A Way Out of the Mess

I have been discouraged. Let me be clear and honest. Moments of discouragment often come after what I refer to as mountaintop moments. When you get up to the top, you have to come down, right? Anyone familiar with this terrain, whether naturally or spiritually knows there is a valley down below.

In that valley, Satan waits. He hates mountaintop moments. He beats you up. Tears you down. Exposes all your missteps and character flaws on the way down-because he is hoping you don’t have the strength or desire to climb anymore mountains.

It had been that way for about three weeks. No desire to write. An anxious mood. Weary. On edge. The world, and all its mess weighing heavy. Add all this to Satan’s conistent reminders of my own past messes.

In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. Judges 21:25

That’s the reality. It just is. And we can argue that the book of Judges was written 3,000 years ago, and it isn’t relevant. But folks-His Word is alive, active, present. Read the verse again, and tell me it isn’t just as real and present today.

We wander around daily, not turning to our King. Making poor choices, because we are carnal humans bound by our flesh, and our earthly desires. We do whatever we feel in the moment. “This feels so right,” so we continue it. We do what we think our friends, families, or co-workers would approve of-to be more liked. We “go with the flow,” not having any clear direction, and make all kinds of plans, but we never check in with the King.

All of the messes I have gotten myself into have all been because I stopped calling on God, didn’t listen to Him, and did things my way. I created my own messes, and my King was gracious enough to get me out of them.

I made choices that led me to destruction, and my King saved me from it.

And He reminded me, as I battled through the valley-focusing my attention on Him, and not that dirty liar that this is the exact reason I write. To share the mess, along with the triumphs. To share the mess, and the One who saves from it. To share the truth about the journey through faith that has mountaintop moments and some valleys, but a King who gets us to and through each and every one.

Are you ready to focus your eyes on Him today? Or are you going to keep doing things your way?

You can have the world. I choose…

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? Matthew 16:26

Fame. Fortune. Fun. Doing whatever you want, whenever you want. This is the message the world provides. Do this and you will be popular. Be like them and you will be accepted. Work, work, work to get a promotion. A bonus. A raise. Being rich is where real life is at, and if you suck at relationships and commitment…don’t worry-there are plenty of places you can go to look for no-strings attached, get it fast, without any real emotion involved kind of “love.”

More fame. More fortune. And all the fun you can handle.

But at what cost?

Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus

I’ve been in the world. I’ve done the things. I’ve lived that party life. The stay out late, drink to the wee hours of the morning kind of life. I’ve hurt people. Some intentionally. Some maybe not so much. I’ve been spiteful. Vindictive. Sought people and things from this world for my own gain. I’ve worked and worked for the “man,” at the expense of time with my family for all the bonuses. I have received awards, praise, but I’ve also certainly made decisions for me. Not anyone else. For me and what I thought I could gain. Who I thought would accept me. To gain or keep love. To move myself forward, forsaking the thoughts and feelings of others.

I’ve been in this world. 

You can have it. 

Because I’ve also been given the chance to choose something different from the empty promises, high life, and riches this world easily offers but cannot provide. I’ve traded in the need to be approved and loved by this world. I have traded in the hustle. The need to work, work, work for riches, awards, and things that never, ever fully satisfy. I have gained the salvation of my soul. So…

You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus

Leaving the shame behind

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

We had started over. My husband and I that is, in many ways. But in this case, what I am talking about is a devotional we had started afresh. The devotion to intentionally read. One I mentioned a while back here

Which means we started from the very beginning. And so on this night, we had gotten to the story of the woman caught in adultery again. Here I sat, wanting to skip it again. 

“We can’t do it halfway this time around. Just read it.” 

And so I did. About her being drug into the square to be stoned. About the man who was no where to be found. About the people who had to drop their stones because they had sins of their own. About the Jesus who told her to “Go. Sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)

This time as we answered the questions I didn’t have the same reaction as last time. I had worked out that whole “where was the man” question, and it all boiled down to good ‘ole fashioned shame.

Here’s the thing about shame. It’s a spiral. It’s born of our sin, and sometimes we can feel shame because the devil comes back to remind us of sins for which we have been forgiven. We allow those thoughts and the voice of that liar to be the loudest and we forget what Jesus did to relieve of us that condemnation. We spiral back into feelings of worthlessness. Shame begins to defeat us.

I knew, because I had worked through some things, that shame had no place here. Shame had no place in the heart of the one the Father had redeemed. It needed to be left behind.

And the story isn’t over, if the story isn’t good
A failure’s never final when the Father is in the room. Cory Asbury, “The Father’s House

The question at the end of that chapter was answered so differently this time because I was no longer allowing Satan to let shame have a grip on me. The question? “What from this story brings you hope?” See, when I came into my Father’s House, and I walked to the altar for the first time, I asked for forgiveness, and He wiped the slate clean. He didn’t hold my sins over my head like the world did. He didn’t constantly berate me with them the way Satan had.

And, the truth is…there were times I had to come back to that altar over and over because of my own shortcomings and failures, but He didn’t turn me away. He didn’t berate me. He didn’t hold me in contempt, or pick up any stones. He welcomed me. He gave me the chances I needed to get it right.

I realized in reading this story over again, that the shame the devil uses against us, was nailed to a cross. It lays at the altar. It is laid down when we lay our burdens down for Him to carry. It is thrown into the fire when we ask for His forgiveness.

When we enter His house, we leave our shame behind.

When we enter His house, there are no stones that can be thrown.

When we enter His house, we are always welcomed by Him with love.

I do not own rights to music, lyrics, or video.

You can run…but you can’t hide

Rocks. I mentioned some of them in my last post. Those I threw into the ocean of surrender. And those I threw at cars when younger.

Yes. My brother and I were often bored on our little street growing up. If we were not yelling across the street for our cousins to come out and play, we would often pick up small rocks and throw them at cars. Just the tires. Or that was always our intention.

Want to know what happened when a rock was thrown where it wasn’t intended?

We hid. Why?

Because what was intended to be thrown at a tire, ended up on a windshield. And when those brake lights came on, and that car stopped? We ran. We hid.

Hoping if we hid long enough. Far away enough. We wouldn’t be found out.

Sounds like another story I know.

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.” Genesis 3:8-10, NLT

They felt naked. Exposed. They ran and hid. Hoping God didn’t see. God wouldn’t know. Wouldn’t find out.

But we can’t hide from God.

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. Luke 12:2, NIV

God sees it. He sees our comings and goings. He knows our thoughts, and though we may run, hide, hope we will not be found out-God knows.

He knows the thing we do behind closed doors we hope no one ever finds out. He knows the words we say to ourselves, and the thoughts that fill our heads. He knows the ways we have hurt others, even if we try to forget. He knows when we talk one way, and live another. He knows the things we do in the dark.

He knows.

He also knows our secret pains. Our deepest hurts. Our hearts desire. Our struggles. Those other things we hide.

He knows and He wants us to come out of hiding.

Not blame the “other,” as the first woman and man did, but confess what we have done. Our actions. Our sins. Our transgression. Our hurts. All the things we hope people don’t know.

He knows, and He still wants to give us His love. He wants us to run to him, instead of away.

And when we do, when we come out of hiding, we discover what the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 121:

He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever. Psalm 121:3, 7-8, NLT

You can’t hide from Him, and He won’t hide from you. Just as he knows the things you hope to keep hidden, if you seek His face and His salvation, He will walk with you daily. Protecting you. Keeping you from harm.

Are you ready to come out of hiding? Stop running? Stop pretending?

Stop hiding, and run to Him.

You are making your comeback

Ever fallen? I have. I do. All.the.time. I’m clumsy, and manage to trip over my own two feet on surfaces most can easily glide over. My last tumble? Broke my wrist, required surgery with hardware, and months of physical therapy to use that much needed wrist and hand again.

I’m not 100 percent. According to docs, I may never be. But I came back from it.

Ever been knocked down? I don’t mean by something or someone physically…though I have been. Even knocked out cold before by a neighborhood boy in middle school. What I mean is knocked down emotionally. Mentally. Like someone is taking hits at you day in and day out, and it’s just wearing you out. Maybe it’s even just life doing the hitting.

After a season of night falls and push backs. After the heartache of wrong turns and sidetracks. Just when they think they’ve got you game set match, Here comes the comeback -Danny Gokey

Comebacks. We all love the comeback story. The athlete whose career was good as gone, but gets back out on the field. The boy who is sick, but miraculously recovers. The one who loses everything from some natural disaster, but rebuilds.

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.  His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet.  And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast,  for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. Luke 15:20-24

Comebacks are inspiring.

But they require some things.

What are the elements of a comeback? Money? Resources? Insurmountable wisdom?

No…it’s realizing that perfection is a myth. A standard that’s unachievable in our human strength.

It’s cutting yourself a break for making a wrong turn. Realizing that falls are inevitable when you are growing and learning. Think about it-babies learning to walk fall down all the time. They get back up and walk all over again, and we applaud. We can do the same. Get back up. Applaud our willingness and perseverance to keep going.

Oh, yes. Keep going. Even on the worst days. With a positive attitude. Knowing He has gotten you through the worst before.

You were knocked down (even out) but not defeated. He made sure of it.

It’s offering yourself some forgiveness, because we all take turns we shouldn’t. Paths that looked enticing and inviting, until we got too far into the trees.

Offering it to others, too. Because we can’t move forward without it.

Getting back up on your horse, and learning to ride all over again.

And knowing that if you fall…it’s OK. He will catch you, and give you the opportunity to get it right…all over again.

Those are the makings of a comeback.

I do not own the rights to music, lyrics, or compilation of this video.

WWJD: Still casting stones?

Love doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. 1 Corinthians 13:5, MSG

My husband and I have had to do some crawling back. Crawling back to the beginning of what we had at year one of a 15 year marriage. In doing so we read, and we began reading a devotion weekly that tackled some difficult junk.

Let’s jump back for a second. Read the header of this blog post. “Straight Up Messy Truth.” Does that give you a clue that I will not shy away from the mess? And folks, marriage? It is messy. This may not be what you thought you would hear today, but hang on-if your marriage is not messy, and you do not fight. You do not have a struggle, or have not had hardship-hold on…it is coming. Or, you are hiding something. Because straight up-we are human. We are messy. And every single one of our relationships will be, too. Even those we vow to remain in “til death do us part.”

Now, back to that devotional…and another mess. In the beginning of this particular exercise the authors of the book Closer, Jim and Cathy Burns recall the story of the woman caught in adultery: “The woman was first brought to Jesus in shame. Jewish law was clear she could be stoned to death. (We still don’t know why the man involved in the sin was missing).”

I had never thought of that before. When I read it…wow, I became angry. Bitter. How dare she be dragged into the streets to be stoned, and he…he was just able to walk away. She had to stand before all these people, shamed for her sin. And where, where was he?

This was my husband’s response: “Probably holding a stone in the crowd.”

Possibly. And for a couple weeks I held onto that image. The woman. Dragged into the square. Everyone talking. Her shame and sin for all to see. The man hiding in the shadows, ready to throw the first stone.

Until I read the passage again, a month or so later. Read the conversation she had with Jesus as she knelt on the ground, and saw this as I had so many times before:

“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:10-11

He may have spoken it to that woman, but it applied to everyone in that crowd. Even the man. If we confess of our sins, we are then told to “go and sin no more.” We are given the opportunity to live a new life without shame. No one can cast a single stone because we no longer walk in that way. We no longer do those things. We no longer make those same choices. We hand him our sin. He forgives us, and we don’t do that thing ever again.

Woman. And man.

We all are given this opportuntiy because we could have stones cast at us. We could all look out at the crowd in guilt and shame. There may have been a woman kneeling there, but it could have easily been that man.

And Jesus would have offered him the same thing. Forgiveness. The opportunity to go and sin no more.

What’s that got to do with keeping records of wrongs? Well, think about it. Those people in the crowd couldn’t wait to stone that woman. And do we do this at times? Hold stones of judgment? Stones of all the things done against us, so we can throw them out at just the right time? Come on…admit it-we all throw stones like ammunition when we argue.

But Jesus doesn’t. He didn’t. He wanted to make sure no wrong could be held against the woman.

That she could leave that square without sin. Without shame.

When we throw stones, we shame all over again. And Jesus doesn’t do that. He doesn’t throw stones.

He offers us grace. Mercy. Forgiveness. A new way of life where sin lives “no more.”

To the woman. And yes…to the man.

The blessing is the payback

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. 1 Peter 3:9, NLT

Hurt.

We have all experienced it. We have all had people hurt us-whether intentionally or not so. Whether due to circumstances outside of anyone’s control; or actions, words, or deeds that were chosen, and maybe a little “out” of control.

We have all experienced hurt. We have even all been the one at some point in time inflicting the hurt.

Today’s post isn’t about deep hurts-that is a path to healing and forgiveness that takes a little more time. One that can’t be wrapped up neatly in one post, because it is just that hard. I know because I am walking it. Walking it over again for some things through which I thought I had already taken that path many years ago.

However, we can still approach people who have hurt us with the following as Peter instructs in 1 Peter 3:8, being “agreeable, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble, without sharp-tongued sarcasm” (The Message).

But how???

One of the easiest places to get tripped up, and caught up in this need to retaliate with the same hurt is through our daily interactions. Our relationships with those around us, and with those with whom we will come into contact, or with whom we will speak. Electronic devices and the use of social media, messaging and texting make it so easy to do. Hurt comes in the form of words or general complacency. Or let’s just be real…we get this “I’ve got a second, let me respond and just get this over with. Give this as little emotion and attention as possible as I can right now to say I did” attitude about our relationships and connections.

Our words become impulsive with the tap of our thumbs. Behind screens we become invincible. And we say and do things we would not do in person. Things that damage and impair meaningful connections-simply because we never took the time to stop, think, and be agreeable, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, or humble.

When we are on the receiving end, oh…we want to pull out our “fire” thumbs. Tap back a response. One that demands an apology, puts people in their place. And then back and forth. Round and round we go. Retaliating.

I wish we could be as bold in our face to face interactions as we are in the ones we have with our thumbs. Behind keyboards and screens. Then maybe we would not be walking around with so many unresolved, hurt feelings because of perceived words or actions.

Or maybe we can simply be the one who stops the trail of hurt in the beginning. “Do not repay evil for evil.” The call from Peter implies a choice. Which means in this case we have a choice whether we will hurt someone, or as he also instructs, “pay them back with a blessing.”

And blessings can be firm boundaries that tell where lines have been crossed, without the use of hurtful words or actions. We can speak the truth using loving, compassionate language, and still let others know we will not tolerate being harmed or dishonored. We can call out disrespect without being nasty and unkind.

Or…we can choose surrender. Give the situation to God. Ask God to bless them. Ask God to rid their hearts of hurt and bitterness…(oh, and ours, too). Ask God to show them the path to righteousness, and to give them a life that is prosperous; if they so choose to take that one.

We can give it to God, and move on.

Sometimes it’s the best payback. It’s the one that’s unexpected.

Because here’s the straight up truth. We cannot control how someone speaks. We cannot control the actions of others, or their character when they are hurting.

We choose on this day whom we will serve, and if we are serving Him, we serve others with kindness, sympathy, love, compassion, and humility.

Because we may never get an apology. That person may never see the errors in the way a situation was handled. May never change at all. May change, and we may never see it. And we can’t go back and fix anything.

But we can be a blessing, and in doing so He will bless us.

When we bless this way, let go and move on; He will pay us back what we are owed-Our peace. Our dignity. Our courage. The true payback.

Which one will you choose?

I trekked up the hill to my old “quiet place” to get alone with God. To be alone to allow Him to fill me with peace during an otherwise stressful week. One with deadlines galore, and tasks to be completed before a break could be taken. Time to be reminded of what made this week so holy.

The hill to the three crosses behind our church was certainly not as steep as the hill Jesus climbed on that Friday morning. The trek was not as hard. I did not take a beating on the way up. Nor did I suffer. My “soul was not crushed with grief to the point of death,” as Jesus’ had been (Mark 14:34, NLT)

However, the climb was different than times before. It was littered with a couple stray beer bottles, and once at the top I noticed the middle cross…you know, the one representing Jesus, was broken. Now one wooden pillar in the middle. The wind up here was colder. It didn’t feel as calm and peaceful up here as it once did. It felt eerie. I was sure the serpent, Satan, would at some point come slithering from the tree behind me.

I was jumpy. Agitated. Paranoid. The exact opposite of what I climbed this hill to find.

Peace.

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Mark 15:34, NLT

As Jesus sat kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane, he certainly had to lack peace. As each leaf shook, each branch broke, each breeze blew through the trees; I can imagine in his humanity he must have become jumpy and paranoid from the sounds of those coming to take him to his death.

But when he thought of his purpose, despite the pain, he had peace: “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Mark 14:36, NLT).

And what was that will?

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:40-43

Yes. Jesus is the one in the middle. On that broken middle cross that I sat under. But he wasn’t the only cross erected there on that hill that fateful day.

There were two more. One on the left. One on the right.

He came to save them both. But only one went to paradise with him. He came to save us all. But only some will choose him. Some will choose his peace.

Which one are you? Which one are you today?

Do you want to keep saving yourself and stay on the path that leads away from paradise, or come into the kingdom with Jesus?

Which one will you choose?

New mercies every day

BibleLens-2020-03-16-12-12-26-0240

I have always been intrigued by the owl. You know, if spirit animals were a thing I believed in, then maybe the owl would be mine. Believed to be watchful, have sensitive hearing, and to be a symbol of wisdom in some cultures, these characteristics seemed to match my own watchful, discerning movements.

As a child, I was also the one who woke in the night, hiding flashlights under my covers so I could finish the last few chapters of the book I was reading. Staying up late into the night to put the finishing touches on that school project. And now, as an adult, laying…non-stop thoughts spinning around and around in my head.

Yet, I remember another story my mom used to always tell me: “We would wake up to you, just cooing and talking to yourself. You were always the first one up and ready in the morning.”

Talking. Ready for the day. Waking everyone with my voice.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23

These days I am not always ready when the alarm rings at 4:45am. I have not always been the one who has risen before everyone else in the house begins to stir. But as time has moved along, I find myself once again up and ready, babbling and cooing in the wee hours of the morning while all is still. While I revel over his still and quiet mercies of a brand new morning, and a still small voice that can be heard in the mess.

This journey is about new mercies. It is about the mercies and graces given in the midst of the unexpected. The small treasures we hold onto and cherish when life and everything we hold dear seems to be slipping away.

And through these next unexpected weeks, I will be sharing those new mercies daily. Join me. They are there. Just waiting for us to witness, embrace, and enjoy. Even in the chaos. Even in the uncertainty. New mercies. Every day.

Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Psalm 143:8

Forgive them Father

sticky note with apology

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Make allowances for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, The Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Colossians 3:13

Did you know that forgiveness is the highest form of mercy and love?

It is also one of the hardest things to do. When we forgive someone that hurt us, we often feel as if we are giving that person a free pass. That we have allowed them to get away with harming us.

Yet…isn’t this essentially what God has done for us?

How many times have we offended Him with gossip, slander, misplaced anger, and sinful actions?

And when we ask for forgiveness, He doesn’t offer us a list of reasons why we should not be offered grace. When we offer a sincere, humble apology for our transgressions, He doesn’t offer a rebuttal of why it is not accepted.

He forgives. He accepts us freely.

We ALL have our faults. We ALL bring pain and hurt to our relationships, and offend others in our pain without meaning to at times. We have been short in our responses, spoken harshly, and said things out of anger and frustration we wish we could take back.

Wouldn’t you want to be offered grace when asked? Wouldn’t you want your heartfelt apology to be heard?

Then be an example. Apologize. Sincerely. If you have hurt someone, make a vow to NOT repeat the offense. “Go and sin no more.”

And if it is offered to you-that apology? Accept it. Just as God accepted yours.