No Longer Slaves

Fear causes us to react poorly in every situation. Addiction, codependency, anger, control and a multitude of coping mechanisms are  a product of fear. We fear the unknown so we take control. Of everything and sometimes everyone around us. We fear people’s opinions of us, so we cope with a thing called codependency or people-pleasing. We fear pain, so we escape with unhealthy ways of coping that develop into addiction. We fear loss of control, so we exhibit anger. This is how so many of us have moved through life: responding to fear.

But God sent His Son to pay the ultimate price so we could be called sons and daughters of God. Shed the identity that fear has enslaved you with and step into your true identity: a loved child of God. That title comes with authority and God-given power to walk out deliverance! Whatever your unhealthy coping mechanism is/was, that is no longer your master once you believe that God loves you and Christ paid for you to be FREE!

As we are moving into this new year, shed the old you and begin to put on the identity of a child of God! You are LOVED!

“But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.”  -John 1:12

Resolution Revolution

It’s that time of year again. You know. The time when we all come up with some resolution for the new year that we may or may not be resolved to maintain. But we do it because we feel obligated. Mostly because society says we should.

It’s a new year. A time for new beginnings and a forward-thinking attitude. Hopefully a positive one. We think of all we’d like to accomplish in the next year. Some of us may put a lot of thought and consideration into what our resolution will be. Others of us (like me) decide on a whim so we’ll have an answer when someone inevitably asks what our New Year’s Resolution is.

As I’ve been contemplating my New Year’s Resolution (a little late, I know), I’ve noticed that society would say that it should be to lose weight, fit in a smaller dress or get slim, trim and toned. Even Oprah told me last night on a commercial that we should both be working towards “our best body ever.” Yuck! My value is not based on the number on a scale. Oprah’s success has never been based on what size dress she was wearing at any given time. She’s getting paid to endorse a product. I get that. But that doesn’t mean I have to buy it!

I’ve been giving a lot of thought the last few weeks to what I’d truly like to accomplish and where I sense God is leading me in the coming year. During all this introspect, not once have I thought, “I need to be a size 2 in order to attain happiness and success this year.” I have, however, realized I need more energy to do everything I aspire to.

More importantly, my goal in 2016 is to be intentional in everything: family, career, and ministry goals. All of which require mental, emotional, spiritual and physical discipline (that scary word). Building character like integrity, perserverance, self-control and trust in God are far more valuable than losing 10 pounds!

I challenge you to not fall prey to society’s pressure for your new goals in this year. Instead, focus on God’s goals for you. Lean in to the areas He would want to develop you in. God has always been more concerned with the heart matters. Whereas society focuses on the external and visible. The grocery store magazines will tell us we need a “new year, new you in a size 2” but God says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” -Romans 12:2 [NLT]

Rather than setting a goal of enhancing your physical appearance (which is probably doomed to failure by February), set a goal to know and understand God. Choose something like memorizing one new scripture each week (that’s 52 in a year, in case you aren’t gifted at math). Or decide to pray/meditate each day. Take time to listen to God’s leading and follow that. Choose something sustainable that you can realistically stick to for the whole year, creating a new habit and deepening your relationship with our awesome Creator!

Comment below with your non-conforming resolution! I’m interested to see what you are aiming for.

Look Ahead

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” Philippians 3:13

As we embark on a new year, it is naturally a time for reflection. We look back at 2015 and determine whether we qualify it as a “success,” “failure,” or somewhere in between. We may have regrets, remorse or mourning in the last year. There may have been trials and pain. Or we may have victories, growth or gain. There may have been what I call “mountaintop moments” when you overcame obstacles and could survey how far you’d trekked. Or it may be some combination of the two.

Whatever the case and however you feel about the last year, it’s important to keep perspective. Imagine life as driving a car. It’s okay to glance in the rearview mirror occasionally and briefly. But don’t set your focus there or you’ll eventually crash. Look through the windshield. Keep your eyes on the road ahead.

In the verse above found in Philippians, Paul was sharing that although he’d had some victories in his ministry, he realized that he had not “made it.” He had the wisdom to know that he couldn’t dwell on his past, whether victorious or challenging. There were still things God had ahead for him to press forward and accomplish. And it is the same for all of us.

God has a plan and purpose for you in 2016! Forget the past (good or bad) look forward to what God has ahead. This is a time for great expectation and anticipation of a new year and a fresh start! This is an excellent time to step out in faith, trusting God’s divine purpose for your life. Focus on the direction you sense God is leading you and be brave enough to take steps towards that.


Leaving the Comfortable

I was walking across a parking lot when all of a sudden, it hit me: “I keep praying for things that will make me more comfortable and secure, but is that what God desires for me?” Jesus’ whole message was about stepping out of our comfort zones and pursuing selflessness and sacrifice. Jesus’ life exampled exactly that.

Like a punch to the gut, in the middle of that parking lot, God pressed in, “What are you doing for Me?” Here I’ve been asking for His blessings, success in business, more financial stability, and bigger, better things. But what am I willing to sacrifice for the kingdom? Am I willing to give up luxuries and comforts to be a good Samaritan in someone else’s life? Am I truly willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus and what does that mean?

I’m not suggesting we should break out the sackcloth and ashes. But I have been convicted recently of wanting more, more, more. However, God has called me to be blessed so I can be a blessing! I’m to be a conduit of His generosity. Not a miserly Scrooge, piling up stuff for the mere selfish pleasure of having stuff.

For the last few days, I have been processing and asking myself: “Am I honestly willing to say, ‘Here am I. Lord, send me?'” Whatever that means. Not qualifiers or exclusions. I don’t want to put a bunch of exceptions on the end. “Lord, send me… except to third world countries. And not anywhere uncomfortable. And not if I have to be poor and struggle. And not if I have to be single forever. And not…” I know God has called me (and you) to something specific to further His kingdom.

Like so many, I’d prefer to know all the answers up front. “Show me the big picture, Lord. Give me the full plan and then I’ll decide if I can agree to it.” But that is not at all how God works. That would not require faith or trust in His plan. Nor would comfort and complete security require our faith and trust in Him. The miraculous most often happens just outside of our comfort zone.

So today I challenge you to search your heart and begin to trust God’s plan for you… however uncomfortable that may be.

180 Degrees

“Jesus said, ‘But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.'” Acts 26:16

In Acts, Paul recounts his conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul had been traveling the region, persecuting, imprisoning and killing those who proclaimed faith in Jesus. But his world was turned upside down when Jesus showed up and told him He had other plans in store.

It struck me as interesting that Jesus not only stopped Paul in his tracks, but also chose Paul for a very important mission. I can’t imagine Paul’s confusion in that moment and the paradigm shift that happened shortly after. Paul went from being a Christian-killer to planting a large number of the early churches, writing two thirds of our New Testament, being imprisoned several times, and eventually martyred all in the name of Jesus Christ.

Jesus had a plan and a purpose for Paul. He knew the potential and ability that he had created inside of Paul. The point that hit my core was that God had a ministry and mission for Paul while he was on the road to Damascus in order to persecute Jesus’ followers. Try to wrap your mind around that. Jesus caused him to do a complete 180 degree turn in his life’s mission. Here Paul was, thinking he was doing good things for God by irradicating Christianity and in that exact moment, Jesus recruited him to be one of the founders of the faith.

Jesus is still doing that same miracle today. He shows up in the middle of our path of life, in the center of our sinfulness, and says, “You’re mine and I have bigger plans for you.” Stop and ponder the wonders He has done in your life, even when you were defiantly doing things your way.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8

Not a Gumball Machine

Every commercial that comes on the T.V. lately is Christmas marketing mayhem! Each toy is this year’s must have item. Every dolly and truck and Lego set we see in the store is a necessary item that my kids CAN’T live without! My children will periodically and randomly ask, beg and whine for a variety of gifts, toys and gadgets.

As easy as it would be to go overboard and buy them every thing they ask for, I realize as a long-sighted parent that giving them whatever their whims dictate is not the best thing for them. My desire is to cultivate grateful, servants’ hearts in them rather than a demanding sense of entitlement. We’ve all seen those children in Wal-mart (some days “those kids” belong to me). And we’ve seen an entire generation of “those kids” become selfish, demanding, entitled adults. I refuse to have my children contribute to the problem our society faces currently. Instead, I hope to raise compassionate, selfless, problem solvers. Being mindful of that goal (and my finite budget), sometimes I have to tell them “no” or “not right now.” It doesn’t mean I don’t want to bless them with everything their heart desires or that I’m a “mean mommy.” It means the heart issue is more important than the things. Maybe they need to work to earn the toy so they will value it more. Maybe I can see that it’s a frivolous toy that won’t satisfy them for very long. Or maybe they need to soften their hearts towards those who have far less. Whatever the reason, as a loving parent, it’s my job to tell them “no” and cultivate a heart of generosity and community consciousness within them.

How often do we behave like entitled children towards God? We pray for financial blessings, a bigger house, a nicer car, and other luxuries. God is a good, good Father. He wants nothing more than to bless us. I believe that with all my heart. But maybe our perception of “blessings” is off track. I find myself often praying “I want… I want… Give me…” Meanwhile, God has provided a wonderful home, nice vehicle and plenty of food in my cupboards. Yet I catch myself wanting more, bigger, and better things. Things that may be frivolous in the grand scheme of things and will not satisfy my soul. Our heavenly Father is far more concerned with our heart and how we are furthering His kingdom. That is something I can take with me at the end of my life.

A friend of mine and I were having lunch awhile back when a similar conversation arose. She equated this behavior to treating God like a gumball machine. “Put in a quarter; get out a gumball. Put in a prayer; get out a promotion. Put in a prayer; get out a new car. Put in a prayer; get out a million dollars.” As though God, the Creator of the universe in all his infinite wisdom is nothing more than a genie in a bottle or a gumball machine just waiting to grant our wishes or spit out gumballs. It sounds ridiculous put in those terms, but isn’t that how we act sometimes?

In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, talks extensively about how the accumulation of things and pursuit of the world’s idea of success is as futile as chasing the wind. I suppose I’m coming to that realization. Nice things are great and I’m certainly not condemning affluence or suggesting you and I should sell everything and live in poverty. I’m merely pointing out that maybe when we pray and ask God for whatever tickles our fancy, sometimes He may say “no” or “not right now,” because He is a good Father Who is developing each of us for His high calling.

Today, be content and grateful for everything the Lord has blessed you with. And instead of praying for a Christmas wish list, ask to be used for His kingdom.

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after thewind; nothing was gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:11

Paradigm Shift

With Christmas approaching, my typical American ten-year-old son is working feverishly on his wishlist. Most of it consists of trivial toys and fads. Some of it could be considered educational, like an erector set for building his own robot and more Legos (because the large plastic bin full still isn’t enough). But most of it is just plain frivolous.

We started reading a book together about people living in trash dump communities. I strongly recommend the read: “Witness: True Events from a Society Living, Working and Dying in Trash.” As we read the first few chapters together, he was shocked to learn that there are people in the world who don’t have adequate living spaces to shelter from the elements, clean water, or access to proper nutrition. He has been aware for some time of homelessness and poverty in general, but this was a new, real, tragic detailed account of communities surviving around public dumps. Worse than that for us to comprehend are the horrific injustices and crimes against humanity that are a daily occurrence in those impoverished areas. At one point, even though I was filtering some of the more violent descriptions, he said, “Mom, stop. I need a break. This is too much.”

We have had our struggles in life and there have been times when we had to “tighten our belts” to get through a few months. But it usually consists of backing off eating out and skipping the movies. We’ve been blessed to never be literally living on the street for any period of time. We did have to spend one night in the shelter after fleeing an abusive situation, which was definitely a perspective-changing experience. But we never had to dig through garbage for a meal or sleep under a bridge. Never once have I been faced with a decision to sell myself or my children into human trafficking to survive.

Immediately, my son and I, both heartbroken, started discussing “what can we do?!” We feel so far away and so detached from such societies. We talked about making a difference to the homeless and poverty-stricken in our own community. We even talked about preparing to take a mission trip to visit these communities and truly help and “get our hands dirty.” We’re making a list of things we can do now like supporting our church’s involvement with Trash Mountain Project by helping with care packages to be sent to these trash communities.

And then the conversation shifted to something incredible… My ten-year-old boy offered to relinquish his Christmas gifts. “With the money we could save on buying presents for us, we could send them soap and gloves and boots to help,” he suggested. We agreed that this year each of the kids would only receive one small gift from me. And for advent this year instead of drinking hot cocoa and watching “Elf,” we will do acts of kindness, serve the needy in our community and put together care packages for “the least of these.” As a mom, my heart swells for my son’s compassion for others and willingness to sacrifice.

Today, if you are content in your “cushy world” and don’t want your perspective of the world completely shattered, don’t look up And definitely don’t  read the above mentioned book.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40

Ugly Self Promotion

As women, we are taught from a very young age that self-promotion is ugly. We’re not supposed to brag about our accomplishments. Today while teaching a community education class to a group of female entrepreneurs, one woman pointed out how much more true that notion is towards christian women. We are expected to be submissive, quiet, meek and mild. While all those qualities are good, they don’t serve us well in the business world or in ministry.

This, of course, got me thinking. First of all, where did we come up with this idea?! At what point did we decide that a christian woman should be a mouse that disappears into the background? How can we be successful business women, mothers, leaders in the community and yet authentically live up to biblical expectations and christian character?

Allow me to present “Exibhit A”: Proverbs 31. This chapter of the Bible describes the godly woman that is the example for all of us. This is the bar that has been set. There are several apparent attributes to point out about this female standard: 1) She is successful in business. 2) She plans ahead. 3) She is well-known and has a good reputation in the community. 4) She embodies strength and honor. 5) She does not tolerate gossip and idleness in her household.

How could a woman acheive any or all of those characteristics while being a doormat? In fact, she sounds to me like the strong, independent woman so many of us aspire to be. Clearly the Proverbs 31 woman is an example of gentle assertiveness and humble self-promotion. I would even say this proves we are called to be leaders in our homes, businesses, ministries, and families.

God created each of us (men, women, and children) for a unique purpose. Part of fulfilling that purpose may involve letting people know what you do for work and/or His kingdom. Or when you do something wonderful that God has created you to do and someone notices, it’s okay to simply say, “Thank you.” It’s not egotistical or prideful to humbly accept a compliment. And self-promotion can be done in such a way that it is not prideful or conceited. Think of it as making others aware of what you do and that you’re eager to serve rather than “tooting your horn” if it makes you feel better.

Last week, I taught at Celebrate Recovery meeting. Afterward, I had several people approach me and pour out their hearts, saying how something I shared had touched them deeply. Several others complimented on how powerfully and eloquently I’d delivered the message. I caught myself starting to say something cheesy like, “to God be the glory.” I stopped myself and just said, “thank you.” I realized in that moment that God gets all the glory because my message pointed to Him and it’s okay to accept a compliment. My message was not powerful just because I’m a good speaker all by myself. God gave me the gifts, talents, abilities and anointing to carry out a specific task. When I use those gifts to honor Him, He is glorified. It’s not about me. It’s about the work He does through me. Saying “thank you” when someone says “good job” doesn’t discredit God’s power and anointing.

A mentor of mine who often has pearls of wisdom flowing from her very being told a group of women once, “We should take a cue from men. They enter the world with confidence. It doesn’t matter how much weight they gain or how they look compared to the next guy. They say, ‘Look at me! I’m a man, created in God’s image, and I’m awesome.'” She’s absolutely right. While we women are wasting time comparing our (unique) selves to the other unique women in the world, worrying if we’re the right size, shape or color and wondering how we’re being perceived, men are getting the jobs we want and filling some of the roles we were designed to perform.

Today, know that you are uniquely powerful as God created you to be. Walk in that by confidently speaking about what you do and accepting compliments graciously with a simple, “Thank you.”

“Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. -Joshua 1:7

The Rules of The Game

My background is in property management. I used to manage large apartment communities with hundreds  of units. Each year, I’d have to complete continuing education classes. As a property manager, I had to know the law around the Landlord Tenant Act. The main thing I got out of it was the law generally falls on the side of the tenant. So many times landlords would charge the dickens out of someone who would move out, or make human errors on the charges. But the majority of the time, the tenant would give up and say, “oh well. I’m stuck with that bill now.” They won’t question its validity or show up to a court date to appeal.

The majority of property management companies I know of have a strict “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.” If the tenant doesn’t ask the right questions, don’t tell them what the law is or how to remove false charges. They don’t want tenants to start figuring out that the law is actually in their favor. If they knew that, many of the charges and collections would be debunked.

We, as believers, often are like these tenants. So often we just accept things the way things are because “that’s just how it is.” The world beats us up and spits us out. The enemy puts false allegations against us. Thoughts of unworthiness and insignificance creep in. Miracles don’t seem to happen anymore. Maybe God used the miraculous during a time when it was needed in the early church (read Acts). But he must not use them anymore because we just don’t need miracles. The world just is what it is.

If we only knew that the “law” is already skewed in our favor. How differently would we live if we truly took God at His Word? What if we truly believed and behaved out that the enemy has been defeated? What if we truly understood that God is the same big, miracle performing, mind blowing God He was to the early church? What if we began to see that Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice so we could be victorious?! The rules of this life are stacked in our favor because that’s how God set it up. God doesn’t favor one person over another. The same miracles and favor He pours out on one, He freely gives to another. All we have to do is ask and believe.

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:57

Performance vs. Worship

Music is one of my passions. Few things can cut through to the very soul like music can. Music is powerful. It can bring a grown man to tears. Or it can stir feelings of joy.

In the christian community there are two major types of music. Both can praise God. Both can point to Jesus as Savior. Both serve a purpose in the life of believers. There is a time and a place for each. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial for church leaders, worship leaders and attendees. Just like when I go to a concert, I want to know what type of music to expect, so should it be in the christian music genre. Sure, the style varies greatly from venue to venue. One assembly may use traditional hymnals and an organ while another has a full band with electric lead guitars and words on a projector. Not all hymns are worship and not all contemporary songs are performance based. The style is impertinent really. Lyrics and posture are crucial.

Here are a few indicators of which type of music you’re listening to, leading, or singing. Performance lyrics talk about or to God. Performance posture makes the singer/leader/band the focal point. Performance puts on a show and strives for perfection. There are many wonderful and talented performance bands in the christian arena. They provide excellent entertainment while pointing audiences to Christ. However, worship lyrics speak to God. They should align with scripture and exalt God to His rightful place as Sovreign Lord. Worship posture makes God the focal point. Worship leads people into the presence of God and offers their best as a fragrant incense to the Holy One. There are several anointed worship bands currently. I use the term “annointed” because it requires far more than technical talent to lead worship. There is a calling and special choosing by God to lead worship.

Recently, I have played in bands of both type. In fact, once in the same night. The first band I sang with was the opener for the evening. The leader hoped to prove that he was a talented leader, worthy of a bigger stage. The songs he chose were to show off his skills as a musician and showcase his abilities. Not necessarily a bad thing. As we sang and exuded energy, I felt the crowd watching me. I had a keen sense that any sour note would be noticed. We were performing. The point of the song set was to entertain and create and energetic atmosphere. Moreover, we used tracks as filler music under the musicians which does not allow any deviation from the rehearsed song order.

The second band I played with was the near opposite. The worship leader had the intention of creating a space in the middle of the event that would usher people into God’s presence. She chose songs that spoke to God and gave Him honor for giving us a second chance, turning our messes into something beautiful as only God can. As we sang the songs, many people in the crowd had their eyes closed and hands raised in worship and reverence. I did not feel critiqued, but instead like an empty vessel for God’s use. There were no eyes on my and so there was no pressure to be perfect in and of myself. Furthermore, the worship leader did not use tracks so she had the freedom to repeat a chorus or bridge as she felt led. It required more attentiveness and skill from the musicians to follow her cues as well as hold their own musically without the assistance of pre-recorded tracks.

I would challenge you to discern which type of music you are listening to or leading. Is it performance or worship? Are you on an amphetheater stage or a church platform? Is the purpose of your venue to put on a show or draw people into the presence of the Almighty? Is your audience in the crowd or on the throne?

Sing out the honor of His name; Make His praise glorious. -Psalm 66:2