My reading this morning was Matthew 23-24, and I had a really hard time choosing a passage to journal about, because I love these chapters SO much, and could talk about nearly every verse at length. I might just have to study these for several days, and see what Yeshua has waiting for me in them.
Then Jesus said to the multitudes and to His disciples, The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat [of authority]. So observe and practice all they tell you; but do not do what they do, for they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy loads, hard to bear, and place them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not lift a finger to help bear them. They do all their works to be seen of men; for they make wide their phylacteries (small cases enclosing certain Scripture passages, worn during prayer on the left arm and forehead) and make long their fringes [worn by all male Israelites, according to the command]. And they take pleasure in and [thus] love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, And to be greeted with honor in the marketplaces and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi (teacher), for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone [in the church] on earth father, for you have one Father, Who is in heaven. And you must not be called masters (leaders), for you have one Master (Leader), the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matthew 23:1-11 AMP) 
Jesus gave these instructions, not out of dislike or disdain for the Pharisees, but out of love for those who would follow Him. He set out the guidelines necessary for keeping men’s hearts soft, for allowing all an equal privilege to grow and serve and gain a connection to heaven, and to warn against the all-too attractive pattern of elevating mortals one above another.

When I read this passage this morning, my very fleshly first response was to think of those who followed this same pattern the Pharisees did, who took pride in their office, who usurped power God never gave them, by virtue of it. But then, Holy Spirit (thank God!) whispered to my heart that they are all just people . . . people with earnest intentions and weaknesses of the flesh common to man, who wanted to do what was right, but due to their flesh or the traditions of their fathers or ignorance of the Word or all of the above, fell prey to the very things Yeshua warns against. And I thought how unfair it is to leaders to elevate them in this way, no matter the arena, whether church or government or community or business. To idolize someone is destructive not only to the one doing the idolizing, but to the one idolized. Idolizing puts tremendous pressure on its object . . . they have no room to make mistakes, no opportunity to confess, are denied the flexibility of repentance and growth that comes from walking as the Word says a Christian should walk. That’s so, so unfair. So unjust!

Father, show me, in my heart, where I might harbor idolization for people or things or ideas. Shed Your Spirit upon Your people in abundance, that they can know You better, and love one another without reserve. Teach the Body better how to walk as equals together, esteeming all as brothers and sisters, honoring and loving one another without reserve because we are YOURS, not because one is called “elder”, “pastor”, "pope", or whatever. Let us love and care for one another as if we are ALL pastors—let us all have that same dedication to the Word, to prayer, to worship, to carry that same weight of love for one another. We are one, in You, Lord. Let us open our hearts more and more to You, let us pray more and more to You, and Father God open our eyes to the prophetic, seeing things as You see them, and opening our mouths to speak that perspective into life in our circumstance.

Father, Your people have so much potential! I feel it all around me when the Body gathers. It IS a force to be reckoned with . . . but we don’t quite know how, or we don’t quite trust ourselves enough, to step out into the unknown and let You have Your way. Father God, speak to our hearts the solid assurance, the sweet assurance, that You are ever with us. It is our eyes and hearts and ears that need to learn better to detect Your presence. Our city NEEDS this potential that is brewing amongst us. Our families NEED this joy that is about to be unleashed. This land NEEDS the refreshing in the Holy Spirit that is coming. I keep seeing floodwaters—a flood of the Holy Spirit that rushes in and overwhelms everything in its path. But instead of a destructive force, it gives LIFE, it gives LIBERTY, it gives CLEANSING and RENEWAL. Lord, quiet our hearts, remind us to cast fear out from among us, so we can welcome this flood with open arms and know that if You send waters to cover the earth, You will give us gills. You will equip us with whatever we need—indeed, You already HAVE—to not just survive, but to THRIVE in the circumstances ahead. I don’t know how to describe the weight of glory, the promise of joy, the brilliant shining of what You have planned . . . but I can hardly wait. (If I wasn’t so exquisitely aware of my own weaknesses and failings, I wouldn’t have any patience at all! lol)

Father, show Your people Your heart, yet again. Show us Your patience, Your plans. Open the hearts and minds of those that love you, and draw them to You, God, and let them see. Let all of us see! Let us feel. Let us KNOW You, better and better every moment. Unleash the beauty in each one of us, and let us flood the earth with YOU. In Jesus’ name, so be it! Amen!!!

Praise: Proclaiming the Obvious

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!" Isa 52:7

Why on earth would Zion--those of one heart and one mind, who know the Lord already--need someone to tell her "Thy God reigneth"?

Good question.

Why say the obvious? Why repeat what has been said before in scripture so many times? Why do what is foolish in our culture, but encouraged in scripture?

All throughout scripture, people who definitely "knew better" repeat themselves at key points. (Please forgive me for not quoting them here . . . this post is being eked out in just a few spare moments today. But that gives you a chance to notice these as you study further in all of scripture.) The practice of praise (i.e. telling God what He already knows about Himself, and proclaiming it to others who mostly already know it, too) is a lost art in the LDS tradition. And yet, as I have begun to learn how to praise--how to confess God's glory, strength, majesty, mercy, grace, love, justice, abundant generosity, and a thousand other things--I have been blessed in rich ways. There is power in praise, in speaking into life within your own mind the truth that exists elsewhere, that shifts the spiritual atmosphere and opens our hearts and minds to the glory and mind of God.

So, go ahead and try it sometime. Try telling God what He already knows about Himself, and see what happens to your own heart, your own spirit. And if you have the Holy Spirit with you in power, then watch out . . . you'll feel like you can go on forever, and there are few things as beautiful or sweet to the soul.

Father in Heaven, I glory in You! For You are faithful, always; Your Son leads me through my life, teaches me Your ways, and blesses and protect me as soon as I'm willing to let Him. You work in mysterious ways, that are made plain to those who love and follow You. You are generous and kind, eager to receive us into Your presence. I praise you for Jesus, and His willing sacrifice. Jesus, you are Good, You are Love, You are Light, You are Truth! You bless me beyond all measure and understanding, and You never leave me desolate when I cry out to You. You are the God who heals, the God of Restoration, the Finder of all that is Lost, the God of All Supply. You are my hope, my strength, my joy, my forgiveness. You are Mercy, You are Joy, and You are Mine, as I am Yours. I love you, Jesus, and I love you, Father in Heaven. In Jesus' beloved name, amen!

Oh, those feelings . . .

After a Relief Society meeting a couple of years ago, a well-intentioned sister in my ward approached me to ask after one of my children, who was having trouble with reading. While she was kind in tone and seemed a little hesitant to bring it up, she and I didn't have a relationship that made the kind of questioning she did comfortable. Despite being neighbors and in the same ward, a deep uneasiness lay between us, born of her fundamentally different view of homeschooling from the one I held and practiced.  The shellac of civilized courtesy only seemed to highlight it. I did my best to answer her questions in a way that would satisfy her, but in such a public place, and feeling myself in not only a very vulnerable position but a highly public one, surrounded as we were by chatting sisters on every side, I frankly felt attacked and betrayed.

I left directly afterward, making it to my car without having to talk to anyone else. On the drive home, I went over the exchange in my mind, and began to cry. The balance of enmity, not in hostile feeling but in opposing views, and my fear that her loyalties lay outside of my family's well-being as determined by Vern and me brought a strong feeling of condemnation.  The sense of being trapped slowly grew, and more tears came. I remember the green of the dash clock shining, the black of wet pavement, and the streetlights reflecting in long streaks towards me as I drove. And the words "She's judging me" ran through my head, over and over, behind the replay of our conversation. I almost heard them, they came so clearly.

I was about halfway home on my ten minute drive. And then, just as clearly, but in a lower, firmer, but utterly calm and gentle tone came the words:

"You are judging her."

Those words stopped me, dead, in my mental tracks. And, as I realized the truth of that thought, all the things I didn't know came to my mind. I had no idea of her true motives. (Fear, yes. Knowledge, no.) I didn't know what she would do, if anything. And as I realized these things (i.e. as the Holy Ghost spoke them to my mind), all the crazy trapped-bird trauma of the previous minutes simply evaporated.

Over the next few days, I meditated on that experience. It taught me a lot of things . . . but the one standing out most clearly to me now is the way the words "She's judging me" kept running through my head. They came in a voice I had known my entire life. A voice I had always thought was the voice of my own thoughts. And yet, I realized they came into my mind exactly the same way heavenly inspiration came: suddenly, in complete sentences, when I was thinking or doing something else.

Now, I like to think I'm no dullard--but I'm no Einstein, either. (Unless you compare our basic math grades. I can spank Albert there any ol' day.) ;o) One thing I do know: unless I'm thinking about something carefully, I tend to get vague feelings, and in order to work through them, I have to speak or write. I've always known that worded promptings come in complete sentences or thoughts, with very definite or clearly defined wording. And I realized, kneeling in my room one day in prayer, that the mental voice wasn't my mental voice, with genesis in my own mind. It was a spiritual voice; after all, what is spirit, if not mind? I had always claimed it as my own, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was the whisperings of the adversary's disciple, who spoke in first person. (Who says dark angels have to speak as themselves, in what sounds like third person to you and me? They'll phrase things so it sounds like our own thoughts, so as to not give themselves away.)

Over the ensuing days, I began to listen more closely to the words that came into my mind, and it became easier and easier to discern between the Holy Ghost and that other voice. (The voice I no longer claimed as my own.) ;o) It took that voice's owner a little while to show any evidence that s/he had caught on, but I rarely heard it after that little while.

What came afterward, though, was an onslaught of feelings. Bucket loads of fear, shame, fatigue, sorrow, condemnation, depression, anxiety, and all of their friends. Pretty much every day. (And I mean excavator bucket loads. You know, the ones that could scoop up several cows at once.) Those presented their own learning experience. During this time, I was learning to let go of the idea that God put us through hard or painful things for our own good. To reject the idea that bad things come from a God in whom is no corruption, no shadow of changing, and no darkness. And as I went through that renewing of my mind, I realized something new and earth-shattering for me:

God didn't want me to be sad.

Or depressed.

Or overwhelmed.

And not only did He NOT want me to feel those things (that had trapped me for such a long, long time), He was not the source of them! I didn't have to learn any lessons for my own good. I didn't have to tough it out, suffering in submission until He decided I'd had enough and could move onto the next trial.

Suddenly, God was Good.

And I realized that if nothing bad comes from Him, then none of these overwhelming, negative, handicapping feelings were part of His will for me.

And, if God didn't want those feelings in my life, then I didn't have to claim them! Or keep them! If God didn't want them in my life, then He wanted them gone. And that meant I only still had them because I held onto them, I owned them, because I thought it was part of the lesson God had for me to learn, because whatever it was, it was something I had to learn for myself. And I was going to be a good disciple and bear the burden He put on my back. But He didn't put it there! He didn't want it there! Hallelujah! :oD

And then, when I was still walking around starry-eyed from that revelation, He showed me another jaw-dropper: the only lesson we need to learn in this life is that we only need to turn to God, and experience Him. (There's another entire post in that statement, about what it means to experience Jesus Christ, and how it changes us. So just hold onto your love of good works--I'm not advocating a do-nothing Savior.) ;o)

God doesn't WANT you to be depressed. Or overwhelmed. Or shamed. Or sad. Or to feel trapped.

He is the God of light, life, peace and joy. Of everlasting love. And, most importantly, of grace. Nothing bad comes from God. Our God is made of Good. As I slowly mulled that all over, God taught me, over days and weeks, what grace truly is.

Christianity at large uses a phrase that we Mormons hardly ever touch: "the cross". The cross symbolizes His sacrifice, and His victory. It has become one of the most beautiful phrases to me, because it truly symbolizes the lowest point of His suffering and humiliation. And that, my friends, that is supernally beautiful because that is the point at which He finished His preparations for our salvation, and declared it done. Finished. It is the symbol of His Victory, the point after which any chance of His failure completely disappeared.

When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, they were separated from God. Forever. Nothing they could do could overcome the barrier they themselves had created, could make them good enough to get back to God. But Jesus Christ overcame that barrier set up by justice, His victory gave Him the authority to come back and abide with us. He saved us from the fall not just in the hereafter, but the HERE. Telestial earth. Now. We just have to knock it off already with the martyr complexes and blind servitude, and open ourselves to Him and His beautiful, joyous, sweet friendship. His comfort. His succor. Victory gave Him power to forgive sin, to wash us clean. That's all He has ever wanted to do for us. To make us clean, washing us in the blood of His holy sacrifice. To walk with us, work with us, and show us who He needs us to be, so we can come back into His presence, and the presence of the Father.  Grace is what we call it when He does just that, extending His mercy to us, coming to be with us, wherever we are. And when He comes, we can have joy.

He won so we can be joyous! 

(And also: He won, so we can be joyous!) ;o)

Grace means that, no matter where you are, what you've done, or who you think you are, Jesus will come and find you when you call.  You don't have to muddle your way back to Him, you don't have to labor under negative feelings, depression, anxiety, any of it . . . never think that for a second. He will find you! He will hear your humble cry, and come to where you are. The only thing left for you to do is accept Him. That acceptance takes practice, and unlearning a whole slew of things Mormons all have committed to deep memory. It takes braving cognitive dissonance, and really and truly trusting God in His goodness to lead you to safety.

But take it from me: it's the richest, most beautiful return on investment I've ever received.

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!!!!!

He Upbraideth Not

“Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day. (Nehemiah 9:32 ESV)

And it shall be that whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord [invoking, adoring, and worshiping the Lord–Christ] shall be saved. [see Joel 2:28-32.] (Acts 2:21 AMP)

Constantly praising God and being in favor and goodwill with all the people; and the Lord kept adding [to their number] daily those who were being saved [from spiritual death]. (Acts 2:47 AMP)

God wants to save us--literally. To bring us back into His presence, out of the effects of the Fall. He has made it so straightforward for us . .  . all He asks is something every one of us has: our hearts' utter and complete loving trust. 

The verse in Nehemiah showed so beautifully the simplicity of that trust and love--- trust that seeks to hide nothing, love that reserves nothing for itself. 

Our God is the God of love. All kinds of love. His love is total, complete, and all-sufficient. We stand before Him, clinging to our fears and the rags with which we strangely think we can cover our nakedness before Him. 

He knows us. Knows everything about us. And while He cannot save us in our sin, He offers no condemnation. (We are plenty good at flagellating ourselves thankyouverymuch.)

Come unto Christ, and be made whole and complete in Him. Please. He misses you. 

Father in Heaven, oh how holy is Your name. And how holy and good, how generous and kind are You and Your Son. In God there is no upbraiding--You do not punish or shame us, but are forever pleading, inviting, and commanding us to turn again to You. Father, show us our fears. Show us the traditions of our fathers that blind us to the fullness of Your joy. Set us free....set every captive free! In Jesus's most holy and beautiful name, so. be. it.  Amen.