Tuesday, July 30, 2013

49 Shades of Gray...

I used to live in a very black and white world.

Being good was easy. Sin was easily discernible and just as easily avoidable. What was the problem, anyway? Why did people around me struggle with things that so clearly went against God's word? His way was best. Duh. "Just live it, people. Get your crap together. It's not that hard..."

Black and white.

Crisp, sharp edges.

I had it all under control from my perch on high. God with me, of course, getting the glory, because that's His thing. Sure, I  needed Him... that's what everyone told me at the church I grew up in, anyway. I knew better than to accept credit for anything on my own. That would be prideful, and pride was bad. Black and white. Snap snap.

Though I had it in abundance anyway. Pharisees are subtle like that. So subtle sometimes they don't even see it in themselves while waving their pointer finger at everyone around them.

But sure, I experienced God, worshiped Him, talked to Him. Things usually went my way, too. Me and God had an understanding, apparently. An unofficial, unspoken deal. I was the good girl, He helped me out on the stuff I needed help with. I was special.

But the past 6 months have been a washout of gray.

Blurred, shaded seams. Uneven lines.

Zero control.

Months of "Where are you, God?"

No more understanding.

No more deals.

Expectations shattered.

Just gray.

Endless gray.

Rock bottom gray.

The kind of gray that makes you wonder if you're crazy. The kind that tosses you down a rabbit hole and leaves you understanding poor Alice in an entirely different way. The kind that makes you realize the theology you swallowed on your sugary spoon wasn't enough. The kind that makes you realize you actually NEED Jesus.

The kind that stiff-arms you smack into the middle of a crossroads:

Go left, clutching the broken fragments of your life and heart, blood dripping down your arms from your refusal to let go of all the ragged edges, your determination to put it back together in your own desperate way welling in your spirit so strong it nearly suffocates?

Or go right, releasing every single, vital, priceless shard, trusting God to gather the pieces and make a mosaic in His way, in His time, while holding up your wounded hands to Jehovah Rapha to heal?

I stood in the middle for a long time. A really, really long time. The gray was suffocating, it was all around me, and I took several staggering steps down each path, which only served to make me dizzy.

All while still bleeding.

Because I didn't trust the doctor. I didn't like His instructions. I wanted to mend myself. I could do it. And do it a lot faster, too. See?

See Betsy bleed.

Doing it yourself leaves unnecessary scars. Just as you wouldn't demand to hold the instruments on the surgery table at the hospital and stitch yourself up, we can't demand the same from God. Because He loves you enough that He WILL hand you the supplies and let you give it a good shot before you cry out and hand it back, humbled, hurting, and finally ready to let Him do what He does best.

I had to choose my path. So do you. And not choosing is still choosing, friend. There's a default path, and it's the wide, slightly less intimidating left path.

I'm going right. Choosing life. Choosing surrender. Choosing to heal.

Because as much as right hurts, left is worse. Please trust me. I ventured far enough down in my staggering to assure you.

I don't know where your crossroads is today, and what path you're debating, but I can assure you, I know how hard the decision cuts. I know how hard it is to surrender those pieces of everything you hold dear. And you're going to have to do it more than once. Maybe every day. But God takes them every time you offer them, and keeps working on His masterpiece.

It'll be gallery worthy.

After all, He made that sunset you still remember because of it's glory. He made that snow-capped mountaintop you visited last winter and He made that galloping wild mustang you saw when driving cross country. He made your daughter's blue eyes and those rocks you sometimes see that are shaped like hearts and He made those sunbeams to shine just right around the clouds and give it that ethereal glow that reminds you Heaven is for real.

We can trust Him.

But I'll warn you. There's no black and white anymore. There's a lot of gray. 49 shades worth. Even on the right path, maybe especially on the right path. There's days the fog hovers so low you can't breathe. There's days you feel like it won't ever lift, that you're destined to be blinded by it all forever. There's days you want to sit down in the middle of the road, bury your face in your knees and just cry.

But you keep walking. Because if you're moving forward, you're one day closer to the breakthrough.

One step closer to freedom.

One moment closer to the unveiling of your masterpiece.

It IS there. If you go left, you won't find it. If you stop, you won't see it.

Press on through the gray.

Your mosaic will be worth the wait.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ohhh, if I could sing...

This is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard - Alison Krauss singing BE THOU MY VISION.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Life is like a box of chocolate???

I blogged today at www.girlsgodgoodlife.blogspot.com on the topic of Life Is Like A Box of Chocolates - Or Is it?  :)

Go check it out and leave a comment! :)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What's your excuse?

Sunday was a really good service, as I shared in my Jonah realizations from yesterday.

And something else happened during the praise and worship portion of the service, that still makes me teary.

Let me give some back story.

I'm part of a denomination that easily slides into legalism. Just a fact. I'm not bashing it, I'm still a part of this denomination because I feel my pastor at my current church doesn't do this, and mainly, because he preaches the Bible, and that's what it's all about. But as a whole, this is what I've watched and struggled against myself all my life. Especially in the expression of worship.

I'm not charismatic. If you are, SWEET :)  If you're not, SWEET :)  Not the point here. I'm just pointing out to you that at my church, sometimes during the music, a few people might stand or raise their hands at a given point. It's a FEW in a very large congregation. Yet every time that happens, I think, good for you! You worship. You obey the Lord's prompting on your heart. It's not distracting to me, it's refreshing. (And sometimes it's me doing the standing and the lifting!)

Usually, it's the younger generation that will break out of the box first. Middle-aged or younger, I mean. When a few start it, usually, eventually, the rest of the congregation will stand too, even the ones with the huffy looks on their face, like they're standing simply because they don't want to be singled out as the only ones who aren't. (That's so tragic)

At the service Sunday, a really powerful song was sung by our praise team, about the blood of Christ. It was moving, to be sure. I was feeling it.

And out of the corner of my eye, an elderly man jumps to his feet. I mean, he doesn't just stand. He stands. Intentionally. And so quickly, I'm surprised he didn't hurt his knees. He was WORSHIPING. Had to be in his 70's at least. And the peace and joy and adoration on his face brought me to tears. He didn't care what anyone else thought. He didn't care if anyone else stood. He wouldn't have known anyway, his eyes were closed worshiping.

A few others did stand later, but not the entire crowd. Not even half. Maybe a third or fewer. I couldn't take my eyes off him, or stop the grin on my face. It was one of the coolest thing I've seen in a long time. Because not only did he stand, and stand first, and stand so purposefully, he rocked back and forth. He raised his hands and then lowered them and then clutched them to his chest like he just couldn't express his worship enough. He couldn't get it all out.


I've seen that in teenagers. I've seen that in women and even men in their 20's, maybe early 30's. The occasional middle aged worshiper.

But never in someone his age. Never in someone wearing a stuffy suit and careening straight out of that generation of legalism and always having to do "what's proper" instead of what God put on their heart.

It was beautiful.

I was talking to someone about this very thing earlier this week, and they said how they often feel like if they don't raise their hands to God in worship or express their heart physically in some way like that, they might explode! Yet they sometimes still hold back, because they fear they might distract others. People might look at them instead of worshiping God for themselves.

I see that point. Really I do. But even with such a noble motive, disobedience to God is disobedience to God. It's still letting what others think mean more to you than God's prompting or instruction or opinion.

Some people hold back for fear of what others think, in the sense of having a fear of being embarrassed. We wouldn't encourage that line of thinking, right? But holding back because of being worried what others think, even in the sense of not wanting to distract from the worship, is still holding back.

Look at David - he danced in the streets and his wife got TICKED off. But he didn't care. His heart was pure and he was praising God.

And so was this little old man in the stuffy suit. Who, despite those binding tweed sleeves, was the freest person in the room.

So what's your excuse?

Monday, July 22, 2013

An accidental part two...

I blogged the other day on Jonah (http://www.writergetsreal.blogspot.com/2013/07/sometimes-freedom-comes-covered-in-vomit.html) and guess what I realized when I walked into church Sunday for the first time in a few weeks?

My pastor is doing a new sermon series on Jonah.

My Holy Spirit radar perked. And wow, did He point out some things to me during that sermon.

Jonah isn't a long book in the Bible, in fact, in my Bible, it takes up not even two full pages of text. But it's rich. It's deep. And the analogies can go on for days if you open your heart to it.

My pastor was preaching Sunday on how salvation is the Lord's. He had some excellent points, like about how Jonah prayed his sincere prayer of repentance WITHOUT KNOWING that God was about to have that fish spit him out. Jonah didn't know salvation was coming. He did the right thing anyway, thinking he was likely about to die and had really screwed up big time. He didn't know his second chance was right around the corner.

"And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry ground." (I really would have loved to have listened to that conversation!)

Our pastor also pointed out via a map how when Jonah ran from the Lord's instructions, he literally went the opposite direction of where he should have gone. Instead of going north east to Nineveh, he ran
south to Joppa and was trying to hightail it west to Tarshish by way of boat. Jonah pulled a straight 180 in his disobedience.

We were told of a quote from an evangelist "When a believer runs from God, Satan always has a taxi ready." The devil is always ready and eager to help a soul run away from the Lord. This doesn't mean he's in control instead of God, but it sure enough means he'll do whatever he can to help aide us in our disobedience and taxi us further away from God's will for us. Not to say God can't take us right back the right direction, but sometimes, that re-routing involves the belly of a fish.

I'd rather obey the first time...

He also pointed out how Jonah's disobedience ultimately stemmed from self righteousness - he was SO loyal to his patriotism, to his "faith", that he didn't want to see Nineveh repent. He KNEW that if he went and preached, they'd turn from their wicked ways, and in his own "Prodigal son's brother" way, he didn't see how that was fair. They didn't deserve grace, in his misguided opinion.

It's that easy to be that wrong. Even as a follower of God.

(See what I mean? ALL of these topics could be blog posts by themselves! Full sermons by themselves! So much here!!)

My pastor also pointed out something I'd never considered before - how in Chapter 1, the sailors that were taking Jonah to Tarshish, were scared. They were FREAKING OUT, all praying to their various gods, to save them.

While Jonah slept in the middle of the boat! They had to go wake up him and ask him to pray to whoever his god was. All of this I've read before, but as my pastor pointed out, these were SAILORS. These were men who had surely weathered (haha) storms before. There was clearly something about this storm that stood out to them as particularly frightening. They must have sensed the supernatural element to it. Which was true, because as verse 4 says, "The Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break."

God doesn't play around. The movie The Perfect Storm had nothing on this beast. The sailors were, as my dad joked, probably looking around for the Cracken. (Pirates of the Caribbean reference!) This was intense. And they knew it. And these tough sea faring men were scared to death.

So in a nutshell, to finish the story, they cast lots, and realize Jonah is the one at fault, and he finally confesses he's a Hebrew and a believer in the most high God, but is running from Him at the moment. (Oops) He eventually says "Look, guys, just throw me overboard, and it'll stop." The sailors didn't want to, they tried to keep rowing, but quickly see they don't have a choice. So they ask God to forgive them of the manslaughter they're about to commit, and reluctantly hoist Jonah into the giant waves.

Here's where my heart races. Here's where I get excited. My pastor didn't touch on this particular topic I'm about to share at all, but the Holy Spirit nudged me so hard at this, that I almost came off the pew.

Jonah 1:15-16

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.

Do you see it?

Those sailors became believers. 

If Jonah hadn't disobeyed and ran away in straight rebellion from God, he wouldn't have met those men. They wouldn't have experienced all they'd experienced, and wouldn't have come to be follows of God themselves. They made vows to the true God, and turned from their flimsy false gods that hadn't helped them during the storm at all.

Because of, essentially, sin.

GOD CAN USE ANYTHING. GOD CAN RESTORE ANYTHING. GOD CAN REDEEM ANYTHING. Any situation. Any sin. Any mistake. Any regret. He can (and WILL!) use it all for His glory when repentant hearts get involved.

Which is such a perfect tie-in to the post on Jonah I blogged the other day. When we're on dry land and reek of fish-bile, we can bask in the realization that God won't waste a minute of it. He can take our slimy, smelly, fish-vomit remains and save souls. Impact lives. Touch hearts. IN SPITE of us. In spite of our sin. In spite of our mistakes and regret.

Maybe even BECAUSE of them.

He's that big. And He cares that much.

That all excites me so much I'm practically throwing Pringles just typing this!

What do you think?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sometimes, freedom comes covered in vomit.

Sometimes freedom gets a little messy.

For Jonah - literally.

You all know the story. After Jonah disobeyed God and ran from His direct orders, he was swallowed up by a giant fish and taken down into the deep.

There's a lot of humility to be found in the bottom of the sea, in a belly of a fish.

Jonah found it.

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight;
yet I shall again look
    upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
    the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
    at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
    Lord my God.
When my life was fainting away,
    I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.
Those who pay regard to vain idols
    forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
10 And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.
That last line is what grabbed me today. Sunk into my heart and nestled in with a few prickly barbs and a crystal clear analogy, so clear and adrenaline-pumping, it was as if God tapped me on the shoulder and said "go blog that."
(Um, "Yes sir". I just read about Jonah disobeying! Not going to delay)
I'm not entirely sure what fish vomit looks like, and since I'm eating donuts at the moment, I don't necessarily want to camp there too long ;)
But I do know that being vomited onto dry land had to be pretty disgusting. Think about what else was in the belly of that fish. It wasn't equipped with a couch and an X-Box and an ottoman. There was probably other fish - dead or alive? Maybe bones? Misc. trash? Water, I'm sure. Think of the smell. The bile.
Think of the process that had to physically happen for Jonah to be puked up on dry land. 
Sometimes, freedom can get a little messy.
Where is your fish belly today? What areas in your life have sent you running from God and gotten you swallowed up and trapped in a really smelly situation? 
I've been there. Quite recently. So recently, I'm still trying to shower off the fishy-smell, actually.
Because when we as believers demand our own way, and act as if we know better than God, there are consequences. And God loves us too much NOT to stick us in the belly of the fish for a while until we get our perspective right. 
The process isn't fast. It isn't easy. And even when we find the freedom from it, we might smell like fish vomit for a while. 
But it's still freedom. Being free and whole and standing on dry land, yet needing a little cologne, is a LOT better than staying-trapped-in-the-fish-guts-of-sin. Trust me. 
So where are you today? It's one of several places. 
1. Are you hearing and obeying God's instructions?
2. Have you already heard and are running in disobedience?
3. Are you currently IN the fish?
4. Or have you just been puked up?
If you're in #1, please don't run. Whatever the message God is calling you to do (or not do), LISTEN. Go to your Ninevah, already. Trust Him, even if the message seems crazy or dangerous or unfair.
If you're in #2, STOP. Repent. Turn. Confess. Quit it, already, and redirect your route. That fish is swimming your way, friend. You don't have to go there. Don't make yourself go there!
If you're in #3, I'm so, SO sorry. I know what that smells like. But there's hope, just like there was for Jonah. Compose your own prayer to God, and repeat my instructions in #2. It's never too late to turn and get it right. 
And then, well, brace yourself, friend. Because dry land is coming, and it's not an easy transition. 
But it's just a transition. 
And you won't stink forever. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lessons from a Chick Flick

So last night, in my PJs, alone with a frozen pizza and a Coke Zero, I had my own little girl's night and watched "Confessions of a Shopaholic".

Ever seen it? :)  It's a really cute movie (based off a fiction novel) starring Isla Fisher (love her!) about an incurable shopaholic (16k+ in store credit card debt!) who somehow ends up writing a financial column in a big money magazine in New York. It's the typical, but always crowd-pleasing, plotline of "secret opposites" (you know the type of stories - the "never been kissed" romance author, or the divorced marriage counselor, etc.) Always lead to great conflict! And are usually hilarious.

Fabulous movie.

Anyway, I bring that up, because there was something the heroine said that stuck with me. She was asked why she shopped, and she panicked, unsure what to say, unsure how to put her problem into words. She'd been justifying and making excuses for so long, she wasn't sure how to proceeds.

Then the person asking (someone she cared about) demanded she just tell the truth. Right then. No thinking, no plotting, no excusing. Just honesty.

So she blurts out the truth for the first time. And she tearfully says "I shop because when I do, the world is okay. But then it's not. So I have to do it again."

Wow. Let that sink in.

What an analogy for the sin in our life.

I'm not even going to drive this point home further, because there's no need. Just marinate there ok?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A note from Stasi Eldredge

LOVE this post from Stasi Eldredge on her blog:

Stasi writes:

Remember the saying, "It's summertime and the livin' is easy"?  What happened to that? Somewhere along the line, I came to believe that when official "vacation" began, it meant that all of life went smoothly. Where do I sign up for that vacation?  And where did I get that ridiculous idea?
I'm laughing at my so-hard-to-satisfy self because when I look out the window, it's absolutely gorgeous. It's so green!  The sun is shining!  The clouds are amazing!  My petunias are not only fragrant, they are flourishing!  Okay, so the deer ate my tomatoes—oh well.  Yes, they also ate my roses and my pansies and...still, it's SUMMER!  And though the livin' ain't easy—life does go on after all—if I but have the eyes to see it, it's splendid.
Things happen on vacations.  They certainly happen on ours.  In past years, we've had four flat tires (in one day), emergency room visits, capsized canoes, bee stings, car crashes, the onset of hypothermia, a canoe flying off the car, near death experiences (mine), relational tension, and emotional upheaval.
Just your normal stuff.
So, our official vacation begins next week, and I feel the temptation to brace myself not only for disappointment but potential crises in faith.  
Let me just take a stand in advance and say "no."  No to that.  No to allowing my faith in God, my love for my family, yield to the wayward happenstances of life.  God is good.  I love my family.  My job today—and next week—is simply to stay in the Truth.  (Yeah, I know, easier said than done.  But still...that's why we have the Holy Spirit to help us.)
Honestly, my only job today and next week and, well, forever is to follow him.  Follow Jesus.  Actually, God's word to me this year is "follow."  And that is all I want to do.  Follow him.  Faithfully.  Honestly.  Not get ahead of him or side-tracked or too far behind.  I'd like to follow closely—catching his wind and having that pave and ease my way.
Two days after returning from our vacation, I'm running in my first 5K.  I've been doing the couch potato to 5K thing this summer.  God invited me to do it, and I said yes.  We (meaning me and him) began week 9 today (the last week).  I haven't run in 30 years, so it's kind of amazing.  Often, I sense him running right next to me and sometimes pushing me up hills.  It's fabulous timing.  The parallels are not lost on me.  See, Jesus is continually inviting me and all of us to follow him and to do things that seem beyond ourselves.
Becoming Myself: Embracing God's Dream of You comes out in a couple of weeks. Writing it, living it, and all that has gone into it has required more than I could have imagined back when I said "yes" to God's invitation to do it.  And God is faithful.  He has given and continues to give me all I need.  Rain or shine.  Capsized or floating.  And all I need, all we need, is to stay tucked deeply into his heart.  Following. 
"Follow me," he says.  "Yes, God," we respond.

* * * * * * Betsy here again - I can't wait to hear this woman of God speak in October at the Captivating Advanced event in Colorado  :)   The Captivating retreat I attended in March was so unreal...well actually, it was one of the most "real" things I've ever experienced! If you haven't hooked up with the Ransomed Heart ministry yet, please visit their website and get connected. So many blessings there. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

If I didn't have you...

Music has sort of been a Thing for me lately, and I absolutely love this song. It's a country song, not "Christian", but I've been seeing so much allegory in the secular lately. This song could easily be sung to Jesus, if one had the heart to. Plus, this video is just so SWEET. Check it out.