A Missing Missive

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Graham Cooke said that “God doesn’t focus on what is wrong with us, rather, He is attending to what is missing.

My daughter wants to be a cheerleader. This is a pretty tall order – Not because she isn’t capable but because she is missing some key components in order to do so. As a parent I have a choice – point out what is wrong with her… Or attend to what is missing.

If I choose to point out what is wrong with her, I will very likely crush her spirit. But, if I choose to attend to those missing key components, not only is she capable to live her dream, but she will become confident and strong not only to fulfill that purpose but the passions that inspire her later.

And isn’t that what God is about? With our acceptance of Christ and the knowledge of Him removing the blot of sin and the punishment it affords, what good does it do for God to point out what is wrong with us? Instead He is better served (and I mean that in the very literal expression of that word) by pointing out what is missing and what He provides, what He has already provided!

This is what I see. We are too sin conscious. This serves one purpose, the purpose of the law, to point out our failures and precipitate the exhausting effort of keeping up with holiness. This mindset leaves us feeling defeated and undeserving, which has the eventual effect of crippling our service as Ambassadors of Christ. We will never measure up.

This is what I believe. If we paid less attention to what we were doing wrong or right and more attention to what is missing from our lives, keeping us from dwelling in His fullness, and seeking God for that supply, we will become more holy. The end that we seek through the means of performance is fully met in the knowledge of who we are in Christ!

Let me step back a minute. The key there is “who we are in Christ.” Without Christ we are still stained with sin and our punishment is death. It doesn’t sound nice. We don’t like to hear that some are excepted, but it’s the Truth. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me.” Without our acceptance of Christ as our Savior, we are still marked by death. His blood and resurrection is what changes who we are to what we are meant to be. Those who are without Christ are judged by what is wrong AND by what they are missing. But, at any moment, in understanding and humility, they can change all of that!

That being said, as we are reborn in Christ, we are equipped for everything our life in Him requires. God isn’t a task master, He is the giver of all good things. He will never ask something of us that He hasn’t already given us in advance. So, He gave us Jesus to take away what was wrong, and now He reminds us that what we are still missing He has already given us in vast supply!

Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him.” (1 John 3:20-22 NLT)

I think a big reason people refuse to come to Christ or believe in God is because they fear what He will do, and that is because they do not know Who He is. I think of Jesus telling the parable of the talents. Why didn’t the guy with the one talent do anything with it? He says “I knew you were a hard Master…” The word “knew” is more like “convinced.” When we are convinced God is one way, heaping shame and guilt upon us and seeing us as infidels never able to measure up, if we perceive Him as hard and cruel and unyielding, if we see Him as vengeful and punishing, that’s how we will respond to Him… In fear, not reverence, in hatred instead of love.

How do I know? Well, I’ve seen it, and it breaks my heart that someone cannot see my Father and Saviour as accessible and grateful and merciful and loving. Secondly, I’ve experienced it. If I came down on my daughter and told her she wouldn’t measure up and that she should just forget ever pursuing her dream, she would think me mean and cruel, and I would be. But, when I lovingly instruct her in what it takes to do what she desires and we take the time to help her make those changes, no doubt she might not like me at first because I’m asking her to change her sedentary ways, but in the end through her perseverance and my support and love and encouragement, she will realize that she is free to be more by replacing her doubt with confidence.

God wants to do the same. He wants us to see our relationship like the latter example rather than the first, but too often we see changing our ways as punishment rather than transformation and being led as brain-washed rather than walking in freedom from guilt and shame.

My daughter may never be a cheerleader, but she is learning new habits and a mindset that will set her up for greater things to come! And I know God is doing the same with me – little by little, day by day, pointing out that in fully abiding in Him I am found whole!

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Forgive me, God, I’m depressed.

ImageI hate it. I really do. I am a positive and hopeful person most of the time, but then like a thief in the night it sneaks up on me, stealing whatever positive thoughts and hopeful expectations my heart had settled on but not fully embraced.

 I feel guilty. How could one so loved and so forgiven and so obviously favored feel so down? I can so easily speak to another about the Truths of God to help pull them out of their pits of self-abasement, but when I am lapping from the pool of self-pity, I simply forget there is Living Water dammed up inside. Do I forget? Or do I choose not to drink thinking in some twisted way this is my punishment for past sins and aggressions?

 That’s when the lies begin to surface and hover around my heart like a million bees stinging the vulnerable places. Every angry word spoken to me, every accusation made, every failure and misunderstanding find their voice and threaten to undo every Truth I have hidden there. It becomes too much, too loud, and I start to shut down, undone by the venom, needing an antidote but feeling too unworthy to drink from His cup.

 And in those moments, I am so homesick for His compassion and mercy I am literally ill. What is wrong with me? I tell myself, “You better pull yourself together! There are people depending on you! If you become so depressed and overwhelmed and you know the Truth and study it daily, what hope does that offer others that don’t have that foundation?” And I curl up, letting my Saviour cover me with His love and strengthen my frame while I weep over my failures yet again.

“The Lord has compassion on us for He remembers that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14-15)

I don’t have to look far to find other ancestors in the faith that had the same struggle. The Psalms read like the diary of a manic depressive; David was no stranger to depression. He went from the heights of favor and provision and praise to the depths of despair and anxiety and fearing for his life. And yet, he was still regarded as “A man after God’s own heart.” I once heard that wasn’t because he always said the right thing before God but that he spoke all that was on his heart – whether it was highest praise or confession of unthinkable sin. Nothing was hidden from God. In that, I suppose I am not so different from King David.

Those around me get frustrated with my emotions. My tears, not hidden, make others uncomfortable. The usual gleam in my eye is replaced with a glassy stare and those closest to me recognize it. “As Jesus is so are you. Jesus is not depressed, and neither are you.” I understand the meaning behind that, but the logic is unsound. No. Jesus is not depressed. Not now. But He had moments of such raw and overwhelming emotion that He was undone. Granted, I’m not in the Garden of Gethsemane about to take on the fullness of God’s wrath for the salvation of the world, but there are moments when ministry takes me to my knees and I cannot bear up under the weight any longer.

“Cast your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

 And how do you do that exactly? The word for “cast” there is literally “throw, as if casting a net, far and wide,” and far too often I merely hand my cares over like I’m afraid they will be dismissed or worse, rejected. You see how the thoughts then are cyclical?

 But in those desperate moments, very much like the one that I am in today, this verse becomes my beckoning:

 “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

 With that declaration, my focus changes. The “self” cesspool that I was drowning in now is revealed for what it is, the destructive, defeat of an enemy that longs to see me stopped and silenced! And I declare with shaking voice, “You will not win!

 And this childlike warrior finds her weapon, takes her position, and resumes the fight. It is long and it is hard and sometimes I need a moment to run home and cry, to pull the covers over my head and beg for tomorrow to hurry faster, but my Daddy reminds me, “A failure is one that refuses to get back up. You, My child, are more than a conqueror!” Like my forefather David, I take aim at the giant before me, the impeding darkness of depression, knowing my God is greater than even my emotions.

Alleyway Jesus – Greg Milwee writes about “dirty” redemption

I just finished reading a book, “Alleyway Preacher,” by Greg Milwee, and it impressed me. Not that I am any expert, but I do read a lot of books and have written a couple of my own. With that, I know that there is an interesting balance that Christian writers are forced to make – the balance of cliché and preachy with relevance and believability. For writers that are especially compelled to share a message of grace and hope wrapped up in the love of Jesus in such a way to draw in those that need it most, this is a formidable task.

 I first “met” Greg Milwee online. He knew I had written a couple of books and wanted some information on how I did it and how he might do the same. To be honest, I get that question a lot, and I don’t feel qualified to answer those questions, but I could tell by the way Greg asked that it wasn’t about being famous or getting rich (which writing will NOT do for you), but it was about getting a message out and sharing a story. As he was desperate to get it in the hands of others, I encouraged him to go the self-published route, but I can see, now that we have the book published and I see it’s beauty and potential, he was definitely in a league with good writers and given some time and a good agent would have been able to get a book deal with an established publishing house. And, I don’t say that lightly… but for the raw talent he possesses.

 However, this is a book review, so here is what I thought:

 “Alleyway Preacher” is a great look at what life guided by the Holy Spirit looks like, and how that obedience has the power to transform lives around you. The characters are well presented, and in their development, you find yourself wanting to know more. They are believable. The way that they interact and react, their thoughts and their emotions, are very realistic. It revolves around a church, but the building itself is just a rotating door, the church as it acts and serves is exemplified in the people. As I read it, I was challenged in some areas and affirmed in other areas. One of the strongest lessons I received is the very life lesson that God is schooling me in now – when we submit to the Holy Spirit and respond to what He asks of us, it will very likely be misunderstood by those around us, those in the church and those in the world. But, as the book shows, if God leads you to do something He will protect you through it. Ministry isn’t pretty. Real ministry is often something others might consider lowly or unlovely, untouchable service… real ministry is being the hands and feet of Jesus, and more often than not, it takes place in the alleyway rather than from the pulpit.

 One thing that we aren’t very comfortable with in the Westernized church is the idea of sacrifice and discomfort. We want to include God in our lives, but we don’t want to live our lives for Him. Milwee does a good job of showing how that affects those around us. It is only through true submission and surrender of our own selfish desires that we can build His Kingdom here. He shares the gospel and a message of hope and love not just with imagination rather as one who has seen the power of being the Body of Christ.

 I intentionally didn’t tell you much about the events of the book. I want you to read it. I want it to inspire you to do more and live more sacrificially. I want you to be encouraged, those of you who already do, to know that you will indeed reap heavenly rewards for the good works that you are doing. And to those that need to see hope and believe in God’s ability to take the messed up lives that we offer him and turn them into hope and healing for those that need His love, I want you to know that it can be found through Him and living out His purpose in trust and sacrifice.

 

You can download the book here:

http://kindle.amazon.com/work/the-alleyway-preacher-greg-millwee/B00DJ3SP2K/1483921131

And you can find Greg Milwee on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/gmillwee

All out love

One of the most memorable stories in Heidi Baker’s book, Compelled by Love, took place in London. I say ONE of the MOST memorable because the book is filled with amazing stories of faith and love and healing! But this story that I am about to relate…to use a phrase my college friend uses, rocked my face off!

Heidi is a passionate, loving soul. I haven’t met her, but when you read her words you hear her heart and you know. You feel amazing love from her. Her love for others led her to London at 17. Just saved a couple of years she found herself in London wanting to lead others to this wonderful Savior that as she says “ruined” her. That’s not a bad thing. I know what she means. When you have felt and experienced that amazing all-consuming passionate love from the Lover of your soul…you are ruined. Nothing else will ever measure up, no other love will take your breath away, and no human can compare.

In London she met a girl that was more like a man -strong and gruff, masculine and angry. She had been sexually abused and mistreated in a horrible homelife. She had run away but the past was still haunting her and taunting her. She would have none of Heidi’s love. She made that clear.

She also met a man, a drunk. He was hopeless and depressed. He didn’t want what Heidi was pushing. He was fine on his own, Jesus didn’t want him anyway. Reluctantly, Heidi realized that as much as she wanted to, she couldn’t drag them to forgiveness and grace and love…they had to make that choice. She prayed they would.

One night Heidi decided to try to talk to the girl one more time, but whatever she said or didn’t say set her off! They were in the stairwell of the apartment that they were living in and she hit her. Heidi said, “I love you.” She hit her again, and again through the pain Heidi said, “I love you.” Anger welled up and pain was unleashed and the girl was pummeling her, beating her with every lash of memory into her face. The whole time, through tears and confusion and severe pain, Heidi kept saying “I love you!” The man, drinking on his stoop, was privy to this whole scene. Awestruck he was unable to move as he watched her being beaten to death. Before it was too late, he yelled and frightened the girl off. He picked up Heidi, carried her to his apartment, and nursed her back to health. Her love for the girl was more than he could stand, and suddenly he understood that it wasn’t her love but Christ’s love in and through her! He wanted that Savior! He needed that Savior! And he found Him.

Heidi then says that weeks of recovery went by, and then one day there is a knock at the door, it is the girl. In her hands, she carried some flowers, and with tears she apologized and wanted to know more about this Jesus.

That is LOVE. All out love – that Paul talks about. He says in Romans 12:9-10 that our love for one another should be an all out love! Not holding back but giving all we have…the kind of love that the World cannot understand…the kind of love that is beyond comprehension or explanation…the kind of love that will allow someone to beat you to the point of death while you whisper, “I love you.” Irrational, crazy love…the kind of love that will take on the penalty for sins He never committed… that will allow Himself to be crucified on a cross a symbol of shame, reserved for the worst of criminals…that will speak through a deformed face as blood drips from His face, “Father forgive them.”

All out love.

That’s what He asks…that’s what it’s all about…that’s what we should be all about. Are you? Because I want to be, and I won’t stop until I am.

The day He swallowed my death

*WARNING THIS IS ABOUT SUICIDE AND MIGHT BE CONSIDERED GRAPHIC

“Then the saying will come true: Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death?” 1 Corinthians 15:51

In our community we have suffered the loss of 5 teens through suicide in the last 6 months. That’s been almost one a month. So, in an effort to share encouragement and to speak life into broken hearts, we are choosing to make May Suicide Awareness Month and having a huge, free concert this Thursday (June 2) with Building 429, Royal Tailor Band, and Hayley Masters!

I have a vested interest in this venture. Eighteen years and about a couple months ago, I was convinced that I would be better off dead. The heart-wrenching and overwhelming fear of my future, years of bearing the guilt and shame of a past that I couldn’t come to grips with, and the feelings of isolation and “no one will understand”, were all climaxing to a point where suicide seemed like the best choice.

Unlike some might think, one very rarely just wakes up one morning and decides to take his/her life. It’s a very deliberate murder of self. Much thought goes into this – the hows and whens and wheres actually are very well thought out. I wrestled through all of those options, and luckily for me, I lived in a foreign country where handguns were not easily accessible, so a blade or a knife to the wrist seemed to be my best bet. I had thought it through and was well aware of the “failure rate” of that type of suicide so I studied my arms and wrists intensely so that I would know exactly where to drive the blade, what blade would be best, and whether or not a knife was necessary. I chose a weekend where I knew that I would be alone in the dorm, because honestly I didn’t want a peer to walk up on the scene and be traumatized. (Strange. I thought I was being thoughtful.) I chose the community bathroom, because there was a large sink drain in the floor and I would run the water so that it would drain away the blood more quickly so I wouldn’t have to endure the sight of blood for long. I knew it would hurt my parents, and come out of nowhere for them because I had worked so hard to disguise my depression and my anguish, but I also figured that they had two other daughters that would fill that void for them. They would be fine. It was the best plan for everyone.

I remember the walk down the hall. The blade was securely in my hand, and my tears were blinding me. It felt very much like a march to the gallows…even if I was my own executioner. I turned on the light to the bathroom and made my way to the sink. I said my goodbyes in my head, I cried for each of my family members and wished my friends life’s best, then just as I was about to jerk the blade into my flesh, I saw something in the sink faucet. I was crying so I wiped away the tears thinking that I was mistaken, but then I saw that it was a face. I leaned in to take a closer look and noticed it as the precious face of my then toddler niece. Funny, I didn’t think I was going crazy. It was a welcome sight. Then I heard the following words, “For her.” The moment freaked me out. I pulled back and got angry and became once more resolved with the blade when I heard, “NO! You must LIVE for HER!” I know it sounds crazy, but I knew exactly Who was speaking to me in that moment. The Power and Authority in that Voice was so strong. I dropped the blade and fell to the floor, “God, help me! I beg of you, help me!” I heard the door creak at the end of the hall down from the bathroom. I pulled myself up from the floor and wiped my eyes. I was a master pretender. If someone were coming, they would never know what was about to happen. But, no one came. In that moment that I stood and waited for the door of the bathroom to open, all I could hear was my heartbeat, and with every beat of my heart those words echoed, “For her, for her, for her, for her…” I looked at the blade, where it had fallen just about two feet away from me, and I stared at it. I looked at the faucet, where I had seen her face. I looked at my wrists. Then, I remember, squeezing my hands in a fist, dropping them to my side, and walking out of that bathroom.

I felt two things as I made my way down that hall – “I’ve failed”… and “Now what?” I got back to my room, turned off the light, laid on my bed and waited. The next morning, there was a knock at my door. My friend, Joy Conrad, had made something for me. She brought it to my room. She laid it in my hands. It was a picture album. She had hand-stitched the front with the words “Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.” But, instead of pictures, this book held about 20 3×5 cards, and written in hand on each one of these cards was verse after verse of God’s promises to me, His love for me, His desire for me, and His purpose for me. She had no idea, but that was the beginning of a long climb out of a dark pit.

It began with that book. I found the energy to move one step into life. I acted the part of the perfectly healthy teen while I was at school or with my friends, but when I got back to my room, I would sit on my bed, facing the window, and I would sit in silence…letting my heart speak to it’s Creator. The next week, the silence turned to words. I would read those scripture verses out loud and let their power fill the room. The next week, the words were replaced with songs, simple heart-felt songs that echoed my Father’s heart back to me. We stayed in that place for a long time, singing to one another. It probably sounds crazy that I knew He was singing to me, but I knew that He was…He was singing through me and to me… and as we sang, life began to grow brighter. Slowly but surely, I began to write…my feelings, my fears, my heart, my life song…whatever I was thinking. Never knowing that He had given me my purpose in that.

Last night, as I watched and listened and my heart grieved for those lost and those desperate and those considering, I wept. But mingled in with those tears of sorrow, were profound tears of joy as I nuzzled my husband’s cheek and thanked Daddy God for rescuing my life. It’s no wonder I’m passionate about teen girls…and for the heart of broken women of all ages…it was more than for my niece that He saved me that day. He saved me for every her that He would allow me to meet…and in time He has filled me with a powerful love for them, that refuses to let them believe that they are anything less than worthy! He saved me so wonderfully that year that even the pain that came after that time, and the pain that I recently endured, and the pain that I have yet to endure, in the end, all seem worth it, because with each revelation of frailty, I’m reminded that He is Strong and He is with me, and in those moments of stillness, He is still singing over me.