Trust and obey

Immediately the words of that song pop into my head, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and OBEY!”

That’s how I’ve always pictured it too … Little trust, big obey! Like a school marm with her glasses half way down her nose, looking at me with disdain and disappointment: “Obey!”

Obedience. That’s such a scary word. Especially when referring to obedience to God. That doesn’t sound right either, does it? It’s scary to obey God? But it is when you can’t see and you don’t know and, as much as you want to, you don’t trust. After all, what might He require of me? Immediately my thoughts jump to duties and missions abroad, being pushed out of my comfort zone and facing the unknown. I don’t like to go there. I don’t want to be asked to do anything that I’m not prepared for, and I realize it’s less and less about what I believe of Him and more accurately what I believe of me. He’s able; I’m a coward…Most of the time.

Discipline doesn’t make me feel much better. The idea that someone is not pleased with me, that I’ve done something punishable, and that I’ve failed is depressing. And yet, it happens more often than I care to admit. Only with God it’s different. Even in His discipline He loves and accepts me. More often than not, even if I’m forced to eat crow, He sprinkles it with sugar so it tends to go down easier. His Word says, “[He] disciplines those He loves.” It’s why He asks anything of us to begin with…that same great love that desires to strengthen and grow us and teach us the importance of obedience.

But I’m finding that sometimes our discipline becomes an act of obedience or disobedience. It’s as if God says, “Okay, I’m going to let you discover this the hard way or the easy way. You can let this go or I can wrestle it from your hand. You can walk away now and your pain, though very real, will be less, or you can hold on and take chances until I have no choice but to break your heart completely.” Oh boy. Have I mentioned I’m often too hard headed for my own good?

But I’m learning. I’ve taken a licking and I’m still ticking! And, I’m finding that after a God sized spanking, He likes to hug and kiss and reassure us, “this hurt Me more than it hurts you!” I love the words of Christ that say, “In this world you will have trouble [whether of the enemy that desires to destroy you or whether it’s of your own rebellious will], but take heart [be courageous!] for I have overcome the world.” [additions mine] He’s exactly right. (Which doesn’t at all surprise since He is God!) And, though the thoughts of obedience and discipline scare me, I know that His plans for me are good, and He won’t lead me anywhere where He hasn’t first cut a path for me or won’t provide a pillar of fire or cloud to follow. Matter of fact, I don’t need those things. He’s placed within me a guide, a voice, His very Holy Spirit that says, “This is the way; walk in it.” I’ll admit, it’s not always easy and frequently it’s terribly frightening, but in the end, when God lovingly shows the connected dots, we will find it was worth it and, as painful as it felt, can never compare to the cross. “…He was obedient even to death on the cross.” Obedient to death. Am I really gonna freak out about a little spanking? Well, not today…That’s at least a start.

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Alive!

I’m alive.

Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound grateful enough.

I’m alive!

You can’t possibly understand the magnitude of that statement, unless you are one of the six other women who almost died with me! We are all
alive and well and more trusting than when our trip began, but let me start at the beginning.

I was eager to start the day! After all, we were on Mt. Moriah (Arkansas, of course), and the irony was not lost on me! I’d started the summer with the story of Abraham in my heart – a journey up a winding path that would lead to sacrifice; what I didn’t know is what that would look like… And neither did he. But, we trusted. By faith we began the climb. And by faith we came back down that mountain pleasantly surprised… Both marveling at His provision of the Lamb. This weekend would be my celebration, the full-circle experience of healing. The thing about God is this – at the end of every lesson He likes to present a visual…or at least in my experiences. So, I probably should have expected it, and I should have warned my dear sisters!

After lunch we set out on our excursion – a leisure ride down the river, enjoying the swift current and laughing all the way. Six women holding hands and looking forward to a beautiful day and a chance to work on our tans. Well, that was what we thought.

Looking at the ominous sky ahead should have been our first clue to abandon our plan, but we were hopeful, excited, and (I hate to admit it) stupid. We embarked. At first our laughter was fun, but as the clouds before us darkened and the waters tossed and turned us, it became more of a nervous laugh, a laugh that said, “This really isn’t funny, but I’ll pretend to be courageous.” As the current moved us deeper into the storm, lightening struck right in front of us, and we passed our last chance to turn back, we realized exactly how ridiculous our decision had been! Did I mention that it was an hour drift until we would have another chance? Yeah. But, that’s when trust soars highest – at the point of no return.

As we careened down the churning waters, I had visions of the worst kind: Straddling a tree while the corpses of my dearest friends floated off down a makeshift River Stix, one of us being gored through the heart by a sharp branch protruding from the waters, or all of us drowning and being dashed against the rocks without anyone seeing. These were my fears. And amidst all this I heard His voice, “Do you trust me?” And though our circumstances threatened to over come us, I believed He was watching over His precious, even if severely foolish, daughters.

As our fear intensified so did the rain. If watching a storm and seeing your demise was bad, blinding rain with the sound of approaching rapids was terrifying! Add to that the fact that it hurt – you might not think it, but needles of rain pelting exposed bodies sprawled across an inner-tube is painful! And there is no cover! (unless you count the time we were trapped underneath a tree, but trust me, that was no consolation!)

There were moments of peace, but they were short-lived. Looking back I can see that they were God-given moments to catch our breath and slow our heart rates for the next catastrophe! We prayed for solace. We hoped for salvation, and we trusted in a God that promised never to forsake us. And we all had lessons to learn…intimate, unique lessons from the Almighty, our Great Teacher.

I would love to say that I was strong and courageous and never cried. No. I cried like a baby. Not at the prospect of death, not at the raging rapids, but at the point where I had to let go. You see, we were all holding onto one another…but when the trees captured us and the river curled and twisted, a friend of mine was about to capsize. I was desperate not to let go, and my fear held her tight. Her eyes widened and she begged, “Leslie, you have to let me go!” Tears welled up in my eyes and I screamed over the roaring waters, “I don’t want to let go!” I never want to let go. I never want to lose anyone. I never want to abandon those I love, but like in my life experience, God said again, “Letting go will save her.” I hesitated for a moment, but I knew the truth and against my flesh and will, I released her. She lived to suffer another day of barbed wire fences and bamboo injections. Your welcome, Becky.

I wrangled myself out of the tree and my spiritual mom, my mentor and my friend grabbed my rope! How very appropriate. She is remarkable and optimistic under the worst of circumstances! I vividly remember as the skies got darker, this dear lady chose to ride backward – not looking at the gloom and doom in the clouds but the blue skies that were behind us…until there was no more blue to focus on and so resolved to survive, she got down to business, all pretense abandoned. She and I faithfully battled our adversarial conditions including, but not limited to, a puncture wound to my inner-tube, resulting in a wilted piece of rubber and plastic that was thrown away. Eventually we found our way back to shore, to the house we were retreating, to our other friend that had been praying non-stop for our safety and met us crying…an hour and twenty minutes later.

Though treacherous and terrifying we never lost our hope, and even more miraculously, we never lost our tempers. I mean, when your in survival mode its not the time to start pointing fingers! And who would we have blamed? We all rode into the storm willingly, together. We can look back on it and laugh. (Especially when Lisa played “Shall we gather at the river” for us all before bed!) We all agree it was an hour of our lives that we will never forget, and if we thought we were close before, we are forever united in this. More than that, we are forever assured of the love of our Father that granted us mercy in our ignorance and instilled a deep seated peace in each of our hearts. I still haven’t stopped thanking God, none of us will, even after our second river adventure… but that’s a story for another time; I’m still catching my breath and poor Becky is recovering from the bamboo shoot from hell. Regardless, Our God is faithful, and deserving or not we’re alive!

Food for the Body

“So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help…Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, He will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes; your own ears will hear him.”

This verse was fixed in my heart, and I was more than ready to find my Savior waiting. He doesn’t want to wait; He wants to cuddle and cover and comfort and teach, but we make Him wait. Why? I’m not sure; maybe because we cant believe that He is poised, ready and eager. Well, He didn’t disappoint. He never does; you’d think I’d know that by now.

As my sifting intensified, my strength dwindled and my heart felt close to death. Really. I was ready to give up; I couldn’t take it much more. I questioned the whole process, looking for justification and all the while punishing myself. Somewhere along the way I forgot that Christ died for even this! I was aware. I hoped. But, I didn’t believe, and that’s why my healing couldn’t be complete. I was still trying to heal myself through my studies and my pursuit and my merit. It was impossible.

So, I stole away. Not physically but spiritually, I took a retreat. I shut off my phone, turned off the computer, and powered off the t.v. At first, the silence was deafening. My tears fell endlessly because let’s face it, I’d been here before. What would make this time any different? Christ. Christ made this time completely different. First, He led me to literature, “Anonymous” – a look at Christ in His hidden years and “Unmerited Favor” – the beauty and freedom of grace. I devoured them, looked up every scripture given and read them, through… in context, and I found myself understanding, letting go, and feeling loved.

I understood for the first time in my life the power of the blood, the significance of the sacrifice, and the price that was paid. That’s not easy to admit. I’ve led and spoken and taught for years without really getting it. And, this is what stood out to me the most – the act of transference. Now, that sounds really strange, but it is actually very beautiful. Basically it says that when I accepted Christ as my savior (by faith) I accepted His sacrifice. In doing that, two amazing things happened: I transferred my sin (past, present and future) onto Him and He transferred His righteousness onto me. It’s what makes me right with God; the ONLY thing that has the power to make me right! And because of that “rightness” I’m no longer under the law. My sins were taken, forgiven, and divinely forgotten for all time before their time because He loves me! And that’s when He could finally set about doing what He’d wanted to do all along, was waiting to do with arms wide, reaching…Administer His healing, after all, in the process of transference it was already mine. He just had to remind me.

I bucked it at first; looked for scriptures to disprove this divine revelation, because isn’t Joseph Prince (the author of the book “Unmerited Favor”) just some kind of health and wealth preacher; well, transference would play well for him! But, it popped up everywhere I looked…from people that I knew and completely respected. It was in my daily devotions with the amazing Ozzie Chambers. It was reiterated through the compassionate heart of Kay Arthur. It was spotlighted through the sassy Southern charm of Beth Moore. It was literally being spoken all around me in literature that cluttered my bed. More than that it is repeated over and over at some point in the letters of Peter, Paul and John every time they mention the “new covenant”; after all, that was the whole purpose of Christ being sacrificed at all! The final sacrifice. No more needed. No more necessary. His death conquered the power of sin once and for ALL! (That, dear reader, includes you!) My disproval ended in His love – His amazing grace, that beautiful unmerited favor.

I was wide-eyed! Could it be?! I was free?! It was too easy, wasn’t it? And, I was no where near deserving… True. Completely, totally, beautifully true! But where did that leave me? Well, where else could it leave me – with a choice. I could choose to accept that act, that grace and walk in newness of life or I could pretend like I’d never seen it, never heard it and never heal. I chose to heal. I chose to take the transference and to live my life expressing my gratefulness!

James 4:7 says, “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He’ll draw near to you.” It all begins with submission to God – to His plan, His will, His embrace. And then you can resist, and you will scramble to draw near. Which beings me back to my blog name and the first brother sifted. Peter learned the same lesson.

As He watched Christ suffer, bleed and die on that cross, undoubtedly it dawned on Him. But when Jesus came to him again, drew him in, and questioned him, “Peter, do you love me?” I imagine his response was emotionally heartfelt and resolute, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!” And with Jesus prayer still fresh on His eternal lips, He requested the ultimate desire of His heart, “Feed my sheep.” in other words, “Yes! You get it! You understand my purpose, my plan, my will! Now share it!” No wonder such a fire filled that man! He and the other disciples took that lesson and revolutionized religion and unswervingly preached relationship! Peter had been sifted and came through to encourage, lead, and strengthen! How can I do any less?!

Be encouraged! That same act of transference applies to you – as Christ is, so you are! Not because of anything you did but all because of what He did! And in that astounding Truth, I’m healed! I guess I need to change my blog name now … Maybe “suds from a soap box” because the church is missing the picture while the Body is falling apart. I know; I was apart of the decay. But, there is good news! Hope! Life! – In Jesus Christ! And we have the power within us to endure… through His gift of the Holy Spirit! But that’s a subject for another blog 🙂 He loves us so – and that Love will not only feed His sheep, it’ll feed a hungry world! I’m sure of it, and He was dead sure of it!

Double Fisted

I had a shouting match with God. 

I’m not one of those that shies away from an argument, and me and God, well, we’ve wrestled from time-to-time. I’ve pushed and He’s pulled, and I left the match convicted and humbled. But, the other day, it was a shouting match. Double fisted.

I waded slowly into it with tears and an admittance of confusion. I was confused! He knew that. What I failed to admit (until He forced it out of me) is that I was also very angry…at me, at them, at Him. He wasn’t fooled. Bigger than that, He wasn’t shocked. It surprised me initially, but then I let Him have it! The “why’s” the “how’s” became “how could you?” and “why did you let this happen?” My sadness and confusion became aggravation and accusation. I was not pleased. It was not fair. He knew it…before I even admitted it.

Realizing He is God and I am just lil’ ol’ me, you’d think I’d back down. Not quite. I was livid, seething, selfish and I wasn’t quite through. I came at Him again with my words: all the fears and pain and questions that had silently built up in my heart. I let Him have it, throwing my fist in the air like some kind of gesture of power in insurrection. He would not budge… in fact, I got the feeling He was taking it all in…absorbing my frailty and pain.

Before I knew it, I was weeping and shouting and finally feeling what I had pushed down for so long, what I had refused to see. And, His voice became loud…not irrationally so, not audible, but increasingly evident to me. He took what I said, every accusation, every question and proceeded to direct some of His own. “Why didn’t you trust?” and “How couldn’t you see?” and “Where exactly did I forsake you?!” He completely blew up my defense. He showed me in no more than 5 minutes what, where, and why. Exactly. He expressed His own frustration and His righteousness and He coated it with love and grace and mercy.

As He spoke, He painted a picture. It wasn’t clear at first, just a fist. Not a strong fist in defiance but a gripped fist that shook in it’s intensity. Then, as He continued I glimpsed another fist, stretched and clutched, over and over. I thought I knew what He was saying: “I get it. You had me in Your grip, You were holding me tight and beckoning me.” That made sense. Then, he showed me that those fists were connected and spread wide. “Welcoming” – I got it. But I didn’t really, because then, it was like one of those posters where you see bits and pieces, but if you look just right it develops into another image all together, a three dimensional picture that suddenly pops out at you and you finally see it; it becomes more than a design and a swirl of color; it has meaning! About the point my eyes were strained, I saw the it clearly. Funny, it was right there all the time. 

A Cross.

The thing about those posters I mentioned, when you finally get the image, you can’t see anything else. And, that’s how our shouting match ended. All my anger and yelling and questions and accusations couldn’t change what He did…any more than my actions, my sins, my mistakes could. He was God, big enough to take my emotions, strong enough to carry my burdens, patient and loving enough to paint me a picture, a picture of grace: A cross, with arms stretched out wide, lifting up a double-fisted Savior.

“And in this corner …”

Today’s thoughts rest on Samson, who could very well have been a heavy weight champion!  Interesting story, huh? This guy is born into a vow, consecrated to God and somehow turns out to be the cockiest most dangerous guy on the planet. For instance, after he discovers he’s been cheated out of a riddle, he kills 30 men in order to fulfill his obligations. Then when he finds out he’s lost his wife to the best man at the wedding (because, I mean, let’s face it he had “spousal abuse” written all over him!), he didn’t just beat down the guy that ticks him off; he catches a bunch of foxes (300 to be exact), ties their tails together, and proceeds to burn completely the fields of the town! And that’s not all, because of his “fox stunt” the town gets mad and burns to death his ex-wife and her dad (which I can’t say I didn’t see coming since we are talking about the old testament) so Samson, not one to back down from revenge, gets even and slaughters 1000 men with a jaw bone! Can you say anger issues?! 

And yet, despite all this and more (including a romp with a prostitute) God still shows favor and uses him. I can’t help but think there might have been less blood shed if he’d been a little less egotistical and a lot more spiritually obedient, but we don’t get that story; we get this one – about a cocky, rash, and vengeful man with dreadlocks (7 braids precisely). What does that mean? Well, I think there could be many lessons found, but the one that stands out to me, that pretty much meets me where I am is this: God doesn’t call the perfect. What a relief that is! I was having a hard time looking at my many mistakes and still believing I was called. Luckily for us, Samson isn’t the only flawed vessel…Abraham, David, Paul, Peter, and Jonah just to name a few! But honestly, Samson makes them look tame!  I’m thinking David, with all his courage and might, might have stepped back a bit when met in the dark by Samson! No doubt he was intimidating.

Sadly, or rather, finally we come to the end of Samson’s, (shall we say interesting?) life. He’s been imprisoned for years, blind and destitute, weak and humbled. He is called out at a party to be mocked, spit on, and ridiculed. His anger rises up one last time. What does he do? Shout out a Tarzan yell, grab the closest pig carcass, and go to town on the people? No. He requests, he prays and he seems somehow less cocky, less self assured, less rash. He simply asks to rest his frame on the pillars of the building. Then, he prays for God to endow him with strength once more to take out the people that had taken down his people, that had gouged out his eyes, and had mocked his God.  And he IS vindicated.

Sometimes it takes a great tragedy to humble us and equip us for the work God has for us. Upon his conception, Samson was destined to take down the philistines. It was destined, and his whole life he gave them hell; But, it wasn’t until he was imprisoned and humbled that he finally fulfilled his purpose. Might it have played out differently if he’d not been as hard, as cocky, and as angry as he was? Perhaps. But God created him for a purpose, seeing all time and space, knowing exactly how and what he’d be, and though it baffles us, He chose Samson anyway… Maybe because. That’s something to think about isn’t it? 

So where are you? Struggling through the unthinkable, feeling that God is so disappointed in you, you couldn’t possibly be used? Wrestling with the enemy of doubt, thinking maybe you’ve been mistaken that His call must have been misplaced? Oh, sweet child of His, tell those voices to shut up! He used Samson (against all logic and without restraint) and He certainly has a plan for you… And me… Regardless, in spite of, or because of what we’ve done! It’s that simple. And that’s the story of Samson. 😉

Mr. Sandman, give me a break!

Dreams.

I hate dreams.

Just at the point where I feel myself healing, I’ll have a dream, and it will throw me off again. And, I don’t know what to do with that. 

Dreams are often defined as the thoughts in our subconscious that we play out in our sleep. Hmmm. So how do we take those thoughts captive?  If I ever had a conscious thought of the scenarios that play out in my dreams, I would take them captive in Jesus name and get over it! But, I’m sleeping, completely unaware and I’m attacked. I don’t know what to do with that.

Let me elaborate, I’m not talking bad dreams, sinful dreams…(Though I wouldn’t know what to do with those either) but dreams that simply take me back to the very thing that I’m trying to heal from. In my day to day life, the life where I’m submitting, relinquishing and moving forward, I’m staying away from those thoughts. If they dare to creep up, I distract myself, subvert them, take them captive, but in my dreams they take me captive. Sigh.

And I wake up.

And I’m overwhelmed, distracted, and feel guilty all over again. Bleh. It’s not fair, and I can’t make sense of it, and the more I have these dreams the less I feel removed from my sin. What do I do with that?

Well, today, I’m taking a page from David. I’m talking to my soul and saying, “What’s wrong with you?! Put your hope in God!” I’m reminding myself that I can’t beat myself up for what I can’t control! I can’t condemn myself for what I can’t choose! I can’t let my thoughts completely screw up my day! I’m on vacation for Heavens sake! “Blog about it and move on!” So that’s what I did… (fingers crossed).

An explanation of my thought process (as scary as that might be)

So, it comes to my attention that my blog name suggests a defeatist mentality… oh contrair mon frair! It is only the belief that I’m not defeated that leads me to this! You see, even though satan has asked to sift, it only happens because my God has allowed it. 

So, I hate to break it to you little man with the pointy tail, you are not my sifter! My Sifter sifts for the purpose of strengthening me, building me up, equipping me for the purpose He’s called me to. Ultimately, the glory will be His and you will be left baffled as to how you lost the battle again! And I hope when that day comes, you will shudder under the shadow of the cross- because, though I may find you intimidating, my Jesus is power, might, and strength. At the end of this time, you will see that, in the very fact that He has chosen me, I too am a victor!

This brokenness, this season, this trial is a momentary event that will pass away. In the process, I will not be silent in the hopes that I can be an encouragement, a shining light, a voice for others that trod this earth in flesh. We’re NOT alone; we’re in this together. So let the lessons begin …