A Heart Adjustment

Yesterday I finished an intensive three-week course at our church called the Life Training School (LTS for short). It covered basic foundational teachings about who God is, how He functions, and what it means to walk with God in every area of our lives, teachings that were both simple and incredibly profound. While it presented good information, the course was more about genuine encounter with God than it was about knowledge. We joked that perhaps it should be called the Life Transformation School instead (which is actually what I originally thought LTS stood for already – oops), after we heard testimony after testimony (around fifty of them) of how God had encountered individuals during those three weeks. Someone aptly compared the course to a three-week chiropractic session for the heart, where every time we met, God shifted something else back into alignment with His ways and character.

Some of the testimonies we heard were incredible and there’s a part of me that still struggles with comparing myself to others, comparing my testimony to theirs. The final night we met, though, as I reflected on what God had done for me during the week, I pictured myself handing God my testimony, small and handwritten, and Him saying “It is enough”. So here it is – not as funny or flashy as some, but uniquely mine and a testimony of a real God working in real ways in my life.

LTS Testimony*

I showed up at LTS, unsure of what exactly to expect. Because I knew I would be coming straight from work most evenings, I was a little afraid that I would be too tired to receive or really engage in the teachings. God met me so faithfully each time we gathered, though, even on the nights when I walked in tired or distracted by the day. I feel like the realization of His faithfulness in meeting me, even when I did little more than get myself into my seat, set the stage for some of the most significant shifts in my heart during the course.

A huge part of LTS for me was learning to embrace the simplicity of choosing God. The teachings about bitterness and about the walls we build around ourselves highlighted the impact of my choices. Although I realized how some of my choices led to years of hurt and wrong-relating, I was deeply encouraged by the realization that just as that hurt came from simple choices, I can just as simply choose forgiveness instead of bitterness. I can choose to believe what God says rather than the lies I have heard. Over and over, I can (and did, during these three weeks) choose life instead of death. Not that this will always be easy, but it is simple. It does not require me to figure it all out (I appreciated Graham’s analogy, comparing our ability to receive from God without understanding exactly how He works with our ability to eat and receive nourishment from food without understanding all the complexities of how digestions works). As someone who tends to overthink and overanalyze, this was a significant realization for me.

LTS also drew out some lies that I still believed about who God is as a Father. In particular, I realized during that first week that I still believed that God plays favorites. Of course, if you had asked me, I would have told you I believed that God loves all His children equally. As I listened to and processed the teachings about God as Father, though, I began to realize that the way I lived and the ways I interacted with certain people revealed a persistent belief that God really does like some people more and that I would always be excluded from a certain measure of His affection. During LTS, I repented of this wrong belief about who God is and chose to believe the truth that God is a good Father and that as a good Father, He loves all of His children. During my one-on-one prayer time, God affirmed His love for me and for the unique ways that He has made me. At one point, He showed me a picture of His hand pulling a rolled up sheet of yellowed sheet music from a box and spoke to me about the beauty of the song that He has is singing through my life, a song that He specifically and very carefully chose for me. That picture drove deep the reality that “God made me the way He likes me and He likes me the way He made me.” I believe that as I learn to walk more securely in that truth, it will not only affect the way I interact with God, but will also impact my marriage and other significant relationships in my life as I continue to let go of striving and other aspects of the persona I have built up to protect myself.

*This is the testimony I wrote and handed in at the end of the course.

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A House Where I Cannot Hide

On Friday, after a full day of countless trips up and down stairs, plenty of sweat, but thankfully no rain, Derek and I moved out of our apartment and into a nearby house owned by our friend Maggie.

For the past two years, our apartment has been a place of sanctuary for us after the chaos and heartache of the Tracy House. I felt more than a little reluctant to leave this sanctuary and jump into community living again, but as we prayed and considered Maggie’s invitation to move into her house and serve as house parents for the Vision Course students who would live there. I could feel God prodding at those still-raw places of hurt and frustration from our last experience in community. In the past two years of school and busyness, those hurts had lay mostly dormant, but God does not let those things rest indefinitely. He desires wholeness and right relationship for us and does not settle for partial healing. In Maggie’s invitation, I felt the Lord’s invitation as well to walk with Him through that process of healing.

Even recognizing this invitation from the Lord, though, I felt twinges of fear at the thought of living in community. In the weeks leading up to our move, people often asked me if I was excited for the move. I was, in some ways, but truthfully I was (and am) far more afraid than excited.

I am afraid of being annoyed with dirty dishes piling up in the sink.
I am afraid of growing frustrated with unexpected guests.
I am afraid of not being able to rest or enjoy quiet in my home.
I am afraid of overreacting to little things.
I am afraid of feeling pushed aside or disregarded.
I am afraid of miscommunication and conflict.
I am afraid of being rejected.

In short, I am terrified of moving into a place where my brokenness and humanity is laid bare and impossible to hide.

But that is part of the invitation in this season, the point in moving back into community: to learn to embrace those broken places, to expose them, to bring them before the Lord and receive healing, to experience the reality of God’s acceptance of me even in those places.

So even in the face of my fear, I am choosing to unpack and settle into a house where I cannot hide, to lay all of myself before God and learn to walk with him into my broken places.

When a Fish Sandwhich Girl Meets the Abundance of the Father

For a while now I’ve felt God pressing into the places of my unbelief that He is faithful and will provide for us in all circumstances (you may remember this post from this past winter).

About a month ago, at a friend’s suggestion, I looked into the life of George Mueller. I began with a small book of excerpts from his diary. I tucked it into my purse to read on the bus, but was soon gripped by account after account of God’s provision. Sometimes the provision came just in time (money the day rent was due, bread as the family prepared to sit down for dinner) and sometimes it came as soon as he prayed. God provided money, food, material items, workers and supplies for the orphan home he founded, physical strength, and even a vacation. All without Mueller expressing his needs or desires to anyone but God. Now I’m working my way through a biography of George Mueller by Roger Steer. Every time I open it, I’m challenged by the account of this man who was so enthralled by the sweet mercies and graciousness of God that he trusted Him to provide for every need, large or small. I can feel it shifting the paradigms of my heart.

This shifting kicked into high gear a couple weeks ago when Dave Blackwell spoke at the Boiler Room about the abundance of Jesus (you can listen to his talk here – do it). He began by sharing a story about when an uncle of theirs came to visit and took them out to dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant on the plaza. When Dave opened the menu, he immediately went to the cheapest item on the menu – the fish sandwich. He was all set to order it when the uncle asked if they liked crab legs. When they answered that, sure, they liked them, he proceeded to order several pounds of crab legs. And from then on, if they even so much as mentioned that something sounded good, the uncle would call a waiter over and order it. This uncle’s generosity was so extravagant, far beyond the fish sandwich that Dave would have chosen for himself.

Then Dave retold the story of the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:5-13), a situation where it would have been impossible for the disciples to give even the barest minimum, even just a mouthful, to the multitudes. Yet Jesus supplied as much as they wanted and then some – twelve baskets of leftovers after everyone had eaten their fill. Then came the story of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), where Jesus provided the equivalent to about six hundred bottles of wine, because He cares about the celebration and the details. He wanted to show His glory, to  challenge the disciples with the reality of His overflowing bounty. He wanted to reveal the character of the Father, the extravagant giver.

I recognized myself in Dave’s description of “the fish sandwich kind of people,” the ones who settle for the cheapest thing they can get, the bare minimum of what they need. Not only do I literally order the cheapest item on the menu when I go to a restaurant, but I’ve locked the highest bar of my expectation of God’s provision on just getting by with the basics. I even remember a time, shortly after I graduated from high school, when I classified myself as “working class poor…those people who work and work and work but only barely make ends meet. They are the people who drive junkers or walk because they don’t have a car at all. They aren’t homeless or starving; they just never get beyond the basics of getting by.” (from my journal, October 4, 2005). Even more recently I’ve often felt a nagging weight of fear that it’s all up to me to work hard, to earn my way, to make sure we get by. This leaves no space, no expectation, for the abundant, extravagant generosity of the Father.

So that afternoon I began confessing this wrong mindset towards God and asking Him to reveal more of who He is, more of His goodness, faithfulness, and provision. Over and over the prayer broke out of me: show me. Show me. Please, Abba, show me.

And He has.

First it was through boxes and bags of things sent home with me from work as we cleaned and packed up our classrooms: a whole pack of computer paper, several jars of peanut butter, ice cream (the same day that Derek had mentioned a little wistfully how good ice cream sounded), apples….and hundreds – yes, hundreds – of mozzarella cheese sticks. I brought home four gallon-sized Ziploc bags full of them and we threw away more besides that. I gave them away to the interns, to friends, to neighbors, to the kids, and still there were more than we could eat ourselves. (Derek joked that it was kind of like in Exodus when the Israelites were set free from slavery and left carrying the riches of the land with them).

The next day we finished packing the last of the classrooms. As we gathered up our things to leave, I noticed the schoolyard garden, still full of vegetables, and asked if we needed to do something with it. My boss, flustered with the final details of packing everything, said that she’d pay me a little extra time if I stayed to clear it out. So I recruited a friend from the Boiler Room and we spent a couple hours chatting as we cut vegetables and tugged out weeds. In the end, we brought home four large grocery bags full of fresh, homegrown vegetables: kale, collards, red potatoes, beets, onions, and cilantro. I gave some to the teachers and staff at the school, sent some home with the friend who helped, passed some on to the interns, and still had more than we could eat (we’re still working our way through the collards in particular). That evening I made a meal almost entirely out of vegetables from the school. As I washed the dishes afterwards I suddenly realized that I was experiencing the abundance of Jesus that Dave had talked about that Sunday, the abundance that I’d asked God to show me.

Since then my awareness of God’s provision has only heightened, even in the little things. I had an interview at the library (the day my job at the after school program ended, I came home to find the e-mail asking me to come in for an interview). The day after my job ended, I began to nanny once a week for the Blackwell boys (they even offered me an extra day this week, just in time to pay next month’s rent).

And on Thursday I had been thinking about how we’d need to look for another bookshelf when we move because two out of the three that we’re using right now belong with the house. That evening we took the kids down to the park and there across the street, half buried in a pile of junk that someone had cleaned out of a house, sat a gorgeous solid wood bookshelf, with inlaid wood designs, a row of little drawers, and a deep, rich finish. Immediately God reminded me of how I had been wishing (not even praying, just wishing) for another bookshelf that morning. And there He had provided it, not with a bare minimum plywood shelf but with a solid, beautiful piece of furniture. Now it sits in the living room, waiting for the day when we have our own place. Periodically I go over to it and run my hands over the wood, maybe tug open one of the little drawers, and am struck again by the goodness of my Abba in the way He cares for us.

As I learn to recognize God’s provision in these things, gratitude spills out more and more freely. And with that recognition and gratitude come a gentle swelling of faith to ask and trust in the good plans of God for our lives. I’m reminded of something that Dave said, that God is not adverse to giving physical things because we can see and touch them and they act like a switch, turning on revelation of what God is like. This is still a work in progress, but as we walk into summer, I feel like the switch is turning on and the waves of God’s goodness are washing over old fears and mindsets more powerfully than ever before.

“As for me I am poor and needy, yet the Lord takes thought and plans for me. You are my Help and my Deliverer. Oh my God, do not tarry!” – Psalm 40:17

The God of Wrath is ALSO the God of Love!

(My husband wrote this today and gave me permission to share it here. I love his thoughts on the amazing love of God!)

Here at the Roasterie this morning, spending some time with the Lord, my mind keeps going back to the message last night at the Boiler Room about Psalm 22. Before I go on, I thought it was a great message about painful prayer. I love hearing Michael talk because he is a very good teacher. This note is not a critique of his message, just a response to the statements about the wrath of God.

The statements he made about the wrath of God bothered me a bit. He made the statement that the church kind of reads into the text that the Father turned His face away from the Son during His time on the cross, and that it wasn’t true. It is true that it isn’t found in scripture, and it probably is inferred from the text, however, I don’t know if anyone can really say whether or not it’s true. Since scripture doesn’t give anything beyond the simple narrative of the death of Jesus, I don’t believe we can for sure say whether Jesus was speaking out of what truly happened or that He was “mistaken” to believe that God had forsaken Him. Could it simply be Him expressing emotion to the Father even though it wasn’t true? Yes, because I believe that it is not sin to express emotion even if it is not based upon truth. Emotion based on a lie is still emotion, and therefore is valid and not sinful to have or express. However, there was something very unique in Jesus’ death on the cross: He was literally bearing the weight of the sins of the entire human race. Could it be that Jesus really did have the Father “turn his face away” that we would never experience that? I don’t know if any can really say. Personally, to be completely honest, I believe the Father didn’t turn His face away, now that I really think about it, because of the Father’s great love.

I think it is a problem when we use this argument and where we stand on it to minimize the wrath of God against sin. The key to being fully OK with the wrath of a God who is love is all wrapped up in the OBJECT of His wrath. It is never people. It is always sin. It is the enemy who tries to blur the lines between sin and sinner. If he can twist our hatred of sin (which is an attribute of our Father) just far enough, he can get us to hate the person living in sin, and that is the problem. The wrath of God, on the contrary, is actually one of the most important aspects of His character to seeing the true greatness of His love. It is precisely God’s absolute hatred of sin that makes Jesus’ death so horrendous and so shockingly beautiful. Without the potency of God’s wrath, His love loses it’s power. They are two sides of the same coin. Without God’s wrath, the humiliating death on the cross makes no sense whatsoever. Jesus’ death on the cross was not some mere symbol or exciting story to tell, it was literally the wrath of God against sin borne upon a single man, all so you and I could be reconciled to God.

We have no way of coming to God on our own; our sin prevents it, primarily because of our agreement with sin, not because it is too ugly or abhorrent for God to reach into (He did this through Jesus of course). But this is the beauty of God’s love, it’s why His grace is amazing: in spite of our agreement with sin, He PURSUES us and He LOVES us; it is this kindness RIGHT IN THE FACE OF WHAT HE HATES MOST that leads us to repentance. His kindness when we are “living rightly” isn’t what leads us to repentance; it’s how while we were yet sinners, agreeing with and living out our lives in the sin that He hates, He treats us with kindness when we know we deserve wrath! This totally disarms us. But if we lose the sense of God’s wrath against sin, His love loses it’s true depth and meaning to us. We have to live in the tension between His love and His wrath, not losing our grip on the reality of either one.

One last word on the wrath of God: in addition to the fact that His wrath makes His extravagant, crazy love so much more beautiful, it will also be released on the earth again somewhere in the future. To negate the wrath of God leads down a very slippery slope to denying the severity of sin and the reality of hell, as well as the coming judgments of God in Revelation. When the Lord was speaking to Abram about his descendants in a dream (Gen. 15), He said that they would be in bondage and then return to possess the land he was currently in, in their fourth generation, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” There was an appointed time that the Amorites went on in their sin before the Lord brought His judgment on them.

Similarly, I believe the prophetic words in Revelation show that there is an appointed time when the whole earth, now in a time of “the year of the favor of the Lord” as Jesus declared in Luke 4, will see the “day of the vengeance of our God” that Jesus very intentionally left out of His reading that day. This is the time of the favor of God, when He sits on His mercy seat, showing His extravagant love in spite of the rampant sin on the earth. But one day, He will return to make all things right, and in order to do that, He will exact vengeance on His enemy Satan, the father of lies and peddler of sin. And the truth of it is that those who have chosen to agree with God’s enemy really will be dragged by Satan into the lake of fire. God’s wrath is real, it is just as alive as it was in the OT, but because we are in the year of His favor, we don’t see it yet; we see His patience, His longsuffering with the human race. I really like IHOP’s teachings on this topic, that we must preach both the Jesus in white (the intimate bridegroom God who loves us unconditionally and rescues us from the dragon) and the Jesus in red (the warrior God who crushes the dragon and his empire securing peace and life for His bride).

When we embrace the God of Wrath who is also the God of Love, we will gain a new and awesome picture of His love for us and the extent to which He pursues us, even in our weakness. This is AMAZING GRACE!

Though My Flesh and Heart Fail

For some reason all sorts of hurts, tensions, and anxieties are pressing on my heart this morning, some from things in the past not fully dealt with yet, some from ridiculous little things (should I take this housekeeping job? Should I try to work out getting paint from this lady on craigslist?). It feels like a rolling ocean of transitions and emotions and questions that I can’t keep up with. So I’m sitting with the words of Psalm 73 and seeking the sanctuary of the Lord:

“Since my heart was embittered
and my soul deeply wounded,
I was stupid and could not understand;
I was like a brute beast in your presence.
Yet I am always with you;
you take hold of my right hand.
With your counsel you guide me,
and at the end receive me with honor.
Whom else have I in the heavens?
None beside you delights me on earth.
Though my flesh and heart fail,
God is the rock of my heart, my portion forever.
But those who are far from you perish;
you destroy those unfaithful to you.
As for me, to be near God is my good,
to make the Lord God my refuge.
I shall declare all your works
in the gates of daughter Zion.” (Psalm 73:21-28)

Hope from Haiti

A friend (who worked as a missionary in Haiti for a while) posted a link to this video. I am so excited and encouraged watching this! And this is just the beginning of what God will do in response to the brokenness of the Haitian people…