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The Other Prodigal

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 1 John 2:9

You’re probably familiar with the parable of the prodigal son.

Jesus told of a son who demanded his inheritance from his father and journeyed to a far country, only to squander it away with wild living. He found himself starving, “longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16).

That sounds about right. Any time we try to satisfy our needs and desires apart from our heavenly Father, we’ll come up lacking. Empty. Starving.

Yet we keep trying.

And that’s exactly what this young son did. He wanted to trade on the benefits his position as a son afforded him without maintaining his relationship to his father. He didn’t want to stay close. He just wanted the property his father’s name entitled him to.

Does that resonate, dear one?

It does with me. For years I did the same thing.

For a long time, I wanted the benefits that come with Jesus’ name—forgiveness, salvation, the Father’s blessing—but I didn’t really want Jesus. I wanted my Kingdom inheritance, but I had no real desire to draw near to God through Him. I still wanted to live my life my way.

And just like the young prodigal, I soon discovered the futility of that thinking.

You see, what our souls really long for is union with our heavenly Father. He is life, and we access that life through intimacy with Jesus. Jesus is the blessing we seek, dear one. So anything we try to enjoy apart from Him —even the good things that flow from His hand— leave us wanting. His presence gives life to all things.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1:4

Thankfully, our young prodigal finally came to his senses, realizing that what he’d been looking for was found in his father all along. But he made the long journey home carrying the weight of some extra baggage.

A singular thought compelled him.

I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”Luke 15:18-19

I am no longer worthy.

I can’t tell you how often those words have haunted me. And every time, Jesus responds the same way He did to the young prodigal.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:20-24

I pray you will notice something significant, beloved. The father never judged the young prodigal for his behavior. The only condemnation came from the son himself. His father welcomed him with open arms and simply reminded the repentant son of his true position. He wasn’t a servant and wouldn’t be treated like one. He was a son.

If only his brother shared his father’s mind on the matter. But compassion and joy fell subject to another emotion as he drew near the house filled with music and dancing.

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him. Luke 15:28

I find it interesting that judgment appears in both brothers but never comes from the father who holds the only right to it. Look at how scripture describes him.

His father came out and entreated him.

Do you see it, dear one? The loving father pursued both sons in the same way, going out to greet them while they still approached. Both received the same invitation to feast with him.

But he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ Verses 29-30

Jealousy never punishes the object of its rage. It only steals from the one who possesses it.

Jealousy never punishes the object of its rage. It only steals from the one who possesses it. Click To Tweet

In this case, it blinded the older son to his own blessing and made him refuse what his father longed to give.

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Verse 31

What God gives to one never takes from another. It’s we who withdraw ourselves from His table by holding onto the sin that separates. We choose judgment over grace. We insist on fighting for our rights instead of letting God grace us with all that is His.

It’s time we come to the table, beloved. Let’s remove every hindrance and run to the Father’s arms.

No one but you holds the power to stop Him from lavishing blessing upon you. He won’t force you to come to the table. But He waits with open arms for you to choose.

Blessed in the Beloved

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:16 ESV

“There is no one on this planet more blessed than you.”

Beth Moore spoke those words last year during a taping of “Wednesdays in the Word” for Life Today TV. At the time, I joked with a friend who attended with me. “I’ve been telling you this for months. Will you believe it now that you’ve heard it from Beth Moore?”

Somehow it seems impossible to believe, doesn’t it? Most days we don’t feel extravagantly blessed.

If that’s you, you’re not alone. I presented Beth’s statement to the ladies in my Sunday school class shortly afterward and asked if they believed it. You should’ve seen the eyes darting from my gaze, heads shaking in disagreement around the room.

I think we believe in a God of blessing. We just have trouble believing those blessings belong to us.

We easily assure others that God loves them desperately and has great things in store. But that same truth doesn’t seem to apply when we look in the mirror. We carefully guard our list of reasons that prove what our thoughts convey: most of God’s blessings aren’t meant for me.

The Apostle Paul begs to differ with you, dear one. So does the God who inspired his words.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Ephesians 1:3

Whether or not you feel blessed at this particular moment, if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, God’s Word says that you are. According to Ephesians 1:3, you have already been blessed with every spiritual blessing available to you in Christ.

Think about that truth for a minute. The God who speaks things into being has spoken blessings over your life. Already. You’re not going to be blessed someday, dear one. You are already blessed.

I have to ask, beloved. Are you living out those blessings?

I think it’s safe to say that most of us live in a present reality that falls short of who we’ve become in Christ. We don’t walk as though we’re already blessed. We live still seeking the blessing.

Paul offers the key to unlocking God’s blessings over us in verse 6:

. . . his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Just so we’re clear, Jesus is the Beloved. And what has He blessed us with? Grace. Glorious grace.

That word grace in the original Greek means, “the state of kindness and favor toward someone, often with a focus on benefit given to the object; by extension: gift, benefit . . . blessing.” (Strong’s Concordance, Greek #5485, p.1653)

You, dear one, are blessed with the favor of God—favor that gives benefit. Favor you can’t earn. Favor you already have.

Do you believe God favors you, dear one? Do you know what His favor offers you? Perhaps you should read 2 Corinthians 9:8.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Grace provides whatever we need at whatever time to succeed. And we’re swimming in it.

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:16

I’ll be honest with you. I have always struggled a bit with the concept of grace. This logical mind has difficulty grasping the idea that God’s love and favor doesn’t have to be earned. In fact, it can’t be. But that thought doesn’t sit quite right under the umbrella of reason.

And yet, that’s what scripture claims. For God so loves, that He gave (John 3:16). Freely. He poured out grace that provides all sufficiency in all things at all times. And if you are His, nobody has more blessing and favor from God than you.

Whether you believe it yet or not, Christ has lavished the riches of His grace upon you “in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:7-8). That means He didn’t make a mistake speaking it over you. He thought it through. He had insight into who you are, and He chose to favor you anyway.

So how do we learn to live in that favor? How do those blessings spoken over us in the heavenly places become our new reality on this earth?

The answer actually isn’t complicated, although we do our best to make it so. You and I need to return to where we began in Christ at the moment of our salvation.

We believe.

You see, one thing ushers us into the flow of grace poured out on us. Faith.

Through him [Jesus] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2

Dear one, you are loved and lavished in grace. One thing alone can stop the realization of God’s favor in your life. Unbelief.

 Will you see yourself as you really are and believe God for your blessing?

The Measure You Use

And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:24-25

Jesus had a way with words.

He never wasted them. And each word He spoke still carries life and power within it.

So it should cause us to press in close when He prefaces His Words with, “Pay attention to what you hear.” All of Jesus’ words hold great significance. But these He wants to make sure we don’t miss.

“With the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Here’s the truth, beloved. God gives to us according to the measure that we use.

If you and I don’t acknowledge and use what we have for His glory, it can never grow. We will only experience increase when we use whatever portion He’s given.

And Jesus reveals another uncomfortable truth in those verses, dear one. If we don’t use the measures of grace He’s given us to multiply them, He will take them away.

I can’t help thinking of Jesus’ parable about the talents.

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” Matthew 25:14-15

You may be familiar with the story. The man who had been given five talents traded with them and returned ten to the Lord.

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” Matthew 25:21

The servant who had been given two talents also used and doubled what he’d been given, receiving the same blessing.

The third servant, however, simply returned the one talent he’d been given to the Master.

According to the principle we discovered in Mark 4, God will measure back to us the same measure that we use. Yet instead of using the talent he’d been given, this servant buried it.

So the Lord measured back to him the measure that he had used. Listen to what the master said about the one who saw no increase.

“So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” Matthew 25:28-30

Are you using what you’ve been given, beloved? Do you even know what you have?

Perhaps you struggle to relate to the parable because you don’t see what “talents” He’s given you. I recently read something from Pastor Rick Joyner that I feel compelled to share with you. Perhaps God will whisper His truth into your heart the way He did in mine.

In the vision I saw a man who was zealously serving the Lord. He was continually witnessing to people, teaching the Bible, and visiting the sick to pray for them. He was very zealous for the Lord and had a genuine love for people. Then I saw another man, named Angelo, who was obviously a tramp or a homeless person. When a small kitten wandered onto his path, he started to kick it but restrained himself, though he still shoved it out of the way rather harshly with his foot. Then the Lord asked me which of these men pleased Him the most.

“The first,” I said without hesitating.

“No, the second,” He responded, and began to tell me their stories.

He shared that the first man had been raised in a wonderful family, which had always known the Lord. He grew up in a thriving church and then attended one of the best Bible colleges in the country. He had been given one hundred portions of His love, but he was using only seventy-five.

The second man had been born deaf. He was abused and kept in a dark, cold attic until he was found by the authorities when he was eight years old. He had then been shifted from one institution to another, where the abuse continued. Finally, he was turned out onto the streets. The Lord had only given him three portions of His love to help him overcome all of this, but he had mustered every bit of it to fight the rage in his heart and keep from hurting the kitten.

Excerpt From: Joyner, Rick. “The Final Quest.” MorningStar Publications, 2006. iBooks.

I confess when I first read the story I felt the same surprise you’re probably feeling. Wouldn’t the man who appeared to be serving God faithfully please Him more?

But almost immediately, wisdom pierced my heart and penetrated my soul.

Nothing matters more to God than love.

Beloved, God cares far more about what’s happening within our hearts than He cares about our good deeds. And as Jesus sought to fulfill the will of the Father by conquering sin through the cross, He had a single-minded purpose: to make love abound again.

God desires to see love increase on this earth, dear one. Nothing matters more to Him than that. You see, God is love (1 John 4:8). And the people He created to fill this earth were designed to reflect His image. Those who are His should increase and abound in love.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11

Paul repeats the concept in 1 Thessalonians 3:12.

… may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…

There’s no way around it, dear one. God wants to see love increase in us. Staying the same isn’t an option. And according to Mark 4:24, that can only happen one way. We must exercise love to the full extent of the portion He’s given us. When we do, He will return it to us with that measure and more.

Love must increase in us. It can only grow when we use the love He's already given. Click To Tweet

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Love is all that matters, beloved. Let’s use whatever portion we’ve been given and allow God to make it grow.

Soiled Garments

Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. Revelation 3:4 ESV

You might be surprised at how many times scripture references clothes. Particularly washed clothes.

We find our opening scripture in Jesus’ address to one of the seven churches in Revelation, penned by the apostle John. John opens the book with a blessing included in no other book of scripture.

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. Revelation 1:3

I don’t know about you, but I could handle a little blessing. After all, the opposite of blessing is still cursing. And God declared that those who hear and keep His words written in Revelation are blessed.

Are you listening?

Since God has captured my attention with garments, we will focus today on Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis.

He begins His address with some unsettling words.

“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Revelation 3:1

Do you know your reputation, dear one? What do those who know you believe about you? Does it match what God sees?

I can’t help thinking of Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:27-28.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Jesus shows great concern that our outward appearance matches our inner reality. That shouldn’t surprise us, really, when we consider that Jesus is the Truth and His enemy deceives.

Yes. Jesus desires authenticity.

I know this from experience, dear one. Several years ago, God used Revelation 3:1 to get me to deal with an area of sin in my own life I’d been trying to ignore.

At the time, God was in the midst of opening doors and expanding my borders in ministry.

Yes. God still uses imperfect people.

And to the outsider looking in, God’s hand was apparent. I had dedicated myself to earnestly living my faith, and God was actively using me to reach people and awaken them to His truth.

But God desires far more from us than our service, dear one. He wants our whole hearts. And He requires us to freely offer them so that He can transform them into the likeness of Jesus. That means holding nothing back.

So one day during my study of scripture, He spoke straight to my heart through His words to the church at Sardis. “I know your works, and I know your reputation. You have a reputation for being alive, but in this area, you are still dead.”

His next words through those verses brought me straight to my knees in repentance.

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Revelation 3:2-3

Jesus spoke these words to one of His churches, beloved. And He spoke them to me.

I wonder, dear one. What does He desire of you?

Repentance is the precursor to every blessing available to us in Christ. Without sincere, repentant hearts we will never transform and become His righteousness. And that leaves Jesus unable to use us to pour out His blessing on this desperately needy earth.

Jesus is asking us to trust His Word, dear one. To believe it and live according to it so that He can manifest our faith as righteousness. When we don’t live by what we have received and heard from Him, we soil our garments.

Thankfully, scripture also reveals that what Jesus requires of us is absolutely possible to accomplish, even in our humanity. It’s possible because God Himself provides the power to succeed when we choose to trust Him.

“Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:4-6

What will you choose, dear one? Will you overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of your testimony? God longs to see it, beloved, to make you a living witness to His glorious power.

And consistently throughout His Word, He offers an unbreakable promise. God fights for and rescues the righteous.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands . . . These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. …Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Revelation 7:9, 14, 22:14

Awake to His Purpose

So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 1 Thessalonians 5:6 NIV

I have to be honest with you. I’m feeling a little lost.

You may already know from some of my recent posts that I’ve been away on vacation. I spent two glorious weeks at the beach with my husband and boys, and we enjoyed the added blessing of sharing portions of that time with extended family members from both sides. For the past two weeks, I have been caught up in the rich blessing of God, reveling in the beauty of His creation and enjoying the love and fellowship that only occurs when Christ rules the hearts of very different people.

I have to say, the food was pretty good too. Our bellies had no excuse to groan in hunger, although at times they ached from the sidesplitting laughter that erupted frequently during nightly games around the dining table.

Life is so much better when it’s shared.

But now I’m home, and my view has changed. I’m not just talking about my inability to watch the waves pound the shore or see the sunlight glistening on a seemingly endless sea. I’m talking about a subtle change, one that seems to have occurred within me. Apparently my heart so enjoyed that period of rest, it continues to long for more of it.

Have you ever noticed how easily our enjoyment of the blessings of God can take our eyes off the Giver of them?

Hang with me for a minute here. I’m not saying we forget God altogether. But sometimes we lose sight of the whole of who God is. We relish one aspect of His character and allow His other Truths to fade in significance. Not intentionally, mind you. It’s simply the nature of our fallen flesh.

I think that’s what started to happen to me. My lips uttered praise every day for His gifts. My Bible still opened with my morning coffee, the thin pages rustling in the ocean breeze. I remained extremely aware of His presence. I simply felt a strong longing to stay right where I was, basking in His love and resting in His embrace.

The trouble is, I started to lose sight of my purpose.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20

You see, God is so good, His faithfulness so sure, His love so abundant that it’s easy to get caught up thinking that our salvation is all about us. We think, “For God so loved… that He gave…” and we make our lives about seeking and receiving the rich blessings He pours out through Jesus. It becomes easy to forget that where much is given, much is also expected.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12:48

Dear one, God didn’t give to you and me simply so we could receive. He gave so that you and I could also give. He doesn’t merely want to bless us. He wants to bless the world through us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Jesus beckons us to follow Him, beloved. By definition, that means we can’t simply remain at rest. Let’s not get distracted by our blessings and lose sight of our purpose.

Christ is coming again, but He will not return to a sleeping church, bobbing along in a sea of grace. He will return to a church in glory, to a bride who has made herself ready (Matthew 25:10, Revelation 19:7). Let’s awaken from our rest and usher in the glory of God.

Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory… Luke 9:32

A Divine Appointment

“ . . . no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”                         1 Corinthians 2:9 ESV

“I opened this door.”

God whispered the words into my heart one morning in the parking lot of the YMCA. And I have to be honest with you. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I had other plans.

I had purchased my ticket to the Beth Moore Conference months before, and I couldn’t wait to attend. My heart longed for some rest and refreshment, and it had been years since I had been to one. Determined not to miss another, I had marked my calendar as unavailable and prepared to take some me time.

So when God brought several invitations to speak on the Saturday of that conference, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about it. Something told me He was trying to get my attention.

One particular event kept occupying my thoughts, and that day in the parking lot, I opened my heart to ask His direction. “What do you have for me, Lord? What is it you want me to do?”

“I opened this door.”

It figured. I had committed myself to walking through any door that God opens, so I immediately knew what that meant. I wouldn’t be going to see Beth Moore.

Really, Lord? I took a moment to voice my frustration. “But I just wanted to get filled up.”

His response was immediate. “I will fill you up.”

Have you ever been there? Have you ever set your heart on a particular path and then realized God was leading you in different direction?

That day I stood at a crossroads.

I knew what I wanted. In my mind, it seemed the best possible scenario, and I wanted to hold it tightly with both hands. Giving it up felt like a sacrifice.

But I also know that Jesus calls us with two, simple words. “Follow Me.” And behind those words, He offers a promise.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

At every crossroads along our journey, you and I must decide if we believe Him.

My logic wanted to argue against His leadership. After all, didn’t I need someone to pour into me sometimes instead of always being the one who pours out?

But Jesus had promised, “I will fill you up.”

I decided not to argue further. I’ve trusted Him often enough to know that obedience is always best.

I surrendered my heart to obey Him, and He softened the blow with an idea. I could attend the conference as planned on Friday and then drive to a hotel in Chambersburg so I’d be there for the event on Saturday.

I felt a hint of excitement. Apparently God would allow me to do both.

The weekend arrived for Living Proof Live with Beth Moore. A few of us attended the You Lead Conference beforehand and were finished up by lunchtime. Having cancelled our original hotel room in Hershey, we had lots of time to kill before heading to the Giant Center for worship. A friend who was staying at the Hershey Lodge generously offered us one of her rooms to rest before the event.

We had just parked the car and unloaded some things to take into the hotel for the afternoon. Walking the few short steps to the door near our rooms, we noticed a minivan pull up in front of it. A moment later the door slid open, and out stepped Beth Moore.

IMG_1491It took a moment for my brain to register that it was really her. She stepped toward me, taking my hand in greeting. An overwhelming sense of divine providence washed over me, filling me with emotion. God had orchestrated this appointment.

I struggled to find words at first, caught off guard by this outpouring of God’s favor. But then, as Beth graciously leaned in and listened, I found myself able to share my heart.

I told her that I’m a Bible teacher, and that ten years before, my sister-in-law had invited me for a “sisters” weekend to one of her conferences in DC. I hadn’t heard of her at the time and wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I saw her passionate love for Jesus and witnessed her devotion to His Word, it validated what I had been feeling in my own heart. That weekend released something in me, and not long afterward, I opened my home to lead my very first Bible study. That event marked the start of my journey toward ministry.

I can’t tell you what a precious moment that was to me. I never imagined I’d be able to voice my gratitude in person over the IMG_1487impact she’d had on my life.

But God wasn’t done. While we were speaking, my assistant approached carrying two copies of my Bible study. I handed them to Beth, and she gladly took them, sharing that she had self-published her first book just as I had.

Everything faded as I took in that profound moment… Beth Moore held my Bible study in her hands.

My cup overflowed.

Here’s why I share this, dear one. Had I insisted on my own plan instead of obeying God, I never would have been there. We had reserved a room at another hotel. My stubbornness would have cost me that divine appointment.

God wasn’t taking anything from me by sending me to speak that Saturday. He had a blessing He wanted to give. One that would prosper me, that fit perfectly into His plan to offer me hope and pour into my future.

Will you trust Jesus to write your story, beloved? His plans are far greater than you can imagine.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

 

Week 9: Finishing Strong

It’s here! Our last day of study together. More than anything, I pray that you have grown closer to Jesus. HE IS everything, and growing your relationship with Jesus is the key to receiving every blessing He poured out for you from the cross. He died so that you could have life more abundant. I sincerely hope you have begun to discover that abundance!

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Your Assignment

Your journey through Tested by Fire may be over, but your journey with Jesus has just begun. He desires to lead you into your inheritance and bring forth gold, silver, and costly stones from your life. Are you ready to let Him?

Take some time to read through this Prayer of Commitment. I suggest you print it out and keep it in your Bible. Use it as part of your daily prayers to help you remember what it is that God wants to do with your life and help you stay on the path He has set for you.

Dear one, God wants to do amazing things in and through you. If each of us will cooperate with Him, we will see something marvelous occur. We will witness the rise of Christ’s church! As we become one with Him, we will become one with each other, and Jesus will see the fulfillment of His prayer that night in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:22-23

Could ours be the generation that sees this accomplished? It’s time the world discovers that Jesus is exactly who He says He is.

I’m game. Are you?

Blessings, dear one.

Week 6: Loving God With All Your Heart

Welcome back! I pray you are beginning to discover that Jesus longs to fill you with Himself. He wants more than simply to dwell within your heart; He wants to take it over.

This week we will try to gain some understanding of how that takes place. Although this video is the longest session, its message holds the key to dwelling in Christ’s empowerment and living in the freedom He died to give you. I pray you experience the blessing of  John 8:32,

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Click here to print the prepared note sheet for this video.

Click here to print copies of the heart slides used in the video.

Watch the Video

Week 6 Assignment

Complete Days 4-5 of Week 3 in your workbook

Additional Suggestion:

I encourage you to mark Psalm 139: 23-24 in your Bible and make it a consistent part of your prayer life. You will not recognize all that binds your heart without divine intervention, and Jesus longs to set you free, dear one.

Ask Him to begin revealing the sin that binds your heart and invite Him to show you the steps you must take to get free. Have you been pretending everything’s fine and ignoring the need for heart transformation? Maybe you’ve simply been admitting something to God and not really confessing it. Or do you expect God to miraculously free you from something while you still hold tightly to it with both hands? Ask Jesus to reveal the true condition of your heart. Then ask Him for the strength to trust Him completely. As you surrender your heart bit by bit to His leadership, you will discover a freedom and power that you have never known. And those around you will begin to witness and experience God’s love pouring out from your new heart.

Smoothing the Rough Places

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16

It was one of those frustrating days.

I think the rain started it. I usually don’t mind rain until I have to go out in it. I even enjoy listening to the soft patter outside when I’m tucked safely indoors with a good movie and a blanket. It’s when it pours on me that it bothers me.

That day, it poured on me.

I was running errands in the rain when I got a text from my son at school.

I never hear from my son at school.

He typed only three words, but they tied my stomach in knots. He confirmed the realization of his worry about a project he’d worked hard on the night before. It didn’t work. Though I tried to text him back, he gave me nothing more. His silence left me with only worry to consume my thoughts— about his grade, about what he was feeling in that moment, about the disappointment I knew I’d see on his face when he walked through the door that afternoon.

And I wanted to fix it for him, but I couldn’t.

Isn’t it amazing how one little thing has the power to send us reeling? All the work I had planned for that afternoon seemed lost behind the shadow of this one thing.

I felt like throwing a tantrum. I may have even started to once I had returned to the safety of my home. Just for a minute.

But then I took a breath and shifted the direction of my thinking. I turned my attention to the One who knew before my son ever selected his courses what this semester would bring. And although as a mom I hate watching my straight A student struggle through this class—I hate seeing his confusion and disappointment as he works so hard with less than results—deep down I know that God has a purpose in it.

So with a heavy heart, I determined to look up.

I walked toward the couch, carelessly picking up the Jesus Calling calendar I hadn’t looked at in over a week. “Ok, Lord. What do you have for me today?” The words didn’t carry much confidence, but even I heard within them the whisper of hope as I flipped through the pages toward that day’s date. Here’s what I read.

TRUST AND THANKFULNESS WILL get you safely through this day. Trust protects you from worrying and obsessing. Thankfulness keeps you from criticizing and complaining: those “sister sins” that so easily entangle you.

How does He always know? I kept reading.

Keeping your eyes on Me is the same thing as trusting Me. It is a free choice that you must make thousands of times daily. The more you choose to trust Me, the easier it becomes. Thought patterns of trust become etched into your brain. Relegate troubles to the periphery of your mind, so that I can be central in your thoughts. Thus you focus on Me, entrusting your concerns into My care. [February 21, Jesus Calling, Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson, 2004]

Do you find it amazing that Jesus always—somehow, some way—meets you right where you are? At least, He does when you’re willing to meet with Him.

“Trust and thankfulness will get you safely through this day.” I couldn’t help but think about  Matthew 6:25-27,

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life . . . Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Indeed. Worry only robs our hours from us. Yet worry is what we do. Our natural instinct sends our thoughts running through one scenario after another, trying to figure out which calamity will come to pass. And let’s face it. We usually settle on the worst case.

But God says, “I’m holding all of this in my hand. You don’t need to obsess over this. Let your thoughts settle on me instead of your problem. I have the power to make the rough places smooth.”

When we focus our minds on God and His goodness, it becomes easier to practice gratitude. And gratitude, dear one, alters our feelings. Instead of grumbling and complaining about the rain and that teacher who refuses to teach, praise emerges. And soon you find that tightness in your stomach replaced by growing peace.

Bits of unwanted news don’t have to derail our day. We can practice Romans 12:2,

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

We can fix our eyes on the One who holds the key to every blessing, inviting Him to come near. And when Jesus enters, dear one, the enemy always flees.

Strength in My Weakness

God amazes me.

Two and a half years ago, God directed me to write a Bible study, Tested by Fire. In April of this year a revised version of that study will become available for distribution to bookstores across the country. I have no idea where God will take it, but I remember well where Jesus had to take me to get here.

I recently came across this post from January 2012, written as God was preparing me to speak at my very first women’s conference outside of serving my church. I am humbled to remember the steps of the journey and where God has taken me along the way. I pray that reading it will encourage you to take your own steps of faith with Jesus, trusting that He’s with you even in the hard times. It just may be those moments of great brokenness that allow you to experience all Jesus wants to be in your life. When you let His strength overshadow your weakness, His glory surely follows.

 

More Than a Conqueror

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. 1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV (1984)

In two and a half weeks I will have the remarkable privilege of sharing Jesus Christ with hundreds of women at the new “Women of Purpose” conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. It astounds me to think of the plan God has chosen for my life. One particular verse comes to mind as I consider my story. Romans 4:17 celebrates “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

Recently, Karen Hickam, the founder of Strive for Greatness who is hosting the conference, challenged each of the speakers participating in the event to consider the raw, painful moments of their journey. I prayerfully asked the Lord to take me back to some of my own struggles and allow me to feel them again. I asked Him to help me describe them in a way that others might feel them too and relate to my experience. Here’s where the Lord led me.

  • I sat under the shelter of my covered porch watching the rain wash over the earth around me and wondered briefly if God had opened the skies to match my tears. Thunder shook the heavens, literally rattling the chair beneath me. I felt each crack shudder through me, every pounding blow echoing the ache in my own fragile heart. Doesn’t obedience bring protection and blessing, Lord? Could I have been wrong about Your will for me?
  • I swallowed hard, attempting to quiet the churning in my stomach by sheer will. It would be easier if I could just retch. Maybe then, it would at least be over. But it wasn’t over. It hadn’t been for . . . How many days, Lord? When will it end? . . . I can’t do this anymore . . . I’m not strong enough . . . forgive me . . .
  • Reeling from the sting of betrayal, I sobbed until my face hurt. Darkness hovered about me, undaunted by the break of day. Life had turned upside down. Everything would be different now, the comforting familiarity of my routine stripped away from me by one who claimed to love me. How could this happen, Lord? Of all people to do this to me . . . how could it be her?

Tears flowed freely as my fingers moved across the keyboard, the vivid memory of my darkness flooding back in poignant waves. This time, however, my tears did not find their source in anguish.

They fell in worship of the One in whom I overcame.

My story isn’t marked by perfection, success and glory. Far more consistently, my story revolves around the breaking of my heart. But you see, my heart was bound in chains that needed breaking, and Jesus loved me enough to allow the pain so He could set me free.

Dear one, in your moments of greatest darkness, Jesus has not abandoned you. He is there with you, holding you, even when you can’t feel Him. Very often, what keeps you from recognizing His presence in your difficulty is the very chain in you He seeks to break.

In those moments of weakness, temptation comes. The enemy hisses in your ear that Jesus doesn’t love you . . . that He doesn’t even exist. He will do everything He can to convince you to turn back and abandon God’s plan for you. After all, just look at you. God has obviously already abandoned you.

His lies, dear one, come at you in those moments with such ferocity out of his own desperate fear. The enemy knows what lies on the other side of your victory: your freedom.

As you press on, taking hold of Jesus by faith, and allow Him to show you your way out (1 Cor 10:13), the enemy’s grip on your heart is broken. The oppressive chain that once bound you to him—your fear, your pride, your need for significance—falls idly to the earth with a thud. And you, dear one, will discover with elation that you are free—free to experience the all-surpassing joy of Christ’s fullness dwelling within you unfettered by the enemy’s chains.

 “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” Psalm 126:5

Will you let Him turn your broken moments into a song of praise as He ushers you into the beautiful purpose He’s planned for you? Nothing compares to the wonder of living in your God-given Promised Land.

When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.  Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”  The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Psalm 126:1-3