How to Grow In Grace

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Last year was a hard year but a good year.  And by the great grace of God, I have come out a better person because of it.  “Better?”, you ask?  Yes, not just better as a survivor of some horrible event, but thriving as a “growing in grace” kind of person and better because of what I experienced.  Here are few lessons I’ve gained:

1.  Acceptance:  Often we think that we are in control of our lives.  I’ve found that we can certainly own our lives to an extent but then there are some things, events, or occurrences like death, cancer, or accidents that you wrestle with but in the end have to accept.  No one likes to submit to what can’t be controlled.  However, one of the hard truths about life and death is that every person alive needs to accept what life hands them.  For instance, death has a place in everyday living.   Get used to it because death insinuates itself at the most inconvenient moment.

2.  Trust:  Since we are talking about death, along with dying comes the mourning and grieving process.  My friend once texted me (after I made a “faith” move) with a three-worded message:  “Trust the process”.  These words are sound advice.  The process of trusting is hard in itself and requires a deep faith but to accept what you can’t control and use self-control for what you can’t accept is truly the essence of living by faith.

There’s a process to learn faith in the deeper parts of life, like trying to understand life and death itself.  I believe death is one of life processes where understanding only comes in the grieving and you have to give space for mourning.

3.  Agreement:  One of my close missionary associates once said to our team, “How about we just agree with the Lord!”  My eyes met another team members’ confirmation to understand that the Lord was definitely opening our eyes and unstopping our ears in one accord (agreement) in a power-filled lunch.  Whoa, what an impartation!

Jesus actually said to do this, to agree with his teaching in John 8:31-32  “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Agreeing with the Lord means holding to the teaching of Jesus for the purpose of true freedom.  There’s no going your own way AND the way of culture.  You can own your life by being accountable for your actions but you have to trust the leadership of spiritual mentors in your life to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  It’s when you hold to righteous teaching then you will make progress and experience freedom on a whole new level.

4.  Leadership:  To grow in the knowledge of God by faith you have to live within the teachings of Jesus.  He started with a small group of willing people who were seeking some direction in their lives.  At the end of his ministry, Jesus had a band of brothers who were well-versed in the disciplines of learning, teaching and evangelizing.  Believers often skip the fact that this training was difficult, or intense, or challenging.  In all actuality, they were with Jesus as He walked, taught, and touched lives.  We have been given the same opportunity to be among those who are looking for a relationship with Jesus and we can easily lead them by the way we live our lives.  We can lead with what we know about Jesus and how He has touched our life.  Share that…it will take you far in leadership.

5.  Influence:  To be under the influence doesn’t mean the same anymore.  I’m not talking about drinking alcohol or smoking pot.  I’m speaking of the spiritual influence of total submission to the Holy Spirit.  The fact is once you examine the life Jesus lived he was led by the same Holy Spirit that we have access to.  He was all man and all divine.  You might say, “A perfect life was easy for Jesus!”  Yes, He lived a perfect life.  He butted up against sin many times but never did; was tempted by Satan himself, and He was tormented as He took a confident stand for all mankind!  For the entire time Jesus walked the earth, he was walking in his own humanity but totally submitted to the influence of the Holy Spirit.  We, as believers weren’t given a junior version of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit that empowered Jesus is the same Helper that believers submit to.  Want to live a sinless life?  Go ALL IN unto the power of the Holy Spirit and be a person of influence under the Influencer.

What I’ve learned has been gained by applying the Biblical teaching into my everyday life.  Life is a good teacher and we have the choice to respond to every occurrence or situation.  But when it comes down to the end of the day, we all have to reconcile our responses and experiences under the lens of faith.  This is living the Christian life as a disciple of Christ.  It’s full of power, disciplines, and experiences that will help you Home.  There’s nothing like an encounter with God that will meet you where your history has left you.  There’s more beyond what we know, I am grateful and am all in the growing in grace.

The Mean Pair of Jeans

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There will be circumstances when life slips you a note which makes you feel you are on an uninvited list.  It comes in many shapes and sizes.  But the hemline of rejection is sewn with hurt.  It wounds and makes deep shreds in your confidence and slays your trust…in everyone.

However, as depressing as it sounds, I’m learning more about how strengthening rejection truly can be.  Let me explain.  The chant in my mind used to sound like this….(I can hardly type the words.)

“No one likes you…you are fat….”  Childhood rhetoric.  Empty spaces where my soul longed for acceptance.

There are some hurts that take you a lifetime to outgrow.  Words from unkind kids can be horrible and mean.  It takes a time to heal from a few words at play.  If you are different, or slow, or unskilled, you are culled, separated, and segregated. It’s destructive.

Sometimes people just spew insensitively towards you and you got caught in the crossfire.  Or perhaps it was your finger on the gun that shot the verbal bullets.
No matter who or what, we all have hurts that pile up and make holes.  We live in a world where hate wounds without caring for the casualties.  If you have been rejected, you know all too well how it feels.  And you may not internalize it like I have, but harboring this kind of toxin inside is infectious.
The problem with a mean pair of jeans is when a hole is made a patch only covers up the hurt.
I can remember a time when some old rejection knocked on my heart as I stared at my crumpled pair of jeans on the bathroom floor.  All I needed was one ounce of courage to put them back on …again.  I needed a few seconds of thin bravery to make rejection go away.  I was afraid and I didn’t want it to put my self-esteem back on the emotional teeter-totter.
I prayed, “God, I know you haven’t rejected me.  These jeans, this size, neither define me.   So whether the jeans fit or not, God…I am yours.  No rejection from a crumpled pile of fabric can know me like you do.  May my self-esteem be found in You.”
I could go on and on about the many hallways of my 100+ pound weight loss journey and noticing God in those moments.  My point is when you are emotionally wounded there will be times when rejection will shake your stability.  
I haven’t finished my study of how to fully overcome rejection, but in remembering how God delivered me then helps me handle rejection now.  Haunting rejection can easily slip back into the deep crevices of your heart.  Without describing the landslide of emotions I held onto that day, I do know God comforted me in those moments.
Now, I’m learning to manage rejection and it’s offense appropriately and handle quickly.  I’m also learning to shield my mind and not let it penetrate my heart.  In doing so, I’ve realized a larger portion of joy in myself.  No longer will a “mean” pair of jeans define me as a person nor dictate my self-esteem.  I am more than a size and number to God.
God is not a one-dimensional Being.  He hasn’t created flat people who are measured in numbers, ages, nor years.  The beauty of God is the acceptance Jesus gives you through forgiveness.
You were made by a God who knows your name.  You were made by Love who knew your deficiencies when you are formed inside your mother’s womb.  You were created in such a way  He saw your potential and is cheering for you.  To think  God rejects the things He loves is a lie.
The sum of rejection and the toll it takes on our lives is still being told as people walk out their faith in freedom.  And as you realize freedom, there’s no going back.  The taste of liberation is full of joy no matter the size, weight or number.
I know too much about God to go back on His word. This encouragement brings joy in hurtful situations and when rejection feelings overwhelm me.  And rejection rests in His hands is hemmed by forgiveness and embraced by His love.

Resting Joy

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I often wonder about a lot of things and I find myself coming to the same conclusion each time. Now I’m not talking about the cure for cancer, or the national deficit, or the latest bargain price for broccoli.  This isn’t a post to tell you my vote for President.

The two words “I’m busy” make me wonder and create a contradiction in my soul. I also wonder how many busy signals God hears. I’m busy blogging, writing, editing a book or two, writing another book or two, recording some radio stuff, cleaning, eating sleeping, and exercising. I get it. Me too.

I run to God constantly but sometimes I am distracted with problem solving on my own. Then when this happens…it’s as if there’s a tap on my little shoulder.

“Please rest in Me.”

Here I am in a season of busy activity and it seems super unproductive to take a siesta or halt to a stop with all this activity around me. I’m used to doing for myself, producing, and meeting deadlines. I’m used to feeding and dressing myself, but one idea I’m not good at is resting. So why would I need to rest now?

I found myself saying, “I’m too busy to rest.”  And the conflict comes down in my soul.

Then….I came to my senses through the help of the Holy Spirit. Needless to say, I repented of my wrong thinking, refocused my mind and put my thoughts back on Him. And now I can see more clearly, I’ve learned that rest is more than a season. Rest is an attitude I am adopting into my life permanently.

I don’t know if you have thought about rest in this way, perhaps you have been too busy. I believe God planned rest from the beginning of time and created a whole day intentionally for rest. I know you’ve read this over and over in Genesis, but I realized it was the very component I needed. To help you be more productive, more focused, and more intentional with your time, you might need rest to be more than just a season.

So I ask you, what would it take for you to stop the whirling world you live in and give yourself a long soaking rest in God? I get it…I thought I was too busy also take a long time to rest. Then once I experienced true rest, it’s now a part of my life I can’t live without. Try it, even if you think you are too busy.

God is trying to reach you in your busyness. And this just in…He wants to be MORE than a crisis manager to you. He specializes in perfecting the very details which seemed to go unchecked when you are busy. I let him manage my task list, my clock, and my seasons from now on. It’s important to Him, and I can rest on Him knowing He knows more about my needs than I know myself.

“Who you spend time with is what you value the most.”  – John Gray

I get it. I know. I see. Rest isn’t just a suggestion from our Creator. Rest is a place to center your will back where it belongs, in His rest. He gets it, He sees you, and He knows you need it.

Take my word for it, it’s worth it.  I dare you to try God in this too.  It’s better FOR you than you know.

Finding Joy in the Pruning

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I have two rose bushes growing outside my front door.  Often, I take a little time to cut back the dead blooms.  Last week I cut them so thoroughly that not one bloom remained.  I took a step back to see if the bushes were evenly shaped.  Accomplishing my task and without another thought about them, I turned to enjoy the sunset.

It’s the process of pruning that is needed in the caring of the rose bushes.  If I didn’t cut back the spent blooms, the bushes would only bloom occassionally.  The more you cut the bush, the more the blooms.  It’s hard to cut back a perfectly green stem however, but it’s needed to help the bush thrive.

I’m learning how to abide in this season of resting and learning to have joy in the pruning. The fruit of the Spirit grows us best through the pruning process.  God wants to cut away our inflated view of self and expand the view of Him and protect us from falling into a blown up view of our own importance.  We are so easilty distracted with self-focus instead of releasing what God has put inside our souls.

Even the Holy Spirit does not glory Himself – Only Christ.  It says in John 16:14 “However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and He will declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me by taking from what is Mine and disclosing it to you.”

Pruning is part of the rest process and achieves what only God sees.  And this the part of the post where I tell you that it’s easy, and doesn’t hurt and you’re going to be okay, right?  What I can tell you is that you are going to be okay and there is joy found in pruning and letting go, to let the Holy Spirit bear His fruit in you.

From my experience with pruning is our Gardner knows best which branches need to go, which will bear the best fruit or blooms, and what He has designed for each of us.  And just like my cutting back the rose bushes, our Father prunes so that there will be even MORE fruit bearing.  When you are pruined you have an over-arching purpose which matches the vision God has for you.   John 15 digs into this truth down nicely.

Don’t forget the Gardner has a plan in the pruning – to give Him glory and to grow you into His good work and perfect you in the process.  Something we know about pruning is it cuts away the dead branches, and we are good with getting rid of the dead parts but what about the branches that are still thriving?  Sometimes it’s in the best interest of the plant to cut branches that aren’t dead) for the overall good of the plant.

And so it goes, there’s nothing easy about being cut or pruned.  And it hurts to experience a loss of a growing branch.  As His children, we grow in holiness.  Holiness means living set apart for God.  It’s the perfection process of our faith that sets us apart for Him.  Consider it like a spiritual exercise where God stretches you to the potential He sees in you.  Remember the focus isn’t on what we are losing or letting go of but instead for the real reason of our growth in Christ.  What I know about life so far is that we grow the most in adversity and difficulties.

It’s in the adversity, the calamities, the cancer, and the chaos where we seek God the most.  When we have to let go of our own strength and cling to His, that’s sharing His glory.  When we prosper and become the masterpiece He designed, that’s bearing fruit in our lives.

Colossians 1:10 “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”

It’s in the process that we grow.  Sometimes the pruning hurts, and we suffer setbacks but it’s for the overall beauty of the plant and the sweetness of the fruit.