Christianity

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Unfathomable

Published October 5, 2018 by Dawn

I read through the Gospels last month and I had a mind-blowing realization that I immediately knew I wanted to blog about, but then I felt really stupid because I thought to myself, “Everyone already knows this! Why are you making such a big deal about it!” I talked myself out of blogging and wasn’t able to write another thing for two weeks. Every time I thought about blogging, this topic came back to mind because in my heart of hearts, I think it’s the most profound thing I’ve received in a long time. I have decided to write the blog because I feel like I need to be faithful to the Holy Spirit, who struck me with awe over Jesus once again.

Here’s the thing: I’ve heard about and preached on the death of Christ so many times. It’s the main ingredient to any message because if your teaching doesn’t revolve around or lead back to the death and resurrection of Christ, it’s not worth much. I’ve even considered his life: did you know that death on the cross was the final death of Christ, but certainly not his first? When Paul said, “I die daily,” he was telling his audiences how to be Christ-like. Jesus died daily too. For 33 years. Well, here’s what hit me the other day: Jesus fulfilled all of the law. We’ve all heard that, right? But what does it mean?

The law had two sides; the command and the way back to God if it was broken. The Law Moses gave the Israelites was extensive. It wasn’t a list of ten. It was a couple hundred commandments and how to avoid the wrath of God if one was broken. Each involved a sacrifice for repentance. Romans 6:23 sums up what the Old Testament taught over and over again, that “the wages of sin is death.”

Jesus lived the life we could never live. The life of perfection in the sight of God. The life that pleased God, to the detriment of flesh. Jesus said no to himself in every way so that the Father would be glorified. He did what no man could do while living in the flesh. Flesh is evil. Jesus put his flesh into submission. He fulfilled the requirements of God while living. He didn’t displease God in any way. He never required a sacrifice for repentance. He satisfied the perfect will of God for mankind. That in itself is amazing!

Then, he satisfied the other side of the law. The side that required a sacrifice to be made right with God again. “He made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). The only righteous one who ever lived paid the price for sin he never committed because he loved us and knew the price was too heavy for anyone to bear. I’m so overwhelmed by this truth. You’re probably like, “Duh!” But it hits me like it’s the first time every time I hear it! I can’t believe that Christ was willing to endure such pain for me. I can’t believe He would endure the wrath of God, the unbearable emptiness of God looking away from Him, just so God would never look away from me. When God sees us, He sees the righteousness of Christ. I don’t deserve that! I deserve His wrath. I deserve eternal death and damnation. What love is this?!

Thank you, Jesus, for loving me so much. It’s unfathomable.

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Ten Virgins, Revisited

Published August 29, 2018 by Dawn

As I climbed into bed early last night, the Lord laid a story on my heart that promised I’d be up learning from the Holy Spirit for way past my bedtime. It was the parable of the ten virgins.

Recap for those who need it: these ten women were awaiting a wedding party. They all brought their lamps (I guess because they didn’t have electric at the time), and they all fell asleep waiting for their friends to show up. When they awoke at the sound of a wedding celebration heading into the venue, five of them were ready to go in and celebrate. The other five were mortified to find that their lamps were useless! They had neglected to prepare and had to run into town for more oil, while the party started without them. When they got back, they couldn’t get in!

I’ve always read this story with a vague understanding of what it meant. I hope I’m not the only one because that’s embarrassing, but when I read the part about the oil and being unprepared, I just took it to mean you have to be ready when Jesus comes … whatever that means. As I laid in bed listening, the Holy Spirit reminded me that in scripture, the oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit’s presence and anointing in one’s life. Suddenly, I realized what it meant to be prepared!

The Holy Spirit is a friend of fellowship. You don’t walk in with the Spirit just because you asked Jesus into your heart. You walk with the Spirit as you get to know the Spirit. How do you get to know the Spirit of God? The Word of God. Because according to John 1, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Akin to this verse is the whole of Proverbs 8, which I believe is the Holy Spirit’s autobiography. The narrator of that chapter is Wisdom, and Wisdom claims to have been with God from the beginning as well. Our spiritual wisdom is imparted through the Holy Spirit, because who knows the mind of God? The spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:11). We can only know God through His Spirit, and we can only get acquainted with the Spirit of God through prayer and Bible reading.

This parable, then, isn’t an ambiguous statement about being prepared for Jesus’ return. It’s a parable that highlights the importance of fellowship with the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. According to this parable, if we aren’t prepared with the oil, we’ll miss it. We’ll be left outside the gate, which symbolizes eternal damnation.  Our time in the Word and in prayer prepares us for our eternal fellowship with Christ. If we aren’t fellowshipping with the Spirit of God now, why would we ever think we’ll be comfortable in Heaven? Because in truth, God makes flesh uncomfortable. To the point of death! If we walk in the flesh here, we’ll not be prepared for the presence and atmosphere of God. We’ll be unable to partake in His gift of eternity.

I think this parable is so important. It’s a warning, really. If you aren’t in your Word, and don’t have a strong prayer life, you will not be ready when Jesus comes to take His bride. I certainly do not want Him passing me by and telling me He doesn’t know me when I come knocking! Do you?

Bewildered Parent, Please Read!

Published July 24, 2018 by Dawn

So, I met someone …

It was most unpleasant and such as it was, I decided almost immediately that this wasn’t for me and I didn’t ever want to do it again, for sure.

My son introduced me. I didn’t understand exactly what was happening at the time. I’m a little clueless like that, but in hindsight, I understand full well what was going on, and thank God for that! Otherwise, I would have taken the whole ordeal personal for years to come.

I met my son’s … sin nature. It’s silly, isn’t it, that after years of being in youth ministry, I wasn’t better prepared for the moment when my son really came into his own. Being fully aware that we all have a sin nature, how did I not immediately recognize what was happening? How did I not immediately run to God in faith that He can deal with the sin nature? Instead, I freaked out.

I did everything within my power to protect my kids as they grew up. Fifteen years single, celibate … 24/7 mom with no other goal in life but to raise two happy, healthy, well-adjusted kiddos into adulthood. No cable, nothing but Christian music on the radio, church three times a week … I had a list of credits that made me feel really good about their future selves. Then I met someone … the inner sin nature of my unbridled and foolish teenage son. I looked at my list of self-righteous accomplishments and threw my hands up in bewildered defeat! What now, God? How did this happen?!

It was bound to happen, and I should have known that. After all, WE ALL HAVE A SIN NATURE! Turns out, I can talk about that in ministry, but it hadn’t sunk in. I was doing a lot of things to avoid what would certainly surface anyway, and needs to because here’s the truth: how can we understand grace and the depth of sacrifice Christ made for us if we never face our sin nature? Do I want my son to not see himself in light of the word of God and the truth of Christ’s forgiveness? Absolutely not! Before the cross on Calvary’s hill can astound him, he must first know his own inability to attain righteousness on his own. And I can’t take this part of his walk with God personal!

I shared this for the parents out there who are blaming themselves for their kids’ behaviors. I’m not going to say you had nothing to do with it, but you haven’t nearly the fault you hold against yourself. Sure, you see yourself in that kid. You recognize your own past and recoil. But it’s all just fodder for the revealing of a sin nature that Christ will soon destroy. Our kids cannot ride to heaven on our coat tails (or apron strings). We must allow God to do a work in them, and it’s painful to watch. Rest in this, friend: God is a good Father. He is our Abba Daddy. He’s my son’s Abba Daddy too. What He has done in us, He will faithfully do in our children. Trust Him! Pray for your kiddos and allow God to work in them. You need to let God take control while they are in your house, so you can encourage them in that transition. Don’t fight it, and don’t fight your kiddos. Love them. Guide them. Pray over and encourage them. Correct them in love. This is how God has dealt kindly with you, and your wayward kiddos need that same kind of support. Trust God to deal with the things you cannot deal with. He must become greater; you and I must become less.

How to Fall From Grace

Published July 9, 2018 by Dawn

It turns out a sense of humor is something of the Divine. God’s got jokes. Don’t believe me? Listen to this …

Keep in mind that what I am about to tell you happened in a matter of nanoseconds. All of it. It was rather instantaneous, which makes it even more comical. It’d use the word “impactful” but that’s a pun that hurts a little. You’ll see why …

I was less than two minutes into my run this morning when it happened. I looked up to read the sermon sign at this church along my route: “How to Fall from Grace.” My sense of comical irony kicked in as I thought to myself, “Who would want to know how to fall from grace?”

BAM! The sidewalk took me for a kiss out of nowhere. I fell hard … right in front of the church sign. Stupid comical irony … wasn’t dead yet. I looked up after feeling the hurt and laughed out loud. God had put the smack-down on my sense of humor to remind me that falling from grace is no laughing matter. Lesson learned?

No one in their right mind plans a fall. Falling hurts. It also tears you up a little (or a lot, depending on how far you fall). The aftermath of falling is open wounds, constant pain and a desperate need to heal a bit. Thankfully, I am just a little scuffed up. My hands, wrists and right knee took the fall and I’ll be better in no time.

Sometimes, we just get tripped up in life. Little did I know there was an uneven bit of sidewalk that I’ve never had a problem with until today. I didn’t even know it was there! Likewise, there are pitfalls in life we don’t see coming because we aren’t paying attention, or we aren’t expecting them. We get tripped up because Satan sets a snare and we step into it just the right way to cause a fall. I have stepped over that part of the sidewalk and avoided that fall for several years but today was the day it took me down. It’s like that when Satan sets us up. That’s why we have to be vigilant while running this race. Because he’s set snares everywhere.

The fall might hurt, but Satan isn’t victorious because we fall. He’s only victorious if we turn away or stop pursuing God after the fall. In spite of the pain, we have to get up and keep going. I did that this morning, which is so abnormal for me. I like my couch and a hot tea, and since I was two-tenths of a mile into a two-and-a-half mile run, turning around would have made perfect sense. I could have nursed my wounds, taken it easy, and excused myself from working out. But it was just a fall! I poured a little water over my palms to clean the dirt and blood off, put my earbud back in and kept going. I had to keep pressing on toward the mark, and so do you, friend. Take time to rest and heal, but get back up and keep moving forward in your walk with God. Satan is only victorious if you quit!

 

Father of Promise

Published June 27, 2018 by Dawn

There must have been many nights, Sarah cried herself to sleep, feeling the frailty of her once-strong body as youth slowly died away. Her God had made a promise, but life had gone on just as barren as it always had been. She lived in a silent, seething bitterness watching Ishmael grow up under the arms of his father. She endured the daily sneers of her rival, whose womb had not betrayed her husband. Sarah knew she was Abraham’s beloved. She felt like his curse. The one thing she felt gave worth to her as a wife was motherhood, and she had been denied that by the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

How many nights had they laid down, his arms wrapped delicately around her, his face pressed into her ear, whispering the hope and faith of a man who was confident about his God. Sarah’s eyes traced the lines of the canopy drapery, tears rolling down her cheek and her throat catching sobs before they reached his ears. He smiled, sure of his future. She cried, sure of her failure. Bitterness nestled in her bosom, growing like thorns and sickening the garden of her heart. There had never been a tale of resurrection before, so when dreams died then, they simply were no more. And Sarah’s dreams had died.

Long after Sarah had abandoned all hope, “ … the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.”

I read this the other morning after entertaining thoughts all the way to work that probably resembled Sarah’s during her barrenness. Thoughts about broken promises and a silent God. Thoughts about endless warfare and abandonment. Thoughts about faith weakened by time and circumstances, and a need ripened past the harvest.

The Holy Spirit tried to reach me through the radio with “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong and “Overcomer” by Mandisa. I arrived with just enough peace to not cry in front of my students or coworkers. Then I read this in Genesis and I was stirred a little more, considering God’s timing and how sometimes, He pushes us past the breaking point and then holds all the broken pieces while we struggle to accept things that cause us pain without abandoning our faith.

This thing between Sarah and God kept turning over and over in my mind, accumulating other truths like a snowball. A girl in my class reading her bible in her freetime reminded me that there’s a next generation after me. A memory of a broken child just wanting her Father, and not just his money, reminding me that God is my Father and our relationship is about more than blessings and goodness. Finally, it all came together into this one magnificent, chain-breaking truth: Sarah’s story was the first resurrection story. A dead dream coming to life again after years of turmoil. That story has spoken to generations after, like all these things in our lives might one day reach someone else who hasn’t even gotten here yet. And in the midst of it all is a Father who wants us to know that He is here for more than blessings. He’s here for the highs and lows. To hold his child and comfort him or her. To bless, but with a purpose and a timing set by wisdom and not emotion or desire. A Father who’s promises are yes and amen, and who is not a man so that He should lie.

Riding in the Car with Teens

Published June 12, 2018 by Dawn

Do you know what I love about riding the in the car with teenagers? No, this isn’t a rhetorical question … I really do love the fact that they are stuck just a few feet from me. If the ride is long enough, the radio sputters out and dies to all the radio stations we know and love, and frustration kicks it off in a huff. If it’s not long enough, I resort to the buttons on the back of my steering wheel to thoroughly frustrate that kiddo until the radio no longer contends with me. Then, I have their full attention! I mean, of course there’s the cell phone that seems forever stuck to their face, but I can handle that with a smile and a quip about grounding until, viola! I have his or her full attention. With luck, it doesn’t take long for a kiddo to remember how fond he or she used to be of having endless conversations with me and if the grudge doesn’t have a firm grip, we’re usually talking shortly thereafter.

My son was stuck in the car with me for a half an hour yesterday, and the radio knew it’s place so we were engulfed in a very meaningful discussion about teenage things that weigh heavy on his heart. Why can’t he do whatever he wants? Why am I always telling him what to do? Why can’t I just leave him alone? I try to make my kids feel heard, so I didn’t just throw out all the parental clichés, I really dug deep and tried to explain things from my heart, from scripture, and from all the psychology and parenting books I have consumed over the years. He sat next to me and thoughtfully picked through my answers looking for holes and justifying his disagreements with a mixture of childish reasoning and adolescent maturity.

Our conversation ran the gamut of experiences, arguments and emotions. Finally, we arrived at the counselor’s place and he got out of the car steaming. Together, we went inside and for the next hour, I sat in awe while the counselor taught him through very practical means, to reason through those same questions himself until he had arrived at the same conclusion I had offered with my motherly wisdom just a while before. He got in the car after his appointment and said, “Mom, she called you. I know she did. How else would she have known to talk about all that?”

It was easy to exculpate myself. He had started all the conversations on the way down and I hadn’t talked to anyone one the phone in the car! I shook my head and said, “No, son. When God wants to talk to you and you won’t get on your knees before Him, He just uses the people around you.” The best part is that this woman professes to be agnostic, and she was used by the Lord just the same. God is no respecter of person, and when He wants to teach us or guide us in something, He doesn’t have to ask someone to be His vessel. He will move heaven and earth for His children. It was such a powerful reminder to my son that God is aware of his searching heart and is willing to meet him where he is and lead him out of the darkness and confusion. What a wonderful moment to watch his Heavenly Father step in!

I shared this to encourage you. You might be a parent desperately praying that God will get ahold of your kiddo. I am with you! Don’t give in to fear because God is faithful to His promises. I kept reminding the Lord of scriptures He has given me over my children. “God, you told me, ‘I will contend with those who contend with you and your children I will save.’ You said that when we raise them up in the way they should go, when they are old they won’t depart from it. I see him being led away with anger and the enemy’s lies and I’m terrified right now!  I’ve told my son that you said you would never leave us or forsake us but he feels abandoned and ignored by you.” I’ve cried countless hours watching my child pull away from me and from his faith. It’s a horrible experience. Don’t give up! Keep praying and pressing in, reminding God of His promises and praising Him for His faithfulness. Remember watching your child’s first steps? Rushing in when he or she seemed a little unstable, your heart in your chest and your hands out ready to catch your precious treasure? This is your child learning to stand on his or her own spiritually. It’s seems like endless waves of anxiety and uncertainty. Your heart finds permanent lodging in your throat. But your Father – your child’s Father – He’s got this.

You might also be that child. That wandering child of God. That scared kiddo wishing the world made sense and that someone would step into the mess and pull you out of it. I wish I could tell you in good faith that God will rescue you, but sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes, you’re Jonah in the belly of the whale and that fish will spit you out when God’s work is accomplished in it. Sometimes you’re Shadrack, Michek and Abednego (how to spell those names, though …) in the fiery furnace and instead of keeping you from the fire, God is walking with you in it. Sometimes you are Paul, beaten, captive, shipwrecked, snake-bitten and still God keeps you steadfastly on the way to fulfilling all that He has purposed. Don’t turn away from your faith just because it’s small or brittle. Let the Holy Spirit strengthen it as you endure. Lean into God. Learn to hear His heart. Learn to let go of control and depend on Him. Learn to be led. Be comforted. Get real with God and let Him be real with you. It’s the most precious relationship a person can have and it is worth all that hell uses to deter you with. Trust your Father, child. He loves you more than you could ever know.

Published June 10, 2018 by Dawn

I hurt. I should be walking through the doors of church right now but instead, I’m still lying in bed with my feet hooked on the end of the mattress, gently stretching out my calve muscles while I write. I’m going to miss church this morning, which means there will be no one to lead youth. I’m also going to miss our fundraiser – the men’s group is selling the best barbecue this side of heaven – which is going to directly benefit the youth group. I should be there but I couldn’t push myself to get out of bed this morning. I’ve been enduring one pain after another for a while now, but yesterday took the cake in the duration and intensity. Although I can’t be sure of a proper diagnosis, I’m fairly confident in my educated guess that all of this can be attributed to a lack of stretching before and after my runs.

Did you know that your hamstrings can tighten so much that they can pull your pelvis out of place? I didn’t either. When I abruptly stopped my half-marathon training in January to pacify my daughter and went from running 25-35 miles a week to running nothing for two months, I gave no thought to the creeping tightness in the back of my left leg. Nor did I connect it to the first twinge in my upper back. I wondered about the lack of running being connected to the stiffness that set in to my lower spine, and when my gait became uneven, I knew a trip to the chiropractor was in order. But I didn’t know it was all because I hadn’t stretched.

The chiropractor straightened me out and educated me on the hamstring. He warned me to stretch it out properly every day before I left his office. I should have listened, but who has time for stretching, right?

My mom and I go to the gym M-F. I only live two and a half miles from the gym so I get up in the morning, lace up my running shoes and meet her there. I walk about a minute up the hill from my house and then take off toward the gym. I used to do a five-minute walk to warm my muscles up before running, but now that I’m meeting mom at the gym, I don’t have time for that. She gets to the gym ahead of me and does ten minutes of cardio so that when I get there, we can head straight into lifting. I might stretch my arms a little after signing in, but here lately, I’ve had to be back home within half an hour of getting there, in order to take my son to football practice, so we move right in to lifting without stretching. My mom drops me off at home afterward and my son meets me at the door ready to go. I drive him to school while my muscles cool off and then go home to take a shower and get ready for the day.

I think my body is in revolt. The chiropractor warned me about what can happen if I don’t stretch my muscles, but he didn’t tell me about the creeping pain that starts out subtle and turns into a fire. He didn’t tell me about all of my muscles coming together in defiance to torment me while I sit helplessly behind the wheel of my car on a long drive, unable to stretch them out. He didn’t tell me that not stretching my muscles could cause a mutiny in my body.

It seems silly to be telling you all this, but although I’m not at church, the Holy Spirit has been ministering to me all morning and the lesson started with this musing. See, my current physical situation mirrors my spiritual one: I’ve been in pain for quite some time, and most likely, it’s because I haven’t taken time for the things that matter.

I’m into the final stretch of raising two kids on my own. Thus far, I’ve made it through a combination of prayer, fasting and constant surrender to the Lord. I have pleaded for His wisdom and strength, as well as His provision and comfort. God has not failed me. But this final stretch … well, it’s a lot like any final stretch for me while running. I’m not the kind of person to look at the finish line and press harder toward it. I see a finish line and quit trying early because I can see it … I’ll get there eventually. That last little bit of the race is so hard! That’s why I stop running. It’s so painful. My muscles have already endured so much and I’m ready for it to be over. If I push through, I put my muscles through the worst pain of the race! Why not just walk it in? I’ll get there eventually.

Raising teenagers is hard work. It’s the last leg of the race, I’m exhausted and this is the most intense moment of parenting. It seems endless, although people will tell you, “It goes by so fast!” I silently lament, “Not fast enough!” I feel like I used to have allies in my home, and now my crew is in revolt. They seem to hate me in unison and attack me without provocation. It’s full on mutiny.

I’m not naïve enough to believe this battle is avoidable. This is just how raising teenagers goes. They literally fight you to become their own person. No one who’s done it tells you it’s going to be easy … but nothing they say can prepare you for the mental breakdowns, the constant confrontation, or the letting go. I might have avoided some of the pain, though, if I’d taken time for what really helps. Prayer. Fasting. Constant surrender.

How is it that the things that matter most are the things we put off first? It seems rather lunatic to know that stretching after a work out is so vital, and yet one does not spend time doing it. The suffering for it is inevitable. Likewise, how lunatic to know how important prayer and surrender are and yet not taking time to do so. Especially on the last leg of the race! If I were a well-disciplined runner, I’d be pressing in toward the mark. I’m not, though. And because of that, I’m suffering at home instead of leading my teens in Bible study. Although right now, it’s a physical pain that has kept me in bed this morning, sometimes, it’s a spiritual battle that I’m losing because I’ve ceased trying.

I don’t know if any other runner out there will be straight up with you about running but let me be honest: running sucks. It’s never easy, and just when you think it might be getting easy, something inevitably slams you back into reality of how much it sucks. Why do we do it, then? To eat cake. To fit into our clothes. To see results just a little faster. So we don’t have to fad diet. For the carb loading. For the mental health benefits. Cheap therapy. To be introverted without being judged. The same is true of prayer and fasting. It’s not easy, by any means. To still yourself before God can be the hardest thing. To calm your flesh in the presence of the Holy Spirit is so difficult. To still your mind and quiet yourself so you can hear Him speak is like herding cats. Who has time for that? But listen to me: the benefits outweigh the pain, aggravation, whatever.

Clearly, taking a break from running and not stretching out my muscles regularly has been the worst physical fitness decision I have ever made. Similarly, not taking time for prayer and communion with God has had dire consequences in my daily race. The good news is that I woke up this morning determined to make a change. I might not have went to church, but I have been in the presence of the Holy Spirit, praying and stretching while I write. It’s never too late to get back into the race, friend. It’s never too late to bow before your King in surrender. It’s never too late to make time for the things that will really make a difference in your daily life. I urge you to decide today that things will be different and allow the Holy Spirit to teach you how to discipline yourself. You’ll be so grateful you did.