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.

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A Lot Can Happen in Three Years

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Three years ago when I stepped out of the radio studio I had no real clear goals other than the fact that I wanted to reach the lost with the Gospel, be involved in connecting with people, and help to build God’s Church all over the world. At the time, I knew what He had laid on my heart to do concerning the nations, and I’ve held Africa in the deepest recesses of my heart.

I didn’t know what the next step would involve, but God simply asked if I would trust Him in my next move.  Yes, I said move.  When that word first came to my awareness, I was a bit shocked.  I had been asking God to use me in a bigger way but was thinking (although very limited in my finite mind), I imagined a new plan would come to fruition someday.

I also believed that I would write books someday and several would be published for many to read. I never knew HOW or WHEN these dreams and trips would come to pass, but currently, as I sit here typing this, I see things unfold that I once could not even articulate.

Today on the fresh heels of Thanksgiving and returning from Africa, I am even more grateful and in awe of what has occurred in the past three years.  I have no magic formula, but over the years here is what I have learned:

Give yourself the space to dream again.

Get involved in your local church.

Do wholeheartedly whatever is before you.

Don’t have any agenda, but serve willingly.

Wait for God to open doors.

Submit to leadership.

Trust God because He is always in control when we are not.

There is no wasted experience; God uses everything.

God makes a way where there seems to be no way.

Have faith.

Be courageous.

Stay the course.

Be faithful.

Always remain part of something bigger than you.

Stay teachable.

Surround yourself with wise advisors.

Do nothing from selfish ambition.

Keep stretching and growing.

Continue gratitude.

Rally others to journey with you.

Bloom where God plants you.

Believe God for who He says He is.

Bonus: Obey God, He will not lead you astray.

Now I assume you are thinking, this makes a fancy pants list and all, but why should this work for you?  Or perhaps you have different goals than I.  Both could be true.  When you consider the infinite plans that God has for all of us, it’s easy to think small about what God can do through us.

The biggest truth I have realized over time is we rarely know the details of the journey when we start; like Abraham, we often go forth not knowing where we are going. But when you keep your eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and the covenant promises, He will always take you to your destination.  Whether you come kickin’ and screamin’ or run willingly to Him, either way, God always knows what journey is best for each of us.  He is the only One who knows us better than we know ourselves and has gifted each person the uniqueness that makes us who we are.

He is good at being our Judge, our Father, and but also our Friend.  Some additional thoughts about following God are (and it’s important to remember these things too!)

God’s plans will…

Take longer than you think,

Cost more than you think,

Hurt more than you think,

BUT GOD AND you are…

Braver than you know,

Stronger than you seem,

Smarter than you think,

And loved more than you know.

Recently I was shopping with my husband and he purchased the above saying on a wooden sign. I asked him why he wanted to buy that for me and he said, “I will not always be with you, but I want you to remember these things.” The Lord also encourages believers in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  As if you are the only one, God steps into time, to author your story, and to develop you with a unique plan all your own but He loves it when you partner with Him in the grander scheme of His plans.

When you don’t know what to do, take the next step and trust God. Sometimes it looks like you are going in a different direction than you thought, but obedience is worth it. And when you grab ahold of the Father’s heart for you, then you will realize you are loved more than you know.  His heart will lead you no other way but the right way.  Follow, trust, and take heart.  Oh and hang on, it’s wild out here!

 

When You Need To Let Go

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Recently I’ve backed off of my running habit for about 6 weeks as a result from my left hip shifting out of place.  There was a part of me that wondered if I would ever run again.  The pain was so intense that I wanted to just give up.  I was also afraid that if I returned to the road that a re-injury would occur. So I choose to rest the habit for a while and return when I had given myself some time to heal.

During this time, I lost my drive to try.  All I recall was how much running or even walking hurt.  I wanted to protect myself from pain.  Thankfully, over time, the drive returned and I overcame the fear, encouraged myself, embraced the process and tried again.

I talked myself into pushing through it.  There were many days I only walked but felt like I could handle a little more pain.  I had my hips adjusted and let my body heal more.   Yesterday it happened that I broke through a threshold of pain to run free.  I wasn’t calculating the pain, counting the cost nor considering the toll it would take upon me later.  I just pressed through the ache to run.

It was marvelously liberating to bring change in my perspective.  Often we look at changes as painful or from a place of fear when really it only takes a different run at the process.

This can go as deep as you want to take it, as far as success, failures, motivations, growth and destiny.

It’s the same with our spiritual walk with God.  This is not a race but a journey where sometimes changes come slow and steady, sometimes it’s an immediate turnaround.  Both perspectives matter, but the process is important.  Some are heart painful, other changes only need a few small tweaks.  The perspective of the process is termed by God as pruning in John 15.

When you think of pruning, you understand it’s needed to get rid of a bad habit or something that is non-producing.  But who of you would would be first in line when a good thing needs to be cut?  How about several great things?  How can cutting several good producing branches be seen as a benefit?  Some great questions that need a different perspective.

I have always thought of pruning in a negative sense as cutting out a dead place that needs to go or something that is painful.  Think how hard it is to let go of a tree which is still producing fruit.  How do you decide which branch to prune, for the benefit of the whole orchard?  Intentional focus is an important part of producing, bearing fruit  and must take on a strategy.

Pruning could be termed as training, practice, or correction of a habit. God is changing my perspective of cutting and training of habits.  I am learning to bear more patience with change and transitions, and bear through the pains in the process.  I still have a lot of grace to realize in this to help me find freedom in the pain.

As believers, we are changed little by little to reflect Jesus as we let go of those non-producing branches.  But also in the process, there are some good branches that might be caught up in the cutting.  It’s okay to let them go as well.  Remember not every branch should be a fruit bearing branch, some are supportive for strength or a preparation to the fruit production.

It’s all about your perspective really.  It’s painful to remove good parts of our lives for the good of the whole.  We can’t see that something good causes damamge or pain until it’s removed.  Often those branches need to go for the greater good, and it’s often to prevent a deeper pain or futrther damage in the future.  God sees our harvest and knows how many bushels of fruit that He wants to bear in your life.  He also sees the non-producing branches that need to be cut and those which are weighing us down, or will do so in the future.  He sees our greatest good from His best perspective.

Consider the greater good of change, pruning and training.  Even though sometimes painful, from God’s point of view it’s always for THE greater good considering THE bigger picture of perfection of our lives.  Even if we can’t see it right now, you must  keep training, practicing, or pressing through the aches and growing pains.  Be teachable.  There’s fruit to bear, and a potential harvest of goodness awaits on the other side of your growth.

How the Word Can Make You Stronger

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TRUST ~ HOPE ~ FREEDOM ~ VISION ~ REMAIN

I’m one of those girls that enjoys praying through a word for an entire year.  Not only does it keep you focused on noticing the word, but God will often define it in ways that you haven’t thought of.  I’ve been practicing this for five years and what I have learned in the process gives a deeper meaning to living.  Each year brings a new adventure to digging deeper with God in faith.

“Have you ever thought about writing a book about your ‘word of the year'”?  Good question!  When my friend posed that idea to me, she had me at “writing”!  I wondered if I should pray about that idea first, then I realized I already am doing that.

It’s called journaling.

I’m a verbal processer, just ask my husband.  He says I can talk to a post about anything, even when I know the post isn’t listening.  I have that gift (smirking here).  I also accept that I have a different perspective about a lot of things, mostly because I am a girl and wasn’t blessed with an “empty box” like you dudes!  There are many days I desire to check out too.  Oh how I wish I could put my hurried thoughts and ideas to the side.

I can’t!  It’s the way I am wired and how my brain operates.  For me, if I’m giving my time to something, I’m all in on that something.  What that means is that I will look at an idea from every angle, perspective or meaning you want to throw at it.  I examine every possible detail.  Ironically, though I don’t have to know the details to follow an idea.

I know…don’t try to understand it because it’s the female human condition, but what I have learned from being a deep thinker is that there is always something to learn by taking a second look or looking at it from a different perspective.  I would like to take this process a step further to suggest, that once the negative influence is removed and the positive aspects are brought to the surface, there’s always a gem inside.

It’s much like the gold digger show my husband watches on TV.  They go to great heights to discover one little half ounce.  They consider it worth their time to dig more to find the hidden value, and desire to spend more time doing just that.  Digging in, even if it means time spent produces nothing!  Even when there is a risk involved, (they go to some precarious locations), even against all odds.  They still consider the costs of the desire and then match their motives up with what drives them.

Since I want a personal relationship with my relationship-driven God, then I am going to go for, dig in, and realize as much as I can about the relationship!  I consider it like this:

 Jesus is all about people and loving them where they at in the journey, so that drives me to respond as Jesus does, giving as Jesus does, and loving in a way that changes people toward their destiny.

The process gives me a stronger meaning of it all, but it’s hard work to focus on one thing.  Overall, the process is good, and requires determination, dedication and consecration of everything that you are.  You must faithful unto this as He has been faithful to teach us all. Here are a few lessons I have learned so far about my “words for the year.”

TRUST ~ HOPE ~ FREEDOM ~ VISION ~ REMAIN

When I need clarity, God teaches submission.  
When I need solutions, God teaches abiding trust.
When I need truth, God uncovers deception.  
When I need hope, God shows faithful.
When I need comfort, God teaches how to listen closer.
When I need direction, God shows His protection.
When I need strength, God gives opportunity to show weaknesses.
When I need His heart, God shows His deep love.
When I need faith, God shows me fears.
When I need more light, He pulls back my darkness.
When I need confidence, God shows me how to lead.
When I need freedom, God shows my chains.  
When I need healing, God shows power.
TRUST ~ HOPE ~ FREEDOM ~ VISION ~ REMAIN
Many things are never like I expected but each truth is right and good.  Life is a great teacher for sure, but the biggest lesson is one of humility and learning to listen well and loving in the most excellant way.  That’s a word that we can all grow on!

Garbage in, garbage out

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24    My prayer was innocent enough but God’s answer came in the most unconventional way.  It was at the edge of a dump site in Africa that God spoke and asked what I wanted.

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I was afraid to speak about it because “the answer”, the “it” was the very thing I needed to give up.  I looked down at the cows feasting on the garbage in the pit of the city dump.  I reflected how God had brought me out of my past pit and was thankful for His deliverance.

But there was still some garbage in my life that I needed to get out.

I can remember a time when I was covered in garbage.  Or at least it felt that way.  Now don’t get me wrong, I know feelings are the most fickle of things.  And my faith is not founded on my fickle feelings.  But that day I wanted God more than the garbage I had been feeding myself.

Immediately the desire to know God in a deeper way was born in a hidden place inside of me.  I also knew to get what I wanted, to live as Christ, I would have to give up something.  I finally realized that what I was doing in seeking God, wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t coming automatically, I was being pulled under by the influence and garbage of the world.

So there it was…in front of me….on the edge of a city dump in South Africa.  As tears streamed down my cheeks, I walked out of the dump of my life so it seemed and pushed past a place of denial and became the faithful follower of Jesus.  It would have seemed that I was already there, so might I just pause here to ask you to reflect on your own life?

At last I know without a doubt that to live as Christ often looks like my life is full of Him, but now I know it’s based on the consecutive decisions about the garbage I allow in.  I dumped my garbage at the edge of His Presence.  I rose on my strong feeling that I had made the right move that day and knew things would be so different, even if they felt the same.  I left it all behind at the edge of my inconvenience.

Living totally sold out to the inconvenient and the uncomfortable gets one to the point of your deliverance from your past.  Even if you have forgiven and forgotten, you have to drop all of those offenses that have come against you and let go of the right to hold on to an offense for any reason.  At least, that was what I had to do to get to the edge, to dump out some hidden garbage by taking a close look at my past with a fine tooth comb.  At the edge of the garbage dump I left years and years of shame, blame and guilt roll off that had taken a toll on my soul.

It’s not until you give up or live empty of hurt can you find more of God.

I knew in that moment that if my heart’s desire was to be like Jesus, I had to make a concentrated effort, an intentional decision to spend even MORE time with Jesus over nursing the wounds of my past.  It was the second most important decision I have ever made.

Christianity doesn’t come naturally, and living like Jesus takes a choice.  Salvation and accepting God’s work on the cross is the best decision you will ever make.  But living as Christ lived, starts with living past your past of hurts, abuse, offense and forgetting about those hurts from those who have wronged you.

To live like Christ is to love like Christ.  Like those hurts never existed and were not intended to take you out or take you down.  To live this way however costs you.  I realized that I was the one holding myself back because of my doubt and fear.  The work of God in our lives is the strength that is built through our weaknesses, insecurities and inadequacies.

We want to live like Christ but that kind of life is always found outside the realm of convenience.  God’s intimacy is always inside of the circle of going all in for Him, this doesn’t come naturally.  Christ gave it all for us, for you and for me.  Lies will always keep you in bondage, maybe today you just need to open yourself to the process of believing God again.

“To live is Christ” means that we imitate the example of Christ. Everything that Jesus did and said from listening to Father, from giving up stuff, and walking in our identity.  That’s what that means.  Choosing to live like this is a conscious action, living outside convenience, doing what comes supernaturally and giving our full surrender at all costs, no matter what it takes to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

What would Jesus do? That’s what we want to do.  “To live is Christ” means that we pursue Christ as we have been pursued. I want to know Christ better and better each day. Not just a set of facts about Christ, but Christ Himself and to be willing to give up anything that prevents me from having MORE Christ.

What “garbage” is in the way for you to “gain Christ and be found in him?” (Philippians 3:7-9).

When Christ is the center of our day, the point of our mind, heart, body and soul, then He is the center of who we are.  This is not convenient and the garbage of easy quickly fades our intentions.  But as we run the “race marked out for us,” we lay aside the entangling sin and worldly distractions, “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Yes, to live as Christ, outside of the garbage of this world.  I want to live like that!

Every war commands a victory

My husband loves war movies.  Me, not so much, but I do like a good win.  We both like it when the good guys win.  He likes watching the struggles, watching the strategies work and I like to see the victory flags fly.  The other day I was thinking about battles in my own life and realized I’ve made it across many finish lines.

Every battle demands a victory.  Every victory is won through a battle.  Without battles there are no winners.

I have 132 reasons why I am victorious today.  I’ve lost a significant amount of weight and have kept it off for 18 months.  That’s a victory in itself, but then I read that only 5% of people who accomplish a significant amount of weight loss like this keep it off.

I was immediately grateful for the battles that it took to get me to this kind of lifestyle change.  I’ve worked hard to get here and have no plans to go back.  A victory that is hard fought commands that I rest in this strategic lifestyle change.  I have truly been changed by the battles I’ve fought through.

There have been many changes that have brought overall freedom in my life.  I’ve pushed through fitness by finishing a 10K race.  I have stepped past knee and back pain that used to keep me from moving at all.  I have fought hard for a battle ground that left me with 30 lbs of regained weight.  I started a new strategy and lost those 30 lbs plus 30 more!  I have piled up my excuses and put them aside into a place that has been buried deep in the trench of my past.

I have crossed the line of freedom and am living free from the bondage of food.

I am living free….those words mean so much to me.  Anyone who has had any kind of shame-laden addiction knows the weight of these words.  I don’t have to cower behind the fear of those flaws anymore because I have been set free in my mind to see God’s grace and healing.

My friend Mary said it once when we shared some time together, “You are not her anymore!”  She was referring to the person that I used to be.  But in that one touch of grace, God healed my low-self esteem, and boosted my confidence.  I realized that to be a victor, I needed to run free in the victory that He has given me in so many ways.

So friends, I remind you that wars are hard, life is full of battles in many ways, and we fight our flesh daily.  But the battles get us closer to winning.  And as they say in the world of running, finishing is winning.  If you don’t go after what you want, you will never achieve change.  If you don’t step forward, you will always be where you are today.

Step out to find out what you are made of.  God is with you the whole way and in each battle.  He is on our side and with Him in our trenches of life, He leads us to victory.  It’s your choice to choose freedom or to succumb to the heat of the battle.  But remember, every battle has a winner.

Will that winner be you?  Don’t give up!