Saturday, June 13, 2009


Well, here I am again, ready to admit something most people wouldn't share with their closest friend, and I'm going to broadcast it all over the world wide web. We've had a bit of an issue around here the last couple of days. There is an unusual smell in the house, and I seem to be unable to find the source of it. Although it's not yet overwhelming, it is strong. After being away from the house for a few hours or so, when I come home and open the front door, it hits you, it's extremely noticeable. It clearly states, "something isn't right."

Each time I've come home the last couple of days I've tried to sniff it out. I walk through the living room, sniffing high, sniffing low. Wafts of it wander by, but I can't find the source. I continue the search, I check through the kitchen (the room voted "most likely to be the source" of our mysterious odor.) When I can't pinpoint it there I search the bathroom (where the kitten's cat food and cat box are currently located) I check the office where Max's cat box resides...nothing. The source remains a mystery.

Of course the biggest challenge to overcome is that the longer I'm in the house, the more accustomed to the smell I become. It gets harder to notice, and the source becomes even more elusive. I try to recruit the help of my family, but the problem is they don't have the same olfactory sense I do. (Their sense of smell ain't up to snuff... or is it up to sniff?)

As I sit here now typing this, I actually don't smell anything amiss at all. That would be good news, except I know we never found the source, so we couldn't have solved the problem. It's still here, I have just lost my sensitivity to it. We took out the trash, we emptied the dirty dishes out of the sink, we even cleaned out the cat box because those are all the things you're "supposed" to do to solve this kind of problem, but not one of those held the stench I've been smelling.

So as I have been trying to fight this battle, hunt this source of olfactory offense, the metaphor it so perfectly fits has not been lost on me. What metaphor is that, you ask? This stench completely reminds me of sin and the world we live in.

Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." transformed by the renewing of your mind..." Like when I leave the house and fill my sinus cavities with fresh air (by comparison, it is after all Southern California), when I return to the place where the offense is, it stands out, it's obvious to me. But the longer I stay in the midst of it, the less it offends me. It's the same way when we allow ourselves to live by our flesh rather than by the Spirit of God.

Just being around sinful worldly things, it dulls the senses. If we stop and settle in to the midst of it, much like I have done here on this couch, it completely loses any impact to offend us at all. And if we surround ourselves only with others who don't have the spiritual sensitivity to it? Then they are no more help to growth in the Lord than my family with the poor sense of smells is to help me find the source of the stink in this house.

So how do we avoid settling in on "the couch" of the world? It has a lot to do with the choices we make about what we allow "in" our lives. The media bombards us with powerful inoculations to sin and worldliness and when bombarded by it, it no longer makes us as "spiritually sick" the way it used to. What I mean by that is that we build up a resistance, and where before it would have caused us to feel "ill," now our flesh fights it off, weakening our spirit's response.

The movies and television we watch, the music we listen to, the books we read: they all have the power to either renew our minds or dull them. We make the choice to either build up our flesh and weaken our spirit, or build up our spirit and weaken our flesh, and in the end, we live with the consequences. We either become so comfortable in our sin and in the world that those things that hinder our walk begin to become unnoticeable, or our spirit remains so strong we are sensitive enough to keep searching out the source of the spiritual stench in our lives so the "source of the smell" can be found and removed.

The good news is that the Holy Spirit, Who has the strongest of senses, longs to help us root out the spiritual stenches in our lives. But He is not intrusive, and if we choose to remain comfortable without the solution, He will not force the issue.

As believers, we have a responsibility to seek out the stenches of life and remove them. Not only for the sake of our own lives and walks, but for the sake of our witness. You see, the stench isn't just noticeable to us, but it's noticeable to those around us; and when those around us are younger in their faith, or worse don't know the Lord at all, we have to consider the trouble it brings upon them when the stink isn't dealt with. Imagine if you will, in my hospitality, I invited you to my home, and by appearances I had labored to clean it for your visit. If you walk into my home and it appears spotless, but the stink is overwhelming, you won't believe my home is clean at all. Likewise if we preach or exhort others to the power of Christ and live our lives no differently than the world, what power has our witness?

We must be transformed, people must see the difference in our lives, not in perfection, but in the catalyst toward growth and change. You cannot sit with your friend in a filthy movie on Saturday night and then invite them to church on Sunday morning with your bible in hand, praising the Lord, and preaching the gospel. It cheapens the truth, and ridicules Christ on the cross.

This isn't an act I'm talking about, it is simply making a choice to follow Christ. He promises if you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:7-10

I encourage you (and myself) move toward the Lord continually, move toward growth and change. If you call Him Lord, live it out. If you proclaim Him Lord, remember eyes are watching, live your life out loud for Him! Be in the world, but don't be of the world.

Let us not just talk the talk, but let's walk the walk and be the light of the world we have been called to be. He did not call us because we are equipped, but He will equip us because we are called.

"But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen"
Luke 8:15-18

Consider carefully how you live.....

Monday, June 8, 2009

Seeking Him Together - More Grace

I remember the moment. I can close my eyes and picture it. I can see where I was standing in the kitchen, the light coming in through the window as I stood washing the dishes in the sink. I can still hear the words to the song that were playing on the stereo.

The sun was beating down inside the walls of stone and razor wire, As we made our way across the prison yard, I felt my heart begin to race as we drew nearer to the place, Where they say that death is waiting in the dark, The slamming doors of iron echoed through the halls, Where despair holds life within its cruel claws, But then I met a man who's face seemed so strangely out of place, A blinding light of hope was shining in his eyes, And with repentance in his voice he told me of his tragic choice, That led him to this place where he must pay the price, But then his voice grew strong as he began to tell, About the One he said had rescued him from hell... Steven Curtis sang the words and they pierced my heart. It was the moment I first understood the depth of grace I'd been given.

I came to the Lord a murderer. It's not politically correct to call it that, but my soul knew that the abortion I had was the murder I had committed. The guilt and pain had been destroying my life for the years since. A secret I carried, it had brought me to the edge of destruction. Months before I had cried out to God from beneath my pain and committed my life to Christ. Since that day I had spent several weeks going through a healing Bible study and was growing in the knowledge of my salvation, but it was there alone in the kitchen that I truly understood the grace of God.

Those months that followed I continued in the healing Bible study. First I experienced the grace of release, being freed from my sin. The chorus of the song, I carried with me, "And if the Son has set you free, Oh, if the Son has set you free, Then you are free indeed, Oh, you are really free, If the Son has set you free, Oh, if the Son has set you free, Then you are free, really, really, free" After that I experienced More Grace, a different kind of grace, the grace to continue on the path of healing.

I remember one night in particular that I was overwhelmed with grief and sadness, a wounded heart, and deep pains to my soul. Neal was out of town and I was all alone. I was out driving, an emotional wreck, crying out to God, and it is only by His grace that I even found my way home. I remember collapsing on our bed, sobbing deep gut-wrenching sobs from the deepest places in my soul. It was then I felt the presence of the Lord like never before. I literally felt held. Tim Grissom described it well in the illustration in our workbook as he wrote, "When we are humble, do you see where God places His hands? Above us to cover us, and beneath us to carry us." (pg 96) That was the grace I experienced that night. It was a grace I would continue to revisit for the years that followed, as I struggled through infertility and miscarriages. God used grace to carry me through it all. (For more of my testimony click here, remember to read last post to first for chronological order.)

I feel blessed in many ways for the way I came to the Lord. Although there was great loss, it only accentuated the gain Is it an old saying or a line from a song that says, No one is more thankful to sit at the table than the one who best remembers hunger's pain? I have long known the depth of that truth. It may sound strange but when I went through my healing I was encouraged to pray about a name for my aborted child. I was vacuuming one day when it came to me, "Heather Renee." It was years later in my Christian walk that I learned about the biblical significance of names and I went back to find out what it meant. Heather means "wasteland," and Renee means "born again." It most certainly seemed appropriate. Even in the answer to the prayer to help me mourn, I found More Grace.

This week's discussion is being hosted by Melissa at Breath of Life.

How has your understanding of grace been helped or challenged this week? This study has held an interesting parallel for me these past weeks along side the sermons my pastor has been giving and we have been discussing in short term growth groups at our church. This week's sermon was about Denial of Self, and yesterday I blogged about some of what the Lord was laying on my heart about saying "no to self" in order to better follow the Lord. I have some besetting sin that I continually battle. After the revelation I received at the end of yesterday's post, I experienced some real grace today in making steps towards freedom. I could literally sense the spirit of God restraining me, whispering to me and drawing me back. I had forgotten about the grace to make it and was happy to revisit an old and faithful friend.

How can God's grace help us overcome temptation?God wants us to live a victorious life over sin. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (in my estimation) is probably one of the most misquoted scriptures in the bible. It is a pet peeve of mine when I hear people proclaiming "God doesn't give us more than we can bear," when in fact the scripture reads, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." (emphasis mine) The word picture I got was like the emergency lights inside an aircraft, or perhaps a theater, they lead to the exit in case of an emergency, like wise, the Holy Spirit, in God's grace is there to direct us away from the danger of our sin through conviction, the wisdom of the word, and the love of the brethren.

Read Hebrews 4:15-16. What insight does this passage give us about how to get more of God's grace?
"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Grace is found simply by coming to the Lord in humility and expectation. Unmerited favor is a gift given freely when properly asked, with confidence, in expectation, and believing God will give it, not based on how much we deserve it, but how good and gracious is the God we serve.

He Cares for Me

I remember when Jake was about 2 1/2 he used to have this little frog that he loved to carry around with him everywhere he went. He was crazy about it. It wasn't much bigger than the end of my thumb. When he held it in his tight little fist, you couldn't even see it. When it was not in his tiny little fist, the problem was it was hard to keep track of.

I wish I had been more thoughtful and sentimental back then because I think back to that frog quite fondly. God used it to teach me a very valuable lesson. He cares about the little things that matter to us... A LOT.

If you're a parent you know how children can suddenly become overwhelmingly attached to a particular toy, blanket, what not... and for a season this frog was the be all and end all. And one day we lost it. Jacob was absolutely beside himself that we could not find this frog, and after tearing the house apart looking for it I was at a loss as I looked into my little toddler's tear-filled eyes.

Finally, I pulled Jake over to the couch, doing my best to console him when it occurred to me, we could pray. So I took his little hands and we bowed our heads and asked God to help us find that tiny frog. After we prayed I lifted my head, and over Jake's shoulder across the room wedged between the couch and an end table a tiny glimpse of green caught my eye. I hurried across the room to find Jake's beloved little toy frog.

I've prayed for a thousand "lost" things since that day. I remember the time at church Jake and I prayed for a friend who had lost her keys. We walked upstairs to help her look on a late Wednesday evening as the building was about to close. I felt compelled to stick my hand inside a tissue box (random?) and there they were. God not only cares about those things which matter to us, but if we listen.... "He will direct your path.." (Proverbs 3:6) He wants to speak to us, if only we will listen.

Yesterday I went looking for these little beauties. Mom's, do you recognize them? (Maybe a few of you dads do too.) The yellow color indicates their value, they're like gold. They represent all the immunizations my kids have had since birth. I lost Jake's when he was little, and they are kind of a pain to replace. (And they can cost you money to replace - like $20 a piece.) And since you only pull them out on occasions like "shot days" and for school registration, they can be challenging to keep track of. But ever since I lost the first one, I have been really diligent for the last dozen years, which explains why I was really shocked when I couldn't find them yesterday morning.

I needed them for summer camp registration, knowing when Ethan's last tetanus and Victoria's last MMR immunization was is critical for a week in the mountains at church camp. (It actually is, I'm only teasing.) And when I went to my file where I have kept them for the last decade, they were not there, but the key is they were all not there. It would make sense to have misplaced one, but not all three. I tore my file boxes apart to no avail. I was ready to surrender figuring I had somehow lost them at registration time last year for the new schools. I was all prepared to call the doctor's office this morning and break out my checkbook for three replacements. Then I remembered I could pray and see if the Lord would help me find them.

I will confess my obsessive nature was struggling, I went through a few random drawers and the like, but mostly I was resigned to spending $60 or $90 or so to be able to get copies to complete the registration form. This morning I woke up earlier than I would have liked with the image of a manila envelope in my mind. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was so on my mind I couldn't go back to sleep (which I really wanted to do.) So finally I got up and went into the office.

I cleaned it out recently and the hefty bag of papers is still sitting on the floor. I started searching through and found the folder full of papers from registration for school last year, but no envelope, and no immunization cards. So I pulled that box of files that I went through no less than three times yesterday where I noticed stuffed in the front was a manila envelope, which I immediately opened and found three gold cards (that almost felt like three cards made of gold...) Thank you Jesus.

Were they there yesterday? Without a doubt, but I couldn't find them. But the Lord of the universe who cares about what matters to me spoke clearly, opened my eyes and directed my way. That's how big the God I serve is in my own little world, and that's how much He cares for me. (and for you by the way... if only you will let Him.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."
Luke 9:23

My pastor shared a really great message today. Well, I use the word "great" to encapsulate "convicting, thought provoking, wisdom imparting, challenging, clear and direct." So please know that's what I mean when I say "great" as I now go on to tell you the painful truths I have been evaluating in my mind since about noon today.

The message had a lot of meat to it. He spoke for 45 minutes or so, but he probably could have given a three day seminar on the truths that he shared. I'm not going to recap the whole message (although if you want to listen to it for yourself you can find it here. If it's not up yet, it will be soon, and there are several good sermons from the series he's been doing, Living in an Upside Down World.)

The scripture above is at the crux of what has been sticking with me today, the concept of denying myself. It's a requirement. It isn't a suggestion or a optional plan of action - read the verse again, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself..." It's non-negotiable.

So here's the thoughts I've been chewing on. I have two specific battles in my life right now that I feel like I am not only struggling through but actually most days I feel like losing. #1 is our finances. We are hurting. What comes in isn't covering what goes out. And the fact of the matter is, we probably don't say "no" to things the way we should. We live in the OC, and there is a lifestyle that is common around here... we don't live like a lot of people in our neck of the woods do, but we have built a habit of living beyond our means. It isn't completely our fault, our struggles started with massive medical bills and things like car troubles and the like, but once we had debt, it was easy to continue onto the path of credit card use and the like, and before you know it you're paying 12% interest annually on a meal I don't remember or a birthday gift for a boy in a class who won't even remember the lego set we bought him buried beneath 24 other lego sets from 24 other kids in the class.

It's too hard to be the mom that says no to birthday parties or dinners out on date nights, so instead of stamping the request the way I should...

...we foolishly make concessions and dig a deeper hole. Did you know it's really hard to fill a hole from the bottom of it? It is on the other hand the perfect place to be to dig it deeper. It's also a rather precarious place to try and remain, for fear the walls may come down in on you.

Grrr... it's a tough thing to admit, and it's a hard place to be. We need the Lord to help us. I'm praying in grace and mercy He will, but along the way, we will have to choose to stamp that denial stamp on choices we have to make. We may have to learn to say "no" more often.

Sigh. So on to problem #2, my weight. It's completely out of control. And before I get a rush of encouraging comments, and emails with the perfect diet plan, hear me, this is a spiritual issue, not a physical one. The irony is not lost on me that the Lord was speaking this to me as I was in the middle of a huge buffet style restaurant. I don't know how to tell myself "no."

I can take the weight off. A couple of years ago I lost nearly 70 lbs. I looked good, I felt great, and then I put the weight back on, refusing to deny myself any longer. I refused to deny myself the right to eat emotionally. I refused to deny myself the right to eat poorly. And now I am paying the price. I am paying the price as I look at the scale and realize I weigh more than I ever have in my life - ever, as in even more than I did at nine months pregnant, either time. The elastic in my clothing has become so tight, and I'm heavy enough that I'm not comfortable in my own skin, literally, physically uncomfortable.

This is often how I start and end my days. I wake up determined, I am going to eat better, less fat, less sugar, more fruits and veggies. I play with the ideas, all protein, all organic - always some new plot or plan. And at the end of the day, who am I kidding, often by breakfast, I have failed. Stumble once and I never even try to get back on the right path, and the stamp on the end of the day looks like this. And the road to the fat farm is paved with good intentions.

But as I look at both of these battles, the sin at the root is an inability to just say "no" to self.

"No, self, you cannot afford to go there, do that, buy that, eat there....."

"No, self, you shouldn't eat that now, for dinner, dessert... at all!

I realize that the verse is also referring to far greater things. There is a much bigger and more profound picture than my spending and eating habits, but it still applies in just as profound a way because to be trusted to be faithful in the big things, you have to be faithful in the little things first. (Luke 16:10)

Stewardship, that's a tough word. It isn't just about finances, but about all the Lord has blessed us with our time, resources, talents, spiritual gifts, our bodies...

The truth of the matter is, I have gained this revelation and am not sure I am any better for it. Even as I sit here and type I am contemplating a glass of milk and chocolate - even though I'm not even hungry. Do I want to say no to self? I don't actually, and I'm not even sure I can say no. But I'm also not sure I can not.

I do know I want to live through this revelation, I'm pretty sure it's going to be there haunting at my conscience if I choose not to deny myself. Sigh.

But if I want to follow Him, especially in these specific areas, I will have to learn to choose to deny self. It's the only way I can follow Him. And if I cannot do it in the little things, will I ever learn to do it when it matters?

What about you? Do you have areas in your life where by choosing to say "yes" to self you are saying "no" to the Lord? Hmmm... that's a harder way to look at it, and perhaps the place where the strength will be found.

Instead of seeing it as "Yes, I want the cookie and will allow myself to have it..."

What if I say "No, Jesus, I will not let You be Lord over my body..."

"My finances..."

"My time..."

"My resources..."

"My mind...."

"My life..."

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?
I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice."
Luke 6:46-47

Help me Lord, to follow You...

The Next Generation