The Pretenders

“The religious scholars and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ throne as the authorized interpreters of the Law.  So listen and follow what they teach, but don’t do what they do, for they tell you one thing, but do another.  They tie on your backs an oppressive burden of religious obligations and insist that you carry it, but will never lift a finger to help ease your load.  Everything they do is done for show and to be noticed by others.  They want to be seen as holy, so they wear oversized prayer boxes on their arms and foreheads with Scriptures inside, and wear extra-long tassels on their outer garments.  They crave the seats of highest honor at banquets and in their meeting places.  And how they love to be admired by men with their titles of respect, aspiring to be recognized in public and have others called them “Reverend.”’

“But you are to be different from that.  You are not to be called “master,” for you have only one Master, and you are all brothers and sisters…  The greatest among you will be the one who always serves others from the heart.  Remember this:  If you have a lofty opinion of yourself and seek to be honored, you will be humbled.  But if you have a modest opinion of yourselves and choose to humble yourself, you will be honored.”  Matthew 23:1-12 TPT

Jesus continues in on in the next several verses to call the religious leaders of His day “frauds, pretenders; those who not only won’t go into heaven’s kingdom, but keep others out as well; those who eat up the widow’s household; who make disciples of hell; who swear by gold and money; who are obsessed with peripheral issues, but ignore the most important thing, which is walking in love with God, displaying mercy, and living by integrity; who wipe clean the outside of the cup, while leaving the inside filthy; who are nothing more than shiny tombs, beautiful on the outside, but holding decaying corpses of corruption; and, who masquerade as righteous people.”  Matthew 23:27 TPT

These are the words of Jesus to the Pharisees, who were the religious leaders, but also the governmental leaders in His day.  Though Rome was the ruling government, it was the laws of the religious leaders that truly governed the people affecting every area of their lives.  We can imagine in our day, Jesus addressing church leaders.

It’s so interesting to me, that the ones society would have called low-life, sinners, and the untouchable ones, Jesus called friends, forgiven, restored, those with great faith, family.   Towards these, he demonstrated honor, respect, and compassion; touching, healing, and loving those that had been pushed to the wayside, kicked to curb, and left to die.

Why was He so hard on the religious leaders then?

Well, I believe that He saw the their hearts, the well-hidden issues: the corrupted, puffed up, self-seeking germs infecting every cell.

More than that, He knew that people looked to these religious leaders as an example of what God was like.  As they wallowed in selfish corruption, they presented a very twisted, skewed view of Father God.

Their number one job was to point the people to a loving, relational God.   Instead, they abused their positions of authority for greedy, personal gain, even to the extent of murdering the prophets, thereby removing anyone who stood in their way.    The ultimate act was murdering Jesus, the very Son of God they so poorly represented.

Why is this message important for us today?

Some of the worse abuse I’ve experienced in my life has come by the hands of “religious leaders”.   When the enemy uses the very ones who should be representing Father’s heart best, he most effectively twists, like a mangled tangle, our view of who our loving God is, often our enemy leaves permanent damage in his victims.  This is why the enemy loves, loves when he can manipulate leaders to act on his behalf, but also why Yahweh hates this misrepresentation so much.

God doesn’t hate the people, even the abusers.  Jesus died for them as them as well.  Yet, He hates the perversion, because these very leaders should be representing His heart.  When people look to them, they think God is the same way.

This is also why so often when a leader falls, our faith is shaken.  Yet, perhaps our faith was in the leader, not in Yahweh.

I know, because not only have I seen this play out in others who have been abused by church leaders on every level, but also how it’s taken me years for the Holy Spirit to undo the lies, which contaminated my soul like a poison, distorting my perception of my loving Father.   Many times, I still struggle to view God through a clear, clean lens.

I really believe God loves His bride, and we are in a time of God exposing corruption in religious leaders, as well as in government.   I believe that has only begun to happen, and will increase in the coming years.  It’s not out of God’s wrath though.  It’s because He loves us, and more than anything wants us to know Him for who He really is, without the distorted view presented through ungodly leaders.

As a part of this cleansing, we need to be able to recognize what abuse looks like.

When people have walked through abuse as children, and then come in contact with unhealthy, abusive leaders, they often don’t even realize it, because it is their norm, their familiar place.  This is why abuse continues to cycle through generations of family lines, why these broken ones end up continuing the cycle by marrying an abuser.

Until we come out from this prison of lies, taking off the distorted glasses that have been placed on us, and taste true love through caring people God brings into our lives, direct encounters with our compassionate Father, and through revelatory truth from His word, we remain captives.

Jesus came to set us free. May we all walk fully in the freedom He paid such a high price to give us.   May we recognize unhealthy leadership and come out from under lies and perversion, setting our hearts on intimately knowing our loving God.

 

 

Finding Rest

Thanksgiving is two days away. For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about things that I’m grateful for, and reminiscing about God‘s goodness this past year, even though in many ways it has been a difficult one to walk through.

Transition has been the word for this year, as I have watched so many areas of our life shift around, affecting pretty much every relationship.  Many friends have stepped out or distanced themselves from us, several others have stepped in.  New connections have been made.  We have stepped into new business and ministry opportunities.  We are still bouncing around among a few churches.   All of these changes have been very uncomfortable for me.

Often times I view things in the negative, instead of the positive.  Yet, when I look back, I can see God’s steady hand guiding us through it all, and I am beginning to understand how the lessons we’ve learned have been invaluable.

The most valuable thing of all is I am finding that the Father is drawing me closer to His heart.

Before I was married, I went through a season of dating God. The commitment was that for six months I would not date any man, but instead devote my attention, love, and time on God. During that time frame, I reached a place of contentment with God that had not known before. I was satisfied with God alone as he was fulfilling every need in my heart.

It was during this time that my husband came into my life.  I had longed to find the man of my dreams for so long.  When he was finally standing in front of me, I refused to go on a date with him until my commitment to God was completed. How funny.  God made sure my heart was completely His, before releasing me to another.

In recent months, I have felt like God has pulled me into his heart like that again. He’s asked me to come away with Him, to put my focus on Him as much as I can.  Honestly, it’s been tough with so many responsibilities of life pulling at me.   He has cut away many relationships with friends and even some family.  Sometimes, I have felt like it’s back to just me and Him.  It has been a painful pruning at times.  Honestly, I’m sorry to say that much of the time I’ve complained about.

Yet, the longer I’m gazing on Him and spending time in fellowship with Him, I feel my heart coming to a place of being satisfied with God alone. This place of contentment has been foreign to me in the past years, but I’m finding it is filled with His peace, His joy, and His deep love for me.  Most of my life, those emotions eluded me, until the last few years, as I’ve walked into more healing.

I feel my heart settling down, and I am beginning to rest in Him alone.  I’ve never been in this place before, but it is a beautiful place that I’m coming to value more than anything else in my life.

It doesn’t mean that challenges don’t come. In fact, when they do come, and my peace is ebbing away, I am quickly realizing that I need to get back into this secret place with God. I think it’s what Psalm 91 refers to when it speaks of dwelling in the secret place.

I have thought about how this satisfied place with God corresponds with thankfulness. When I have a thankful heart, I am satisfied with who God is and what comes from His hand.  I’m looking outside of myself to Him to fulfill me, and selfishness melts away like snowflake on my window pane.  The attitude of gratitude comes easier when my focus is on the goodness of God, and how He displays His glory through His goodness to me and to others.

A few months ago, I found myself doubled over a trash can heaving my guts out so that I could relieve the excruciating pain in my side caused by a kidney stone that was stuck.  The only thing that relieved the pain was vomiting, which was happening every fifteen minutes or so.  In the past, this would have been extremely traumatic for me, but as I hung my head over the can, I felt held, even comforted.

I heard clearly in my mind, “Carolyn, pain can’t really hurt you.”  I continued hearing those words over and over again.  “Pain can’t really hurt you.”

Right dab in the middle of being ready to meet Jesus, I felt His peace envelope me.  I know this sounds crazy, like a Paul and Silas from the prison cell moment, but through my gagging, I began to praise Him.  Words spoken by Bill Johnson rang in my mind, that when my heart is broken by grief or pain, that is a place like non other from which to praise the Lord.  It is a pure praise that I can offer God, unlike any other time.  So, I did. That night that large stone miraculously dissolved and I cancelled the surgery scheduled the following day.

If I can continue to operate out of thankfulness and gratitude for everything God has done, but more than that for who God is, even in the worse of circumstances, then what can the enemy bring against me?  What can separate me from the love of God?

This is a beautiful place to be, and a place that my heart longs to stay in. It is the secret place where I hide in the love of my Father.   In this rest, this peace, this belonging is where my soul, spirit, and body are nourished, flowing with His grace, His goodness, and His love. It is satisfaction in God alone.  This is all new to me, and like I said I have fought against it many times, but this is where I long to stay with Him.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. May you find that place of rest and be satisfied with His great love for you.

He’s the Lifter of My Head

Last week I was in Belize on a ministry trip.  I had been asked to lead the women into an encounter with our Father.  The day before the event, as I sleepily awoke, my mind slowly becoming aware, I began to realize that my spirit was already singing 2 lines of a “song” again and again.  I began to sing them aloud.  Hearing my own voice, and the tune the words accompanied, I assumed it was a song I had heard somewhere.

I began to scour through YouTube and Google to find the full lyrics, but to no avail.  I softened as I realized that my Father was sharing something about Himself with me, for me and for the ladies I would speak to in one day’s time.  Here is the full “song” He shared with me and I shared with them.  I hope it blesses you to know how He sees you too:

He’s the Lifter of my head,
He says, “Daughter come up higher.”
Come and see it all my way,
I designed it to inspire
Before I made the world
I saw you in my heart
So eager to include you
In all the plans I dreamed
To include you in my secrets,
To share with you my heart
To teach you and beguile you,
To lovingly guide your life
To grow you into the fullness
Of my honored much-loved child
In my eyes you’re a flawless gem,
Sparkling as you twirl
I laugh with all your antics
As you dance before my Throne
Your every move my focus,
My eyes for you alone
As I adore your life
I point to you with pride
We’re following your journey
As you begin to know the heights 
Let me show you how I see you
I intend to blow your mind!
To let your heart absorb
The truth of who you are.
Agree with me and run
Fearlessly into your new life
I put no limits on you and
You’re safe by my side.
Go big! Dream big! There’s more!
Ask me and I’ll display
The way you’re known in Heaven,
Running the family business
and tending to it my way.
Life and peace I give to you.
Life and peace you give away
The daughter of my Kingdom
My robe and ring, yours today.

The Great Mix: Part Two

In my last post, I tackled the controversial subject, “Should Christians celebrate Halloween?” That really was only meant to address a symptom of something that runs much deeper.

I had some wonderful comments and conversations take place as a result of the last blog. I know it is a difficult subject for those on both sides of the issue.

Just as a follow up, for my dear friends who dressed up and passed out candy, or went “Trick or Treating” in their neighborhood, or even went to their local church’s harvest celebration, I pray you had a wonderful time with your family and friends, and your light shined bright.

For my dear friends who did want to hide in the dark, because of what the day evokes as a result of what you went through at some point in your story, I pray you felt the loving arms of God wrapped around you. I understand. There was a time I felt the same way.

To my friends who judge those huddled in the dark, if you experienced what they did, you may be there too.

So, why the part two?

As I was processing my own feelings, triggers, etc, I realized something.

All the years I did participate and allow my kids to participate on the levels we did, I did so, because I was trying to please people.

I sought to please my husband, my kids (what kids don’t want to dress up and get candy), my friends, and my church leaders. I didn’t want to go against the flow, because quite frankly, I did not want to be rejected. I wanted to fit in with everyone else, and make my family and others happy. I’m not saying anyone else out there has participated for that reason, but for me, I did.

I wanted to be light and desired to bless others at our harvest festivals, but deep down in my gut, I didn’t feel for me that being apart was what I was supposed to do.

So, I went against my convictions. At times, I even apologized for them.

See, for me, “The Great Mix” goes far deeper than whether I celebrate or not at Halloween.

It’s this pull I feel to get along, go with the flow, to not rock the boat, to be a people pleaser.

It’s also this numbness to things, things that are completely counter to God’s word. It’s this mix of good and evil, white and black, until all you have is a convoluted grey.

I’m not talking about a religious list of dos and don’ts. I’m not talking about religion at all. In fact, I am the one who now likes sparkles in my hair, has a tattoo on my wrist, loves to dance around my kitchen to the Greatest Showman soundtrack, and even enjoys a glass of wine from time to time.

I’m talking about matters of the heart.

The more in love I become with my Bridegroom, Jesus, the more I long to be like Him, to not do anything that would be dishonoring to Him.

It’s not about climbing a mountain of works to get to Him. It’s not about teetering on a tightrope of law to sit in His presence.

It’s about a passionate lover’s pursuit. He is the passionate lover pursuing my heart. The more I experience that love, a love that I don’t even have words to express, the more I want to make His heart happy. I don’t want to dishonor Him. I want to please Him by my response to His love.

My biggest problem with mixing good and bad: a little Christianity, a little witchcraft, a little hatred, a little slander, a little elitism, etc. is that it dishonors who God is in His essence. It misrepresents Him and presents a clouded view of Him. He is all good. He is all holy. He is all love. He is all justice and righteous, and He is all mercy. When I mix, I am playing with unholy fire, and I will get burned.

In the 1924 OlympicsEric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian claimed to run for the glory of God. Upon arriving at the games, he was faced with a decision. Run his favored race on Sunday, which went against his conviction of honoring the Lord’s Day or forfeit his dream of the gold medal, becoming a dishonor to his country.

He chose to give up the race he excelled in most. This wasn’t because of some religious duty. He ran to glorify God, and deeply felt if he comprised in this way, it would bring dishonor to the one he loved. So, he made the extremely difficult choice to cancel his race, placing His love for God above the love of his country and glory for himself.

In our day and time, how many would think that a foolish decision?

In the Bible, Saul, the anointed king of the Jews, went to seek the counsel of a witch, because the Spirit of God would not answer him. Out of desperation, he sought out a counterfeit. In the same time frame, David, the promised King who, being threatened to be stoned by his own men, set his heart to seek the Lord. Within a few days, Saul was dead, and David was the new King. Their choices demonstrated the condition of their hearts.

In writing this, I’m not trying to tell anyone what his or her convictions should be. In fact, I do believe they will change, and should grow deeper as we grow in intimacy with Him.

Out of zeal for His Father’s house, Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple. I believe the closer we get to Him, His zeal will rise up in our hearts, driving out those things that seek to defile our inner temple.

Our choices merely reflect our heart.

My prayer for all of us is to be so overwhelmed with the love of the God, that we can’t help but glorify Him by our actions, that there will be a holy fire in our bellies that will not tolerate a mix of good and evil in whatever way God leads us in that, and that we will return to our first love, being hot for Him, and not lukewarm. No spewing here.

Who knows though, maybe next year; I will boldly have our light on handing out candy and prayers. If the Lord leads… 😉

The Great Mix

I absolutely love my dear friends who choose to celebrate on Oct. 31st. Yet, I submit this to make you think a little more, maybe helping to foster awareness for those who have stood behind the curtain and seen what it’s really all about, and perhaps at least understand better those who make a choice to take a stand against it. I hope as you read, you will hear my heart. It’s not to condemn or divide, but to shine light.

October has never been a favorite time of year for me, but at age ten, things intensified, maybe because I understood more. I’ve said before I was raised in a conservative Baptist, Bible thumping, hell, fire, and brimstone home.

Each year my father, the pastor, sought to out do the haunted house that he had executed at the church the year before. For weeks, he schemed, preparing every horrific detail.

The colorful ad appeared in the Sunday bulletin: The Haunted Trail. Holes were dug in the ground along the way where he had teens dressed like mummies and evil spirits hiding, ready to jump, grab, and chase the panicked church members down the dirt path.

I don’t remember what I was made to wear that year. I tightly gripped my plastic jack o’ lantern swinging it nervously, as we cautiously walked the driveways, knocking on each door to declare “Trick or Treat”. My mom checked our candy for razor blades, as she did every year.

Next, we met my father at the church sponsored trail. Begging not to go down it was futile. Anxiety mounted into terror as I ran down the dirt path through the black woods. Only the moon shone to cast eerie shadows on the ghouls.

This was my normal life growing up. A Bible sitting open on the coffee table with a magic eight ball next to it, and a Playboy magazine tucked under some books beneath. “The Great Mix” I now call it. Friends from church invited me over to a sleep-over at which they sought to speak with the dead through séances using Oujia boards to guide, while I huddled terrified in the next room. Others would read my palm or tell me my horoscope. All the while, God was sending me to hell for disobeying Him.

Later in life, after becoming “Spirit-filled”, I visited friends who were counselors at a local Pentecostal campground. The “fun” activity for the youth that week of summer camp was to run down a trail through the woods at night, while a “Freddie” look-a-like chased them with a chain saw buzzing.

Now, we have Christianized haunted houses that scare people into salvation. Most churches are involved in some way, with “Trunk or Treats” and “Harvest Festivals” to give kids “alternatives”. For those who take a stand in not participating, some are made to feel like something is wrong with them. I’ve heard first hand stories of people being excommunicated because of it. By fellow church-going believers, mind you.

What are we doing?

I know some will say, “You are just reacting this way because of your childhood. You shouldn’t put that on others.” Other will say, “It’s just clean fun. We don’t get into the dark side of things.” Still others will say, “It’s a time for us to be light to our neighbors. We aren’t afraid of the evil stuff.”

I have very good, solid Christian friends who feel completely good about participating. Please hear me say that I’m not coming at this from a condemning point of view, at all. I will still love my friends who see this differently than me. This is not to divide, but to give further awareness.

In my own past, I have allowed my children to be a part of church “Harvest Festivals” and dress up as non-evil things. At the time, the events were used as a way to reach the unsaved, and each year, children were saved. This is why in the beginning I said yes, even though in my gut I still didn’t like it.

Yet it morphed into a social event, a Christianized “alternative” to Halloween. As I healed more and more from my own abuse and matured more in my relationship with Jesus, the sick feeling in my gut increased to the point I could no longer allow my kids to participate in it.

I also noticed a pattern, not just in my kids, but in other friends’ families that were going against their consciences, allowing their kids to participate because it was a church event, that our children were becoming very ill during this season. When we made the choice to stop participating, the sickness during this time stopped, not just for us, but for my friends as well.

There are many good articles and resources out there on why Christians should not celebrate Halloween.. If you want to read up on it, I would encourage you to do it.

At its core, Halloween is a day set aside to worship the dead, to exalt deeds of darkness.

I know many would make an argument about Christmas and Easter, that the roots of those are pagan as well. There is some truth to that, but both of those at least have strong elements of celebrating what Jesus has done for us. Again, I’m not trying to be an extremist here. We celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, we enjoy talking about the wonderful story of St. Nicolas, and we joyfully embrace Resurrection Sunday.

On the other hand, Halloween has nothing to do with light, but is a day to celebrate the enemy and the darkness. Many times former Satanists will speak out, not understanding how Christians can celebrate such a day. The reason why is because they understand first hand what’s behind it, not because they are scared of the dark side of it.

It’s amazing to me how many God-loving people turn their heads to look the other direction. Ask police officers the percentage of animals that go missing, and how much rise there is in child abduction during the month of October. This is not fun and games. It’s death. It’s evil.

It’s kind of like someone who knows about abortion, but they have never experienced it close up. It’s easy for us to kind of dismiss it, not really be passionate about ending it. I’ve been guilty of this at times. Many Christians believe compassionate abortion is acceptable, and others know abortion is wrong, but aren’t really affected by it. When you have stood in the room and watched the carnage up close then you truly understand the horrors of it, and can’t stomach when someone has one. The ones who have experienced the direct and deadly affects of it are the ones most passionate about it ending.

Same with Halloween. Those who have been behind the curtain of what it is really about at the core will not have anything to do with it. It’s not out of fear of darkness, but reverence of the light.

My dear friends, the more I experience Jesus and His kingdom, the less I want to do with darkness.

Why do we tolerate the great mix in church? Why do we think it’s “fun” to play with dark and evil things? Do we really think this is what our loving heavenly Father wants for us? Demons are real. There is a real battle going on over the souls of men, and the enemy doesn’t play fair.

Yes, love on your neighbors. Yes, be light to them, not just at this time of the year, but every time of the year. Does being apart of something that celebrates evil and darkness really help bring light to them, and love them well? I can’t answer these questions for you, and I don’t seek to condemn or shame others into having my same convictions. I’m just asking the question, IS IT RIGHT TO MIX?

 

The Big One

On the second day of our vacation, I rubbed the sleep from eyes. Hints of lights peeked through blinds as the sky outside our sliding glass doors turned the early morning blue grey.

Swinging my feet over the side of the bed, I carefully pushed the covers back, quietly sneaking out of the room so as not to wake my husband. While pushing my ball cap over my bed hair, I thought, “Today, I am going to catch a fish.” My grandfather and I sitting on a dock with fishing rods in our hands flashed through my mind. “Fishing is in my blood.”

Skipping down the stairs, I mumbled a prayer, and felt the Lord’s pleasure on my upcoming adventure. With coffee steaming in one hand, my rod safely tucked under my arm, and the tackle box in the other, I strolled through the dewy grass to the rickety dock behind our Airbnb.

A light mist hung low over the bayou in the early morning air, as I baited my line with corn I had found left over from the last occupants. “We always used corn growing up,” I muttered to myself.

Thunder sounded behind me. A Florida storm brewed. “That’s a little early, isn’t it Lord?” My hopes for my catch diminished just a tad. “Well, it’s not that close yet. I’ll just try again.”

My husband’s fly rod felt clumsy in my hand, as I held the line against the fiberglass with my finger. The first two cast were successful, but as I brought the line in each time the fish clearly were enjoying their morning breakfast of corn, because the hook came back empty.

As I drew my arm back for the third cast, my hand held the handle loosely. I threw my arm forward releasing the line, as well as the bright blue rod that was once in my grasp. It flew gracefully through the air landing with a splash on top of the water just out of reach of the dock.

In my momentary desperation, thoughts of jumping in flashed. Reason won out as I ran to get a paddle from beside the kayak tilted against the wall beside the deck.

“Darn. Too short.” I sighed, as the thunder clap resounded closer. “What do I do, Papa?” An idea flashed like a light bulb in my head. I quickly texted my husband, so if I got struck by lightning he would at least know where to find me, and I ran to grab the kayak.

Filled with determination and a pump of adrenaline, I pushed my vessel into the water with my steel paddle, as my husband sleepily walked on onto the dock, to watch me risk my life to rescue his rod.

After paddling out, I tried to balance the boat, as I attempted to slip the end of the paddle under the rod. “Put it under the…” my husband offered, but my kayak started to tilt, and I overcompensated wobbling the boat back and forth.

Precariously, I positioned the paddle just before the reel, instead of under it. “Not there,” my husband said, but it was a second too late. As I placed it under, the rod flipped up into the air in a vertical position, and then sunk like the Titanic to the bottom of the bayou. My hopes for the big catch sank with it.

The lightening flashed closer, as my husband helped pull me and the kayak out of the water. “Abba, you caused an axe head to float in the Bible, please, please bring back the fishing rod.”

After sharing my comedy of errors with my girls, they decided to grab the other fishing rods and continue what I had started. I walked unto the dock as my youngest daughter gasped, “What?” She began giggling as she reeled in her line. “Oh my gosh! I caught the fishing line of the other pole.”

My husband helped her grasp the line and pull in the sunken rod. My daughter jumped up and down with pure delight. “Mom, look,” she said as she handed me the rod. “Look what I caught.”

“Well, you caught the BIG ONE! You get the catch of the day,” I said.

I laughed as I took the rod into my hands, “See, Papa loves me. He gave me my rod back.”

But I wasn’t satisfied. I still had not caught a fish. Several more times that week, I found myself with my bare feet dangling from the side of the dock, carefully and tightly holding onto the rod as I released the line, but each time the hook returned empty.

The sun was setting on the last evening, as my husband, daughter, and I finished our last attempts. I didn’t realize that the screw holding in the handle had loosened in all my failed attempts, so as I continued to cast the line, the turn handle slipped off and fell into the water with a bloop.

I flung my head held back as I watched the pinkish clouds floating by and whispered “Papa, please, I just want to catch a fish.” I felt Him smiling at me as I kept trying using my hands to manually turn the reel each time.

“Babe, we have to go in now. It’s getting dark, and we have to pack up.” My husband’s reasoning won out.

One more time. Cast it one more timeI heard quietly in my heart.

“Just once more?” I begged.

“OK. But that’s it.”

As I slowly turned the reel for the final time, the hook came above the water’s surface and I heard a splash.

“Oh my word!” Staring down into the mirky water, I could hardly believe it. Dangling on the end of the line was a fish, wiggling with all its might to free itself.

“There is a God! See, there is a GOD!” I was just kidding around, but elation filled my heart, as I held the rod up so my husband and daughter could see.

I danced around the dock, as I said, “Take a picture. Take a picture. I have to prove this.”

The voice in my heart resounded as well. I love you, daughter. I care about you and your fish.

Laughter filled my heart, as I let the little guy free. I walked into the living room where my other two daughters watched a movie.

“You won’t believe this, but I caught a fish this big.” I pretended to throw my arms out wide, but instead mocked the small size of the fish with my hands. They rolled over in their blankets, giggling at my animation.

I’ve had people say, “Well, God doesn’t really care about things like that,” or “Maybe He talks to you that way, but He doesn’t talk to me.” But I know He’s real, and wants to be an intimate part of every thing we do.

God is holy, righteous, creator of the universe, huge, etc… He holds the oceans in the palm of His hand; yet, He cares about me. He cares whether my rod is at the bottom of a bayou, and He cares for my silly request for catching a fish.

He loves us. He wants to be our best friend, to be intimately involved in every detail of our lives.

He’s my very, best friend. What an honor it is to call Him that?!

His invitation for you is the same as mine. He desires you. He wants to take us back to Eden, to restore the close fellowship and friendship that was once lost. He wants to take our hand and walk with us, and sometimes give us our hearts desire, even if it is as simple as catching a fish.

Have Peace

This morning when I awoke, the Lord was speaking to me about peace.  This past week He was teaching me something new about it and now He was continuing the conversation.

As I lay hands on a couple different people this week, I released peace to them.  They came in fear or in some level of strife going on in their lives.  Being mature believers, they rightly sought the Lord and the fellowship of another believer to share their burden and receive prayer.  This is a good way to keep the enemy from isolating you in his lies.  When I released peace to them, each of us felt the transfer.  When they mentioned it, I found myself saying, “Yes, I can only release what is in me.  If I don’t have peace, I can’t give you any.”  Often the Lord teaches me right in the middle of doing whatever He gave me to do.  I heard myself say those words and it resonated with me as truth that didn’t come from my own mind.

The previous week, we had been experiencing a low in our financial position.  When I made a needed purchase, I was suddenly stressed that I hadn’t asked the Lord about it beforehand.  When I took it to Him, my insides were in an uproar and I asked him what I should do.  I immediately heard, “Have peace.”  Have peace?  Not, peace be still.  Not, be at peace.  But, “Have peace.”  I knew that was not from my own brain.  In that moment I knew what He meant; Peace dwells within me.  It is up to me to choose to have peace or to have turmoil.

It took me a few minutes to wrestle with my soul and remind it that the Holy Spirit dwells in me and I can choose to keep all that struggle for myself our I can give it to Jesus and rest in His love for me.  I can trust my comforter and BE comforted by Him.  I decided in those moments to live from my spirit and give up the soulish fear.

I think we often think of spiritual things as imaginary as opposed to real structures.  It might seem strange that I can be aware of the Kingdom I carry within me and release a tangible missing substance from that Kingdom to people and places I go.  I can also release them to myself!  “HAVE Peace,” He said.

The principle of releasing what is in me comes from the understanding that the Holy Spirit lives within me.  If He lives within me, then all the fruit of His Spirit also resides in me already.  I am not working it up, but as I live in Him, the same fruit that is within me is also continuing to be produced in me and released to the world around me.

In Luke 10:5-6 we see that peace is a tangible commodity that we can impart or take back:  “Once you enter a house, speak to the people there and say, ‘God’s blessing of peace be upon this house!’  If a lover of peace resides there, your peace will rest upon that household. But if you are rejected, your blessing of peace will come back upon you.”

Have you ever had someone say, “I always feel safe when you’re around,” or “You”re so full of joy, I always feel good when you’re here.”  Sometimes we just overflow the Kingdom within us.  Other times it helps to take a breath and consider who I’m about to talk to or the place I’m about to go into and become intentionally aware of Who and What I carry within me.  (Praying in the Spirit is so helpful.)

The world is so hungry for the Jesus in you and me.  They don’t know Him, but they recognize the virtue of Him when they feel it in us and they want Him.  Let me encourage you to become aware of Who and What already belongs to you in our position in Christ.  The Holy Spirit lives within you and the more we live from our spirit and not from our souls, the more He also rests upon us.  When you don’t feel peaceful, remind yourself that Peace himself lives within you always and decide to “have peace.”  From that awareness you will always have something marvelous to give away to the hungry.

 

It Matters

I’m not a theologian, nor do I care much for religious rhetoric.  In fact, I really wish I didn’t find myself muddling through so much frustration regarding religion and church related issues.  I wish I could just sit back and enjoy this time of still being in between churches, but stepping outside of one local body has continued to affect my view, bringing clarity and challenge.

Often, when you stay in one place, under one teaching for an extended period of time, though the teaching can be wonderful, your view of the body as whole can be skewed, leaving a narrow minded view.  If teaching is twisted or off-base, it’s hard to see it clearly until you step out.

Taking a fresh look at many different denominations, many flavors of church, and seeing the Holy Spirit at work and moving in all of them, has been very refreshing, and helped me to examine what I really believe from new perspectives.

One controversy that greatly affects the way we view God and ourselves is the battle between traditional theism verses open theism.

After reading several articles on the subject, it seems that open theism is gaining a lot of ground in many churches across the board, but has only been a concept in the last decade.  You may, like me be asking, “Well what is that and why does it matter?”  It really does matter what we believe, because slight changes can make a huge difference.

My former pastor’s wife often gave the example of an archer hitting the bull’s eye.  She said a slight change in the direction you are pointing your bow, can throw off an arrow’s trajectory by miles.  We must keep our aim on the target.

Much of what follows comes from a conversation I had with someone who has studied this out.  Following that, I confirmed it through other sources.

Theism means that you believe in a god.

Traditional or classical theism is the belief that the scripture is inerrant, and that canonized scripture is the foundation of our belief system about who God is, who man is, etc.

It holds that God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscience (all knowing), omnipresent (everywhere at once), etc…  God is bigger than the canonized scripture; therefore, you can experience things that are extra-Biblical, like heavenly experiences, etc., but everything must still be judged against the character and nature of God as found in the canonized scriptures.

This gives you a target, a true north, a foundation: an unchanging bull’s eye, when our sites are set on it, it will keep us going in the right direction.  Since the character and nature of God are unchanging, immoveable, eternal, it is a sure foundation upon which to stand.

God is good.  God is light.  God is love. God is justice.  God is jealous.  Many, many more unchangeable attributes of God are described in scripture.

Because God is omniscient, He has the play book.  He wrote the story, and already knows the beginning and the end.  He is Alpha and Omega: the beginning and the end.

We do have free will in that, but He already knows the choices we will make, and the story from heaven’s view point though it is still happening, has already happened.  We aren’t puppets, and we have relationship with God, but His view is far above those choices.

This is why it was so important for Jesus to fulfill all the prophecies of the Old Testament.  There is much about scripture we don’t understand, but that doesn’t mean they are irrelevant or in error.  A classical theist can be ok with new ideas and revelation, as long as the foundation is still in tack.

Open Theism basically says that though God is ultimately in charge, He can change His mind, thus changing the story, and that our free will holds the play book.  God chooses not to have foreknowledge of our choices, thus leaving the story and how it is played out up to us.  Its focus is on relationship with God, but in that relationship, God is changeable.

This is based on scriptures where Abraham pleads for God not to destroy Sodom and Gormorrah, and the story of Moses changing God’s mind on destroying the Israelites.

I would agrue God valued the relationship, but still knew the outcome.  In fact, many times in my own life, I have felt God has wanted to know what my opinion was on something; however even allowing my choices, He already put in motion for me things on the other side of that for my good.  My steps are ordained, and I’m so grateful for His ability to do that, putting us in the right place at the right time.

Open theism says God doesn’t have to be true to what is in the written canonized scripture.  In essence, His nature is changeable.

There is no true foundation, nothing solid to stand on, because it seems they are saying that though there is God, we are the master’s of our own destiny, because we have free will.

I agree we have free will, but in the mystery of that, God already orders our steps, and weaves His story, because He already knows the choices we make.  To me that makes God far greater and wiser than any man controlling his own destiny.  In fact, the whole idea, reeks of the influence of humanism.  I am my own God.

Ultimately, if we believe in open theism, we have no bull’s eye.  This can lead to people saying they heard from God to do things contrary to the character and nature of God as outlined in scripture, and it be acceptable.

For example, “God told me to divorce my wife, because she’s not on the same spiritual level as me anymore.”  It doesn’t matter that God’s word says to lay down your life for your wife and love her like Jesus.

Another example might be, “God told me to curse this other church.”  It doesn’t matter that God’s word says not to curse your brother, but to love your brother as yourself.

It also leads to no accountability for prophetic words.  If I say God told me something, but it doesn’t come to pass, then I can just pass the buck back to God saying that He must have changed His mind.

Never does the consideration come that I maybe fallible, or may have misunderstood the timing or meaning of what I heard.   It leaves no room for the fact that we are in error; therefore, we have no reason to ask for forgiveness and try to make things right.  This leads to shattered, disillusioned souls who thought God said, but then God changed His mind.  Nonsense.

To believe this way, opens ourselves up to all manner of deception, twisting, and going far off course.

Last evening, I listened as a gentleman explained that he was concerned for a friend who was ingesting new beliefs that were contrary to scripture.  His friends comment was “I don’t care as long as it leads me closer to God.”  I’ve heard similar things over and over again recently.

My dear friends, what “god” are we seeking to get close to then?  And for what benefit? Ourselves?

Yahweh of the Bible through His son, Jesus, said in John 14, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”  His commandments, His character, His nature is first and foremost revealed through His word.  If we are going against His word, then we are going against Yahweh.

I love fresh revelation.  I love experiencing a close, intimate relationship with my creator.  Yet, He is still God, and still holds all of His unchanging character traits.  I love that I have free will, and I’m not made to do things, but I’m also grateful I don’t hold my destiny in my own hands, that He weaves my story together for good, and already knows the outcome of my life.  When He calls me more than a conqueror, I can trust Him, because He already sees me as being that.

Whether a person is in church leadership or not, check what they are saying against the written word of God.  I didn’t for a long time in my walk, even though sometimes things said from Christian leaders didn’t settle well with me.  We can not afford to do this anymore.  What we believe matters!

The Fall

Across from me, on the sofa, sat someone I considered a close friend, I tried to absorb her words.  “Pastor committed adultery.” 

At the time, my fragile faith easily shattered.  I fully trusted no man, as I uncovered time after time the betrayal in my own memories that I had stuffed inside out of survival.  I struggled to process what she told me.  A small amount of trust in our pastor had been built over time, but now the crashing and burning of it imminently loomed. 

What was my friend’s motivation?  Was she lying to smear his reputation?  Could the charges be true?

I made the call to hear for myself.  A few days later, our pastor welcomed me to come into his office, but I could hear something in his voice.  Regret maybe? 

A few weeks before he had approached me after church, saying gently that he wanted to be a father figure to me.  Did he?  Could I trust him, if he had committed such a sin?

As I sat across from his desk, I reluctantly asked the burning question.  His head bowed.  I saw tears collecting in his eyes.  With the pain of grief, he locked eyes with me.  “I know how much this may hurt you,” he sighed.  “But I have to be honest with.  You need to know the truth, because you have lived with so many lies.”  His voice broke as he continued.  “I have lived with regret for most of the time as a pastor.” 

I swallowed hard.  I wished I could put my fingers in my ears.  Was I really ready to hear this confession?  Would it crush my trust further?  Why had I even come?  Why was I driven to know what was in this man’s closet? 

He proceeded to tell me that as a young pastor, he grew arrogant, thinking himself above a fall.  He spent too much time alone with his attractive secretary, emotionally attaching to her, while his wife held down the home front.  And he fell.  Fell hard.  It had happened years before, but the blow still felt fresh, in the gut. 

He made no excuses for his behavior. Simply with great remorse, he asked me to forgive him.  He regretted being one more male figure, especially pastor figure, who had failed me: one more man on the list who now I would question, struggling to trust.

Years later, I totally respect this man.  He fell, yes, but he didn’t hide it.  He repented.  He didn’t blame his failure on someone or something else.  He owned it, even though it had happened way before me, but the regret he lived with for the rest of his ministry, the rest of his life, was palpable.  This act would remain a thorn in his side, even though he knew he was forgiven by the Lord, and had received Christ’s forgiveness. 

Coming from the stance of the one abused, hearing such a story did further shatter my trust in the beginning.  Some would even say, how could you extend trust towards such a man now?  He didn’t deserve it.  This man, however, like David in the Bible, truly repented, turned, and tried to make things right the best he could.  Like David paid the price of his firstborn son from Bathsheba, he also had consequences. 

For my former pastor, the dark cloud hung over his head periodically for he rest of his life.  There are consequences to our behavior.  What we do, does effect people, sometimes for generations past us.  Yet, God forgave this man.  And so did I. 

There are others in leadership who are wolves in sheep’s clothing, who like the enemy, are seeking those they can devour.  For these, like Saul, who refused to repent, they will eventually face the Great Judge who brings all to the light.

One of my life chapters in the Bible, is Psalms 32 TPL.  It is the cry of repentance from David’s heart.  As I read it this week, a different part caught my attention.  “This what I’ve learned through it all:  All believers should confess their sins to God; do it every time God has uncovered you in the time of exposing.  For if you do this, when sudden storms of life overwhelm, you’ll be kept safe.”  The time of exposing, hmm. 

See, God is really good, merciful, and full of grace.  There is a time frame He gives all of us to turn, to allow Him to uncover things in our lives, the secret things, the behind the closed door things.  If we will allow Him to convict us, bring truth to us, repent, and bring healing to us, then when the storms of life come, we will be kept safe. 

If we refuse His prodding, His gentle leading, His convicting, then we will still experience exposure, but it will be through the hard storms of life, and we will not be kept safe. 

All of us have things in our hearts that need to be uncovered and dealt with by the Lord.  Some just have more severe consequences than others. 

Sadly, for church leadership, church culture has made it much more difficult for them be vulnerable.  This is no excuse for the wolves mind you.  Please hear me say all of us need to be held accountable for the things we do.  It’s called the body, a family, a community of believers.

Seemingly, across the board, church leaders have been made into celebrities, put on pedestals, and are looked to as gods, with others idolizing them.  They aren’t allowed to be human, make mistakes, be vulnerable.  For that matter, how many sitting in the pews are willing to be vulnerable with each other.  Aren’t we mostly waiting for someone to cast the first stone?

Often, those in leadership aren’t held accountable for their actions.  This breeds abuse.  If exposure does happen, it’s hidden, and people turn their heads the other way, until it directly hurts them.  If it is dealt with, then often times the leaders are left on the side of the road bleeding, while the next great man of God comes on the scene. 

I really believe we are getting ready to experience one of the greatest shifts in the body of Christ that has ever occurred, and I believe that time frame of exposing by the Lord in grace is coming to an end for many people.  Something has got to change in us, in our mindset, in our hearts. 

We are all called to be kings and priests before the Lord, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.  There was never supposed to be a go between.  We all are meant to have Jesus as our head, and we are all the body, though we have different functions. 

Yes, we will always have some form of leadership, just as a family has fathers and mothers to lead the younger children until they grow up in maturity to be fathers and mothers.  We are all to be accountable to each other, not condemning one another, but in love holding each other to the standard of the Word, walking in grace. 

When someone messes up, they should be confronted, counseled, restored, if they are repentant.  If they refuse the time of exposing, then they are choosing the storms without protection.  In other words, we are instructed to cut ties, and let them go, but that’s only if they refuse to repent when it is really sinful things they are involved in.  In this case, there is nothing more that can be done, but allow God to deal with them.

None of us are without sin.  Though we are made new creations in Christ Jesus, we still struggle with our human nature, like my former pastor did.  Let’s not put them on the pedestals, but allow our leaders to vulnerable, human even, and truly love each other. 

I pray that we all seek love, hold on to mercy, and walk humbly with each other and our wonderful God.  Doesn’t He deserve a bride worthy of Him?  He will have her.  We must be ready.

Painting My Freedom

Leaning over the side of the bed and tilting the alarm clock towards me, I read the time for the fifth time that night, 3:30 a.m. Wide awake again. After losing my last child in an early miscarriage, weeks of insomnia had set in.

“Will I ever sleep again, Lord? Please help me rest. I can’t do this anymore.” My tears wet the pillow.

You will rest in me dear one. The familiar voice soothed my fears for a moment. I released a deep sigh, scooting my back against my husband’s for support.

The next day, after settling my three little ones down for an afternoon nap, I fell into my bed, wondering when the cycle of exhaustion would ever end. Anxiety plagued me like the flies in Egypt.

I glanced over to an empty easel mocking me in the corner of my bedroom. It had been since before the girls were born that I had time or energy to pick up my brush. As I stared despondently at the stark, metal frame, the Lord’s whisper came again.

It’s time to paint, my love.

“Paint. Ha! I can’t even see straight Lord.”

Pick up the brush, little one. Paint your freedom.

I knew what He meant. Paint all the pictures of redemption He had given me in my darkest moments, where He had burst into the black, sucking hole and pulled me upward, bringing His light and love.

I stared at the easel again. “Ok. Lord, I will try.”

That afternoon, I dove in. With paint dripping from the brush, I laid the colors in, black, white, swoosh. A large, steady hand emerged gently holding a woman who slept peacefully in the palm. Can I trust that hand to hold me? What if He drops me into the abyss below? Worship music played low in the background. Tears came. A flood of them.

My mind drifted back to a wraparound porch. My age, fifteen. My grandma stood in the sliding glass door, offering me another glass of lemonade. Whiffs of black berry cobbler drifted through the open door. A cool breeze refreshed me as I twirled the paint brush in my fingers. Contemplating the next color to swish across the sky of my cabin scene, I peered at the smoky blue hue on the top of the mountain ridge in front of me. The trickling sound of the stream below soothed my aching heart.

“Safe. I was safe then,” I thought. For the first time in my life, I could breathe deeply in my grandmother’s care.

Would God keep me safe in His hand? Did I have a choice? I’d tried running, hiding from the Almighty before.  How well did that work? Stuff and hide my life, as if I could from His all-knowing eyes. Yet His eyes, though they saw, never condemned me.

Lastly, an angel wing appeared covering the woman. The same wing I had seen wrapped around me when I began the uncovering of my past. It protected, shielded, sheltered me from the battering ram of condemnation and terror that always seemed lurking around the corner. 

Stepping back from my first piece, I sighed and then cried some more. The psalmist words welled in my heart, “He who dwells in the secret place of the most high, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Ps. 91.

Many years have passed since that day. Many paintings have been tucked safely away in my closet. Until last fall.

I woke up from a dream, an odd dream of rescuing a girl from a prostitution ring. “What does this mean, Papa?” My name for the mighty Yahweh has been very tender in this past season. Immediately, I saw in vision form, me standing in a room, a studio of sorts, teaching a painting class.

I want you now to begin showing others how to paint their freedom as well.

“What? That’s too personal. I can’t do that.”

Yes. You can do all things through me. I will give you strength and help you. In the stillness of the night, He continued to bring clarity to what he was asking of me.

My heart raced, not for fear this time, but anticipation of something new.  He was giving my heart’s desire, wrapping up all my dreams of how to help others, my love for art, and leading others into freedom into one neat little package. Amazed, I stared at the ceiling. “When Lord?”

Take baby steps now.

February 1st, of this past year, I began this journey called Blossoming Hearts Studio, where I offer painting classes once a month. It’s in its infancy, much like I feel still so many times, a toddler waddling forward.

People tell me, “I can’t paint. I’m not the creative type,” but we all are made in the image of God, and He is creative, so we have that ability to create as well, though the method may be different than mine. More than that though, it’s not about creating a masterpiece. It’s about connecting with the Master, about giving yourself space to breathe, to be. It’s about opening up your heart and allowing Him to touch places maybe He’s not been able to through other means.

I recently heard a talk in which the speaker stated that in his counseling sessions, he always has crayons and paper for his clients. He instructed them to draw as they talked about their pain. Somehow in the creative process, it freed them to be able to bypass barriers that had kept their hearts closed off, and they were able to embrace healing in a new way.

Though I’ve only been doing this for a short time, my greatest joy has been working with survivors. After beginning, two doors quickly flew open. Once a month, I now lead classes for Switch (an organization, which rescues women from human trafficking) and periodically, with another group of survivors who come from various backgrounds and abuse. It brings joy to my heart to see those so broken, come and find some space to step out of their situations for a moment, and find peace. At a recent class, one young lady came in with puffy eyes from crying. She sat alone across the room. As she was leaving at the end, she leaned over and whispered, “I came in crying. I’m leaving happy. Thank you.” That, my friends, is my greatest joy, to see the Holy Spirit at work, healing the brokenhearted.

If you are interested in being a part of this in anyway or would just like more information, please contact me at blossomingheartsstudio@gmail.com or like my Facebook page: “blossomingheartsstudio”  and follow our events. Monthly classes are available, as well as birthday parties and special events if you are local to the Greenville, SC area, and artwork is available at http://www.kingdomwinds.com. My utmost desire, through it all, is to allow the Lord to use this to touch and heal hearts, allowing each one to blossom in His loving care.