abide

The Truth About Love

There’s been a lot of thinking and pondering going on since God’s revelation two weeks ago. It’s not that what He told me was anything new. It was that He took the time to tell me at a time when I truly needed to know how He sees me.

According to the word I received, God sees me as talented, intelligent, beautiful, capable, and gifted. Creative even. I have not been seeing those things within myself. Creative? I can’t seem to write a word in the two novels I started this year. I don’t feel intelligent or capable half the time. Beautiful? I often feel anything but and I often don’t even believe my husband when he comments on how much he loves the way I look. What I see is almost the exact opposite of how God sees me.

Belief is an interesting thing. It doesn’t matter what is true if we choose to not believe it. So what if God sees me as this amazing woman? If I don’t see it then I’m not living in the truth. Worse than that, I’m making agreements and aligning with forces outside of Heaven.

I had to really think about that concept. If I’m not agreeing with God I’m agreeing with someone or something else. And those agreements I make are for things that are less than God’s best for my life. They are in essence keeping me away from God’s favor and bounty through the use of subtle and slick lies. God isn’t withholding HIs favor. In fact, He’s holding it out to me, waiting for me to grasp onto it.

Instead, I’ve listened to seductive and destructive voices play off situations and emotions while they tell me things about myself or others. Things that are not meant to grow the fruit of the spirit, but things that are meant to choke out any and all spiritual and personal growth.

How many times do we do that? How many times do we step out of our first love with the Trinity and into lesser agreements? How many times have we believed we are less than, worthless? How many times have we compared ourselves to others and felt jealousy and wished for something different? How many times have we wanted more and turned not to God but to the world and the powers of this world?

I am not too proud to say that while I love my Heavenly Father, I have succumbed to these agreements more often than not. Some of these have been with me a long, long time. for me, it started with one belief, one misconception that occurred at a young age where I agreed with a curse that was spoken over me by my grandmother and possibly other family members. This curse has been with my family  line for a while. It was birthed in jealousy and a desire for power by someone in the past and it has followed us around ever since. My grandmother is the most blatant example of living out life under this curse, but it impacts my entire extended family. Such is the nature of generational curses.

Belief births more beliefs and if what we believe isn’t in alignment with God’s truth, these beliefs become a fun house maze of mirrors, distorting how we see the world, our relationships, ourselves. They warp how we see God.

And isn’t that the point? The smoke and mirrors illusionists use are to distract us long enough that our attention is pulled away from the truth toward the illusion, tricking our minds into believing the illusion truly happened. The enemy wants us to be distracted long enough that we listen to the lies and agree with them. If we allow distraction to focus us on the lies long enough, we begin to believe them and eventually it becomes so very difficult to believe God when He embraces us with the truth.

God has been telling me the truth about who I am for years. I have been shrugging it off because the lies had such a foothold in my belief system I couldn’t see anything else. Until now. Until I started praying for the truth. Until I asked God to reveal the truth to me, to help me be a lover of truth and to be a voice for truth.

Because that’s what it means to be a prophet. You speak the truth. God’s truth. You remind people of who they really are in Heaven. You reveal love and joy and peace. The truth isn’t ugly. The truth doesn’t require penance. It’s isn’t about pointing fingers at the areas in life where we fall short. It isn’t about shame and blame and it definitely isn’t about turn or burn.

The truth, God’s truth, is all about setting people free. Isn’t that one fo the foundational messages in the Gospel? If you know God’s truth, it will set you free. (John 8:36).

Something shifted inside me after this latest word from God, like all the Tetris pieces falling neatly into place. There is work ahead of me and a lot more truth for me to face and be embraced by, but I’m no longer on auto-pilot following the illusions. I continue to pray for God’s truth to be revealed around me and for wisdom in what needs to be changed in my own beliefs and behaviors. And I’m ever so grateful that God doesn’t give up on us, didn’t give up on me. I can’t imagine getting to this place on my own.

I’m no expert on this, I’m still learning, but I need to ask for those of you who have read this far, where do you believe in lies spoken to you or over you and does God’s great love for you have any place within those beliefs? If not, maybe it’s time to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s truth to you.

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Losing My Religion

I seem to be ranting a lot about the spiritual teachings I experienced throughout my life. Please don’t get the wrong impression. My parents are good and well-meaning people with their own biases and experiences that have shaped their own faith and belief in God. They didn’t abuse me or force me to walk a certain path. My decision to be baptized at the age of twelve, that was all me. In fact, my parents attempted to talk me out of approaching our pastor about being baptized because I was only twelve and did I really understand what I was doing? As it turned out I did.

My parent’s church was made up of people who were trying to live faith as they understood it. They meant well. They were earnest in their belief and I think they truly loved Jesus – as they understood him anyway. I have no idea what they though of the Holy Spirit for he was never really discussed. God, well, it depended on who you talked to, but by and large God was always referred to as Father and we spent a great deal of time worshipping God. The teachings themselves were more about being worthy and the change we need to make, rather than the change God makes within us. I do have some memory of some talk about the power of God. Those pale compared to what we were supposed to learn from characters in the bible, and the morality teachings. Youth group is a blur of mean girls, cliques and “you are set apart so live like you are set apart.”

My experience in church is likely not very different from anyone else who has attended an evangelical church. There are good people within those walls, people who earnestly love God and want to live life according to His precepts. People who truly see God and have a strong and loving relationship with Him. As a whole, it is the broader teaching of churches that is errant. Instead of teaching what Jesus taught, these churches unwittingly (or wittingly depending on the leadership) teach rules and judgments and works based faith. In fact, most of these churches, mainline or evangelical or charismatic, preach religion not faith. I’ve been to many churches in my forty some years, so I know of what I speak. And note, I said most not all. There are some exceptional churches who are grounded as a whole on their identity in Christ. It’s also not all teachings that are shrouded in religion, but enough that it keeps people from really seeing God.

So, while I speak out against the religious teachings, I recognize there are amazing people within those walls who see and hear and live the truth of who God is. These are the people to get to know. There’s something about them that is authentic, peaceful, joyful and filled with grace. These are the people to seek out if you want to learn what Christianity is all about, even if you’ve been attending church since you were a babe in arms. These people will speak a different language – one of grace and reconciliation. They aren’t filled with judgment and they won’t speak of you as if you are a sin filled person in need of redemption. They will love you for who you are and will see you as who you are in Heaven. They will show you what a relationship with God really means.

I’ve had a few of these people in my life along the way. Sometimes I listened to them and attempted to live a different way. Sometimes I ignored them because being around them made me feel like I was less, unworthy. What I didn’t know was that this was the religiosity in my life rebelling against God. I was resisting my identity, the nature God bestowed upon me when I laid my life at the foot of the cross.

There are people in church who can and will make a difference in your life if you let them. There are people who don’t attend a church for various reasons who are in a deep and abiding relationship with God. These are the people I seek out. They are my people, if you will. I want to learn from them. I want to enter the journey with them. I want to have honest discussions about God and religion and life with them. As a prophet, I want to give them the gift of seeing more of who God is for them and a deeper look into their identity.

I would love for everyone one who was a member of a church or had ever been involved in a church, to get to know God the way I am getting to know him. I would love for the well-meaning and earnest believers in my life to let go of rules and works and struggle and religion and find a relationship with God. I am beginning to experience such immense freedom and grace. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone experienced this? If we were able to let go of the religiosity of Christianity and focus on the grace and relationship.

It would be very easy to look back on the teachers and influencers that have been a part of my journey and to see them through the eyes of condemnation. I’ll admit, I’ve been tempted. My self talk can turn to pointing the finger at them and blaming them for the length of time it took me to really enter into to life with God. Just like I’ve been tempted to blame my grandmother for her part in my distorted view of my identity. Or how I want to blame the man who sexually abused me. Or the fiancé who took advantaged of a vulnerable person and emotionally abused and manipulated me. Or the employer at a faith-based non-profit who treated me unfairly. Or the mean girls in youth group and the youth leaders who let them get away with malicious character assassination. Or …

That’s not fair – to them or to me. God has been there all along the way. God has been speaking, guiding, nudging. God will redeem the time. God is accelerating my journey. And He will do that to anyone who comes to Him and asks. So no, I look at the people on my journey and I see where I made choices ,where I adopted mindsets or beliefs, where I was shaped, and where God has been working. I am where I am. And the things He is doing in my life now despite and because of where I’ve been.

So, while I rant against the religion in my life, I choose to love the people. To partake in the process of forgiveness. I choose to enter in to life in Christ fully.

Of Tea and Solitude

I’m sitting on a deck overlooking a lake while I sip my tea (chocolate purerh, if you were curious). The wind is light and it tickles the leaves in the trees above my head and carries with its puffs and gusts bird song and the lap of the waves as the hit the dock below. The sun is bright and the sky is a brilliant blue shot with streamers of light grey and white clouds. My faithful dog is running around, looking for a chipmunk or bird to chase. He has no care other than to follow the scent in the grass that beckons him.

There is no one else out just yet. The family is still eating breakfast inside the cabin. The neighbors either aren’t up at the lake this weekend or are also enjoying a leisurely morning inside. Right now, I feel as though it is just me and God enjoying a morning moment together. I pray in worship and gratitude for the weather, the sunshine, the quiet. For the funny yellow birds that flit in and out of the young pine trees. For the robin who fiercely guards her nest filled with eggs. For the whisper of the wind and the lap of the waves.

It is so easy to worship God in moments like this. And so easy to forget that these moments are gifts. I’ve been coming with my family to this cabin on the lake for eighteen years and many times I have been caught up in the frenzy of activity or the politics of extended family dynamics to see the gifts God has so openly and freely offered us here. I have let life get in the way of God.

My husband saw me out on the deck, sipping my tea and smiling. He asked me what put that look of complete contentment on my face. I think he hoped it was a carry over from the look of contentment he put on my face last night. I told him I was thinking about God and thanking Him for all the gifts He has given us in this moment. I started to list them off and my husband waved his hand in surrender. To him, worship is working. Sure, we can worship while we work, with our bodies and our labor. We can thank God with gratitude that we can provide for our families or use our bodies in ways that are pleasing to Him. Still, there’s something about stilling ourselves in a moment, for a moment, and breathing in our surroundings and meeting God there.

Why do we shut ourselves off from the favor of God? Why do we not bask in the glow of His delight in us? What is it that causes us to think of these moments as frivolous whimsy instead of a necessary part of relationship?

My husband is gone now, to sit down with his brother and make a list of things to be done today, both chores and fun things the nephews will enjoy like the energetic boys on the cusp of adolescence they are. I remain on the deck, sipping my tea and delighting in the moment. God will enter into relationship with my husband in His own way, in a way that will touch my husband’s heart. I pray for that day of revelation. For my husband’s heart to be made ready. For the Holy Spirit to move in whatever way my husband needs from Him. I see in my husband immense goodness and talent. He has stores of creativity ready to burst forth from him. He has deep wells of love God is just waiting to tap into. First, God and my husband need to have a discussion on identity, on forgiveness, on who God sees my husband to be, and on who God wants to be for him. I know because God has to have similar discussions with me.

Well, my tea cup is empty so I guess it’s time to partner with my husband and his brother on some of the things on that list for the day. I enter into this time with joy and peace in my heart. All because of a moment when I sat on a deck overlooking a lake while I sipped my tea.

Faith and Works and Ramblings

There was a huge thunderstorm on Sunday so instead of going out and taking care of the yard, my husband and I spent the afternoon snuggling in front of the TV catching up on some of the television shows we’ve accumulated on our DVR. If you’ve read my previous post you know my husband is a task oriented man. Taking a day off of doing in order to exist and relax may not seem like a huge deal to you, but for him, it’s a monumental accomplishment. I swear, he does not feel like he’s worthy of being called an adult if he’s not doing something at all times.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why people become focused on doing instead of balancing that with being. Some people call it the Martha and Mary syndrome. Others call it being an adult. Yes, we must do things so our bills are paid, so our homes are not hovels,  and so we contribute to the good of our families and communities. I’m not suggesting we stop doing everything right now and lock ourselves away in meditation rooms so we can commune with the Holy Spirit 24/7.  What I am suggesting is that somewhere along the line, many people of faith have bought into the lie of a religious spirit and have started to equate doing with salvation and identity in Christ. That they must work for happiness, or at the very least for the worthiness of being happy.

There is this thing Claire and I discuss, sometimes tongue in cheek, called the protestant work ethic. We live in a part of the world where this is alive and well. Basically, it’s taking James chapter 2 to an extreme and equating my salvation, my faith with works.

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

One of my aunts had a working goat farm. Her family raised goats for milk and meat. They also raised Angora goats for the hair. My favorite time to visit was spring when there were baby goats. The babies would scamper and skip and prance. They were a joy to watch and in my young mind, nothing in life beat time spent with a fun-loving baby goat. Not even the chores necessary to keep the babies happy and healthy were a burden to me. I would feed them, clean their hooves, clean their pens. It didn’t matter if it was the ass crack of dawn or evening, I was there with pleasure taking care of the baby goats who gave me such joy.

My cousins couldn’t understand my willingness to assist with the chores. For some of  them, it was a drudgery. They were expected to get up before breakfast to milk and feed the goats. After school, there were more goat related chores. It didn’t end for them until the evening, when the goats were herded into their pens for the night. This was their life, day in and day out. One cousin told me that he thought the reason his parents had children was to have free labor. He felt his parents put the workings of the farm ahead of him. He was also ashamed of how his family lived. This was a farm. No matter how hard one would try, the house would smell like goat. There wasn’t money for name brand clothing. Or for long vacations. Who would watch the goats?

My cousin confided in me that he felt he wasn’t worthy of his parents’ love. He was not going to follow in their footsteps and had informed them on several occasions that as soon as he could, he was out of there, living a life in the city. And he did. But he mistook the look on his parents’ faces for judgement instead of the grief and pride parents feel when their children grow up and go on to do the things they are called in life to do.

I think we often look at God the way my cousin looked at his parents. We read the bible and we hear in sermons that we are here to work. Doesn’t the bible tell us that the fields are ready for reaping? Didn’t Paul and Peter and the apostles go out and do great things? Didn’t James write that faith without works is dead?

So we work harder and we rely on our own strength. We get tired, we burn out. But we don’t stop. Our Father will be very disappointed in us if we take that break we need. And if we want to be worthy of heaven, we work harder – we volunteer at church for committees and bible studies and work projects. We go on mission trips, or guiltily throw money at others who are doing the work we feel we should be doing. We work hard at having a good reputation and “living Christ” for everyone we meet. We pour our efforts into working hard at our professions, in our homes, at church. And we lose so much along the way.

We work to obtain what God has given us so freely – His favor. His blessing. It’s funny, but I often think we work because we don’t believe God’s promises. Or because we don’t believe He is here, present and active in our lives. How many of us picture God up there in Heaven, distant and uncaring? No wonder we work so hard at earning our way!

Hey, there God, look at me! Look at what I’ve done! I go to church every Wednesday and twice on Sunday. I bring my family. I teach Sunday School and I mentor young women. I give 20% of my earnings to the church and mission organizations. I volunteer at the homeless shelter. I have a fish bumper sticker on my car and I talk about you to everyone I meet. Aren’t I doing a great job? Oh, and I have instilled a strong work ethic in my children. You know, idle hands are the devil’s tools. We have chore charts and memory verses and they are in all these programs to keep them busy. We have filled our lives with doing all these things to honor You. Do you love me enough now? Or do I need to do more?

I’m reminded of the Greek and Roman mythologies, of gods who are mercurial and capricious, and who demanded every sacrifice from their people. If there was one misstep, one threat of insult from those people, the wrath of the gods would our down on them, in some cases destroying them. I fear this is how too many people see God. They see wrath and vengeance and capriciousness and fear that at any time He could destroy their lives. So we must be on our best behavior and work very hard to be pleasing in His sight.

But God isn’t like that, people! He’s not. I haven’t studied James in depth, but I believe what he’s saying here is that faith isn’t just belief. Even the demons believe in God. Faith proves out by what we do and who we are. If you look at the beginning of the passage about works, you see James writing about seeing someone in need and walking past them telling them to be blessed. If I believe that God has blessed me and has compassion for me, why would I in turn walk away from someone I know who is in need? Why would I not look for a way to ease that need? If I am living in relationship to God and have my arms open to receive his favor and blessing, why would I not allow that to pour out onto others in my life? Why would I horde it? I think this is what James was speaking about. Our faith, what we truly believe, is lived out in the actions of our lives. It’s not about doing more or working harder. It’s about authenticity in faith and identity and letting the spill out to the world around us.

I could be wrong. I’m not a bible scholar. But I think of the difference in my experience with the goats and my cousin’s. I took care of them out of joy and, yes, novelty. But it was a joy to care for them when I would visit in the spring. My cousin did so out of duty. There was no joy, only heaviness and resentment. I took care of the goats so I could get to know them and enjoy being with them. He took care of them because it was expected.

Then I think of what I’m learning about relationship and God. I don’t need to work to be worthy of His love. I already am. I don’t need to strive to live a faithful life. I need to receive from God, to stand between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in first love, and that will pour out as a blessing to those around me in all I say and do. The “works” in my life, that’s a result of the relationship. And it will never be a drudgery because I have to. It will be a joy because I get to. Because of my relationship with God.

I hope my husband can come to learn that. It was wonderful and refreshing to watch him rest and relax and learn to be himself. Even if just for a little while.

You Speak of Signs and Wonders

A few weeks ago, my friend MJ and I went to a conference where the focus was on living the upgraded life in Christ. We went full of anticipation that the Holy Spirit would move over the course of the conference. The speaker was a teacher we both respect and this conference was an extension of one we attended the year prior. God moved in amazing ways, with great acceleration in growth and understanding for myself, and in new provision and favor for MJ. Over the last year God has been more present than ever in my life – or more accurately, I have been more present for God. I would have gotten to this place eventually, and perhaps with lessons that didn’t cut as quick and deep as the ones I’ve experienced in this past year. But isn’t it amazing to see how God redeems time and accelerates the learning?

We got to the conference and something seemed off. There was this spirit of religion that appeared to be filtering the words of the speaker, the worship, the words of prophecy. It was a struggle to stay engaged and volunteers seemed tired, working out of their spirit and not the Holy Spirit. We left the first session for lunch somewhat perplexed. What was going on? And was this going to be the tone for the entire conference?

Fellowship ensued, as it does whenever we are together. We discussed the words that were prophesied for us. We discussed our perceptions and experience thus far. Then we moved into more light-hearted topics. Fellowship is important on this journey. We cannot survive on an island for too long, without human contact. We cannot thrive without laughter and joy. MJ and I are very good at filling the time with both. So we entered the evening session with that joy.

Something had shifted. Instead of fighting to focus on what God intended us to hear, there was peace. The speaker’s message flowed with great compassion and amazing gentleness from that point forward. And we left the weekend blessed. I can only pray the speaker was blessed as well.

A couple of times through the conference, the speaker invited us to stand and enter into a greater sense of divine acceleration in spiritual growth and relationship with God. The past year, it was the start of something holy. This next year would see even more growth. At the first invitation I stood. I opened my hands to received and I heard water. A bubbling brook. I thrive near water. If I could live near the ocean, I would. I live near water and often spend time just meditating and praying by a creek not too far from home. The bubbling brook? I took it as a sign. God was pleased. God was going to move things in my life, as a river moves objects from one place to another. God was going to renew and refresh.  The second time we were invited to stand and receive, I felt my hands grow hot, burning, and I swear I felt a hand cover my own.

I have prayed for signs, mostly to conquer my own issues with faith and belief. Like Gideon, I have placed my fleece on the ground and stating that if the fleece is covered in dew but the ground around it is dry then I will know God is speaking. Interestingly enough, God has often told me after I have given him an “if this, then that” task, He has told me that I am limiting not only the depth of what He wished to do for me, but my own journey. Still, He has  honored my request. God is good that way.

I have not felt the Holy Spirit move in what I would term dramatic ways. I have not received visions while fully awake or heard the audible voice of God. And I have felt that I have been lacking. That perhaps God is speaking but I am too blind to see or hear.

So to feel God’s presence in such demonstrative ways was…a balm. He is speaking to me. I am listening. It may not be in the grand gestures in my secret heart of hearts I long for, but He is there, touching me in real ways every day.

I think I get so caught up in looking for the grand gesture that I forgot to open myself up to the every day.  To the little kisses from God in the form of a gentle breeze, an unexpected call from a friend when I needed it most, the joy in seeing a bird of prey in unexpected places, or the raucous laughter of song birds outside my window. I long for signs and wonders and have felt like I’m subsisting off crumbs from the table of God. How wrong I have been. God is not stingy with His revelation. Not all signs are giant explosions of fireworks or deep tremblings of the earth.

God gave me a bubbling brook and a clasp of the hand at the conference. He invited me to join with Him as an active participant in my spiritual growth. I have this feeling that if I am willing to fully enter in, this year will see some of the growth I have only imagined in my life. God has some amazing things He wants for me. My role is to enter in to the process and the relationship. To abide.