Letting God Off the Hook and Placing Him On the Throne

I was four years old when I threw the temper tantrum of a lifetime. The one that would trigger every emotional meltdown for decades to come. The fit in which every four year old fear would later ignite every teenage insecurity, every twenty something stupidity, every thirty something full-circle moment, and every forty something failure and inevitably create emotional fireworks that could rival any July 4th celebration. Except these emotional explosions only set relationships ablaze leading to meltdowns marred by the soot and ashes of self-sabotage.

Kid-sized tantrums often become adult-sized meltdowns when emotions don’t know how to grow up.

In fact, childhood temper tantrums rooted in deep-seated fears have a way of sticking with you. In a child’s mind, even the most subtle hurts can leave the deepest wounds. Whether they are wounds caused by abuse, divorce, loss, chaos, volatility, or hypocrisy, any stripping of innocence is traumatic for a child.

Trauma, in any shape, form, or fashion, changes you. It changes the way you think, act, respond and react to the world around you. Trauma is, well, traumatic. And we are wise not to mistake someone else’s trauma as merely drama.

Friends, I do not know what kind of trauma you have experienced as a child, or as an adult, but I do know that while trauma changes how we interact with the world, it does not have to negatively impact our worldview. Specifically, your trauma does not change who God is and how He thinks, acts, responds, and feels about you.

My personal trauma was subtle (except for that four year old temper tantrum). It was the slow, and seemingly painless, tearing of the fabric of a family that left me emotionally shredded. I was four when the first rip occurred. It was not until I was almost forty that I realized the full impact that divorce would have on all my relationships, especially my relationship with God.

Please do not misunderstand the intent of my words. This is not about blaming or shaming. This is about forgiveness and acceptance. 

The period to anyone’s story of trauma is forgiveness and every new chapter begins with acceptance.

I remember the exact moment when I forgave my parents. I was in my late twenties driving home to visit each of them for the weekend when the truth set me free. During a conversation between God and me, forgiveness helped me finally accept and take responsibility for my own pain.

Nevertheless, scars still have a way of becoming wounds again when future hurts trigger past trauma. Old anger festers long under the weight of expectations. When life would not go my way or I’d find myself wallowing in my own prodigal pig stye, I would throw an adult-sized temper tantrum slinging mud at the closest relational target.

Psychologically speaking, our minds often revert back to the first hurts. This is a subconscious event that by God’s revelation and grace, can emerge into conscious thought. Spiritually speaking, this is exactly the place where God longs to meet us —where first hurts emerge to receive the balm of everlasting healing.

There is a very powerful principle in Bible study referred to as the law of firsts. If you want to dig deep into a topic or concept, find out where it first appears in Scripture. Then let the Spirit wash you with The Word as you see God show up in every human experience.

Where does forgiveness first appear in the Bible? If I’m being really spiritual, I’d say in the beginning. Jesus is our forgiveness and he has been there since the beginning.

So as an adult, I resolved to take the mental and emotional journey back to my first hurt. I took inventory of my pain and my subsequent choices and behaviors throughout life. I had forgiven my parents, then I put in the work of forgiving myself. But after years of searching the depths of God’s grace, I realized that I had overlooked the very source of forgiveness.

Do I need to forgive God? Is this even okay to think, much less say out loud? Or am I just still a little bit angry with God? 

Maybe this is the last chapter in our stories of trauma, shattered dreams, and broken hearts — letting God off the hook for not being who we expected Him to be.

Honestly, I am guilty of becoming angry when life isn’t easy, never mind when God doesn’t come through for me the way I wanted him to. Unmet expectations are the bitterroot of disappointment. Yet, accepting God’s authority in your life sounds a lot like King David when he prayed, “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel‬ ‭7:18‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Both forgiveness and acceptance require cross-bearing humility. They also require taking responsibility for your pain knowing that God’s will and His way will far exceed your emotional agony. Giving God permission to be sovereign in your life frees you to trust fully in His truth, and the truth promises to set you free.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and he has been there since the beginning of all our lives, all of our traumas, and all of our heartbreaks. In the garden as Jesus lamented his own emotional agony, he also resolved to trust in His Father’s sovereignty.

“‘Abba, Father,’ he cried out, ‘everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.’”

Mark‬ ‭14:36‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Dear angry and hurting one, no one needs the healing that comes with the freedom of forgiveness more than the one bearing the open wounds. Who do you still need to forgive? Yourself, your family, your friend? Or do you just need to let go of your anger toward God?

Get mad, lament, release it, He can handle it. Then let God off the hook of expectation and place Him on the throne of sovereignty.

Let’s put the period at the end of your story of trauma. Forgive your family, forgive yourself, forgive the one who made you feel powerless, and allow the One who has the power to redeem it all reign and remain on the sovereign throne of your life.

Spiritual Doormats

Christianity is often misunderstood as a religion that requires you to function as a metaphorical doormat. Words like surrender, submission, and subjugation are grossly misinterpreted by society apart from the counsel of the Holy Spirit.

In communities void of the Spirit, Christian meekness becomes synonymous with weakness and truth seekers appear to bear the muddy imprint of those who dismiss the concepts of unconditional love and absolute truth.

Simply stated, critics of Christ cringe at the notion of lying prostrate before a Holy God.

According to the world, literal and metaphorically “spiritual” doormats are only useful for unwanted dust, not for welcoming home the lost through the cross-shaped threshold of salvation.

However, what if the gross misunderstandings and misinterpretations of those carnally-minded are actually blinding believers from our true callings as spiritual welcoming mats? Not doormats who endure trampling abuse and harmful beatings against hard objects, but prostrate lives who welcome a lost world into the pearly gates of saving grace.

In fact, the concept of becoming a spiritual doormat is initially introduced at the dusty, yet level, ground at the foot of the cross. Furthermore, this concept is instructed throughout the pages of scripture, constructed by grace, and ultimately empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The foot of the cross is where we muddy our knees in humble recognition of our sin only to discover that the dust from which we were created becomes the clay the Potter shapes into a holy vessel for His service.

We become temples made of dust in whom shame turns to glory.

“By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”

Hebrews‬ ‭11:31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Then within the tattered pages of marked and highlighted Bibles, God’s Word reveals and instructs a paradoxical faith in which the meek inherit and the persecuted are rewarded.

We are temples who point vertical yet obey the One who calls us to fall horizontal for our friends.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

John‬ ‭15:13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Then there is grace. And grace changes everything.

The hand of Grace will reach to the depths of the sea to rescue us from pride, self-pity, and performance based living—all paralyzing schemes of the devil. Grace shows us how to bear the cross, deny the flesh, and walk in the gift of unmerited favor. It creates space for relationship and gives permission to lay prostrate without the fear of a trampled heart.

Grace is the light that seeps through our cracked and imperfect temples illuminating a prodigal’s way home. It lays low, says “welcome”, and doesn’t mind a little dust.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”

2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Nevertheless without the empowering work of the Holy Spirit, surrender at the cross, submission to God’s commands, and subjugation to His grace will fall short when exercised in our own strength. Only the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead can give us the supernatural strength to bow low in hopes that others will feel welcomed into the household of faith.

The Holy Spirit gives us the faith to lay and stay prostrate before a Holy God.

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”

Romans‬ ‭14:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When we believe that unconditional love and absolute truth are eternally wed in the union of a Holy God with His bride, the church, we will willingly with humble hearts lay down our lives in the name of a welcoming Savior.

Will we welcome the opportunity to become “spiritual doormats” for others?

If so, then what does your spiritual doormat say?

Mine says “Grace Lives Here”, and she doesn’t mind a little dust.

Afraid to Cry

Crying is as natural and common as sneezing, yet we tend to avoid it, at least publicly, at all costs.

Ever wonder why we instinctively try to hold back our tears? Why do we feel the need to apologize when tears overtake our ability to speak? Are we afraid of what tears might reveal about us?

Living on the verge of tears does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong with us. Being quickly moved to tears is more often a sign of a tender heart, porous as a sponge, vulnerable to both the soaking in of love and life and the wringing out of pain and sorrow.

Tears are often the release of an abundance of joy or the result of the dam around our hearts breaking from the damaging assault of circumstances beyond our control.

God’s will produces both, joy and pain, laughter and tears, but in the end, His will always leads to life.

After His resurrection, Jesus met his dear friend and follower, Mary Magdalene, outside the empty tomb and loving asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” His questions came from a place of deep respect and compassion in the moment, yet they also store an eternal potential for piercing conviction throughout the ages.

Crying and weeping are grace-given gifts of release as well as avenues for seeking our deeper longings—ones that can only be satisfied in Christ. However, in a moment of great joy or deep despair, would we dare ask ourselves the same questions as Jesus?

Why are we weeping?

Whom are we seeking?

Are we afraid to cry because our tears will either expose a self-saturated heart, or a heart so shattered for Christ it terrifies us to consider the severe mercy of His pending will? Either answer may be difficult to face, except when they bring the questioner into the presence of the Promisekeeper.

Tears are the overflow of either our own broken cisterns or the well-spring of living water poured out by the Holy Spirit.

Do your tears scare you, or do they remind you of God’s eternal promise?

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation‬ ‭21:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

May your tears help you so deeply identify with Christ in His suffering that you shed them freely as a living sacrifice on the altar of faith.

Be encouraged that when you shed tears of joy, you are like Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the wedding in Cana, as she was wholeheartedly convinced and amazed that Jesus can do anything! Yet, when circumstances and feelings are wringing out your heart, dripping drops of pain and sorrow, you are like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, shedding blood tears on the altar of God’s will.

Dear friends, don’t be afraid to cry.

I encourage you, as Jesus did with Mary Magdalene, to identify the joy, pain, and purpose behind your tears. Then seek the presence of the One who will one day wipe your tears away.

Remember that Jesus wept at the thought of  Lazarus remaining dead in his sins. Then He spoke life into existence, just as God had spoken at creation, so that millions would seek Him and find Him when they seek Him with all their hearts (Jeremiah 29:13).

Don’t be afraid to sometimes even weep. Perhaps your own trail of tears is for others to find their way to Jesus.

Uprooted Hope Can Bloom Again — Even in the Soil of Grief

“And now there remain: faith . . . hope . . . love . . . these three [the choicest graces]”

(1 Corinthians 13:13 AMP)

I vividly remember the shell-shocked feeling of disbelief after receiving the phone call — the words that introduced me to the deepest grief I have ever known. My only brother had died suddenly and tragically. I was blindsided.

The rain that poured from the sky that day was no match for the tears my family would shed in the coming months. It was the beginning of a long and arduous journey down a road paved with heartache and grief.

Fast forward to 2020, five years after my brother’s passing, the year that held us all in the tight grip of fear and uncertainty. My parents decided to forgo any public or private gatherings, including any visits with my family. While I wholeheartedly respected their decision, my whole heart ached for their presence.

After enduring a year of pandemic-sized brokenness, by Christmas 2020 I was stricken once again with a new, yet all too familiar, sense of grief.

Dear friends, perhaps many of you can relate to an experience of great loss followed by additional heartaches and disappointments, especially during a season of fear and uncertainty. Dark seasons have a way of inviting past pain into the spotlight causing us to focus on our deepest hurts.

When bad news seems to crash in as consistently as the tide, I consider Job, who endured grief upon grief in ways we could never imagine. Job’s story helps me return to what I know is true about God and the verse which served as a lifeline after my brother’s death.

1 Corinthians 13:13 in the Amplified Bible refers to faith, hope, and love as God’s “choicest graces”. Like the sweetest most luscious fruit on the vine, they are gifts from God to enjoy, nourish and sustain us. Like a cord of three strands not easily broken, faith, hope and love serve as a lifeline to the Savior. Scripture says they remain, or last forever, and yet they abide in us right now.

However, there are seasons and even years, like 2020, when our hearts resonate with Job as he cries out, “He breaks me down on every side . . . my hope has he pulled up like a tree” (Job 19:10 ESV).

Nothing uproots hope like the heavy hand of grief.

Still, Job’s faith allowed him to ask God the hard questions and eventually plant his hope in the sacred soil of grief. Friends, listen to the hope planted in Job 19:25“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”

Faith will always lead us back to hope when we keep our eyes on Jesus.

Uprooted hope can bloom again, even in the soil of grief, when it is watered by The Word.

Grief-laden souls, may God’s choicest graces nourish, sustain, and abide in you so that “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” by faith, “you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:18 ESV).

Fasting to Feasting—Lent as a Snapshot of the Christian Journey of Faith

If you’ve ever dabbled in photography (as it appears most of us have with our smartphones) or been the one with three cameras and a bag draped around your neck at a sporting event, you understand a photographer’s quest to capture the perfect snapshot. The shot that brings life into crystal clear focus while also telling a larger story that will evoke emotions for years to come. Whether it is a wide-angle landscape or telephoto view of soft lines on an aging face, snapshots tell bigger stories of life.

The same is true of Lent.

Lent is the wide-angle lens that allows us to zoom in on Jesus. Lent helps us repurpose, reset and refocus our hearts and minds on Christ.

Friend, if you are currently observing Lent by observing the spiritual discipline of fasting, be encouraged. Not unlike your faith walk, Lent is a journey. One that prepares you to kneel, once again, at the foot of the cross in humble submission to the only One who has the power in His blood to wash us white as snow.

Lent is an opportunity to capture the perfect snapshot of the bigger picture of faith.

Just as a believer’s walk of faith is marked by milestones of victory and moments of transforming grace, the spiritual practice of fasting, especially during the season of Lent, is marked by stages of revelation culminating in the transforming power of a Resurrected Life.

Letting go leads to leaning in. Conviction conforms to the mind of Christ. Fasting turns to feasting. In the transforming power of grace, Lent becomes the perfect snapshot of the Christian journey of faith.

Just as a believer’s journey is not about checking all the boxes, observing Lent is not a formula to freedom. Lent is every believer’s opportunity to enter into stages of personal transformation in the name of Jesus.

Fasting becomes an open threshold to surrender.

Regardless of what we feel led to fast, or do without for a time, this spiritual discipline is born of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit tends the garden of our minds and plants the seeds of conviction in our hearts. This conviction to fast is a wooing of the Spirit to draw near to the Son—an internal conversation of your spirit with His. Spiritual seeds need the Son in order to grow closer to God.

The sowing of conviction then gives birth to covenant relationship. The decision to fast, or even to follow Jesus, is a personal decision of the will. It is you and me saying “I do” to the great “I Am”.

However, every decision in life has consequences. Fasting requires letting go, living without, and then realizing and enduring the consequences, good or bad.

Covenant always creates consequence.

While some may think this is the most difficult stage of fasting, the real work is yet to come. Realizing consequences is the stage where we must answer the questions, “Is Jesus enough?” and “Am I willing to do the work to find out?”

The next stage is where the hard work begins. Cravings—better known spiritually as longings. We all have them, cravings and longings. However, when we fast, Satan will use our cravings to distract us from our God-given, deeper longings. The devil knows that if we never identify our deeper longings, we will continue to live on the superficial level of human desires.

Perhaps Oswald Chambers expressed it best when he wrote, “Beware of counterfeiting the love of God by following your own natural human emotions, sympathies, or understandings.”

Fasting allows you to surrender your human cravings for a deeper acknowledgment and understanding of the longings that can only be satisfied in Christ. 

This is the heart of Lent—teaching, training, trusting, and, like Jesus, digging deep and praying hard in the garden.

If you are fasting food, especially sugar, you are teaching your body, created by God, how to function efficiently, the way it was designed. If you are fasting negative thoughts or a toxic relationship, you are training your mind to undo the programmed default patterns of the world and reset your affections on the One who will never leave you or forsake you. If you are fasting a specific behavior or activity, you are trusting that your identity is not found in anything or anyone, but Christ.

Our surrender of cravings bleeds into the next stage of considering Christ in all things. When we experientially know that only Christ can fulfill our deepest longings, we begin to consider others in a way that only Jesus can reveal. This is the calling to which fasting will lead; patience and long-suffering as we learn the joy in other-centered living and less is more thinking.

What most describe in the latter days of fasting, after the long, arduous trek through the cravings and considering wilderness, is a contentment in all circumstances.

Paul describes this revelation from a prison cell, “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”(Philippians‬ ‭4:11-12‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Then, as we enter Holy Week and retrace His path to the cross, there will be a quiet acceptance and perfect peace that compel us forward. A time when the former things seem to pass away, fasting becomes as unconscious as breathing, and all we can imagine is running toward an empty tomb.

That compelling force is Christ, the Love of God personified.

Christ is the reward for fasting. For to fast is to learn to feast on Christ.

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Matthew‬ ‭4:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Jesus is the Word, the manna, the Bread of Life who feeds our hungry souls, fulfills our deepest longings, and prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies.

As we fast our way from conviction to covenant to consequence to cravings to considering to contentment to Christ, we begin to see the bigger picture of faith of which Lent is but a snapshot.

In the midst of Lent, and in the midst of life, fasting to feasting is the promise for every faithful believer.

My fellow sojourner, keep walking in faith knowing that milestones of victory lie ahead and moments of transforming grace sprout from the seeds of conviction.

On Easter Day, when you reach the empty tomb, look up! Jesus is setting the table for the feast of a lifetime.

“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

Revelation‬ ‭19:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Live out the blessing in your daily walk. Extend the invitation to others. Let your life be a snapshot of Jesus.

The Deep and Hidden Gifts of Grief

Perhaps only a few who have endured the heavy hand of grief would ever consider it a gift.

We give gifts because we are thankful, thoughtful, loving and kind. We give gifts to celebrate moments and milestones. Gifts surprise us, bless us and fill us with gratitude.

So how could grief possibly be considered a gift?

Grief is hard. Grief is heavy. Grief can be haunting because it often feels like a piece of us has died.

During this past week, my Aunt Jane, who was my childhood hero, left this earth to be with Jesus. A few days later, our family had to say goodbye to our ten year old fur baby, a boxer named Bailey.

Friends, as many of you know, grief hits you like a Mack truck when you love with your whole heart.

Grief is hard when it first strikes, it’s heavy as it rolls over and almost crushes us, and it’s haunting as every reminder of our trauma and loss triggers an emotional waterfall. Many people have described grief as if they were drowning, because it feels like you cannot breathe.

As I mourned the loss of my aunt (who contracted polio at three years old and, despite her disability, went on to live a fulfilling life including working for the FBI for 25 years), I recognized the severe mercy of her passing at age 74. Jane had been bed-ridden for the last five years of her life due to post-polio syndrome and declining health. She was ready to meet Jesus face to face.

Her passing also gave me the eyes to see the severe mercy of letting go of our beloved family dog. Bailey had been slowly declining over the past year most likely due to a brain tumor. Her quality of life was poor, but the thought of ending the quantity of her days with us was excruciating. In many ways, we were already grieving the puppy we once knew.

Grief is also inevitable.

Whether by natural or sudden death or by letting go of a relationship or a dream, we cannot go around grief—we must travel through it.

Yet, perhaps it is on the journey through grief where we find some of the deep and hidden gifts of God.

“he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.”

Daniel‬ ‭2:22‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Perhaps it is in the darkness of grief, that the light of Christ shines the brightest.

Grieving one, what if the hard, heavy and haunting feelings are actually the hand of the Great Physician cracking open your chest wall to massage your heart back to life?

It sounds painful because it is. Grief is full of pain. Our hearts physically hurt. We yearn for breath and healing from the deep hole in our heart.

Yet in God’s unique way of reversing nature, grief becomes a supernatural gift of the Spirit. Death gives way to life, streams break forth in the desert, and the blind shall see.

Because we serve a merciful, thoughtful, loving and kind God who gives us good gifts, we can trust that our grief is His way of celebrating the moments and milestones of the ones we love and lost. While grief will initially surprise us in unpleasant ways, it is also a gift that contains the power to bless us and fill us with gratitude.

Grief offers the gifts of bearing one another’s burdens, bonding us in the name of love, and binding us to the legacy of a life well-lived.

The question then becomes, are we willing to receive it?

Like salvation, we must first believe in Christ and then receive the mind of Christ. While there is life in believing, there is abundant life in receiving.

Grief is similar in that when we believe it is a gift from God, we can then receive the blessings it bestows.

Grief helps us fulfill the commands of Christ. Someone who has endured the heavy hand of grief can mourn with those who mourn, truly lay down their life for a friend, and love others better than themselves.

Grief is the cost of loving, but if we give grief permission, it will also deepen our capacity to love.

Grief is the gift given by God to save us from the self-destruction of despair. It is a process that forces us to face our fears of living without someone or something. Grief is a journey that encourages us to take baby steps toward the One who will massage our heart back to life.

Grieving one, I know it hurts. I know you feel like it will never get better. But you have been given a gift. You have been given a glimpse of the deep and hidden things of God. Grief is a high and holy calling to which you have been entrusted.

Now, trust the Healer with your heart. 💕

Help, I Have No Peace!

When my children were very young, I remember stepping outside for a moment to take a breath of fresh air and then crying out to God with an exhale of, “I have no peace!” While this may sound fairly common, yet quite relatable, to every mom of preschoolers, it was a profound moment of both diagnoses and revelation.

For months I had been wrestling with anxious thoughts and feelings of depression, not being able to pinpoint the source of my despair. In a moment of desperation, my deep inhalation provided the heart cry that answered months of knee-bending prayer.

I have no peace.

Friends, perhaps you can relate in your own set of circumstances? Peace is a term our culture tends to flippantly throw around, but when the peace of God is absent in our lives, we tend to experience unrestrained thoughts and unbridled emotions. Without His peace, we become reckless and can allow our circumstances to spin us out of control.

The peace of God helps us pump the brakes before we crash and burn.

Jesus tells us in John‬ ‭16:33‬ ‭(ESV), “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

To paraphrase, if you choose Christ, you are invited into His peace, but if you only choose the things of this world, you will only have trouble.

As you might know, Jesus had said a lot of things before John chapter 16! Still, he emphasizes his previous teachings and why he said these things—to provide a peace that the world does not offer.

The words and teachings of Christ are significant because He is the Word and it is only in Him that we inherit this supernatural peace.

When we live in the world according to the world’s standard of peace, we will have trouble with anxious thoughts and feelings of depression. We will carry around the heavy load of conflicted minds and burdened hearts.

But Jesus says “take heart” because He is the Overcomer!

The phrase take heart means to take courage, be confident, certain, and undaunted. However, it is only in Christ that we become any of these things because He has won the war against our souls.

Jesus is telling us to be certain that in the world we will have trials and frustrations, but to be even more certain that with the peace that only He provides, we will overcome the tribulations of life.

Jesus overcame the world and the devil by taking on and suffering through the cruelty of the crucifixion. Likewise, we become overcomers when the peace of Christ rests gently upon our hearts and minds and steadily guides us through the storms of life.

My children are all teenagers now, and peace is one thing I have watched allude them during a global pandemic. I must remember the diagnosis and the revelation the Lord gave me all those years ago, and how He led me back to the source of true peace.

We can teach our children and encourage our friends and family with the promise of the Overcomer. As John 16:33 reads in the AMPC translation, “For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]”

The peace of Christ protects, provides and prevails. May we all claim His perfect peace and pump the brakes before we crash and burn. Or open up the window and take a deep breath of fresh air.

Shelter-In-His-Presence

As a global society, we have become all too familiar with what it means to shelter-in-place. The multiple hyphens in this phrase alone remind us of seemingly never ending days quarantined at home—in one place.

By definition, shelter-in-place is the act of seeking safety within the building one already occupies, rather than evacuating the area or seeking a community emergency shelter. Yet for some people, the home they already occupy is not a safe haven.

Home may shelter us from the rain, but not necessarily from the storms of family life.

While seeking safety within the four walls of our own homes may sometimes feel improbable, there is a Shelter in Whom we can still find refuge.

Psalm 31 reminds us of an important truth about God, namely His Presence.

“You hide them in the shelter of your presence, safe from those who conspire against them. You shelter them in your presence, far from accusing tongues.”
Psalms‬ ‭31:20‬ ‭(NLT‬‬)

‭‭Dear friends, God’s presence is a place of shelter, regardless of where we shelter-in-place.

His presence alone provides safety and protection from those who inflict hateful words and harmful acts. God’s presence has always been His promise—a truth-thread woven from Genesis to Revelation.

Even after banishment from the Garden of Eden, where He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, God’s intent has always been to dwell with mankind (Revelation 21:3).

Following exile and a miraculous exodus from Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to “set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly.” (Exodus‬ ‭25:30‬ ‭ESV‬‬) The bread, a foreshadowing of Jesus, was to remain in the ark of the covenant, which served as a physical symbol of God’s spiritual presence among them during their wilderness wandering.

God’s presence later filled the temple. Then came the long-awaited day the presence of God became the Person of God in the birth of Immanuel; baby Jesus, God with us.

Jesus became the promise of His presence.

In one of His seven “I am” statements throughout John, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV)

The bread of the Presence took on flesh to offer Himself for those who hunger and thirst for garden restoration—to dwell with God in perfect peace.

Through His death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus then sent the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to dwell in us.

The Spirit is the seal, the deposit, the down payment, the guarantee of Christ’s return, the promise of His presence both now and for eternity.

We can shelter-in-His-presence any time and any place because we seek safety in the One who already occupies you and me.

Jesus said in John 15, “Abide in me, and I in you.” When we provide shelter in our temple-like bodies for the One who shelters us, we catch a glimpse of the eternal protection described in Revelation by the King of Kings.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.”

Revelation‬ ‭7:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The Book of Revelation reveals that the promise of His presence is forever.

As we continue to shelter-in-place as needed, let us shelter-in-His-Presence as a necessity!

His promise is His presence.

Therefore, friends, “Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (Psalm‬ ‭105:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Pay Attention to How You Hear

What exactly makes a good listener?

You might say it is someone who is compassionate, patient, and humble. Or maybe it has more to do with wisdom, life experience, and one’s ability to relate. Yet, perhaps the quality that makes the best kind of listener is the one who pays attention to how they hear.

Not my words. This phrase belongs to Jesus.

We find in Luke‬ ‭8:18‬ ‭(NLT‬‬) Jesus sharing the Parable of the Lamp as he says, “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.”

Evidently, listening is important to Jesus. In fact, not listening has dire consequences—the removal of any understanding. But how you listen, or hear, is important to Jesus as well.

First, take note of what Jesus does not say.  He does not say pay attention to what you hear. He takes it beyond the what and into the realm of how you hear—from the physical into the spiritual. According to Jesus, how you hear has the potential to lead to further understanding and revelation.

So let us take inventory of how we hear. Beyond the physics and anatomy of hearing, we first process words and sounds with our brains. Our minds become the filter through which everything verbal, and even nonverbal communication, must pass. 

Then, in a matter of milliseconds, our minds associate words, sounds, and nonverbal expressions with specific thoughts, memories, feelings, reactions, and responses. Lastly, this association is filtered back through the mind and elicits a new, or often times a default, response or reaction.

All this to say, the mind is crucial in how we hear. The mind is the filter that can weed out lies, false thinking, and fear-based reactions and only allow truth, discerning thoughts, and love-based responses to pass through.

This is why having the mind of Christ will change your life. Having the mind of Christ means having the Holy Spirit as your forever filter. Jesus, through the Spirit, will change how you hear and, subsequently, how you respond to those He loves.

The battlefield of the mind significantly influences how you hear. How you hear an inquisitive child. How you hear a fear-crippled aging parent. How you hear an attention-seeking spouse. How you hear a grief-stricken friend. How you hear an anger-laden customer. How you hear a sin-sick stranger.

It is helpful being a good listener when you are naturally compassionate, patient, wise, and can relate. However, paying attention to how you hear requires dependency on the supernatural ability of the Holy Spirit to filter everything and align it with the mind of Christ.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭10:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

We can trust the filter of the Holy Spirit to take captive that which is not of God.

Like the Parable of the Light teaches, “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.” (Luke‬ ‭8:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

‭‭The light of Christ can poke holes in the darkness of our minds and reveal to us the the spiritual significance of what and how we hear.

Pray for the mind of Christ. Pray for the Holy Spirit to filter through the physical aspects of communication in order to reveal to you the spiritual significance of how you hear and, subsequently, how you interact with those He loves.

Remember, that which He commands He also makes possible through the power of His Spirit who lives inside of you. Let Jesus transcend your physical interactions into spiritual experiences by first paying attention to how you hear.

The Simple Truth About Anger and Stones

I was so mad that I just wanted to throw something. It was one of those days when nothing seemed to go right at work, then home, then I had to deal with that child—the one who pushes all the buttons.

It wasn’t necessarily the one thing. It was all the things that allowed the one thing to create an internal combustion within my mind and then out of my throwing arm!

Why is it that one of our anger reflexes is throwing something? Is it the need for desperate release? Or perhaps the selfish desire to inflict harm—a hurt equivalent to our own amount of suffering? Maybe it’s a little bit of both, release and misdirected revenge on the closest target.

Scripture has a lot to say about anger, and, surprising, an important lesson about throwing stones.

You may be familiar with the verses about in your anger do not sin and don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Like me in the midst of my anger and frustration, you may have also wanted to throw something anyway.

Yet here’s the simple truth about anger and stones—You can’t throw what you don’t pick up.

Jesus did not necessarily say this to the Pharisees who brought an adulterous woman before him, but the lesson was received loud and clear. After demanding an answer from Jesus about the fate of the woman, He stands up and says in John 8:7 (NLT), “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”

While the Jewish law permitted stoning and the woman’s sin called for it, no one picked up a stone. Not one.

It was a pivotal gospel moment when the Old ran headlong into the New. Jesus turned the law and the prideful lawmakers upside down and inside out.

In fact, Deuteronomy‬ ‭17:5-7‬ ‭(NLT‬‬) states, “then the man or woman who has committed such an evil act must be taken to the gates of the town and stoned to death. But never put a person to death on the testimony of only one witness. There must always be two or three witnesses. The witnesses must throw the first stones, and then all the people may join in. In this way, you will purge the evil from among you.”

‭‭Don’t miss those last few important details of the law. Putting someone to death required two or three witnesses AND the witnesses must throw the first stones.

But no one picked up a stone. Not one.

There was no desperate release, no misdirected revenge. The Pharisees’ trap did not work. In fact, Jesus’ timely words caused each and every potential witness to look within. The anger they harbored in their minds was quickly and succinctly redirected toward the sin in their hearts.

You see, Jesus was preparing His way to the cross through the misdirected anger of accusers. As He ran his fingers through the sand, He knew the only witnesses Who could testify to the Truth were found in the Trinity.

Jesus alludes to this later in John‬ ‭8:17-18‬ ‭(NLT‬‬), “Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”

Yet Jesus, the only one without sin, did not pick up a stone either. Instead, He extended mercy and grace and released the woman from misdirected revenge. He turned the law upside down and exposed the Pharisees’ sin from the inside out.

Jesus met anger with truth. He met potential stones with pearls of wisdom.

So the next time you get angry just remember, you can’t throw what you don’t pick up. Leave the stones of bitterness, betrayal, revenge, reaction, despair and desperation on the ground at the foot of the cross.

Like the woman caught in adultery or misguided love, lift your eyes to meet Jesus. Receive His mercy and grace. Then go and sin no more. Be His witness. Let your life testify to the truth.

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