to me about this expansion, “The faith that got you here, is not going to get you there.” Whoa. What? My current level of faith was very costly. And He wants more? Yes and Amen.

I read a timely devotion this morning about the 12 spies scoping out the Promised Land. It’s a familiar story 10 of 12 men who were unwilling to believe the Yes of God in impossible situations. However, this statement stopped me in my tracks:

The will, calling, and assignments of God are most often unconventional and occasionally downright outlandish. The math rarely adds up. It requires a suspension of rational judgment and an immersion into the imagination of Jesus and the kingdom of heaven.
From The Seedbed Daily Text

The author, J.D. Walt,  goes on to call it the seductive hell of a predictable situation. “This story will show us something deeply embedded in the human condition—how people will readily choose a known misery over an unknown possibility.”

Ahhhh. Busted.

How many of us stay with what we can see, although it is desert conditions, instead of stepping into the more of God’s promised land?  Maybe it has to do with that word, unknown.

The phrase, unknown possibility, is not quite on point for me. The outcome may be unknown, but God IS known to us. His beautiful, intimate leading IS revealed to us.  Just like He led the Israelites through the desert TO somewhere better, He is leading us somewhere better. Therefore one thing we can bank on every time is His goodness. Sure, there may be wars. There may be giants, but they are dwarfed by His goodness.

What if I told you that F-A-I-T-H is actually spelled R-I-S-K?

Risk means taking action. It means making the phone call. writing the check, putting the house on the market, selling the car BEFORE you have all the outcomes settled. It means believing in our supernatural God despite what you see in the natural. Risk means, as John Dee used to say, putting some skin in the game.

We want God to do all the impossible stuff for us, but we don’t want it to cost us our comfort zones or our plans for independence and assumed safety.

Faith, and risk, is going beyond your own understanding to the realm where only God can pull it off.  Is dependence on Him terrifying? Yes. Is our faith worth it to God? Absolutely.

What can you risk today that puts you one step closer to your promised land?
Together, we will cry Amen to the glory of God.

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.