31 December 2013

Faith that Saves

A while back, someone asked me how I came to saving faith in Christ Jesus . . . and as I thought for a minute on how to answer, the Holy Spirit whispered that it's time for me to write. So, here we go . . .

It began, really, two and a half years ago, when God gave my husband and I the realization of a dream we had cherished for fifteen years: a place to live.  A place where we could build a home, plant a garden, a field where our children could run and play in the grass, and a few trees to shelter the house from the wind.

I stood looking out of my kitchen windows into the drizzly morning, scrambling eggs on the little hob set on a folding table. The first breakfast I cooked in our home. Our home. The eggs smelled amazing, the moist air outside reminded me of my most favorite vacations in Oregon, and I was ready to be happy for the rest of my life.  (No, really. It sounds cliché, but I was.) We had done it. We'd built a little place, were living in it, and were going to really and truly make a home in a place we chose and loved. What else was there, could there be, to happiness? This dream was fifteen years in the making, fifteen years of wandering, of hardship, and denial. We made it, and how on earth could life in the promised land be anything but fulfilling and lovely, after all we had sacrificed and worked for to get here?

It only took about 48 hours to realize that I was the only one in my family of eight that had gotten that memo.  And thus began the slide into a bona-fide midlife crisis.  I don't know what they call them, now . . . Google had some interesting ideas about that. But, being an overachiever most of my life, I figured 36 was close enough. And then, the deconstruction began.

It was as if, now that we had this safe place, nearly everything else was free game.  Vern and I both headed into midlife crises.  (I really, really don't recommend concurrent crises . . . Yeah.) Sometimes it feels as though God, in His infinite and perfect equity, expected us to give up a great number of things now that we had what we had pled for for so long. We had gone through so much to get here, to receive this blessing, I didn't expect (or think much about) what would come afterward. Early on, I consciously determined my marriage, family and faith would survive; everything else could go.  I know God heard me make that distinction, because everything else did.  Things I had always held as true, things and people I had always relied on (but hadn't realized how closely or heavily), things I cherished as precious. The approval and acceptance of people who I had trusted as friends. All stripped away.

But at the same time, I was gaining a friend. She was determined, that one. (Probably because it was God that told her to be my friend the day we met two years before . . . not anything that I did. I'm glad that she ended up liking me. lol) It takes me a good two years to really feel comfortable with a "new" friend, and I'm glad God made sure our paths crossed plenty ahead of time. When the rumor mill at my church would chew me up (it happened about once a year since moving here in 2009, until 2013, when it went into overdrive and I've learned a hell of a lot about what forgiveness actually means), I knew someone had my back. Someone both fierce and loyal. And fairly often, I would get glimpses into her relationship with God. And I was astounded at who He is to her.

He's a God with big shoulders, who could take my mortal emotions. I didn't have to choose between rigid stoicism or the culturally "acceptable" and carefully restrained weeping of my church. If I didn't like something, He wanted me to tell Him about it!

A Jesus who rejoices in my whole being--woman that I am, created in the image of God.

I saw her relationship with God that flowed with abundance and joy, not judgement and trembling. He wouldn't judge. Or condemn. And I, "successful and faithful" as I had always believed I was in the faith, began to see how hollow the fruits of my efforts really were.

See, I have a confession to make.  I had fallen prey to the unconscionably common and wholly unconscious pride that nearly all Mormons have. It's easy to see, studying LDS history, where it comes from . . . the desperate need to cling to something to make the horrors that my people have endured in the name of following God worth it. As far as being a Latter-day Saint goes, I had that down.  I could easily write something much like Paul did: Born into the covenant, raised by goodly parents, well-educated and righteous down to the last dotted i and crossed t. I knew my Book of Mormon, had read the Old and New Testaments, the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, memorized the Scripture Mastery passages from Seminary, and knew every "Sunday School answer". I had graduated from Seminary, said my prayers and lived the church standards. I had "done everything right" I possibly could, and for the last two decades had been utterly confused as to why my life was (quite honestly) a wreck. My efforts had yielded well enough before I left home for BYU, but once I hit the world, my strength wasn't strong enough. I had struggled with various levels of depression from early in my college days. I watched other people in their lives, and wondered what I was doing so wrong that I didn't have in my life the promised blessings of those who love and follow the Lord. I killed myself trying, but the promised joy and peace never materialized. 

Sure, I had plenty of beautiful, brief experiences with the Holy Ghost, was led and guided by my Lord whenever He could make Himself heard, and felt close to Him (as close as my paradigm would allow Him) on a regular basis.  But the vast majority of the time, I was deeply unhappy, lonely, or just numb.

In the three years leading up to moving into our place, I prayed so many times for friends. For joy. Or just for relief.

And God moved.

He worked in so many ways, arranging things in my heart and mind such that I could begin to hear Him. Sending me a friend, one outside of my religious tradition, began to open my understanding to the idea that God might be more than I had allowed Him to be. Getting those glimpses into my friend's relationship with Him, so substantially and fundamentally different from my own narrow experience, made me hungry for more. And so God put more people into my life, more testaments of His sheer joy in those who accept Him and don't put restraints on Who He Is, or what He might do in their lives.

Strip everything away, 'til all I have is You.
Undo the veils, 'til all I see is You.
I will pursue You, 
I will pursue Your presence.*

Some believe that Mormons anthropomorphize God.  And really, it's both too true and utterly false. Mormon culture makes God too familiar, calling Him "Heavenly Father", all while making Him far too removed and different from us in the way His perfection and omniscience and omnipotence are perceived. He is seen as the ultimate in self-control . . . as stoic deity. Always solemn and reserved, often stern. A God of incredible power from Whom we are of necessity kept distant, because no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God. 

So many of us utterly ignore His grace, the sheer beauty and mercy in His sacrifice, by standing back from Him, trying to save ourselves with "all we can do" so we can "qualify" for salvation. And then, when we fall short (as we always do) we figure we didn't make it, or that we'll just keep trying, and keep ourselves back from His presence, not wanting to bring upon ourselves the unbearable presence of a perfect God.

Mormons have missed the boat on what the Grace of God is . . . and it has defeated them. 

It had defeated me. 

I was limping through life, submitting to the depression, because it must've been God's will that I go through it. I had managed to (mostly) stop beating myself up daily for the point I had let my life get to . . . but I didn't see any way out of where I was. And so I lived mostly in despair. 

And then I began to see those flashes of love and joy and abundance from God in the life of my friend. Her home often looked like mine--she has a big family, and a lot on her plate. But it didn't get her down. She made mistakes and lived a life positively rife with violations of rules I long believed were vital to my righteousness and salvation. She kept the Sabbath differently than I did. She prayed in a way totally foreign to me, lacking all the forms and cues I held sacred--and yet, when she prayed, she became more herself than at any other time, and I could feel God drawing closer. She watched movies I didn't watch, had listened to music I didn't listen to, wore tank tops, had burgundy hair and a nose ring. So so so so NOT "righteous" by Mormon standards. 

But she knew Jesus.

And while a significant portion of my own LDS congregation was busy condemning, shunning or gossiping over the way my family eats, the way I educate my children, where we live, or the horror I commit by wearing my comfortable, warm dress slacks to church, she didn't bat an eyelash.

And I finally realized that God didn't, either. 

There's more to the story . . . much more. More people God brought into my life, to show me the world outside the Mormon curtain: that He lives and moves and saves there, too. In power. More that He taught me through the Bible, recorded at this blog. So many different ways and people through which He reached into my life and tore away my unbelief. 

But this isn't the time. Suffice it to say I finally found God. Finally got to the place where I was willing to trust Him completely. Finally brave enough to throw myself off of a metaphorical cliff into the unknown abyss of telling God I would only believe what He told me to believe.  For a Mormon girl, raised to prize all truth as part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that felt like taking my salvation into my own hands, and casting it, concrete-shod, into the sea. I didn't then understand that Truth is a Person . . . that Truth lives and breathes . . . and what I had deified in His place was merely fact. I have a little more understanding now for the Israelites' proclivity toward idolatry, toward their household gods. They're comfortable, and easily known. It took a tremendous act of trust for me to put myself fully in God's hands--to make that wholly unrestrained leap--and trust God would catch me. 

And He did.

He not only caught me, but filled me. And has kept filling me, as fast and as often as I can make more space for Him. I'm not who I was, I don't now live the idolatrous life I led, and I rejoice in it.

Praise God.

* From "Pursuit", Kim Walker-Smith & Jesus Culture

Eyes to See

Scripture: Revelation 19:19-20

"Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army.  And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur."

I wonder what this will actually seem like, to those in its throes. The one sitting on the horse will be readily recognizable to those with eyes to see, as will the beast and false prophet. But it seems that they will, to those who aren't seeing with spiritual eyes, look as though their roles were reversed.

Lately, and yesterday especially, I have been presented with ideas and topics upon which salvation could, (and really should), hang. Over and over, the pattern of dichotomy establishes itself: "This way to God!", pitted against "Watch out, you'll end up in hell that way!" Of course, the arguments are far more subtle than that, obfuscatory synecdoches scattered throughout. And I find myself pondering on and untangling the meaning of various the ones presented to me, wondering which side I'll choose, which points and ideas are actually on the upward route.

Father, I thank You for all You have provided for Your children's education and guidance. For scripture, for Your Son, and Your Spirit. I'm so glad I know to trust in You, to follow Your Word in the Spirit, and for Your patience and forgiveness as I fumble around. Please, give me eyes to see truth from error.  Show me clearly what I need to see to do Your work in a way pleasing to You, and lead me always in Your ways. I'm so glad for You, and for Jesus, and for the Holy Spirit, for the love that is the primary channel of communication from You, for Your followers who bring that love to me like a flood, and for the paths in which it has led me. Bring light to Your people, God, light and life and love eternal, and to those who seek to be Yours. In Jesus' name, amen.


28 December 2013

On Works

Nothing we do will earn us salvation. Ever. And not doing--even with the best intentions--will garner nothing but sorrow.  I believe it's a matter of the heart: if you believe your works will save you, you're damned; and if you know your works will not save you, Jesus accepts them, and you, because they are a love offering to Him, instead of a badge to wear on your own chest to prove yourself acceptable, a cherished placebo chosen instead of trusting Jesus to do as He promised and save you.

It takes effort on our part to deny the flesh . . . to turn our hearts over to God . . . to endure with humility the refiner's fire and live, fully aware, of the reality of Jesus' constant proximity to us all. To do as He did: only that which the Father tells us/confirms in us/calls us to do. To overcome the inertia of the flesh, and the constant whisperings of the enemy.

20 December 2013

What do I truly seek?

So Jesus told them, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.” (John 7:16-19 NLT)

"Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.” 

“Our father is Abraham!” they declared. 

“No,” Jesus replied, “for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example. Instead, you are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing. No, you are imitating your real father.” 

They replied, “We aren’t illegitimate children! God himself is our true Father.” 

Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me." 

"Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me!" (John 8:37-43 NLT)

*************************

Who is my Father?

To whom do I turn?

To whom do I look?

From whom do I receive strength?

Direction?

Hope?

Confidence?

What are the fruits of my thoughts?

Of my words?

Of my choices?

My life?

Who finds them acceptable and pleasing?

Who do I declare?

Whose work do I do?

Do I feel a constant connection with loving, gracious, forgiving Jesus?

Do my prayers feel like conversations, or monologues to a silent room?

Does that connection flow out to those around me?

Do the names of men more often come from my mouth than the name of Jesus?

Whose words most often come to my mind, and into my conversation?

Whom do I quote most often: God or men?

Whom do I praise most often: Jesus, or men?

Whom do I thank most often?


Returning from speaking with Aslan: “Emeth came walking forward into the open strip of grass between the bonfire and the Stable. His eyes were shining, his face was solemn, his hand was on his sword-hilt, and he carried his head high. Jill felt like crying when she looked at his face. And Jewel whispered in the King's ear, "By the Lion's Mane, I almost love this young warrior, Calormene though he be. He is worthy of a better god than Tash.” 

Then Emeth said: "'Beloved', said the Glorious One, 'unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.' And since then, O Kings and Ladies, I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog.”  (The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis)

19 December 2013

Change: it looks like God's love.

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.

They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11 NLT)

You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. (John 8:15, 16 NLT)

**************************

Christ allowed the Pharisees' own consciences to condemn them. He didn't condemn.

He did not condemn the woman: she stood accused by a horde of those who were SURE they were the righteous ones. But Christ, the truly righteous One, didn't condemn.

It was the "faithful", the "righteous", the law-of-Moses-abiding leaders who accused. Christians today are quick to point out the Pharisees and all they did wrong, but how often do we stop and think: Whose pattern does my behavior match: Jesus', or the Pharisees'?

The only ones Christ spoke harshly to were those who held themselves up as an example. The only ones He ever treated with anything but kindness were those who were robbing the poor in the temple by selling animals for sacrifice at double and triple the cost. In both cases, He was dealing with those who had a hand in actively hindering those seeking God.

I know from sad experience that as soon as I begin to constrain, condemn, or accuse, the Spirit of God is grieved, and flees. But when I take a deep breath and speak ONLY in love the words God gives me to say--no condemnation, no pointing out what seems to me to be sin--then the Holy Spirit can work in the hearts of my loved ones, and they always know exactly what it is that would make God, who loves them so much, the happiest. When I carry the love of God in my heart, good things happen. When I operate out of fear or the idea that I'm on a moral high ground, I'm only serving the enemy.

Gentleness. Meekness. Love unfeigned. Entreaty. Long-suffering. Patience.

If we, as believers, EVER want ANYTHING to change in the LGBT communities, it's gotta happen one understanding, one friendship, one outpouring of God's love at a time. He will speak to them whatever it is that He wants heard. (And heaven forbid I should ever say what that might be.)

I know . . . from unconscionably long, painful, personal experience . . . that the only way for God to come in is for US to get our damning opinions, the precepts and philosophies of our fathers, out of the way. For us to be a conduit for Him, instead of taking His law unto ourselves.  Like to a shell dishabited, only there then can there be place for Him to dwell. I finally met Jesus because I prayed for friends, true friends, and over the course of about two years, God dumped a bunch of radically-obedient believers in my lap. One by one, the love of God they radiated, the reality of Jesus to them in their lives, changed mine.  A couple decades of well-intentioned and pleasant instruction in heart-warming stories and powerful emotionalism couldn't do it.  Only Jesus.

I'm so glad that it's not my place to do anything but love ALL others, to treat them as I would wish to be treated, and leave everything else up to Him.

12 December 2013

All Are Alike Unto God

Scripture: Hebrews 5:4-6, 10 NLT

And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was.  That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God, who said to him, “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father. ” And in another passage God said to him, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Observation: Priesthood, authority from God, is given by God. No one else. Christ showed that the old model of priesthood, that of lineage, isn't the only way.  (As did Melchizedek, and others.) He showed us that if we wish to know God, wish to obtain priesthood power (power in the Holy Spirit to do things not possible in the flesh), we must learn God's word, conform ourselves to Him, and receive more from Him, leaving our own flesh behind. There are no outward performances which, absent a heart wholly and completely abandoned to God, can bring priesthood/God's power into our lives. (Diligence is necessary, after a heart wholly for Him.) We can claim the proper bloodlines, ordination at the hands of the holiest of mortals, and a perfect righteousness in works . . . but until God Himself ratifies our authority personally to us, we have none.

Application: I think I'm familiar with the areas God has granted me authority/stewardship in my life. (Or most of them. lol) And I've been thrashing around, trying so hard in the flesh to "do it right", when really all He wants is for me to come find out from Him what it is I should do to see His glory brought to bear. He wants me to come to Him, so He can give me more. So He can teach me more. So He can lead me to be more, for Him, and to share more fully with Him in the love and grace and peace He has.

It's so, so good to know that priesthood is so utterly different than I had always supposed.  That I am just as eligible for power and authority from God as anyone who ever has, or ever will, walk the earth. Places of power in the organizations of men hold no allure for me. I only want God's enabling power, His direction and influence, in my life. I want, more than I think I could ever put into words, to help His people . . . to be able to bring God to them somehow, to show them that He loves them. To be even a tiny bit as Peter was, so healing miracles would follow in my wake wherever I went. Holding the knowledge of the love of God in my own heart is a treasure more valuable than anything . . . and bringing to others a witness of that love, an enabling personal experience of it, stands out as one of my foremost desires. And knowing that my own intimacy with God will yield fruit that I before believed was reserved only for men that had been ordained by other men is more exciting, more hopeful, more empowering, than I can say.

Prayer: Dear, dear Father. I praise you so sincerely, so sweetly, so solemnly, so boisterously and joyously, for Your love for Your daughters and sons. That You really do not change from day to day. That I can take You at Your word, and approach boldly the throne of grace to claim my own blessing that, best of all!, I can share with whoever You place in my path. Walk with me, Lord. Show me how to remember, to keep in the forefront of my mind, my consciousness, that I am walking to You. Shine the light of Your love on everything around me, show me the truth of all matters, that I can let go of those things that keep me from You.  I rebuke the enemy and all of his influences in my home, in my family. I declare that darkness has no power here. Life is changing for us, because of You. I know I can trust You completely . . . and that's such a relief. Thank You, thank You, thank You. In Jesus' lovely, lovely name, amen!

11 December 2013

Nowhere to Hide

Scripture: Hebrews 4:12-13

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.

Observation: God sees ALL. We really do stand naked before him: body, mind and soul; past, present, and future. 

Application: He knows it all . . . so why do we spend so much time trying to find a dark place to hide? Why do we hide things from ourselves, why do we ignore God, when all we're really doing is clamping our hands over our eyes?

Prayer: Lord, sometimes hiding is so attractive. To stop looking at the mountain of things I want so much to do for Your name's glory and the benefit of my family and loved ones. Heck, even getting the laundry done on any given day would be fantastic. I feel tired, I miss You, and I just want to find a quiet, dark place to cradle my overwhelmed heart. And then, then I remember who You really are. What You really can do. And I want to run to where You are, and let you cradle me, instead. Walk with me today, Father. Sweep away the cacophony of "should's" and "could's" and "might've's" that my training and flesh keep piling high, and let me see You. Only You. Show me the plan You have for me today. I want to receive Your grace, walk in Your will, crucifying my flesh and the philosophies of men that I have relied on in the past so I can rise in newness of life in You. Thank You so, so much for all You've done, all You do, and who You are.  And thank you for letting me write my prayers when I can't find a quiet corner to kneel. I love you.

02 December 2013

Neither Jew or Gentile



Who can stand apart from Your presence
Once we have tasted the goodness of Your love?
Who can change a heart? Only You can.
We're restless and thirsty for healing from above.
You break the heavens open,
and I'm trying to swallow the ocean.

I'm coming alive with You.
I'm coming undone with You.
I'm coming away with You.
With the faith of a child I come.
With my hands lifted high I come.
I'm coming alive with You.

Who can know Your thoughts and Your purpose?
I want to join in, to listen and obey.
Who can do the things that You can?
If its impossible, Lord You know the way.
You break the heavens open,
and I'm trying to swallow the ocean.

You make all things new.


~Newsong, "Swallow the Ocean".

The Bible and Book of Mormon are rife with people overcome by the Spirit. Fainting away, both men and women becoming as though they were dead, later awakening and proclaiming their salvation, prophesying, and proclaiming visions given to them while overcome. I used to wonder why it was that those ancient people got to do that, when I'd never seen anything even remotely like it . . . I had felt the Holy Ghost, sometimes amazingly, life-changingly.  But not anything like that.  It was a warmth inside, a powerful motivator that made my hands cold and my heart race during testimony meetings when there was something God had for me to say. And during a Girl's Camp testimony meeting high in the Sierra Nevadas, lit by firelight and hemmed by the astounding, earnest love of a hundred and fifty girls and their leaders, felt the presence and love of God so powerfully that I felt like a new person.  It changed me, and was the first tectonic event in my new creation in Christ.  I walked around for days, then weeks, in a glow, thinking "So this is what a testimony feels like."  I didn't understand, didn't know what to do with that first amazing taste of the transformative power of His love.  And, in desperate ignorance, I took the final step in abandoning that change a little over a decade later, after the ravages of depression and more loneliness had taken their toll.

It took another twelve years before the chance came again, and this time I had just enough knowledge from more careful reading of the word between times, and the close friendship of some who knew more than I did in my spiritually infantile, socially isolated early teens. And oh, what a difference. What a difference.  This time, I know a little more what I'm about, and am intent on not letting this change slip away.  That's what Alma's talking about in Alma 5. Alma wasn't talking to a bunch of spiritual neonates, encouraging them to seek a remission of their sins. He was chastising and straitening a crowd of adults who had already been baptised with fire and the Holy Ghost, and who had let that slip away. They knew what he was talking about, because they had all experienced it.  They had felt that mighty change, and thought they'd never be the same.

The Holy Ghost works the same now as it has for all of scripture. As part of the Godhead, the operation of the Spirit is unchanging in principle and practice. It can (and will!) descend on you in power, straight from heaven, when you earnestly seek the Lord God Almighty. And if you have never felt this, if you've contented yourself with the idea that it's just not meant for you in this life . . . don't settle.  Don't content yourself with the idea that you're "just not spiritually advanced enough" or "not meant" for a certain blessing.  Don't settle! Don't swallow the lie of the enemy, the trickster, the one who stands eternally opposed to the happiness and salvation of the Children of God. Our Father God doesn't care who you are, or where you've been. Are you as Saul, who became Paul? Alma the Younger and the sons of Helaman? They had on their heads the lives (whether physical or spiritual) of many saints. And yet God spoke to them all, and they turned to Him and were saved. Not only saved, but now remembered among the most notable of missionaries and disciples. Are your hearts blacker than theirs? Your sins more scarlet? You aren't an exception to the love of God. It simply is not possible to stand outside of the word that says He doesn't care about the color of your skin, the combination of X and Y chromosomes you have, or your religious history.

Believing you somehow don't count, aren't eligible to the highest blessings in this life, WILL damn you. Maybe not eternally, but it can make life a living hell, putting you in bondage simply because you don't take the invitation offered you in the way only Jesus can offer: so utterly, without reservation or limit. It offers your heart to the enemy's jailing, holds your wounds outside of the absolute healing Jesus offers.

Just stop it. Stop it, and seek Him.

If the idea of "coming undone" before God sounds embarrassing or undignified, if the intimate language in the Bible and Book of Mormon sounds strange, let go of your ideas of what it takes to be close to Jesus, of the destructive and limiting concept of stoic faith.  Romans forcibly injected that stoicism into surrounding culture to the point that it is held up as the ideal: utter self-control to conquer every weakness of the flesh. Only trouble is, that's the arm of flesh. Yes, we should have self-control. Godly self-control, which is born of the Holy Spirit, a gift of the same, is an ability from Christ, and Christ alone. Godly self-control evaporates the desire to injure another.

We are not called to bottle up our humanity and soldier on.  We are to pour out our sorrows at His feet, and to take His yoke upon us.  And best of all, He calls us to worship, to rejoice, and to praise when things go His way.  He suffered for every last stinkin' one of us, regardless of our "odds", track record, or "qualities".  I don't care who you are, where you've come from, or where you think you're going. God doesn't care if you've been in prison, sold others into slavery, broken every one of His commandments and every law of man. If you don't know Him, He wants you to. He wants to be real to you. Real, like the floor under your feet feels.  Real, like seeing the smile on the face of the person you love best of all. Real, like hearing the voice of your best friend. And more real than anything you've ever known. The sacrifice is already made, perfect and whole. His blood was already spilt, His life already offered up, His triumphant resurrection complete. Please, don't just think you need to plant yourself in the middle of the mainstream, figure your work is done, all is well in Zion, and now just have to plug away placidly, filling the expectations of mortals. And don't waste another minute of your life looking for something else to fill the chasm inside. There's nothing on earth that's big enough to fill it.  You've got to turn to Him--turn to Him and let Him fill that aching emptiness.

It's not easy.  It takes the abandonment of your life's self-protective work, and often the rejection of the religious philosophies and scriptural interpretations of men you may have built your life upon.  True doctrine will come through beautifully--but odds are you have traditions long-held and cherished to cut loose. Which can be scary. The familiar spirits assigned to you, that are comfortable with where you are, with who you are, and the limited influence you hold due to your own contentment with where you are, don't want you to grow. They don't want you to know God better, and will pull out all the stops (including scaring you thoroughly) to keep you away from further light and truth.

God doesn't use fear to control.  He loves and entreats. If a doctrine scares you, it's probably time to examine it more closely, and pray about it again, and harder.

There's no thirst so sweet as the thirst for another thorough dousing in Jesus' oceanic love. No safety like the surrounding of His love. And no power like the faith that comes when you finally "get it" . . . finally begin understand, as much as a novice's mind can grasp, the true nature of the God you thought you knew all of these years.

He makes ALL things new.

He has, He does, and He will.  Yesterday, today, and forevermore. Infinitely. Repeatedly. Always.

For you.

Praise God. :o)



(This was first posted a week or so ago, and I'm sorry to say that the writing was highly unrepresentative of the spirit in which it was offered.  I've gone over it carefully now, and hope that the edits I've made help to convey the true state of my heart.  God bless.)

27 November 2013

Comprehending the opposites.

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-34 NLT

“But when the Son of Man  comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.    All the nations  will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.    He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.

It struck me, today, that the unspeakable joy that will come at the moment of salvation will be laced with a level of understanding of the equally unspeakable anguish that would be the denial of that salvation. And, far from ruining that joy, it will complete and enrich it . . . the way that coming through rocky wastelands in my own life have given me a depth of empathy and love that I simply could not have had otherwise. We humans just don't appreciate the relief of coolness until a truly heated day. Or the pleasure of nourishment until we have been truly hungered.

Father, lead me to You. Please. I'm ready for a little rest, for more of You in my life.  Show me better how to lean on You, how to accept Your love, and how to shower it on everyone I meet.  I just want others to know even the same tiny taste of the joy of salvation that I have tasted, and to give them vision towards which to walk, so they might not perish.  And I long for more of You. In Jesus' name, amen.

26 November 2013

Nearsighted, much?

Scripture: Matthew 23:11-13, 16-24, 34-35

The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. “Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred? When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it. And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,  but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel! “Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city. As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar.

Observation: The Pharisees occupied themselves with and focused so tightly on minutiae, their spiritual and intellectual eyes grown so nearsighted, that they could no longer comprehend the full context of God's work and will because they had lost His Spirit.  They knew the religious law and they lived the religious law so others could see . . . but paid little or no attention to what was inside. They wholly missed the point.  It's very much like the three blind men asked to described an elephant, which they describe in terms of the tiny bit of the creature that they can feel, the first bit they each ran into, whether it was the ear, foot, or trunk.  And none of them knew what an elephant was truly like, because they did not take the time really find out. Comfortable in their blindness and in their portion of discovery, they each had their own answer to the character and attributes of an elephant, and each knew himself to be right, because he had firsthand experience. And they were all horribly, grotesquely wrong.

Application: How do I do this? How diligently do I search the scriptures, not to find single verses or phrases to support what I already believe, but to find further insight into the Truth that lives and breathes and loves me? How well do I stay aware of the overarching meaning and importance of God's law and will, as well as the principles taught in scripture? Is my heart open enough to His voice to be able to hear and obey completely what He tells me to do, even if it doesn't mesh with my own understanding, or those phrases and single verses whose context have been ignored, their meaning wrested and broken beyond recognition?

Prayer: Lord God of Heaven, open my mind.  Help me see Your will and Your work as fully as possible, to understand the context and full intent of your Word. Show me things the way You see them--give me that sanity that is founded on Jesus, and none other. I so want to be done forging my own path, following my own will.  Show me how to submit more fully, to follow without hesitation, to act without fear. Of anyone.  Let me trust You completely, and know for myself that You are on my right hand and on my left, my advance guard and rearward.  Thank You for showing me the way . . . for blazing the trail, if I would only just get on it already. ;o)  I love you, God of mine. Just, . . . thanks. So much. In Jesus' name, amen.

24 November 2013

Upside-down and Inside-out

S: Matthew 18:23-35 NLT

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full. “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” 

O: Today, I could see that the first debtor could have been motivated powerfully to unforgiveness by his fear of the King. He wanted to extort the smaller debt so he might make a payment on what he owed. And yet, God doesn't work the way men do. Instead of profiting, Himself, from His own grace, He wants us to pass it along without reserve to everyone else. 

A: What ways have I profited by God's grace in my life? How might I have kept that back from His children? How can I extend it more liberally?

P: Dear Father, thank You so so much for Jesus. Thank You for the wonderfully upside-down way You work . . . the turning inside-out of man's reason and prudence that opens a path back to You. Please, do show me Your ways. Keep on tutoring my heart and mind, and show me how better to love those You place around me. I love You very much, and I love Him in whose name I pray, Jesus Christ. Amen. 

21 November 2013

God's Avalanche

I stood in a canyon place at once both narrow and yet unprotected, faced with stone strongholds barring my way.  I knew I was called to go forward, and yet I also knew my bare hands would prove of little effect against the mortared stones.

And so I waited.

And while waiting, I prayed. I praised. I sang. I worshiped.

And God began to move.

All around me, sand and pebbles began to skip and skitter down from the incredible heights. Rocks more and more massive came down, sliding, bouncing, falling. The air was full of stones, and they bombarded those barrier walls, bringing them down piece by piece, larger and larger chunks of masonry cast down.

The air, thick with rock, reminded me of watching swarming bees . . . so many you couldn't count, could hardly comprehend . . . and yet nothing touched me. I never felt the faintest breeze, though the crashing and thunder of stone set the mountain shaking. And yet, while it should have deafened me, I hardly heard it, like a movie turned down low.

And as I watched, I saw miracle made manifest.  The stronghold's stones fell into place, guided by my Master. They stacked perfectly, beside and behind, ramparts and battlements for His army, dry-stacked stone walls stronger than any mortared wall ever could be.

As those strongholds came down, I could see the chasm beyond--broad and echoingly deep as some stones ricocheted from its walls to disappear below.

Slowly, the air cleared.  The silence felt peaceful--and yet it shimmered with the spiritual energy of seraphic song. I looked beside and behind me, marveling at the monuments to God's care for me, built in moments, and so completely protecting. And, turning to begin pursuing my call, I saw the chasm: now conquered with an impossible arched bridge, the huge stones fitted closely, and held in place by gravity alone.  Even in this--an obstacle I had no way of seeing until after the avalanche had brought down most of the wall in front of me--God had prepared a way for me to succeed in His will.

And so, with more song and a prayer, I moved forward.

Show Me the Miracles!

Scripture: Matthew 9:33-38 NLT

So Jesus cast out the demon, and then the man began to speak. The crowds were amazed. “Nothing like this has ever happened in Israel!” they exclaimed. But the Pharisees said, “He can cast out demons because he is empowered by the prince of demons.” Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” 

Observation: Jesus healed so generously. So frequently. So completely. And He said His disciples would do greater works than He did.

Application: Where are they? Where are the miracles? I have seen so many more in the last six months than I have in my entire life before . . . but Christianity at large lives in such a state of near-stupefaction when it comes to the Holy Spirit.  Something Annie Dillard wrote comes to mind:


On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.
  ~Annie Dillard

Moroni had a little something to say about miracles in Mormon 9:
19 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.

 20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.

 21 Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth.

 22 For behold, thus said Jesus Christ, the Son of God, unto his disciples who should tarry, yea, and also to all his disciples, in the hearing of the multitude: Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature;

 23 And he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned;

 24 And these signs shall follow them that believe—in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover;

 25 And whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth.

 26 And now, behold, who can stand against the works of the Lord? Who can deny his sayings? Who will rise up against the almighty power of the Lord? Who will despise the works of the Lord? Who will despise the children of Christ? Behold, all ye who are despisers of the works of the Lord, for ye shall wonder and perish.

 27 O then despise not, and wonder not, but hearken unto the words of the Lord, and ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.

 28 Be wise in the days of your probation; strip yourselves of all uncleanness; ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts, but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God.
Verse 26 really stood out to me today: when we despise the works of the Lord, we find ourselves in the conditions of stand against His works, deny His sayings, rise up against the almighty power of the Lord, and despise the children of Christ.

I think our state is much more dire than most comfortable Christians (LDS included) would like to believe. We are comfortable, pleasant, and well-intentioned.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. ~Revelation 3:15-16

Prayer: Lord, I praise You for Your grace and your mercy, and the overwhelming love which has changed my life from night to day.  Equip me with Your Spirit. Pour into me strength to do Your will, to follow You, and take You at Your word. I want to walk in Your ways, to see with Your eyes, to hear with Your ears, to serve with Your heart. I know something of loneliness, of illness, of condemnation, of sin. And I just want to set the captive free.  Oh, please.  Just let me help You. Whenever, however, whatever.  In Jesus' grace-filled and glorious Name, so be it.

20 November 2013

He Revises Foundations

Scripture: Matthew7:27 NLT

When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Observation: Not everyone builds their house 100% on rock or completely on sand.

Application: As we go through life, the storms come, beat upon all of my house, and those parts not founded firmly in Jesus become wreckage. And I praise God for it. He shows me my weakness, shows me how to abandon it, and leads me in plotting a course and drawing up new plans for the ruined portion's replacement. But He always leaves me somewhere to live--I hold the tremendous riches of knowing Him to Whom I can turn in storm and tempest. I do have my house built on His Rock as much as my faith and understanding have allowed. 

Prayer: Lord, I'm so glad You are GOOD. I know I can trust You, and that You will lead me in the way that's best for me and for You and Your beautiful Work. Thank you for everything . . . for all of my life. The loveliness of intoxicating Spring weather, and the tempest and dark days that sweep from my heart and life that which keeps me from drawing closer to You. In Jesus' sweet name, Amen. 

18 November 2013

The Parable of the Thieves and Treasure

Last night, I dreamed a dream.

After enduring a great deal of strangeness at a professional conference of some kind and difficulty with platform stiletto heels that could change from purple to gold (the gold looked so much better with my outfit--the strength of relief over that strange detail is so funny to me), I found myself walking up a short hill onto a lawn, coming upon a group of people witnessing a house break-in.  Mostly women and a couple of men, one of which I remember clearly as the homeowner, they seemed excited and curious to see the thieves come out of the house and escape; the feeling was of being in a movie theater on opening night.  There was a little fear in the group, kind of like faint background noise.  And then, the thieves appeared. They had gone through the semi-rural home, gathering every weapon they could find (which were many). When the group I was in realized how well-armed the thieves were, and their clear intent to kill every one of us brutally before leaving the house they now were stripping of everything they saw valuable to their work, we all looked at one another, desperately checking our pockets and searching our minds for something we could use as a weapon.  Anything.  Several of the group had concealed carry permits, but not a single one of them was actually armed.  Lambs to the slaughter, indeed.

The thieves went in and out of the house (not sure why we didn't/couldn't run away--we were absolutely trapped, even though we stood in the front yard, nearly as close to the paved street as we were to the house), and I watched one of them fill a magazine in a smiling, leisurely way, knowing full well he planned the ammunition he lovingly pressed into place for each of us on the lawn. The thieves even had some of us helping them, although I don't remember how.  They kept coming and going, sometimes out of the house, sometimes all inside, so confident were they in our captivity.

Suddenly a pickup appeared, driven by a slender blue-eyed teen, a person unknown to me in my waking hours who, in the dream, I recognized as a relative of some friends of my daughters, the sunlight streaming hazily through the dusty rear window around and over her shortish, wispy blonde hair. She had one of my daughters' friends with her, and they got out and headed our way, excited to catch up with me and my girls (whom I hadn't yet seen in the dream, but they had been right there with me). The thieves were all inside; I didn't know for how long.  I rushed up to her and grabbed her upper arms, speaking low and urgent through gritted teeth: "Annie, you've got to get them out of here! RIGHT. NOW. Take the girls, and get the hell out of here!" Shocked and terrified by the knowledge of the thieves' promise in my eyes, she instantly rushed her cousin, my girls, and the few other children who were there into the pickup as relief washed over me at her unquestioning, instant action. The door slammed heavily with that particular, metallic sound of mid-70's steel construction, sheltering the children's fragility. Then bluewhite smoke rose from beneath her tires as the baby blue Chevy squealed away.

The innocent were safe.

The smoke rose and wisped away on the Chevy's backdraft. And I turned back to the house, the cedar siding and green shingles sheltering such menace.

I stood there, wondering what on earth we were going to do to save our lives. Those thieves wanted their treasure. They were going to take it. And they were absolutely going to kill all of us to do it. And smile.

Then it hit me. We could give it to them.

Turn their thievery inside out, releasing them from the horrific path to get what they wanted. What they were loading up to take away were things all of us in that group treasured in our hearts as necessary for safety and provision. Things. Stuff. Mostly firearms and ammunition, but other things, too. The idea of giving them up, even for our lives, would be a hard sell to the fiercely independent group of northern folk.  But I knew, knew, that giving--letting go completely--was the answer.

I called out to everyone where we milled slowly about on the lawn, and gathered them around me. I knew we all had to agree--for, despite the horror of it, the thieves were going to kill all of us. We all witnessed their crime. And to set us free it would take agreement from all of us that what they took was freely given by the homeowner.  Their theft had to be turned into a gift. A gift without reservation, without grudge, without holding anything back.  A carte blanche to take whatever they wanted from the house, and depart in peace.

I stood there, the others gathered and watching, and I opened my mouth to speak . . .

The snare is broken.

Scripture:  Blessed be the Lord, Who has not given us as prey to their teeth. Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; The snare is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. (Psalms 124:6-8 NKJV)

For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed. (2 Corinthians 11:2-4 NLT)

But I don’t consider myself inferior in any way to these “super apostles” who teach such things. I may be unskilled as a speaker, but I’m not lacking in knowledge. We have made this clear to you in every possible way. (2 Corinthians 11:5-6 NLT)

After all, you think you are so wise, but you enjoy putting up with fools! You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face. I’m ashamed to say that we’ve been too “weak” to do that! But whatever they dare to boast about—I’m talking like a fool again—I dare to boast about it, too. (2 Corinthians 11:19-21 NLT)

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again." (2 Corinthians 11:22-23 NLT)

Observation: Apostle was a Roman word that Christ took for His own.  It's a military term, denoting the person tasked with overseeing the Romanization of a conquered place.  It was a person who knew Rome and Romans, and who was to see that the shift from whatever culture and tradition those people had to Rome's was as complete as possible. Religion was to be destroyed and replaced with the Roman gods and mythology. Roman law ruled above and beyond local law, superseding and overruling it; and so on. That's what the task of a Christian apostle is: to teach and lead and see that Jesus is the name held up for salvation . . . that Christians in an area are taught Him, and Him alone.  As Paul said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." A Roman military apostle who implemented his own idea of culture, law and mythology would bring down the wrath of Ceasar upon himself, because he wasn't transforming the culture into a new little Rome--he was making a kingdom after his own mind, ideas and understanding.  The same holds true for Christian apostles. It's teaching Jesus and seeing His word flower in clarity and power, or it's the vain and empty work of the devil, well-intentioned and pleasant as it may be.  Pleasant good intentions cannot save. Christ has a cheerful, joyful, tender and yet awesomely powerful nature. To be in Him is not pleasant. It is the ultimate safety--but just about anything but comfortable.  He's always prodding and drawing His followers out into territory unknown to them. Scaring the snot out of them, insisting they release every thing but Him.

Every. Thing.

All.

Nothing held back.

And when we let go of it all, there's room for Him.

Finally.

Application: Is it any wonder that Rome eventually swallowed the early church whole, becoming the Holy Roman Empire?  When it became clear that the Christians weren't going away, the best method of neutralizing the threat was to subvert and co-opt.  This is what Paul's talking about . . . those who profess to know Christ, to preach what seems to be His word, and yet whose lives show none (or very few indeed) of the signs of conversion, the powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit that come after the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.  It was that baptism that was recognized as the entrance into the very early church--an admission by God, Himself. When we're brought back into His presence through that fiery baptism, then we truly are no longer "strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the Saints, and of the household of God".  When we pass through that fire, the glory and love of Jesus Christ that cleanses our soul and covers us with His righteousness, we become members of the household of God . . . spiritually begotten, literal sons and daughters of Jesus.  His house is a house of order--and we gain admittance through that baptism, and no other way.  "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," (John 3:5 KJV, emphasis mine). Many churches are really good at the "born of water part" . . . that's easy for men to do.  But being born of the Spirit is strictly God's deal. You can't fake that.  Those who have been born of the Spirit can spot an impostor a mile off--and yet those who have been born of the Spirit love and bear with those who have not yet. Becoming a new creature in Christ means you love with His love, and ridicule and shun no one.

Prayer: Father, show me clearly the difference between the philosophies of men (and devils!), and You. Teach me Your Truth . . . even Jesus Christ. Show me Your wisdom, fill my mouth with the words You want me to say, and I will say them.  Pull down the strongholds of the adversary, the enemy, the trickster, who is merrily leading so many along the broad, pleasant, well-intentioned way. Lord, make of me a polished shaft in Your hand, that I may, again and again, be a precise and useful tool in the only work of true significance: bringing Your children back to You.  Jesus, redeem us from the fall. Show us how to walk, how to live, open our minds and release us from spiritual bondage. Fill my voice with the joy and inexpressible message of Jesus, let Your light shine from my countenance, touching everyone I am blessed to see. And loving Father, show me my stewardship. Show me what and where and how You would have me work. Teach me how to accept it fully, to walk in Your authority in it, and to be a game-changer. Keep training me, keep teaching me, because I'm loving this, Lord. This life is truly living . . . this freedom is what I was made for--and I revel and rejoice in it! Thank you!!!!! In the name of Him whose life and victory I will dance and sing and shout hallelujah to the very skies, Jesus Christ. So be it!!!!!

15 November 2013

The Kingdom of Yes

Scripture:  2 Corinthians 1:17-20 NLT

You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate “Yes,” he always does what he says. For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.

Observation: I love Paul's straightforward, monolithic faith. Christ truly is the ultimate yes! from God our Father.  Our God's kingdom is absolutely a Kingdom of Yes . . . His ways are ways of ability, power, light and direction, extended to all of us if we would just let go of the frail things we cling to . . . the broken reeds we somehow believe will save us from being swept away in the whirlwind.

Application: Our God is all about enabling His children, empowering His children, and drawing His children back to Him, back to where He is, back to knowledge of Him, back to all that is good and just and true. There is no mixture in Him.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." ~James 1:17 NKJV (See PC? I don't read just the NLT.) ;o)

Prayer: Father of All, I can't tell You how deeply, totally, and fully encompassingly grateful I am for Your integrity, for You unchangingness.  I know . . . I know, finally! . . . that I can trust you absolutely.  No need to brace for impact, prepare for the worst at Your loving hand, or be afraid of You in any way. You are a good Dad. And I fully accept you as mine. :o)  That's so amazing/crazy to me, too.  The fact that You Are Who You Are . . . with all things under Your feet, all power in Your Hand, and yet, I can claim you as mine, and You rejoice in it because it will bring me back to You. You truly are Good. :o)  Blessed be the name of the Most High God! In Jesus' beautiful name, amen.

14 November 2013

Not under the Law

S: 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 NKJV

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

 “O Death, where is your sting? 
O Hades, where is your victory?” 

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

O: Death's discomfort is caused by sin; and sin has the power to cause us pain because God's laws are eternal and encompass all; and going against His law  can and will bring us great pain. 

A: This passage caught my eye because it includes the text of two of my favorite pieces from Handel's Messiah. (The Morning Trumpet and Thanks Be to God). Secondly, it caught my attention because it shows so clearly how we modern Christians are no longer under the law, and as such can live without condemnation. Against such believers, covered in Jesus' mercy, washed in the blood of the lamb, sin can lay no claim. So the sting of death truly IS swallowed up in Christ. :-)

P: Father, help me walk without condemnation. Show me the path to tread .  . . and a couple really good nights' sleep wouldn't hurt, either. ;-) I love you, God! Thank you thank you thank you. 

13 November 2013

There is no mixture in Him

Once upon a time, a country girl freshman went to BYU. She marveled at the university, at the shiny brilliance of city life, at the sheer numerosity of Mormons all around her. She did pretty well, considering the strangeness of her new life.

While she visited with her family over the two week Christmas break after that first semester, a bounced check notice from her bank appeared in the mail. Due to forwarding, it was already several days old, and she knew the check might have already been presented for payment again. To make matters worse, it was her tuition check--and late tuition would add school fees to the returned check fees. 

A day or two later, she received notice from BYU that her tuition was late, and she would be charged the unconscionably kingly sum of $80. Coming from humble origins, and with most of her tuition covered by a PELL grant, she had little idea where that $80 would come from. 

Back at school a week later, she looked into the matter, and learned that, while her check had been for $170, she was only late on $35 in tuition. The balance of the check had been her health insurance payment.  That $35 balance was well under the lower limit for late tuition fee assessment, so she wrote a clear, courteous letter to the appeals committee, explaining that the late tuition fee had been wrongly assessed, should be waived due to the fact that, while her check amount had been well over that lower limit, the lion's share had been an insurance payment, and the late tuition fee should be waived.

She received a response a few days later, and felt almost as though she'd been slapped.  The tone of the letter made it seem as if whoever it was that had been given her letter didn't read it . . . they simply looked at the amount of her check, ignored the fact that her tuition balance was $35, and in the generous beneficence of their position of power, insisted that while she still owed a fee for paying her tuition late, the fee would be reduced to $40 based on her plea of financial hardship.  Stung by the condescending tone and the injustice of the situation, she took the letter with its attached revised tuition billing statement to the student office building to settle up.  She tried explaining the situation to the cashier, who looked at her statement, said she owed $170 and that the fee reduction was generous, and she should count herself lucky.

Our student walked away, properly smacked down, and measurably poorer.

At the end of the next semester, things got crazy.  With the demands of her new life, the deadline for paying her tuition and health insurance came and went.  She went to the student office building again, this time without even a copy of her tuition billing statement, and waited in line at the cashier's window with a little pocket of dread in her heart at the fee she would be again required to sacrifice to the thick-skulled demigods of administration.  When she answered the cashier's request for her statement in the negative, she was directed around the corner to another window, to someone in student accounts who could print one for her.  When the woman behind the counter looked up her student account, she said: "Oh, you owe less than $40 in tuition.  Let me take that fee off for you."  And, thirty seconds later, our student stood in the cashier's line, peeling the perforated tracks off the sides of a short sheet of white printer paper with her tuition billing statement printed in little gray dots. Then she again stood at the cashier's window, writing out a check. But this time, she walked away with a smile on her face, and gratitude in her heart not only that she was spared the huge fee, but that she now knew the secret to navigating the bureaucracy in such a way that she could protect herself against those blasted demigods.

That student was me, nearly twenty years ago.

In the  intervening years, I've had many chances to think over that experience, and ask God what it is that He wants me to learn from it.  Before this experience, I firmly believed the popular and oft-repeated phrase that BYU was "the Lord's University", with its attendant assumption that everything done there was the mind of the Lord, the will of the Lord, the word of the Lord, and the voice of the Lord unto graduation.  That little run in with human imperfection left that idea a little shaken for a while.

But, since the deeply and culturally ingrained idea that my God would put stumbling blocks in my way, would purposely put me through things that would hurt and harm me so I could learn and grow was so firmly entrenched in my young adult mind, it wasn't long before I talked myself into believing again that everything that happened there was according to God's will . . . and the stupid or unjust things were part of the package--somehow part of "God is good".

And that left me in such a position of helplessness and bondage to the trials and weaknesses and mortal failing I faced in intervening years, I'm not even going to go into it here.  Another story for another time.

The idea that God hands out trials to His beloveds goes against the basic simplicity of His goodness.  He turns all things to our good; what the enemy intended for evil, He uses for our good and His name's glory.  All things give us experience, and I have learned over the last few months how the hardest times in my life have shaped and blessed me.  But it was not God's will that I go through them.  I chose them, willingly. I came to this world, this sinful, broken, fallen, corrupt world, because I was desperate for the blessings that could come if I would just love, completely and utterly, the One who loves me best.

Everything that is bad, evil, wrong, hurtful, damaging, or painful in this life does not come from God.

Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. ~Moroni 7:14

Mormon lays it out pretty darn plainly in the letter Moroni included in his record.  We are not to judge that which is evil to be from God. Ever. Not even sometimes. Not even a little bit. Nada. Nope. Uh-uh. No way, José. Negatory.

Luke recorded, in 18:19,

And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.

How is God different from everyone else? He's the only one who is wholly, completely, and totally good. And Mormon 9:9 clinches it:

For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?

And God has this last thing to say about the topic:

For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith. 

The modern concept that God does bad things just has to go.  We must be able to trust Him completely . . . to cast out fear and throw ourselves on His mercy and goodness and love without reserve. Utterly.  He truly does love every one of us, His myriad creations, best--and we CAN trust Him with everything we are.  We need to hide nothing, to seek to stand before Him in total honesty, and to cling to Him in all things.

And then.

Then.

Then we will know Him as He is . . . and He can set us free.

12 November 2013

Jesus Wept with Mary

John 11:20-35 NKJV

Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.  Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that  whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her,  “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him,  “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her,  “I am  the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may  die, he shall live.    And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord,  I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.”  As soon as she heard  that,  she arose quickly and came to Him.  Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.  Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.” Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she  fell down at His feet, saying to Him,  “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.  And He said,  “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.


O: Jesus knew Lazarus's problem would keep.  He could have swept in, raised his good friend from the dead, and dried everyone's tears without a word to them.  But He stopped and ministered to Mary in her distress. He mourned with her. Who of us can't testify to the precious, sacred love of one who holds our heart in their hands when it has broken?  And then, after He had poured His love richly into His relationship with Mary (and whoever else may have been there), He did what He came to do.

A: I like to get things done.  Solve problems.  Especially when things are serious, I go into crisis mode, and turn into a super-efficient, inwardly-focused problem solver.  Vern always says that he knows that if I'm freaking out, everything's fine.  But if I'm dead calm and moving fast, it's time to worry.  I want to follow Jesus's example, and take care of my people, instead of only addressing the situation.

P: Lord, you know how my heart longs to help people . . . to comfort and heal. You placed that love in my heart, and You have fed and nourished it abundantly in so many ways throughout my life. Keep showing me, God, keep teaching me, keep schooling me in the way You want me to be, the way You want me to walk, the way You want me to think, so I can do Your work, in Your way, in all situations.  Open the way before me to fulfill the calling You have sung to me, and to walk in the strength of the Holy Spirit so whoever it is that stands in need can receive the blessing You have in store for them. Make me a tool for You . . . I don't care how simple or plain, how common or dirty the jobs are.  Now that I know Your love, my priorities will never be the same. :o)  In Jesus' glorious name, amen.

11 November 2013

He is Judge

In response to this post. (Yes, you need to read it. It's short.)

Mosiah 4:14-16 reads:

14 And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
15 But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another. 
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

Fifteen is the last verse on children. Sixteen is the opening verse on beggars. I understand where this earnest brother is coming from, especially with him living in an urban area where beggars are more commonly seen. I believe he did well to call the police when someone was threatening others--but the coincidence of that violent person's panhandling is utterly irrelevant to the commission we have from Jesus Christ to give.

We can't judge by our own wisdom or experience who is deserving and who is not. God has commanded us so, so clearly, to give to those in need. (Many, many times--not just by Benjamin in Mosiah.) And who is to say what need we might be filling? We are to succor as well as administer substance; and I would say that we are to do both every time a beggar presents him- or herself. God WILL make up any and every last bit that we give following King Benjamin's message, given him by an angel. I have seen it, over and over, in my life. I have *never* been short changed by Jesus--much to the contrary, in fact. :-)

What about the "doing harm" angle? I don't believe we are. We are walking in obedience to a command straight from God. Jesus extends His mercy and grace to ALL. Every person has precisely the same unfailing love and unlimited grace offered to them...and how many times have each of us (myself absolutely included!) turned from what Christ has already given us, the work He already suffered and completed in victory, essentially throwing it to the gutter? I don't care if I give my meager greenback to someone who won't do with it what I would. I am called to give. I am called to love. I am called to minister in the pure love of Jesus Christ. And those who receive such from me hold in their hands the accountability for what they do with it. And God is judge. (Hallelujah!)

I have only had the chance to give to a handful of beggars in my life. And EVERY time has been a powerful experience . . . from being constrained by the Holy Ghost to turn my van around and give what little I have, to looking in their eyes and seeing something that touches my heart allowing the Holy Spirit to change me forever, to the conversations I've had with some of them. God has given me what I should say, and how much to give.

Once I gave to and talked with a teen mom in Spokane who was holding a sign on a street corner. She met me, saw my dusty, ordinary van full of kids, my humble ordinariness. We talked about the options she had for her baby. She told me a story about having nearly everything she had, stolen. I have no idea if it was true...and when I turned back a few minutes after leaving her with a hug and a fervent prayer of "God bless you," I couldn't find her, or the friend she had pointed out at the other end of the block. They had disappeared. Who knows what she did with what I gave her. I hope and pray that she sought out LDS Adoption Services for her baby's sake. But this I know: she wasn't expecting me. Christ was with me as I spoke to her, and I pray she saw and felt a tiny portion of His oceanic love. And if that costs me some money, then so be it. Our God is perfectly just, and He will not default on His promises to those who do His will.

I will do the will of Jesus. 

The consequences are His problem. ;o)

All Gifts Motivate Alike

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:16

"Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!"

Observation: Paul is one of the most famous apostles of all time. His letters make up such a big part of the canon, and his zeal in Christ, his willingness to suffer sorely for the message of salvation through our beautiful Jesus, is the stuff of legends.  (Can you tell I've been watching Kung Fu Panda? ;o) And yet, he says, essentially, that he can't help evangelizing. That the fire of testimony burns so white hot in him that he must preach the Good News.

Application: This is how I have always felt about music. If I'm ever complimented, I stumble around trying to figure out how to give God all the credit . . . because it's a passion that burns like a sun in my heart, and not pursuing that passion is terrible, indeed.  The times in my life when I've gone without making music have been dark and prisonlike. I don't ever want to be seen as anything but a simple follower of Christ--even if our culture tends to deify those with music in their blood. It's about as much my achievement as is the color of my eyes, or my height.  It just is, and the existence of that solar fire constrains me to pursue it, and to worship my God in so doing. The joy comes when I feel Jesus and the Father draw near, and when the audible love that pours from me shows Jesus to someone else, extends His love to them.  It's not food or raiment, house or bed, but it is something I can give so freely, and want to, because it has blessed me so richly.  And one of the best parts? When I find others whose hearts pump worship, or those who hunger for it, and we throw ourselves into it together. Oh, God is good to us. So good!

And we are His portion,
and He is our prize,
drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes.
If grace is an ocean, we're all sinking.

Hallelujah!

Prayer: Lord God above, I love you so, so much! I praise You for the gift of worship in music, for the amazing freedom and grace that always descend with Your presence when I worship you in that way. Thank you for gifting me in a way that compliments so beautifully my nature and temperament, and for pouring Your love into me when I pursue it . . . when I pursue You through it. ;o)





How He Loves Us - Kim Walker / Jesus Culture from carlosrene89 on GodTube.

08 November 2013

God is Talkative

"God spoke to Cain after the murder of Abel. The angels withdrew from him. The angels were grieved, they would have nothing to do [with him], and yet God still spoke to him. His words are endless. I don't care what malignancy you think you carry around within you. The fact is none of you have done the same crap that Cain did, because Cain possessed greater knowledge than you did at the time of the murder that he committed. And yet God spoke to him still. Therefore, have the confidence (even if you grieve angels!) that God will talk to you.

'. . . my words, for they never cease.'* God is talkative. God desires us to know more than we know, if we will receive it. And the minute we tell Him to be quiet and withdraw, and leave us alone, we are in the very act of damning ourselves, because what we're saying is, "That which you've offered unto us, we would prefer to be silence, instead."

Ummm, yeah. Don't do that.

~Denver Snuffer, Forty Years in Mormonism #5, Orem

*Moses 1:4

06 November 2013

So, about those blessings . . .

This scripture is one of the well-worn seminary passages that all Latter-day Saints worth their salt know well:

"There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." ~D&C 130:20-21

Add to that the "land flowing with milk and honey" promises in the Bible to those who love and serve the Lord of Hosts, and you've got a pretty rosy picture for them that believe, right?

Right.

Sooooo . . . about seventeen months ago, I sat back and looked at my life long and hard.  And you know what I saw?  I saw a distinct lack of those blessings promised them that believe.  Yes, we had enough to eat, and a place to live, and Vern had work (praise God).  But the really basic internal blessings of following Christ just weren't there.  The "Rest of the Lord", the "unspeakable peace", those riches that supposedly make the life of a believer so abundant and different, were utterly absent.  And that was my clue that something wasn't right. {wry chuckle}

See, to all onlookers, our family was pretty darn great.  We lived up to the expectations of our leaders, kept the commandments as we understood them, were active in the church, and were told (often and with great enthusiasm) that were were such a wonderful, beautiful, happy family.

But we weren't. :o( 

Happy, that is.

After that long, hard look, I spent about six months in fiction.  I devoured novels, built up my editing/proofreading resumé, and essentially hid from that lack I suddenly saw so clearly.  And slowly, as I slogged through that mire of realization and squinted against the brightness of the truth that the achievements up to that point in our lives hadn't garnered the freedom and joy I signed up for when I decided to marry and have a family, God began working a miracle in me.

Slowly.  

Gradually.  

Gently.

Looking back, I can see how He planned for it.  He planned way ahead of that realization and gave me what I would need as I floundered around in it.  I think I first prayed for friends about two and a half years ago, without very much (apparent) effect.  I met one homeschooling mom on the strangest chance, and we talked every so often.  During that slog, though, she stuck with me.  She insisted on inserting herself into my life, kept on dragging me out on playdates to the beach, called and bugged me (repeatedly) to bring my kids and join in the chaos at her place, made me laugh, listened to me, and (most importantly) didn't give up and drift away.

And He gave me dreams . . . dreams that I only understood months later when I was nearly through slogging, dreams that prophesied and guided me.

Since the slog began, I've done a lot of praying.  A LOT of praying.  Pleading.  And seeking.  Searching for, feeling after, reaching out to my God. I sought Him earnestly. Desperately.  My heart sought Him, too, without me even knowing it.


And then, one day, He was found.


I have since learned many, many things about Him. About me.  And about Him and me.  This one I feel compelled to share now: He is a jealous God. He doesn't want us to have a back up plan for when He "fails" to heal us, or "doesn't answer" our prayers. For He fails in nothing.  Nothing.  He never fails us.  Never, ever, ever, ever.  He is the bridegroom, the passionately devoted and tenderly caring One for whom we seek.  No little black book can hide in our back pockets, we can permit no flirting in the grocery store when we think He's otherwise occupied.  If promised blessings do not materialize, we MUST look in our own hearts.  Examine our own understandings.  And, if we come up empty-handed in our quest for that which isn't quite right, we must turn to Him and ask Him to show us where we went wrong; what part of us is preventing Him from rushing in to save us.  Because he waits, like a sprinter at the line, tensed against the starting gun. He stands, mountains of blessings and oceans of love at the ready for us.  We don't know what we don't know . . . but He is good, and patient, and utterly committed to saving us.  He already did the hardest part.  Now we must open our hearts to Him, and accept it.

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."   ~Ether 12:27

His grace, sufficient. 

Beautiful gift
that walks us with Him 
to the Father 
through this life-- 
still imperfect 
still learning
blundering
letting go
letting Him fix us 
covered by His grace 
so we 
no longer labor
under condemnation.  

We need to seek Him until we find Him.  Search after and earnestly inquire at His hand until we, too, know our sins are remitted . . . paid in full . . . and we finally understand the knowing smiles of those who look us in the eye with that certain gleam and say . . . 

"God is Good."