Worshipful Wednesday: Can’t Get Enough of You

For much of my life, I was paralyzed by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of loss. Fear of the walls that I’d so carefully constructed falling down around me.

Fear of trusting God and having Him disappoint me, too.

Though I had worked through some of this, I carried much of this fear into my marriage. I would at times ask my husband not to go out without me, such as an occassion where he was going to hear music with friends. I was totally gripped by a fear that something would happen to him while he was gone. This, thankfully, happened very infrequently, but when it did, it was as real and oppressive as anything I could remember experiencing.

In 2004, my husband and I were involved in an amazing church plant. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It really felt like this was how the church was supposed to be: real, welcoming, warm, convicting – just full of Jesus. I was the worship leader, and personally, I felt as if I was finally walking in the fullness of my calling: to use my songs to glorify God and to lead people to Him. I signed up to attend a local worship conference with Andy Park, Rita Springer, and some other well-known leaders.

Just weeks before I was scheduled to attend this conference, the church plant closed when the pastor chose sinful behavior (a sin that he had struggled with for years but had had several years of victory over) above his calling.

I went forward with my plan to attend the conference, though I had no idea why. It felt as if all my dreams had come crashing down, once again.

The conference was amazing, but on the morning of the last day, that dark voice began to beckon: You need to leave. Something awful is going to happen. You need to go home NOW or something will happen to Roy.

I called Roy, sobbing in my car, telling him I needed to come home RIGHT NOW. It didn’t matter that there were only a few hours left in the conference (something Roy pointed out). I replied, “Right! There’s only a few hours left! I might as well just leave, so nothing horrible happens! It won’t hurt to miss a few hours!”

Thank God for my patient husband. He talked me down, and we hung up. And as I remember the story, I sat in my car, crying out to God, weeping, so desperate for Him to show up.

And at that moment, this song, Can’t Get Enough of You, flowed out of me. It begins:

I come to You in desperation

On our last Sunday at our beloved church in Virginia, I was asked to lead worship, as our regular worship leader was out of town. I lead the congregation in this song, Can’t Get Enough of You, for many reasons. For one, I have lead worship numerous times at the church, and it is a team and a congregational favorite. And I sang it for myself because of the special place it holds in my heart: in times of desperation, in places where I am stepping out in faith, the song reminds me of God’s faithfulness. I needed to be continually reminded, is times of ease and trials, of Jesus’ wordsApart from Me, you can do nothing.

My husband captured this video on his iPhone. The lyrics are below, as well as a link to the chords.

Can’t Get Enough of You
By Brenna Kate

I come to You in desperation
I wait for You with expectation

I wouldn’t want to take even one single breath without You
I don’t want to make even one little step without You

Without Your touch, without Your breath, My life is meaningless
I need Your power, I need Your love, I just can’t get enough

I just can’t get enough of You, more of You
Lord, You’re the one thing I desire
I can’t get enough of You, more of You
I need Your passion and Your fire

God, take me in Your arms and fill me with Your love
My heart wants more and more, I just can’t get enough

© 2005 Unveiled Faces Music

Here’s the chord sheet: Can’t Get Enough of You in C#m. I wrote the song in B minor, but it seems to be easier for the congregation to sing in C#m.

I also want to mention that this was the last time I had one of those dark episodes. God is able.

Freedom Friday: What I Have, I Give

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you.” Acts 3:6

I’ve always loved the story of Peter, John, and the man lame from birth at the temple gate called Beautiful. At a campus ministry training event in 2001, I chose it as my passage from which to lead a Bible study. This week, I needed to lead a class in a 5-minute devotional. Since the topic of the class is the book of Acts, this passage seemed a natural choice.

One thing I love about Scripture is how it can speak different things to you depending on where you are and what you need. I originally loved this passage because I loved the story of healing. Oh, how I wanted to see God work in that way in my life! I also love the change in Peter after receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But what it spoke to me this week was very different.

“The grass is always greener” mentality infiltrates so many areas of my life. I wish I had her house, his fame, her job, or his joy. But I found lately that envy has taken root in a surprising area of my life.

Anyone who knows me for 10 minutes knows I’m a Christian. I love Jesus, and because of that, I talk about Him. He naturally comes up in conversation. And yet, I have never actually watched anyone become a Christian.

Whenever I take those spiritual gift tests, no matter what the variety, the gift of evangelist/evangelism never even makes the top 10. Teacher? Yes. Exhorter? Yes. Compassion, music, encouragement? Yes. Evangelism? Never.

Do I sometimes feel bad about this? Yes, to be honest. In fact, 2 weeks ago in class, I asked my pastor if he thought everyone has the gift of evangelism. The answer was a bit complicated, and not the point of this post. As I read Acts 3 again this week and reflected on that discussion, this came to mind:

Thou shalt not cover thy neighbor’s gifts.

I am reminded of the apostle Paul’s writings concerning the body.

“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” 1 Corinthians 12:17-18

Just as He wanted them to be.

I cannot give what I do not have, but I still have a lot to give. I may never be gifted at evangelism, and I’m OK with that. Instead of being envious of the skills of others, I will continue to declare as Peter declared, “What I do have, I give.”

I wrote a song some years ago called “You.” You can hear a rough recording:

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Some lines from the song are particularly relevant.

I know there are songs to be sung,
And there are wars to be won
And there are wrongs to be undone

I know there are songs to be sung, 
And there are wars to be won 
And there are wrongs to be undone 

And I don’t have that much to give
But there’s no other way to live

*****

God, I do not have that much to give – but I know that living a surrendered life is the only way to truly live for You. And so what I do have, I give.

Freedom Friday: Are You Being Honest?

We have a serious problem in the church today.

We lie to each other.

We lie every time that we feel deeply broken and in pain, and yet we say we’re fine.

We lie every time we skip church because we don’t want to face the question, “How are you?”

We lie every time someone opens up about a struggle and, because of pride and fear, we pat them on the back, saying, “I’ll pray for you, friend!” rather than sharing how we’ve faced a similar struggle.

We lie to each other.

In Russell Willingham’s amazing book, Relational Masks, he addresses the core beliefs that make us feel as if we must put on our smiles and act as if everything is OK.

One major core belief is this: If I am honest, I will be abandoned. 

Shame runs deep. It began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve tried to cover up the truth for their all-knowing Creator. If Adam and Eve struggled with honesty in their relationship with God, how much more so do we need to fight against this tendency in our lives.

Russell Willingham stated this in a teaching I once heard: we demonstrate the above core belief by always putting our best foot forward and never letting anyone see our weaknesses. We have this secret fear that if we’re honest about how deep the brokenness goes, we’ll be thrown out on our ears.

A lot of these core beliefs are based on experiences we’ve actually lived through. Some of our families would shut down our honesty. We’ve shared our struggles and experienced rejection. Thus, we don’t risk with people. We’re always respectable. We act like we have it all together.

Paul address in the church in Ephesus. “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25). You can read the context of the passage here. Paul was giving the believers instructions on new ways of living and interacting.

Paul was basically telling Christians to stop lying to each other. 

Because that’s our tendency. Our tendency, since the Garden, is to hide. Hide our sin, hide our brokenness, hide our shame. Act as if we’ve got it all together and we don’t need help.

Russell Willingham states that we need a commitment to truth-telling in our lives.

What have you gained, spiritually, by being dishonest?

With God?
With your friends?
With those around you who can help you?

Why do we put on our smiling faces and go to church when we are totally broken inside? Or worse yet, skip church all together during those tough weeks?

I know from my own life and years of ministry, we have a desperate need to be seen. That is the imprint of God within our hearts. He did not create us for isolation. He created us for love, acceptance and support in the safety of authentic, healthy community. He deposited in us a need for affirmation, for honesty, for the freedom that is found when we bring our struggles to the light.

Here’s the thing: not everyone can handle honesty. And not everyone has earned a place of trust in our lives that we should tell them our struggles. Remember Jesus’ example of 3 intimate friends and 9 other good friends. So you may have to go to a number of people before you find a safe place to share your heart. But it’s worth the risk. You were created for relationship. God designed freedom, healing and growth to happen in the context of community.

Will you take a risk today? Would you risk being honest, and, in the process, risk finding the freedom you long for?

Freedom Friday: Avoiding Moral Failure

This is a topic that has been brewing in my mind for a while. This is due in part to things I’ve been reading in the Bible (Isaiah, Acts & James right now, with a little of Hezekiah’s story mixed in), assignments I’ve been working on for grad school (a big essay on plagiarism), and partly because of life events I see occurring around me.

I also just needed to write this for me. It’s a timely reminder that we don’t just “fall into” sin. We will sin. Otherwise, we’d be perfect like Jesus 🙂 But there is a difference in the way various sins impact your faith and your life. I may lose my temper with my spouse today, and that may break trust a little momentarily (especially if it’s a pattern of mine), but if I were to have an affair, that changes our relationship in a different way.  All sin may be equal in the eyes of God (in the sense that there aren’t particular sins that are more difficult for Him to forgive or required Him to hang from the cross longer), but some sins are inherently different because of the way they impact our lives.

There are things we can do to actively avoid finding ourselves in major situations of compromise. Here are some suggestions.

1. Be watchful over your thoughts
Your thoughts matter. Proverbs 23:7 says “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”

In the article 5 Lies that Lead to an Affair, author Julie Ferwerda shares her experiences about how she ended up choosing to have an affair. She writes, “Few people fall into adultery overnight. As with other ‘big’ sins, having an affair is usually the result of a series of small compromises in our thoughts, choices, and behaviors.” And the place it began for her was in her thoughts.

It begins with a thought, a temptation. Temptation isn’t sin, as I’ve written before. It’s our choice to nurture that temptation that can become sin, rather than choosing to lay it before the Lord.

One of the Freedom Steps is Think Like a Free Person. I share there how God commands us to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. The battle of freedom is a battle that begins in our minds.  “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV1984)

Be watchful over your thoughts.

2. Be honest with your intentions
James says that we have “evil desires at war within you” James 4:1 (NLT). Believers are not immune from this. James writes earlier in his letter, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15 (NIV1984)We need to dig deep inside of ourselves and pray that God would help us be honest about our intentions in every challenging situation.Toward the end of 1999, I had been a Christian less than a year when I met a girl who had been raised in a Christian home but whose family had walked away from God. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could do that, and I desperately wanted to help her. I do believe that initially, my intentions were pure; however, my resolve for purity quickly faded, and we entered into a physical relationship.

Jeremiah writes (17:9 NLT), “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”

I wanted this woman to know Jesus, but I was still deeply broken beyond my own understanding. This is why I wrote Who’s Got Your Back? The disciples went out two by two for a reason. This is why we need community, to lay ourselves as honestly as we can before others, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13), including truth about ourselves.

Be honest with your intentions.

3. Be upfront about your actions
I don’t like the phrase we often use in Christianity to describe our sinful actions. We say we “had a fall” or we “stumbled.” To me, those phrases do not take responsibility for the choices and compromises that led to that “fall.” It’s not as if we are walking down a path and all of a sudden, sin jumps out and grabs us! No. That’s in direct contradiction to the end of 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT): “When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

In the relationship mentioned above, I didn’t simply “fall” into it. I made a series of questionable choices (not all of them sinful) that ultimately led to grave sin. This is why we need to, once again, stay connected to believers, honestly sharing about our choices and actions, and even the things we are thinking of doing.

Be upfront about your actions.

4. Be desperate for the Lord
God is able. Really. He is able. He is strong enough, He is big enough, He is loving enough. He is enough. Say it with me: He is enough.
So often we live our lives, making our plans, living as we wish (and not even in a sinful way, necessarily), inviting God in occasionally. We simply forget to include God in every decision, every thought, every actions.

We need to cling to God as if our lives depended on it – because they do. “Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus said (John 15:5).

Later in James 4:4b-5 (NLT), James writes, for emphasis, “I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful? He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires.”

Sin is crouching at our doors, always (Gen. 4:7). Through God’s strength and power, we can subdue it and be its master.

“Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be dismayed. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will triumph.” Isaiah 50:7

Satan deceives; that’s his nature. Sin is always crouching at the door, desirous of us. Yet we can receive God’s help, determine to do His will, and know we will triumph.

Lord, help us.

Freedom Friday: Who’s Got Your Back?

I’m reading the book of Acts right now.

In Acts 10, Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman army officer (in other words, a Gentile, not a Jew), saw an angel who told him to send men to Joppa to find Simon Peter. The next day, Peter has this vision:

[Peter] saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners.12 In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. Then a voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.”  

“No, Lord,” Peter declared. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean.”

But the voice spoke again: “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.” The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was suddenly pulled up to heaven.

The scriptures go on to say that Peter was perplexed: what did this all mean?  Then Cornelius’ servants arrived. After confirming that Peter was the man they were looking for, we read this in verse 23:

So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.

Despite having a vision that was clearly from the Lord, Peter used much wisdom in deciding not to travel alone (in Acts 11:12, we learn it’s 6 men).  What he felt God was proposing seemed contrary to what he knew.

He wanted some trusted brothers there to have his back.

The concept of having others come alongside in the spreading of the Gospel, as well as walking with God, was not new, of course.  In Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1, Jesus sent the disciples out two by two.  Several times in Scripture, the importance of several witnesses is emphasized, both for confirming a crime or an accusation (Deuteronomy 17:6, Matthew 18:16, 1 Timothy 5:19), and as well as for confirming prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:29).

But why is this important?

1. There is safety in numbers.
Jesus told the disciples, as He sent them out two by two, “Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). The disciples didn’t know what they’d encounter out there.  Since our recent move, we now live in an area with few streetlights and incomplete sidewalks.  At our old home, I ran in the dark without fear because there were always cars passing by as I ran on well-lit streets with wide sidewalks.  Here, I run with a buddy.

When Peter returned from Cornelius’ house, he was criticized by some of the Jewish believers for his actions (Acts 11:2). Peter was able to tell them, with the agreement of the brothers who had been with him, what God had done.  He had witnesses to God’s work who had his back.

2. There is strength in prayer support.
Paul asked often in his letters to the churches that they pray for him.  Prayers that doors would be opened to the gospels.  Prayers that Paul would declare the Gospel clearly and fearlessly.  Prayers that he would be rescued.  The author of Hebrews requested prayer that he would be restored to them soon.

Paul prayed of the Ephesians church: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:16-17a).

There is strength is having others come alongside and pray for you: for your growth, for your kingdom work, for healing, and for support.

3. There is comfort in companionship.
Paul often sent believers to various churches to encourage and uplift them.  Here is one example:

“But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow workerand fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.  Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.  Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.” Philippians 2:25-28

And another:

“Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything…. I am sending him to you for this very purpose…… that he may encourage you.” Ephesians 6:21-22

Paul also requests that people come to him.  He asks for Titus in Titus 3.  He tells Timothy, “do your best to come to me quickly,” he tells Timothy (2 Timothy 4:9), and then lists several people who have deserted and harmed him.  And then he said, “Do your best to get here before winter” (v.21). 
Timothy, my dear apprentice and friend, so many have deserted me, but I know you are faithful. I need you.



Who has got your back?

Freedom Friday: God’s Response to Ingratitude

I recently wrote this prayer:
You are good. You are faithful. You are showing Yourself to be so.

And yet, I mope. I don’t want to be in a position where I need to rely on You so heavily. Youch, can’t believe I just said that. It shows me the reality that I have been doing things in my own strength for quite some time, and it’s been working well for me.

Now that I’m again in a position where I can’t control much of what is happening and how it happens, I’m grumbling. Even when I see Your miraculous hand of provision, I withhold my gratitude because I’m a bitter, ungrateful child who wants more than manna from heaven.

Lord, forgive me. And more importantly, change me. I do want to be like Jesus. I really do. I want to exemplify His character. Yet what I’m finding in myself are some very dark places. Extreme selfishness. Pride. Self-righteousness. Just ugliness.

I’m so thankful I’m not in charge of fixing these things.

Strong feelings. Difficult to admit.
I’m not the first person to have struggled with these things.

We read in 1 Kings 18 that Elijah had just defeated all the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. He ran in the supernatural power of the Lord to Jezreel, where he heard that Jezebel was going to have him killed.

“And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life.” 1 Kings 19:3 (NASB)

He left his servant in Beersheba and ran into the wilderness, where he “came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.'”

Have you ever said anything like that?

God, enough already! It would just be easier for you to take me up to heaven right now! Then I wouldn’t have to deal with this pain.

A Juniper tree, from Wikipedia

While Elijah was sleeping under that juniper tree, God came.

“Behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, ‘Arise, eat.’ Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, ‘Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.”

No rebuke, no harsh words, no reminders of how clearly God had shown Himself strong just days ago. No.

God reponded with compassion and tender care. He could have sent a bird to feed Elijah, as He had done before. Rather, He sent an angel, to touch Elijah, to be physically present when he felt desperately alone.
God let Elijah take a nap and then said, “Arise, eat.” More rest came and then a second time, “Arise, eat.”
After this supernatural provision, what did Elijah do once he arrived at the mountain of God?

He took up residence in a cave.

Yet still, no rebuke came. Instead, God’s gentle voice asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

God asks, Why are you hiding in this cave?

Elijah replies, “ I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Everybody’s trying to kill me, God! I’ve served You when no one else would, I’ve loved You when everyone’s trying to destroy You, and this is the thanks I get!

So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.

It took God’s gentle voice to draw Elijah out of that cave. God’s command to go wasn’t enough. Powerful wind wasn’t enough. Earthquake and fire weren’t either. But the sound of gentle blowing (another translation says “a gentle whisper”) drew Elijah of his complacency and self-pity.

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” Romans 2:4
God then asks again:

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

Elijah emerges from the cave, possibly slightly more open to God’s leading, but still asking the same painful questions. If you continue to read 1 Kings 19, this is the point where God calls Elisha to succeed Elijah as prophet. Elijah no longer has to feel alone.

Ingratitude runs deep in the hearts of man.
Why is it easy for us to rely on God for one thing, and praise Him when He shows Himself strong, and yet in other things, we are angered we are in a particular position and annoyed and pouty when He still shows Himself faithful?
God, forgive me for taking lightly the riches of Your kindness, Your tolerance and patience with me when I take for granted Your provision, as if You somehow owe me. I give You my life again in gratitude for all that You are and all that I’m not.

Monday Morning Meditation: The Fear of the Lord (Psalm 34 series)

This is part 4 of the Monday Morning Meditation Psalm 34 series.

Here are today’s verses.

Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

Commentators say David did not have any children when he wrote this. Rather, he is talking to those he brought alongside him (mentioned in verse 3 and discussed in week 1). He emphasizes, “Listen; this is important. Learn this when you are young if possible. Fear God.”

I’ll be very honest and say I don’t completely understand what it means to fear God. I have asked Christians I respect their interpretation of this concept, I’ve listening to podcasts about it and read commentaries. It’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around.

Fear can mean to “cause awe or astonishment, revere and respect.” That, I can understand. But to “be afraid?” I’m just not sure. I talked about this a little last week, as fear was also part of that excerpt.

I think the surrounding verses are very helpful in discerning what God means in this case.

Fearing God, in this case, means being careful of what you say, what you seek, and what you pursue. This is confirmed as well in verses 9-10. We are careful of what we say and what we set our mind to because we are in awe of all God is, all He has done, and all He has yet to do.

It’s interesting to me that David says he will teach them about this fear, not that God will teach them. This is part of why I’ve asked Christians I respect what this means to them. Thus, this week, I’m asking God and you all: what does “fear of the Lord” mean to you? I’m asking God to show me in a new way how to revere, respect and fear Him. I’m also focusing on keeping my heart, my mind and my mouth in check.

Monday Morning Meditation: Taste and See (Psalm 34 series)

This is part 3 of the Monday Morning Meditation Psalm 34 series.

I have seen God’s hand of goodness and provision in about 15 ways this week. It has required a lot of trusting, a lot of waiting, a lot of resting, but it’s been amazing. Our verses for today ring especially true for me (8-10, NIV1984).

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Let’s unpack this.

Taste and see is an invitation. “Taste” can also mean or be translated perceive. This word is only used 10 times in the Old Testament, and this is its only appearance in the book of Psalms.

See” can also mean perceive, find out, learn about or observe.

The psalmist extends an invitation (remember that he is coming alongside someone or several someones). It’s an invitation to experience God with our senses, to observe His goodness.

Part of “taste and see” is also “take refuge.” This phrase “take refuge” also means flee for protection, to put trust in (God), confide or hope in. Refuge: a hiding place. A safe place we return to. A place of trust.

Taste and see, perceive and sense His goodness. Take refuge and be blessed.

It continues: fear Him and lack nothing. Fear: to stand in awe of, to revere, to honor. To be amazed.

Lack nothing. It clarifies in the next verse: no good thing.

“The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” is likely my favorite verse in the whole psalm.

Seek God, require Him. Lack no good nothing.

Have you responded to God’s invitation to taste and see? If not, who in your life can you ask to come alongside you and walk with you as you observe and perceive His goodness? If you have experienced this, who can you bring alongside you to taste and see?

Freedom Friday: The Power of Service

My 4 year-old came to me recently and excitedly shared about his prayer life.

He said, “Mommy, when I wake up in the morning, I pray to God that……”

OK. I’m pausing in the story to say I was sure he was going to share he had been praying for a loved one’s health, or the end to world hunger. Actually, no, I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to say any of those things. Let’s get back to the story.

“Mommy, when I wake up in the morning, I pray to God that I would see a ghost!”

After a discussion where he reassured me he knew ghosts aren’t real, I asked if he was praying about anything else.

“That I’d have lots and lots of video games.”

Well. There you have it.

I of course posted on Facebook to ask how to teach gratitude, compassion and social awareness to small kids. I got a lot of reassurances that his behavior is age-appropriate, we’re already doing some good things, and also some concrete suggestions. It brought to mind some of the ways we served when I was a child, the most memorable being at the soup kitchen.

You may be asking, what does this have to do with freedom?

We know that Jesus came to serve. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 (NLT)

Jesus served by laying down His whole self, both in life and death. How does following His example help us learn to walk in freedom?

1. Service helps us to love.
If you are still deep in the thick of your battle with life-controlling issues, you may think it silly or even inappropriate for you to consider working in service, especially to the church. There are many possibilities and places you could serve, however. Does your church provide coffee and snacks after service? Offer to bake or help with clean-up. What sort of outreaches are happening in your community? Assist at a food pantry.

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Galatians 5:13-14

In a mystery we can’t fully understand, when we serve others we are serving Jesus Himself.

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” Matthew 25:37-40

Service helps us to love. It helps us to love ourselves, to love God and to love others.

2. Service helps us recognize our gifts.
” God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” 1 Peter 4:10 (NLT)

I heard a speaker once say that if you don’t know how God is gifted you, or where He’s calling you to serve, just try something. Ask the person in charge of greeting newcomers if you can try it one Sunday. Offer to sit in on a kid’s Sunday school class. Fold bulletins. Find something that seems interesting to you, or where there is a need, and commit to serving there for a period of time. If it’s not a good fit, ask the leadership of that ministry where you have strengths and where else you might consider serving.

3. Service requires God’s strength.
The verse from 1 Peter 4 quoted above continues, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (NIV1984)

Serving requires God’s strength. You won’t always feel like getting out of bed early on a Sunday to set up chairs. Ask God to help you. Service is another way to grow in intimacy with God, as you ask Him not only for His strength, but His grace in empowering you to be a blessing to others.

4. Service gives us perspective.
My favorite answer to my Facebook question was from my friend who lives with her family in Guatemala. How do you teach children empathy and social awareness? She simply wrote, “Move here.”

Service helps us to get our eyes off our own struggles for a moment. It reminds us that the whole world is struggling and suffering in some way. On the other hand, do not fall into the trap of shaming yourself about the time and money you have spent on your recovery. There is a time and a place for that as well. But those problem that seem so big and overwhelming can be put into perspective when we come face to face with the suffering of others.

This past week on Mother’s Day, one of the pastors at church shared about his mother not eating for days to ensure she had enough food to feed her children. Still, the kids often ate once a day. Even in the most trying times, I could likely feed my children for a month with what I have on hand. Imagining opening the cabinets to find nothing for my kids is one of the most heartbreaking things I could imagine.

You might also consider going on a humanitarian missions trip with your church or other outreach, as my friend suggested in her “Move here” comment. Others agreed that nothing gives you perspective like seeing how the truly poor live, or walking through the devastation caused by a natural disaster.

In what way could be serve someone today?

Freedom Friday: Bring the Paralyzed to Jesus

I recently finished reading the gospel of Matthew and have moved on to Mark.

Mark has always had a special place to my heart. We studied this book in one of my first Bible studies. I love its fast pace and concise stories.

Earlier this week, I read the story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man. I posted the whole thing here. I encourage you to read it. I guess that’s obvious 🙂 But I know my tendency is to skim over familiar Bible stories when I see them in blog posts. So that’s why I’m encouraging you to actually read it. Maybe God will show you something you haven’t noticed before, as He did with me.

When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man[a] has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

This is one of my favorite stories of Jesus. There’s several things I love about it. I love that Jesus once again shows His heart for the lost by healing and forgiving this man. Jesus reminds us by forgiving the man first that forgiveness is His number one priority and the primary work He wants to do in our lives. It’s more important than being physically healed. My number one favorite aspect of this story has always been the paralytic’s friends. Not only did they team up and go out of their way to get him to Jesus, Jesus then forgives the paralytic’s sins because of the faith of his friends.

As I read this earlier in the week, a new thought came to mind: who are the paralyzed in my life?

The paralytic in this story was unable to get himself to Jesus. He needed help.

Who in my life is unable to get him or herself to Jesus?

I’m not speaking of physical limitations, but who in my life seems completely paralyzed? Frozen? Unable to move toward God on their own?

I became a Christian in January 1999. In December of that year, I entered into what would be my last lesbian relationship. I knew this wasn’t God’s best for me. I knew what the Bible said about God’s creative intent for sexuality. But I felt helpless to change. I had built much of my identity around being gay.

I felt as if a choice was being laid out before me: be a lesbian, or follow Jesus.

I couldn’t choose.

I was utterly paralyzed.

I know there were people praying for me. They brought me to Jesus when I could not bring myself.

After 3 months, my girlfriend dumped me.

There are people around you who are paralyzed. Whether paralyzed by fear, inadequacy, life-controlling issues, self-loathing, or a particularly consuming trial, there are people around us who seem unable to get to Jesus.

As I read Mark 2 with fresh eyes, I prayed for some of those people. I prayed with my husband for some of them, noticing from the story that it wasn’t just one friend who brought the paralytic to Jesus. It took the faith of four friends.

Who can you pray for today? Who is paralyzed in your life? Who can you and your friends bring to Jesus?