Love and War

Who is crazy enough to talk about their marriage in a public, not just group, but public setting? Well, in about a minute, I am, but John and Staci Eldredge have done so in their new book, “Love and War” also. It makes me feel a little less vulnerable sharing. 🙂

I haven’t read the whole book yet, but from numerous reviews from friends, I’ve heard that it’s yet another incredible, healing book. Even my single friends who have read it say that it has prepared them for marriage in an overwhelmingly positive way.  To be honest, I don’t feel like I need to read it because Tom and I have lived it.

About a year ago, Tom went to the “Wild at Heart” boot camp put on by John Eldredge and the Ransomed Heart team. Now, what happened there for Tom is nothing short of God’s absolute love breaking in a new way. But it’s also his story, so I would encourage you to ask him about it. But, at that retreat, Tom came home for a new idea for our marriage. And I can honestly say that we have never been happier, never experienced God’s presence in our relationship, never had so much time in between those “crazy” cycle moments as we have now that Tom gleaned this truth from John. Ready for it?

Your spouse is not your enemy. You have an enemy. And it’s not your spouse. You’re on the same team. Always.

Simple? Yes. Effective? Absolutely.

When Tom came home from Boot Camp, we found ourselves is petty arguments and he would say, “Pam, are we on the same team?”

“Yes.”

“Cause right now, it doesn’t feel like it.”

And then we would proceed to search out together the accusations Satan had made in our little brains about each other, clarify (say, “No, I don’t feel that way. I don’t think that way about you”), and proceed to get Satan out of our marriage and ask for God to come in more. More of His thoughts concerning our lives and our direction. More of His love to be imparted so we can love each other more. We have never had so much peace and faith in each other. I have never had so much security in my life. And ladies, it has never been so easy to “let go” and increase my respect in my husband. I can honestly say that it has continued to grow us over months now.

I recently took this idea to my niece and nephew. Rose (name changed) is 6 years old and Mike (again, changed) is 8 years old. They’re in the age where they’re going to fight. So, sitting in the back of the car bickering one day, I stopped them.

“Mike, Rose is not your enemy.”

“But, Aunt Pam, it feels like she is.”

“I asssure you Mike, Rose is not your enemy. You have an enemy and he wants to kill you and destroy you. Rose loves you. She likes to see you smile. She goes to your Cub Scout events to cheer you on. That’s not something an enemy does.”

After about 5 more minutes of discussion, things were set straight. Any time they started getting overwhelmingly angry at each other, I’d simply say, “She’s/He’s not your enemy.”

Some may say that to focus on Satan’s presence in our lives is dangerous. I stand with John and Staci. It’s dangerous not to think about it. So I’m following through with the next thing from John 10:10 –  keep turning to Jesus. Keep asking Him what I should be looking at. Keep asking for Him to be in our marriage more. Less of us. More of Him. Because Jesus is a truth teller. It’s brought abundant life.

And I’m still going to read the book. If I know the Eldredge’s writing at all, it will have refreshing authenticity, but I’m sure Jesus has a few more tips waiting for me in the pages of the book.

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The Effect of Intimacy

This weekend, our family headed out by my in-laws once again. I have always loved this drive. Multiple expressway interchanges and a slew of curves, followed by the lush trees that spring up near the Fox River just “do” something to transport me.

It was on Sunday, driving to church, where this scenery really started calling out to my soul. As I climbed through the trees from Algonquin into Crystal Lake, I felt like God was romancing me. He knew I needed something more than peace, more than a break. I needed to journey with Him. And so He began it before I could even reach out to Him.

By the time I got to the first of the two church services I would attend, I could feel His presence. As I entered the room for the first service, I realized that even though I had a million things on my mind, and a million prayer requests for others, the thing I really wanted to do was draw near to Him and worship Him. Not just praise. But all-out worship. In a striking move though, after minutes of kneeling, I felt like I was just supposed to sit on the ground. It was an image that reminded me of myself as an seventh grader, sitting with friends, waiting for the bell to ring. I felt Jesus just casually sitting near me, pointing out things for me.

“I love this group so much. Look how they’re doing that! Isn’t that beautiful?”

“This one has a parent that is just all out mean-spirited, but you see how he’s stretching to focus on me?”

I found myself just conversing with Jesus with how thankful I was. How He’s been so faithful to me. How He’s never abandoned me. Never let me go. It was a moment that you have often between girlfriends, but that you rarely tangibly experience between you and your God.

It was wonderful. But it was about to get better. Much better.

I crossed the parking lot to go into the next church. (Yes, there are two churches that are very dear to me and they are less than 50 yards from each other). After finding my sister and brother in law, I settled in to listen to the next band. Now, keep in mind, I was not expecting much. I had two incredibly spiritual encounters with God already. But it’s always like Jesus to give more than expected.

A beautiful, very royal-spirited woman appeared on-screen. She began a poem that can be described as no less than God inspired. She weaved words about God’s character and the truth that struck me so well. I knew that all I wanted to do once again was praise, but felt like my words couldn’t compare to the generosity He had shown me that morning. And yet, knowing my needs, He provided a song about just that, using scripture that I had clung to, as if it were my last hope of staying aboard a ship during a reckless storm, during one of the most depressing, hurtful times in my life. Even though the last thing I wanted to do was to cry in front of my very strong, very controlled brother in-law, I couldn’t stop the tears. I couldn’t stop feeling the love from a creator who knew me, knew my heart, so well. I was left breathless. Speechless.  I wanted to sing and my voice just cracked. So, instead, I just said “I love you too” within my heart and relaxed enough to submit more to His touch.

There’s no scripture that can tell you what this moment was like. I can tell you it wasn’t the first time it had happened to me and it won’t be the last, because my God is faithful like that. But I can tell you that there’s something in a moment like that can’t be manufactured. It wasn’t the band. It wasn’t the woman who spoke. It was a lover. THE lover of my soul. And it makes me want to live for Him even more.

Simply put

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

– Psalm 27:13-14

Satisfy

To a perfectionist, the word “satisfactory” is downright disgusting. So the root of that word, “satisfy,” is not much of a promise. To those of us who have the need to make it sparkle, we don’t want to satisfy, we want to drench — to stuff — our audience so that their love and entertainment tanks are full.

For those of us who do it well, it’s one of our biggest downfalls.

The reason it’s one of our biggest downfalls is that to be satisfied IS to be full … our desires, expectations, needs, or demands are met. Anything more is just a distraction from our real needs.

God’s promise to me yesterday was that He was going to redefine the word satisfy for me. Take away the fears that I had that satisfy meant sacrifice. That it really meant to go without. To be less than content. It exposed an agreement that I had made — a very important lie — that I felt that God was mean and that He would treat me like some strict sensei, removing food or drink or sleep to prove to me that I can survive without them. It’s a lie. It’s not God’s character. And Isiah 55 reminded me of that this morning.

1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money,  come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.

4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. 5 Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.

7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.

9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”

When God talks about allowing Him to satisfy, he’s talking less about sacrifice and more about submission. He’s offering to take care of the details. The allow us to live free. It’s an invitation to the glory of the Lord. It’s an invitation to develop our relationship with the Lord more so that all the other things we do are not controlling us, but we control them. He’s done it for me in other areas of life, and now I’m allowing him to do it in some really significant areas. my part is to come. To turn from where I’m looking and to seek Him, while He’s offering the invitation. That’s where I’m at this morning — not convicted, not convinced, but knowing that this is just plain common sense that I’ve been ignoring.

P.S. I gave up being a perfectionist a long time ago. And I’m never going back.

Charlie Opens My Mind

“So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

That’s a quote out of one of my favorite movies, the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There’s so many good quotes in that movie, but that’s my favorite. Watching that film yesterday with my kids was kind of a different experience. I had one of those spiritual enlightening moments that you’re almost confused by at first. How could Willy Wonka teach me about living a life devoted to Jesus? Well, let me share.

The scene where Mr. Wonka opens the Chocolate room reminds me of what Eden may have looked like to me as a kid. It’s a world unhindered. Beautiful. Boundless — just like God. But soon after that, sin takes over. What’s my definition on sin from this movie? It’s falling under the control of anyone but the creator. It starts with Augustus Gloop, who is ruled by food and drink. The creepy tunnel scene acknowledges that darkness takes us to a different word. It’s still the same kingdom, but we are under different rules.

Violet Beauregard comes next. Ironically, it’s not the gum chewing that takes her out. It’s her compulsion. Then comes Verruca Salt with selfishness. Lastly, Mike Teevee. Now Mike’s actually a good kid. You would think that his impulsive moment is what hurts him. But it’s not. Mike displays all out rebellion. Uncontrolled rebellion. Which, for most of us, lays dormant and so we look pretty good. But given the opportunity, always ends up hurting us.

Watching the movie with those insights reminded me of Colossians 3 (from the Message because we read too much only about sexual sin in any other translation):

1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

3-4Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

5-8And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.

9-11Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life…. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

12-14So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

15-17Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

18Wives, understand and support your husbands by submitting to them in ways that honor the Master. 19Husbands, go all out in love for your wives. Don’t take advantage of them. 20Children, do what your parents tell you. This delights the Master no end. 21Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits.

22-25Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention Charlie’s failure in the bubble room. That’s for two reasons: one, Grandpa Joe led him astray, which is different than any other child’s mistake. But more importantly, Charlie is the hero. After messing up, what does he do? He showed me what this passage in scripture can look like when played out. He humbles himself and takes the blame. He refuses to get revenge on Mr. Wonka. He promotes peace. He sacrifices a life of riches. He does the right thing. In a world that has become worthless, he creates something of worth. And he’s handsomely rewarded.

I can take a lesson from Charlie. I can love more and loosen up on the who-gets-what-when mentality. I can get rid of things that have ruled me (or might still), including food, drink, worry, compulsion, rebellion, fear, pride, and selfish motives. If I do, like Charlie, I can have the Kingdom restored in my life. That’s what I’m going for. More of Christ. More of Him in me. And more of His kingdom. Now that’s good.

Beauty

In 2002, I took a philosophy class on aesthetics. At the time, I didn’t even know what aesthetics was. I just knew that I didn’t have to wake up before 8, and it had a teacher who was rated very highly on rate my professor.

Turns out that aesthetics is the study of beauty. I wish I took better notes.

Beauty is something that I’ve struggled with as far back as I can remember. I’ve prayed, meditated, and acted on things that I thought would bring healing to my very weary mind in this subject. And they did, — but I’m still in process.

What has become beautiful to me lately though is to witness moments of transformation. Don’t we all love that? Bell kisses the Beast and he’s magically transformed into a prince, or Cinderella is transformed by her fairy God mother, or the Princess and the Frog are transformed by putting love before selfishness. Heck, even Shrek is transformed, just not physically. It’s why we cry at the TV while watching Extreme Makeover and the Biggest Loser. Transformation captures a moment of beauty — an aspect:  it helps people become the better person they know they can be. It’s fruits are joy and peace. And it’s healing to our soul.

But right before transformation — right before beauty grips your heart so tightly that you can barely breath, is a moment of despair. There’s a crisis, a climax if you will.

It reminds me of Jeremiah 29:11 when God offer his great promise —

I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

That verse comes three-fourths through one of the most depressing books in the bible. And it’s placed in the middle of three chapters that are all out overwhelming. It is placed where the people of Israel were told by Jeremiah that the that the oppression they were under was going to get WORSE, not better. That they were going to have to wait 70 years before things would get better.  Whoa. But God gives this promise: I will bring you back to freedom, back to a place that you can rest, back to the future that you’ve been dreaming for.

What a moment of transformation. You have to imagine people just being so weary and receiving that Word. You have to see them sitting in the dust, heads slung low, and then hearing that and perking up.

I mean, if Jeremiah would have said “it’ll all be over in 70 years,” that would be one thing. But the God of the Universe not only answers their question of when they won’t be in torment any longer, but He gives them a guide, promises them an amazing future, and also promises not to leave them. Not for one second. And that even if they are wicked, He won’t destroy them. They will be HIS people and He will bring them honor. Talk about an extension of beauty. Talk about a moment where you’re on the edge of your seat. That’s a transformation moment.

Caught up in the option of choosing to live under oppression or choosing to believe that God will get me through — love me, lead me, protect me, and provide for me — I’m choosing to change my attitude and go with God every time. Because as much as I have fought it in the past, I’m now at a place where I’m unashamed to say that I need something beautiful. I need God’s will and God’s plan. I need to be God’s. I need that love.

Posture of Praise

Sometimes you just have to report what God’s doing.

Last night, I went to Outcry (P&W for all you Christian folk) at Trinity Christian College. Let me tell you. Those kids (and I use the term loosely) blew me away. There was such conviction for me.

Not only was the worship insanely good, but the students were ON FIRE for the Lord. Every song was treated as if they were at a rock concert of their favorite band. These kids were CELEBRATING Easter. Every time they spoke about Jesus’ victory, their were authentic whistles that rose up.

It made me think about when was the last time that I praised like that.

Don’t get me wrong. I connect with the Lord through worship. I mean, tears fall, my heart lifts — connected. But there was such selflessness in their praise. They weren’t seeking anything from the Lord. They just wanted to praise him. And they were able to, without distraction.

I realized that part of the reason that I’m not able to praise without my mind wandering was because I’m lacking in faith and patience. Although I’ve seen and done a lot with the Lord, my faith has diminished, and with it, my ability to seek His face, knowing that He will be faithful. I don’t know how or when it happened, but I knew, standing in that room, that those kids, those young adults, had it — and I didn’t. You want to talk about contagious faith? I felt it.

I was also convicted by Isiah 30:18 (NLT) yesterday:

So the Lord must wait for you to come to Him so He can show you His love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for His help.

I can’t tell you what that verse means for you. And sharing what it means for me probably would not be helpful to anyone. But it’s an imporant verse to me, so maybe it will be an important one for you as well.

Here’s a taste of what last night was like for me:

Grace

Five years ago, I didn’t know what the word “grace” meant. Seriously. I was working at Trinity Christian College at the time and was required to use Christanese language, Dutch Christanese at that, and one of the words that seemed to come up a lot was grace. I knew how to use it in a sentence, but remember asking my coworkers what the word meant. Even with their descriptions, I still didn’t have a clue.

Now, I’m an ardent fan — nay, not just fan, but defender — of grace. I find myself agreeing with the words in Acts 20:24
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

What happened?

For so much of my life, there was no grace and no mercy in my life. None. No redemption for failure.  But, five years ago, when I needed grace the most, God started to reveal what that word meant.

Most Christians seem to think of grace in this form: “We’re dirt, we’re scum, but God is so wonderful that He offers us a chance to live and breathe.” While that may be doctrinally sound in that we are but wisps of air, our life fleeting, I don’t think God would like us to think of ourselves as scum. I think that definition goes against His plan of grace. And to be honest, I think that definition fits “mercy” a bit more.

I’ve found that grace is truly the influence and spirit of God operating in me to regenerate and strengthen me. I can’t do this Christian life thing. In fact, living the religious Christian lifestyle is detestable to me. More striving? More doing? No thank you. It’s nausating to think of that “live it right — get in line” lifestyle again.

I’ll choose grace. I’ll choose to believe that Jesus really did rise, and He can enter in to me and change me if need be. Not that I strive to be like Him, but that I yield unto Him taking over.

My assistant pastor provided the key questions for me last night, though. He said “In what ways are we functioning as if Jesus wasn’t victorious over sin and death. In what ways are we acting as if the veil wasn’t torn? As though we are still under the law?”

What ways is the condemnation over me that I can’t breathe? That I am stressed out and feeling like scum?

Those are the things I’m bringing before the Lord this morning. For grace calls out to be free from sin, yes. Absolutely. But also to be free from the law.

My favorite version of the song for today is is at the link below. The song begins at 4:43.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/video/video.php?v=335447251325&ref=nf

For the non-facebookers, click on Grace Calls Out, Rewrite #2. This one is a little different, but it’s still good.

http://hpvcworship.wordpress.com/

King

I’m not a CBS fan, at all, but CBS has a program they air on Sunday mornings that just may be the best thing on TV. It’s called “Sunday Morning.” In it, the producers cover news, sports, politics, comedy, entertainment, American life, and art. It’s the most educational and enjoyable show that’s on TV.

This Sunday, they had a myriad of Easter related stuff, but one of the things they focused on was Gospel music. They interviewed two of my favorites, Israel Houghton and CeCe Winnans. Both shined. But they also interviewed a non-religious Gospel singer. I guess it’s the new fashion to sing old country hymns as secular music.

The woman described how in making the project, she wanted to change some of the lyrics. For example, she gave the song “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voices let us sing.” Because she found the term King patriarchal, she was going to change it.  In the end, she didn’t, and she was glad she didn’t.

I don’t know why anyone would have a tough time with the word King. In fact, if you ask me the way I identify with Jesus most easily, I would say King. And not just because I know He rules over all, but because that’s the most comforting to me.

My Lord is actually King. Would it be worth the term “God” if He was anything else?

A King is the one who has the authority to grant pardon, peace, to make pathways and construct new things. A King is the ultimate father in that He can grant any need for his child. It is the title that grants the most security in trusting Him. Not a queen. Not a bishop. Only a King.

And my King allows me — no, encourages me — to embrace Him. To eat from His table. To spend time in His counsel. To find my purpose within His kingdom.

Why in the world would anyone reject the term King? Maybe it’s because they don’t know how good that term could be?

Let Me Tell You a Story

I heard this on the radio today. It touched me, so I’m passing it on.

There were two brothers who lived in the country had a really close relationship. When they grew up, they even decided to have their farms adjacent to each other. But one day, the brothers had a falling out. The one brother was so mad that he went to the edge of his property that touched his brother’s land and decided to build a river between the two farms.

“Now my farm won’t even touch his land,” he thought.

Well, the other brother, not to be outdone, got angry and decided that he was going to build a fence.

“I won’t even have to look at his land.”

So the second brother hires a contractor to lay the fence. After explaining to the carpenter what he wants and why, he takes off for town.

On his way into the driveway near his house, the second brother notices that the contractor hasn’t built a fence. Instead, he built a bridge over the river. Fuming, the brother began to walk toward the bridge to confront the contractor. But he noticed that his brother was also walking toward the bridge, his hand outstretched.

“I can’t believe you did this. I did so much to wrong you. I just can’t believe you would offer this” said the first brother.

They embraced and reconciled.

Isn’t that a beautiful story? Maybe I thought it was just because God’s been having me apologize more in the last year of my life than I even have.  I’ve said I’m sorry for big mistakes and small. Stuff I was only 5% responsible for and stuff that people should have totally walked away from me for. I’ve been brought to humbling places and I’ve been to places where I’ve prayed that the people would somehow forgive me.

There’s fear in apologizing. There’s fear in thinking of the rejection. But I’ve found that being quick to admit my faults is the safest place for me to be., especially right now. I’m learning how to surrender more everyday. And when it comes to others, I’m still learning how to surrender to Jesus’ ability to build the bridge. Whether I’m at fault or not.