You work really hard…

…at your job, right? You put in your hours…sometimes more than 40. You’re there early when it’s required. You stay late when you’re asked. You do everything you’re asked, and you perform as you should, and one day, you walk in, and your manager wants to talk. The following conversation ensues:

Manager: Hey, I just wanted to let you know that you were eligible for a promotion, and the Vice President of our division wanted to hire you, but I told him that I just didn’t think it was a good idea.
You: [speechless]
Manager: Well, I know it doesn’t seem like the best decision for you personally, but it’s the best thing for the department. You understand, don’t you?
You: [still speechless]

You walk out, completely and utterly flabbergasted. You really thought that your boss wanted what was best for you. You thought he would always want to better you – even at the cost of the department or organization. Boy, were you wrong.

That sounds nuts, doesn’t it? Absolutely crazy. But, it happens every day – in workplaces all over the world. What’s even more unbelievable?

It happens in churches. Every. Single. Week.

You get saved in a church. You volunteer to work in a ministry. You go early. You stay late. You go on non-service nights for meetings and rehearsals. Then, when God has a promotion for you, and you’re audacious enough to accept it, you are bombarded with questions about your new church from all the folks from your old church.

Is it Spirit-filled?
Do they believe like we do?
Don’t you want to come home? You got saved here.

Stop it, people. Please. I beg you.

When mature Christians leave churches, it’s most often not an easy decision. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things we face as meat-fed believers. Mature Christians don’t leave churches because they don’t like the music, or because someone hurt their feelings by talking about them in the foyer one Sunday.

They leave because God is calling them higher. He’s calling them to be used somewhere else. He’s providing opportunities for them to be fed in a way they can’t be where they are. He wants to promote them in the Kingdom…not in a church. He wants so desperately to better them for the purpose of bettering others.

So, stop. It’s not your business to know what God is telling them. It’s not your choice where they attend church. It’s not even your business IF they attend a church.

You will not stand before God for their decisions. You will stand before Him for yours.

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Fear.

It’s a powerful thing. It can simultaneously steal from you and make you more creative than you’d ever be without it. It robs people of living a healthy, normal lifestyle. It creates nightmares that keep people bound every day. Oddly enough, fear is one of the only things that is not instinctual. It is a learned behavior. Don’t believe me?

Were you born with a fear of heights? I’d wager a guess that you weren’t. You probably loved it when your daddy threw you up in the air. Did you come out of the womb afraid of people from other racial and ethnic backgrounds? I highly doubt it. The Scripture is clear in 2 Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but of power and love and … wait for it … discipline. If God speaks of discipline as a paradox of fear, then it points even more towards fears being learned and not given to us upon creation.

Fear is not a characteristic in DNA. There is no such thing as a “fear” gene. However, the tendencies that cultivate fearful behaviors or create inherent anxious responses to the world around you are most certainly tied to those who raised you, both within your family and your spirituality.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church, and I remember as a child being fearful of Jesus returning and missing the Rapture. I was raised to believe that if I sinned, did not repent before I went to sleep, and died before morning, I would go to Hell. I grew up thinking that people who believed that their salvation was secure were heretics. I can’t count the number of nights I laid in bed trying to think of all the things I had done that day as a 10-year-old child for which I needed to repent. I truly believed those things much, much longer than I care to admit. I was taught that “holiness” and “works” were the way to keep my salvation. I was even taught to believe that people who did not believe the way I did were on their way to “a devil’s hell” and there was very little hope for them.

I tried extremely hard to keep up with that lifestyle for a long time. I tried to make sure that I repented of everything I did at the very moment I did it. Not because I truly felt convicted by the Holy Spirit, but because I felt condemned by the pastors and teachers I sat under.

Then, my world fell apart when I was in my late 20’s. My marriage was over. My child was diagnosed with a developmental disorder. I was flat broke with no job. And I began to see myself through the eyes of the church that raised me. If my theology held, I was dying and going to hell. And, that just didn’t sit right. Not because I didn’t think that I deserved hell. We all deserve hell. But, because I knew enough about God to know that He wasn’t some dictator sitting on a throne waiting to throw me into a pit of fire for my mistakes.

So, I began to dig, and I mean really dig, into the Word. And what I found was so eye-opening and so liberating to my soul that it almost took my breath away.

Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin are death, and that’s a paycheck you can take to the bank. It will always pay the same dividend. But, it goes on to say this: but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Then in Romans 11:29, Paul goes on to say that the gifts of God are irrevocable. 2 Corinthians 7:10 furthers that thought and says that Godly sorrow produces repentance which leads us to salvation, not to be regretted.

I’m going to say something that may be controversial, but it’s true. Truth is liberating. Truth sets you free. (The Word says that, too.) Here goes.

God will not take your salvation back. You cannot lose your salvation by not working hard enough or not repenting hard enough.

My best friend in high school died six weeks before graduation our senior year. I grieved him a long time; he was like a brother. But, worse, I agonized over his eternity. I had seen him kneel at an altar and accept Christ. But, I’d heard him cuss, and I knew that he had drunk alcohol during Spring Break the year before. And, because of how I was raised, I suffered thinking that he was in hell. I didn’t understand how the pastor who eulogized him could say that he was in Heaven. Shamefully, I agonized over that far too long. Thank God, I no longer let that keep me up at night.

My uncle Chad died at 29. I was 19. He lived a homosexual lifestyle for much of his adult years. On his deathbed, he told my Mama he had repented for the life he’d lived. At the time, that gave me a tremendous amount of peace. Now, I realize that him living a life contrary to the holiness God defines in the Bible is no different than the pastor who stands in the pulpit condemning saved people to hell when it’s clearly not Biblical.

It’s all covered under the blood of Christ that washed us clean at the moment of salvation.

James Stephens said, “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” What I find so ironic about that is I let men in pulpits dictate how I believed, and I lived a very fearful existence. When I began to get curious about what God said about things, the bravery to live the life God intended for me blossomed.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says…

…“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit]; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come.”

It does NOT say, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit] AND IS MADE PERFECT AT THE TIME OF SALVATION; the old things [the previous moral and spiritual condition] have passed away. Behold, new things have come.”

Salvation is instant, yes. Discipleship? That takes some time.

I have a friend who met Jesus as an atheist. She wanted nothing to do with God, and she had no desire to become a follower of His. Until she ran face-first into His manifest presence as a broken, hurting teenager. Until she found in Him what she’d been trying to fill with everything the world had to offer her. When she met Jesus, her sins were forgiven just like the sins of the 5-year-old that asked Jesus into her heart at an altar.

But guess what? Because nobody took the time to disciple her and teach her, she ended up living after she met Jesus the way she lived before she met Him. This is not a girl who was raised in church and therefore knew she was supposed to be different. She didn’t know the what the Word said about being in the world but not of it. We so often wrongly assume that once a person gets saved, that’s the pinnacle.

When we as Christians expect new believers to act like they have all the answers and have all their stuff straight, we immediately put them at a disadvantage. It’s our job as Spirit-filled, faith-led believers to encourage them, to teach them, to help them understand that receiving Christ isn’t the end of the journey. It’s just the beginning; a beautiful beginning that puts us all on the same path: the path to a relationship with Christ.

If you were raised in a…

“charismatic” or “full-gospel” church, you may have been in a service where a word was given by the Holy Spirit in tongues and then interpreted for the edification of the body. I don’t think that’s one of the spiritual gifts God has bestowed upon me, mainly because I’ve never given nor have I interpreted a word. I do, however, believe that God has given me the gift of worship and being able to worship and sing in the prophetic.

I’ve been in services before, both in and out of the pulpit, where I’ve felt very strongly that a specific song was needed to minister to a specific need. Other times, the promptings were more gentle in nature, but they’ve been true nonetheless. But, never in the 17 years that I’ve been in pulpits and behind a microphone, have I ever felt that urging as strongly as I did yesterday morning in service.

Because God has shifted my husband and I in our ministry duties for this season of our lives, neither of us are in the pulpit on Sunday mornings. So, for a split second, I hesitated, fearing being out of order in the service, and the moment was gone. It had passed just that quickly. (If you’ve grown up with a Spirit-filled Mama or Grandma, you know that fear of being a distraction or disruption while the Spirit is moving and working. That’s a deep-seeded fear that never goes away. 🙂) I immediately repented and thought that I’d disobeyed the Father.

But, then… (isn’t that just like God?) I was on the way to Eli’s school to pick him up today, and the song that I felt yesterday so strongly began to roll around again in my spirit. I began singing it aloud, and the Holy Ghost began to minister to me in a way that He hasn’t in some time.

I know that the song would have probably been right on time yesterday, but I also know that God had that song on my mind today “for such a time a this”.

What was the song, you may be wondering?

[He is here, hallelujah/He is here, amen/He is here, holy, holy/I will bless His name again/He is here, listen closely/Hear Him calling out your name/He is here, you can touch Him/You will never be the same]

He is here, folks. Whether you feel Him or not. Whether He shows Himself or not. He is present. Always.

Hasta,

Em

Worship is…

…enlightening, passionate, uplifting, my armor, awesome, warfare, strength, weapon, a way of life, my obedience, ammunition, spiritual armor, essential…

All these words hold a positive connotation with “feel-good” vibes. But sometimes, worship isn’t meant to make us feel good, at least not in the moment.

  1. Worship is transforming.
    You can not truly worship without being changed.
    Most times, change isn’t easy. Change, at least, in our personalities and lifestyles, can be downright annoying. Change also can be painful. The hardest part of change is that we will begin to look like what we worship.

    2 Corinthians 3:17-18 [17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (emancipation from bondage, freedom). {Isaiah 61:1-2} 18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord {Who is} the Spirit.]

    When we worship with unveiled faces, the mirror can reflect the problem or the problem solver. Very quickly, we can become changed into the problem we’re looking at or we can be transformed into the One we behold.

  2. Worship is expensive.
    There is no worship without sacrifice.

[Genesis 22:7 And Isaac said to Abraham, My father! And he said, Here I am, my son. {Isaac} said, See, here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt sacrifice?]

Isaac knew that something else was needed. You can’t worship unless there’s something on the altar. Where we often mess up is sacrificing something that really doesn’t matter much to us in the first place. Sacrifice at its root is a surrender of something worthy. If it isn’t worthy enough to keep, it’s not worthy enough to sacrifice.

But, by faith, Abraham went from that former glory to the next in his life.
Tony Miller once said, “God will not judge you so much for what you are, but for what you refuse to become.” Abraham could have refused to go up that mountain. He could have said “God, you have lost it…there’s no way I’m giving up the one thing that I waited 80 years for.”
It costs a lot to worship; things like time and effort are difficult enough. But when worshiping costs us our bad attitudes and gossiping and nitpicking about the song selection or how the band sounds this morning, that’s when it really gets difficult: when the Holy Spirit begins to convict and change you because of your worship.

3. Worship is hard.
There is no worship without trials.
When you are truly in a season of intimate worship with Him, that’s when the trials come to shake your faith and test your resolve.
Worship is familiar. It makes us “feel good” and makes our hearts lighter. But, God will take you away from everything you’re familiar with in the middle of trials. Nobody can climb the mountain of your trial with you. It’s your mountain.
In verse 5, Abraham called it worship. He knew the path laid before him and he knew what it held. He knew that he was going up the mountain with his son – his PROMISE – and was coming down without him. I don’t always know WHAT I believe, but I know in WHOM I believe, and I know He will never leave me on the paths He takes me. It’s hard sometimes, but God always provides when we worship in spirit and truth.

I might not be able to choose my storms, but I can choose my building materials. Worship is a cornerstone of defending the craziness this life throws at us.

Build the building and build it to stand.

Hasta…

for I know whom I’ve believed in…

I remember a song from when I was younger that always makes me think of a former pastor of mine. He could deliver a message that made you incapable of doing anything but paying attention, he was a great shepherd, but, man, oh man, could he sing. I don’t remember much of the song except the chorus, and it went a little something like this:

[But I know whom I have believed/and am persuaded that He is able/to keep that which I’ve committed/unto Him against that day]

I love songs and hymns that come straight from scripture. (If you do too, check out Shane and Shane.) The verse this song is based on is in Paul’s second epistle, or letter, to Timothy. This letter was an urging to Timothy to be strong in the Lord and in his faith.

2 Timothy 1:12 in the Amplified says this, “…for I know (perceive, have knowledge of, and am acquainted with) Him Whom I have believed (adhered to and trusted in and relied on), and I am [positively] persuaded that He is able to guard and keep that which has been entrusted to me and which I have committed [to Him]…”

Oh, to know that the One we believe in not only has knowledge of us, but we know Him, too. He doesn’t keep Himself hidden away but makes Himself available to us at the mere mention of His name.  And, to know that He has entrusted us with things is beyond my realm of imagination. The One who holds the universe in place trusts us with things. Big things. Important things.  Things like children.

You hear stories of children coming to their parents on the coattails of a promise from God. Maybe they had infertility issues and were restored; maybe they had other medical problems that prohibited conception, and they overcame them; maybe they simply had tried and tried to conceive to no avail with seemingly no extenuating issues present but then conceived. Eli wasn’t that way. It wasn’t a long, arduous process for me. We decided we were ready (ha!), and not even two weeks later, I was pregnant.

You hear stories of children born not breathing or with organ deficiencies. Maybe their heart didn’t pump enough blood and, then it started working; maybe their lungs weren’t quite developed because they were part of multiples or they were born early and, everything started working fine. Eli wasn’t that way. The biggest issue he had during birth was that his head was 13″ around, and he got kinda stuck. Yikes. :)

Fast forward to December 2013: we had moved back to Florence from Columbia, moved into an apartment in town, and things seemed to be okay. Except, Eli wasn’t talking a lot anymore. Mid-February, the apartment under the one we were in burned and our things only suffered smoke damage. But, the insurance company relocated us to a hotel for 5 weeks, and I’m not sure if you’ve ever lived in a hotel for 5 weeks, but it’s not fun. Add in a 20-month-old little boy who loves to run around and play but doesn’t understand why he can’t, and it’s REALLY not fun. It became clear then that the speech regression was here to stay.

This is where this all ties back in to the beginning. I promise…stick around. It gets good. :)

Several months ago, an evangelist by the name of Anthony Cole came to the Lake City PH Church where I grew up. He is an amazing teacher and preacher, but he operates heavily in the anointing of healing. Being raised Pentecostal, healing services were not foreign to me. Sadly, they had become normal to me, until that morning. He asked for anyone that would like prayer to come forward, and I went forward for my baby. Pastor Anthony prayed for me in Eli’s stead, and I felt at that moment that my baby would be whole and well.

After a couple months, I didn’t get disappointed, but I began wondering when God would bring to pass this promise He had given me. Then, Sunday morning, Pastor Brad delivered a message out of Jeremiah 29; a very familiar passage of scripture, especially the eleventh verse. He spoke of assignments and appointments and how we often let the enemy push us until we push back and move from the spot God assigned us to and then we miss our appointment. My appointment was the last two days.

Eli’s first day of day care was today at 2 1/2 years old. You can imagine how scared this little mama was when I sat and dwelled last night on the fact that I was leaving him with people I didn’t know, and he couldn’t come home and tell me about any of it. Then, as we were having a normal struggle about Eli not eating any supper last night, we had the following “conversation”.

Me: Eli, until you can tell Mama what you want for supper, you’ll just have to eat what Mama gives you. I can’t go through the entire refrigerator asking you if that’s what you want.
Eli: *blank stare* interpreted (by me): Mama…you’re killin’ me.
Me: Do you not want your chicken?
Eli: No.
Me: (completely taken aback) Then what do you want?
Eli: Cheese. (Pronounced sheeze, like sneeze. He’s so cute.)
Me: Grilled cheese?
Eli: *nodded his head*

This mama was BLOWN AWAY! I was so excited that we’d had communication, and I knew what he wanted!

God whispered so softly, “Daughter, THIS is the promise I gave to you.”

You see, putting my child in daycare because it is the best thing for him when it scared the living daylights out of me placed him in God’s hands. It gave Him my complete trust. My trust is solely on Him, my hope is completely in Him., and my baby…well, I’m looking forward to many more conversations with him soon.

get to know you…

You meet a new person, and you ask the normal questions.

“Where do you work?”
“Are you married?”
“Do you have kids?”

But, if you really want to get to know someone, you’ve got to ask deeper questions. I’m not saying ask how regular they are, or whether they floss. I’m just talking about questions that you get an answer to, but also lead you down a deeper, more intensive line of questions.

“If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? Why?” 

I think I’d want to meet my great aunt Lizzie. She is my maternal grandfather’s sister. I’ve heard some really cool stories about her as a kid, and apparently she made the best biscuits in the world. We all know how I feel about bread.

“If you won the lottery, what would you do with it?”

I’d tithe first, pay off all my debt, buy a few (ok, 15) acres and build a house, buy a new car, put $100,000 in a college fund for E, and with whatever was left, I’d take care of my family. Pay off my sister’s student loans, buy/build my parents a house, put money aside for Lizzie and Trey’s college, and buy my Mama her Mercedes she’s wanted for a while.

“What did you do as a kid that got you in trouble?”

My mouth. Hands down. I was a sassy little child.
…ok, ok. I’m still sassy. And, yes. It still gets me in trouble. Lord, help me. My child inherited my attitude.

“What story does your family tell about you a lot?”

When I was maybe 7 years old, my family went to Garden City for vacation like we did every year. We went to play putt-putt like we did often. My aunt was recording us on one of those humongous video cameras you had to sit on your shoulder. (We were cool.) It was my turn, and I got a hole-in-one. Everybody went nuts for a few seconds making a big deal out of it like I would totally do for Eli at that age, and my uncle said, “Hey, Em. I bet you can’t do that again.” So, what did Em do? I trotted my happy little tail back to the top of that hill, and I proceeded to get another hole-in-one. They stopped doubting me and my lucky purple Keds that day. :)

Wait on the Lord, and be of good courage…

Some things just absolutely blow my mind. Things like how if you really do wait on the Lord, he will renew your strength. Things like how God trusts US, mere sheep, with the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. Things like how I never really saw just how much I want to be like my mom in so many ways. Things like how I have no clue why in this whole wide world God would trust me to be a minister of His truth and His word and His gospel.

It’s overwhelming just how things are different than what you expect them to be. Waiting on the Lord is probably the one thing I suck at the most, but it’s the one thing that in the past few months has proven to be the most important thing. I’m the world’s worst at being patient. I absolutely hate waiting on anything. But, God’s shown me recently that waiting on Him to do the one thing you never wanted to wait for is far more rewarding than doing anything on your own. –That runs me into a small tangent, here. Let me just say that from experience, what the crap kind of egos do we as humans have to think that we know better than the Creator of the Universe?! I’m preaching to myself here, too, but come on people. Think about it. We are mere sheep. Sheep are stupid animals! We don’t know how to do anything but follow. But the one person we can’t seem to figure out how to follow is our Shepherd. Ok, let me quit and move on.

God trusts me. God trusts you. Wow. That’s enough right there to render me speechless. Yea, yea, I know. If you know me, you know that’s hard to do, but hear me people: God trusts us. The Maker of heaven and earth is ok with us doing His work. He knows what we’re capable of. He knows what we can’t bear. He knows how easily we take something super simple and screw it up. He knows our knack of becoming prideful and thinking that it’s all about us. Even though we’re dumb, even though we’re sheep that can’t even follow our Shepherd, He loves us. He loves me; He loves you. Abba Father has it bad for you. He wants a picture of you on His imaginary mantle. Man, that’s just awesome to me.

fresh start…

I started this blog years ago, and it’s been redesigned and even renamed a handful of times. This year, it is not my resolution; it is a personal challenge. I am devoting myself to taking time to sit down at least three times per week and write.

I love to write, and I think I’m pretty decent at it. But, life has definitely gotten in the way of writing as much as I’d like. I have a toddler. He’s 2 1/2, and he is my world. I’ve never been a working mom before, and now that I’m a working single mom, my world has been turned upside down. But, I have realized in the past 9 months that taking time for myself as a person (not a mom) isn’t the horrible thing some really believe it to be. It really boosts my morale. It makes me feel more like the woman I still am inside and not just a woman who cleans house and does laundry and keeps my child safe and well.

It’s December 30, 2013, and I’m excited about what 2014 holds for me.

Stay tuned…

Until,
Em

joy of salvation

Why do we have so much trouble and so many issues with keeping the joy of our salvation?

Hebrews 5:9 says this:

[9] And, [His completed experience] making him perfectly [equipped], He because the Author and Source of eternal salvation to all those who give heed and obey Him.

Just because you’re the creator of something doesn’t mean you’re the only source for it.

How many different companies exist to provide the world with cosmetics, televisions and computers all claiming to be the best at what they do? There are millions of companies, sometimes even within the same corporation, that claim their product is the best. It’s better, stronger, faster, smoother, clearer…you name it.

Not so with salvation. God created Jesus. Therefore, He created salvation. See, salvation and Jesus are synonymous. They are one and the same. There is no salvation without Christ and there is no Christ without God. Salvation is the only commodity that can only be purchased through one place: Calvary.

Salvation is not the absence of sin, but the ability to be cleared of that sin.

Going further into Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 1 and 2 says this:

[1] Therefore then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) cling to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us.
[2] Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection]. He, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Again, these verses point to Jesus being the center of our salvation. Because salvation ensures the ability to be forgiven, it’s important that we see in verse 1 where it says that we should get rid of every “(unnecessary weight) and … sin”. This is where Paul lets us know that there are things besides sin that cause us to not finish the race. Faith serves very little purpose when you’re off course.

Sin is anti-holiness, but the weight is the worldly things that are definitely NOT lightening your load. Sin can be forgiven. It’s the weight that makes us lacking and doing without.

If the purpose of something is unknown, abuse is inevitable. To find out the purpose of something, you must ask the creator. Why is our faith so difficult to find joy in? Why is it so difficult to keep the joy of our salvation? Because we don’t ask the Creator and Finisher of that faith. Personally, if God created the beginning and he has already written the end, how can I be so bold and arrogant as to not trust Him with everything between?

God can create your faith. But, he can’t make you have it or keep it. He’s the creator of faith, and in this situation, He is the only source for it.