A God of Rest

Matthew 11:28-30

New International Version

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

1Kings 19

3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Christian culture tends to teach us to hide any emotions that are considered negative and never show that we are struggling. Never question God. If you are depressed and suicidal you either aren't really a Christian or aren't praying hard enough.

If we look at many stories in the bible we find that these ideals just aren't true. God tells us to bring our problems to him. Not just the socially acceptable problems of a Christian. Bring him the messiness of your anxiety and the heavy darkness of your depression, just as Elijah did. God didn't chastise him for being honest about the emotional state he was in. God took care of him and brought him comfort and strength.

God did not create an army of unfeeling robots. He knows we are humans and that we struggle in a fallen world. Unaddressed wounds cannot be healed. Our physician cannot bind up wounds that we refuse to show him. Scripture tells us that God is close to the brokenhearted. He doesn't flinch at our fallibility. He is not disappointed in our confusion or when we are overwhelmed. He has such an intense desire to connect with us and carry us through the hard times that he sacrificed his son so that the veil could be torn and nothing could separate us from his comforting loving presence.

Run to him. He is waiting with open arms.

My Heart Belongs to Jesus

Once upon a time, I would say that I was spiritual rather than religious. I did that because my Christianity was more focused on a personal relationship with God as opposed to religious rules and rituals. I have been pursuing God from a space of grace rather than legalism.

I wanted others to know that I wasn’t one of those judgmental old fuddy-duddies. I wasn’t going to shove Jesus down their throat and count the ways they were going to Hell. I needed them to know that I was one of the good guys.

However, when I notice people stating they are spiritual instead of Christian, I now hesitate. I am in a place in my relationship with God where I refuse to compromise. Funny how He keeps changing us along the way.

What that means for me is I proudly and without shame wear the label of Christian, because I am a follower of Christ. I refuse to water that down or tuck it under a shadow in order to make others more comfortable.

The podcast Black and Blurred spoke of someone giving a speech and thanking their mother but making vague references to “the man who poured wisdom into me alongside my mother”. That seems as if you have a grudge against your father. That analogy spoke so perfectly to how I have felt about boldly proclaiming Jesus as my savior.

When we alter our relationship with God in order to be more palatable to the world then we strain our relationship with Christ and risk our very salvation. Some would argue that you can’t lose your salvation. Paul mentions that action so goes along with our faith.

Our salvation is free and requires no effort on our part other than to receive it. However, in order to maintain the right relationship with God, we have to do our part, in submitting our will to God and crucifying (denying) our flesh. Galatians 5:16-26 NIV

From the moment the disciples became baptized with the Holy Spirit they began teaching about yielding our lives to God in complete surrender. Yet just as devotedly, people have sought out a prosperity gospel that feeds their flesh more than their spirit.

As Christians we are called to be different, to stand out. Jesus warned us that this would be uncomfortable and even painful. Following Christ comes at a cost. Jesus tells us to be aware of this and not take it lightly.

Cultural Christianity has become more of the norm in American churches, than a full commitment to Jesus. If we look and act like the world, then we are missing a key component. How can we draw the world to Jesus when they don’t recognize a difference between us and them?

It all boils down to a very humanistic point of view. Our belief in God is fully steeped in self when any pain, discomfort, or inconvenience causes us to turn our backs on Him in anger. We are ready to reject Him and shake an accusing fist when life doesn’t pan out quite as it should.

When I became a Christian I was running so hard after God and I was in this place of full submission for about 3 solid years. Then I suddenly hit the desert and I could not hear God, I could not feel God, I felt so isolated and alone. During this time I started to have vivid flashbacks of the abuse I endured in my childhood. It became so intense that it felt like I was being abused all over again in real-time.

Every time I would go to church or a Bible study, I would ask people to pray for me and their response kept being the same. That God was allowing me to experience this level of pain because there was sin in my heart. After going through this for months I finally became so discouraged that I just gave up and completely backslid. I became so angry at God, I was angry at the church and most of all I was confused.

I was confused because I did not understand how a God who allowed me to feel His love so tangibly, could just abandon me in my time of need. I could not understand how God could turn away from me when I was pursuing Him so strongly and giving Him so much of myself.

It took me years to come back and it took a lot of healing and a lot of grace from others, in helping me to navigate through those heavy emotions. What I realize now, on the other side of that, is that me leaving my faith behind, was a very self-centered act. Now, most people can relate or empathize with why I left. Many will even tell me that it’s OK, that God understands.

I believe He does understand, He knows my heart better than I do myself sometimes but at the end of the day, I failed to see His sovereignty. I failed to trust that I was not in that battle alone. The enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy. The point of his prowling, his attacks, are to destroy our faith and connection with God and by me focusing on my hurt rather than on my God, I allowed the enemy to win.

I have another article that goes more in-depth about the sovereignty of God. How can a good God allow bad things to happen?? That’s the question we always ask because we are viewing things from a carnal perspective.

That is a struggle and consequence of sin and our flesh, it’s something that we will always battle against, and it’s something that we will always be under the burden of while on this Earth.

God paid the highest price to have us be a part of His kingdom. Some people frame it as “He bankrupted Heaven.” He gave us incredible resources and freedom beyond what we can imagine. Why wouldn’t we give Him our highest devotion in return?

I am not ashamed to be a Christian. Even when it is unpopular or uncomfortable. This world has only given me heartache and problems. The loyalty of the world is superficial and fleeting. The love of God has withstood the test of time.

The Glory of God

2 Samuel 6:4-8

I heard a podcast recently about the mistake of holding up the glory of God with our human strength. When the oxen stumbled carrying the ark of the covenant a man tried to prop it up and instantly died. God was angry because this man had not been cleansed and was interfering with the glory of God by reacting without direction.

This led me to ponder a question. Have we as the church caused spiritual death by trying to prop up the glory of God through our human strength? The Spiritual church has become so dry and complacent. Luke warm and half in has become commonplace. So many churches are about entertainment. We are on rigid time schedules. There are mega-churches that make the leader their king rather than Jesus.

Leadership in the body of Christ is about directing people to Jesus. We usher in the glory of God through an overflow of the spirit in our personal lives. Jonathan Hessler says that we are the opening act. Jesus is the star of the show. If we are fervently seeking God in our personal lives then the glory of God can be ushered into services by the leading of the Holy Spirit. We easily miss that leading if we are not consistently connecting with the Holy Spirit on a personal level.

We have to turn our homes into places of worship. We have to disconnect from everything distracting us and seek God daily at all costs, with no excuses. When we carve out time for Him and refuse to allow that time to be interfered with we start to see a shift. Peter walked past people and they were healed by his shadow. We have that same power within us. We only need to reignite our passion for God.

We are in such dark and desperate times. God is calling his remnant to rise up! God is calling his people to usher his presence into this fallen world. From the overflow of his amazing presence in our lives, the world around us is able to taste and see that the Lord is good. We can revive these dry bones! Ezekiel 37:1-14

Love in Shades of Blue

Over the past few years, I have really been learning about grace vs legalism. During this journey of learning, God is showing me so many distorted beliefs that were hindering my relationship with him.

As most of you know, I have C-PTSD and often battle depression and anxiety. I was told for years by many well-meaning Christians that my struggles weren’t very Christ-like. They told me I needed to believe more, pray more, and read my bible more and I would be healed of this burden.

It’s only been in the past year or so that I have come to accept “the thorn in my flesh”, rather than relentlessly trying to cure it. (2 Cor 12:7-10) I was making myself even more miserable by trying so desperately to NOT be depressed. I would become almost frenzied at times trying to fix it. I hated that part of me because so many had essentially said that it was wrong to be depressed or have anxiety. In hating that part of me I was not only failing to love myself, but I was also rejecting the calling that God has on my life. I assumed I could only lead others to heal if I was completely well myself. (Matt 22:36-40)

Most recently, when I was going through another bout and asking myself numerous times a day what's wrong with me? God spoke so quietly yet so clearly to me. "Why do you fight this?" My head snapped up. I was startled by this question. “Well”...I fumbled for a moment, over my words. “I need to be better, so I can do your work”. The response I received caused a huge weight to be lifted from me. "You need only be in my arms. Let me hold you through this. The rest will come."

In that moment I felt safe, cared for, and loved. The need to hide until I am “good enough” fell away. I was missing out on so much by trying to be fixed. I was losing sight of the fixer!! I can sincerely say that I KNOW that God loves me. All of me, the real me, and he doesn’t turn from my mess, he draws me in and embraces that too. The healing balm of Gilead….is love.

Do you ever feel that there are parts of you that need to be cleaned up or fixed before you go to God? Are there struggles in your life that you feel you have to hide from others? Ask God for His perspective on these things.

Prepare the Way

Isaiah 40:3

A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.

This scripture is the prophecy of Jesus. Jesus commissioned us to continue his work. We could consider the current state of our world a spiritual wilderness. It is up to the body of Christ to prepare the way for the Lord in the wilderness. We are in desperate times where the presence of God is needed as much as it was before the flood.

Hosea 10:12

Sow righteousness for yourselves,

reap the fruit of unfailing love,

and break up your unplowed ground;

for it is time to seek the Lord,

until he comes

and showers his righteousness on you.

We are in a spiritual battle. We are in the desert, a dry land where God seems silent. God is not silent to those who seek him. We have a duty to God, to our loved ones, and to our community to prepare the way of the lord. Prepare hearts for salvation, healing, and freedom. We prepare the way through prayer, fasting, and spreading love. We prepare the way by living in his presence so fully that not only are our lives changed but those around us become changed.

Jesus is living water, not stagnant nor standing still. He is moving us into wider circles of connection. As disciples of Christ, we offer hope in these confusing and heavy times. There is a Chaplain in Gaston county who touches an untold amount of lives on a regular basis, simply by having a conversation with people. He doesn’t preach to them, he simply offers them a safe space to be heard and acknowledged. He lets them know they are “seen”. This was the ministry of Jesus. Having meals and conversations with people that let them know, “I see you”.

Prepare the way in the wilderness by allowing God to show you his heart for people. Has the hardness of people exhausted you? Have you asked God how he sees these people? Have you prayed to have his heart for those that are deaf to the truth? Let us be intentional and consistent in making a highway in the desert for God’s hand to move, so that we may reap the fruit of unfailing love.

Pharisee's Delight

A pharisee is committed to religion and restrictions. They thrive on no’s more than yeses. Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t even think about the other, you are wrong, wrong, wrong! Their mindset causes division because at the heart of a Pharisee it is more about authority and control than about relationships. The greek word for Pharisee is Pharisaíos which means “the separate ones”.

God intended for the separate ones to be set apart from the world for his holy calling. However, they fell into deception and pride. They began thinking they were better than the “common ones”. Their righteous, piousness caused them to lose sight of connection with those who needed the truth of God’s word.

Unfortunately, this same toxic mindset continues to permeate the church. It not only causes a seperation of the church from the community that needs healing, peace and joy but it has also caused division among the body of Christ. Jesus addressed this partially in Luke chapter 6. 9Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” We are called to save life. We direct lost souls to salvation and offer them peace and healing while navigating their journey.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. A mindset of control stems from fear. Fear is the opposite of love. 1 John 4:18 tells us that perfect love casts out fear. If we are approaching people with the genuine love of Christ then we are offering them freedom from fear and we ourselves are free. A religious mindset not only damages those we are attempting to reach but it wounds our own soul by interfering with our personal relationship with God.

I know that someone pops into your mind the moment the term Pharisee is used. I challenge you today to search your own heart for any religious mindsets that have crept in. Are there any areas of your life so bound in fear that you feel the need to control others? If so, what can you do today to step into the perfect love that casts out all fear? How can you offer love to those bound in fear today?

Forbidden Fruit

Genesis 3:1-6

We have all experienced deception and yet it is so easy to judge Eve for yielding to the lies of the enemy. She had an intimate relationship with God with a bounty provided for her and yet the enemy convinced her that what she had was not enough. The serpent led her to believe that SHE was not enough and needed further knowledge and power to be whole. Does this sound familiar?

God is a gentle God that moves in methodical, practical, and deeply spiritual ways. This can often be unnerving and confusing to our finite minds. It can seem like God is not moving when we need him to because we cannot see behind the scenes. When we are hurting, scared, and confused it can feel like God has forgotten us and moved on to bigger problems in the world. The enemy creeps in to whisper that we need to do something. We need to make things happen.

I spent years looking for freedom from my pain in so many unhealthy forms. Toxic relationships, throwing myself into work (even good causes), eating my emotions, drinking myself into oblivion, and even cutting. I was craving the forbidden fruit that I thought would lead to freedom. I was seeking wholeness in everything but God. I became saved in 2006 after having a tangible experience of God’s love. I chased hard after him for 3 years, completely saturating myself in the word and in prayer. At one point I thought that my relationship with God was unshakeable. Just like Eve, the enemy crept in.

I began to have vivid flashbacks of the abuse of my childhood and was told by the church that I had sin in my heart and that God had turned from me. Once again, I was not enough. It took me falling away from the faith to realize that I had been trying to earn God’s love by being good enough. I was being a “good Christian” through my own efforts and by checking off a box each day of how much I prayed, how much I read and studied the word, and what sins I had avoided.

I had to become “naked” to discover that God’s presence was all that I needed and that he is in the garden with me, even if he feels like he has taken a break. The fruit that I craved was from the vine and yet I ate the poison. God did not shame me for choosing the latter. He welcomed me back in with loving arms and offered to clothe me in righteousness. I am worthy because God called me by name and I am his! (Isaiah 43:1) When I feel that something is lacking in my life and I try to fill it with outward, empty things, I need to be reminded that God is the only one who can make me whole. If I begin to feel a hunger even while seeking him, I need to assess whether I am pursuing from legalism or grace.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Matthew 2:10

When they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly with joy.

I believe there are a few reasons there was such great rejoicing overseeing that star leading to Jesus. When Jesus was born God had been silent for 400 years. The earth was in spiritual darkness from God pulling back his spirit due to sin. That star pointed to our savior. That was a sign to those waiting for God that he was once again among his people.

That star was a sign that redemption was at hand and that God had not given up on us completely. God’s plan, His promise was unfolding. Bringing a promise of hope in a chaotic time.

2000 years later we are once again overwhelmed with darkness waiting on God’s hand to move. Waiting on his promises to be fulfilled. We too can rejoice with exceeding joy knowing that we have a savior. Knowing that God has not abandoned us, no matter what the circumstances look like physically. Jesus is our star. We have a chance to allow him to shine brightly in us during these fearful times.

As we draw close to God, he draws near to us. We show the world, the bright and shining star Emmanuel, by becoming so filled with the love of God that it pours out to his people.

Deep Waters

Luke 5:4-11

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”’

The first directive Jesus gave to Peter was “put out into deep water”. The word deep in Greek is bathos, which means depth; deep water; met: fullness, immensity; an extreme degree; profundities, deep-laid plans. Jesus wanted Peter to go beyond the shallow end. Peter responded the way most of us do, he had already tried and it didn’t work but he was willing to try again because the Lord told him to. Jesus wanted to illustrate his authority to Peter through a symbolism that Peter understood intimately.

When we approach Christianity on the surface we are often disappointed with the lack that we receive in return. No relationship has ever thrived through a surface-level, shallow connection. Jesus calls us to go deeper. To trust him in the face of the unknown or in times of uncertainty when it looks like things just won’t work out. If we are bold enough to trust him and his direction we can experience a fullness that we never realized was possible.

God calls us to know him. To truly know him we must dive deep. We must create space for intimacy and allow God into our “darkness”, into our brokenness and confusion. That level of raw authenticity opens up a dialogue that fosters an unshakable connection. We learn to trust when we cling to him in desperation during our times of weakness and fear. We are called to seek him like water in a desert. Truly longing for more of him and less of us.

If we read on in this passage we can see that once Peter experienced an overflow he had to call in others to help. Jesus wraps this up by telling Peter, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” As we dive deep into the spirit of the great I am, it overflows to those around us. We don’t draw others to Christ through our good deeds or how fancy we pray or even how many scriptures we know. We don’t lead others to Christ by pointing out their sin and telling them how wrong they are. We point them to salvation through an overflow of the spirit as we delve into the depths of God’s presence.