Victorious Battles

I need to be honest: I’m in the middle of a frustrating battle within myself right now. Chris and I BOTH have been feeling the battle ground lately. It’s been about four months since our move to Ohio, and we’ve been in our new home for about 5 weeks. For Chris, starting a new job isn’t an easy task, especially when it’s entrepreneurial, and for me, being a stay at home momma is a challenge when everything else is already in place…so being in a new place has been difficult. And then there is this other battle that is distracting me. It’s a battle with fear and anxiety.

I am embarrassed to say that this battle with irrational fears has been going on for years for me. It’s off and on, but this season, stimulated by a move and all things new, has brought this irrational fear battle back with a vengeance.

Through it all, I’ve prized just re establishing believing friend communities through church and trying to root ourselves into this town. And I do think that it will be SUPER helpful when we’ve landed on our home church. However, I have also sensed the Lord giving me a new message this time around: REST.

This just hasn’t seemed to make sense to me as my mighty Father has been whispering in my ear: REST IN ME. I am thinking, “Lord, how could I rest right now? I’m in a battle; I’m scared. I NEED to fight!” And yet He has whispered to me through my discerning of His still, small voice, “Rest, my beloved Meghann.”

My soul fights it. My mind fights it. I so desperately want to be able to take down all of the anxieties and fears that I’m facing – to put them in their place once and for all. And the Lord has told me to remember His faithfulness of the past and to place my TRUST in Him, to remember that day He rose again and finalized the payment for all of my sin – my striving, my fear, my obsessions, my icky.

My heart breaks when I see the sin inside me, and I’m a “do-er.” So if there is a way to deal with something, I’ll fight it to the death. But the thing is, this never seems to help my fear and anxiety. In the past, it has worn me out and oftentimes left me furiously turning from one article to the next, from one book to the next, from one passage of Scripture to the next, from one counsel session to the next, just looking for that next nugget of truth that will be the key to my ability to FIX it all, to make it all right.

But it’s in this place that the Lord has been wooing me – teaching me that there is no grace in striving. There is no peacefulness in working harder. And when I do go about my sin struggles in that way, I will almost always feel defeated and lonelier than before. Instead, my Father beckons me to …

REST.

REST.

REST.

BREATHE DEEPLY, AND REST.

REST IN JESUS’ SINLESS LIFE.

REST IN JESUS’ LOVE FOR YOU.

REST IN JESUS’ DEATH ON THE CROSS AND RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.

THE GRAVE IS EMPTY.

REST.

REST.

REST.

I wish I could say that I’ve reached a point where I’ve fully given all of this fear and anxiety over to the Lord, but I haven’t yet. I’m still wrestling. But I’m also learning each small choice at a time that The Lord Eternal is faithful. He has not left me yet. He knows my desire to serve Him, and He has been gracious with my sin struggle.

Somehow in the midst of the mess, I remember Psalm 121, and I believe that in the midst of my fear and anxiety, these words of David are absolutely true for me:

I lift my eyes up to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

So as I cling to the Lord, I may not understand the fear that torments, but I can sing praise to Him, my God and my rock, trusting that he is my shield and the stronghold of my life. And as such, He will come out on top. After all, He already has.

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The Other Side of the Present

It’s been far too long. Post after post has resonated through my brain, and yet I’ve found myself in a season of space – long, busy, wide open space.

In October of this past year, my husband, Chris, accepted a new position with Edward Jones that would relocate our family to Ohio. This is something that both of us were excited to do, since my immediate family (and some extended) live in Ohio. While living in Iowa, the distance between us and the two families between whom we were divided had been a difficult thing to span.

So we talked – what it would look like for us to move to Colorado (where my husband’s parents currently live and his totally beloved home state), what it would look like for us to move to Ohio, what it would look like for us to stay put in Iowa. And we talked…and talked, and we prayed…and prayed.

Chris had been interested in altering his career path towards a holistic financial planner role for many months by time the idea presented itself. Through our prayer and discussions, Chris found himself being encouraged by an Edward Jones recruiter to go ahead and begin the application process with the company. We inched forward. Phone calls led to interviews, led to job offer, led to more waiting and discussing and receiving offers from two other companies in Ohio and finally after much counsel and prayer, those initial phone calls led to Chris accepting the job as offered with Edward Jones in Ohio.

That was back in October, you know, in the midst of a season of lots of other fun and super noteworthy and memorable moments of life: Elias’ first birthday party, my sister-in-law’s wedding, Chris and my 5th wedding anniversary celebration. And then this decision.

What followed seems a sheer blur in my head. The end of October through the middle of December saw us working crazily on this first home of ours, a home that had already seen a great deal of transformation. (It’s difficult to picture that a place so near and dear to your heart could ever need anything to make it better for the next person. It already houses irreplaceable memories: deepened friendships, laughter and love in our marriage…and sometimes disagreements, bringing our first child home and seeing him grow and change there: first laughs, first sicknesses, first rolling over, first crawling, first bites of food, first sweet treats, first steps. What else could I possibly add of value to those walls that already housed so much good? And yet, we assessed and hammered, and fixed to make it about the cutest it had ever been.) We also set to handing over responsibilities both through Chris’ job with his current employer and mine with our church children’s ministry. We went out nearly every evening to try to treasure every relationship near us before we could no longer easily go out to eat with these precious people. And by the time December 20 rolled around, we rolled out of Iowa: our home sold, our farewells said. While I felt excitement to be around family again, my heart ached at the loss of the community I loved.

And so here we are – March 8th. Six months have passed since my last post; it would seem I’d have great insights to share and truths to unveil. And I truly could share time after time of the Lord’s faithfulness to us so far. We officially move into our new home this weekend – much sooner than we had anticipated. Chris’ job has been very good to us so far. He’s passed the exams that he has needed to pass. He’s been able to do some work on the new home to get it up and running. I’ve been able to enjoy much more family time. We’ve been here to see the births of two new babies into the family: Roman Witt Sheppard and Esther Kay Balch. Finances have been provided. Love has been given. Potential friends have arisen. The Lord has been immensely good.

And yet I still find myself in the gray…the haze between what was and what will be. It’s here that the evil one relentlessly tries to derail me while the Holy One infinitely more reminds me that I am His – that as I trust Him, He will make these hidden roads straight before me.

I’m reminded of the words found in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” It reminds me that this in between – this gray – is not so bad. These words remind me that I have all that I need to be successful in this state. The Word of the Lord Almighty lights my feet so I can see where I step and my path so that I can see just enough ahead so that I know the next right step. And shouldn’t that be enough?

No, I don’t believe I’ve said anything profound, but I’ve said something I need to say. Sometimes life is blurry. Sometimes you feel like you should be further along on this journey than you are, but what I continue to hear the Lord tell me here and now is that I’m okay. I’m okay in the in between. He hasn’t left my side, nor will he – ever. My God doesn’t break His promises to me.

And so I find myself on the other side of the present – feeling like a blink of the eye ago held me in my cute first little home in Grimes, Iowa, surrounded by community and life that we loved. One blink, and now here I am in a new present – one I can’t predict as easily as I could before now. But I can be full of hope as I trust in the Lord. Our presents will change, but because the Lord does not, we can stand confidently in each one – not because we find ourselves more bold or brave than we had anticipated but because He shows Himself more faithful and good than we had known. And this is reason to celebrate in the gray and enjoy the abundant gifts that we find in that place.

 

Elias’ birth story – and what he’s taught me…

It’s so hard for me to believe that this Saturday we’ll be throwing a party to celebrate ONE YEAR of life outside the womb for Elias! I can still remember some of the thoughts I was having going into Elias’ birth day: what is my relationship with Chris going to be like after this? How do you even be a mom? Will breastfeeding really be as weird as it seems? Etc. To celebrate this past year, I’d like to reflect on his birth story and share some of what I’ve learned from parenting in this first year on the job.

September 14, we showed up to the hospital at 10am, two hours before the scheduled c-section at noon {Elias is stubborn. He was breech and never turned despite all of our best efforts.} Mom and Dad were here too. All four of us rushed in; we were running a couple of minutes late, I believe. And I was worried that I wouldn’t be there in time to get hooked up to the iv. Anyhow, we had plenty of time. It turns out that Dr. Valone, who was performing my c-section, was late from a hospital downtown where he was finishing up another c-section. So I got hooked up to the iv (nearly fainted – hate that part), and then we waited. The nurses continued to monitor Elias’ heart rate; I remember wearing these ridiculously large bands around my belly with monitors attached. And his little body was moving around inside, making it difficult to maintain the heart rate. It wasn’t too long before the anesthesiologist entered the room. After a brief introduction and a few questions, he was gone. {I was not impressed with his quick intro, but he turned out to be a good friend in the operating room.}

Finally, at about 1pm, my parents were administered out of the room, and I was escorted with my fully suited-up sweetie, Chris, to the OR for the surgery. I think this was when I really began to feel the nerves growing. I can feel it now. I had no idea what was about to happen to me and had chosen NOT to watch a c-section video before going into my own {contrary to Chris, who thought it best to be mentally prepared for whatever he was about to see – good idea since I wanted him to tell me the gender}. Chris wasn’t allowed into the OR with me initially. It was just me on a cold operating table (which was surprisingly quite narrow), the nurse, and the anesthesiologist I had just met about 20 minutes ago and was now entrusting with my mobility. They sat me on a table facing the opposite direction of my anesthesiologist. He said that I’d feel a little pinch from the numbing needle, and then he completed the spinal to completely numb me from the middle of my body through the tips of my toes. I’ll never forget the odd experience it is to know what it feels like to no longer be able to tell your brain to move a toe. Scary.

They laid me back on the table, and Chris was brought into the room. He stood by my head as the docs and nurses who had recently joined the rest of us in the room busily attached various things to me and the bed in preparation for the c-section. I asked Chris to play some music for me, which in hindsight was kind of funny. I don’t think we made it through one Chris Tomlin song. My anesthesiologist stood by my head and talked to me for the next several minutes, as my husband, now rather taken by what he was seeing going on, had moved a little further away from my head. I began to feel quite nauseous at the smell of the cauterizing knife, and my sweet anesthesiologist was on it before I could get out the words. {So grateful for him!}

Dr. McKernan, my regular OB, had joined for the surgery, and he and Dr. Valone were working together to extract our sweet little one. It wasn’t long at all before Chris said that they were getting ready to fully remove our baby from the womb and that he would be able to tell me the gender. I remember being so, so excited to hear my sweet husband reveal what we’d waited 39 weeks and 1 day to know. … “It’s a…boy!”

Chris then told me that they were suctioning out Elias’ mouth and that we would soon hear him cry. I don’t remember doing a thing, but laying there on that table, when I could hear this sweet one who had been traveling along with me for all that time, moving and punching and kicking and hiccuping, when I could hear those first cries, I was overcome with emotion. The sobs came on – not sorrowful sobs, but just the happiest, most thankful cry that you could imagine. It was now 1:11pm. It’s amazing that 11 short minutes could contain all of the power and events of that moment – it seems it should have been designated a longer space of time for it’s value to me.

The nurses quickly cleaned Elias off and did a few things, like weighing, measuring, stamping his foot and hand print to some paperwork, and then they handed him to Chris who brought baby over to me. When they laid sweet Elias on my chest, I was aglow with excitement and relief.

In that moment, it was hard for me to remember that just two weeks before, I had been crying about being forced into a situation of needing to schedule a c-section. But now, I didn’t care. I was so, so thrilled to be holding this sweet little baby boy on my chest.

It wasn’t long after that we were taken back to our room, Elias getting to stay on my chest all the while. We nursed right after getting back, and it was as weird as I thought it would be…and continued to be for a while. But it turned into my favorite moments with my sweet boy with time and practice. Chris and I had about 30 minutes with our sweet little man before we allowed the nurses to bring Mom and Dad back into the room. While I was feeling a bit out of it from all of the medication, I’ll never forget the moment I got to introduce Elias Jeffery to my Dad, Jeffery. The look on his face and glimmer of tears in his eyes expressed a gratitude and pride that I will always treasure.

Those short 11 minutes in that delivery room have begun the sweetest of adventures for Chris and me.

So upon celebrating our little man’s first birthday soon, I thought it appropriate to think back on the day he entered our lives. I want to end with 12 lessons I’ve learned in the first year of parenting.

  1. The first month is hard, but it does come to end as quickly as it begins. Having family and friends around to support helps immensely.
  2. It’s not all about me. My lack of freedom, need to care for my child, breastfeeding challenges, and lack of sleep were combined in teaching me to stop being so “me” focused. That’s some freeing/really difficult stuff.
  3. Traveling with a newborn is a breeze compared to a nearly year old little man.
  4. It’s important to allow schedules to be thrown off for family time while visiting out of town relatives. Elias will readjust, and I can sacrifice my own ease by allowing him to miss a nap here and there while with family.
  5. We laugh a lot at our little man. Watching him discover things that seem so small and insignificant to us causes me to grow in wonder of the “lesser” things all the time.
  6. I can function and take care of Elias on my own if needed. When Chris has business travel, the Lord sustained me through every moment.
  7. My son is extremely compassionate and sympathetic. If I’m sad, he’s sad. If I’m happy, he’s happy. My love for him overwhelms me. And it teaches me to consider how my emotions affect others too.
  8. I’m going to make a lot more friends everywhere I go with Elias…partly because he relentlessly stares at people and partly because he smiles at nearly everyone after a few minutes of said staring.
  9. Some months are really busy, but we make it through them just the same, and Elias recovers. I needn’t be so hard on myself for not being able to be attentive to him at every moment during busy seasons.
  10. The Lord breaks down bridges through Elias. We end up having conversations with people that would otherwise not probably manifest, and that’s a unique way to build relationships with those who may not know the Lord as their Savior King.
  11. Adventure is good. From some past life experiences, I had allowed walls to build around me in an attempt to “create” safety. To put it bluntly, I was up tight. But I’m thankful to be reminded through Elias that there is still much to learn and much to explore in this world.
  12. The love of a parent is unlike any other love. I’ve grown immensely in my understanding of how my heavenly Father must view me. He is for me, as I am for Elias. But being FOR Elias doesn’t mean I am okay with all that he does. I try to direct Elias away from the natural sin tendencies that I already see arising within him, just as the Lord has done and will continue to do with me.

Parenting is a journey that I’m just beginning, but it’s worth every moment. As Scripture has so appropriately stated, children are indeed a heritage from the Lord (Psalm 127).

Time of Confession

Can I just say this morning that I’ve been feeling a bit blue lately? It’s not because I don’t have the most abundant of blessings around me because I do. So what is it that causes us to feel down while all around us is truly good? I don’t entirely know or understand, but I think that the simplest answer I do know is that it’s sin in some version: either a direct result of the fall in that our hormones get out of whack and we feel like crazy people or that we aren’t confessing the sin issues in our heart or walking very closely with the Lord. I’d like to admit that the past few days I’ve been definitely guilty of the latter (and perhaps had some of the former going on as well).

I so admire my dad. I’ll explain. When I’m around my family members, it’s difficult for me to maintain the same routines that I run at home. When I’m home, I have my own schedule, and it oftentimes doesn’t include sitting down to have coffee with my mom and sisters. And while I LOVE that I’ve had that opportunity the past several days, I’ve found myself falling out of sync with my Jesus – putting off time with him so that I can have more time with my family. But this certainly isn’t a trait that I’ve learned from my dad. In the morning, you usually won’t see him for a little while – no matter whose house he’s at. He wakes up and commits himself to his time with the Lord every day, no matter what is on the agenda. And you know what? I think his time with family is always better spent and enjoyed for it.

I’m admitting all of this because it’s time for me to confess that I let other things, usually people that I love, get in the way of my time with Jesus. And then you know what my heart begins to hear? “Meghann, clearly these people are more valuable to you than Jesus. You live in such a way that you only reach out to him when you need him or when it’s convenient.” And then I despise that thought and find myself in a place of condemnation. If only I were as disciplined as my dad.

But while confession is necessary, I also am not to live in shame – conviction yes, but not shame. Conviction: does the way that I spend my time when my routine is affected communicate something to me about my priorities? Yes, I think it does. Shame: I turn introspective and obsess over my failures and faults. Scripture is clear that we are not to live in shame and condemnation. You know why? Because when we do, we’re more likely to be walking in willful sin. When we think less of ourselves because of our failures, we’re identifying with our failures rather than in what Christ thinks of us. And we’re ultimately being driven by a prideful spirit that believes it can fix itself if it just tries harder.

Romans 6:6 “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”

Oh how I loathe my tendency to fall back into my sinful identity: the one that tells me that I’ll never be good enough, that I just need to try harder, that the Lord is displeased with me when I’m not 100% focused on him (which, sadly is always), that beats me up and kicks on me and makes me feel deeply wounded.

BUT – here’s the deal. Today is a new day. Mercies are new every morning. And you, and me, DO NOT HAVE TO live in the shame or fear of our past mistakes today. Instead, today we can confess our past failures to the Lord, ask for forgiveness, and trust that he has forgiven. {After all, he gave his son for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). None of this is contingent on us having it all together.} Then we can choose to agree Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” We can have confidence of heart and peace knowing that God’s love will hold us fast. He will not let us be consumed as we daily surrender our burdens and sins to him.

Lord, help us to believe that your mercies are new each morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Help us to give over to you the voice of condemnation in our heads and to remember that you, our good good Father, you are FOR us (Romans 8:31). Can we even comprehend how amazing this is? You are not shaking your finger at us for the ways that we failed yesterday. You’re instead standing with outstretched arms, welcoming us to give to you our burdens in exchange for your peace and joy (Psalm 68:19-20). Thank you for allowing us to see our weaknesses to remember that – through Paul – you’ve told us that when we are weak, you are strong (2 Corinthians 12: 9-11). Help us to not allow pride to destroy our ability to surrender to you moment by moment, and forgive us when we do. Give us your joy and the ability to peacefully hand over to you all of our cares and concerns as we watch you write the story of our lives. Become greater in us (John 3:30). Help us to be still and rest in the knowledge of who you are: our creator and redeemer. Build our faith, and help us to choose peace in you. Thank you for sending Jesus our salvation. Do whatever refining work in us that you must so that we can look more like your son in this world. Fill us with your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Growing in Adventure Again

Vision – dreams – without them, we are a people lost and hopeless and in despair. Many of us have found ourselves in a place where we feel the threatening walls of despair closing in all around us. Their pressing in forces the breath out of our lungs as we sink in fear and doubt. Unfortunately many of us know this paralysis.

And we also know this isn’t of the Lord. The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, but the Lord has come that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). This abundant life doesn’t have us shrinking in a corner, afraid to pursue the dreams the Lord once laid on our hearts for serving Him.

Why do we lose sight of our visions? Our dreams? Many of us have felt the untimely sting of a crushed dream – maybe a dream deferred or even permanently gone. And for some of us, it’s difficult to allow ourselves to become a person of vision again. We desperately need the Lord to teach us how to embrace curiosity again.

By the grace of God, I was led to marry the most wonderful of men – a man who dreams unashamedly. He has visions of grandeur for the future of what the Lord will do in His life and ours together. And he’s not hampered by the failures of His past. So why do some maintain that spirit of while others allow it to slip away?

I think the answer is simple. Some of us have allowed fear to dominate our lives. We’ve allowed fear of our past failures or struggles to stop us from having vision for the future. We’ve allowed fear of the unknown to deter us from trying something new. We’ve allowed doubts about the future looming ahead to steal our adventure. And we’ve found ourselves not in a place of growing curiosity but rather cynical certainty. Illogical certainty that even though we’ve not been in that future place, we will fail. We will hurt. We will be ashamed. If you find yourself there now but are crying out for release from your self-imposed prisons, I’m right there with you friend! But I am equally encouraged and challenged to remember that 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that God gave us a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline, not fear and timidity.

I have the immense privilege of being the momma to my 11 month old son Elias. He’s a beautiful gift of our gracious Father: the most tender of love I’ve felt for this little man. And as I spend my days with him, I witness his constant curiosity for life. He’s curious to know how things work, what things feel like, where hallways lead: he hits the toilet paper roll over and over again, watching it endlessly spin; he repeatedly rubs his hands and feet on the sheets in his bed before falling asleep at naps or bedtime, as if trying to take in the sensations over and over again; and he speeds down corridors toward the great unknown around each bend. He’s curious for what he doesn’t know, and it leads him boldly into that unknown place.

A couple of days ago, Elias’ curiosity resulted in him falling down our stairs in our home. I can’t see the future, but as I saw him teeter backwards and knew that I wasn’t going to be able to catch him in time, no greater fear could have overwhelmed me. After learning that he was okay, I shook and cried and hugged him tight. But you know what he was doing the next day? Climbing the stairs.

Now I know many of us would assert that his audacity to go back to the stairs isn’t that remarkable; after all, he doesn’t have the memory capacity to process danger. Yes, this is true. But isn’t it also true that of all people in the world that our Lord Jesus could have told us to be like, he asks us to be like children?

In Matthew 18:1-4 Jesus is asked by his disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” His response: “And calling to him a child, he put him the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'”

The key ingredient that Elias has right now that we adults lack? Humility. As C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” The gift of childhood? They’re generally fairly unaware of self. {Now, I’m not suggesting that they’re totally selfless; I’ve seen my son throw a couple of tantrums that solidify he’s fully aware of what he thinks he deserves.} But they’re most often actively enjoying the elements of the kingdom of heaven that are present in this earth, not so concerned with their own greatness but rather drawn to the greatness others and objects around them.

That next day, when Elias decided to travel back up the steps, I was right there with him. Although I hadn’t been able to protect him the day before, I helped him now as he toddled up the steps that had terrified him the day before. But you know what he didn’t do? He didn’t waste his energy looking up at me to ask if I’d be faithful to be present to catch him should he fall this time. He just practiced those stairs with me close by.

I’m so convicted. How often do I allow those times when the Lord was allowing me to learn a lesson to become a rational for not trusting him in the future? I forget the goodness of God. I allow past failures and hurts and broken dreams to cause me to doubt that the Lord will be faithful in the future. How do I know that God isn’t crying with us in the aftermath of our hurts, holding onto us tight and apologizing for the hurt that we just had to endure? How do we know God isn’t tightly and tenderly loving on us? (Obviously, the difference here being that God must allow certain hurts to pass to us, but they’re not out of his control – a topic for another day.)

The promises of God are right and true. And he will be faithful because he can be nothing but. We don’t have to turn around and ask if he’ll be present on our next adventure. He’s got a plan that nothing will alter. And if we’ll open our eyes to the immense blessings around us, we’ll see that God is always covering us in his immense love for us.

Rather than asking, “Where were you?” perhaps we should consider the mercies of the moment.

Rather than blaming him for not protecting us from everything, perhaps we should thank him for the growth that comes only through the refining power of hardships.

Rather than fearing the future, perhaps we should trust in the absolute truth and reassurance that God is already there.

Rather than doubting in the Lord’s ability to bring about big things from our meager efforts, perhaps we should trust that he is glorified in ways beyond our understanding when we take time to pour love into only one other person.

Rather than wondering whether God will be faithful, perhaps we should consider the many ways he’s already been faithful to us.

Sunday, my pastor spoke candidly with us about resting despite restlessness. As we studied Psalm 37, we were reminded of several pressing truths that shift the way we view our daily life here. Verse 7 states, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices.” My pastor then articulated the following point: when I fret impatiently about life, trust in God’s perfect timing. He went on to compare this process to a kid traveling in the car on family vacation. Rather than asking, “are we there yet,” we should rest. We should rest in the Lord and be satisfied in his goodness. We should enjoy the beautiful gifts we’re given along the way of this life as we fight forward, surrendering all things to the Lord in prayer. How do we do that? We focus on and believe in his enduring promises to us. Our circumstances don’t alter that. Our feelings don’t alter that.

As I was preparing to write this most recent post, I was struck by the appropriateness of the lyrics to Elevation Worship’s “Your Promises” playing on my Pandora station. I want to share just a few of these words as a final encouragement to our souls to focus on the promises of God and embrace our visions for the adventure that is our life in Christ once again!

When the weight of life begins to fall 
On the name of Jesus I recall
For I know my God is in control
And his purpose is unshakeable

Doesn’t matter what I feel
Doesn’t matter what I see
My hope will always be your promises to me
Now I’m casting out all fear
For your love has set me free
My hope will always be in your promises to me

As I walk into the days to come
I will not forget what you have done
For you have supplied my every need
And your presence is enough for me

Doesn’t matter what I feel
Doesn’t matter what I see
My hope will always be your promises to me
Now I’m casting out all fear
For your love has set me free
My hope will always be in your promises to me

You will be always be more than enough for me
Nothing’s going to stop the plans you made
Nothing’s going to take your love away
You will always be more than enough for me

Let the adventure continue, sweet friends!

 

Social Issues and the Christ-follower

It’s no secret to anyone that our nation is on the verge of some major turbulence at this moment. Issues are climaxing everywhere simultaneously. In early April, Target boldly stood beside the transgender community, creating a chaotic cloud of hateful arguments. Throughout May and continuing to rise, we’ve been watching the political race of two presidential candidates that has left many Americans uneasy at best. A couple of weeks ago, we’ve learned of the deaths of two black men at the hands of two white cops and then the murder of five white cops in Dallas at the hand of a black man. And as if this wasn’t enough turmoil, the recent murder of three more cops in Baton Rouge a couple of days ago has our heads spinning.

All of these events have been contributing to a climate of hate and anger. Most recently we’ve seen riots – “nonviolent” protests turned violent. And frankly, most of me wants to hide. My gut reaction is to confine myself in my little corner of the earth and mind my own business.

But this nagging question inside me resounds, “Is that right?” In other words, “is that what my Jesus would have for me to do?”

Here’s the thing; I don’t think I’m alone in that thinking. I would wager to say that many Christ-followers find themselves thinking that these issues don’t directly affect them, and therefore, they can continue to live in their little canopied safe-houses, intentionally choosing to close their eyes to the hatred and discouragement, the fear and anger around them as they can continue to live theirs sweet, suburban, middle class, American dream. {Shoot, I’ll even add that Netflix and other such streaming mediums have allowed us to avoid the news all together if we so choose.}

These words are as much of a rebuke from the Holy Spirit to me as they may be to you. But here is what I’m learning through my processing: as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to carry the gospel –  God’s only son, Jesus Christ, came to this earth, lived perfectly, suffered and died for our sins, rose on the third day to sit at the right hand of the Father and daily make intercession for us on this earth until he returns to take his followers home with him to eternal community with him, no longer prey to the sin and suffering and evil of this world – THIS GOSPEL is what we’re to deliver to a world that is hurting and in need. And how are we to do that if we close our eyes to others’ pain? How are we to minister in the confusion if we’d rather bask in ignorance?

When Target publicly announced  their position to stand beside the transgender community, using the word inclusivity, as if every other approach is exclusive, I was angered. I felt misunderstood and devalued by the very definition of inclusion they have been and will continue to propagate as truth. Consequently, I entered into the arena of discussion, posting something on my Facebook site, thinking little of the wording I had chosen. I quickly found myself in a discussion with a past student who opposed my view. I wasn’t sorry for my post. But there was a nagging part of me that said in the back of my mind, “I should have just stayed out of it. My life would have been more peaceful. And do I really think that others will shift their perspective because of what I have to say?”

It was during this time that I sought counsel from my very wise and loving dad. {Yes, I’m blessed to have one of those on this earth, although my own dad was not blessed with the same in his dad. This is proof that it matters we get a little messy and share Jesus with others in their hurts or peace. He writes our stories. And if that sweet old lady in Delaware, Ohio, hadn’t shared the gospel with my dad, life would look much different now.} During my discussion with my dad, he highlighted a quintessential error in thought that was keeping me weighed down in my response to this student, reminding me, “Meghann, it is not your job to change lives. It is your job to be a witness to the Truth of the Word of God. What the Lord does with that from there is His job. Don’t put that weight on your shoulders.” (Or something along those lines…)

I was tenderly rebuked. My over-concern with what to say was a smoke signal that helped me to identify two primary idols keeping me from sharing Jesus. First, I desire comfort and ease. Because this has found a place of idolatry in my heart, I’d rather sit back and try to make things as happy as possible rather than stir the pot for the sake of Jesus. Second, I desire approval of man. Because this has found a place of idolatry in my heart, I don’t speak the truth in love as often as I should. Because of these two idols, I was hearing two lies that were and continue to tempt me NOT to speak: First, “if I continue in this discussion, I could really make things uncomfortable for me and others,” and second, “if I continue in this discussion I may not know exactly what to say, and this other kid could look smarter than me/think less of me.” Man, that’s yucky, but it feels good to get that out!

Here’s the beauty of confessing our sins to Jesus: when we let go of these idols we’ve erected above the goal of making Jesus’ name famous through ALL circumstances, social issues included, we are FREE to be a witness to the gospel of Truth! Praise Jesus for his grace. Praise Jesus that despite my shortcomings or your own, we are free to wake up to fresh mercies each day!

So should we as Christians be speaking Truth into the social issues of our day? The answer at which I’ve arrived is yes, absolutely! Here’s why:

  1. I firmly believe that we, like Esther and all throughout history, have been placed into this specific time and place in history “for such a time as this.” But if we choose to sit idly by and make it not our issue, we do not engage in what Jesus has called us to do – to go and make disciples. You can’t make disciples when you don’t care about people’s hurts and concerns.
  2. Speaking Truth into these situations forces us to search out the Truth in the Word of God. This does two primary things: it helps us to further understand the Word of God as it applies to today, and it helps us to more deeply root our faith in God’s Word, causing us to take more ownership of our personal relationships with Christ.
  3. We reap what we sow. Galatians 6:7-8: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” We must therefore ask ourselves if we’re choosing to engage in our culture, even when we feel we have nothing masterful to say, to build into the Lord and His kingdom or if we’re choosing to duck our heads and “stay safe”  in this {ironically} very unsafe, unpredictable world. If we’re sowing to our own safety and comfort or even apathy and unconcern, I’m not sure exactly what that will bring, but I’m certain it isn’t advancing the gospel. And then we may as well be like the servant who hid his talent, fearful of what would come if he did something with it. {Side note: THIS is why I think it’s so vital for us to overcome sinful fear. It hampers us from the fulfilling of the Great Commission in our lives.}

I think it’s also vital for me to make a few disclaimers here.

  1. Speaking Truth into this culture does NOT look like an ugly argument to win others to our side. It does NOT look like us accusing others and harming them with vitriolic language for the purpose of serving our own pride and desire to win. Remember, we are called to be witnesses across this earth for the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). Once we have been a witness to the love and Truth of the gospel of Jesus, we don’t have to force others to say, “I agree with you.” We can continue to pursue others, pray for them, extend love and grace to them, but we don’t have to win the argument.
  2. This cannot be all Truth or all Love. Quite frankly, this tension is extremely difficult for me to understand. I’ve heard it said, and I agree, that each of us has a bent one direction or the other. But we MUST fight to be balanced. To love others at the cost of the Truth is not love at all. To share the Truth without extending grace and love is void of the essence of who Jesus was.
  3. We don’t have to know what to say or say it in a largely public forum. I process things well via a blog, and I have a heart to reach more people with what the Lord is teaching me. But this is not the ONLY place where I should be focusing my efforts. I have family and neighbors and friends and acquaintances around me that need to hear the Truth of God’s Word spoken in love too. Likewise, you may have more of a heart for those local to you. I think the key is in us not allowing fear to stop us from sharing in whatever medium the Lord has asked of us. If I can be gut honest, it’s more difficult for me to share with people close to me than it is for me to write a largely public blog post. But that responsibility is on each of us to be a witness wherever we go. And for those moments when we totally miss it or think we’ve messed up: two thoughts – first, God is sovereign – even in our mess-ups, and second, there is grace for every moment.

Here’s where I’ll end this rather long post. We must care. We must care about the state of our nation, especially when we feel like not caring. We must care for those around us. We must engage this culture because this is where the Lord has us. This is our time in God’s story. Let’s not live for control over our lives but rather learn daily to walk by faith as we surrender to God and trust Him to provide through the Holy Spirit what it is we are to say and do in these times.

 

 

Faithless people in the hands of a Faithful God

This morning as I read through the Word of God, in His graciousness, He has led me to Zephaniah 3:14-20: “Israel’s Joy and Restoration.” I’m reminded through these words that I’ll soon type out for you to see as well that our Father is ever faithful. He does all in His own perfect timing, and that may not look like our timing at all. But He never breaks a promise. And so I can read the words of Zephaniah 3:14-20 and rejoice in the hope of the promise that will come to pass.

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you in,
at that time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes,” says the Lord.

Our God is good. Our God is entirely sovereign. Our God is entirely wise. Our God is entirely loving. Our God can be trusted – even when all is falling apart in this world around us. Our God made beauty and joy and goodness abound in the gifts we have in the here and now (so good) and the promises that there will be a day when all that was lost will be restored, none will experience sadness any longer, and we will no longer fear evil. Praise Jesus!

Abiding in Chaos – the Fight for Freedom

I’ve been wrestling for quite some time with this notion of freedom in Christ. What does it look like? Is it tangible? Can I see evidence of that in my life? Does it mean that I’m always smiling and kind? Does it mean that I lose some element of my struggle – my temptations, my fears, my doubts, etc? Does it mean that life somehow gets easier – less weighty? How do we have the abundant life of John 10:10 while still walking through the unpredictable – most of the times mundane, more times very joyful, and occasionally very sorrowful – moments of life?

As I’ve wrestled, my incorrect definitions of this freedom have caused me frustration time and time again. Perhaps you’ve found yourself here too.

Early on in this journey, I defined freedom in Christ as a release from the sins that so easily entangled us – and not just a release but perhaps even a decrease in temptation – an ability on my part to see a lessening of sin inside of me. (I giggle as I look back on this definition I had contrived…a touch of realism mixed with mostly dreams of the future grace to be extended to us.) You can easily see why I have ended up frustrated so often.

It was in the midst of that prior definition that I remembered we’re living in the time of the “not yet.” In other words, Jesus has yet to return and eradicate evil. And so as I have continued to search for this concept, by the grace, I have found myself leaning into the Lord – reading more from His Word, soaking in more truth. As Scripture states in Philippians 1:6, it is Christ who will finish the good work that he began in me – not me. This good work can’t be accomplished without walking through the yucky around and within me and watching the Lord remain faithful to His promises through it all.

I’ve been reading a short devotional most mornings entitled “Peace – Life in the Spirit” written by the great mind of Oswald Chambers (on whose words I frequently have to pause and think quite hard to understand). Anyhow, in one of my recent readings, I found myself challenged by one word in particular in Chambers’ thoughts – abide. Take a look at what he has to say.

After being born again a man experiences peace, but it is a peace maintained at the point of war. The wrong disposition is no longer in the ascendant, but it is there, and the man knows it. He is conscious of an altering experience, sometimes he is in ecstasy, sometimes in the dumps; there is no stability, no real spiritual triumph. To take this as the experience of full salvation is to prove God not justified in the Atonement.

(i.e. – to assume that freedom in Christ is the absence of struggle is to prove God not justified in the Atonement.)

To be a believer in Jesus Christ means realizing that what Jesus said to Thomas is true: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is not the road we leave behind as we travel, but the Way itself. By believing, we enter into that rest of peace, holiness, and eternal life because we are abiding in Him.

The Spirit seemed to highlight the final words of that devotional thought for me: “by believing, we enter into that rest of peace, holiness, and eternal life because we are abiding in Him.” Scripture has much to say about abiding in the Lord. Take a look at just a few of the passages I found.

Psalm 91:1 “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

John 6:56 “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

John 8:31 “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.'”

1 John 3:24 “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

This concept of abiding in the Lord is a closeness – an obedience – a trust in Him. We believe the words of the psalmist in verses 9-10 of Psalm 139: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

Hidden in these truths is the secret to the freedom in Christ – the abundant life. It is not the absence of temptation. It’s the not the absence of sin and struggle and fear and loneliness and doubt. It’s not confining ourselves within safe zones so that we’re never afraid or weakened or alarmed by what is around us (although sheer wisdom in where we place ourselves is always a good idea). It’s walking through each of the unknown places of life looking forward to the journey of increasingly learning to abide in Jesus – in the Word – in what God says about us – not about what this life is shouting at us in each stage, as it will continue to do.

This past Sunday, as Pastor Mike spoke on the intended, contextual meaning of Jeremiah 29:11, the sermon’s big idea spoke such truth into the chaotic times in which we currently find ourselves. “In the middle of painful circumstances {or unknown situations, or big changes, or whatever unsettles you}, demonstrate your hope in God by growing where He has planted you.” In other words, I think we could say, abide in Christ. Abide in His Word daily. Abide in growing a trusting relationship with Him through prayer. Abide in and believe the truth of His Word over whatever else combats for our allegiance. And in this is there freedom in this life. In this can we find the abundant life in the here and now as we anticipate the evil-free, sin-free, perfect life that we are promised at the return of Christ. Praise the Lord!

Let’s remember this wonderful truth as we face the chaos of the world around us. As Pastor Mike said, let us build homes, plant gardens, multiply our families, pray for our land, and display the love of Jesus Christ to all around us here in this land. Through abiding in Christ in the middle of the chaos, we CAN bloom where we’re planted. This is graciousness to us.

 

We are precious…

The Lord sees the deepest parts of our hearts, and he hears our unspoken whispers. This is so vital for me to remember – me: a rather open and vulnerable person, who despite all of that still has unspoken hurts and insecurities. This morning, the Lord spoke directly into my heart. And I’d like to share His words of truth with you all, since I know that some of you are feeling the same way – that some of you struggle to believe the Lord’s immense love for you. I’ve been there too – and have found myself there again recently. But let these prophetic words of old speak fresh life over you today, restoring this “living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3).

1 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.

4 Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.

5 Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.

Isaiah 43:1-5

The Lord of all creation who created us in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139) thinks we are precious and honored. He loves us and will give other men in exchange for our lives (Isaiah 43:4). He will fight for His beloved people (Exodus 14:14).

I am in awe that words that were written down for us long before Jesus Christ walked the earth, over 2000 years ago, are still able to bring life and peace to us today. Once again I see that God’s Word is accomplishing its purposes and will not return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11). Because of His Word, we can rejoice in the Lord always and give thanks in all circumstances.

We will overcome (part 2)

Jesus has changed my life. Period. I used to be driven by fear and doubt and bitterness and frustration and depression and moods. I used to be driven by performance and tasks and agendas and approval seeking. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m learning how to choose to be driven by the Word of God instead.

I want everyone – believer and unbeliever alike – to hear this: transformation into a more Christ-like way of thinking isn’t some mystical power that washes over me as I sit around and wait to think differently. It’s proactive. It’s a choice. It’s praying the truth to get rid of the lies that are more prominently playing in my mind at that time. It’s asking for the Lord to make known to me the lies that are directly in opposition to his Word in my mind at that time so that I can confess them and claim the truth over them. And when I choose to do this rather than focusing on the what’s wrong – the temptations and sorrows and evil around me – I begin to have peace and see Jesus.

I used to take a barre class on a regular basis here in Grimes. The instructor would frequently remind us as we attempted to hold our balance in a difficult pose that we would only be able to stand firm if we fixed our eyes on one point on the wall. Isn’t this the perfect picture of the Christian life? As we fix our eyes on Christ, all else comes into focus. But when we waiver, we lose balance. We stumble.

Thankfully, the Scriptures have something to say about stumbling that should encourage us as well. Psalm 37:23-24 (NLT) states that

23 The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
24 Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand.

And THIS is where we can find true freedom in Christ. Terrible things are going to happen in this life. Things that devastate me and you – I’ve cried many tears over the sorrows of this world that have affected me, my family, my friends, and complete strangers – like those who lost their lives in Orlando recently. And because I’m human too, it takes time for me to overcome the sorrows that I face – so it will likely take time for all those affected in these recent horrors. But the difference in following Christ is that we stumble, but we do not fall as we choose to fix our gaze on Jesus rather than our sorrow. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

It’s great for us to truly heart and mind know these truths, but that is not where it is allowed to stop. Remember that Acts 1 states that we must be witnesses to Christ. We know the truth. Death is not the end. These sorrows of this world devastate the Lord absolutely, and he sent his very son so that we don’t have to let death be the end of all. There will be a time when “he will wipe away every tear from their [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). We have hope for the future beyond the hardships of this world. In John 8:31-32, “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'”

Christ-followers, we must learn to claim the truth of God’s inerrant Word in our lives on a daily basis. It doesn’t mean that all days will be happy – in fact, many of them may carry deep sadness, but it does mean that our days can be hopeful. It means that we can walk around joyfully. It means that we recognize that hardship is imminent, so we can train ourselves to fight for this joy in Christ daily, hourly, by minute, even by seconds at times. And when we do, we can have unexplainable joy. So why, why in the WORLD would we NOT want to share this gift with others?

This is where I find myself right now. This is the place that I think we need to be, Christian – fixing our gaze on Christ and sharing with others the miraculous work He has brought about in our lives. In Revelation 12, we see a description of Satan thrown out of heaven and onto the earth. In his fury, and knowing his defeat, Scripture says that he “[came] down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short” (Rev. 12: 12). But the prior verse states the prophetic words that the offspring of Adam and Eve who obey the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus have “conquered him [Satan] by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.” This is how we overcome.

But we can’t share what we haven’t experienced. We can’t share the joy of daily freedom or the bliss of watching the Lord overcome evil in our lives if we don’t choose to walk in the Word, share our testimonies, and daily claim the blood of Christ. This is what we need to show the world right now in this time of compounded tragedy. The truth is that we don’t have it all together; God does. We struggle too – with many sins and temptations that are against ourselves and the glory of God. We too daily must surrender so we can be filled with the fruit of the Spirit and look more like Christ than the icky stuff that we battle. I believe this surrender and constant battle against our own wills, when seen by others, will manifest itself in love for others and love for God as we find ourselves eager to pass on the glory of God in our lives to those who have not yet heard or understood. This is our calling.

I remember an old song I used to sing in church on Sundays by Frances J. Crosby entitled “Blessed Assurance.” I think the words are an appropriate way to close out this entry.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels, descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

“We love because He first loved us.” I John 4:19