The Power of Truth Destroying Lies

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{I encourage you to first read my previous post, I believe Jesus….but I really believe Satan.}

“Christina, look at me. Look at me!”

The shame I felt from believing lies is too much that I can’t hold Brett’s gaze.  He takes my face in his hands to force me not to look away.  His face is blurry since the tears can’t stop and I’m shaking.  I know what he’s about to do. Because the roles have been reversed in his moments of being overcome with lies and fear.  He drops his hands and opens his Bible and starts reading in Psalms.  He reads one chapter, then another. He doesn’t stop. My tears do. I take a deep breath. My body relaxes in his presence and my Father’s Words. Calmness. Peace. Brett finally stops after he senses an evident change in my demeanor from being free of the tormenting lies.    

He holds me. Prays. Then lets me rest. The Truth pushed out the lies that were swirling throughout my mind like Hurricane Irma on her way to destroy Florida.

When you are at the end of your own strength…when you are so low that you can’t do anything but look up…when you want to give up fighting…give into Satan’s temptations…you do the only thing you have the strength to do in that moment…cry out to Jesus. So I did. And because there is power in the name of Jesus, I said His name over and over and over again.

My strength starts to return as I whisper His name.  “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t live like this. Get up, Christina!  You know what Satan is doing!  You know these are lies!  Yes, I’m done with his games!”

And so I got up. There is one answer…Truth.  I have to start living out what God says to be true. Even if right now in this moment I don’t really believe it because my actions are not in sync with who God’s Word says I am. There came a turning point when I finally understood that my mind needed to be renewed or I would never change my behavior. Oh, I have Romans 12:2 memorized, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind…,” but as I wrote in my previous post, my practical theology on this truth was not being applied. Then began my quest for really believing Truth. Being consumed with it. Hungering. Thirsting. More and more. The Word of God coming alive right off the pages of my Bible every time I opened it…

And here started my quest for  Truth…wait for it…reading the Bible every day. What? No way, Christina!?”  Ok…I’m being sarcastic but answer me this: Do you really believe that the Word of God has answers for every question? Circumstance? Problem? Temptation? Wound? Joy? Peace? Hope?  Because if we really believed it… we would be consumed daily, hourly with it.  No, we don’t really believe this to be true: 

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16

AddictionsABnqtinGrvBook_1Remember what Edward T. Welch says in Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave“When our desires conflict with Scripture, human beings do not always live according to what we say we believe. We can say we believe one thing, but our lives betray other allegiances…It’s as if we practice two different religions. We believe one thing, but really believe another.”

We say the Bible has all the answers, but our second religion has become Google. Social Media. News. Pinterest. Friends. Celebrities. Health and wellness. Programs. Pastors. Literal Religion. Speakers. Bloggers. Books. Movies. Music. Coffee (yep for all you “I need Jesus and coffee” peeps 😉 ) …on and on…

Even if these mediums are saturated with the Word of God, they should only be supplemental, not our primary source to find Truth. Our actions reveal who we believe by who we choose to listen to first. And if opening up the Bible is not our first response, then we really don’t believe that it gives us “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him” (1 Peter 1:3).  Many of the above have been an influence in my growth and learning more as I seek Truth (which you will see as you continue to read), but it can never replace the actual, literal words of God.  His words only have power, no other words.

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Also, if we believed this to be true, reading the Bible wouldn’t be on our daily to-do listAs my pastor recently said, “Duty is not delighting.” Before, I read it out of duty.  Now, I read it because I am convinced that I cannot live without it.  Because in order to overcome lies I have to know who Truth is… His character. The more I look at Him and know Him deeply and passionately, the more I can perceive the lies and deceptions…the distance between light and darkness…and the gray in-between that Satan uses to cause us to doubt. 

One way that has helped me is journaling.  At the start of the summer, my mentor challenged me to read through Psalms. I actually had already been reading a Psalm a day for a couple of years now.  However, she said to specifically journal what each Psalm says about who God is. Writing it down helps me comprehend and apply the practical theology of Truth instead of only reading and moving on. I pray over each Psalm, praising God for that specific character trait, thanking Him for what He has done, and applying the words to my own circumstance, temptation, fear, lie. 

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It’s easy to read, pray, and then rush on to the next thing in my day and fail to take the Truth of what I learned with me.  Therefore, if I need to soak in and be reminded of a particular passage, I leave my Bible open to that page on my bed.  If you are like me, my bedroom tends to be my escape room.  If I need to get away, take a deep breath, have a good cry, “hide” from my children (even for 1 minute!)…you will find me there.  And how much encouragement, hope, and refreshment I have found when I walk in my bedroom and see my Bible open. His words bring comfort and focus. I can walk out ready to fight again. 

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“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105

IMG_4771I also set my phone lock screen to Scripture memes that I need to renew my mind with when I’m struggling with a specific lie and need reminded of the Truth.  

I previously wrote a post that we cannot do life alone.  When the lies become too much to bear, someone else comes to my rescue by speaking Truth over me and releasing me from the black mesh of darkness.  The example story of Brett at the beginning is real. And sadly has happened more than once. Yet, I have felt the power of God’s Word in my darkest and lowest moments as Scripture is being read over me. Light shows up more in darkness, and since Jesus is the Word (John 1:1), I have felt Him there with me.   

We need each other to be vessels of speaking Truth.  My relationship with my mentor has grown significantly as we have made it our goal to try to meet every other week.  I pour out my heart and share my struggles, temptations, sins, victories, lessons God is teaching me, etc.  And yes, as a more experienced woman who has walked in my shoes before me, she shares her own life lessons. But these times together are not a vent session and for her to pat my hand and tell me she understands. Her response is always first bringing me to what the Word says. She immediately opens the Bible to a passage, turns it around and tells me to read it out loud. This is what God says. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. She knows it’s the Word that will change me. Not her words.  No matter what we talk about, she constantly brings me back to Truth. And I always leave her home with peace, hope, and confidence to keep up the good fight.

Not only having someone fight for me by speaking Truth over me, but turning around and speaking it back to someone else has tremendous power over lies. When I speak or write it out, I hear it again. It makes it more real and alive than keeping it only in my head. This is another reason I journal and even blog. Journaling is where you can be real and raw with God. No one reads it. Only Him and He listens. In fact, the Spirit speaks to me often as I’m journaling.  Many times my entry starts with frustrations, fear, struggles, confessing of sin, and ends with a revelation of truth, hope, peace, and thanking and praising God for who He is and what His Spirit is doing in my heart and life. This is how David wrote many of his Psalms. If you take a peek, you’d see that some of my journal entries look like modern day Psalms. (Read Psalm 22 as an example.)

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“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” Psalm 22:1

And when I sit down to write a blog post, it brings so much healing to me because I’m recalling to mind the Truth of who God is and what He has done. This is why I write. I have thought of making something more of this blog, whether trying to monetize it, hone in on writing about something specific (I laugh because it’s called Varvelicious because my original plan was to write more about nutrition… for those of you wondering about the name!), promote myself, “sell” it to get more readers… ya know… make myself a “real” blogger.  But if you read my post, I’m Giving Up, God has told me no and to just write as He tells me to. And I know why. Because this is a crucial part of my sanctification process.  Yet, I am humbled with the response of those that read my posts and how God has used them. Therefore, my goal is for my writing to be saturated with Truth, and I pray that lives can be encouraged as I am a vessel to type out His Words on my laptop.

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“I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.” Psalm 22:22

Reading, writing, and speaking God’s Words has renewed my mind with Truth and ultimately changed my actions. Yet, when I’m lying in bed and can’t sleep, or I’m driving, or a child is throwing a fit, or a trigger of past pain hits in an unexpected way, or Satan is dangling temptation in an area of weakness, I may not always be able to get my Bible out and find the Truth that needs to attack the lie, fear, doubt, or temptation in that moment. This is why memorizing Scripture is crucial. Jesus is the ultimate example of recalling Scripture to mind when Satan tempted Him in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11).  The more we hide it in our hearts, the more we will be able to apply practical theology to our everyday lives, and therefore not sin (Psalm 119:11).   

Therefore, my mentor has inspired and challenged me to get back to memorizing.  I write passages on cards that I can take around with me to read over and over. Then, when I’m lying in bed beating myself up for the mistakes I made that day, or I’m driving and my mind can’t shut off from fear or doubt, or I want to…um….yell back and lose my temper at my child, or I’m about to give in to that temptation that I can easily justify, the Word of God comes to mind and fights for me! The power of Truth wipes away my guilt, chases away my fear, reminds me I have access to the fruit of patience, and gives me strength to violently say NO! and walk away from sin.   

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“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11

My mentor’s example of memorizing and immediately speaking God’s Word to me is an example to follow.  Now, when I have a friend share her struggles, fears, temptations, or lies, I want to be able to do the same for her. Not a paraphrase of what I remember or think the Bible says, but “this is exactly what God says.” We can never argue with that.

FullSizeRenderAnd I have found this to be true when a dear friend recently asked for prayer over a situation. In the past, I know I have failed by initially responding with my own words, experience, and emotions (which can be helpful)! But now I first try to respond with Truth from God’s words, not my words.  Later, she told me how my text with Scripture influenced her to make right choices in a conflict she had to face that day, which she was extremely nervous about.  In fact, she screenshot my text to pull it up immediately when she needed it.  And I can walk away humbled that it is the power of Truth and praying Truth over her that won that battle!

These are only a few examples of the ways that I seek and thirst after Truth. I also read books that expound God’s Word, listen to worship music, play podcasts of sermons, worship dance to music that is speaking to me, and read inspiring blogs.

It’s more than listening. It’s more than duty.  It’s being consumed. A constant state of  hungering and thirsting. Not being satisfied with anything else except His Word. The more Truth I really believe, the less I believe lies because I can clearly decipher the deception from Satan that he is flooding my life with everywhere I turn.  The light of Truth shines out the darkness. It’s obvious. Not murky like Satan makes it to trap us.

And once Truth comes alive, you find yourself wanting nothing to do with darkness. You turn on the TV and instead of staying immune to it all, you find it hard to choose anything to watch that will bring life when it’s filled with sex, profanity, or glorifying lifestyles and behaviors that do not stand with Truth…

You are drawn to friendships where you spend more time talking about Jesus than the latest gossip…

You hear stories of another fetus aborted, a child sex-trafficked, porn statistics, poverty, orphans, abuse, murder, riots, souls in need of Jesus…and you can’t help but stop to cry out to God for justice and mercy and then go do something about it to show the love of Jesus…

Instead of being numb to the sin in your own life, repeating them over and over, you are weeping at Jesus’ feet over the things he hates and making decisions to do whatever is necessary to repent even if it hurts…

And the next time temptation knocks at your door, you are ready. In fact, you can already determine Satan’s next move. He’s been around since the beginning of mankind. Our struggles are nothing new to him. But now that I am committing to really believe Truth and understand Satan and his darkness better than ever up against the light, I’m ready for his next lie. His next beautiful enticement. I no longer want to be on the floor in defense mode with my arms over my head as he attacks.  My battle plan is standing  in offense with the Word of God in my mind, my heart, my hand, my home. 

This is evidence of the power of Truth attacking, fighting, destroying the black mesh of lies, deception, and fear with a vengeance. Violently. Fervently. Urgently. Warrior-minded.

So get up, friend, and stand with me. Because the devil then has nothing left to do but flee… when we have submitted ourselves to Truth (James 4:7).

“Then I can answer the one who taunts me, for I trust in Your word.”  Psalm 119:4

{Part 3 to come.}

 

 

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I believe Jesus…but I really believe Satan.

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I sat in my seat in the dark basement theater.  Three girls dressed in black walked out on the stage and it went quiet.  They lay down on the cold cement floor and covered themselves with a black mesh sheet.  I leaned forward in anticipation for the dance to start.  I whispered something to my friend sitting beside me, who co-choreographed the beautiful piece of art that I was about to see.  I smiled over at Brett, excited that he was with me.

We were in a theater on Mass Ave in downtown Indianapolis, for IndyFringe, a festival for theater arts. What may surprise you is that I actually considered auditioning to perform in this dance.  I wasn’t able to commit this summer, so here I was supporting my friend and thought it would be a fun and different date for Brett and me.

The music started. The dancers moved. And within minutes I was captivated.

This wasn’t just a dance. This wasn’t just art. This was spiritual.

The girls dressed in black were tormenting a girl while she slept. She dreamed of death. Fear gripped her. She was overcome by the black mesh that trapped her. She was almost paralyzed, tossed around as she was held captive by Death. Darkness. Defeat.

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The girl dreamed of other girls like herself. Lost. Dry bones dead (Ezekiel 37). No life.

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Then girls dressed in white appeared. They brought Life. Light. Hope to all the girls. Life wins over Death.

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I sat there mesmerized.  This was the gospel of Jesus Christ demonstrated through dance, which is the passion behind Elisha Movement Christian Dance Company (EMCDC). It was a reminder that I am alive in Christ. I am no longer dead in my sin, which separates me from God. Jesus died and then became alive again to conquer death, and because of that, I have life for all eternity with Him.

But since art is interpretive, I heard the Spirit speak to me in a more specific way than death coming to life through the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ…

The black mesh was Lies. Deceptions. Doubt. Fear. The imagery of the mesh trying to hold the dancer captive hit me so hard.  As my eyes couldn’t look away for even a second in fear of missing a move, my mind was racing throughout the dance:

“That’s me. Yes, I know how that feels! The lies and the darkness are horrific. It’s suffocating. I have felt paralyzed by fear. Look at her face. If this was real life, she would be screaming right now. Because I have definitely screamed in my pillow.  She’s covering her head from the tormenters. The lies can be so loud sometimes it’s deafening and all you can do is try to hide. But they won’t go away. She’s not getting up! She’s not fighting. She’s being carried as almost dead. She’s lost hope because she’s been deceived.”

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I knew then why God told me to pass up the audition. He didn’t want me dancing on the black floor, He wanted me sitting in the red chair to speak to me.

The dance didn’t end there. If it did, we’d all be lost. I’d still be a heap on the floor where Brett has found me with my hands over my head overcome by the lies that are shouting so loud that I can’t hear anything else. And I can’t get up because I am believing lies about myself that are completely contrary to the truth of who I really am in Jesus Christ: Alive. Dead to my sin. Forgiven. Loved. Redeemed. God’s daughter. Accepted.

Oh! But here enters three dancers in white on the stage, representing the Trinity (Father God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit).  My own words stop in my head as the power of the Spirit speaks through the dancers moves to say, “Christina…this is Truth. Truth always defeats Lies. Truth sets you free from the mesh of darkness. Truth prevails against deception. Truth is louder than your fears. Truth helps you breathe. Truth raises you up. Truth fights for you!”

I held myself back from weeping from the Spirit’s refreshing voice.  I’m quite the emotional/sensitive type, but in this moment I didn’t want to miss anything by being clouded with tears.  By the end of that 45 minute performance, I felt different from when I first leaned forward in anticipation expecting to only watch the art of dance.

I stood up from my red chair. I hugged my friend. I left the basement theater. I walked along Mass Ave, passing people on this busy Saturday night as other IndyFringe performances were ending.  I sat in the car and the tears then came as I shared with Brett what the Spirit said to me through each movement.

You see, I know the Truth of who I am. I’ve been hearing the Truth of God’s Word since I was in the womb of my mother. I’ve heard all the Bible stories as a kid. I’ve memorized hundreds of verses for church programs and school assignments. I’ve read through the Bible several times. I have been going to church every Sunday since the first time my parents brought me as a newborn. I have heard sermon after sermon from a variety of pastors and teachers. I went to a Christian school from kindergarten to 12th grade where Truth was taught in Math as well as Bible class. Ok, you get my point.  But I need you to realize that God’s Word has saturated my entire life.

Then why? Tell me why do I sometimes reject the Truth of what God says about me and I find myself in such torment from lies like the dancer above? 

In his book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, Edward T. Welch asks the same question regarding a friend, who like me is not living out what he believes:

“How, then, could he believe correct theology and at the same time not believe it? How could his everyday theology – his actual or practical theology – be so contrary to what he recited in church on Sunday?”   In my case, be so contrary to what I have heard and known to be true my whole life.

How then?  Edward T. Welch answers by saying I have “no practical theology.” Practical theology is “simply theology in action. It is the application of theological teaching to life. It is asking, ‘So what’ of our theological propositions. What difference does it make that I am united with Christ…What difference does it mean that I am created in God’s image? All theology is practical theology, but some theological statements are still waiting to have many of their applications unpacked.”

Christina’s layman terms: I know what the Bible says about me.  I choose not to believe what it says, and therefore, do not apply it to my daily life. 

And furthermore, he continues: “When our desires conflict with Scripture, human beings do not always live according to what we say we believe. We can say we believe one thing, but our lives betray other allegiances… It is as though we have partitions in our minds where contradictory beliefs and behaviors live in separate compartments and never meet…It’s as if we practice two different religions. We believe one thing, but really believe another.”

I believe the Truth. But in some moments, I really believe the lies.  And because I really believe the lies, my thoughts betray the Truth and my actions follow based on those lies.

And that’s when I find myself paralyzed, wanting to give up fighting this fight. Hide and not let people too close. Doubt what God has called me to do.  Stop loving when it’s hard.  Stuck in past sin and fearing the future which causes me to escape my present reality. Fallen, and truly cannot get up as Brett carries me.

Which then makes me ineffective. Apathetic. Lukewarm. Selfish. Exactly where Satan wants me. He and his rulers of evil are cheering, “Yes! Another one down for the count!!! Let’s keep it up. Don’t let her get up!”

I am not really believing Jesus who is…

Truth (John 8:3)

Creator of All (1 Cor 1:16-17)

Alpha and Omega (Rev 22:13)

Son of God (Matt 3:17)

Good Shepherd (John 10:11)

I Am (John 8:58)

Immanuel (Is 7:14)

Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5)

Mighty One (Is 60:16) 

Bread of Life (John 6:35)

Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)

And when I am not believing Jesus, I am really believing Satan…

The father of lies (John 8:44)

A lion who is prowling around to devour (1 Peter 5:8)

A deceitful serpent (Genesis 3:1)

The god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4)

A murderer (Revelation 9:11)

An oppressor (Acts 10:38)

An accuser (Rev. 12:10)

That cuts me so deep. That I am willfully making the choice to believe Satan.

How does this happen? Why do I choose to believe a liar, murderer, oppressor? 

Because his weapon is to constantly be filling my mind with thoughts that are against the Truth.  Neil T. Anderson in his book, Victory Over the Darkness, says “Satan’s strategy is to introduce thoughts and ideas into your mind and deceive you into believing they are yours. If Satan can place a thought in your mind -and he can- it isn’t much more of a trick for him to make you think it is your idea. If you knew it was from Satan, you would reject the thought, wouldn’t you? When he disguises his suggestions as your thought and ideas, however, you are more likely to accept them. That is his primary deception.”   

Whoa. That should stop us in our tracks. If we were actually sitting across from Satan and hear him speak to us, we would run. Not even give what he says a second thought because we see in the Bible who he really is (listed above).  However, what an excellent war plan to subtly whisper a thought that I do believe comes from me. And since I struggle with pride and thinking of myself more highly than I ought to (Romans 12:3), of course I don’t think that my thoughts are initially that bad.  Usually the first thought seems “innocent” or at least I can justify it really well. It doesn’t look sinful. But whether it is a bold-faced lie or a twist on the truth…Satan’s already on his way to deceiving me.

“If Satan can get you to believe a lie, you can lose some element of control in your life. If you fail to keep every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), you may be allowing Satan to influence your life in a negative direction,” Neil T. Anderson continues to say.

When a thought comes into my head and I don’t immediately evaluate it but believe that thought, Satan then has power over me. And that’s when I am on a path of destruction. Like a snowball effect. 

One lie…

I am left out and alone…

That person rejected me and therefore I am a failure as a friend…

leads to more…   

My past sin defines me…

I’ll never overcome this sin. It has a hold on me…

I can handle this temptation… 

and even more…

I am not satisfied so I need more of ________

If only I had _______ I’d be happy…

I need to try harder, do more, be more for God…

…and before long there are so many lies that have built up that everything is dark and gloomy and my attitude and demeanor soon follow; I lose discernment and make wrong choices; I’m paralyzed, hiding, doubting, fearing….

because I’m believing a murderer whose one goal is to intimidate me and hinder any impact God can have through me.  That is the truth. And I better start really believing it, so that my action response is attacking these lies with a vengeance. Violently. Fervently. Urgently. Warrior-minded.

You wanna fight, Satan? Let’s go. Your battle weapon is deception…my weapon is gonna make you flee so fast you’re gonna wish you messed with someone else…

{Continue reading Part 2.}

*Pictures are from scenes in EMCDC’s debut show “Lilly of the Valley.” Photo credit: Charles Borowicz.  

 

The night I walked into a strip club…and never wanted to leave.

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*The following has been edited and approved by several women currently working or have worked in the past in the adult entertainment industry. My intention is to respect these women and represent them well without causing any harm with my words. 


I grabbed my phone and ID, slipping them in my back pocket before throwing my purse in the trunk of my friend’s car.  Moments before, three girls prayed over me. What I was about to do was out of my comfort zone, and I had no idea how in a matter of minutes this night would change me.

Tell me a year ago where I’d be in this moment in time, and I would look at you with a certain look I give when I think you’re crazy. But God’s way is a not always what we expect, and here I was on the east side of Indianapolis…walking into a strip club.   In fact, this very strip club is the same club that Brett passed by in the back seat of his family’s car on the way to the park where his dad played fast-pitch softball every summer. At 16 years old, he joined the softball team and has continued to drive by this club for the past 15 summers. Now I have been in the car beside him for all these years. Did I notice the club? Sure. Did I think much about it? No. Only disgusted by the number of cars in the parking lot. And now, after all those years of passing by with apathy, I’m walking into this same club.

I followed my friends’ lead as we walked across the parking lot. I was excited but also nervous. I was told in a training session what to expect, but you never can be fully prepared until you experience it firsthand. I prayed and asked Jesus to give me peace and let Him do whatever He wanted through me that night.  Immediately my fear vanished as we walked up to the door.  It wasn’t from a supernatural jolt from the Spirit. It wasn’t because one of my friends gave me a word of encouragement or I felt safe with these girls. Jesus gave me peace in an unexpected way: from the response of two men standing at the entrance to the club.

As soon as these men noticed us, they had welcoming smiles and said: “Hey ladies!! How are you all? Good to see you! Oh, thanks for the gift! Have a great night!” One was the bouncer. The other, the manager.

“Wait…what just happened back there?” was my thought as we made our way into the club, passing the DJ and stages to get to the dressing room. I was aware that these men knew who we were, especially since my friends have been coming to this club for almost 4 years. Yet, this doesn’t seem right. I expected, “Hey,” and then apathetically let us pass by.

But as Christa Hicks, a sex industry survivor said, “Everything the Lord does, doesn’t make sense!” No, this doesn’t make sense that club managers and owners across the United States would be allowing women to walk into their clubs to bring gifts and dinner and talk about Jesus to their dancers. You think your boss would be cool with us coming and talking about Jesus to all your co-workers? Probably not. You see my friend, Jesus is in the strip clubs. Oh, Satan is there too. But my Jesus is the Overcomer and is setting the captive free from the grasps of hell in a place that is overlooked, forgotten, and looked down upon.

I walked into the dressing room and several girls were at their mirrors putting their makeup on and fixing their hair, while others were at their lockers pulling out their clothes and shoes.  We passed around the gifts we brought and started conversations. One girl was at her locker alone. My friend and I walked over, gave her a gift, and started talking. Before I knew it, another friend was getting our attention that it was getting late and we needed to get going. I looked at my watch. I had been standing there talking to this girl for over an hour!

I actually was disappointed that it was time to leave!  We walked to the car and prayed before we left.  I drove home that night and the Spirit clearly told me this is where He wants me. It was like a spiritual “high” and I couldn’t stop smiling. Can I tell you something else that might shock you?  I felt the presence of Jesus in that strip club more than I did in church sometimes. Yes, I just said that. You know why? Because when we actually act like Jesus did when He was here on earth, we can’t help but be filled and overflow with His presence. And I wanted more of Him.

And it’s not only in a strip club. Francis Chan says in his amazing book, You and Me Forever: “If I want to find Jesus, I should share the gospel with someone. That’s where He will be. He is on the battlefield. He is pursuing the mission. I hear people complain that they don’t feel Jesus with them, they don’t experience the Holy Spirit. I usually ask them: Are you busy making disciples? After all, His promise came on the heels of His command. Later, Jesus told His disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. But that power was given so they could be his ‘witnesses.’ ” (Acts 1:8).

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This was taken a year ago, before my first night in the club!

I will never forget that dancer I first encountered in the strip club. We talked like we were friends before. We discussed books, movies, family, religious beliefs.  Here I was on a mission to break down her walls to get to her heart.  Yet, I left the club that night with God breaking MY walls down. Any judgment, prejudice, preconceptions crumbled down around me like the walls of Jericho. The Israelites marched with trumpets. The dancers were scurrying around me with stiletto heels. Only then could I look into the eyes of each girl and see what Jesus sees: Loved. Cherished. Beautiful. His chosen daughters. Never forgotten. Chased after. Forgiven.

Of course I knew that Jesus loves all people. But there is a disconnect from being told over and over again, “For God so loved the world…,” (John 3:16) and actually taking the time to BE with people that He loves. And not the ones that know they are loved by Him, but those who may be hard to love, overlooked because they live a different life from me, or in this case, participate in a profession that is overtly against God’s will. (Because you know that our “secret sins” or sins against self that are prevalent in the Church aren’t AS sinful as obvious ones. {insert sarcasm})

heelsMy view before walking into a strip club was clouded by a plank in my eye. God used those stiletto heels to penetrate my heart and tear away my pride, legalistic beliefs, and plain.old.ignorance.

Because when I sit with a dancer and listen to her talk about her son and how she wants him to grow up in church, and I listen to the bartender share her story of God waking her up to the brevity of life by using a car accident, and seeing the fear and shame from a mom whose kids may be taken away from her, and the excitement of others who are going to school to be a nurse/correction officer/cosmetician… I don’t see a strip dancer.

Some of us may have read the statistics:*

→ 66-90% of women in the adult entertainment industry were sexually abused as little girls.

→ 89% of women in the sex industry said they wanted to escape, but had no other means for survival.

→ 70% of females who are trafficked are trafficked into the commercial sex industry. (This includes Porn, Strip Clubs, and massage parlors in the US.)

→ 89% were raised in a religious home, according to one study.

However, statistics are only numbers…not people…and don’t tell the whole story. Because when I walk into a strip club I see…

… a single mom who loves her children and is providing for their needs while being able to spend time with them during the day.

…a determined woman who is paying her way through school to achieve her dream job.

…a girl who loves to dance, read books, watch movies just like me.

…a wife who is contributing to finances as her husband is searching for a job.

…a girl who knows Jesus and is taking steps to completely surrender and trust Him with her life.

Am I justifying their actions? No. Jesus never did either, since He died to became the Justifier (so that we could be declared righteous before God).  He always offers grace and forgiveness.  In fact, He knelt at the adulterous woman’s feet and challenged the people who were about to murder her to throw the first stone if they were without sin.  Every person walked away because who is without sin, other than Jesus Himself? What a paradox that Jesus was the only one justified to throw a stone at this woman, yet He was defending her while everyone else was guilty and holding a stone of condemnation (John 8:1-11).

Honestly, there was a day that I held a stone. Maybe I wouldn’t have thrown it. But at the very least in my heart I was looking down. Again, how ironic that God would use stiletto heels to humble me. Because when talking to the majority of the dancers, I have to look up at them.  And as I look up I still don’t see a strip dancer; I now see myself, as God has been tearing away the layers of my own heart. Don’t get me wrong; I won’t be signing up for the next audition, but I have the same cravings to be loved, desired, affirmed, and my sinful heart is tempted to find it in the wrong places; I would struggle to do whatever it takes to ensure my kids are safe and comfortable; and heck, if I had all my dirty laundry hanging out, I’m sure a few would cast stones. I am a broken vessel. I am a hot mess. I’ve got issues. The stone is dropped out of my hand, and my position now is not looking up or down, but kneeling with Jesus alongside my new friends.

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“Like Jesus, we have only one aim and goal: to love. Our mission is passion and compassion; we are to love God and to love our neighbor. All that Jesus did flowed from the abandoned place of laid-down love. With compassion He…talked to the prostitute. Jesus is the ultimate example of God dwelling among us. Love Himself walked the earth. We fix our gaze on Jesus as the perfect model of life…We are created to bring the love of Jesus to those who are in need. Love looks like something, yet it has no limits.” ~ Heidi Baker from Compelled by Love.

This is why my friends and I involved at Unconditional Ministries walk into 6 strip clubs in Indianapolis to deliver gifts to the dancers, waitresses, house moms, bartenders, DJs, bouncers, and managers.  Because I guarantee you that if Jesus were here walking the earth, He wouldn’t be spending all His time at Church, doing church activities, and hanging only with his followers. Yes, He spent time at the Temple to teach and did life with his disciples, but much of His time was spent with people who needed His spiritual healing touch. Jesus is not in flesh on earth anymore, yet He said He would give us something even better: His Spirit to live in us. Therefore, we bring the love of Jesus to these girls every time we step foot into the strip clubs because His presence is within us. Our mission isn’t to rescue or save the dancers, or even get them to leave their jobs, but introduce them to the Savior who offers healing and freedom for all.

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Me, Kristin (social enterprise), Laci (art therapy), Gale (gift coordinator), Sarah (founder and director)

BCV_9715I wish I could have known your initial thought when you first read the title to this post. I love telling people that I’m involved in a strip club ministry and watching their reaction. If you know me at all, I’m not afraid to be blunt. Brett’s usually beside me ready to explain quickly the WHY I go to the club and WHAT I do there. We get a good laugh afterwards. But honestly, I hope that there will be a day soon that when I tell someone that I go to the strip clubs, they don’t give me a look of shock, question, fear, or even judgment.  I’ll be looking for the day when the person says, “Well, of course that makes sense! That’s who Jesus would hang out with!”


 

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If you live in the Indianapolis area and feel the Spirit tugging on your heart to learn more about this ministry, check out our website: www.UnconditionalMinistries.com  and Like our Facebook page. There are many ways to get involved: outreach team, prayer team, financial donors, gift donations, artists for our art therapy group, upcoming career development training. Fill out the form under the ‘Get Involved’ tab to learn more!

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If you do not live around Indy, check out the Strip Church network to find a ministry in your area that is also sharing the love of Jesus throughout the U.S., Canada, and UK to women in the adult entertainment industry!

*Statistics are from Treasures, a ministry out of L.A. reaching women in the sex entertainment industry. For more statistics, read here

 

The Poor in Spirit is Next Door – My Neighbor’s Story from Desperation to Hope

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Where are the poor in spirit obtaining the kingdom of heaven?  Heidi Baker has found the poor in spirit in the hearts of the physically starving and orphaned people of Mozambique. Yet, where are the poor in spirit here in America?  I have found one …next door.

On the outside, this one poor in spirit wouldn’t look exactly poor.  She has a nice house, clothes on her back, a car. Food each meal. A hot shower. Dogs to keep her company. However, on the inside she was desperately needy. Hungering for something more than what her life had given her in 50 years of living. A starving beggar crying out for the Bread to give her life in the now and forever. Insecure in her future, finances, and failures.

Heidi Baker mentions in her book, Compelled by Love, how in Mozambique the poor are so desperate for simple food to survive that God shows up to multiply a small portion of chickens or bread to feed the masses.  People are miraculously healed, raised from the dead, and released from demonic torment. While the power of the Spirit is still evident in these ways here in the West, God sometimes uses different methods to open our eyes by bringing us to our breaking point of desperation.

My neighbor came to that breaking point in the form of banging on my door at 10 pm one night. Brett and I were watching a movie and I looked over at Brett thinking, “Who in the world?” I immediately thought of Tracey, our next door neighbor, but she usually texts me before coming over. I open the door to find her panicked with her phone to her ear barely able to get words out. The 911 dispatch was on the line. Tracey was afraid for her life.  Two hours and four cops in and out of our house later, she stayed the night with us.

That night was a turning point in her life. Let me start from the beginning of our relationship. Brett and I moved into our house almost 8 years ago.  We met Tracey, but we didn’t have much contact because she kept to herself and I was working and gone most of the time.  At this point in my life I was apathetic to sharing my faith and the gospel of Jesus.  Then I had Kherington and since I stayed home with her, I started seeing Tracey more, especially when we were out playing and she was walking her dogs, which Kherington always wanted to pet or hold a leash.

Over the next few years, little by little Tracey started opening up more about herself and her life. I tried to empathize with her even though there is an age gap and we have different life experiences. But I mostly listened. I discovered quickly that she was very alone and needed a friend.  More importantly, she needed Jesus. Jesus to be her source of joy, security, and identity. Tracey has lived a really hard life mostly of rejection.  She didn’t know her father and has a strained relationship with her mother, resulting in her grandmother raising her. She’s been divorced twice, had a traumatic experience with her son who is in prison, and tries to see her daughter and grandchildren as much as allowed.  She’s been verbally, emotionally, and physically abused. Suicide attempts have been a part of her past.  There’s been little hope.  When I looked in her eyes, I saw a soul who was hurting, alone, hopeless, lifeless, and trying to survive each day.

I had the answer to her desperation, loneliness, rejection.  I started sharing the gospel with her. Planting seeds of who Jesus is and what He has done in my own life. Telling her I was praying for her. Sending her encouraging Bible verses.  Gave her a copy of our film The War Within. Then one day last summer of 2016, I was enjoying peace and quiet in the sun at my parents’ house while the kids napped when I received a text from Tracey. She was done living this life of pain and loneliness. She was hungering and thirsting for what I had in Jesus.  She told me she wanted to pray and give her life to Jesus Christ. I asked her if she wanted me to call her but she said that she wanted to do it alone. I made the gospel clear to her again, told her she needed to confess and repent of her sin, acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God and Lord of all, and to surrender her life to Him.  I stared at my phone waiting, praying, crying.  She responded back and said she had finished praying.  She was filled with joy. She immediately told me that her room had become brighter and could feel a heavy darkness lift.  Praise God for another soul saved for all eternity!

However, her ex-husband who lived with her came home soon after and the darkness appeared again.  The following few months were very rough for Tracey.  Even though she was free in Jesus from her sin and past, she was trapped and controlled in her daily life. Then that day in November came when she banged on our door frantic for her life like I had never seen before. Something needed to change. The next few weeks, Brett and I encouraged her to make changes in the relationship with the ex-husband.  It was not healthy. Brett became mediator and tried to reach out to him, but he resisted.  God was telling me to love Tracey like Jesus loves her.  So I got up a few times a week to sit with her early in the morning while she got ready to listen to her, encourage her and pray over her, especially against the dark spiritual warfare. She needed a reason to get out of bed and live that day.  I told her over and over again that she’s worth something, she’s loved, she’s not abandoned. Jesus will never leave her or forsake her even when she feared she would lose everything: her house, her finances, her dogs, her sense of purpose.

Then finally it was over.  He was gone.  And then the pain of being torn apart from the soul tie she had with her ex-husband hit her like going through withdrawal from a drug. She knew she needed to do it because it was unhealthy, yet she was desperately crying out to Jesus to help her.  I always tried to be a text or phone call away to help speak Truth into her against the lies of the enemy, Satan.  Or I ran over to continue to sit with her, listen, hug her, and pray.

We encouraged her to come to church with us and since she was finally free to do as she pleased, she started coming.  Week after week, Kherington and Damon anxiously waited for Tracey to come to our door Sunday morning so she could ride with us and then eat Mexican with us after church (Kherington and Daddy’s favorite, of course).  Although Kherington was excited to have a friend come each week, Brett and I were overjoyed to notice changes in Tracey’s demeanor and spirit instantly.  It was evident: the power of Jesus Christ changed her soul.  He took her broken, desperate, poor spirit and gave life, hope, and wholeness.  A once anxious and fearful spirit was renewed with joy and peace.

A few short weeks ago I was on a flight to Florida alone to care for my grandparents. When I landed, I turned off the airplane mode on my phone to see I had a missed call and voicemail from Brett. My first thought: “Oh no!!! Why would Brett be calling me in the middle of church?!” I listened to hear Brett excitedly tell me that Tracey was getting baptized right then and wanted to FaceTime me.   I immediately called him as I was still sitting in my seat.  There was Brett and Tracey on stage while someone held the phone.  I literally was walking off the plane crying and trying not to bump the person in front of me to watch Brett baptize Tracey.

Our pastor had given an invitation that morning for anyone who needed to accept Jesus as Lord of their lives and/or for those who have already chosen to follow Jesus to then make a public declaration of their faith by being baptized.  Brett felt a tug of the Spirit and he had no idea why. Right then Tracey grabbed his arm and said, “I need to do this. But I’m afraid.”  Brett said, “That’s the Spirit. Let’s do this.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”   I didn’t have to go to Mozambique after all, even though I hope to someday.  I found the poor in spirit next door. And because Tracey was broken enough to realize…

her need for something more than herself…

her need for Bread that is fulfilling and sustaining when everything else she was striving for left her empty and wanting…

her need for security and peace when her world was crashing down…

now… hers is the kingdom of heaven. Where she will experience Jesus for all earthly and eternal time.

The desperate, broken, poor, insecure are all around you. You don’t have to go far. In fact… a few steps is all it takes to show someone where to find the kingdom of heaven.

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*Written with permission from Tracey.

 

 

Blessed are the starving beggars…even in the rich land of plenty

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I’ve been desperate for more of Jesus and in order to know Him better, I am reading through all 4 Gospels chronologically and in harmony with one another.

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Recently I read Matthew 16:5-12 and Mark 8:14-21. Here is Mark’s version:

“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. Be careful,” Jesus warned them. Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?

“Twelve,” they replied. And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, Do you still not understand?

Before this conversation the disciples sat and watched Jesus perform the amazing miracle on two different occasions of taking a small amount of bread and fish and multiplying it to feed thousands upon thousands with food leftover. The disciples didn’t get Jesus’ point here. It wasn’t even about the bread yet that was their focus.  Many times in my pride I read about the disciples and think, “Duh!!! Don’t you get it! Jesus is right in front of you! You can see His miracles, touch Him, and yet you still don’t trust Him or have faith?! C’mon!” Oh and then I immediately hear the voice of the Spirit in me…”Um…Christina? This is you. Don’t YOU get it? Don’t YOU understand what I’m doing? Don’t YOU see Jesus? I AM in You. Oh, YOU of little faith.”

Ouch. I hate the conviction but love when the Spirit speaks to me. Yes, I am the disciples in so many ways. When I am in one trial after another, I forget what Christ has done for me through the previous trials!  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has never left me. Even in times that I have strayed from Him, He was always there. He will supply all that I need, and not necessarily what I want in this life. Even when it hurts. But the bread that He offers me over and over again, Himself, the Bread of Life, is more than I could ever imagine. It’s more than anything I would ever desire on this temporary earth. Oh, why does my heart long for the things of this world?  Why can’t I see that Jesus is enough? That even when I don’t understand like the disciples…when I miss what He is trying to teach me to change my heart…when I take my eyes off Jesus and onto the storms of life like Peter….when I can’t seem to have enough faith that Jesus is the One that can help me conquer my temptations….Jesus has always been and always will be enough Bread.

I have to be humble enough to desperately need this Bread. But that’s the problem isn’t? We don’t know what it’s like here in America to be so needy for physical bread to the point that we are starving beggars; we can’t comprehend being that needy for the Bread who supplies the bread. Have you noticed that it’s hard to show people how needy they are for Someone to save them when they don’t believe they need to be saved from anything? It’s common to hear, “Look at my life. Why would I need God?” And for American Christians, we acknowledge that we need Jesus to save us from sin and hell, yet we are guilty of living the rest of our lives like atheists. We got the “get out of hell” card and don’t live each day desperate for Jesus.

What a complete contrast to what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It’s only taken me 26 years of being a Christ-follower to comprehend what this means.

As I’m passionately studying the life of Jesus, I am also reading the book, Compelled by Love by Heidi Baker. I read Always Enough last year and pretty much wept through it from conviction.compelled by love Heidi and her husband, Rolland, have a ministry called Iris Global. If you want to be so heavily convicted by our apathetic Western Christianity and your eyes open to the love and compassion of Jesus, you need to check out their ministry and read their books.  The first chapter in Compelled by Love is on the verse above about the poor in spirit. The Bakers minister to orphans and the poor in Mozambique, Africa (and their mission has spread globally). These people have nothing. And I mean…nothing from war, famine, floods.

Heidi asks the question that I started asking a year ago, “Many ask why Jesus reserves the kingdom of God for the poor in spirit. Why is it that the wealthiest people and cultures experience fewer miracles and less of the supernatural? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? There is something about the poor that delights the heart of God. They are contrite. They know they are in need. But what is it about them that draws the kingdom of God to Earth? The answer to this lies in their dependency, hunger, need, and desperation.”

What does that look like in Mozambique? She continues, “If God doesn’t show up, no one else will either. If God does not heal, we will be dead. If God does not deliver, demons will torment the people to death. Every day we depend on Him for our daily bread to feed the multitudes. We rely on God. In Jesus we have all that we need. He died that there would be more than enough. We watch God multiply food to feed the masses, just as Jesus took a few fish and loaves of bread to feed the hungry.”

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Picture from Iris Global. Click here for more.

What does this look like in America?  I pause. I pause at my keyboard because I’m perplexed. What does it look like to be poor in spirit living in the richest land of the world? Ask Brett, and he will tell you that some days I wake up and want to give away everything we own, and then other days I remember that God has blessed us with what we do have and we are to be His stewards. God in His sovereignty created me to be born in this century in upstate New York to a mid-class family. Raised in the Big Valley of Pennsylvania and corn fields of central Indiana. Not an orphan in Mozambique. I am in the land of the free and plenty. And God has placed me right where He wants me.

Many of you reading this may have a similar life. We have never had to live meal to meal wondering if there will be enough bread. I’m convicted: are we truly thankful for the food in front of us?  We ramble out a quick prayer of “God thank you for this food that we are about to eat” before our kids start to devour their plates. Oh and as a dietitian, my favorite is, “God bless this food that we are about to eat for the nourishment of our bodies.” I usually take a peek at the actual food we are about to eat and silently laugh with God when it’s pizza or some other type of food that barely has any nutritional value in it except for a bunch of empty calories to grow our waistlines or satisfy our food addictions. Here me out; I ain’t hating on pizza. Just making a point hey.

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We don’t take the time to look at the food in front of us and weep over the fact that we don’t have to worry about our next meal!  I don’t have to beg for food so that my kids can eat!  Or God forbid, sell myself so that my child doesn’t have to die or be sold herself.  I shudder at the thought, but it’s happening to other moms somewhere.  Or we are too busy worrying about which diet works best, try this new product or nutrition phenomenon, whether we should or shouldn’t be eating gluten, organic, or GMO foods when we’ve missed the point of eating and WHO the Bread is that supplies the food.  If you’ve read my previous blog posts that I am linking throughout this (which I hope you do to hear my whole heart), I’m all for eating healthy. I mean, I kinda went to 4 years of college, finished a certified internship, took a national exam, and take continued education to keep my passion for nutrition alive. However, I can’t help but think that the people in Mozambique wouldn’t even know what the word “organic” meant. (Do YOU even know what it means? Because the food industry, media, wants you to be confused. Ok…I regress…a topic for another day).  Someone puts food in front of the poor, they won’t care if it’s gluten-free, all organic, non-GMO, etc. It’s life-giving food. That’s it. It’s.that.simple. Just like the gospel is eternal life-giving food. Jesus really is.that.simple. Maybe we’ve complicated Him like we’ve complicated our food.

Then I can’t help but think, why can the poor who have no food be able to eat what is put in front of them without fear of the food damaging their bodies? I mean that is why we are trying figure out which foods are “good” and “bad” so that we can be healthy rather sick and miserable, right? Their bodies have not been fed the vast variety of what we have put in our bodies. They have nothing and are fed and healed by a small portion of bread that was multiplied. Why? Because they have faith in the One who supplies the bread to live and heal them from physical AND more importantly spiritual death. It then hit me. We in the West are actually killing ourselves with plenty. We have obesity, immune disorders, inflammatory diseases and many other preventable disease because of plenty. Because of too much of a good thing. Because the snack aisle has 1000 choices. Because of lack of self-control. Because of addictions. Because we act like we do not.need.Jesus.

Our lack of desperation for Jesus is not only spiritually killing us but may actually be physically killing us.  “Ok, Christina. You are being so extreme.” Yes, maybe I am but you know…maybe I’m not. God has tremendously blessed us with plenty, but we have taken for granted the bread He has provided rather than glorying Him with it, taking care of our Temples with it, giving it away, blessing and discipling others around the table with it, multiplying it rather than wasting it. Instead of using the bread for God’s glory, we’ve become sluggards, addicts, food snobs, made our bellies our gods, shortened our life expectancy, given into what tastes good at the expense of our health and pocketbooks, and even judged, secluded, and inflicted on others our own opinions on food.

And Heidi agrees with me: “The challenge in the West is that many are too full. We have smorgasbords, buffets, and restaurants at almost every corner. So, people in the Western world are often just not hungry…I see that the church is often surviving on spiritual crumbs…I was looking out on a conference crowd of people who all seemed to be well fed. But superimposed over these people, I saw bloated bellies like my malnourished African children. I saw these people scavenging in the garbage like our homeless children, barely surviving off crumbs under the table. Now, we need to get them to understand how God teaches us that He can feed all the hungry, both rich and poor.”

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Picture from Iris Global

We’ve missed the point. We are like the disciples and really don’t understand. We forget and have to be reminded over and over the reason why Jesus is the Bread of Life. That His body was broken for us, like He broke the bread to feed the masses. The miracle was in the breaking of the bread. The miracle is in Jesus’ body breaking on the cross so that we can find forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life. And when we are distracted by the bread that this world offers and are not desperate for the eternal Bread, we miss the miracles that Jesus wants to display in our lives every single day. He is the Bread that fills me so that I can be a miracle that overflows with His love. As I desperately eat, I am filled to pour out to others. To help feed the rich and poor alike who are starving for more, even in the land of plenty.

Looking deep in the waitress’ eyes, she is hungry because when we ask to pray for her, she says “that I’ll be happy.”  That neighbor is desperate for something more because after asking her to come to church she replies, “Maybe I will. I need to do something different.”  That dancer wants someone to love her and is doing whatever it takes to provide for her children.  That co-worker needs to be invited over for dinner to show him how to feast on the Bread of Life instead of sharing coffee and donuts in the break room.  And it doesn’t stop there as Heidi continues: “God calls us to the emotionally poor and broken….those who are hungry, sick and needy, the old and the forgotten…the latchkey children and the fatherless….prisoners, felons, the homeless, immigrants, addicts, and those in great pain. Those who know they need help and are desperate for God and hungry for His presence will be satisfied, as this beatitude promises.”

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Therefore, to answer my question: what does it look like to be poor in spirit living in the richest land of the world?  Heidi answers, “Poor in spirit is a posturing of the heart other than an economic position… I believe being poor in spirit is a choice – a decision – we all have to make to go low still, fully dependent on the One who is always dependable.”

Your belly is full and your pocketbook has plenty (don’t kid yourself…if you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and clothes on your back you are wealthy), but are you poor in spirit? Are you desperately depending only on Jesus?  In America, we sure don’t look hungry on the outside, but we are starving beggars inside.   Maybe it’s a trial you are facing and you are focusing on the storm rather than the One who says, “Be still.”  Your health is suffering and you are looking for the magic nutritional supplement instead of the Healer. Your finances are running out and you need the Provider. You’re under spiritual oppression and you need the Deliverer. You are in bondage to that sin when you need Freedom. You are running away rather than into the Arms of Grace. You are anxious about your children, marriage, job, [fill in the blank] and need the Prince of Peace. You are fighting depression and looking for happiness in your false idols instead of the Ultimate Joy. Your identity is in  _______ and not the One who purchased you with His blood. You are chasing the fleeting American Dream rather than the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

Regardless of who you are, where you live, what storm is in front of you, how much bread you will or will not eat today, Jesus is speaking to YOU not only the disciples! And wants to bless YOU not only the physically poor… but only if you are poor in spirit; spiritually needy, desperate, insecure, and dependent only on Him.  I want more of this Bread. I don’t want to miss Him and His miracles in my life, even in my Western worldview and the land of plenty. I don’t need to fear tomorrow’s bread, so I surely don’t need to fear the next trial, temptation, and storm that comes my way. He is with me. He supplies everything I need to then go feed the spiritually hungry that I meet every day.

Oh, my heart’s cry is that we will finally understand. It gives me hope that the disciples finally understood; they all died as martyrs so the gospel of the Bread of Life will continue to be multiplied so the masses can eat this Bread and live for all eternity.

My desire is to someday go to Mozambique and look into the eyes of the poor in spirit there. I have been told that is one place where you will find the kingdom of heaven. But until then, I am striving to find the kingdom of heaven right where I am at so I pray…

“Oh, Jesus, help me with my unbelief and to understand how to be poor in spirit so mine is the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Moms: Stop the lie. You do have time for Jesus.

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“Mommy, I’m going to sit and read my Bible in peace. I’m going to do my devotions and talk to Jesus.”

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So she sat down in front of the door (she was waiting for a friend to come over) and “read” her Bible. This post is not a “look at me and how well I am doing as a mom” post.  If we want to grab coffee sometime, I could tell you all the mistakes and things I’m not doing well.  Yet, my hope is that you can learn something that took me almost 5 years to learn as a mom.

Note: for those of you that do not know me, this is from the perspective of a stay-at-home mom with two children.  You may have a different perspective based on your home, work, children, spouse situation. But one thing is true that we all have in common as moms: we are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37).   And this common goal is what this post is focusing on.

As a mom, I have struggled in the past with finding time to spend with Jesus, studying His Word and praying. The Christianese word is “devotions,” as you read my daughter calling it.   When my daughter was born, my life was consumed with her.  Many first time moms experience this: life revolves around your child, you are afraid of doing anything wrong, and are convinced that one error is going to ruin your child forever!   I confess that my daughter became my idol pretty quickly.   I can confidently say that because she summed up this definition by Tim Keller: “An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.”

Then the second born came along. After how I was idolizing my first born, God needed to teach me that my children are gifts from Him and ultimately belong to Him.  Damon was born with duodenal atresia and had surgery less than 72 hours after birth.  Leading up to his birth and even after, fears of the worst case scenarios flooded our minds. Through this experience the Spirit taught us that God is in control of every breath our child takes. Yet, still in our unbelief we tend to hold on even tighter when we cannot control our children’s lives, resulting in idolatry.

Every additional child is a transition yet gives you a different perspective.  I roll my eyes at myself when I look back and think about all the things I stressed over with Kherington.  Or how I really did believe I didn’t have time to do anything!  I totally had time to take a 10 minute shower!  I try to remember what DID I do when she slept so much?  Somehow, when more children come along we still make it work, even if the meals aren’t from scratch and your toddler is wearing the same pajamas for a couple days. Mmhmm…sorry Damon!

Shortly after having Damon, I read blogs on how to schedule your mornings so that your days can run smoothly based on priorities and goals for the day.  Spending time with the Lord (aka devotions), always was on that morning to-do list. As I made my morning time table, my goal was to wake up an hour before the kids to read my Bible and pray.  I am a morning person so I thought it was very doable. However, my hubby is a night owl.  When we got married, I was convinced I would change him to be a morning person. Ha!  I gave up after…oh…6 years of marriage that it ain’t ever happening.  In fact, he turned me more into a night owl!!! So be careful what you say you want to change about your husband; you may be the one that changes!

Some days I was successful at getting up early while others I was not, especially if I stayed up too late the night before to spend time with Brett. However, on the days that I did not get up in time and I woke up to Kherington’s face staring at me with her wide eyes, I never took time later in the day to spend with Jesus.  I lived each day with the perspective that if I didn’t wake up early, I wasn’t going to have time to do it the rest of the day.  In essence, I was telling Jesus, “You only have from 7-8 am every day. If I miss it, sorry, I’ll try again tomorrow. You really weren’t as important as _________. ”  Yikes. Writing that out makes me cringe since it was my heart attitude, and oh, how it pained Jesus!  I viewed my devotional time as an item on my morning to-do list that needed to be checked off so I can go about my day, rather than desperately pursuing my Savior and passionately worshiping Him.

Also, I was deceived by Satan in believing that I didn’t have time the rest of the day. After all, I have to get to my never-ending to-do list.  Then I’m too tired at night to focus and just want to sit and relax with Brett.  I believed the lies we all say to ourselves: “I just don’t have time.” Or “Ok. I do have a little time but not 15, 30, 60 consecutive minutes to read and pray!” Or “I’ll get to it later, I promise!” Or “I will make time when my children finally _________.”    And this is right where Satan wants us, because if we fill our days with stuff that we think is beneficial but….let’s be honest…much doesn’t count for eternity…then we are exhausting ourselves silly trying to gain the whole Pinterest-perfect-how-many-likes-can-I-get-on-Facebook world and the end result could be losing our souls, and worse, our children’s souls (Matthew 16:26).

I finally stopped the lies and believed truth: I do have time. I have 24 hours. If God thought we needed more time, He would have given it to us.  It’s all a matter of priority. We make time for the things we love or want to do.  Saying, “I don’t have time for you, Jesus” is not loving Him with all my heart, soul, and mind.  Instead, I’m saying, “I don’t love you right now, I love someone or something else more.”   And as moms it is usually our kids, and we easily justify that we are obeying God by sacrificing and loving them, when in fact it’s disobedience since the first and greatest commandment is to love Him FIRST then your neighbor. Our children fit into this “neighbor” category, in which the SECOND greatest commandment Jesus gives is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

The past year has been a difficult time for Brett and me as we have been waiting on God’s timing for the next steps in our lives.  God has been humbling us like never before. I have been desperate for Jesus and His Word, hungering and thirsting after Him. In the trial, I have finally made Jesus a priority in my life and stopped forcing myself at my “perfect” time to do my devotions, as long as I get filled by Him at some point that day. During this season of my life, some days I get up early before the kids but most days I don’t.  Brett or I will make coffee while getting the kids breakfast. Once the kids are done, they find or I give them something to do.  They know that Mommy will be in her room with her coffee reading her Bible and talking to Jesus.

I thought that I had to do my devotions only when the kids were sleeping so I wouldn’t be distracted.  Another stupid lie.  My kids are 5 and 2 years old and in the last year my time with Jesus has been deeper, closer, and more intimate than ever before, and it was when I have been seeking Jesus when they were awake!  Do I have to break up fights? Of course. Do they run in and out of my room? Definitely.  But they have learned that this is Mommy and Jesus time.  Kherington doesn’t ask me to come help her anymore. Instead, she says, “Mommy, when you are done reading your Bible, can you….”  “Yes honey. I am almost done talking to Jesus.”  Yet some days my time is cut short and doesn’t go as planned.  I give myself grace, and remember that Jesus is always beside me throughout the day to talk to Him no matter what I’m doing.

The best part….No. More. Guilt.  More lies from Satan: “You should be spending time with them! You are neglecting them right now!  You need to be doing x, y, z!”    No, Satan.  When my kids are watching me spend time reading God’s Word and praying, it’s actually one of the MOST loving things I can do for them.  Brett recalls his dad studying the Bible consistently when he was growing up.  Brett became curious as to what and why his dad was so passionate about God’s Word, causing him to spend time reading it to find out for himself.  Most importantly, when I put my to-do list down and yes, even say no to my child at that moment to spend time at Jesus’ feet, it’s the MOST loving thing I can do for Him.

Francis Chan writes in his amazing book, You and Me Forever, “Lisa and I want to raise children who love Jesus far more than they love us. We want them to trust Him more than us, to enjoy Him more than us, to find more security in Him than in us. And we are convinced that the best way to teach this is to demonstrate it. We have to make it clear to our children that we love God more than we love them.”

Wow!  Convicting right!?   This is my goal too and that my children will know that I love Jesus. Then when I hear Kherington tell me that she needs to go read her Bible and talk to Jesus…or on some days crawls up in my bed with her Bible too, I fight tears as I praise and give glory to God.

Moms, you do have time for Jesus. It is only a matter of how desperate you are for a deeper relationship with God.  Does your daily life show that you are loving your children (or yourself) more than Him?  Stop trying to fit Him in your perfect schedule like I was trying and failing.  Instead, put Him anywhere in your day, even if it seems inconvenient and the kids are running in and out of your room. I dare you to try it, and I’m convinced that He will put everything else in its proper place as your perspective changes how you view your time spent on this earth.  And someday you may find your child, whether 5 or 15, reading her Bible and praying because you demonstrated to her that Jesus is most important.

 

 

Do the Demons Know Your Name?

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I can’t breathe.  My throat is constricted like hands grasped around my neck.

I can’t move. What’s holding me down?

I can’t see. Heavy darkness surrounds me.

I can’t speak. I’m yelling and nothing is coming out because the hands are too strong around my throat.

“In….the….name….of….Jesus…” I try to scream out but there’s no voice. I try again. Again. Silence. Suffocation.

“BRETT!” I try instead, forcing my arm to try and hit it him as I lie paralyzed in bed.

Finally after fighting, I feel him. He moves but rolls over.

Then I’m released. I sit up exhausted. Confused. I lie back down and fall asleep.

Yes, this happened to me one night last year.  When I woke up in the morning, I asked Brett if he felt me grab him. He said no.  I told a close friend of my experience and she said it was similar to what she experienced in her life from her past: demonic physical oppression.

The next night, Brett and I prayed over our bedroom asking God to remove any spiritual darkness and protect us.  However, for whatever reason it happened to Brett.  I woke up to him screaming, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” over and over again, which released the demon’s hold on him.  Prior to the oppression, Brett was dreaming about the calling God has given him to be a missionary who makes movies.

Some people may read this and be skeptical or think it was just a dream. Or wonder why we would be spiritually oppressed like this. It was real, and here is why. Let me start from the beginning.

Brett became very active on Facebook at the beginning of 2016 using it as an avenue to share the gospel and minister to people. Brett led a girl to Jesus, whose powerful transformation by the Spirit was a domino affect to leading others to accepting Jesus into their life as well.  However, this new daughter of God had a horrific past of abuse, and specifically to this topic, demonic oppression.  Let’s just say, Satan was not happy that he was losing more and more people from his grasp as they were found by the Savior.  And if Satan can’t have our souls, he will try to ruin us in any way possible by distracting us from our mission on this earth and forgetting that he is the real enemy.  He causes as much confusion and disunity among believers as he possible can to deter us from our calling and winning more souls for Jesus.

Facebook can be a great tool for Christians to use to share the gospel; however, more often than not Satan is in the background playing his games of destruction.  Brett, this girl, and others were being attacked by satanists on Facebook.  Yes, you can block and report, but it won’t stop Satan’s work.  Then one February night, Brett was messaged by a satanist.  Over the course of 2 days, Brett talked to him. He could feel the presence and weight of darkness through his computer screen.  He responded with the only thing that has power over the darkness: the Word of God. The man was demon possessed at times throughout their conversations and the Word penetrated making him physically sick and blurring his vision, until Brett told him to cry out to God and ask if He was real.  Immediately he was made well. Sadly, he still did not choose Jesus in fear of what his cult would do to him.  He ended his conversation with Brett by telling him he failed his mission to distract Brett from serving God.  Then the words that I try not to let haunt me, “Just know that the demons now know your name.”

Brett and my physical oppression is one evidence from this past year that the demons know our names. The satanist told Brett that since Satan and demons are not omnipresent like God, they do not know every Christian. They know only the ones who are a threat to their mission to keep souls from Jesus.  This is not bragging rights; this is the reality that we are in war.  This may be changing very soon, but here in America we have not been in war against other people for our faith. Yes, you may get criticized, rejected by a friend, unfriended on Facebook, laughed at, questioned, etc.  However, unlike our brothers and sisters over seas, we are not getting tortured, shot, burned, beheaded.  It may only be a matter of time, but at least right now, Brett and I are not being thrown in jail or threatened for being missionaries who make movies.  No one is stopping us. Except….Satan and his demons.

The year of 2016 has been a year of waiting. God has made his mission for us known, yet like David, Joseph, and even Jesus, we must wait for His timing to live it out. And in the wait, Satan has been working behind the scenes trying to distract with sin, plant seeds of fears and insecurities that have grown to paralyzing mountains, discourage us from our calling, doubt who God really says He is and who we are in Christ, destroy relationships….all to hold us back from obeying God even in the wait.

Satan is the real enemy.  Even for other believers who face persecution from people, Satan is still the enemy behind it all.  This sounds pretty discouraging and even haunting, especially since our culture has its own ideas of the spiritual forces around us.  My response can be to fear him and be intimidated by him.  Honestly, that is has been my initial response and I’m still battling it. And I can tell you by experience, that’s exactly what he wants. It gives him more power; he knows my weaknesses and can shoot his flaming arrows right where my armor his down.  He sets up camp in my territory and whispers that lie. That thought of doubt or insecurity. That tempting fruit of desire that if I don’t take captive it will lead to sin. He also likes to give me the club and I beat myself over and over with it while he sits back and enjoys the show.  Many times I think I came up with the thought or lie, and because “there is a way that seems right to a man (Proverbs 16:25),” I don’t instantly shove it out. I easily think it could be truth.   Where as if I focus that my enemy, the devil, who is prowling around like a lion looking to devour me (1 Peter 5:8), spoke that lie, doubt, tempting desire, it’s easy to fight back! To face him and chase him out of my territory.  To speak the truth of God’s Word to shine the light which scatters the darkness (1 John 2:8).

Not only do I need to remember that Satan is the enemy, but that people are not the enemy. Even people who do not have the Spirit inside them are not the enemy. They have been blinded by Satan from the truth of Jesus Christ and his saving gift of grace that He offers them (2 Corinthians 4:4).  I was once lost and blinded; yet in God’s grace I have been found and forgiven.  This past year I have understood the grace of God more than ever before.  And because of that, the Spirit has enabled me to show more grace to others and look at them differently, no matter who they are and what they have done.  I have been living my life with fuzzy blinders over my eyes.  Now, God’s grace, unconditional love, and forgiveness towards me overflows even more to others.   Whether it’s someone from a completely different walk of life or someone who has sinned against me, they are never the enemy.  I can love with open arms. I can be rejected and know that I’m still a daughter of the King and no one can change that.  I can forgive completely when someone has hurt me.

Instead Satan wants division, arguing, unforgiveness towards one another.  When we see people as the enemy, it is so easy to do this!   Someone hurts us or someone we love, and we want to fight back and get revenge.  We feel unloved or unwanted by someone who should love or want us, so we start to believe we are unloved and desperately try to find love in the wrong places. Or we stuff down pain from the past and put up a wall from those who do love us, causing bondage rather freedom.   We fight over the meaning of a Scripture passage and churches are split into two.  Our spouse sins and we add it to the list of wrongs, and even bring it up in a later argument.  Our children are acting like little demons (can I get a raised hand!?) and we yell, become impatient, and frustrated that they are not obeying every word we say.  We even can struggle to forgive ourselves for hurting the people we love.

And Satan loves it.  He is the master of disguise. He is not the devil with the red suit and pitchfork. He’s beautiful; he even twisted our minds in our culture to think that beauty is to strive for and without it, you are not worthy. Another deception.  So he is weaving himself unnoticed throughout our minds and our relationships, and without realizing it you are believing that you (beating myself with the club example) are the enemy, or your spouse, children, friend, coworker, annoying Facebooker who won’t shut up about the election, the persecutor, yes, even the ISIS leader who has been brainwashed by THE enemy.

My friend who is reading this, there is hope.  Satan is a wimp.  It doesn’t sound like it from what I wrote above.  And as I said, I struggle with seeing him for who he really is: a punk with cheap parlor tricks as Brett tells me.  But the only way I put him in his rightful place (um…hell), is to look to the One who is on the Throne.  When I see Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, in His rightful place, everything changes. I remember that the Spirit of God lives in me!  He’s not in a tabernacle where I go worship.  He’s not here in flesh and bone like Jesus walked on the earth 2000 years ago. He is here with me. In me.  And that blows my mind. That God the Creator, the powerful I AM would come live inside me.  I have the same power to defeat Satan and my sin as Jesus had to raise from the dead!   I do not live like this every moment of every day.  What would my days look like if I did?  Satan’s doubts, lies, deceptions, luring temptations would have no place in my mind.

Oh but if only it was easy. This is war. It’s a daily battle. Some days the struggle is so real and I feel so weak. I have sat in my shower crying out to God to take the battle away because I don’t want to fight anymore.  I have 2 choices in that moment:

1. Allow Satan to stay in my territory, giving in to despair while focusing on my fears, doubts, insecurities, and temptations of sin. Which then paralyzes me and weakens my effectiveness in the mission God has called me on this earth. Causing me to miss out on receiving and giving blessings. Wondering through life without joy or peace.

-OR-

2. Ask God to fight for me, to give me the strength I need when I am weak. Take his grace that is sufficient for this day (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Give up control. Close my eyes and see Him as John did:  “…like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” (Revelation 1:13-16)  Then I stand up and be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that I am ready to take my stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10-11)

The best part: we already know who wins the war. And it surely is not Satan. He will be thrown into the lake of fire for all eternity (Revelation 20:10).  Meanwhile….

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

This rider called Faithful and True is on my side.  I have nothing to fear when I trust the Word of God.  What about you? Do you see the war around you? Is the king of kings and lord of lords on your side?  If so, are you allowing Satan to devour you or are you standing firm in the strength of the Word of God?  Do you think the demons know your name?

The battle has been won. The victory is ours. Let’s live with this Truth in mind.