Freedom Friday: The God Who Protects



I’ve written a couple of blog posts on the character of God. I’ve also done 2 posts on the theme of “The God Who” (bends & sustains are past favorites) and will continue that today with The God Who Protects.

I wrote in the Monday Morning Meditation this week about the following verse:
“He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”
Psalm 91:4
Before we dive any more into the concept of God as protector, let’s revisit some questions I asked in Monday’s blog post.

What do you wear as armor?

Do you self-protect, or allow God to be your refuge and tower of safety?

I tried to protect myself for much of my life. I thought I could be safe if I were skinny. When that garnered too much attention, I gained 50 pounds. That didn’t work either. Pushing people away with my behavior only left me hurt and desperately lonely.

“The LORD protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.” Psalm 116:6 (NIV1984)

I tried to protect myself by hiding. Hiding my feelings, my fears, my struggles and insecurities. This would eventually backfire, as I’m an external processor and everything I tried to keep in would burst forth like a beach ball held under water.

“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” Psalm 32:7
(NIV1984)

I continued to try to self-protect while following Jesus. I thought, “I can’t tell anyone about same-sex attraction, the fact that I self-injure, or that I hate myself on a regular basis. I’ll project the image that I have it all together so no one questions me.” This facade is not something that I could maintain healthily for lots of reasons, the bottom line being that God didn’t want me to protect or trust in myself.

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.” Psalm 91:15 (NLT)

How have you self-protected? Maybe more importantly, why?

Stop and think about your fears. What would happen if you chose to allow God into all areas of your life?


Grab your Bible and look up some of these psalms I’ve quoted. Consider what they have to say about God’s protection. Ask Him to reveal the ways you have tried to protect yourself, and be willing to lay those down. Ask God’s forgiveness for your unwillingness to believe He is able to preserve and protect you, and trust Him to care for you in the area of protection.

“He is my loving ally and my fortress,
My tower of safety, my deliverer.
He stands before me as a shield and I take refuge in Him.” Psalm 144:2

The God who protects.

Monday Morning Meditation: His Promises as Armor & Protection

In the last few weeks, we’ve talked several times about God’s promises, and I thought this verse was a great follow-up.

“He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”
Psalm 91:4

When you read these Monday Morning Meditations, I strongly encourage you to go read the whole chapter or portion of scripture that the verse is taken from. Breathe, read and soak it in.

A few weeks ago, we read about how God’s promises are backed by all the honor of His name. Then last week, we talked about God standing before us, as a shield in battle. Now, we read that His promises also serve as our armor and protection.

Stop and think for a minute: what do you wear as armor? Do you self-protect, or allow God to be your refuge and tower of safety? (We will talk more about those questions this week in Freedom Friday.)

His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”

This is prefaced by the psalmist talking about God covering and sheltering us with His feathers and His wings.

God is giving us a word picture. What I hear God saying is, “I’ve got you covered. My promises have got your back.”

I don’t need to protect myself. God’s faithful promises will take care of that.

The psalm begins:
“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.” verses 1-2


Trust. Safety. Refuge. Resting place.


Whatever challenges you are facing today, remind yourself that God’s got this. He has you covered.


His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Amen.

Note to readers: I am currently reading the Life Recovery Bible. The NLT seems to have slight differences there when compared to the NLT at Biblegateway.com.

Freedom Friday: Invest in Intimacy

If you Google “intimacy with God”, there are 576,000 results. That’s a lot of people who are thinking about what it means to have an intimate relationship with our Creator. They want to know what this is, what it looks like and how to get there.

Think of someone in your life with whom you have an intimate relationship. I’m speaking of emotional intimacy, not physical intimacy. How did you develop that intimacy?
Time.
Time, time, time.
And then some more time.
I know. I saw you cringe; you wanted an easier answer. But it’s true.
How did you develop an intimate friendship with someone? You spent time with them. You invested life in them. You were intentional about making space for them in your life. And it took a while, right?
Developing an intimate relationship with Jesus takes time and effort. We need to grow not only in our knowledge of God, but in the ways we relate to Him.
“You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.” Psalm 139:3 (NASB)
God is intimately acquainted with our ways, and wants us to be intimately acquainted with His. How do we do this? Here are some possible ways to develop intimacy with God.
1. Read the Gospels.
One way we can invest in intimacy is to see how others invested in intimacy. How did the disciples develop their relationship with Jesus and how did Jesus develop His relationship with the disciples? Notice what both Jesus and the disciples say, see, experience and feel in the gospel accounts. Put yourself in their shoes as they walk along. Notice the things that Jesus says about life with Him and what it looks like. Notice the ways that Jesus reflects our Father.
2. Practice stillness, silence and solitude.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10
Make it a practice to sit quietly during your intentional times with God. Listen with expectation. Wait. Pause. Breathe.
Consider taking a silent retreat. Or create intentional times of solitude in your daily life. We read in the gospels that Jesus did this.
“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 (NIV1984)
If He needed it, then we certainly do to.
3. Talk to God.
Talk to God? Do I mean “pray?” Yes & no. Talking to God is part of prayer, but I think prayer for us can sometimes look like giving God our laundry list of daily requests or crying out in a time of desperation.
This is not what I’m talking about.
Think of it this way. Imagine a good friend of yours, someone you speak with regularly. Imagine your day, the things you text to each other, or the funny stories that remind you of this friend.
Now imagine that friend to be Jesus. Talk with Him as if you were talking on the phone with that friend. Tell Him the funny stories or the little things that happen. Share with Him your thoughts, dreams and fears. Pause and listen and wait for His response.
Our God is a jealous God. He desires to work and reign in every area of our lives. Ask God to open your heart and reveal to you areas where you need to draw closer to Him. We need to be jealous of our time with Him, just like we intentionally carve out time for a friend, a spouse or our kids.
Pause. Talk to Him. Read about Him. Listen. Invest in intimacy.

Monday Morning Meditation: He Stands before me as a Shield

Psalm 144 begins:

Bless the Lord who is my rock.
He gives me strength for war & skill for battle.
He is my loving ally and my fortress,
My tower of safety, my deliverer.
He stands before me as a shield and I take refuge in Him.

I’ll be honest. This former pacifist used to shudder at some of the war imagery in the Bible. Now I realize that much of life is a battle. We are bombarded on every side with temptation, challenges, stress and trials. And if all the external struggles weren’t enough, the Bible describes the battle that is raging in our minds in 2 Corinthians 10:

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

This psalm says that God, our rock, gives us strength for war (big picture) and the skills we need for each battle (little picture). He doesn’t leave us unarmed and unaided to fight in this life alone. Not only does He gave us strength & skills, He serves as our ally, our fortress, and a tower of safety. He alone is our deliverer.
But possibly the most powerful imagery for me in this passage is of God standing before me as a shield.
I’m more apt to be found stepping out in front of God rather than allowing Him to shield me, or running around, aimlessly, without direction.
That is not how God wants us to react to battles. God’s desire is to protect me. But in order for Him to do that, I need to choose to take refuge in Him.
We may be at war at times, but we have a mighty deliverer who has called us by name and said, “You are mine.” He desires to serve us our ally, a place of safety.
Choose to take refuge in Him today.
Note to readers: I am currently reading the Life Recovery Bible. This Bible’s NLT seems to have slight differences there when compared to the NLT at Biblegateway.com.

Freedom Friday: Living a Healthily Transparent Life

Is my life healthily transparent?

This question popped into my mind this week. I had listened to a leadership teaching on finding the balance in being healthily vulnerable and transparent, and it brought to mind how much I have changed.

If you had met me 13 years ago, by the end of our first few months of friendship (and possibly the first few minutes), I would have likely shared what a challenging life I had, all of my current struggles and all the things I thought I had overcome. This would have included intimate details of trials, abuses against me, the many therapists I saw, and tons of “woe is me” moments.

Within a few months of becoming a Christian, I became much more guarded, to the point of hiding. I lived in terror that people in the church would think I wasn’t a real believer based on the things I thought and struggled with.

Recalling all this made me ask the question: how do we go about finding a healthy balance of transparency and privacy?

1. Know Your Own Worth.
As believers, our worth is defined by the cross. It’s not defined by anything we’ve accomplished, but rather, by what Jesus accomplished.

Sometimes we hold things too tightly to ourselves because we are afraid. Afraid of being “found out” as a fraud (as in my story about my resurfacing struggle with same-sex attraction in 2005). Afraid of being rejected. Afraid…..of the unknown, as I discuss in this blog post.

Some of these fears are certainly warranted. The world is full of imperfect people who may respond imperfectly to whatever you share. But when your worth is defined by the cross and who God says you are as His adopted child, it allows us to respond in a healthy and godly way to any real or perceived rejection or “brush-off”.

Other times, we hold things too loosely. When I became a Christian, I visited the Christian group at the college I was attending and was invited to Bible study. The Bible study leader invited me to lunch beforehand, to get to know me better. Oh, boy, was she in for a surprise! I told her all my business and then some! In fact, I shared so much that she asked one of the other group leaders who knew me better, “Is Brenna always that open?”

I did this because I was so sure she would reject me for my sordid past that I figured I might as well get it over with first thing. Her response? “OK! Bible study is at 5 PM on Tuesdays. Can’t wait to see you there!”

As you can see, oversharing and undersharing can be two sides of the same coin and are often rooted in the same fears. Knowing our worth needs to be the foundation of who we are and how we live. It helps us to have wisdom and discernment in the choices we make about sharing life with others.

2. Know the Worth of Others
Often times, we talk about “normal people” and put those people on a pedestal. We think that “normal people” wouldn’t understand our struggles, or will judge us.

No one is normal; “normal people” only exist in our imagination. As I heard someone once say, normal is a setting on the dryer. Everyone has something that they’d rather others not know. The ground at the foot of the cross is level. The same blood that was spilled for you was spilled for all those “normal people”.

Another thing to consider is how you react to others sharing. If you are asking people to accept you “as is” without judgment, are you willing to do the same?

3. Strive for Balance
We will make mistakes as we try to find the middle ground in healthy transparency. There are some questions we can ask ourselves as we try to be balanced.

If you tend toward sharing too much of yourself too soon, ask yourself: has this person earned the right to this information? If you just met them, the answer is likely no. Trust is built with time, and the more intimate details of your life should be shared with those who have proved themselves to be trustworthy.

If you tend toward sharing too little, ask: am I holding this information back due to fear? Is what I’m feeling the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but I’m not responding due to my own insecurities?

I now try to live with healthy transparency. This is my life, and these are my stories. I can choose to share them, or choose not to. I try to live with a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and an openness to sharing parts of my life and journey if that might be helpful to someone.

Are you living your life with healthy transparency today?

Monday Morning Meditation: Overflowing Hope

Could you use a dose of hope today?
I could.
Romans 15:13 is a challenging and inspiring verse on hope:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The progression of this verse has been really encouraging to me lately, so I thought I’d share it with you this morning. Let’s read it bit by bit.
“May the God of hope…”
Notice first this is phrased almost as a prayer. “May the God of hope..” This is one of many almost-prayers in the book of Romans, and even in this chapter. Paul seems to be praying this verse for the readers of the letter.
Second, notice that God is called the “God of hope.” This Greek word, translated “hope”, appears 8 times in the book of Romans, and 48 times total in the New Testament. In Romans 5, Paul says that “hope does not disappoint,” and this particular hope is brought about by the character building that comes through suffering and trials.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him….”
I consider this bolded portion to be the heart of the verse: as you trust in Him.
The joy & peace come as we choose to trust…. and choose to trust again…. and choose to trust again.
I just talked about this in Freedom Friday a few weeks ago. Choosing to trust God has been such a big part of my journey, as I did not truly trust God for much of my Christian walk. My trust of God depended on my circumstances, my perceptions of what He was doing, and my speculations concerning His character.
A turning point came when God asked me to trust Him, and I realized that while I believed I was trusting Him, my actions and thoughts showed otherwise. At that moment, I realized trust is a choice. It cannot be dependent on what I see or how I experience life. It needs to depend solely on His character.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
By the power of the Holy Spirit (the same power that was exerted to raise Christ from the dead, according to Ephesians 1:19-20), overflowing hope is possible as we choose to trust.
I challenge you to choose hope this week. Choose to trust in the God who made you. Believe that overflowing hope is possible. Because He cares for you.

The Bible verses above are quoted from the NIV1984 translation.

Freedom Friday: You Have Not Because You Ask Not

Have you noticed any patterns in your life lately?

Themes concerning which God is dealing with you?

I’m in the midst of reading 2 Kings in the Bible and starting on the New Testament, beginning with the gospel of Matthew. The topics of prayer and petition has been coming up quite a bit, especially as I read the Sermon on the Mount.

Last night, I was listening to a podcast, and the speaker reminded me of this verse in James 4:2 (KJV):

“You have not because you ask not.”

It brought to mind something that happened recently.

In January, our church sang “Came to my rescue.” How I love that song (I prefer this simple version to the one generally heard). I downloaded it to my phone, as I was about to embark on a road trip.

I passionately sang as I drove down the highway, “I called, You answered, and You came to my rescue…” As I sang, God gently spoke to my heart.

“But you don’t always.”

“Wait, what?” I replied.

“You don’t always.” He gently said.

“What do you mean?” I again replied.

“You don’t call. There are times when I would have rescued you, even recently, when I would have reached out to save you, but you didn’t call.”

That just broke my heart. Especially as a parent.

A year ago, I wrote a post called “Eeyore Complex: Pooping on God’s Plan“. In that post, I wrote the following:

How would I feel if my children went whining around the neighborhood, asking for everyone else to feed them and meet their needs, but they didn’t come to me? What if they only came to me as sort of an afterthought? Like I was their 2nd or 3rd choice?

But in this case, I wasn’t running to everyone else. In this time of silence, I’m more apt to sit around, wallowing in self-pity and hopelessness, than I am to go to God first.

When God brought this to my attention on that road trip, I cried and asked God to forgive me. I repented of my pity party and acknowledged that I desperately need His help and long for Him to be my rescuer.

“You have not because you ask not.”

The Sermon on the Mount teaches us some lessons on prayer.

1. Keep it simple. The number of words or the complexity of language isn’t what convinces God to answer our prayers. Matthew 6 talks about not babbling on like the Pharisees because “your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” It gives us an example of how to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Sometimes, I just pray, “God, help” or “Holy Spirit, come.” God knows your heart and your desires. Keep it simple.

2. Be persistent. Keeping our prayers simple does not mean we can only ask once. In fact, Jesus implores us to do the opposite:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” words of Jesus in Mt 7:7-8

I mentioned the persistent widow in this week’s Monday Morning Meditation. I also talked about reminding God of His promises, something I’m seeing a lot of in the Old Testament. We can persistently ask God to do what He has said He will do.

3. Keep it real. We can be honest with God. We can unreservedly share with Him about our fears, our doubts, even our ludicrous dreams. It’s often when I open these things up to God that He reveals to me the why and the how.

God is good. He is also mighty. He is able to handle whatever you need to share with Him.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” words of Jesus in Mt 7:9-11

God really does have a plan for you. You. Good things for you. Ask Him to see it come to fruition in your life. Ask Him for your needs and your desires. And trust Him for the answer, even if it’s no.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17 (NIV1984)

Note to readers: I am currently reading the Life Recovery Bible. This Bible’s NLT seems to have slight differences there when compared to the NLT at Biblegateway.com.

Monday Morning Meditation: Remind God of His Promises

Good morning, Living Unveiled readers! Welcome to our first full installment of Monday Morning Meditation.

Let’s dive right in.

Psalm 138:2 says:

I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness;
for your promises are backed
by all the honor of your name.

His promises are backed by all the honor of His name.

My kids watch TV almost every weekday from 3-4. Since they can’t tell time, they may periodically ask me about the shows, and if we will be home at that time. When they wake from nap, they ask if they woke up in time to watch their shows.

In other words, they have no trouble reminding me about the fact that I said they could watch TV because they naturally take me at my word.

Is that how we treat God’s promises, which this psalm says are backed by all the honor of His name?

Rather, how often do we go timidly before God, as if we somehow have to beg Him to keep His Word? Or we don’t even believe His promises at all, or don’t live in a way that reflects that they are for us, His children?

This is certainly something I’ve struggled with. Reminding God of His promises almost feels presumptuous. First of all, doesn’t He already know them? Second, isn’t it kind of forward and demanding?

I’m reminded of Luke 18 & the example of the persistent widow. Or Matthew 7, where Jesus commands that we “keep on asking.”

As I read through the Old Testament, I cannot help but see the examples of people, including prophets, kings and ordinary folks, who repeatedly reminded God of His Word and what He said He would do.His promises for us include love, acceptance, hope, prosperity, sustenance, security, hope, protection, freedom, abundant life, and did I mention hope? Jeremiah 29 says God’s plans for us with give us a future and a hope.

As you read the Bible this week, notice who God says He is, and what He has said He will do. Ask God to breathe life into His Word, and listen as He makes it come alive in you.
Remind Him of His promises. They are backed by all the honor of His name.

Note to readers: I am currently reading the Life Recovery Bible. This Bible’s NLT seems to have slight differences there when compared to the NLT at Biblegateway.com.

Freedom Friday: Do I Still Struggle With Same-Sex Attraction?

Brenna Simonds

“Brenna, do you still struggle with same-sex attraction?”

I get this question a lot. Via email, in interviews, on ministry phone calls. As I was answering such an email earlier this week, I thought it would be great material for Freedom Friday. You can read more about my struggle with same-sex attraction here.

In March of 2000 when my last girlfriend ended our relationship, I surrendered my sexuality to God and chose to walk in obedience to what the Bible says about human sexuality.

I also asked God to remove my same-sex attraction from me, and in many ways He did. I did not feel the same draw and pull I had felt toward women for as long as I could remember. I felt as if, in many ways, God had “delivered” me from my same-sex attraction.

And then 2005 happened. I began to experience the feelings of same-sex attraction again.

I didn’t do anything with those feelings, meaning I didn’t act out in any way. I didn’t fantasize, look at pornography or try and connect with another woman inappropriately. I initially just hid my feelings because I was ashamed. I felt as if I couldn’t tell anyone, lest everyone think I was a fraud.

I did eventually tell my husband and then one of my accountability partners. But it was way more difficult than it needed to be.

What happened back in 2005 to bring on this struggle again? I believe it was a number of things.

There were several ministry-related things that happened at that time. My testimony was printed that summer in the Exodus newsletter. I became the director of Alive in Christ a year earlier, and we were about to become an Exodus member ministry. Love Won Out was coming to town, and there was to be a protest with over 1,000 people, AND my story was in the Boston Globe.

I wholeheartedly believe that God allowed that period of temptation. It made me come face to face with some questions I needed to examine:

Was my testimony and ministry built on how *I* overcame same-sex attraction?

Or was it built on God’s goodness, faithfulness, and sustaining power whether I actively experienced same-sex attraction or not?

I realized that my fear of people knowing was due to the fact that I had centered my story of healing around the absence of same-sex attraction in my life. I needed to go through this period of intense struggle to be reminded that struggles will come. Same-sex attraction is a form of temptation; the attraction itself is not a sin. For instance, simply having a thought or feeling of attraction pass through your head, even if it’s toward the same gender, is not sin. Pursuing that thought by turning it into a fantasy is sin.

I’ve come to a place where if I struggle, so be it. If not, that’s okay, too. Those things I do struggle with (whether it be same-sex attraction or something else) do not define me, nor do they define my relationship with God. They also do not make or break my experience of His freedom.

“Freedom is not the absence of something; it’s the presence of someone.” Bob Hamp

Too often we define true freedom as the absence of temptation. We need to face up to the fact that that’s a completely unrealistic goal. That doesn’t mean some people won’t experience complete removal of their same-sex attraction. Some certainly claim to, and I’m not going to argue with their experience.

However, if we measure our freedom based on whether or not we still struggle with a particular temptation, that means we expect to be more free than Jesus.

Same-sex attraction is just temptation. Say it with me again 🙂 Temptation is not sin.

One of the things we need to be set free from is unrealistic expectations. If you define freedom as the absence of temptation, you are setting yourself up to fail. But if you define freedom (as I do) as living in the fullness of all God created you to be, despite and in the midst of your struggles, then freedom becomes much more attainable.So……….do I still experience same-sex attraction? Sometimes! But the big picture answer is it doesn’t matter so much to me anymore. Notice I changed the word “struggle” to “experience.” That’s because it’s not a struggle. I don’t allow whether or not I experience same-sex attraction to define me. And when I do experience it, I don’t have to respond by choosing to sin. I can pray about it & turn it over to God. If the temptation persists, or it is really bothering me, I tell my accountability folks about it and ask them to pray as well. I ask God to reveal any unmet needs in my life that may be contributing to it. I practice the tools for the journey, such as HALT. And I get on with my life.

Are you allowing temptation to define your freedom today?

**Updated March, 2014