Bound on a Train for Glory

I found myself weeping before the Lord this morning as I passionately renounced my most beloved and oldest demon friends for the thousandth time, and then longingly looked back at them heartbroken as the walked away at God’s command.

I cried out, “God, I don’t know why I’m doing that!  I hate them!  I don’t want them!  And a part of me loves them and wants them back already! Help me, God!!! Help me!”

“Worship me,” he whispered. I felt the soft touch of his gentle calloused hand gathering up the tears on my cheeks.

A touch from the Master had already begun to sand away another rough spot on my broken heart. His calloused hand.  A perfectly divine, resurrected body with a calloused hand and a rough, scratchy cheek and coarse dark hair.  

He smelled like sunshine and cedar.

I wept.  Jesus wept.  We wept together for the death of Lazarus in my own heart.  

“Lift your head, weary sinner,” He whispered.

Worship me.

I tell Google to play Lift Your Head Weary Sinner and I worship.  I weep and worship and weep and sing at the top of my lungs. Let the chains fall!  Let the chains fall! My repentance becomes worship.  I worship.

Worship me.

Daddy’s personal playlist for me kicked into full gear.  There is an Anchor played next. 

I kept my head lifted up and I fixed my eyes on the Lord’s gaze.  I’d renounced and confessed and repented.  I’d worshiped. Our eyes stayed locked.  He sees and he loves.  He sees me.  And he loves me.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.
Psalm 139:1-6 ESV

I felt so much relief. The Lord and I were locked in unity.  I allowed Him to keep my gaze, despite my fear and my torment, and He saw me. He saw all of me. 

He has always seen everything in me, every darkness, every fear, and He loves me. 

All those long lost beloved friends of perdition who whisper on the winds of my memories, with their shame and death and suffering, all just disappear into the glorious light. I know my gaze will wander. And I know His gaze wont falter even when mine does.

I don’t have to always understand.  I doubt.  I fear.  I worry.  I am human.  I was born on a train bound for death.  And Jesus loves me.  He offers Himself up to me so we can be one.

And I am reminded again that we are One. Oh, the audacity to consider my fears more terrible than God’s power! His light washes away everything that isn’t light.  

In Him there is no darkness.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5 ESV

I will worship Him.  

I choose to be blinded by His love for me, bound on a train for Glory instead of death, no matter what familiar demons I hear screaming out the window.

Divine Collaboration

It’s hard to imagine isn’t it?  Divine collaboration.  Sounds like something out of a cerebral mythology thesis.  At least it does to me.  Yet, those are the words that keep coming to mind.  

“Daddy,” I asked. “What do you want from me? What do you want from Your Church?”

With a wink and a contagious grin the size of galaxies colliding, he replied, “I want Divine Collaboration.”  

This is an honorific to Him, I can tell.  It’s a title he likes to pin on all His kids.  We are all his Divine Collaborators. And I could tell He was thrilled that he’d gotten my attention.

Perplexed and definitely curious, I said, “Please explain.”

I am a philosopher and processing with God is something I like to savor.  I want to stew and chew and taste every scoop of insight the Lord ever gives me.  I feel delightfully compelled to savor and digest the nuanced flavor profile of God’s interactions, not just with me, but with his Body and with his Creation. I’ve learned a lot eating at the Lord’s table with Him.  We talk.  A lot.

The other day I was talking to a friend about this tattoo idea I had and all of a sudden I heard myself say, “It’s kind of like this ‘divine collaboration’ between God and me.”  It just made sense to me to say it that way.

I had to smile. There it was again. 

My husband and I took a road trip last month to celebrate our anniversary.  We drove along part of the iconic Route 66 through Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona all the way to the Grand Canyon.  As we drove through high desert devoid of much life and saw rock formations that put modern architecture to shame, I heard it again: divine collaboration.

The land spoke to me as I marveled at the spectacles and grandeur created where infinite pale sky meets striated rocks in various stages of petrification and erosion.  I felt the profundity of time’s endlessness: infinitely changing and staying the same all at once.  I had never felt closer to my Father God, the Creator of All Things than I did in those moments of experiencing his Creation.  His words were clear: this is divine collaboration.  

As I experienced the beauty of God’s world in all its intricacy I began to pray for the people who lived there, and I felt the land speak to my heart about them: these people that God loved so dearly and who had been so horribly abused by the “progress” of European settlers.  I wept and prayed and wept and prayed.  I fell in love with those impoverished and yet resilient indigenous people who continued to hold on through the worst types of adversity.  Serious divine collaboration.

 It’s so much more than just a “good conversation” with Jesus.

1So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,a 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,b 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,c being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:1-11 ESV

Even Jesus didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he accepted it anyway and obediently emptied himself from fear and doubt and the entitlement of his status, and trusted that His Father in Heaven had his back and they were a team, even if it didn’t feel like it sometimes. 

Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on a cross because He trusted God.

1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1

How can we possibly be like Jesus? Jesus divinely collaborated with the God of the Universe, while considering equality with God something beyond his grasp, and obediently and humbly received and obeyed, even in angst, even in hunger, even in torment, even in fear.  He conquered because he humbled himself and obeyed in perfect unity with God.

Even though obedience made him look like a slave.

So maybe trusting God in obedience isn’t slavery, even if it might look like it is?  Maybe obedience is actually divine collaboration.  Maybe choosing to humble oneself, one can find exaltation in the Living God and be empowered in His Righteousness to be joint heirs with Christ.

14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sonsf of God. 15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:14-17 ESV

Divine collaboration: to trust that even obedience unto death will gain eternal reward and glory for God AND you.

It can be unimaginably painful, I’m not going to sugar coat it.  Yet, I know that suffering pays beautiful dividends for those who are willing to learn and grow from it.  Empathy, courage, salvation. It all come from suffering.  Death and suffering are not the end for those who are in Christ Jesus.  We know, because of Christ’s example of trust and faith, that God will be faithful to us as well.  

God doesn’t want mindless robots.  He’s not going to force you to do anything.  He asks.  He always asks, because he loves you.  He offers this divine collaboration to anyone who would accept it.  If you can get over yourself long enough to believe that it might actually be better with God than without, to accept for even just a moment that God is in fact good and trustworthy, you too can have this beautiful title of “Divine Collaborator”.

Divine collaboration means trusting God, submitting to God, and then freely talking to God without fear of condemnation. 

Daddy didn’t get angry with Jesus when he questioned Him in Gethsemane.  He listened.  He comforted.  He strengthened.  And Jesus endured to the end.  He trusted the Father, and on the third day was resurrected from the dead.

Jesus obeyed God and was raised up in Glory.

We have seen the truth of who God is in the flesh of Jesus Christ, and we believe in our hearts through faith, that God raised him from the dead and he will one day do the same for us.  We are saved from death into life and from orphan to first born son. God wants us to be his friends.  He wants unity in love.  Unity in love means divine collaboration. It means trusting that the source of love and life is from God and endowed to his children with generosity.

Divine collaboration isn’t passive.  It isn’t selfish.  It isn’t arrogant.  To walk in Divine collaboration with God is to actively believe in the reality of your shameless and righteous status as a child of God and fearlessly “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb 4:16) not just to receive forgiveness of sins, but to be lifted up into glory with God himself and receive wisdom and comfort from Him for eternity.  It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.  

Refuse to be silent receivers of God’s mercy and love.  Choose instead to be Divine Collaborators.  Let’s use the tools we have been given, infused with the Holy Spirit and the many gifts He has provided us, and share our thoughts and ideas with Jesus with confidence. Realize that He’s already decided to “use the foolish things to confound the wise” (1 Cor 1:27) so we can stop worrying about if God really wants to hear from us or not. Trust me, he does.  No, we’re not worthy of it on our own, but we’re not our own if we’ve given ourselves to Jesus.  

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

Divine Collaboration with one another is equally valuable.  God’s obedient and loving children are a collective force.

We are stronger together as Christ’s body here on Earth. Know that we are all one with Our Father in Heaven by His Spirit.  We should be unified as His image bearers and as walking tabernacles of His Presence.

Let us each humble ourselves and be divine collaborators together with our Lord.

Love to Forgive

 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3:12-13

Bearing with one another is hard.  I get so irritated with people. Someone parks too close to my car in the parking lot.  A customer service person ignores my multiple attempts to get her attention. My teenager talks back.  No one comes to the table when I tell them dinner is ready. Some stranger next to me at the movies is scrolling facebook while the movie is playing.  I could spend the next ten pages listing out examples of people who irritate me.

But God is telling me to forgive those people just as the Lord has forgiven me.  So, how do I do that? The answer is in that second part, “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  Forgiveness is the most beautiful example of God’s love, and the testimony of forgiveness tells the one forgiven that Jesus also wants to forgive them.  It’s like becoming an ambassador of God’s forgiveness.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:20

I’m not making this stuff up!  We are supposed to be representing Christ to a lost and broken world.  Does that mean we can’t be irritated? I don’t think so. I think it just means we don’t act on those feelings, but instead act on the righteousness of Christ that we have become.  We need to represent Jesus and His forgiveness. How else will people know His love?

Forgiving irritating people is hard enough.  What about forgiving people who have hurt you?  How do you forgive a rapist? How do you forgive a murderer?  How do you forgive yourself? These are harder questions, but the answer is still the same.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Colossians 3:14-15

Love is hard. Really, really hard.  But representing Christ by forgiving people is what makes His love most known.  

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Without love, we show the world nothing.  It is the ultimate embodiment of who God is and what He has done for us.  To share the love of Christ with the world, we must love the world. And if we love the world, we must forgive just as Christ forgave us.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

In the fullness of every Believer in Christ, is the Spirit of the Living God.  He is capable of doing more and more than we could ever even fathom. As Ephesians 3:20 says, “He is able to immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His great power at work within us”.

God doesn’t ask us to forgive on our own.  He knows we aren’t capable of that. That’s why He gave us His Spirit: to seal us as His own and to help us do the impossible.  It’s not by Power, Not by Might, but by the Spirit!

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

We have a promise from God to be able to forgive.  He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. We’re not alone.  We have the Spirit of the Living God pulsing through us. And God can and does forgive all who would accept it.  Therefore, we can too.

Jesus, teach me to forgive.  Give me the power and courage to trust You to help me forgive people.  Help me forgive myself. Help me to testify to Your love through forgiveness. It’s so hard, God.  But You have promised me that I can do all the things You ask of me because of Your power at work within me.  So, help me get out of the way so You can work, God. Help me put aside pettiness and insecurity and anger, so that Your pure love and forgiveness can be channelled through me.  Shine Your light through me, Father. Amen.

The Intentional Love of God

It seems to me that the word “intentional” gets thrown around a lot: “be intentional with your finances”, “be intentional with your relationships”, “be intentional with your worship”, “be intentional with your friendships”, be intentional, be intentional, be intentional.  This got me thinking about the Lord and His very intentional love for mankind. He chooses to love us in very intentional and specific ways in order to teach us about His character, and ultimately to show us that His love is sincere, unchanging, and forever for us. One could likely fill volumes on the subject of God’s love, but the Lord brought a few key verses to my mind as I meditated on this idea.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
   his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
   “therefore I will hope in Him.”
Lamentations 3:22-24

God intentionally loves us by showing us mercy and compassion.  No matter our sin, no matter our guilt, no matter our circumstances, the Lord of Hosts offers us His love through compassion.  His heart is moved by our trials. His desire is to show us mercy, though we are dreadfully entangled by sin. This mercy and compassion comes from His faithful love.  It is a love that doesn’t change. God’s nature is to love mankind, His glorious creation, made to worship Him, and free us from the enslavement of our own sinful folly.  That is the epitome of mercy and compassion. And it is truly new every day. Everyday, every moment, we find ourselves caught up in sin, and yet, His great love never dies or grows weary.  His love is eternal and fresh for us everytime we choose to receive it.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is beloved and known by many as the “Love Chapter”.  It defines the specific characteristics of what true love looks like. It is often read at weddings as a lesson to newlyweds about how to love one another.  But how often do we look at this passage and consider it in reference to Our Lord? Who better to exhibit the pure light and love of God, but Jesus Christ? Jesus bore all things for us on the cross.  His love never ends. How beautiful to recognize this list as we look upon the face of Jesus and see His proclamation of love expressed through this passage. Understanding God’s intentional definition of love helps us to understand God’s character in a deeper way, and when we understand what love is, it becomes much easier to accept.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
1 John 3:1

In order to show us His love in another way, God calls us His children.  He brings us into his family and gives us all the rights and authority He has given to His Son.  We don’t deserve any of that, but he doesn’t care that we don’t deserve it. He adopts us anyway!  He adopts us because He loves us. And in that adoption we are given all the rights of His children.  All we ever have had to do is accept His offer of adoption.

and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:17

How much more proof of God’s love do we need?  He has made us equal inheritors of all Jesus has.  We get to share in all of that! What a powerful testimony of God’s deep love for us!

But it doesn’t stop there.  In fact, I think the most important and most intentional way that God shows us His love for us is in this:

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
John 3:16-17

God shows us His deep, compassionate, merciful, familial love fully in those verses.  His love is a love that would die for us to live. He gave us salvation from our own troubles, our own folly, our own failure, by giving us His Son, Jesus, to pay the ultimate price for our wrongdoing.  Nothing is more loving and more selfless than that. He paid the price for our sin! He took the blame on himself for what we have done! You can’t get any more intentional than that.

So, the next time you hear someone talk about intentionality in this thing or that, I hope You will remember the intentional love of Jesus Christ for His people.  It is a love that is compassionate, merciful, never failing, familial, and sacrificial to the point of death.

Authority in Love

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

Feminism sprouted from the age old oppression and forced authority man has inflicted upon woman since the beginning of time.  Since Eve disobeyed God and led her husband into sin, and received the curse upon herself that came from disobedience to a merciful, loving and benevolent God, she has been trod upon, belittled, marginalized, and lorded over.  And let’s face it, that sucks.

To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
   in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
   but he shall rule over you.”
Genesis 3:16

In the eyes of humanity, we were doomed from the start.  Except that doesn’t really fit with God’s character, or how He has always dealt the His people. God is merciful and His love is enduring, not fickle. I believe that if we look at our place in humanity as women with God-centered eyes, knowing with confidence that God loves us as much as He loves men, we can see our place in the world as something beautiful, powerful, and of deep significance to the Kingdom of God.  

The consequences of Eve’s actions, combined with the knowledge of good and evil, put us in the position to choose to act out of love for ourself or out of love for God.  The choice became ours, as our hearts became self-focused instead of God-focused. From that point forward, man has had authority over women, an authority that God never, ever, ever intended.  In fact, God had a completely different plan for humanity. He had a plan of equal partnership, where men and women complimented one another for the glory of the Father, and ruled over the creation that God had made together, with God himself as their partner, friend, and Lord.  

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
Genesis 2:18

But we were never going to overcome the consequences of Eve’s sin on our own.  As long as we are aware of ourselves and have the choice to choose to be selfish or put others above ourselves, we can never overcome the power that sin gained over us.  Fortunately for us, God was never content with that outcome, and so, from the beginning, God promised us that He Himself would rescue us from the consequences of our sins, and restore us to a place of partnership and love with HIM.

So, what does that mean for women?

There’s a passage in the New Testament, that man has used throughout the course of Christian history since the resurrection of Jesus, to place himself solidly over his wife.  

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Ephesians 5:22-24

I think man’s long-time interpretation of this passage has truly been to his detriment.  And I think that Jesus might just agree with me. God has a pretty serious commission for men, actually.  And it isn’t to control or lord over them.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Ephesians 5:25-33

Jesus didn’t die so that men could be saved and women oppressed. He wanted men and women to be an example of His relationship with the Church.  And we are called to be joint heirs with Christ, not slaves to an unknown power. We are called to be God’s children, not his servants.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:14-17

Jesus showed us this during His life on Earth.  He lifted up women. He comforted them, encouraged them, and lovingly went to the cross for them, just as He did for men.  He loved women as his sisters, joint heirs to all that he had been given. Look at how He honored the woman with the alabaster jar.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Matthew 26:6-13

Women didn’t follow Jesus because He oppressed them.  They followed Him because He loved them and honored them and lifted them up. And that is exactly what he wants men to do with women.  Jesus considered women of equal importance as men.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 ESV

So, how do we reconcile submission to our husbands with equality? Isn’t submission the opposite of equality?  Letting someone else be the boss has to mean I have no authority, right? Nope.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
1 Peter 3:1-7

The Lord led me to this passage of scripture as a young woman, in the very early years of my marriage to a radical Muslim man.  When I realized the folly of my choice to marry a man who was not a follower of Jesus just because he revered God, I repented boldly before the Lord, and asked Him to help me figure out the mess I’d made of myself and save me from it.  And He did, using the passage above to give me profound hope.

Nothing I could do would change my husband.  Nothing I could say would alter his total devotion to Islam.  Nothing. My family and friends, who had been against my marriage from the start, told me to divorce him.  But the Lord had a different plan because the Lord loves women, and He doesn’t want to see them oppressed. As I sought the Lord’s counsel he showed me true hope in His power.  So, rather than stubbornly try to fight my husband into salvation, I submitted to the Lord.

And that’s the key.  I submitted to the Lord.  I repented and submitted. And Jesus did not use it against me, or punish me, or make me feel small.  Jesus didn’t command homage or obeisance or penance. Instead, He offered me help and hope and courage.  This small act of helplessness and submission to the Lord Jesus, gave me my first example of what genuine love and respect could look like.  When I humbled myself to a place of complete desperation and acknowledged my inability to do anything on my own, and I turned to the Lord for help, I learned for the first time what a marriage was supposed to be.  I was the bride of Christ before I was the bride of my Muslim husband. And Jesus quickly showed me how beautiful and honoring a loving husband could be in Himself.

Submitting to God’s authority over my life had brought me hope and life.  It hadn’t brought me to a place of oppression. Jesus lifted me up instead of wiping His feet on me.  He told me He loved me and that He was eager and always ready to help me. It felt good. It felt right.  It felt like, though I’d totally screwed up, that the Lord loved me so unconditionally, that my submission to him would be honored and not exploited.

Two years later, after much submission to the Lord, and having enlisted an army of prayer warriors to the cause of praying for my husband’s salvation, my sweet husband submitted to the Lord for himself, and found the same love and forgiveness and help that I had found.

Submission to another is an act of love and trust.  I put my faith and trust in the Lord to rescue me and help me.  And Jesus came through. But there’s more to it than that, because God’s cool like that.  He lavishes His love upon us, he doesn’t just toss us a bone now and then on a whim. My submission to the Lord became my biggest testimony of God’s pure love for me and for my husband.  By my submission I showed God’s faithfulness. I became a living example of what serving and submitting to a loving God actually looked like. And it won my husband’s heart without me saying a word.

My husband and I have now been married almost 25 years.  23 of those years have been as partnered Christ followers on mission and in service to the King of Kings.  And over the years, the Lord has continued to elevate me to a place of great authority and respect in His eyes.  My brief willingness to admit I was helpless on my own, became a legacy of testimony about what real love is supposed to look like.  It’s a glorious partnership. Being humble enough to trust in the leadership of another became my legacy.

I believe the Lord intended that for all women, from the time of Eve’s choice to serve herself instead of God, God decided that if humanity would just have faith enough to trust Him to lead them, that He would do it!  The consequence of sin can bring death, or it can bring humble repentance. God is ready and willing to forgive anyone who would humble themselves enough to trust Him. And God loves to exalt the humble.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Luke 14:11

How much more opportunity do we need as women to be exalted by the Lord of Hosts?  To submit humbly to God and to our husbands, is to receive the great blessing that comes from our devoted and loving Father to exalt us and use us as the perfect conduit to show our partners what love looks like, so that they can know how to love us.  That doesn’t sound anything like oppression to me! It sounds like authority in love.

Jesus has given women the chance to have great authority over the impartation of love, which is the most important gift from God that we can receive.  It was love that made Jesus humble himself to take the cross. It was love that made the Lord God save His people. It was love that made God never give up on a selfish, sinful, adulterous people.  It was all because of love. Therefore, as a woman, I have been given the opportunity to carry the authority of offering a testimony of love to my husband, in order that he can learn how to love me and love God.  Ya, that’s right. God made women to be the forerunners of love, to show men what the bride of Christ is supposed to look like. And that’s a pretty big deal.

 

Psalm 51

The Lord has been speaking to me in Psalm 51 for the last few months.  Snippets of it come to mind and are uttered from my mouth when I pray everyday.  I know the Lord is bringing it to my heart to teach me of His love and forgiveness.  For my whole life I have doubted the His love and forgiveness, even as I walked in faith to believe those promises.  Honestly, I’m amazed that such a dichotomy of thinking could be found in my heart, and yet I know very well that it is true.

I doubted God’s love because of shame in my own heart for my sins.  Because of the bad decisions of my past, because of the sin I committed against the Lord, and continue to commit against the Lord each day, I thought there was no way that God could possibly even want to forgive me.  I’d think, “No way. Not this time. This time was bad. God hates sin. He surely hates me. I hate me.”

But thankfully, that’s not how God works at all.  While I would try to tell myself this, and try desperately to trust in the forgiveness of God, I couldn’t marry God’s hate of sin to my own iniquity.  As I keep learning, however, God is not willing to leave us in dark places, or in lies of the enemy, if we are willing and earnestly seeking Him and longing to know His truth.  That’s where the marriage between doubt and hope really come together.

I doubted my own ability to be forgiven.  I hated myself for my sin, and so I couldn’t think of anyone else not hating me as well.  Yet, over and over again, the Lord would speak into my heart that I am forgiven.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
   and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
   and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Psalm 51:5-6

He knows that I was brought forth into the world full of the potential for great sin.  And He is willing to teach me the wisdom of trusting Him in my heart regardless of past, regardless of my circumstances, regardless of my sin.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Psalm 51:7

He will and has made me clean!  By the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, I have been purged and made clean in the eyes of God.  I am whiter than snow to Him now, because I have freely accepted His ability to cleanse me and forgive me.  Again, this is where hope comes in. I hope in the promise that God’s salvation is truly mine to receive. And the Lord builds my faith to continue to trust Him regardless of the lies the enemy tells me about how evil I am.  God knows I my heart is evil. And only He can forgive me.

9 Hide your face from my sins,
   and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
   and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
   and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:9-12

When I ask Him, it is His delight to receive and honor my request to be cleansed and forgiven and brought into His Presence.  He can daily restore in me the JOY of His salvation given to me with love. Only then can I see that He truly does love me. He truly does cleanse me.  He truly does forgive me. And because of that, I can move forward, not only in confidence of His forgiveness but also with the experience and faith to share this Good News with others!

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   and sinners will return to you,
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
   O God of my salvation,
   and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
   you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:13-17

Sounds like a pretty solid plan.  I think I’ll take it.

To Go From Knowing to Doing

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:18-19

Lord, I’ve been afraid of a lot of things lately and I didn’t even know it.  It’s a true tragedy to realize that the enemy has convinced me so often that the fear I’m feeling is not fear especially in regard to the judgement of God.  I have spent 45 of my 49 years of life as a believer in Jesus, and I guess I thought that I had established a deep understanding of God’s love and forgiveness.  I’ve certainly asked for it enough times! Sin sneaks up on me and the next thing I know I’m calling out to You, God, asking You to please, please forgive me.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:8

I know you love a repentant and contrite heart. I know that You are most pleased when I choose to submit to Your will for my life instead of choosing to rebel.  I know that Your plan for me is so much better than anything I could plan for myself. Frankly I KNOW a lot of things. But knowing and doing are two very different things.  And I don’t do near as much as I know.

Lord, how else can I bridge that gap except to call upon You?  You are my Creator. You are my strong Tower. You are my bridge to salvation.  You can be my bridge between knowing and doing.

So, help.  I need help, God. I’m tired of being afraid.  I’m tired of letting fear, disguised as a million different things that seem ok, rule my choices and my life.  I want to walk in the confidence of your forgiveness so that I can walk through life without fear of judgement.  If I am going to believe that the judgement of my sins were poured out on the cross of Christ, then I’m not supposed to walk in guilt any longer.  I am forgiven so I don’t need to be afraid of You, God. Let Your perfect love cast out all fear in my life as I submit to Your sufficient and all encompassing forgiveness.  Perfect Your Love in me, Lord Jesus, so that I can help show others how to have the peace of Your forgiveness. No one who trusts You will ever need to fear the judgement of their sins.  Silence the enemy and all the lies he spreads that say we’re not worth it, or we don’t deserve it, or what we did is too horrible. Help all people to find and recieve Your free offering of life and love without judgement, by Jesus on the cross. It seems a very fair punishment for anything anyone could do.  Help me to accept it more fully. And help others to find it and be free of guilt. Amen.

But I call to God,
    and the Lord will save me.
Psalm 55:16

Repentance Pays Off

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
   consider my groaning.
2 Give attention to the sound of my cry,
   my King and my God,
   for to you do I pray.
3 O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
   in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.
Psalm 5:1-3

Jesus, I called out to You this morning with such longing.  But instead of despair, Lord, I laid my sins out before You in repentance.  I took a hard look at my life and my actions over the last few days and You drew me into Your lap.  I laid it all out there, God. I poured out myself to You. I shared my fear, my guilt, my love, my longing.  I gave it all to You God. And when I thought I was spent, I cried out some more. Through my tears I confessed my weakness.  I confessed my doubt. I confessed my sins.

You held me in Your arms with such sweetness, Lord.  There was no condemnation. Though I was afraid and felt guilty, You showed me no anger and gave me no punishment.  Instead, You listened to my cries. You listening and You wiped away my tears with laughter and kisses. You reminded me of Your great love.  You showed me Your renewed mercy. You gave ear to my words, Lord. You considered my groanings. You heard my voice as I sacrificed my own will to follow Your ways and obey You.

I turned to the Word, Lord, and You spoke to me.  You reminded me of Your faithfulness even in my folly.  You are so quick to teach me! You are so quick to comfort me, Jesus!  

And that would have been enough.  But You weren’t satisfied with enough.  Instead You gave me more. You had a sister text me with these verses from Psalms.  She said that You had encouraged her to share them with me this morning. Lord, You answered my groanings with concrete truth from Your Word.  In the obedience of a friend, You comforted me beyond my expectations and my requests, because that is who You are.

11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
   let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
   that those who love your name may exult in you.
12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
   you cover him with favor as with a shield.
Psalm 5:11-12

Thank you, God, that You hear me, You see me, You love me, and You hold me in Your hand.  You cover me in favor as with a shield, and I will glorify Your name.

“If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”

“If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”  

That’s what Jesus said to me a few weeks ago and I’ve been pondering it and pondering it.  A common prayer of mine has always been to ask how I could love Him more. And the words that would come to mind were, “If you love me, obey my commands.”  The only problem with that came when I overgeneralized that statement. I put the focus on me and not on Him. So I worked and worked and worked to be a good Christian, to be a good missionary, to be a good wife, to be a good mom, to be a good prayer warrior, to be good.  It overwhelmed me to the point of panic.

“If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”  

Isn’t that selfish? Isn’t that arrogant” Isn’t that Humanism?  Isn’t that wrong? I could talk myself out of that thinking a thousand different ways, and all in the name of obedience.  I called it humility. I called it obedience. My fear of disobedience had me hating myself for all the ways I fall short.  All the ways I fail. How could I love a person so covered in the ugliness of sin and shame?

And yet, “If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”  He wants me to love myself because He loves me. If I take the focus off of myself, which at the end of the day is true humility, I can see that I can love myself, not for what I’ve done, but for what He has done.  He made me lovable.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:8

If I don’t love myself, how can I truly know God?  Not loving myself is to not love what God has done in me.  What God has made me. Because God loves me, I have love in my heart through His Spirit, and I have the power and the command to love myself, just as I love others.  That is the evidence of my relationship with God. That is the truth of who God is at His core. He is love.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
1 John 4:16

I will abide in Your love, Jesus.  The love You have for me is a love that I can and will embrace by Your power.  I want to turn away from the self-loathing brought about by disobedience and imperfection, and instead embrace the powerful, cleansing flood of your forgiving love.  

I accept Your love, Jesus.

Wisdom in the Secret Heart

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Psalm 51:6

I’ve been dealing with a lot of old stuff in counseling.  Stuff that’s been hidden deep inside me for a very long time.  And I’ve been realizing how much I have lied to myself to protect myself from the truth of my past.  I’ve lied to myself to stay safe, but I haven’t been safe.  I am wounded.  And healing can only come in the revelation of the wound and the power of God to heal it in me.

I’ve always looked at the idea of “wisdom in the secret heart” as a deep wisdom, a deep understanding or teaching of God’s Word in my inner being.  And that’s certainly true!  But I’ve been discovering just how deep the Lord is willing to go with me if I’m willing to let Him take me there.   And it’s way deeper than human knowledge can even comprehend.

It’s scary.   It’s so scary that I’m writing this blog post right now and instead of my standard “prayer format”, I’m just putting it out there stream of consciousness style.  I guess the details are fine to stay between me and God.  He is showing me the things that have been there all this time.  The things I’ve lied to myself over for many, many years.  I’d let the enemy convince me that keeping it hidden from my own mind would heal me.

But I’ve relied on myself to heal these wounds for a long, long time.  I even convinced myself that I was trusting God to heal me in the midst of my own suffering.  But God has used it.  He is faithful to teach me wisdom in the secret heart no matter how stubborn I am and no matter how many times I fall for Satan’s tricks.  He is patient with me and quick to forgive.

All this sin that others inflicted on me.  All this sin I inflicted on myself to hide with shame what happened.  All of it has been revealed and washed clean by the blood of the lamb.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 56:10

God is able to clean what has been stained inside of me.  God is able to heal the wounds and restore me.  But restoration can only come once the wounds are revealed.  And the wounds couldn’t be revealed until I was willing to acknowledge them.  I can look back at so many experiences in my life and see how the Lord has been gently trying to show me the way and help me to get there.  And through it all I’ve gone deeper and deeper and deeper as I submitted to His teaching and His love for me.

I’ve confessed and cried out to God.  I’ve offered prayers of repentence and cries for mercy.  And the Lord has heard me.  And He’s taken me deeper.  He’s taken me to the deepest knowledge of my broken spirit and my broken heart.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:16-17

But it wasn’t until I gave up everything–and I’m still in the midst of giving it all up–that I’ve realized the truth of this wisdom in the secret heart.  This wisdom of deep repentence, not regret, not fear, but deep and profound repentence for all the years of hiding it I’ve tried to sustain.  It was never hidden from God.  And His love for me remained.  When people stole my innocence and scarred my soul, the Lord was there, and He wanted to heal me.  As He wept for my injury, and wept for my abusers, and wept for the damage it did to all of us, He remembered the cross of Calvary and offered it to me.

And only now have I finally recieved the start of that wisdom from the secret heart.  That wisdom that brings confession, repentence, forgiveness, and restoration.  There is profound peace in that.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
 and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
Psalm 51:12-15