Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Exposed


I have so many thoughts swirling around in my head—I'm not even sure I can gather them all together, but I will attempt.  These last few years I feel as though I have been challenged in ways I have never been challenged before.  I am seeing myself, and therefore Jesus, in a whole new light.

When I was a child, I would find my thoughts to be my company.  I believed I was alone in feeling and experiencing the things I did, and so I often isolated myself.  After all, no one could possibly understand, right?  I carried that mentality into adulthood, but over the last year or two, I see the Lord freeing me of this, along with so many other falsehoods.

The reality is that every being in the human race is very similar, despite our differences.  I do believe that all of us have experienced that sickening feeling in our throats, the brick in our stomach that often comes when fear rushes over us like a consuming, crashing wave.  I'm not alone in that.  So I know that all these things the Lord is revealing to me are not unique to me—it's the human condition.  I have seen these things pop up before, but like a game of Whack-a-Mole, I have quickly shoved them back down, unwilling to face the truth because, well, it's embarrassing, humiliating.  I preferred to live in denial, but those things were still nagging me, tucked in the corners of my soul.  I knew they were there, and I knew they were affecting the way I functioned.

I can't remember exactly when it was, although I'm sure I could find a more specific date if I looked through my journals, but there came a time when I told Papa God, "Do Your work.  Dig it all out. I can't live like this anymore. I'm ready."  I don't deny that I was trembling, my faith weak, my heart pounding wildly because I knew I was asking Him to do major surgery, and what if... what if I didn't make it out alive?

I find in me this desire to let go, and yet, at the same time, to cling tight to things I know I should not.  What if I let go and it all comes crashing down?  What if I tell God, "Do with me what you will," and that proclamation leads me to a concentration camp like Corrie ten Boom?  What if I tell God, "I want to know You.  I want to experience You like never before!" and the path to knowing Him, experiencing Him and deepening my faith is to lose nearly everything I have- even my children- like the writer of It Is Well With My Soul, Horatio Spafford? What if I sink instead of soar?

And yet, I realize that all those things could indeed happen to me, with or without God.  Wouldn't I rather know Him, experience Him, trust Him through it all?  Wouldn't I rather be broken upon the rock than be crushed by it? What if I stop self-protecting, which is really no protection at all, and I let go?  What if I really let go and let Him do His work?

I've been asking a lot of "What If" questions lately.  It began as an ending— as in, I came to the end of myself, and I hammered What Ifs into the gates of Heaven. I was afraid of my own anger and passion, then shocked by Jesus' gentleness to what felt like the equivalent of beating my fists upon His chest.  He wasn't phased.  I thought He would have been.  He wasn't angry.  In fact, He was strangely pleased. It seems as though He has been waiting for me to unburden myself of my questions.

Since then, the What Ifs have been more like post-it notes I leave all over for Him to answer, if He wants, when He wants, how He wants.  Many times, the What ifs are answers in and of themselves— bold questions with bold implications.  

What if I really am radically loved?
 

Just asking the questions is healing, because in the asking I am laying them down.  I am releasing my grip on them, the shame and fear wrapped up in holding onto them.  I lay them down, and I'm no longer consumed by them. I'm exposing them.
 
 

 
I have found in laying out my questions, I have freed Jesus to lay out answers, to bring things bubbling to the surface— things I had tied anchors to in an effort to forget.  Lately, He has done that in such a strange way, by what I can only describe as an out of body experience.  I'm there, observing myself, observing my reactions and emotions, and the physical manifestations of those things (the fear-induced nausea, for example).  In those moments, I realize that He sees me, He really sees me.  With others, even my husband, I have often felt like, if they really knew me,  if they could see all of me, they would not really love me.  This induces a fear within me that I will be exposed and then rejected. Even though I know with my logical mind that God sees all things and knows all things, that one cannot hide anything from Him— after all Scripture testifies to this over and over [Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13). The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good (Prov. 15:3).]— I realized that something within me had a belief that if Jesus really saw me, if He really knew me through and through, He too would reject me.  I find in myself many beliefs which I act from that are not based on the Truth and Reality of Christ.  In His kindness, Jesus is digging them out.  It is painful, but it is good.

I feel much like a tree that is being pruned.  Limbs are being lopped off, which in the moment feels completely wretched, but the purpose is to create a beautiful, fruitful, strong tree which is not easily swayed by strong winds and wild storms, whose branches do not bow under the weight of nests and scampering squirrels.

However, it is incredibly uncomfortable to be exposed, to be splayed out.  I feel naked and ashamed.  The truth is I have lived much of my life like that ruler in the story of The Emperor's New Clothes, except instead of false, non-existent clothes, I have false, non-existent shields. All my attempts to cover myself, to control my environment, really just leave me exposed and vulnerable to attack.  My armor is insufficient.  I'm naked and I don't know it.  But then Jesus exposes me, and I see my nakedness, see that I've been fooled, and I am humiliated.

But then I see, we're all naked.  We're all alike.  I don't have to be humiliated.  I don't have to be ashamed.  You can judge me, but in your judgment, you will find that you are the same as I am. The Kingdom of God seems upside down, but then I realize, it's this kingdom on earth that's upside down and inside out.  The truth is that when we are willing to be exposed and vulnerable, we are covered by God, fully protected. We walk in the light.  When we try to cover ourselves, we are exposed and vulnerable, and we are walking around believing we are shielded by a wall thats' weak and crumbling, believing we are protected from the fiery arrows headed our way.

I'm standing outside of myself, watching my emotions brewing, and I'm seeing those emotions have strings, and these strings weave quite a web all over my life impacting how I interact with people, what I believe, what I do, how I feel....  Jesus and I, we follow the path and see where the first knot was tied.  Again, I'm tempted to be ashamed, to wallow in it, but that's not why He's exposing it.  He's exposing it to heal me.  There is no condemnation in Him.  He speaks gently, "Look.  There.  See? There it is."

"You feel like you have to be someone.  Like you have to be special.  That's a burden to you."
Sometimes I defend myself, "But, haven't you called me to be a world changer?"
He smiles, the kind of smile you give an innocent, naive child. "No."
His response is simple. It's one word, but as His response comes out, His truth floods in. It's amazing how He has to ability to say so much with one word.

Receive. He has called me to receive, specifically to receive of Him.  He shows me that I get caught up in being a good mom, in being an excellent wife, in being a wonderful friend, and those all sound like good things to me, high callings, even.  But I'm focusing on producing fruit, and He never called me to focus on producing.  He calls me to abide, and the result of abiding.... is fruit.  It's no wonder that I'm often flustered by myself, because I'm always checking the fruit.  Is there a bud?  Is it blossoming? How many are there?  Is there enough? Is He proud of me? Does He love me yet?

Oh.  Oh.... there's that knot, there's where that string leads to.

I turn to the Scriptures, "When we got it all down perfectly, Christ loved us."  Oh, wait, that's not in there.  
Romans 5 comes to rescue me. While I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me.  While I was ungodly. Because I could never be enough. His love rushes in, pulls me close, takes away the separation.  His love makes me righteous before I've done anything right. Suddenly it makes sense again.  The gospel had become mere words on a page to me, words I could quote but just words, and in this moment, they become life again.
 
 

Monday, July 18, 2016

You can live if you want to.

As my husband and I sat on the porch the other night, staring out at the stars, this thought came to me as if from the mouth of Jesus. "You can live if you want to." 

Live. You can live your life, if you want to. Truly, abundantly, vibrantly. You can stop trying to walk the line, worried you are going to step out of place. You can stop tip toeing. You can stop fearing. That's not living. That's dying. 

 It's like the line from that song, "You can dance if you want to." I think God is inviting us to the dance floor, but we think we can't dance, we are afraid to look like fools, and we don't want to step on any toes. And if we do go out for a dance, we fearfully inspect ourselves. "Am I doing it right?" And He says, "Relax. Enjoy the dance." Because life with Jesus is full of swirls and dips and He will toss you up into the air, but He will always catch you. Sometimes it's slow and close, head on His shoulder... other times it's upbeat and fast and your heart is beating out of your chest, but He's leading and you can follow.

You can dance if you want to. You can live if you want to. You can throw off your shoes. Jesus doesn't need your high heels and Sunday best. He doesn't care if you sing on key. You can sing if you want to. "You can really live if you want to," He reminds me, because I've stopped living. I become a robot fueled by fear and rules, wavering between a strong desire to check all the boxes or rip up the whole dang list.

I sat outside, listening to the crickets sing. It was if my hearing had improved because I threw off all the noise in my head. I don't need to carry all the conversations in my head. I don't need to worry about yesterday or tomorrow or five minutes from now. I'm just doing the next thing. I'm living. Here. Now. Which is the only place we can really live. Yesterday is gone. Why concern ourselves with it? We stress ourselves out by trying to figure out the future, why not trust it to the Father's hands? Why not take those Hands? You can dance if you want to. Why worry about what other people think? This is not their life. Let them live or not live their own.

But I can live if I want to. And I want to. I want the adventure.  My sister Manderly and I were talking about this very thing.  "I think we imagine adventure to look like this major outward risk taking but I think it's taking a risk with our heart. Even if our life on the outside looks mundane still," I commented.

I imagined her nodding in agreement as she texted back, "I had really wanted it to be some outward risk, but I actually think it's connected. So much of my outward life is held back by my fears and lack of trusting the Lord to give me good things. I'm still waiting for the bottom to fall out."

I often live waiting for the bottom to fall out. Manderly and I talked about facing the truth, asking the questions, truly seeking, not being afraid to dance.  Maybe that's what it looks like to really live. To step out, even when you're scared. To dance, even when you don't  know the steps. To trust God in you.

I met up with some of my girls for lunch one afternoon.  I said, "I think I've been waiting for permission to live, and the Lord is saying, 'Stop waiting for permission. I've given you permission. I've planted dreams and desires within you. Don't be afraid to walk in them.'"

I get so caught up in all the voices of other people telling me how to live. I get distracted by looking at other people's lives well lived and think mine needs to look like that.

I know God is trying to break that apart. In order to do that, He has to destroy this desire I have to be understood, to be accepted, to be approved of by others.  I'm experiencing the freedom of that, but it's a tough habit to break. I can't really live if I'm too busy trying to spin all the plates. I have to lay down other people's perceptions, judgments, and opinions of my life.

I'm called to work out my own salvation. No one gets to work it out for me. I don't get to work out anyone else's.

I feel this overwhelming desire to use up the moments. To live. Because I want to.




Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Questioner


I hold the questions inside, push them down. He knows they are there.  Why does it seem more righteous to keep my lips shut rather than confess the wonderings swirling in my brain?  I try to repeat "truths" to myself, but the questions press me. I press them back. Down. Down. Down.

But I reach a point where the questions won't be pushed down anymore. They have piled up, begging for answers, and soon they roll off my tongue sounding frustrated.  It's really just desperation.

Then I feel guilty. I feel guilty for slamming Him with question after question. Why, God? Why? I'm like a curious child, and later I realize that is a good thing. I'm small, and I don't know a lot of things. Isn't that a good place to be?

Maybe in the pouring out of hurts and questions and the beating upon His chest because, Oh God, I want to know You and see You better, isn't such a bad thing. Isn't He big enough to face the queries and outbursts that passionately overflow? Can He not see they are the ramblings of a girl who doesn't want to memorize answers and hear canned speeches but truly, desperately, wants to know her God?

A real knowing.  Beyond knowledge.  An intimacy.
A depth that comes from asking those questions that beat upon the door of my mind.

It's a continual coming-to-an-end-of-myself. Because, let's be honest, I go through seasons where I'm not sure how the gospel really changes things. I could lead you down "the Roman's road" and recite John 3:16 by heart, but when I look at the world around me, I feel heavy.  I don't see the gospel changing things.

I want to feel the gospel pulsing through every fiber of my being, through the whole church, through every believer.  I want to see Jesus impacting everyone we touch with His amazing love. I want to see this gospel flowing through me and around me and in all the universe.... and sometimes I can't see it.  I feel like a blind man who needs clay formed from Jesus' spit and the dust of the earth so the scales fall from my eyes.  Would I see it then?

I want to see heaven invading earth. Heaven, invade earth.  Papa, do you see how badly we need You?  Do You hear our cries?

I press in, because all the things I comforted myself with before just won't do.  The answers I used to give myself just don't work.

What if Jesus really meant it when He said, "You'll do greater works than these when I go to the Father."?
What if He really wants us to ask and seek and knock, and keep on asking and seeking and knocking, and what if He really wants to answer, and reveal, and fling the door wide open?
What if He doesn't mind if we wrestle things out with Him? Maybe, just maybe, He is inviting me to do that.  Maybe He is waiting for that, because it means I've decided to get into the game rather than sit on the bench.
What is seeking anyway?  Is it not messy and chaotic at times? Doesn't seeking begin with a question? "Where are you, God?"  "Why is this, Jesus?" "Holy Spirit, what are You saying?"  "Are you there?"

I've been thinking of the things we say, these Christianese answers we are so familiar with that maybe we don't even think twice as we rattle them off.  Maybe because there is a bit of truth in them, but there's more... maybe they aren't the whole truth.

"We don't get to know..."
     But what if we do?  What if it is the Papa's heart to disclose things to us? What if He wants us to consider that we don't know, and stop thinking that we can use theology to explain everything, that we can figure it out by our own understanding?  What if He wants us to know from our hearts, not just from our heads? What if He wants us to ask? What if He put His Spirit within us to reveal truth and wisdom because He wants us to know?
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come." [John 16:13]

I beat upon His chest, and I cry out, and I'm afraid because He could throw me down and break me into a million pieces. I worry I'm being disrespectful, that I'm irritating Him, that maybe I'm pushing boundaries. But I'm desperate.  I'm so desperate to see His Kingdom come.

I feel crazy, but it occurs to me that maybe this is sanity, and maybe pacifying myself with answers that did not satisfy was the real crazy.  I remember, years ago, being told that I just needed to have more faith.  I learned questioning was not okay.

Maybe what Jesus really wanted to say was, "Ask, but not really.  Just have more faith." No. I don't think that's what He meant at all.  What if it is my faith that demands I ask.  Is it not faith that says, "There is a God whom I can boldly approach. I believe He is available. I believe I can climb up in His lap and ask Him all the questions!"?

So I push past the fear, the fear that says He will strike me down.  All the words tumble out, and then I'm exhausted.  A picture pops into my mind of a little child running to the arms of her father, tears rolling down her face, a fierce expression, words flying, and she cries and screams and yells and flails..... and when she has emptied herself of every expression, she falls asleep peacefully, and her father presses her tight against his chest and kisses her sweaty forehead.

He loves her.
He loves me.

I sheepishly look up at Him. "I'm sorry, Papa.  Did I offend You?"  I'm ashamed by how messy it looks, how messy it feels. Should I fall on my face and repent?  Of course I should, right?

But instead I feel like He's saying, "Keep it coming.  Let it go.  Unburden. Bring it to the Light."  And I see that before, I was in His Presence, but I was standing at the door.  Too afraid to really approach, unless I felt like I had behaved and said all the right things.  But here I am, frustrated and overwhelmed and burdened and the only solution seems to be the craziest solution of all.  Run. Run beyond the entry way, right into His lap, my face to His face, feeling His breath like a breeze in my hair.

And He heard me. He heard what I was saying, beyond the flailing and the hurting and the words which failed me.

Later I told my sisters, "I feel like God has so many things to say wrapped up in His Presence where He doesn't actually say a thing, it's just understood. Like He isn't disappointed or angry with me at all. That asking and seeking and knocking looks messy and sometimes lunatic. That verse in Revelations about being spit out because they are luke warm comes to mind, and I feel Him saying He'd rather have passion, even if that passion scares me, scares others... than have people who stand at the door looking in, too afraid to scream for answers and beat down doors until their fists are raw."

"It's okay for you to be in this place. I'm the One that invited you in."

He's accessible because of Jesus Christ.  Jesus calls me friend. Real friendships, deep friendships... they are messy.  I feel like a mess.

Papa whispers, "I like the mess. It's My mess. You're My beautiful mess. I like you."

I've heard that before. One night as I ugly-cried on my bed, ashamed of the tears, ashamed of the mess... my husband wrapped me in his arms and whispered, "You're my mess. I love you. I like you just the way you are."

And I have begun to believe it.

Follow me on Instagram: @mcmandymom

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mercy for our Mistakes

I'm not really sure what to do with this blog now.  You see, I started blogging years ago, and in that span of time, I've changed quite a bit.  The truth is, we are always growing, always changing, always learning.  This blog certainly has cataloged much of that growth and many of those changes.

I'm not the woman I was when I first purchased this domain.  In fact, I was a pretty new believer back then. Though I had grown up reading the bible, I didn't fall in love with Jesus— didn't start walking with Him— until my mid-twenties. As with any relationship, we have had our highs and lows. We have walked through some dark valleys, climbed some steep mountains, stood at the top of some amazing peaks and marveled at the view.  And, just like marriage, it's been a journey of getting to know Him.

Many of the things I posted years ago were likely with the wrong heart.  I have spent much of my life battling a legalistic mindset. And I can definitely say I have often turned a relationship with Christ into a list of do's and don'ts.  I'm sure that is reflected in some (many?) of the posts here on this blog.

We celebrated Christmas, then shunned every bit of sparkly tinsel and holiday trinket only to make a Christmas-comeback with presents tucked under the tree and advent devotionals read each evening.  I've had seasons where I tried head covering and tucked my jeans away in storage.  And I've worried about whether I'm doing it all right or screwing it all up and if I'm going to get to Heaven and God's going to shake his holy finger at me and say, "I'll let you in, but, dude, you just barely made it."


But something happened a couple years ago.
I decided to lay down the worrying.
I decided I would stop focusing on the what and focus on the who.
Because all the rest will just fall into place when my eyes are on the Prize.

Because the Lord reminded me that there will be people who say, "Did we not prophesy in Your name? Drive out demons in Your name? Perform many miracles in Your name?"  And yet, Jesus will answer, "I don't know you."

And this is always the struggle as a believer.  I believe most of us have been there at one point (or one thousand points) in our lives.  We get so focused on the doing, on producing fruit, and we forget that the Lord's desire is for us to be wrapped in a deep relationship with Him.  That comes first. The fruit is a by-product of abiding in Christ.

There have been many, many times when I've put works first, and not love.  When I've lived trying to be good enough and earn His favor rather than abiding in His love and letting His work flow from me.  Cart before the horse, Mandy. Cart before the horse.

There are quite a few times in scripture when God states, "I desire obedience over sacrifice," and that used to baffle me.  I would think, "Wait? Didn't He command those offerings? Aren't they obeying by bringing these specific offerings He commanded they bring?" 

Christ says that whole of the Law and the Prophets is summed up in these two commandments, to love God with all of your everything and to love your neighbor as yourself.

God was calling the people to not simply go through the motions, not just bring the offerings and tithes, but to engage in a love relationship with Him.  I can tell you that when you are living from a place of love it changes everything.

If you've been around my blog for a while, or if you know me personally, it's no secret that my husband and I nearly divorced in the first three years of our marriage. I may have cleaned the house and made dinner, but it wasn't out of a place of love, and I think the atmosphere of our home reflected that. A tidy home and a plate full of food can't cover up a twisted heart attitude.  I can tell you that the writer of Proverbs 15:27 knew what he was talking about when he wrote, "A vegetarian meal served with love is better than a big, thick steak with a plateful of animosity [ISV]."  Truly, love has a way of making a meal or a moment much sweeter.  Maybe that's why the Apostle Paul commanded the Corinthians to do everything in love (1 Corinthians 16:14).

In the beginning of my marriage, I did things for my husband because I wanted something from him. Maybe I wanted to feel good about myself  ("See what I did for you!").  Maybe I didn't want to feel guilty about something else ("I made you this meal, please don't comment about how much I went over the grocery budget!").  Maybe I wanted him to do something for me.  But typically, even though I often didn't realize my own intentions, I did things out of love.... for myself.

Honestly, that's how the first 20-something years of my life went.  I didn't even know God. I just tried to the things I thought He wanted me to so I wouldn't go to hell.  I missed the point. I missed Him.  And then Jesus captivated me, and I began a relationship with Him.... but at times I have veered off the path of loving Him.  I've done things because "He told me to," or because I thought they were good, and at times I've abandoned everything just to do what I want to do.  But He is so faithful to call me back to Himself. To abiding.  To true obedience.

And true obedience isn't doing, but loving.  There is a difference.  Loving involves doing, but doing does not always come from loving. The actions can both look the same outwardly, but the heart can be totally different.

Wow, this post is becoming a bit lengthy, isn't it?

My point in this all is.... this blog records much of my journey.  Some of it has a lot of the doing and the "good looks" and the trying and striving that isn't actually stemming from love.  And some of it is passion-induced, deep-Jesus-moment writings.  Then there's that stuff of pictures and randomness.

Maybe one day I'll have the time and energy to weed out the junk of it, but my prayer is that until then, you'll have the discernment to know what is which. Hopefully you won't judge me too harshly, because, hey, we're all on a journey!

I think we all need a reminder from time to time that it's okay to change your mind and change your perspective... because that's part of growing.  It's my desire to grow into a deeper and fuller relationship with Christ, and that often means letting go of preconceived notions, theories, and beliefs as I give myself to trusting in and agreeing with God.  There's mercy for our mistakes!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Little Big News Update!

Has it really been a year and a half since my last post?  That seems a little crazy.  So much has happened in a year and a half, and, well, I don't think I can even begin to "catch up" my blog.

If you follow me on Instagram, than you probably know all the news anyway, but if you don't, then here's the best bit of news to happen since my leave of absence:



We added another little one to our crew! We are now a family of nine.




Meet Jethro Fallon.  He's a month old now!



And Shiloh Mae (age 2) is now a big sister.  She's a super cute big sister who at first didn't want anything to do with Jetty, but after a few days she decided he's pretty awesome, and she should have the right to hold him all the time, any time.  I mean, he is pretty much doll-sized.

Jethro was 5 pounds and 13 ounces when he was born, but he's been gaining pretty steadily (although he still has chicken legs).  He's a super sweet baby, and we're glad he made his way to us!

I know you're probably wondering if we're done yet, because that seems to be the question we get the most.  We think that this is probably it.  Most likely.  I mean, seven is a great number.  I make no promises, but we're feeling pretty strongly that our family is complete.

Someone just loaded up his diaper, so that's my cue. I'm hoping to make more posts in the future, but... well, we'll see. Instagram has become my "blog" these days, so I hope you'll follow me there (@mcmandymom).




Friday, November 7, 2014

Abide. Know. Live.


I've come to the conclusion that I will probably never be one of those bloggers... You know, the ones with regularly scheduled posts filled with fun crafts, inspiring devotionals, and perfect snapshots.  I confess, that's not likely for me.

When I first started this blog years ago, I thought I had something to offer the world. I would inspire women to love God and love their husbands with my bloggy words. But the older I get, the more I grow in the Lord, the more I realize I have nothing.

And that's okay with me.

I am finding, seeing, truly coming into the realization that words are just words without the power of the Spirit behind them.  Even good words, lofty theological statements, encouraging advice, wonderful poetry... it's all for nothing if God's power, His immense love, isn't speaking them through me.

So I have come to a point where I see that I have nothing to write or say unless God gives me the words.  I have witnessed God speak a thousand sentences through one word. Yet I have often spoken a thousand sentences without a single word from Him. He does not need me to be crafty and witty and convincing. He does not require me to be a wordsmith.  His power goes beyond my ability to write well... or even write at all.

Sometimes I feel tempted to go through my blog and delete posts that, I feel, were inspired by legalism, not the Lord. Mine has been a journey where the Lord frees me over and over again from all sorts and flavors of legalism. I love it yet I hate it.

The voice of the Lord cries out to me, "Know Me!" and, in my past, I have often turned to the things that look like God rather than God Himself.  I am reminded of "The Love Chapter," 1 Corinthians 13:

"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."

Speaking in tongues. Prophecy. Spiritual knowledge and understanding. Faith. All things pertaining to the Christian life, but still... nothing, absolutely nothing, without Love.

And what is this love? This love that is patient, kind? This love that does not envy or boast and is not prideful?  This love that honors? This love that is not selfish and self-seeking?  This love that is not easily angered, but is long-suffering and forgiving?  This love that keeps no record of wrongs?  What is this love that takes absolutely no delight in anything even slightly evil, and always rejoices in truth?  What is this love that protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres continually without fail?

It is not a thing. It is not an emotion. It is a Person.

Love is a relational Being.

Love is Christ.

This love certainly isn't that which we humans call love.  Our human love isn't consistently any of those things.  Our human love is always self-centered, even when we believe it not to be, because it is always seeking to love from our own power, for our own good, for our own purpose. Our fleshly love deceives even ourselves. That thing we call love, it always boils down to one thing. Me.

Just as legalism always boils down to one thing. Me.

Who I am. What I do. What I think you should do. How I look. How I think you should look. What I think the bible says on any given subject. My theology.

That's where Jesus invades, in that place of me and my and I, and breaks it all down.

There Christ is, on the mountain with his disciples (Matt. 7), teaching those around him, and he says something that we often misinterpret.

Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. 
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’

Christ is the vine, we are the branches. He is the tree of life, we are the limbs that stretch forth from it. He is the good tree.  Branches don't really do anything in and of themselves.  The very nature of a branch is to grow and produce fruit, but not apart from the life of the tree.  The point is, the branches are connected to the tree.  They are in direct relationship with the tree. Cut off a branch and the life will quickly drain from it. It cannot sprout leaves apart from it's source of life, just as we cannot produce anything apart from our Source of Life— Christ.

It's about relationship.  Yet, in the past, I often read that and thought, "I must go forth and do good works!"

Jesus makes actually makes the opposite point in the second paragraph.  If we look at this from our mindset of "doing", it can seem like a contradiction.  There will be many who come to Christ on that day and say, "I did Your will! I did many good things for you, God! Look at my Christian works, Lord!"

How many times have I tried to stamp God's name on my works? My striving.  My good deeds.

But Christ says, No. Those weren't my works.  That was not fruit produced from the will of My Father. Who are you? You don't have a relationship with me! I don't know you!

How many times has God had to pluck off my taped-on fruit.  No Mandy. This not real. This is not life. This is not what I'm calling you to do.  Come to Me. Come follow Me. Come know Me.

When Jesus called to each of the men who would become His disciples, He wasn't just calling them to trail behind him and copy Him. He was calling them into an intimate relationship with Him.  Come get to know Me.  He was inviting them into His life.

So often I read Jesus's words, "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven," and thought His will was made up of my good, Christian deeds.

But now, I believe that His Will is found in John 15 (AMP)

Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing. 
If a person does not dwell in Me, he is thrown out like a [broken-off] branch, and withers; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and they are burned. 
If you live in Me [abide vitally united to Me] and My words remain in you and continue to live in your hearts, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. 
When you bear (produce) much fruit, My Father is honored and glorified, and you show and prove yourselves to be true followers of Mine.
I believe that all of Scripture, even the Old Testament, points us to a relationship with Christ, not the following of a law.  Even the law was meant to point it's followers to a relationship with God.

It seems that Jesus is saying to those people who did all the good Christian works in His name, "You don't abide in me. I don't know You. You are not part of Me. You are not vitally united to Me."

The Will of the Father is that we would abide in Christ, and by our abiding—by our life being swallowed up in His—fruit would be produced for the glory and honor of God.





I think I shared this before, but it's worth sharing again. My friend Lauren has told me, on more than one occasion, that I am just a hose.  We are just hoses for Christ. A hose is simply a conduit for running water. It cannot produce water in and of itself. It must be connected to the water source for it to be of any real purpose.

Likewise, we cannot produce anything without being connected to our Source.  That goes far beyond checking the box of "going to church" and participating in fellowship gatherings.  It means, moment by moment, second by second, being connected to the Lord and living from His strength.

There's always a temptation to live from our own strength.  There's a battle, our flesh wars against us to use it's own power, rather than live empty and open and needy.  But God doesn't work through our own "can do".  We see, in the bible, that He used men and women who were small.  The unlikely.  The runt of the litter. The man who stuttered. The needy women.

And the people who thought they were powerful and mighty?  He humbled them. Their pride often led to their own demise.  Their fullness of self was their own poison.

So it brings me back to the point of having nothing to offer.  And being okay with that.  Because where I am weak, God is strong.  The reality is we are all weak.  But it is only where we acknowledge our weakness and lay it down before God— no excuses, no more, "I think I can,"—that God swoops in with His power and strength for His glory.




Monday, October 6, 2014

To Live for You



"We labor under the false assumption that if we live perfectly everybody will accept us, while there was One who lived His life perfectly, and everybody rejected Him."
              -Neil Anderson, Who I am in Christ

 It's true. I do live under that false assumption. Even though I know that my Savior was rejected and abandoned by the very people He came to save, even though, deep down, I know that I can't please everyone, even though I realize the bible says I will suffer for doing right........

I really want to believe that I can make everyone happy with me.

But when Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, He's not saying we should be people pleasers. He calls me to look to Him, to rest in Him, to take my identity from Him.

Help us Lord, to live for You alone.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Enjoy the Dance


I often forget the Lord is my strength.  I'm too busy trying to be strong.  I'm scoping out the path, trying to figure out how I'm going to climb those mountains, move those boulders.

Sometimes I watch my little daughters dancing, princess gowns on backward, a scarf tied around a little head as flowing long hair, feet clapping against the flooring.  Their moves are anything but graceful, but they don't care.


They are enjoying the dance. 

They don't care how they look. They don't care if anyone is watching.


There once was a girl who loved to leap and dance and twirl.  She loved wrapping herself in blankets as make-do dresses.  She loved to sing at the top of her lungs songs she made up.

And then she grew up. She stopped dancing.

And then she had kids.  She had four little girls who reminded her that God must delight in watching His daughters dance and twirl, leap and spin, sing and rejoice.... like no one else is watching.

Singing and dancing to the one who is my strength, like a deer bounding here and there, leaping from one ledge to another. My focus on my Savior, rather than myself.

And I realize that the reason I so often repeat, "I can't" to myself (about any given thing) is because I'm busy looking at myself, but when I'm looking at my Father, nothing seems impossible. A giant leap is but a small step in His direction.

I've come to use that phrase often. Enjoy the dance. This is our dance, God and me, where the Lord has me right now. Often I'm panicking or fighting Him or trying to run away. I'm worried what people think or what it looks like... and all the time I'm resisting the One who is leading me.

Stop. Mandy, enjoy the dance.

This morning, as I stood in front of the bathroom sink, looking at myself in the mirror, heart heavy, I felt like He was saying, "Why are you looking around You for approval and love?"

The Lord is my strength.
He's my strength to stay free.
To stay focused.
To dance this crazy, awesome dance.

I may know He's my strength in the big impossibilities, but often I forget that really, my life is full of impossibilities without Him. Without Him, I'm left to look for love, approval, value, and meaning around me. It's impossible for me to enjoy right here, right now, without His strength, without His love. Without Him, my high places depend on how I'm feeling on any given day and whether it's a "good day" by my own standard.

I want to be in this dance. I want to press into my Savior. Where you go I go, Lord. I want to be in step with His Holy Spirit. I want to be so focused on Him, that it doesn't even occur to me to look anywhere else.