Good Shepherd

goodshepherd

*Reflections:

1,000 years before the earthly appearance of the Good Shepherd, David described His goodness in song. The relationship between David and his God was as intimate and caring as a sheep and his shepherd. This role of a shepherd was familiar to God’s people. They knew the long term commitment a shepherd made to feed, tend and protect his flock. They understood each little lamb’s desperate dependence on the shepherd for their very survival. They were competely reliant on their gentle leader to provide for every need and guard against the many dangers that threatened to destroy them.

We were once sheep without a shepherd, lost and turned to our own way. So He set out in search of us, stopping at nothing to bring us home. And He rejoiced when we were found! Fix your eyes on Jesus today, your Good Shepherd is here.

“The Lord is my shepherd;”
Do you feel insignificant, unworthy, misunderstood? He knows your name. You belong to Him.

“I shall not want.”
Are you hungry, empty, longing? The Good Shepherd feeds His sheep. He may not give you what you want, but He will always provide what you need.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”
Do you feel tired, weary, and weak? Come to Him and He will give you REST. He will renew your strength. He will make you new.

“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Are you struggling, confused, unsure what to do next? Your Shepherd doesn’t tell you about the way, He IS the Way. Take hold of His hand, He will lead you every step.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Are you paralyzed by anxiety and fear? Are you heart broken? Grief stricken? Crushed? He will draw you near, calm your fears and heal your wounds. He gathers His lambs and holds them close to His heart.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
Do you feel trapped by your circumstances? Oppressed by your adversaries? Helpless to overcome the battle before you? Though your enemies surround you, Your Shepherd keeps an ever watchful eye. He whispers, “Be at peace in every circumstance. I have overcome.”

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord  forever.”
Are you fearful of the future? Do you wonder what’s to come? Put aside all your anxious thoughts. Your future is secure! You will know the goodness of God in the land of the living. And because your Good Shepherd literally laid down His life for His sheep, you belong to the house of the Lord forever, a kingdom without end.

Draw near to your Good Shepherd, little lamb. You are safe in His fold.

*Response:

Which verse of Psalm 23 speaks most directly to your deepest current need? 

How is God offering to shepherd you in this area? 

In Him,

Leslie

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Immanuel

Immanuel

*Reflections:

How “God with us” changes everything…

Jesus is the Reason for the Season!

Throughout the month of December, we’ll read this over and over on billboards and bumper stickers and Christmas cards. Amidst millions of tiny sparkling lights and hundreds of white bearded Santas, followers of Christ will seek connection to the real meaning and message of the holidays. And for one group of believers, every single breath depends on it, as we grieve our way through Christmas.

This holiday season marks a decade that his stocking hangs empty. A stark reminder of the aching, empty place in our hearts for our first born child, Reed FitzGerald Jones. Taken with no warning, in peaceful sleep, from this world to that world of which we’ve only heard rumors. For a Jesus follower, death is the lightning jolt that moves us from “I have faith that it is real” to “My every single breath depends on the fact that it is real.” Paul’s statement to the Corinthians that if Jesus is not the Savior of the world we are “most to be pitied” is permanently etched like a tattoo on our foreheads. If it is not true we are done, crushed beyond repair.

That first Christmas after the death of our son was agony. Every decoration and party and present and Christmas card were reminders that the whole world kept moving while our world was buried beneath the cold hard ground in a tiny wooden box. I wanted nothing more than to fast forward through that warm and fuzzy December to a bare, bleak January when the outside world would match the dreary darkness in my heart.

And then came a very unexpected gift, a song I’d sung all my life, but heard for the very first time that Sunday morning. It was dark and desperate and full of pain, just like my heart. It was the haunting, yet hopeful cries of a people longing for their Savior. And it changed everything. 

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

As I grieved my way through Christmas, I really, truly understood in a way I never had before. My pain had given me clarity of vision, eyes to see past the sweetness and nostalgia of the holidays to the earth shattering power of the Creator sending a little baby in a manger to rescue us from sin and from death. To the miracle that He came for us and the promise that He is coming again to make “all things new.”

No one needs to tell the grieving Christian to remember the Reason for the Season. The true message of Christmas is the reason we open our eyes in the morning and can make it through the day, and the month of December, and the rest of our lives. We have wrestled through the deepest questions of faith and doubt. We’ve wondered if it is all just one big made up story. And no opiate of the masses or tradition passed down from our fathers or feel good fairy tales are adequate to ease the pain of our loss. No, it is only Emmanuel, God with us, who is strong enough to bear the weight of grief in a mother’s empty arms.

We know with certainty that every ounce of hope for healing rests on that baby in a manger.

And now, ten years later, I am okay with the hustle and bustle around me. I am okay with the decorations and the presents and the parties. I am okay with the world moving on. Because He holds me day in and day out, season after season, year after year. And He draws me especially close during the holidays, whispering promises of a kingdom to come and a reunion with my son. My very favorite part of Christmas is gathering together with the body of Christ to proclaim the power of what His Advent means for us all. These hymns feel fresh and new and alive each year. They are a hopeful, healing balm that allow me to worship with a beautiful intensity and gratitude birthed out of my grief and His comfort.

*Response:

What in your life has caused the deepest wounding? 

How does Immanuel, God with us, bring comfort to you in your pain? 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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Bread of Life

BreadofLife

*Reflections:

Long before Jesus entered the scene in human form, He provided miracle bread for His children. When the Israelites found themselves freed from slavery in Egypt, yet starving out in the desert, they cried out to their God for food and He rained down manna from heaven right in the middle of their wilderness. For every man, every woman, and every child. No one was forgotten. God’s beloved, chosen children each received their daily portion. Not too much, but just enough.

“I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”  Psalm 81:10

1400 years later, Jesus, in the flesh, produced miracle food from just a few loaves of bread. For every man, every woman, and every child. He provided just enough, again. The miracle of the manna was legend and the miracle of the fish and the loaves was the talk of the town. Jesus had their attention and they were asking questions. 

John 6, “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’”

And then Jesus, Son of God, unveils the mystery as He tells the rest of the story. He is not simply the provider of the bread, He IS the bread.

He said to them,I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

Jesus boldly makes seven “I Am” statements in the book of John. “I Am,” covenant name of Yahweh,  the only self-sustaining One. “I Am” is followed each time by a metaphor explaining His saving relationship with His people. When He said, “I am the Bread of Life,” He was explicitly communicating to His children that we can search the whole world over for fulfillment, but we will only ever be truly satisfied with Him.

Jesus knew we would struggle to keep our eyes fixed on Him and our mouths open wide. He knew we’d constantly be tempted to go to other things to feed the hunger, but they would never satisfy. The root of sin is this misguided attempt to meet a legitimate spiritual need in an illegitimate way. Where do we go to meet that soul hunger? Is it money, earthly success, entertainment, relationships, good works, approval? Physical hunger is our daily reminder of this spiritual hunger. Just as food is a necessity for physical life, Jesus is a necessity for spiritual life. There is no person, no possession, no pleasure that feeds a soul created for Him. “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives light to the world.

For every man, every woman and every child. For all that the Father has given Him, 
He is our sustenance.
He is our nourishment.
He is our fulfillment.
He is our Bread of Life.

*Response:

What do you run to to feed your hunger other than Jesus? 

How is God inviting you to be filled by Him rather than the things of the world? 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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The Truth About Suffering

Suffering

Of all the accounts illustrating God’s plans in the suffering of believers, there is none more beautiful and comforting to me than the life of Joseph. His story of ruthless betrayal, human trafficking, false accusations, unjust imprisonment, years of heartbreaking loss and painful trials is truly tragic. And yet, weaved through the story line of Joseph’s suffering is the undeniable presence, power and purpose of His God. Given the advantage of seeing Joseph’s entire life in black and white, from beginning to end, the Lord’s faithfulness to Joseph in and through his trials could not be more clear. Joseph’s trust in God did not waiver and God’s love for Joseph never failed.

The sovereign hand of the Lord is evident in Joseph’s miraculous rise to power, undeserved forgiveness towards his brothers and critical role in saving his people from famine. Joseph so beautifully and rightfully acknowledges that all glory belongs to His God when he tells his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

I want nothing more than a story like Joseph’s to call my own. I long to look back on my life to see that, having been so surrendered to God’s will, so confident in His power to bring good from evil, my faith in Him remained rock solid no matter the storms that raged around me. I’ve often wondered how Joseph kept his faith through these trials before he knew the end of his story. How did he endure such incredible pain and still believe in God’s goodness?

Buried in the middle of this unfolding journey is the truth about suffering- from just one verse in the story of Joseph. Profound, life-altering truth recorded thousands of years ago that builds, strengthens and sustains my faith today. Long before the happy ending, within the walls of a lonely prison cell,

“the Lord was with Joseph
and showed him steadfast love
and gave him favor…”
Genesis 39:21

This. This is the truth about suffering for a child of God. What was true for Joseph is true for me. How God showed up for Joseph, God shows up for me. In the middle of my suffering, before I get to the end of my story, this is what I know.

#1 GOD IS WITH ME. (“But the Lord was with Joseph”) 
The Lord of all the universe is with me in the mess. In my physical pain, in my broken heart, in my dying dreams, He has not abandoned me. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2). God does not promise me freedom from pain; He promises the gift of Himself. He is my refuge at all times. And in His presence, there is comfort, peace, rest, and even joy. Elisabeth Elliot rightly asserts that,

“Joy is not the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God.”

If joy is found in God’s presence, then joy can be experienced in any circumstance; in prison, in illness, in divorce, in financial ruin, even in grief. Because the Lord my God is with me.

#2 GOD IS LOVING ME. (“And showed him steadfast love…”)
While I know that God loves me, one of the hardest things to believe in a time of trial is that God is loving me at that moment. I don’t feel very loved when I’m suffering, when I know that God is capable of stopping my pain and He doesn’t. That’s when I cling to the truth of His Word. As God declared His love for Israel, He declares His love for me, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). 

Faith is believing that God loves me at all times, in all circumstances. It is the deep understanding and acceptance that God can and is both allowing me to suffer and still showing me love at the very same time. He proved that love for all eternity when at the cross He gave His only Son for my redemption. God’s love for Joseph, for me, and for all His children is unwavering and eternal. 

#3 GOD IS AT WORK. (“And gave him favor….”)
Finally, there is not one action in the entire universe beyond His control. Tony Evans teaches that,

“God’s sovereignty concerns the absolute rule and control over all of creation. God rules absolutely over the affairs of men. He sits on the throne of the universe as Lord. Everything that happens comes about because he either directly causes it or consciously allows it. Nothing enters into history or could ever exist outside of history that does not come under the complete control of God.”

He is always at work in every single situation in my life. Like God worked behind the scenes in Joseph’s life to give him favor with men, so God works behind the scenes in my life to complete His plan for me. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). My finite mind cannot fathom the thoughts and plans of God. He sees how every piece of my story fits together to make a beautiful picture that can only be seen on the other side. I don’t always have to understand Him, but I can always trust Him. 

I weep when I read Joseph’s story of restoration in the book of Genesis. How God used the greatest trials and deepest pain of this man for a bigger purpose.  His suffering was great, but his ending is glorious. It seems so crystal clear that all Joseph’s heartache, all of his trials were worth it. Though he couldn’t see the ending of his story from the pit or the prison or even the palace, he chose to walk by faith because he trusted God.  The true miracle of Joseph’s story for me, is that his God is my God. He is always with me, showing me steadfast love and working for my good. And He will not waste one second of my pain. 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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The Game Changers

football2

I know very little about football. When I say very little, I mean I honestly have no idea what my husband is talking about when he uses terms like safety, blitz and line of scrimmage. But one thing I do know is the goal of the game. Get the ball into the end zone more than the opposing team and you are the winner… right? It’s a game with many confusing rules (at least to me), but one clear objective, to win. Kind of like marriage. More specifically, conflict in marriage. Figure out the rules, then do whatever it takes to get the win. We each receive our training in vastly different arenas, with a wide variety of instructional techniques. Some of us learn the subtle strategies of manipulation to get what we want. Some know nothing but full blown free-for-all brawls, where the last man standing wins. Still others have found that the only safe thing to do is avoid conflict at any cost and opt out of the game altogether. 

I’ve always been one to jump right in the game; I’m not much of an avoider. Partly personality (I kind of like to win) and partly just survival (my family dynamic was less than supportive). Of course, my husband comes from a completely different kind of family. Mostly avoiders, unless the conflict grew to mammoth proportions and one particular person finally exploded. Two entirely different backgrounds, two entirely different set of rules. So, yeah, that’s been fun. 

Surprisingly, we never fought during our 3 1/2 year dating relationship. But from day 1 of marriage, the gloves came off. And we spent 11 years getting pretty much nowhere, feeling like no matter who won the argument, we both just lost the game. How could two educated, semi-mature, mentally stable people who cared about each other be so horrible at conflict resolution? Why did we seem to go round and round and finally just give up in frustration, building up more and more resentment? We loved each other deeply, but we were positioned as opponents on this playing field. And neither side was winning. One day, we finally had enough. We decided it was time to recruit some professional coaching. This “coach” (i.e., highly qualified therapist) gave us three key rules for fighting fair. Over time, we realized these weren’t simply new rules, these were game changers. They revolutionized our fights and our marriage. They taught us how we could both win the game/argument every single time. 

RULE #1 USE THE INVALUABLE TOOL OF A CRITICAL PAUSE

A Critical Pause is basically just a grown-up Time Out. Time to calm down, allow for some space and gain some clarity. I’ll be honest, this one was really hard for me at first. I couldn’t stand unsolved problems. I needed resolution to be okay. And that was a big part of the problem. My co-dependence drove me time and time again to push closure on an issue before one or both of us were ready. My own insecurity brought feelings of panic when conflict arose. I was afraid of what it meant for our marriage when we had major disagreements. Was it over?  Would he leave me? Would we never resolve the issue? What we realized, however, is that when emotions are high and tempers volatile, conversations are usually less than productive. In fact, this is often when the most hurtful, careless words are spoken. And once they’re out there, they can’t be unspoken. Which creates a whole new set of problems. 

The Critical Pause is a tool that has helped us learn to process our thoughts and feelings so we can respond in maturity and not react in anger. We’ve learned to pay attention to where there’s “heat” in our communication. When our voices start to rise, when we start feeling defensive and angry, one of us can call a Critical Pause. We use this time to process our own feelings through prayer, journaling, or with a friend. Once we both feel ready, we come back and revisit the issue. In the beginning, we sometimes needed several Critical Pauses for the same argument!  But it has been amazing to see the difference in our ability to communicate and work through issues when we use this invaluable tool. 

RULE #2 ACKNOWLEDGE THAT AN ARGUMENT IS ALMOST NEVER WHAT IT SEEMS TO BE ABOUT

When used correctly, a Critical Pause usually reveals that the heated feelings are almost never about the issue at hand. Instead, we often realize the issue has triggered far deeper feelings beneath the surface. These heated arguments can be opportunities to process and work through unresolved pain, anger, fear, trauma, etc. Maybe there are serious trust issues that need to be worked on. Maybe we feel unappreciated in general and haven’t known how to communicate that to our spouse. Maybe we are depressed or in a spiritual crisis. 

Taking time apart often reveals that the issue at hand is really not that big of a deal to us after all… maybe we realize we are just completely exhausted or hungry or upset about something that has absolutely nothing at all to do with our spouse. It can be very scary and painful to dive beneath the surface and get down to what’s really going on. Sometimes we must acknowledge root feelings of rejection and unworthiness and allow God to heal the woundedness that occurred long before our spouse came along.

RULE #3 REMEMBER THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS HOW YOU TREAT EACH OTHER IN THE PROCESS

This rule flipped everything completely upside down. Our whole lives, we’d been trained to believe that the most important thing is the outcome. Getting our way. Being right. That was certainly the case in my family of origin. But maybe it’s not the most important thing after all. Maybe, in our most treasured human relationship with the person we have committed to love, honor and cherish ’til death do us part, the most important thing is not getting our way, but how we treat each other in the process. Talk about a game changer! The outcome might be important, but it’s not what’s most important. This one truth is the very definition of what it looks like to LOVE. And putting it into practice has transformed our relationship into something really beautiful.  

The power of these rules is that they create a win/win for both people. The drawback is, it takes a LOT of practice and a great deal of failure to get good at keeping them. Five years in, I’m still really not that great at it. I am, however, light years from where I was. I still have these out of body experiences as I see myself slipping back into old patterns and hear myself communicating in old, unhealthy ways. Let me be clear, however, that since the first time my husband and I put these three rules into practice, we have never, not once, come to a stand still on making a decision or working through conflict. When we use critical pauses to process through heated feelings, acknowledge and work through underlying resentments and unresolved issues, and treat each other with kindness through the process, we always come to a mutual agreement. Everything changed when we realized we could be on the same team, with the same goal. And then we both win. 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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The Gift of Pain & Disappointment (The View From 5 Years Out)

Well, our team of 5 sure needs these words on a day like today, at a time such as this. Thankful our precious friend, Kitty Hurdle, has shared her heart and God’s faithfulness with us today on the blog. If you don’t know Kitty, we promise you’ll want to head on over to her site linked at the end. If you do know Kitty, you are already aware of what a treat you’re in for whenever she puts “pen to paper”:

A few weeks ago, it occurred to me that October will mark the 5th anniversary of my husband and I trying to have children. To some, five years sounds like the first 100 meters of a marathon, but to me, this mile marker seemed like a badge of honor. Almost like, if I’d make it this far, then I had a legitimate excuse to wallow.

Because, well, sometimes it feels good to feel bad.

Maybe if my pain is special and unique and if things are really hard for a sustained length of time, then certainly it means that I get a permission slip to be pitiful. As in the classic, don’t return phone calls to my mother; eat all the french fries; be offended by all the people type of pitiful.

Of course, everyone’s pain IS special and unique to the journey that God has them walking. But often I am tempted to hold on too tightly to my pain. To relish it and to keep it around when I need to feel cozy, understood and validated. Kinda like my worn out yoga pants that make me feel so known but so funky and frumpy at the same time. There is wonderful, necessary, God-given space for grief (and grody yoga pants) in the spiritual formation of every believer, but when I dwell longer on my pain than on the Provision and Person of God, I have misplaced my trust. We can’t rush past our pain. We must let God use it to do His good work. But I have the ability to make it into some sort of messed up idol. Clutching my pain close makes me feel safe temporarily, but the reality is that it keeps me far from trusting God.

Yeah…so, holding onto the pain was on my agenda for the entirety of my 12-minute carpool commute to drop my kids at school. (MY KIDS–the ones God gave me instead of giving me what I thought I wanted; the ones who have completely and utterly changed my views on God, life, love, calling and family; the ones I’d endure 60 more months of “no” again in an instant. Those kids.)

family pic

So, my plan was to feel sad, but it was one of the first crisp Fall mornings (which I love!) and the Holy Spirit–the Comforter–just would not let up. He kept recalling to mind all the gifts these 5 long years have held. Friends who sent flowers, wrote notes, called and cussed with me on hard days. He reminded me of the countless ministry opportunities He’d given me and He reminded me how dear HE HAD BECOME TO ME during these years. He wouldn’t let up. So much so, that as I pulled onto my street, my heart was in a place of gratitude and worship. I could honestly and emotionally thank Him for the gift of infertility. Not because He had given me what I asked for, but because His “no” had become my greatest YES. Because He had peeled my white knuckles off of the pain and in exchange, gave me the Person of Himself.

And not to go all Garth Brooks “Unanswered Prayers” on you, but isn’t there something in your life that God has consistently said “no” to, in order to give you a YES in Christ Jesus? What desire is it that He is continually using to create within you a stronger desire for Himself?

Because He is God and we are not, could we, today (and tomorrow, and the next day; when the said “gift” feels like a dagger through the soul), ask Him to give us thankful hearts–ones of humble worship–that say together with the all-sufficient, all-powerful One, “not my will, but yours be done”? Because, when I open my hands to Him, it’s all a gift.

headshotsmallKitty is a missionary, (adoptive) momma and a majorly obsessed wife. You can read more of her adventures of following Him and loving them at www.joelandkitty.com or on Instagram @kitty_hurdle. If you are walking through infertility yourself right now, she would love to send you her favorite book, “Infertility: Finding God’s Peace On The Journey.” Email her for more information at Kitty.Hurdle@CRU.org

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Consider Your Calling

Calling

WHO AM I?

THEY WILL NOT BELIEVE ME OR LISTEN TO MY VOICE.

I AM NOT ELOQUENT.

PLEASE SEND SOMEONE ELSE.

Have you ever thought these things? Have you ever said them out loud? When you’ve felt that nudge, the prompting of the Spirit to speak truth, to share the Good News, or to tell your story…. have you been paralyzed with fear?

Why in the world would you speak up? Why would you put yourself out there just to fail? Are these the messages that go through your mind? Well, someone else had these thoughts too, and spoke them out loud to the living God in response to His call:

“But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:11

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice…” Exodus 4:1

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Exodus 4:10

But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Exodus 4:13

Moses…who confronted Pharaoh in defense of his people.

Moses…who led the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea.

Moses…who stood on Mt. Sinai and received God’s Holy Law.

Yes, Moses himself felt completely inadequate for his job description. Though Moses did eventually choose to push through his doubts and step out in faith, I wonder how Paul’s exhortation to the believers in Corinth might have spoken into his very real fear of failure. For the inadequate, the unskilled, the ill-equipped, Paul pleads to

CONSIDER YOUR CALLING

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, SO THAT no human being might boast in the presence of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

While Paul acknowledges that there are certainly some whom God calls with great wealth and nobility, exceptional intellect or talent, or incomparable eloquence or wisdom, they are the exception in the kingdom of God. And though we have each received unique gifts to be used for His glory, God chose us not for the skill set we bring to the table, but for His own eternal purposes. When an ordinary man or woman is at the complete disposal of the King, the most insignificant, lowly Christ follower has the potential for the greatest of works in His kingdom.

“God does not need your strength: He has more than enough power of his own. He asks your weakness: He has none of that Himself, and He is longing, therefore, to take your weakness, and use it as the instrument in His own mighty hand. Will you not yield your weakness to Him, and receive His strength?” –C.H. Spurgeon

Like the saints before us, God has chosen us as the instruments to declare His goodness and grace to the world! If we think He only calls the great and mighty, we gain a whole new perspective when we read about Jacob and Gideon and Jeremiah and Peter and the list goes on… Because our sufficiency is found not in our own abilities, but in God’s power.

“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant.” 2 Cor. 3:4-6

Paul could not be more clear about God’s reason for choosing mostly weak, poor, ordinary vessels for His extraordinary purposes: “so that no human may boast in the presence of the Lord.” God wants all the glory. He deserves all the glory. And His majesty shines the brightest when it’s displayed in the weakest vessel. Like Moses, our inadequacy and weakness require us to rely on God’s power because we know without a doubt that we don’t have what it takes on our own. They are are not obstacles to overcome, but part of God’s sovereign design to keep us humble and dependent.

As difficult as it may be to face, our willingness or unwillingness to step out in faith to obey God’s call reveals the motivation of our hearts. If we’re paralyzed to the point of retreat with fear and anxiety over how we’ll be received, it’s an indication that our motivation is really our own glory, and not the glory of the only One who is worthy.

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galations 1:10

If we have this insatiable need for the praises of men, we have believed the lie that our worth is based on our appearance and our performance (which have no value in the kingdom of God) instead of the finished work of Christ. When we live for the glory of God alone, we are willing to risk failure and rejection and even humiliation for the cause of Christ! God doesn’t desire perfection or adequacy or even ability. He only desires a willing spirit. 

So what if the worst happens? (Sometimes it does.) What if it’s a total disaster? (Sometimes it is.) What if no one listens? (Sometimes they don’t.)  But that doesn’t mean our efforts are in vain. Anything done at the prompting of the Spirit, in obedience to the Father, for the glory of God, IS NEVER DONE IN VAINEven if nothing goes as planned and we are a failure in the eyes of man, we look up to see the beaming face of our Father. Because He is not pleased with our skill or knowledge or intelligence or delivery; He is pleased with our willing hearts. And we are pleased to leave the results to Him. 

So how can we keep quiet? How can we stay silent about all the Lord has done? How can we refuse His call to tell the world about our great God? 

“Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper! You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.” Psalm 30:9-12

“Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all the day long.” Psalm 35:28

“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” Psalm 115:1

Dear friend, tell your story! Speak of His faithful love! Share His goodness and glory with anyone who will listen! Be encouraged and be brave. The Lord your God is with you. And when you are bombarded with lies, weighed down in doubt, and tempted to retreat, consider your calling and “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Cor. 15:58 May His name be lifted high, for He alone is worthy! 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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The Gift of Grief

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I remember that morning like it was yesterday, the image and feeling permanently burned into my heart and mind. Just coming out of the new mother fog into a whole different way of life, I was beginning to adjust to my dizzying new reality. The constant fatigue from lack of sleep, the non-stop feedings and care of an infant, the joy of holding and kissing and loving this amazing gift of life and the fumbling to find the rhythm and routine with a precious little boy now in our care. And there he was in the back seat. This happy, joyful, laughing baby. His eyes caught mine in the rear view mirror as the sun poured in… Smiling right at me! My heart was overwhelmed with love and gratitude for our first-born son, having no idea this moment was a gracious parting gift goodbye.

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Everything can change in an instant. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will.  That moment when the bottom drops out. When everything you knew no longer is. 

“There’s been an accident.”

“I’m having an affair.”

“You’re fired.”

“It’s stage IV cancer.”

“He’s not breathing…” Those three words changed my life forever. And I knew it the first moment they registered in my brain… my world would never be the same. On that same sunny day, our 4 ½ month old child stopped breathing during a nap and could not be revived. Our world was turned upside down.

Many psychologists say there is no pain so deep as the loss of a child. It is excruciating. Some moments it physically felt like I could not breathe. There were times I begged to never take another breath of air again. And still there are days when the wave of grief crashes over me out of nowhere and I crumble beneath it’s weight. How does a mother continue to live when her child is gone? 

As devastating as the death of our son has been, there are other losses I’ve experienced which, while different, have been almost as brutal and life-altering in their intensity of pain. Rejection and betrayal are particularly overwhelming griefs to bear. I’ve come to believe that the depth of our grief is in direct proportion to the depth of our love and connection. Simply, the more we love, the greater the loss.

Grief is defined as a keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret. The longer I live, the more I experience it and see it in the lives of those around me. Everywhere I turn, there is profound loss. The loss of dreams, of health, of relationships, of loved ones.

In this world you will have trouble” John 16:33.

For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” Matthew 5:45.

I used to believe it was Jesus’ plan to fix our broken hearts. That His intention in the lives of His children was to fit each piece of our shattered hearts back together, good as new. And one day God dashed my dreams of wholeness and gave me a new vision for His mission in my life and in the world. As I cried out to God to heal these broken places and make me whole again, He whispered, “That’s not how it works at all. My mission is not to fix what’s been broken as if it never happened.”

Behold, I am doing a new thing” Isaiah 43:19. A deeper work. Because in the kingdom of God, healing doesn’t mean fixed, healing means changed.

“I don’t put the pieces back together as if your heart had never been shattered.  I fill in the broken places with Myself.”

I have never in my life felt the presence of God more powerfully than in my moments of deepest grief. In fact, this is one of the greatest proofs of the existence of God to me. That in my moments of utter despair, I can testify with certainty that these promises are true…  

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:1-2

For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.” Psalm 27:5

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

The GIFT of grief is the PRESENCE of God.

There is a sacred space in the agonizing prayers of God’s beloved where He meets us with His divine presence. Because there is no loss, no grief, “no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still” (Corrie Ten Boom). It is more REAL than anything we’ve ever felt. Not only does He flood our souls with peace that passes understanding, but He gives us a glimpse of the magnitude of His love for us. That He willingly entered into the agonizing pain of this world and endured grief beyond description on our behalf.

In one of the most moving accounts of His humanity, Jesus shows us how He deeply identifies with the pain of His children. As Mary and Martha grieved the death of their brother Lazarus, so did Jesus. When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled” John 11:33. Jesus wept vs. 35.

What a baffling reaction. Why was Jesus so troubled? Why did he cry and mourn along with his beloved friends? Jesus knew not only the eternal ending of this story, but even the earthly miracle He was about to perform that would take away their sorrow in an instant, yet, He stopped to grieve.

Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh,” writes John Calvin. While Jesus experienced joy and love and friendship and peace, He also felt the deepest pains of rejection, betrayal, loneliness, and loss.  He was truly “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” Isaiah 53:3. We suffer no pain He was unwilling to endure Himself. Our own grief then leads us to the reality and power of the gospel. That the Creator drew near. He entered in. Immanuel, God with us. He not only paid the penalty for our sins, but He bore the weight of our griefs and afflictions. As God in the flesh, He actually experienced our sorrows. As God the Father, He is intimately acquainted with the loss of a child, His only Son. 

He has promised a time will come when He will wipe the tears from our eyes forever, when joyous reunions will leave the past as distant memories. When “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” Revelation 21:4.

Until that day, what do we do when our hearts are shattered by loss?

Where do we go for comfort?

Who can understand the depth of our pain?

“Even the glories of Christ afford no such consolation to afflicted spirits as the sufferings of Christ. Christ is in all attitudes the consolation of Israel, but He is most so as the man of sorrows. Troubled spirits turn not so much to Bethlehem as to Calvary; they prefer Gethsemane to Nazareth. The afflicted do not so much look for comfort in Christ as He will come a second time in splendor of state, as to Christ as He came the first time, a weary Man, and full of woes. The passion flower yields us the best perfume; the tree of the cross bleeds the most healing balm. Like in this case cures like, for there is no remedy for sorrow beneath the sun like the sorrows of Immanuel…

Let us go, then, without reluctance to the house of mourning, and commune with “The Chief Mourner,” who above all others could say, “I am the man that has seen affliction.” Charles Spurgeon

What a friend we have in Jesus, bearing not only our sin but also our grief. 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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My Spiritual Growth “Plan”

 

leaves-630098_1280Perhaps the most reassuring truth in all of Scripture to me is God’s promise to keep His own forever. Our Creator God is the author, the perfecter, and the finisher of our faith. He tells us even our very faith is a gift from Him. When we wander off, He sets out to find His lost and brings us home and it is God Himself who works in us both to will and to act. Scripture clearly teaches God’s undeniable sovereignty in both our salvation and sanctification. He has made His claim and nothing or no one will thwart His plans.

Yet, even knowing these truths, I’ve spent many years frustrated and discouraged that my spiritual growth has so often seemed incredibly slow and inconsistent. One thing I’ve realized as I look back on my faith journey is that no matter how quickly I’d like to see “results,” God is not in a hurry. He is patient, thorough, and long-suffering. And though it’s difficult to express in words, “I know that I know that I know” that His hand has been upon me every day of my life: guiding, shaping, changing and growing me.

There was a major turning point in my life 5 years ago as my spiritual growth and emotional healing took place at an accelerated rate which I had never before experienced. And it all started in a pit. I’m pretty sure it starts in a pit for most everyone. A wise woman once told me that “we only change when the pain of NOT changing becomes greater than the pain of changing.” Maybe that’s why transformation usually begins in deep, dark pit. We are finally willing to surrender to Him because we realize He is our only way out. 

In my mid-30’s, I found myself in an incredibly painful circumstantial pit from which I could not escape. I was weary and desperate, with no way to fix all that was broken in my life and in my heart. So I cried to God for help and He saved me. “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 30:2-3). This was the beginning of a journey of deep healing and tremendous growth in which I continue to walk.

As I look back over these recent years, it is undeniable that God Himself has been the one rescuing, redeeming and restoring me. I am confident there is no formula, no plan, no step-by-step for true transformation. It is God. Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, my efforts will only produce behavioral change, not heart change. Yet, as I reflect on this season of growth, I’ve realized that there have been some critical pieces that are the foundation of my spiritual/emotional healing and growth and have put me in a position for God to do some serious soul and heart work in my life. 

It is so important to recognize that we are uniquely created by God and require different things to help us grow and change. John Ortberg says, “God never grows two people the exact same way. God is a hand-crafter, not a mass-producer.” I’ll be honest, in my life it’s been mostly PAIN that has been the catalyst for change. Trials have a way of opening hearts and softening wills in the lives of God’s children, especially in mine. But there are so many other things that help us grow, practices and disciplines which create space for God to move and can be actively pursued as we seek to mature as followers of Christ. Over the years, I’ve been able to recognize 4 key things that have been the most helpful in my own spiritual growth:

~Safe Spiritual Community~

Very few things bring me greater comfort and encouragement than walking alongside others in our pursuit of God. And very few things are as vital to my living my life with authenticity. Developing deep, honest, Christ-centered friendships has transformed my spiritual life. Within this safe community of believers, there are no secrets. We process all of life and faith out loud. We listen, question, teach, challenge and love one another, having no other goal than to help each other keep our eyes on Jesus. It is in the context of these transparent relationships that I am truly known and deeply loved, giving me an earthly picture of God’s unconditional love for me. Having a safe place to be weak, to fail, to struggle and still be accepted, valued and embraced is life-giving. What a scary, yet beautiful paradox, that by exposing my brokenness to others, I find healing.  

~Mentoring/Spiritual Direction~

While these relationships have looked different during different seasons of my life, finding mentors who are farther along in their spiritual walk has been a critical part of my growth. For several years, a wise and beloved Christian therapist helped me process through the areas of my deepest wounding. Through her counsel, I began to recognize how my past trauma was affecting my relationships, including, and most importantly, my relationship with God. The Lord used her as a bridge to lead me into a deeper, more trusting relationship with Him than I have ever experienced. Later, I received formal, one on one spiritual direction in which I learned to pay greater attention to where God is at work in my life and how He is inviting me to respond to Him. Other mentoring relationships have been less formal, where I’ve processed life and sought wisdom over coffee or through long distance phone calls. I have learned so much from these older, wiser believers, both from their words and from watching them live out their faith in real life. 

~Daily Solitude with God~

There has been absolutely no substitute for carving out extended time every single day to meet with the One who saves, heals, comforts, redeems and restores my soul. Just like I need food daily to nourish my body, I need time with God daily to nourish my spirit. In over 3 decades as a believer, I have never experienced a time of great spiritual growth when I was not spending long periods of time in communion with the Lord through Bible reading/meditation, journaling, worship and prayer. It is, without exception, the single most important thing I do in life. 

~In-Depth Bible Study~

Finally, intensive study of the Word of God has played a significant role in my spiritual growth. Not passively reading through endless chapters or bouncing around from verse to verse and book to book but studying Scripture in context and processing it with others. I felt like a whole new world opened up when I learned through Precept Bible Studies how to study the Word for myself and began meeting with other believers to dialogue about all the Lord revealed to us. These in-depth studies have usually taken place face to face, and during some seasons, through online communication. To truly know who God is, how He works in my heart and in the world, and what He desires for me, I must spend time digging, questioning, searching, cross-referencing, discussing, applying and wrestling through the Word of God with other believers. For all the time I have invested in deeply engaging the truth, I have been rewarded a hundredfold with heavenly wisdom and spiritual fruit. (*See below for an incredible new study of which I am thrilled to be a part!)

The ultimate truth is that it is God alone who works in and through us to produce transformation. There is no real change apart from Him, only behavior modification. But in obedience, we get to be an active participant in the process. We don’t have to, we GET to. And when we do, I truly believe growth is accelerated and God is honored. As we continue to seek Him, we will be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:9-10

Held by Him,

Leslie


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I’d love for you to consider joining me in my next Bible study titled, Beauty in Brokenness! Our Called For Such A Time team created this study for the purpose of going beneath the surface and examining the broken places of our hearts in the light of God’s Word. Through in-depth study of and meditation on Psalms 27, 30 and 51, we will process some of the most common struggles we all face including: freedom from fear and anxiety, healing from woundedness, and forgiveness/repentance from sin and be reminded that it is the Lord alone who brings healing. There will be several local group meetings in Columbia, SC and an interactive online group for those in other locations. The study starts June 22! You can find out more at http://www.beautyinbrokenness.com

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Come and Find Me

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We live in a small cul-de-sac where our three children spend most of their non-schooling/waking hours riding bikes or Dora jeeps, digging, flipping, chasing, rolling and talking very loudly.  My sweet neighbor and I sit in adirondack chairs or just stand in the middle of the circle many afternoons chatting and watching the Roanoke Circle kids, ages 9, 6, 4, 3 and 2, play.

One afternoon, the activity of choice is Hide and Seek. The 9 year old starts the loud countdown from 20, 19, 18… I look over to see the 2 and 3 year old girls just stop right where they are, in the middle of our neighbor’s driveway, and plop on the ground. Both girls lie belly down, faces in the asphalt, hands over their heads, “hiding.”  It’s adorable watching our giggly girls hiding in plain sight waiting for the seeker and yelling out, “Come and find me!”

Days later, I am reminded of this sweetly naïve image of our girls, whose only thought in the game of Hide and Seek is “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me.”  Only this time, it’s not quite so sweet.  This time, the naïve child in hiding isn’t 2 or 3… she’s 40.  And she’s not so sure she wants to be found.  This rescued, redeemed, reborn gal is hiding from the only One who has ever loved her completely and unconditionally…again.  I am strangely surprised and ashamed when I recognize just how far and how quickly I wander away from Him. Someone once told me, “No matter how far you are down the road, you are still always only a few feet from the ditch.” 

But as far from God as I find myself, this place is sadly familiar. It’s so familiar that it’s somehow painfully comfortable.  First there’s distance (space to breathe), which leads to detachment, and eventually complete disconnection. When I’m in this space my feelings vacillate between anxiety and numbness. The cause is most often trauma, sometimes simply change, but it’s always driven by overwhelming emotions I have no capacity to manage. This time it’s change. The change is good, God-directed. But with every change, there is always loss.  I must let go of what was to embrace what is.  And I do what I’ve done so many times before.  I shut down.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to handpick which emotions to shelve.  If I refuse to feel pain, I also sacrifice joy, excitement, hope, and most of all, intimacy with God. When the awful feelings begin to surface, I pull away from Him and out comes the full arsenal of coping strategies: daydreaming and planning, organizing, lots of chocolate or strict dieting, cleaning (not usually), television, shopping, controlling… and many more.  No matter what the ugly coping looks like, and no matter how ugly it gets, I am really only always doing just one thing.  I am hiding. From God. I disconnect from Him because He is truth; the Way, the Truth and the Life to be exact. To allow myself to come close to Him means I must rub up against the truth, and my experience has proven that truth hurts.  Numbness and anxiety are preferable to pain.

I am having a moment, way down the road, we’re talking weeks, where I realize I am really, really far from my source of love and peace and joy and satisfaction. I started out distant, numb, detached, and now I am in a full blown downward spiral. How do I find my way back to Him?  I need to repent.  Get in the Word.  Call a friend.  Confess and pray.

Everything in my heart and head and body resist. I just can’t do it.  Honestly, nothing in my flesh wants God. I know I need Him, but right now, nothing in me wants Him.  If I was actually feeling at this point, I would be overwhelmed by shame and disappointment in myself.  How is it possible to continuously reject the love of my life?  I know I’m not alone in this crazy push and pull.

“Repentance requires greater intimacy with God than our sin.  How much greater? About the size of a mustard seed. Repentance requires that we draw near to Jesus, no matter what. And sometimes we have to crawl there on our hands and knees. Repentance is an intimate affair.  And for many of us, intimacy with anything is a terrifying prospect.”   Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

At this point, I don’t think there’s even going to be any crawling.  I am too weak, rebellious, exhausted, fearful and dying of thirst for streams of living water to move.  And then I hear it, just one time, but loud and clear.

“Ask Him to come and find you.”

Instant waves of relief.  I am reminded that I haven’t wandered off anywhere that I can’t be found. Like our little girls in the driveway, I am face down, hands over my head, “You can’t see me, if I can’t see You,” hiding in plain sight.  Not from the Hide and Seeker of Roanoke Circle, but from El Roi, the God who sees me.  Yes, that’s His name, the God who SEES me.  Of course it is.

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your Presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there.  If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there, your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day; for darkness is light with you.” Psalm 139:7-12

El Roi sees me alright. He is well aware of my fear and desperation and sin. Like the sparrow, His eye has not left me for one single second. The truth is that even if I don’t ask Him to come and find me, He will move heaven and earth to bring me back anyway. The Good Shepherd finds His lost little lamb, one way or another. But today, against what feels like an impenetrable force field of flesh, my spirit says it, whispers it, not even out loud. Quietly, desperately, in my mind.

“Jesus, come and find me…”

And He does.

He has and He will, every single time.

 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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