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The-Sacred-Romance(pp_w820_h485)

The Message Of The Arrows

Reading this excerpt from John Eldredge’s book, “The Sacred Romance” got me thinking…is Eldredge overstating the impact of our negative experiences? Do we really carry wounds from our pasts that impact our current lives? It’s easy to for many like me to think about all the many wonderful blessings that have been bestowed upon us and sweep the rest under the rug. However, I have concluded that ignoring our wounds from the past, whatever they are, limits our ability to connect with each other and even limits our experience of connecting with God. Take a moment to read this excerpt and share your thoughts.

At some point we all face the same decision—what will we do with the Arrows we’ve known? Maybe a better way to say it is, what have they tempted us to do? However they come to us, whether through a loss we experience as abandonment or some deep violation we feel as abuse, their message is always the same: Kill your heart. Divorce it, neglect it, run from it, or indulge it with some anesthetic (our various addictions). Think of how you’ve handled the affliction that has pierced your own heart. How did the Arrows come to you? Where did they land? Are they still there? What have you done as a result?

To say we all face a decision when we’re pierced by an Arrow is misleading. It makes the process sound so rational, as though we have the option of coolly assessing the situation and choosing a logical response. Life isn’t like that—the heart cannot be managed in a detached sort of way (certainly not when we are young, when some of the most defining Arrows strike). It feels more like an ambush, and our response is at a gut level. We may never put words to it. Our deepest convictions are formed without conscious effort, but the effect is a shift deep in our soul. Commitments form never to be in that position again, never to know that sort of pain again. The result is an approach to life that we often call our personality. If you’ll listen carefully to your life, you may begin to see how it has been shaped by the unique Arrows you’ve known and the particular convictions you’ve embraced as a result. The Arrows also taint and partially direct even our spiritual life.

mouse trap

Don’t Take The Bait – Randsomed Heart Ministries

I enjoy reading the daily devotionals sent out by John and Stasi Eldredge’s Ransomed Heart Ministry. Today’s seemed to strike a sensitive nerve in me. Holding on to hurt leads to death. I am seeking his help to identify and release the hurt that I have experienced. That’s not to minimize it, but to recognize it and simultaneously recognize that I also am, at times, a perpetrator of wrong, hurting others. May you find deeper connection to our Lord and Savior through this message…

The only way is love. Paul says love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5). In loving relationships, we want to throw away the list in our heads of wrongs done to us and ignore them when they raise their indictments yet again. Too often we keep those lists, ruminate on them, and nurse them like a wounded animal. We say we forgive—and we may even believe we have—but when the list presents itself again we entertain it with a sort of sick satisfaction. “See what they did? Remember what she said?” We have taken the bait of offense. We are inside the trap.

The word used in Scripture for offense actually means “bait,” the bait that is placed inside a trap to lure an animal to its death. 

Offenses need to be forgiven quickly, or they will fester and poison the relationship. The poison seeps out and affects our own souls as well. Offenses that are held on to lead to death. 

People will hurt us. We will hurt and offend as well. We all will do this with intention and without, with our thoughts bent to wound and with no thought at all. Jesus took all our offenses into his broken body when he died for us, and he took everyone else’s as well. All that he suffered—the beating, the scourging, the mocking, and finally the crucifixion—was more than enough to pay for it all. Our offenses and theirs. 

Tullian

God’s Grace: The Door To Lawlessness Or Freedom?

I wanted to share a excerpt from Jonathan Merritt’s interview with Tullian Tchividjian (Grandson of Billy Graham). It is a fantastic interview with several insightful and thought provoking discussions. I have only listed the first question and response, which is chalk full of valuable thoughts to ponder. I would suggest reading it through the lens of examining your own stance on grace vs. obedience, rather than exclusively focusing on the church’s stance, especially since you and I are critical parts of the church. I hope and pray that this compels you to run more aggressively into the arms of our loving father.

JM: One criticism that has been leveled against the church is that we’ve been more concerned with behavior modification than with grace. Am I correct in saying that you believe this is a valid criticism?

Tullian Tchividjian: There’s no question that for far too long the church has been primarily concerned with external change. Preachers are afraid of grace because they think it undercuts obedience and encourages apathy. If Jesus paid it all and it is finished, if the judgment against us has been fully and finally taken care of, aren’t we opening the door to lawlessness? This is what Judaizers were afraid of: they didn’t like Gospel of free grace because they thought people would get out of control. If God is not mad at me and if he will never love me more than he does right now, then why can’t I party my way through life? The underlying fear is that unconditional grace leads to licentiousness.

While attacks on morality will always come from outside the church, attacks on grace will always come from inside the church because somewhere along the way we’ve come to believe that this whole thing is about behavioral modification and personal moral improvement. We’ve concluded that grace just doesn’t possess the teeth to scare us into changing. As a result we get a steady diet of “do more, try harder” sermons; we get a “to do list” version of Christianity that causes us to believe the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian. So we end up hearing more about “Christian living” than the Christ.

We think this will be what gets people to clean up their act, to fix themselves, to volunteer in the nursery, to obey, to read their Bibles, to change the world–but it actually has the opposite effect. A steady diet of “do more, try harder” sermons doesn’t cause people to do more or try harder…it makes them give up. Legalism produces lawlessness 10 times out of 10.

The fact is, that the solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of God. Only undeserved grace can truly melt and transform the heart. The route by which the New Testament exhorts sacrificial love and obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home. Charles Spurgeon nailed it when he said, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I beat my breast to think I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so and sought my good.”

Enjoy the entire interview HERE.

Hua Shan

Down To My Toes

I am deeply loved and delighted in by God.

He cares for me like no one else does. I am constantly on his mind. He is always excited to show me a new plan, idea, or insight that will blow me away. He wants to bring me good pleasures. He desires for me to realize my potential and purpose and, most importantly, he desires to have an intimate connection with me. His plans for me are more than I could ever imagine on my own. He does not grow tired when my faith wanes, when I seek life in the tombs of this world. He is undeterred in his pursuit of me. He is fueled by a force far more powerful than I will ever fully understand. He is driven by love. His love is pure. It is unconditional. It is the perfect blend of truth and grace. He gives it out in quantities and frequencies that are incomprehensible to humans.

What would happen if I actually believed these truths down to my toes? How would my life change? What if I were compelled by and obsessing over this love constantly? I dare say that I would be so loving and unselfish that I would almost be unrecognizable to those who know me. I would be infecting everyone in my sphere of influence with a life altering substance called love. I would be addicted to giving from a pure heart. I would be addicted to God himself, not wanting to live a single moment outside of consciously recognizing him for all that he is.

The older I grow, the more attractive this sounds. I have to admit, though, I’m still a bit gun shy about it. It sounds so extreme, but the truth is that life any other way is extremely dark by comparison. So, I continue to step out of the dark places and into the life that he has offered me. Slowly, but surely, I experience his loving embrace and a few more ounces of his character, which is rooted and grounded in love, and it gives me courage to continue down the path. The journey isn’t an easy one, but I know where it ends and I know there is significance in each step along the way.

Photo Credit: Tynan.com

blindness

Four Valuable Lessons On Spiritual Blindness

I came across a great blog by Paul David Tripp recently that provides great insight into our spiritual condition. As we embrace these lessons, we grow closer to the giver of life. I love to be reminded how God’s economy is different from this world’s economy. Enjoy!

Blindness

Do you know anyone who is blind? I’ve acquired some life-changing information about spiritual blindness from people who can’t see the physical things I see everyday.

1. Seeing With Two Pairs of Eyes

First, I’ve learned that the eyes of my heart are far more important than the eyes of my body. I could be physically blind yet have very accurate spiritual vision, and conversely, I could have 20/20 eyesight while I’m blind to my own sin and the glorious things of God.

In fact, I’ve found that…

 

disappointed

An Unexpected Response

As I sat across the table from my friend, Pastor Randy, I had a tightness in my chest and I was feeling somewhat anxious. I needed to come clean with him on an issue that I had been struggling with. I had finally decided that this issue had snake bitten me too many times and I was going to deal with it. Bringing it out into the light first with God, then my wife and now Pastor Randy, who I didn’t know all that well at the time. I supposed that he would be verbally supportive, but that his eyes would cast shame on me and that he would think long and hard before involving me in any leadership roles at church. What happened next shocked me.

I suppose that my shock was based on several false assumptions about God, Pastors and Randy. Although I knew about God from a life-time of bible studies and I had good experiences with Pastors, I still felt an instinctive sense of shame that trumped everything else. I had somehow constructed a belief that God required me to prove my sincerity through my actions and attitude before his stern look of shame could begin to soften. I’m not entirely sure where I picked that up, but IT WAS NOT FROM GOD. You see, God doesn’t use shame like a club to beat us into submission. He desires to remove shame – a misconception of who we are and what we’re worth. He is also realistic about the need to remove it often. He knows who he is dealing with. He had a plan of redemption from the very beginning. He is never surprised or shocked when I blow it. When I come into the light and agree with him that I have blown it, he is gracious and instantly welcomes me back with open arms and a wide smile. Shocking!

As I sat across the table from Pastor Randy, I quickly got to the matter that was on my heart and spat it out in one long breath. Before I could inhale my next breath, Randy’s eyes lit up with joy and he busted out an ear to ear grin, as he said to me, “Praise the Lord brother, you are free!” I was not expecting that, even in my most optimistic fantasy.

Could this be an appropriate response from a Pastor? How could he greet my confession of a life lived from a selfish, rebellious place with that? I didn’t even get a scripture or a “game plan for change” from him. He heard what I had said, and was genuinely excited for me and what it meant for my relationship with God. He trusted that Jesus had already done all the work and he was wanting to celebrate the victory that Jesus had in my life. No guilt. No shame. Just smiles and celebrating.

As surprising as this reaction was, after I thought about it, this is an exact representation of how God rolls. He celebrates when the prodigal comes home. He doesn’t want us to come into the light so that he can shame us, but so that he can connect with us. The exercise of confession is simply agreeing with God that you’ve made poor choices that are taking you away from him. That’s it.

It is not my declaring that I will do better next time that unlocks the freedom that Jesus purchased on the cross, but rather my confession (agreement with God). While this is not the same as repentance, it is a massive step in that direction. Once I realize that I can release the shame attached to my sin, I am perfectly set up for a U-turn of the heart (A.K.A. repentance). It can be very difficult to complete that U-turn while pulling an overloaded trailer of shame and trying to prove that, “I will do it better next time”.

Even though I have been a believer for more than 40 years, I continue to be amazed and awestruck at God’s generosity and grace towards me. I am so thankful that he chose to show it to me through my friend Pastor Randy. I pray that I can continue to embrace the good news and integrate it like Randy has, so that others may be blessed by God’s image being reflected in me and my reactions.

baby-surprise (2)

God Is Not The Least Bit Impressed

When speaking during a retreat or at one of our Aphesis Group weekend experiences, I will often strongly exclaim, “God’s love and delight for us is deeper than we can ever imagine … however, he is not the least bit impressed with us.” The looks on people’s faces tell me this sometimes sounds confusing. But in reality, our love and affection for our children works the same way.

After only two years of marriage, my wife Renee told me it was her deep desire to start having children. This caused a lot of anxiety for me. I told her I wasn’t ready to be a father; I had enough love for her as my wife but I didn’t have enough love in me for a son or daughter. Reluctantly, I gave in.

Less than a year later, we were in the birthing room at the hospital. With my doubts still very much intact, there I was waiting for this child I didn’t have enough love for to be born. Then it happened. My first daughter arrived. Something happened to me in the first moment of my daughter Savannah’s birth. Love flooded my heart for her. Within the first minute of seeing her I declared to my soul and quietly to the world, “I love this little one with all my heart…I would die for this little girl. If anyone threatens this little one, they will feel the full weight of my wrath.” All doubt about having enough love and about my being a father quickly faded.

Why? What happened?

It’s simple, really. When I saw Savannah for the first time, it took only seconds to realize I was looking at a reflection of my image and the image of the woman (Renee) I adored, and love poured into my heart. Savannah reflected the image of us! She was a product of our love and delight in each other. The births of each of our four children had the same effect on me. To this day, I am as moved and amazed as I was in those first moments. My children are now all adults, but as I look at them I still see this blend of my image and my wife’s image. Its effect on me is still the same. I’m still crazy in love with our image bearers.

At first sight I fell in love with my daughter Savannah; however, I was not the least bit impressed with her. She couldn’t stand up, walk, talk, work, or really do anything of use. As a matter of fact, her deficits far outweighed her assets. She produced all kinds of smelly disgusting messes and didn’t add any productive value to our new family, yet our love and delight in her was deeper than words can adequately express. Our love and delight was not because of her potential or what we thought she would become; our love and delight was in who she was to us AS IS!

It is only after I became a father that I could begin to grasp the mystery of God’s love and delight in me. I am a reflection of his image! God is not the least bit impressed with me or my abilities or what I can do, just as I was not impressed with Savannah’s abilities or what she could do. I’m convinced God is not impressed or favorably influenced by ANY of our gifts, abilities, or accomplishments. He does not love us for what we can do, but rather he loves us with the love and delight of a Creator and, even more so, the love of a father and mother who see in their offspring the image of themselves. God the Father’s love and delight for us goes as deep as his relationship with his Holy Son Jesus. The thought is mind blowing, astonishing, profound, and humbling. Those moments that I can move this thought from my head to my heart are transformational.

 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one  I in them and you in me so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

  John 17:22-24

Waffle-Wisk-Batter

Waffle Rest

I love it when my dad cooks for me. I used to live just minutes from my parents and could enjoy Dad’s cooking frequently, but God’s design for my missionary career now means I live 900 miles away. On a recent trip “back home” to see my family, I stayed with my folks and my dad made me waffles for dinner. The happiness that took over in me as I watched him mix batter, supervise the waffle iron, and prepare bacon and eggs to nestle next to the syrupy goodness that would soon be on my plate, made me reflect on why I sometimes long for him to do this very thing when I am three states away in my own home, feeling homesick. I knew that just a few days later when I was up north in my own kitchen, I would soon feel this longing for him to cook again.

What is it about his cooking for me? About his asking me what I want for dinner, pestering me until I tell him what I am really hungry for? Why was an aching space in me touched to watch him whisk ingredients together and listen to him tell me to clear my work from the table so he could set it with all we would need for a very tasty, but not exceptionally elegant, meal?

I realized that what I get homesick for is my dad’s delight in doing this. He can’t make it fast enough or yummy enough for me. And it’s not because I am selfish or greedy. He just loves to give and I love to receive his delight. I have years of experience and reassurance that my dad knows I don’t need him to cook for me, but that he thoroughly enjoys doing this for me. I have learned to anticipate this act of love and relax in it, offering gently to help but not needing to intervene in his activity and show over and again that I can do it and he need not be bothered.

I wish I would do this more often with God. Sit in his kitchen, let him tend to me, relax in his delighted love and care. Trust that he is pleased to be with me and have me receive his love. Honestly, I spend a significant amount of time telling God how to make “waffles”, rushing in and grabbing the whisk and ingredients, trying to prove my gratitude to him and that he needn’t be bothered about tending to me, as I know he has much bigger and more important things to do. I don’t sit at rest, trusting that he will let me know when to clear the table or do the dishes or crack the eggs, or simply do nothing but bask in his delight. I forget to gently ask and talk with him about what he has for me in the each moment because I am busy rushing to act in hopes that he is not regretful of letting me into his Kingdom or remorseful that he saved such a slovenly servant. I try to earn my keep rather than be his daughter. I try to fill the ache in my own heart, rather than telling God what I am really hungry for and letting him provide precisely from his never-exhausted cupboards.

Thankfully, God is also never exhausted of inviting me to sit once again, rest and wait in his presence, and practice my faith, my active trust, that though there are good works he has prepared for me to do, I am first to fill myself with his delight and love in me as a daughter. God is always making waffles for me.

chicken cup crop

Broken Cups

Sweeping calligraphy. Brilliant Jade. Ornate carvings. Exquisite porcelain. Ancient bronze. Priceless texts.

I walk the halls of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, in awe of the beauty and history. The 650,000+ pieces housed here represent a millennium of imperial collecting by emperors and royal families through four dynasties. The story of the rescue and preservation of these antiquities from The Forbidden City in Beijing is astonishing and miraculous.

My companions and I are in rapt attention as our knowledgeable guide describes the creation of a porcelain cup for the emperor: the precision of lacquer work, the delicate handling of clay and brush. One hundred craftsmen would all fashion the same cup. Then, the master artist presents the three most impressive pieces to the emperor. The imperial leader selects one. The other 99 are destroyed. The broken shards of the “unacceptable” are buried, that no one may replicate or reassemble what the leader has commanded destroyed. No one else may have these pieces of art or utensils that would place them in equal worth with the one known as “the ruler of all under heaven.”

While mesmerized by the beauty, my heart is crushed by the weight of the other 99. How does it feel as an artisan to have the one thing that could potentially make you worthy to the emperor, could bring honor to your family, could bring you from shame and hiddenness, not make the cut? Even the craftsman who is ”chosen” is only as good as his next piece of work. Will he make the cut, be acceptable next time around? Can he repeat his performance?

How grateful I am for a heavenly Father whose cherishing and keeping depends not one bit on performance. He holds and treasures all 100 because He made them with precision of design, delicate handling of heart and soul. In fact, he keeps the 99 safe in his love while he pursues the one who has wandered away, who feels lost and ashamed and unworthy. It is his will that none of his little ones perish (Matthew 18:12-14). Our glorious King calls us wholly acceptable, bestows on us the same love and righteousness as he does his own family, his precious son. When we are held up for inspection and evaluation we are found unique, priceless, and stunning, every broken shard reclaimed and redeemed.

Image credit: www.liveauctioneers.com

God is with you always

Remembering He Lives Here

One of my favorite emotions is the thrill, the little perk of security and superiority, of being right. I love being right. For me, there seems to be wonderful peace in knowing I am doing the right thing, the right way, at the right time. Ohhh, I get giddy just thinking about life going smoothly because I figured everything out. Seems like the perfect recipe to make sure nothing fails, nothing is left undone, and no one is disappointed.

Well, except for the exhaustion and, honestly, the inability of being right all the time. Of doing every aspect of life the right way. Of knowing the exact right time to act. When I type the actual words, it seems purely ridiculous to think I could know and act with utter precision and perfection. In fact, it sounds downright arrogant. It sounds like I think I could be … dare I say it? Like I could be God.

But, of course, I would never say that!

For years, though, I have sought to make sure my walk with God was done the right way. That I read Scripture the right way. That I prayed the right way for the right things. And one day I was immobilized by it. I was literally in a sobbing heap on my couch, panicked and overwhelmed that I could never be confident that no matter how much I studied, read, sang, prayed, journaled, worshipped, fellowshipped, small grouped, mission tripped, you name it, I could understand all of God and do all the God things rightly enough to live the Christian life the right way.

My younger, but often wiser, brother must have known something was up. On a spring evening, in the throes of my panic and tears, he dialed my phone number. As I poured out my heart and fear, berating myself for my failures, gulping for air between sobs, he spoke softly and firmly, using my first and middle names like he did with his own young children, my niece and nephews, when they would spiral into an emotional meltdown:

“Katherine Marie? You have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. God is not going to let you get lost in the weeds and wander so far afield from him that you forget home. You are his. The Spirit is residing in you to help you discern because you can’t figure it all out. You aren’t alone in this. He lives in you.

That April night was over six years ago. I remember it often. It was truth spoken in love by someone who knows me and knows him. It’s the Body of Christ alive and responsive, Michael responding to the Spirit’s prompting in him to tell me the truth about God and our relationship. It turns out it was never about me getting it “right.” It’s about my active trust in God. I am still loved when I get it wrong, upside down, or sideways. It’s God’s nature to love me into his truth, invite me constantly to trust him again and again, and change me through his love, not through my perfection and work. God is not far away and I get it “right” to get close to him. He is here, active and alive in me through the Holy Spirit.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15, ESV)