Month: November 2014

Soul Food

Recently, I mentioned that our lives take us through seasons. We are all coming quickly upon the holiday season. It begins with Thanksgiving and we continue on right through to the new year.

Generally, the holiday calls for a time to reflect on the goodness in our lives. We take the time, or we should, to appreciate our blessings; to acknowledge all the things in our lives that make our lives worth living. It becomes, if we let it, an opportunity to recognize the things that really matter.Unknown

Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of having lunch with a very important person. I’m talking, this lady is tops. But earlier that morning, I sat in a meeting full of other important people. As I looked around the room, I couldn’t help comparing them to the woman I would meet later for lunch. These were top brass people. Some might even call them ladder climbers. Okay, that’s what I call them.




These are people with quite a bit to lose. People who have climbed so high, that one misstep could send them plummeting into the corporate abyss, never to be heard from again.

I looked around the room and couldn’t help thinking about truly important things. Most of the time the things we spend our time and energy on, are not actually all that important. I thought about the woman with whom I was going to have lunch.

My friend, Cindy, leads the women’s ministry of our church and in effect, is responsible for the spiritual development of more than 20,000 women. Now that’s what I call important. She’s not scratching and climbing to get anywhere. She’s too busy leading the women of our church on a fantastic spiritual journey. I love that she is leading me, too, to live for what is really important.

This has been quite a year for me. Early on, I felt akin to the Israelites before Moses happened along. Four hundred years and no salvation, no change, little hope. It was a season. I knew God was up to something, though, and I waited patiently upon him. In his time, he made a move on my behalf, and a new season came along. I followed him. I am learning to follow him. It’s mostly a new concept for me. So often in my life I tend to run ahead and impatiently urge God to get the move on. But I am learning that life tends to be far more productive if I let him go ahead of me.

When my second son was little, we put him in swim lessons. Everything was going great until the teacher wanted him to swim in the deep water. He was having none of that. He was perfectly content to stay in the shallow end.images He wasn’t quite ready to brave the depths. Sometimes, our spiritual life can be like that. We prefer cool soundbites and pithy sayings over exploring a deeper faith. Going deeper is uncomfortable. Unfamiliar. We fear the spiritual disciplines that will feed our souls.

I am following, and God is leading me into a deeper understanding of this life and how it can impact the next one. If we are not careful, we can become so fixated on what this life has to offer, that we lose ourselves to the eternal things. We feed our emotions and our physical cravings, and our neglected souls whither. We are supposed to wear this life like a loose garment. We are just passing through. We have to learn to allow the things of this life help feed our souls, instead of starving them. Its usually a matter of our focus. It’s an ability to decide what truly matters, and what actually does not. Do you have an eternal focus? It will change everything.

What are you feeding your soul? 

What is your soul food?

An Inside Job

Passing the buck has been a part of human nature since the start. From the very first time sin entered the world, we wanted to blame something or someone else. It was the serpent’s fault. It was the woman’s fault. From the beginning we failed to recognize the guilt that lies within our own hearts. Because of the fall in the garden, we are born into sin. We have a sin nature. We have no concept of life apart from sin. Can you imagine what that would feel like? No? Me either.

We all struggle with temptation. But temptation is not sin. It is merely the warmup band to the real show. Temptation is not something that we can lay at the foot of the cross. Temptation is something we have to nip in the bud right out of the starting gate. If we fail to do that, we can enter a dangerous sin cycle.

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Scottish theologian and professor at Redeemer Seminary, has put it this way. The sin cycle begins with Attraction. It’s something (an idea, action, desire, or attitude) that catches our eye. Tips-for-Not-Hitting-the-Snooze-Button-in-the-Morning-2There is something about it that seems pleasurable or satisfying to us.

Fifteen minutes more sleep in the morning is oh so attractive to me.

Then along comes Deception. We move along with our attraction to this thing that will ultimately harm us, and deceive ourselves into thinking that it is really harmless. We are quite convincing, we are. It is amazing to me how, in my sleep-clouded mind in the mornings, that I can manage to do the math and convince myself that fifteen minutes more sleep will not make me late to work. Yet I can. And I’m not even all that good at math.

Once we are deceived by our own minds, we become preoccupied with the idea. Yes, sleep is good. More rest is beneficial. I deserve this last fifteen minutes of blissful rest in my nice, warm bed. And then the Conception of sin is upon us. It is birthed, and I hit the snooze bar on my alarm clock, blissfully unaware that when I awake from my last fifteen minutes of sleep, I will then suffer Subjection to my sin.

When the alarm goes off for the final time, and I look at the clock, I am awakened to the realization that my laziness has left me with not enough time to get ready and make it to work on time. Yet now, there is nothing I can do about it. I have to begin my day, subject to my sin.

The final stage is Despiration. Despiration’s close friend is hopelessness. When we get to this point in the sin cycle, Ferguson says, “We despair on account of our circumstances. And confronted by our failure, we’re told by Satan that we might as well give up completely because we are in such dire difficulty that there is no way back.” And many times, we believe him, and so we stay mired in our sin, blind to the way out.stressed-woman

Satan gets alot of credit for the sin in our lives, for the temptations that come our way. But we have to remember, that while he was the author of sin, it is now in our very nature to sin. While he may be in the wings cheering it on, we are active participants in the cycle sin plays in our lives. James tells us in his letter that “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”(James 1:13-15, italics mine)

One of the biggest lies Satan tells us about sin is that there is no way back from it. We believe that, and so deceive ourselves. Our hope and our rescue from the sin that entangles us is His holy scriptures. In verse 22, James tells us to read the Bible, and then do it. When we read it, then do it, we find freedom from the sin that grips us. It is not enough to merely seek holy wisdom. We must also follow it. Once wisdom is sought and found, we are held accountable for what we know. We are expected to exit our sin, stage left, and we can take our leave at any point in the sin cycle. The earlier we do, the better.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul tells us, that there is no temptation that is special to us. We all have the capacity to fall to every sin. He also reminds us that God is faithful, and that he will not let sin tempt us beyond what we can handle without giving us a way out, so that we are not destroyed by it. No matter where you may be in the sin cycle, remember that sin is always an inside job. It began as an attraction, a thought or an action we initiated. Look for your way out… seek wisdom, and follow it. It was put there by your heavenly Father to rescue you, to set you apart from all He created.

I Swear to Tell the Whole Truth…

I’ve been on a bit of a spiritual journey lately. Well, I’ve been along for the ride on someone else’s journey. It’s been an emotional trip as well as a spiritual one. While we have moved along these last few weeks, I have learned many things about the character and nature of God. It’s been good. And it’s been hard.

maureentrialI’ve never been called as a witness in a court case. Several years ago, a friend of mine lost her life at the hands of her husband. It was one of the most horrific things I have experienced. I saw him and spoke to him at length just few hours after he did it. When they discovered he had taken my friend’s life, I thought I was going to be called as a witness at his trial. I spent a lot of time thinking and writing down the facts as they occurred that night. As it turned out, he confessed. No trial. Whew!

Witnesses are supposed to tell the truth about what they know. As I have been on this recent journey, I have tried to do that. I have told what I know to be true about God. I know these things because He has allowed me to see them. In my life, have seen Him heal broken bodies, repair fractured relationships, provide rescue and relief to people in need, and comfort those suffering. I have experienced His faithfulness time and again. I believe in who God is, and what He can do, so much that sometimes I can get a little zealous.

My desire for others is that they know what I know. I want to bear witness to who God is and what He has done. I want to impart that to other people so much that sometimes I might be guilty of dragging them along a bit too quickly to be of much use. Its not fair to them, really.

I guess I think if I can just help them to see God, and His great love and power, then their lives would be changed forever.

Okay, that’s true, actually.

But I have arrived at this place where I am with God because of my own journey through this life. My own trials, my own experiences- both good and bad, have brought me here. There was no crash course in knowing God for me. It has been a day-by-day, year-by-year experiment in growth and intimacy with my heavenly Father.


I have to be willing to allow God to take people on their own journey and do it on His timetable. I find that so hard to do. I want to say, “Can’t we just fast track you to the part that you fully trust in God, so that you can rest in his peace, know that he’s working on your behalf, and even now sorting this whole thing out for you?”

I guess it could work that way, but then it would rob them of the experiences that come to show them who God is in their own lives. I can tell them who He is in mine, but they need that closeness and intimacy that come through shared experiences with Him. It is a beautiful dance with the Holy Spirit to gain that intimacy with God. That dance has only room for two.

The fast track would certainly be easier for everyone involved, but it just doesn’t work that way. I am learning in my zealousness, to stop pushing, stop instructing God on how He could best handle situations, and when prompted, and only when prompted, share things about His nature and His character. Any role I am to play is merely a supporting one. I am not a major player. It is just an honor to be along for the ride when God is working out His will and His way in someone’s life. Even if He doesn’t do it the way I would do it.

Especially when He doesn’t!

Can I get a witness?

Disorganized Religion

“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25

Whenever I hear someone say they don’t like organized religion, the immediate response that goes through my head is, “So you prefer disorganized religion?” You might be pleased to know that eight times out of ten I can keep that thought from escaping my mouth.

businesswoman in the Speak No Evil pose.

I have to say, knowing I am risking offense, that I think that statement is hogwash. I think most people use it as an excuse to stay away from church. These people don’t have a problem with God, they will say, but rather with His people and how they run His church. It is in the running of the church that they take issue.

I don’t even think it is the practices and ordinances that accompany most houses of worship that folks mind. I mean, whether or not you involve yourself in a local body of believers, you still order life by a set of dos and don’ts. We all decide for ourselves those things we will do, and those things we will not.

So I doubt it’s the practices found within the church itself that are problematic, it is when the people of the church, or those leading the church, cannot abide by those practices themselves that people balk and hurl insults at organized religion. Failure in religious leaders hits us hard.

But let’s stop and consider this fact again for a moment. I have a set of standards that I live by. I have decided in my mind the things I will do and the things I will not. I almost always live by that standard.images



Except when I do not.

The truth is we all fail from time to time in measuring up to the standard set. (Romans 3:23) So why would it not stand to reason that the same could be true in the church? Of course, we should always try to uphold what we say we believe as a body of believers. It is of utmost importance to do it. After all, the local church is the hope of the world, is it not? We are supposed to be the hands and feet of Christ to a hurt and dying world, aren’t we? Still, we fail as a people, as a church, as often as we fail personally. Why? Well the reasons are as varied as are the failing people.

As a ministry wife for almost twenty-five years, I have been both immeasurably proud of the church and profoundly embarrassed by it. There have been times when I have wondered what Jesus was thinking when He left the hope of the world in the hands of the likes of me. Did He really sort that through? Surely, He did.

I know that, sadly, many have suffered handily at the misdeeds of the church. All in the name of Jesus. And for some, it is just too hard to think of associating with that again. Except that they should, because Jesus did. Jesus died saving the very people who were inflicting His pain and death. While we were yet sinners… (Romans 5:8)

In spite of the fact that Peter turned his back on Jesus not once, but three times, He still said that Peter would be the cornerstone upon which He would build His church. Peter, the king of failure.

Our failures should point us to the infallibility of God. They are a constant reminder that apart from Him we can do no good thing. The church of Jesus Christ has survived the last two thousand plus years not because of our goodness, but because of His. Paul, who wrote a good bit of the New Testament, called himself “chief of sinners”, and yet God still used him mightily in establishing His church. (1 Tim 1:12-17)

The inevitability of our sin and failure in the church does in no way excuse it, but when we all agree that we are a constant work in progress, it should make the fact that failure is inevitable a bit more palatable to those who seek to avoid it in religion.

My husband and I are fortunate to serve in a wonderfully imperfect church. Our children, because of that, are considered daughter and sons of the house. There is blessing and benefit in that for them. The community of leaders and believers  they have had invest in them has proven time and again to aid in the growth and maturity of their relationship to Christ.

Could Matthew and I have done this alone? Apart from organized religion? I can promise we teach our children well the things of God, but no. Apart from the local church, our children would be in no way connected to the body or to Jesus, as they are with it. images

Scripture calls us not to separate ourselves from the body of believers for that reason. (Hebrews 10:25) We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. It is through those relationships that we grow, learn, and shed those things that look nothing like Jesus. We cannot do that effectively on our own.

So perhaps you have had an issue with organized religion. Me, too, sometimes. But Jesus thought it was a good idea, so we should go with that. Maybe it’s time to give it another try. Let’s deepen our relationship with Christ, and learn to give each other a measure of grace as we work out the nuts and bolts of Christianity.

Joy Comes In The Morning: Living through the seasons of life

Autumn has come on here in the south in full force, as evidenced by the leaves blanketing my lawn and the temperatures that have me running for my heating blanket. November brings with it thoughts of family and the holidays that will lead us in to winter. I am not a fan of winter. But it serves a purpose. For me winter serves to make me appreciate spring, summer, and fall.

imagesSeasons. They come and they go. Some we enjoy more than others. I think our lives are like that. I have a friend who talked me off a virtual ledge once by telling me that I was living in a season, and that seasons pass. She was right, I realized, and I was able to climb down off my jumping bridge.

When winter comes to Alabama, I can sometimes forget that warmer temperatures are going to return to the region. Just when I think I cannot stand one more shiver, I’ll see a daffodil poking its determined head through the frost. And then I know. I know He’s going to do it again. God is going to bring us a new season.

I believe God is a god of seasons. It’s marked all through scripture. There would be seasons of famine followed by seasons of plenty. There were seasons when Israel was loyal to God and then there would be seasons when they wandered. So for them, there were seasons of blessing and seasons of separation.

Doesn’t that sound a bit familiar? This information should be a great comfort to us. For the weary, young mother of tiny children who refuse to sleep the night through… this is a season. For the parent of a teen in rebellion… this is a season. For the family suffering job loss and financial hardship… this is a season. Whatever you are currently suffering… this is a season.

Just as Earth’s seasons pass, bringing change to the current climate, the seasons of our lives pass. Each season has something to teach us about ourselves, and about God. He is teaching us something through it all. And without fail, the lesson is always the same.

“Trust Me.”

“Trust me for your rest.”
“Trust me with your children.”
“Trust me with your money.”
“Trust me with your relationships, career, hopes, dreams,…”



King David, the psalmist, knew about seasons… take a look at Psalm 30:

I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”

Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm;but when you hid your face, I was dismayed. To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy: “What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?

Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.” You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

Sometimes the seasons we face can hit us hard, and knock us down. We can begin to believe there is no way out, or worse, that we must find our own way out. We can feel abandoned and alone, disoriented and confused.

David certainly felt alone and conflicted at times, and he set a wonderful example for what to do during those tough seasons. Oh, David might have whined and moaned for a bit, but without fail, he always redirected himself to the Father.

Psalm 63
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.

Even during times when David felt far from God, he was able to recall God’s glory, and remember God’s faithfulness “through the watches of the night.” He knew God was his salvation even in the darkest part of life, and he held firmly to that truth.

There are many facing tough seasons right now. If you don’t happen to be in the middle of a tough time, get ready. It’s coming. Prepare now. Don’t wait until you are in the middle of a hard season of life to ready yourself.

Get close now. Press in to the Father today. Learn his character and his faithfulness while things are good. If you wait and don’t prepare, when those tough times come, you are tossed around on the waves of trouble instead of being firmly anchored to his truth.

Maybe you are in the middle of a tough season; rest assured that it will pass. It is the way of seasons. There is pain in the night, but joy does come in the morning. Another season is on its way. That’s a promise, and God always keeps his promises.

Walking by Sight…

I feel compelled to continue spending time on this verse about walking by faith and not by sight. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5 is talking about the life after this one. The life that matters most. Because we are assured of the life to come, we can walk by faith and not by sight in this present darkness.


How can someone come to a place where they can manage to make decisions, and live their lives completely apart from the things they see in front of them? I think it becomes much easier when we learn to have an eternity mindset. We begin to see this life differently when we realize that as the Bible says, “This life is but a vapor”. The whole of our lives cannot exist for the brief moments we survive here. We are passing through. This is not our home.

This is just the starting point. We land here in this place completely helpless and spend the next seventy years or so learning how to continue to be dependent.

But wait a second…that doesn’t match the general consensus on how to successfully make it to adulthood, now does it? We raise our children to become independent adults, don’t we? We live for the day that they will fly away from the nest, and live on their own apart from us. Isn’t that the ultimate goal of successful parenting? Independence?

Nope. Not for the Christian parent, it isn’t. Every one of my children came into this world completely dependent upon my husband and me. They needed us for everything. Without us, they would have perished. We tended to their every need, no matter what the need. We fed them, clothed them, and met their physical and emotional needs both day and night.

Eventually they grew to become more self-reliant. Now, my kids don’t really need us so much. It’s a good season of life. But this is not success as a parent. Success for the parent is in the transfer of the dependence of their children from themselves to God. At some point, every successful child will stop depending upon their parents and begin trusting in God to lead, guide, and direct them.

One major goal of every parent should be to teach their children the art of walking by faith and not by sight. Maybe this is news to some. Perhaps you haven’t learned how to do this yourself. The good news is, it is never too late to learn.

When we learn that there is more to this life than what we can see with our eyes, we begin to understand how to make decisions based on faith and not our current circumstances. If we could have a “behind the scenes tour” of our lives, our whole perspective on this life would change.


I love those behind the scenes tours. If you ever visit the set of a television show, you’ll be amazed at all that goes on to produce the show everyone sees on the screen. Similarly, I have a bird’s eye view each month of our Motion Night for students at Church of the Highlands. I get to sit in the Control Room and watch the service play out from a very different vantage point from the students in the auditorium.

Sometimes there are technical glitches. No one working in a Control Room likes for anything to be out of control. That’s why it’s not called the “Out of Control Room.” But sometimes it happens. Most of the time, the students are never even aware of all that went on in the control room to repair, fix, or manage the situation that went awry. Sometimes they never even know there was a problem in the first place.

I believe our lives are like that, to a degree. So many things are happening behind the scenes of our lives that we have no knowledge of at all. When we learn that the behind the scenes action is really the true show, all that we see in front of our eyes begins to be less important. We stop making decisions according to what is in front of us, and begin to direct our lives according to what’s going on in the control room… so to speak.

We have to learn to let this life hang about us like a loose garment. Our lives began here, but they will not end here. We must adjust our lives to care for that which will last. We have to care for our souls. It has been said, “You do not have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body.”

This life is training ground for the life to come. It is our charge to go into that life to come as healthy as we can. This life will pass away, but our soul, and the souls of those around us will live on.

Walking by faith means learning to listen to, and trust in, the direction of Holy Spirit. We take steps forward or not depending upon his guidance. We cannot see the back-story, so we have to trust in the One who can.

Walking by faith means trusting in what you know to be true of God and not in what you feel. Our feelings change day by day and moment by moment. God never changes. When we base our decisions on the truth of God, rather than our feelings in the moment about what we see before us, we take a step in faith.


Those early steps my kids took as toddlers were difficult and scary. Yet eventually, they learned to walk and then to run. The same can be true of walking by faith. Those first tentative steps are uncertain, but the more steps we take in faith, the more confident those steps become. So eventually, when we walk from this life into the next, we will step out of this present darkness into His glorious light as someone who really did see.

I love this piece of a message from Francis Chan about living for eternity.

Keep Praying. Keep Believing. Stuff is Happening.

When prayers go unanswered.

The older I get, the more I come to understand the scripture that says we must walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7) So often, what I see really stinks. Illness, poverty, war, and brutality. Trials. Those are the things I see with my eyes. Those are the things that break my heart. I wonder, do these things not also break the heart of God? Certainly, they do. But long ago, he gave us the choice. The choice not to follow him. The choice not to love him. Because love and loyalty that is not voluntary is not love or loyalty at all. So we live in a world where people turn from him and do what is right in their own eyes.

So what do we do about all the horrible things we see going on in the world? The situations that go awry in our own lives? We pray. We knock on the doors of heaven. We rattle the gate. We pull the attention of the heavenlies to our plight. And we come to the understanding that there is a greater battle being fought than the one we can see with our eyes. For now we see behind the glass[1]through a window dimly. (1 Cor 13:12) There’s more to the story than what our eyes can see.

 In Daniel Chapter ten, Daniel is praying and fasting. He is waiting to hear from God. Twenty-one days go by. By this time, Daniel is weak and tired. He is probably about to give up. Then, Daniel sees a man clothed in linen. Many believe the man was Christ himself. He tells Daniel, “Hey, I would have been here sooner, but there was this ‘prince of the kingdom of Persia’ I had to contend with. He was such a problem that Michael came to help me get past him to you. I heard you when you first began to pray. I’m sorry about the delay”.

So often when we are in the midst of our thing, we don’t understand the delays. The problem at hand, the trial we face, makes us impatient. We begin to doubt if anyone in the heavenlies is even hearing us.

There have been a few times that I knocked at the door of heaven so hard and long that my knuckles were bruised and bleeding. And still there was no answer. At that point, I decided if God wasn’t going to fix my issues, then I would do it myself.

When I think back now, I am embarrassed. There is a whole other world that we cannot see. It is the one that really matters. I thought God was late. I thought he did not understand just how critical my issue was.

Instead, all the while things were going on the heavenlies for which I had no knowledge. God might have been late by my timetable, but my situation worked out in such a way that I am still amazed. All of my efforts were fruitless. I mean, FRUITLESS.

Okay. I’m just going to have to tell you about it. I’ll try to be brief.

When we moved back to Birmingham, our family was in a bad way. I was concerned for my four kids. They had been burned by a church, and had no desire to be involved in another one. I had been hurt, too, but I knew that the local church was still the hope of the world, and the hope for my kids. It was the first time in their lives that their dad was not on staff at a church and they were lost.

We landed at a huge church. We tried not to, but God kept bringing us back to it. The youth group was 800 strong. No way was the youth pastor going to get to know my kids personally. Yet they needed that connection so badly. They needed someone to know their names. I began knocking. No answer. So I tried everything I could. You wouldn’t believe the things I tried to get my kids plugged into that church. It’s truly embarrassing. I finally had to let it go.open_hands[1]

18 months later, my husband accepted an offer to join the Student Ministry staff there. If you only could understand how really ludicrous that is, you’d be smiling right now. Not only does the Youth Pastor now know my kid’s names, but all of the student ministry staff know them. My kids are more connected at church than I could have ever managed on my own, and better yet, they are more connected to God than I could have ever imagined they would be.

Just a few months ago, during the monthly student service, our Youth Pastor was delivering a message to two thousand students. My second son was on stage running a camera. Pastor Mark wanted a close up shot of something he was doing, and in front of two thousand kids, called my son’s name out loud. “Ryan, can you get a shot of this?”

This literally made me cry. Heck, I’m crying as I write this. We have been a part of this church for nearly five years now. It was a gentle reminder to me from God. “See? I heard you. There were just some things going on you couldn’t see. Things I had to work out and tend to first. But I heard your cries. All of them, and did you just see what I did there?”

I did see it. I wish that I had behaved with such faith back when I couldn’t see it. I think that’s the key. There are things we can’t and shouldn’t see just yet. But we have to learn to trust that these things take time sometimes. Keep praying. Keep believing. Stuff is happening.