Freedom Friday: I Am Not The Same

Today, Friday, is one of the very rare mornings where somehow I was awake before my beautiful 1 year-old baby girl. I snuck out of bed, searched for the baby monitor, and settled into my comfy chair to read some psalms.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

 

There is something about this familiar passage that is so life-giving. The song with these lyrics sings in my ears as I read – a song I learned in those early days of walking with Jesus.

My soul exhales.
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I prepared a teaching on Philippians 4 for the ministry this week. I wanted to share all my wisdom about how God’s Word would have us approach anxiety.

And wouldn’t you know it. I spent the 10 days leading up to the teaching, feeling more anxious than I have in a long, long time.

Times like these – I start to question myself. Why do I do this? I think. Who am I to say that Jesus changes lives? I’m as anxious as I’ve ever been.

There is something so familiar about these thoughts. Comfortable, almost. They are words I have heard in my thoughts for years. A voice of hopelessness.

In those low moments, I am unable to recognize those words for what they are, or whose they are: whispers of Satan.

This morning, I got down on my knees after reading a few psalms and repeated back to God:

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

I spent thousands of days elsewhere. I dwelt in the tents of the wicked. As I pondered these words, my soul exhaled again as God spoke to me:

You are not the same Brenna that you once were. Do not give in to the lies. I have changed you and will keep changed you.

I am not the same.

Fall in a park

The leaves are changing color here in New England. They have no control over it, but are submitted to a more powerful force.
 
The same is true of us. If you are a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit in you is changing you day by day as you surrender your life to whatever He has for you. You may have some of the same struggles, face some of the same fears, but you are not the same.

 
If the anxiety returns today, so be it. Rather than wonder how long it will last, I will walk out the truths from Philippians 4 that I shared on this week:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
Don’t let the devil whisper into your ear. Listen to God. Pray, and sink deep into God’s peace.

Freedom Friday: Straining Toward Freedom

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

The above verse caught my eye in church on Sunday (Philippians 3:13-14). “Straining toward what is ahead,” it says. Not strolling into it or waiting around for it to happen – but straining. I looked it up in the Greek, and it means exactly what it says:

to reach out towards, to stretch out further, to strain for

Sprinter Crossing the Finish Line

No one ever wins a race by taking it easy. It takes training, it takes effort, and it takes straining.

Yet this does not make us happy. We, like the Israelites, look back longingly at Egypt when things seemed easier. We don’t want to stretch ourselves to reach towards what God has for us. We’d rather it be handed to us.

Why do we expect freedom to come easily? According to our nature inherited from Adam, sin is what comes naturally to us. Even with the Holy Spirit living in us, guiding us into all truth, we need to learn to walk in the fullness of the freedom Jesus died to give us (written about in Freedom Step 5 of my book).

Though believers are no longer slaves to sin, we can continue to allow sin to enslave us. Whatever inclination we choose to obey will become our master (Romans 6:16).

This is why we, like the Israelites, must forget what is behind in order to walk in the fullness of the Promised Land God has for us.

This verse has been used by some to “prove” we are not meant to process and heal from our past. That’s not what Paul is saying here. One of the ways we shake off those things that hinder us is by allowing God into those places of wounding so He can set us free.

What Paul communicates here is that we are to press forward (“endeavor earnestly to acquire,” the Greek says) in order “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (v.12).

“Life is not simply a pensive look back to the known, but a daring leap forward to the unknown.” Mary DeMuth

There are times for rest, and times for war. There are times for waiting, and times for straining.

What is God calling you to strain toward in this season?

Monday Morning Meditation: It Takes Practice

I’ve been asked a few times by people, “How do you have peace/joy/hope in trials? How do you pray with faith with there’s no evidence to put your hope in? How do you keep smiling when things are difficult?”

The answer is simple but not easy.

Practice.

God, in His sovereign purpose, has given me plenty of opportunities to practice learning these truths. Or perhaps it’s just that I was crushed by my choices and my circumstances when I came to Christ that I couldn’t NOT practice these things.

It was do or die, literally. I had to cling to these promises of God as if my life depended on it – because it did.

After being asked about this again last week, this Scripture was read in church yesterday:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

I do not often hear these 2 verses quoted together. I don’t usually quote them together, but I should, because so often when I reference them, I’m sharing on our thought life. What I hear Paul saying is this: This isn’t easy and it won’t come naturally. It takes practice and hard work to fight against our old patterns of thinking and living.

Paul goes on to talk about how he has learned the secret to being content. God promises to teach us these things as we choose to walk in the truth of His Word, who He says He is, and what He has said He will do.

Why is this so hard for us? If we want to become skilled at something, we know it requires practice, whether it be cooking, knitting or running. If I want to run a race at a faster time than I previously have, I practice running at a certain pace, I do track work, and I cross-train. Why does it surprise us that this is also true for the Christian walk?

Stopwatch2

From WikiMedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stopwatch2.jpg

God has given me even more opportunities to practice these things with our recent move back to Massachusetts from Virginia. Moving all our stuff, my dad’s stuff, my children’s stuff, and our bodies (including my 6+ month pregnant self) is a major chore, and wow. So many things have gone wrong. It could make me question whether or not we made the right choice – but I’ve chosen not to do that. Given that I’m reading through the Old Testament right now, I can see parallels in the Israelites’ journey into the Promised Land. It wasn’t easy to begin with, and they made it much more difficult by complaining their way through. So I am trying to choose to pray and praise rather than complain and grumble. This is something I’ve practiced, and that practice is now coming in quite handy!

In today’s My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers discusses the Christian life being “gloriously difficult.”

God saves people by His sovereign grace through the atonement of Jesus, and “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). But we have to “work out” that salvation in our everyday, practical living (Philippians 2:12). If we will only start on the basis of His redemption to do what He commands, then we will find that we can do it. If we fail, it is because we have not yet put into practice what God has placed within us. But a crisis will reveal whether or not we have been putting it into practice. If we will obey the Spirit of God and practice in our physical life what God has placed within us by His Spirit, then when a crisis does come we will find that our own nature, as well as the grace of God, will stand by us.

This is quite similar to how I describe the freedom that is available in Christ. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), but we need to learn to walk in that.

We need to put it into practice.

What discipline do you need to practice today? Is it joy? Contentment? Praying and praising no matter what?

Freedom Friday: Go and Take Hold

Has anyone ever given you a gift that you refused to open?

Maybe it was in a box with entirely too much tape on it (can you tell we’re in the process of moving – again?). Full of anticipation, you began the process of tearing the tape off piece by piece, trying to figure out which piece was on top and which one to remove first. The excitement wore off when you realized the work ahead of you, and you put it aside for another day.

Perhaps you had an idea of what was in the box, a glimpse of the gift you would receive. While the idea of the gift was enticing, you weren’t sure it was any better than what you already had. And you could see the obstacles that stood in the way of what you were given. They seemed insurmountable.

I’ve been reading through the story of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. Having finished up about 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, I’ve reached the point of the story where Moses shares his final admonishments for the people he has been leading for 40 years.

In my reading this morning, I came upon this gem:

“See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it” (Deuteronomy 1:21a).

Isn’t this just so like God? Later in the story, when Joshua is staring at the walled city of Jericho, it was so closed up that no one was even coming or going. And yet, what was God’s perspective? God basically tells them,“See I have delivered Jericho into your hands – now go and take it” (a summary of Joshua 6:2-5).

How did God direct the Israelites to enter the Promised Land? How does God ask the same of us?

First, God asks us to see. Not with our own limited perspective, but with His. If He has said He will do it, then He will do it.

During the time referred to in Moses’ recounting, the Israelites sent spies in to scout out the land. All the spies reported that the land God would give them was indeed good land, even bringing back some fruit. They also reported that the people were stronger and taller than them, and the cities large and walled. Rather than focus on what God asked them to see, they fixated on what they saw with their eyes. God wanted the Israelites to first see with His perspective.

Second, God asks us to trust. God had promised a land flowing with milk and honey to the Israelites, a land He promised that He would bring them into. The Israelites simply needed to take God at His Word. God was in essence saying, “I said I would do this. Remember how I drowned Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea? Remember how I provided food and water for you throughout your journey? Remember how I traveled with you by fire and cloud? I am with you, and I will continue to be with you as you choose to trust in me.” When what they saw didn’t make sense, God asked them to fix their sight on His promises and not the fear in their hearts.

Third, God asks us to go and take hold. After deciding to see things through God’s eyes, after choosing to trust in God, God then asks us to take a step of faith, go, and take hold of all that He has for us. The Israelites chose not to do this with disastrous consequences. Only Caleb and Joshua got to walk in the fullness of God’s promises.

As believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, God has given us so much. In fact, He “has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Peter goes on to talk about God’s “very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature.”

In typical God fashion, though, this too is something we need to go and take hold of. “For this reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness, and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.”

Paul knew this intimately when he wrote the following to the church in Philippi: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already ready been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

Is there a promise from God that you have not yet received? First, see with His eyes. Second, trust in His promises. Third, go and take hold.

“See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 1:21

Freedom Friday: The Power of God’s Will

For it’s only in Your will that I am free*

Do you ever think about the Garden of Gethsemane? With Good Friday coming up, I’ve been thinking a lot about the words Jesus said as He prayed one of His final prayers here on earth.

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”**

Prior to this prayer, Jesus asked all the disciples to sit in Gethsemane while He took Peter, James and John further into the garden to pray. He stated, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

After uttering His first prayer of submitting to God’s will, He walked back and found His three closest friends – asleep.

“He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.'”

***********

I first heard the song “Jesus, All for Jesus” at a women’s conference. I was struck by its simplicity and depth and challenged by the lyrics.

But I find myself singing one line over and over as Good Friday approaches:

For it’s only in Your will that I am free

The only place we are truly free is in the center of God’s will. This was true for Jesus, too.

But how can horrific suffering that ended with death on the cross be freedom?

Isaiah records in a section of Scripture that prophesies of Jesus’ coming and is often referred to as “The Suffering Servant” that “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.”

The cross was God’s will for Jesus.

The first time I saw the above verse, I didn’t know how to respond – because I knew the implications. It was the fulfillment of God’s perfect will that Jesus die on that cross – for me and for you. It was the only way for us to be reconciled to God (Romans 5:10). And not a quick, easy death (because God could have done that), but one that involved being crushed and suffering immensely.

Jesus knew that there is no life apart from God’s will.  And so He surrendered to the will of His Father.

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:8-11

For the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).

For our freedom (Galatians 5:1).

And for His glory (Philippians 2:11).

Jesus, All for Jesus
Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be
Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be

All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands

For it’s only in Your will that I am free
For it’s only in Your will that I am free

Jesus, all for Jesus
All I am and have and ever hope to be*

*Song lyrics are from Jesus All For Jesus (Featuring Robin Mark).

**The story of the Garden Gethsemane, as quoted above, is found in Matthew 26.

Bible Haikus

My friend Pastor Craig Burns posts haikus based on his Bible reading. I’ve adopted the idea myself. Here are a few recent haikus:

Joel 1 
4 kinds of locusts.
Food and water disappear.
Joel cries, Lord, help us!

Nehemiah 10
Lots of tricky names
Trying to say them out loud
Kids laugh at Bunni

Philippians 3 
Everything but Christ
Discard it all like garbage
Become one with Him

1 Timothy 1 
Christ Jesus our hope
Jesus came to save sinners
Cling tightly to faith

1 Timothy 6
Run from all evil
Follow what is right and good
Obey His commands