24 June 2016

The Mercy and Glory of God

This morning I'm feeling pretty humble. Not because of any effort on my part--but because I fell flat on my face last night in the patience department. Hard. And this morning, when my habits and history demand I beat myself up hard and long, I heard this song:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit who are torn apart
Blessed are the persecuted and the pure in heart
Blessed are the people hungry for another start
For this is the Kingdom
The Kingdom of God"
~Matt Maher, "All the People Said Amen"

This morning, I definitely feel poor in spirit and on the torn up side. Persecuted? By the enemy of my soul, yes. He definitely got some good digs in. Pure in heart? Yes, I claim that, because Jesus lives in my heart, and that's all I want. Even when I wrestle with my flesh, with the weakness and fatigue of my physical body, and lose. He doesn't leave me when I fail. He's there with unchanging faithfulness, sticking closer than a brother, the bridegroom of my soul for better or for worse. I'm amazed, again, by the miracle of His love, the beauty of His will, by the way He does things. This morning I am so hungry for another start--and just as Jesus told His disciples that our Father knows what we need before we even ask, I have seen steady and faithful evidence that my Father has already provided another start for me: in the person and sacrifice of Jesus.

And this brings us to the verse of the day. Let's go fire up Qwerty . . . :oP

“The result of humility is fear of the Lord, along with wealth, honor, and life.” ~Proverbs 22:4 HCSB

Reading this verse after hearing the Matt Maher song this morning is physically tangible comfort to me. I want to fear the Lord more and more every day, giving His word more weight in my heart. I want to give Him primacy in my life, total and complete. And the fact that this place of humility bears the fruit of that longing is a comfort so new and miraculous to me; a steady and solid support to rely on as I reorient and get my feet under me yet again. This is the profoundly beautiful mercy of our God: that our failings put his glory and love on display.

Papa God, I love you. I'm so amazed by you. Thank you for this comfort--this comfort that is so new and so unfailing. Thank you for staying close to me in times like these, for making a way that I can be close to you as I struggle. Thank you, Jesus, for what you have done. I will never cease to be amazed at the love and humility your work required, and the paradigm-exploding truth you hold out to me: that you *are* the Truth of all things. Bless my family, God. Draw us further into you, into who you are, into your way of living and loving. Let us see your way of seeing things, let us understand with your heart and love with your love, in Jesus' name, amen.

19 June 2016

God is my refuge and defense.

"You are my shelter and my shield; I put my hope in Your word." ~Psalm 119:114 HCSB

The Hebrew words in this verse are intriguing. The word shelter also carries the connotation of refuge. And the word for shield specifically refers to a buckler: a round shield, 18" or less in diameter, that's used in hand-to-hand combat. It's pretty lousy against archers, but a real strength against swords and other close-range weaponry.

God truly is our refuge, our hiding place. And when we need protection in our interactions, He provides an agile and effective guard against the blows of the enemy.

Thank you, God, for the sheltering nature of your love and fatherhood. Thank you so much for equipping me with the things I need, and for the continuous process of learning how to use the tools you have given. Thank you for a community that loves me and is willing to be patient as I learn to walk more and more in who you created me to be, in Jesus' name, amen.

Gut Wrenchers: Has it all been a waste?

Has everything I've poured into the church--the time, energy, money and devotion--been a waste?

Looking back over my life at certain points over the last few years, it was easy to hear the enemy of my soul whispering that it was all a waste. To entertain and become mired in disdain and see as worthless the years I sought to serve the Living God through my membership in the LDS church. To give power to the one who only comes to steal, kill and destroy the work of God in me, and to let myself be filled with despair, disappointment and regret.

And yet.

And yet the Holy Spirit would whisper comfort, and Jesus would come alongside and point out the many things I learned in those years that He has promised to use in His work. Even now, I am beginning to see some of those promises fulfilled--character traits and personal discipline that I carry because of my religious upbringing that are necessary strengths for such a time as this, in the place God has planted me.

And as I have moved forward one step at a time, I've found beautiful confirmation and encouragement to forgive myself, both from hearts that carry the love of God, and directly in the written word of God.

"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." ~Maya Angelou

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God." ~Romans 8:28

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” ~Colossians 2:13-14

"Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." ~Hebrews 2:14-15

Don't despair. And don't fear. Our God is big and strong, and He can handle every and any question you might have. He knows how to turn your defeat into victory. And He knows how to comfort and heal you, no matter what might be wrong. He cannot be offended by the earnest in heart, and His treasured joy is to answer us and to comfort us when we are seeking and wrestling and struggling. 

Our God is a good, good father.

18 June 2016

Testimonies of Christ: Kim Simpson

This is a guest post by Kim Simpson. I really appreciate Kim being willing to share her words here. I am continually amazed at the variety and intensely personal characteristics of each person's encounters with Jesus, and I love hearing each soul's unique voice as those experiences are shared. Thank you, Kim, for your voice.
"Beautiful, amazing things have been happening in my life. The Lord has blessed me. As I have sought Him and focused on His will, things have become easier. I hear direction from my Father in Heaven and the Holy Ghost. I have even been blessed to hear the voice of the Savior, Jesus Christ. What a special gift! There are so many things I want to record, but I will start with that one.
One night around the middle of this month, I was praying. I was next to a sleeping Luke in bed. I'd been praying about specific things. In my recollection, I feel a lot of it was asking for direction and confirmation of choices. At the end of that, I paused. My heart yearned for understanding. I asked to learn more about my relationships with both my Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. I expressed how I feel close to and known by my Father in Heaven. And how praying to Him and hearing His reminders of His love for me helped me feel close to Him and loved by Him. With my Savior, however, I expressed that I feel love and gratitude and respect for Him. It was just after I expressed this that I heard Jesus Christ's voice for the first time in remembrance. He said, "I know you, Kim." He knows me. Personally. He does hear my prayers, even though I address Father in Heaven. He knows me. I felt so honored and loved that He would let me hear His voice. I hadn't expected an answer right away. I anticipated guidance on where to look to learn more. But in this tender mercy, I was given comfort through a powerful, immediate answer. My Savior's voice was different than my Father in Heaven's. It was lower, younger-sounding and penetrating. There was no mistaking it. I was able to continue my prayer to both of them. I felt in harmony with them. My ghost/spirit became holy as I communed with them. We were as one. It was such an honor. A gift. I felt filled with love and light. Thinking back now, I don't remember many words, but I can still clearly hear His voice."
Today, June 15, 2016, I testify that He is here. Jesus Christ is here. He is real. He is present. I testify that He speaks to me. He teaches me as much as I am ready and willing to receive. And He always does so with love, patience and kindness. He is eager to receive me and each one of us as we receive Him. I testify of His great love for each of you. He knows you. He knows YOU, just as He knows me. And He loves you. He loves you with a more powerful, beautiful love than I think any of us can comprehend. But time and time again, He has shown me that His love for me is not dependent on anything I can do. He loves me. He just loves me. And a few months ago, He told me that He welcomes me anytime "without reproach." That means without "the expression of disapproval or disappointment." He knows me and knows it is meaningful to me to be reminded that He will always meet me with love and eagerness, never disappointment. He will meet you that way too. I absolutely believe that. I hope you believe that too. I love each of you whom these words will reach. May His peace be yours." 
 
My journal entry from October 27, 2014 - The first time I heard my Savior, Jesus Christ's, voice.

15 June 2016

The Struggle Lies in the Waiting

I dreamed once I was barred on my way by a stone wall, thick and high. I looked at it for a moment, and then began to walk back and forth in front of it, waiting on the Lord. As I waited, I sang. I praised God. I was JOYFUL.

Then the earth shook. 

And the wall disintegrated.

The struggle lies in the waiting. The flesh wants to beat itself against the stones, leaving us battered and bloody instead of securely faithful and exultant in the promises we've been given.

God will make a way.

Let's do our waiting in an attitude of worship and praise, and stop blaming God for the gashes and bruises we so needlessly give ourselves when we try to use our own strength to overcome what stands in the way God has called us to walk.

10 June 2016

Confirming the Words of Jesus Christ

Feeling contemplative today. Doing a little looking back, a little looking around, and a lot of looking up.

I've had people--people that love me, people I don't even know, people I do know but who insist on online anonymity--make harsh judgements about who I am and the state of my heart. These are judgements that I once made about people who "left the faith", and so I understand where they're coming from. I had been taught apostasy came only from one root: pride. Pride that led to trusting in the arm of flesh, trusting in your own (or someone else's) wisdom. Pride that cherished and nurtured offense, and therefore separated people from the church community and the "saving ordinances" that were the only hope to get back to Father in Heaven. A simple formula, with a simple solution: get humble and get right with God (meaning that church) so you could be saved. Salvation comes only through the "only true church", and so disagreement with the mainstream was the primary indicator of spiritual peril.

And yet.

Abinadi

Alma

Samuel the Lamanite

Paul

I've been called antichrist, compared to the lying, scheming practicers of priestcraft in the Book of Mormon, accused of amassing a following, of leading others astray, of losing my testimony and abandoning myself to the darkness of my own wisdom, warned I'm heading down a deceived path from which there is no return and that I'm taking my family with me, whose sin and blood will be upon my garments at the great and last day.

But.

I look around me, and I see a life radically transformed.

I look within me, and I see a woman radically healed.

I look around me, and I see a life overflowing with loving community that I had never known before. Community that unleashes the power of heaven into lives that are far from the direct touch of God. Love that protects and guards so a true vulnerability before the throne of grace can be discovered by each heart, and the healing offered by the Lord Jesus Christ flow without restriction.

I look around me, and I see miracles happening. Physical healings that, before, I had only read about in scripture. Emotional healing that counseling says isn't possible. Mental healing that flies in the face of psychology and psychiatry, bringing broken souls into wholeness, utterly removing the need for psychotropic medications.

I look around me, and while I see plenty of hardship and heartache and all kinds of ways that I need to be further renewed and healed and empowered by the grace of God, I see faith operating in revolutionary, transformative power.

I look around me, and I see astonishing beauty worked as I follow the voice of God that I hear on a regular basis.

I look around me, and I see the fulfillment of dreams God has given me, and the gradual unfolding of others that He gave seemingly just so I could stand rejoicing with Him as His goodness and lovingkindness is brought to pass; just so He could share His plans with me, and I could experience alongside Him the joy He feels as He works them out before my eyes in wondrous, perfect, amazing ways I could never had imagined.

I look around me, and I see a home and family beginning to come out of the broken patterns of the past and walk in joy together through this life.

I look around me, and I see face after face God has touched through my prayers in a moment of need--my memory populated by eyes filled with wonder, glistening with the uprush of tears that comes when God shows up in their hearts and they taste the sweetness, the comfort, the hope, of His love.

I look around me, and I see the fulfillment of EVERY promise in scripture that I desperately longed for, but never received, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how "faithful" I was. Blessings pouring down from heaven in rich supply that I never dared hope for before.

The fruit is here. The power of God is here. I'm seeing it everywhere, and learning a little more each day how to let that be powerfully evident in every word, every deed, every interaction.

I have read the words of Jesus Christ, have taken His invitation to test them, to try them, to see if He will keep them. And I can say I KNOW the goodness of God. This is not a "knowing" that comes from logical syllogism based on other things I believe. 

I KNOW. 

Jesus Christ spoke the truth. He IS the Truth. You can believe Him: what He said, what He did, what He promised. The words He spoke, giving us the key to knowing who truly believes Him, can be trusted today. His promises are sure. He is faithful.

I have never been taken through a more humbling, more deeply deconstructing process than I have over the last few years. I have never lost so much, nor gained so much. And while the things I have laid on the altar may seem idolatrous sacrifice to some, all I can do is respond with the words Jesus Christ gave us for moments like these:
“And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” ~Mark 16:17-18 (see also Mormon 9:24)
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” ~John 14:12
I am seeing these things fulfilled in my life, and the lives of those around me. I have new kidneys. Depression is banished. God has used my hands to heal injuries, headaches, and more. And I'm not expecting you to take my word for it. This is my testimony. I only hope my testimony works in your life to do what testimony should do: provide you a chance to approach God and say:

"Do it for me, God. Show me the truth of Your words."

I look around me, and I see miracles. Everywhere. When the apostles worked miracles, they were public. With very few exceptions, Jesus' miracles were public. The excuse that miracles are "too sacred" to share, and that we just don't talk about them is a classic playground cover-up for the fact that the healing and creative miracles of Jesus and the apostles are largely the stuff of cultural legend now; the usual case is that someone knows someone who knew someone who experienced a miracle or a healing. Some select few are published in church magazines or on the official website as rarities to be held up as proof that miracles happen, to somehow endow a futile priesthood with power from on high in the face of a dearth of heavenly authority. I was taught to be satisfied with the "miracles" worked through science and the labors of mankind, taught that my expectation should be that God will not heal, will not restore. It would be wonderful, yes. But not to ever actually expect He will. When I began asking where the miracles were, I was quickly hushed and sidelined.
 And whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth. ~Mormon 9:25
I look around me, and within me, and I see the words of Jesus Christ confirmed. You can, too.
And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles. 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. 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. ~Mormon 9:18-20

08 June 2016

To Those Who Rely on His Name

“But to as many as did receive and welcome Him, He gave the authority (power, privilege, right) to become the children of God, that is, to those who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) His name–[Isa. 56:5.]”
John 1:12 AMP

What does it take to become children of God? Believing, receiving and welcoming Jesus Christ. And even then, perfection in performance is not required:

"Jesus said to him, “If you can believe,[a] all things are possible to him who believes.”

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” ~Mark 9:23-24

This father was willing to lay his heart out on the line so his son could be healed. Willing to say to Jesus, "I don't have this believing thing down very well. But oh, how I want to! Give me faith!" He trusted God to the point of a public confession of his shortcoming, relying on the character of Jesus to cover where he fell short.

What a small price to pay for becoming children of God! Looking at my life, the costs that have followed choosing Christ alone might seem heavy. And yet, with the laying down of each sacrifice, I have been set free. 

Father, you are wonderful. I love being your child--free to approach you as confidently as a little one does a loving parent, safe in the knowledge that you are my safe space, you are my refuge, you are my healer. Though a storm may rage all around me, in you I have perfect peace; I stand in the eye when my gaze is fixed firmly on you. Thank you so much for who you are and the unbounded generosity of your nature. Please show me how to walk more fully in that, and to put your love on display for all the world to see, in Jesus' name, amen.

06 June 2016

True or False: All You Need is Love?

True.

"He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." ~1 John 4:8 NKJV
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets'.” ~Matthew 22:36-40 NKJV
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." ~Matthew 6:31-33 NKJV
And all of Matthew 14: John the Baptist is beheaded, and Jesus goes off alone to a deserted place. A multitude followed Him, and he had compassion on them: healing their sick, ministering to them until into the evening. The disciples thought He should send the people away to find their own food. In the preceding chapters Jesus taught powerful lessons about the no-limits mindset of faith. Now that there is a huge, hungry crowd before His disciples, in verse sixteen He simply answers their request to send the people away with these words: “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” The disciples respond with unbelief--with the assertion that they don't have enough food. So Jesus shows them that what they see with their eyes should not limit what they can do, and He feeds the five thousand with what would be a light snack if shared amongst the twelve.
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 11 “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? {12} “Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” ~Luke 11:9-13 NKJV
We absolutely have needs. Many different kinds. And the greatest, deepest, most vital need of all is oneness with God--to be filled by God and be in God as Jesus set the example for us. When we do that, everything else falls into place as our priorities match up with God's priorities for our lives: our vocation, our responsibilities, caring for physical things, etc. I'm not advocating an ascetic lifestyle, rejecting family and comforts in order to somehow draw closer to God. I'm saying that God already KNOWS everything that we need, and when we make Jesus our Good Shepherd, everything else takes its proper place in our lives. The psalmist wasn't joking around when the 23rd psalm came into being. We still have to be disciplined, we still need to be diligent in the things God has given us (family, work, etc.); all the while with our eyes set on the Lord of Hosts, steadily walking our our lives trained on His true north.

On "Qualifying"

I'm trying to figure out how the word "qualify" doesn't mean "earn". Even in the dictionary, the definition is a specific instance of "earn". 

Qualify:
1: be entitled to a particular benefit or privilege by fulfilling a necessary condition.
     A. become eligible for a competition or its final rounds by reaching a certain standard or defeating a competitor.
     B. be or make property entitled to be classed in a particular way

2. become officially recognized as a practitioner of a particular profession or activity by satisfying the relevant conditions or requirements, typically by undertaking a course of study and passing examinations

And if this word truly is only another way to say "earn", then I don't think it deserves a place in my vocabulary when talking about my relationship to God.

Jesus's atoning sacrifice and victorious resurrection is finished. He has already fully given the gift in the completion of that work. When He won, His victory applied to everyone, everywhere, completely and fully. The only question is whether or not we will let it inform our lives, empower and change us, so we are not damned to walk out or lives in this fallen state, charting our course by the wisdom of the flesh, placing our feet by the light of our own feebly-kindled sparks.

I am a BIG believer in being diligent, in being obedient to God, in expending focused effort to bring my actions into alignment with the truth. The key is that truth isn't principles to apply. Truth is a Person to pursue relatioship with. Truth is His way of seeing the facts that elevates us into new liberty and empowerment. The fruit from that is way way way too sweet to me to live any other way. And the moment I start thinking about my life in terms of what I *do* having the power to determine what God will give, I get tangled up in a mindset that must earn mercy and grace. A mindset that says Jesus won't extend His victory to me unless I shape up. That my behavior determines what God is willing to give to me. But that isn't the case. God has already given the gift, fully and completely. It's now up to me to RECEIVE it. The gift is sitting right there in front of me in His outstretched hands, waiting for me to take God at His word and experience life from within what He has prepared for everyone who loves Him and believes Him.

For all but the last few years, I firmly believed that my behavior determined not only what God would give, but what God COULD give. That He doled out blessings based on my performance. And yet, Jesus has said some pretty wild things about believing Him being the first and most important requirement. I was always quick to append conditions and requirements to His word in those instances . . . and yet that's just what we're NOT supposed to do. We are to understand what He said (praying in His name = praying in accordance with His character and nature, as in Hebrew culture your name IS your nature), and then believe what He said (again, in Hebrew culture, your actions revealed your belief; there was no belief without action).

In order to receive what is offered, we have to believe God, to learn to see things the way He does. That looks like an engraved invitation to crazytown, because Jesus's life was a long string of words and actions that appeared full-on certifiable. People have been institutionalized for less weird stuff over the last couple of centuries. Five thousand hungry people in a desert place? No problem, He says. You feed them, guys. Friends out in a boat on a raging sea? No problem. Just walk across the water to join them. And Peter, you come out for a stroll, too. Unclean woman with an issue of blood touches His clothing? No problem. She's completely healed and restored, and He doesn't spend the week in purification. And so. many. more.

Truth is how God sees the facts. The main work I have before me, as a believer, is to learn to see things the way God sees them. If I believe God, then I align my thinking with His thinking, and my behavior follows naturally, even though it often requires persistent effort. The most powerful tool I have is belief--believing what God says over everything and everyone else. Right belief--right thinking--is a key that opens doors and releases us into powerful freedom.