Make in Me a Clean Mouth, O God

Confession: I have had a terribly filthy mouth in my day.

I guess having a “potty-mouth,” as it’s sometimes called, felt like a safe thing to do to be rebellious 🙂 Would keep me from being a complete goodie-two-shoesWouldn’t get me in a ton of trouble

That’s totally lame.  I know it now.

Anyway, a combination of being married to someone who wasn’t much for cussing, having children and not wanting to talk like that around them, and beginning to walk with God cleaned up the filth, for the most part.

But sometimes I have, shall we say, relapses, and my tongue gets a little loose.

I had one such relapse a few weekends ago when Bill and I spent the weekend at the beach with my sister, Tiffany, and her husband, Josh. We went to celebrate my 40th birthday, and it was just what I hoped it would be: we laughed a lot. I took naps when I wanted.  We went out to eat at “adult” times.  We walked on the beach.  We rode in the Jeep Wrangler…it was perfect.

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Photo Credit: Tiffany Manley – Tiff and me in the back seat of the Jeep on the way to dinner.  Call me crazy, but I have only ridden in a Wrangler a handful of times in my life…so it was on my list of things I wanted to do while I was at the beach celebrating my 40th 🙂

 

But, when I am around Tiffany…I might cuss a little…ok, I might cuss a lot. I guess I feel comfortable with her; I know she won’t think I’m a bad person.

Of course I knew at the time it was wrong, but I kept doing it.

Once the weekend was over and we got home, God began convicting me about my unholy talk.

During our morning devotion the Monday after our beach weekend, my director used some verses from Colossians, and one of them talked about how Christians needed to avoid filthy talk.

There were 15 or 16 verses in the devotion that morning, but I zeroed in on that one. I knew God was talking to me.

 

 

That afternoon, I texted Josh and Tiffany and apologized to them. I apologized to Bill as well.

A few days later during my quiet time, I read 2 Corinthians 2:15 about our lives being a sacrifice to God to use to reach people around us. This made me think of my mouth again. Everything I do and say reflects God to others. My life is how I worship Him.

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Image Credit: Pinterest

What God was saying to me was obvious: I cannot have a filthy mouth and be a tool for God to use to draw people to Himself.

I worship God with my whole life – it is my sacrifice, and it is on display for all to see (and hear). There shouldn’t be any unholy talk.

No inappropriate jokes.

No foul language.

 

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Image Credit: pinimg.com

Since I’ve taken the first two steps – acknowledged the conviction and apologized for my wrongdoing – I have to complete the journey. To fully repent, I must turn to God and away from the sin.

What does that look like?

Maybe I have fewer relapses.

Maybe I stop cussing altogether.

Maybe I don’t even think in cuss words anymore!

That would mean that I have truly and completely allowed God to change me – what I say and what I think.

And if those words don’t come out of my mouth, then they aren’t in my heart.

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Image Credit: flickr.com

That is truly what I want to give back to God. A changed heart.

Pray this with me:

Thank you, Father for choosing me, and thank you for loving me. Thank you for sending your Son to die for me so that I could spend eternity with you in Heaven.

I want to be a tool for you to use, Father. Change me so you can use me.

My life is my worship, Lord; everything I do and say points to you once I say I am a Christian.

Continue to convict me. Continue to show me things in my life that need to be given over to you. Continue to make me more like you.

I want my life to be a sweet-smelling sacrifice to you – every part of it. Do this in me today, Father.

Amen

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Image Credit: Pinterest

Life is NOT What You Make of It

Life isn’t what you make of it although that’s what the world wants you to believe. Life is what you allow God to make of it! You have to give your life over to Him and let Him do with it what He wills.

Sure, you can make something of your life apart from God. That’s entirely possible. But that’s too much work. Work in the wrong direction. Work for the wrong reason. Work for no eternal benefit…

I am more content with the last 8 or so years of my life than I was with the first 32. Although the first 32 seemed alright, there wasn’t much walking with God going on then…so it had little eternal value. I did very little to further God’s kingdom. I did little to bring glory to His name. I was making my own life rather than giving it to Him to make.

But that’s what He asks for – a life surrendered and handed to Him.

I’ve done that in the last 8 years. Surrendered my life. Handed it over to Him. He is making my life what He wants it to be.

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About the time I started listening to God’s voice for the first time in my life…

What DOES He want it to be?

I’m not sure yet – although I am confident that He will use it for His glory.

He’s mostly been pruning so far. There’s been a lot of dead limbs, excess leaves, and unripened fruit to get rid of first.

All that extra stuff came from 32 years of trying to make my own life what I wanted it to be.

So, there’s been a lot of work. It’s been painful. There’s been some sacrifice. Some things have had to go. Other things had to change. Priorities had to shift.

He’s not done, so I’m still here, letting Him make my life what He wants it to be.

Why “Venting” Won’t Cut It

When God shows us our sin, we have to repent and turn from that sin back to God.  That means we aren’t supposed to go back to that sin.

Easier said than done, right?  YES!

Some things I turned from and never looked back.  Some things I turned from, and God had to work on me a while.  Some things God convicted me about, and I still struggle to turn from them.

You probably have a similar experience although the sins you struggle with – the things you do that do separate you from God – may be different from mine.

Lately, God has been convicting me about my talk.  He reminded me that we have to be holy in our behavior.  He also reminded me that what comes out of my mouth reflects what’s in my heart.

 

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Image Credit: Instagram

He reminded me that I should come to Him when I get frustrated with someone else’s behavior rather than “venting” to another person about what has made me angry or hurt my feelings.

“Venting” is what we call it when we complain or fuss to a third party about our frustrations.

For example, I could vent to my sister when I’m frustrated with my husband; I could go to her (and sometimes do) to complain or fuss about something he said that hurt my feelings or something he did that made me angry.

So, I vent to blow off steam, to let off the pressure, and then it’s all over, and I can move on, right?

But really this is just talking behind my husband’s back, isn’t it?

And it didn’t really fix anything, did it?

In fact, the only thing I’ve succeeded in doing is making it worse.

If we honestly look at it, venting is dangerous.  It changes our mind and heart toward the person or thing we are venting about.  It hardens our hearts more toward the situation and the people involved.

It also hardens the heart of the person we vent to.  It literally changes how that person perceives the person we’re venting about.  So, it causes the confidant or third party to sin, too.

So, what the heck do I do when I’ve been wronged, and I’m angry?  When I need to fuss about what someone’s done to me?  When I need to vent my frustrations?

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Image Credit: Les Feldick Bible Study 

Go to God.  Pray to Him.  Talk to Him about what that person said or did.  How the person made me angry.  How I want God to change that person.

You can do this, too, when you need to vent.

You can yell at Him.  You can cry.  Be angry.  Be hurt.  Be heart-broken.  He can handle it.

Warning – God might not change that person who wronged you.  But, He’s very likely to change your heart toward that person.

I know you don’t want that.  You aren’t the problem, right?  The other person is…so you may have to “get right with God,” as they say, before you can do this – knowing you’re more likely to be changed and the other person might not be.  Wrestle with Him about that, too.  God will speak to you in that wrestling. He wants you to bring it to Him.

And maybe God can use the change in you to bring about change in the person who wronged you after all.  Maybe the other person sees the change in you and how you treat them, and God uses that to soften their heart so He can change them…kinda crazy, huh?  But that’s how God works.  His kingdom is upside-down, and His ways are not our ways.

So let’s try it.

I’m working on it, too.

The next time I am angry or hurt and feel the need to talk to someone about my issue with someone else, I’m going to talk to God instead.  I’m going to take my frustration or anger to Him and allow Him to have His way with my heart.

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Image Credit: Klove.com

Pray this prayer with me…

Dear God,

Living in the world as your child seems difficult sometimes.  Your ways aren’t my ways.  You call me to be different, and I want to do your will.  You are wise.  You are love.  You are the Creator.  You know how this is supposed to work.  You see how it is meant to go.  You know how it is going to end up.

You have control, and I thank you for taking that from me.  You take my burdens and ask me to simply rest in you.  You ask me to take your yoke which is light.  You ask me to live according to your commands.  Help me to do that.

Take my life, Father.  Have your way with it.

Amen

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Image Credit: Pinterest

Read more posts about how to handle hurt feelings.  Also, read more posts about how to handle Satan’s attacks.  The temptation to vent to someone other than Jesus comes from Satan, and you can combat that temptation the same way I discussed combating other temptation from the enemy.

Change Your Mind and Turn, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand

“Sorry,” Ethan mumbles.  He’s just knocked his cup of water onto the floor while talking and flailing his arms. We reminded him several times to move his cup away from the edge of the table.

“Sorry, mommy,” Emery says and scurries back to the bathroom.  She’s left her dirty clothes on the floor…again.

“I messed up,” I confess to Bill after I discover that I didn’t pay a bill last month.  As a result, this month’s bill is doubled AND we owe a late fee.  Now we have to adjust our budget.

In each scenario, we said we were sorry for something we did wrong.  In each scenario, we felt badly because of what happened.

This is what I always thought repentance was – feeling sorry when you did something wrong…maybe even taking it a step further and confessing your sin and asking someone to forgive you.

But my understanding of the word missed the mark.

Maybe it’s more accurate to say that some of the richness of the word was lost in translation.

In English, the word is typically used to mean feeling regret or feeling sorry and asking forgiveness.  That’s how I always used it.

Then, I encountered another, richer meaning when I read Matthew’s gospel. In Chapter 3, Matthew introduces John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who prepares the way for Jesus’ coming.

John said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

When I read commentary on this verse, I saw that, in the original Greek, the meaning of the word translated “repent” was “to change one’s mind.”

Also, I read that, when the Greek word for repent was used in the Old Testament, it meant to change your attitude toward God, to “turn from one way of thinking and living to a different way.”

The same commentary said when John the Baptist used it in Matthew 3:2, he was calling “for people to remove obstacles from their lives that might hinder their reception of the Messiah and his Kingdom.”

The discussion caught my attention; repenting went deeper than I realized.

To repent meant much more than simply saying I was sorry.  It meant more even than asking someone to forgive me.

I kept repeating what I read:

Repent – change your attitude toward God

Repent – turn from your old way of thinking and living

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

I fixated on that word – repent; I wanted to know more.  So, I turned to a strategy I learned called word study: I look up the word in the concordances of my Bibles so I can read other verses where it’s used.  This usually gives me a fuller understanding of the word as I read how it is used in scripture and as I read the discussion of that scripture in other commentaries.

During my word study on repentance, I read another commentary that explained that the word can refer to “the desire to turn from sin and restore one’s relationship with God.” 2 Corinthians 7:9

You see, sin separates us from God.  I cannot come before God with unrepentant sin in my life. So when I am convicted of my sin, I have to repent – not just feel bad, not just ask for forgiveness, but change my mind about the sin and turn from it toward God.

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Photo Credit: Truth For Life Blog

Repenting isn’t just a feeling I have.

Repenting is something I must do – an action; I have to change, and I have to turn.

It’s the whole “turning to God” piece that really convicts me, I think.  To truly get rid of the sin, I have to change my mind about the sin and then look to God.

Since I have been walking with God, I have been asking Him to show my sin to me, to convict me of it.  Since learning about the true meaning of repentance, I have started asking Him to not only show it to me, but to help me change my mind about it and then to tell me what to do instead.

The funny thing about talking to God and asking Him to do things is that He sometimes does what we ask 🙂  Especially the part about showing your sin to you and telling you what to do instead.

Next week, I’ll share a sin-trap I am falling into and how I am turning from it toward God.

When Satan Tries to Lie

I am alone. It’s calm and quiet in the house. I’m standing still in the middle of the room. Yet my brain is swirling and my pulse is quickening and my eyes are widening.

What’s going on? I ask myself.

Whatever it is started small but quickly escalated to the point that my head might explode.

I quickly retrace my steps.

Oh…yes…thoughts about the day’s to-do list started this!

OK. I now I know what’s going on, and I know how to stop it.

I breathe. I speak Jesus’ name. I ask Him to remind me of the promises He made – that He loves me. That He will never leave me. That I can trust Him with all my problems and fears.

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Photo Credit: Pktfuel.com

The thoughts racing around my brain begin to slow. My heart beats calms, and the muscles around my forehead and eyes relax.

I sit down and actually write out the to-do list. Calmly. Then I get up and move on with my day.

It took a while to realize what was happening when I worked myself into this frenzy. I don’t know how long I’ve dealt with it although I probably accepted the experience as a normal part of my life at some point.

But no more.

I realize the lie now, and I know what to do.

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GodFruits.com

It was sometime in the last year that I really caught myself getting into this fixation over my daily tasks and analyzed where it was coming from.

This particular morning, it was barely 6 AM on a quiet, week-day morning in June, but I had already working myself into that familiar frenzy.

I began thinking of all I had to do and comparing it to the {perceived} available time in my day and convinced myself that I didn’t have time to do what I needed to do.

Before I knew it, I was standing still in the middle of the room but feeling pulled in 100 different directions.

Worrying over not being able to get everything done was keeping me from getting anything done!

On a previous such occasion, in the throes of that fray, God revealed to me that the frenzy and hopelessness I felt originated with Satan. God also showed me that I allowed it to continue to happen to me.

I allowed this pattern to emerge, for the father of lies to get this grip on my mind. But the truth is, he probably doesn’t have to do much anymore to get me going. He’s on auto pilot with me now. I do it for him.

I render myself useless.

Nothing will get checked off my list if I’m already telling myself that I don’t have time to check things off my list.

So, I told him to get away. I literally said, “get behind me, saying, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. ”

Instantly, the weight clinched around my heart dropped away, the smog filling my head cleared, and I calmed down. Since that episode, I’ve gotten better and better at recognizing his schemes and banishing them faster each time. Just like I did that morning this past June.

In moments of weakness, I still let him get started on me. I begin listing my tasks and looking at the clock. Then the dread starts in my chest and tries to creep up my neck to make me clench my teeth.

Then I realize I’ve stepped too near the quicksand again, and I move before I get sucked down. Thankfully God revealed this lie to me. He revealed the scheme and made it clear that I played a role in perpetuating it.

Now, I can usually stop myself before it goes too far.

If there really is a lot to accomplish, I take a minute to write out all I need to do. Next I note the “due date” for each task. This helps me prioritize and get a clear picture of what needs my attention now and what can wait.

Then I get started.

It’s all a distraction, you see. Something to make me take my eyes off what’s really important. Just like last weekend when Satan tried to distract me from hearing God speak to me at a women’s retreat.

It’s the same with my to-do list. If the liar can get me bogged down in the list, I get frustrated. Frustration leads to anxiousness, and I’ll drown. I’ll be angry that I have too much to do and not enough time, and I’ll shake my fist and become angry at God. Meanwhile, Satan, the one who’s actually to blame, can sneak off while my back is turned and pounce on someone else and infect someone else’s mind with his lies.

I don’t want that to happen – to me or anyone else.

So, we have to talk with God. We have to listen to Him. We have to read His Word. We have to surround ourselves with other people who love Him and can point us toward His Truth.

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And we have to do it now – the sooner the better.

Now, where’d I put that to-do list…

 

 

 

 

 

This is a great song to sing when you need to tell Satan to move along 🙂

How Satan Used the Size of My Shirt to {Almost} Ruin My Weekend Retreat

It happened because I chose the wrong shirt size.  I probably shoulda gotten a medium, but I got a small.  It fit fine over my arms, shoulders, and chest, but I’m a pear shape, so it was a little snug over my rear end and my hips.

This was over the weekend at the Be Still Mama women’s retreat I attended at The Cove in Asheville.  (This was my second Be Still Mama retreat at The Cove.  If you’ve never been to The Cove, you absolutely HAVE to go).

When we arrived Friday, the 70 participants changed into our retreat t-shirts and took a group picture.

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Be Still Mama Women’s Retreat Winter 2019

“Mine is a little big,” one of the ladies commented after we put on our shirts.  The sleeves, meant to be three-quarter length and fitted, were longer and hung loosely.  The body of the shirt itself fell over her petite torso and covered her backside.  It looked comfortable but oversized.

“What size did you get?”  I inquired.

“Medium,” was her reply.

“Oh!” I said, a little surprised.  “You should have gotten a small.”

“No way,” she responded.  “It would have been way too tight and clingy all over my stomach.”

I was silent.  Here stood this lady clearly more petite than me saying she wouldn’t order a small shirt because it would be too clingy…while I stood there in a size small shirt that I repeatedly tugged over my rear end and hips.

All of a sudden, it hit me like a hot wave…those old, familiar feelings of inferiority and self-consciousness.

Before I knew it, my mind was racing…

“You shouldn’t be here.”

“You don’t really belong.”

“That shirt is too little!  What made you think you could fit into a small?!”

“Your face is breaking out, too,”

“Can’t you do anything with that crazy, curly hair!?”

And I just wanted to shut myself in my room for the rest of the weekend.

I didn’t want anyone to see the shirt stretched over my hips or the acne on my face or the frizz on my head.

I didn’t want to be there anymore.

But, I went to dinner and to our first session that evening.  I sang the praise and worship songs and turned to 1 Kings 17 in my Bible.  Afterward, I went back to my cabin and hid in my room for a little while – fiddling with the stuff in my suitcase and taking off my make-up and brushing my teeth and putting on my pajamas. Finally, I made myself go to the den to talk with my cabin-mates.

The whole time, the inferiority and self-consciousness was still there – feeding itself on my weakened spirit.

The next morning, I woke up after a sound night’s sleep and puzzled for a little while.

“What was that all about last night?”  I wondered.

After all, nobody had said anything directly to me.  The lady had only made a comment about her own shirt.

Then, I realized it!  That was Satan.  He did that.  He brought up all those negative thoughts and insecurities.

I could have done a forehead-slap!  Why didn’t I realize it was him as soon as it started?

And why in the world was he after me anyway?

Oh…duh!  (another forehead-slap moment) I was at a Christian women’s retreat!

Of course it was a plan to distract me.  If Satan could distract me by getting me all wrapped up in self-consciousness, I would miss the message God had for me.

And every.thing.made.sense!

I stood right there in the middle of the bathroom where I’d been washing my face when I had my epiphany, and I said, “that’s enough!  I’m not doing this today.  I came here to spend some quiet, relaxing time with Jesus, and that’s what I’m going to do!”

Any time I even thought those feelings might come back at any point over the weekend, I reminded myself:

Those thoughts are from Satan.  He wants to distract me this weekend, but he isn’t going to win.  Jesus is with me, and He has something to say to me that I want to hear.

And I went on with my day!

Honestly, that kind of thing has happened to me a lot in my life.  I’ve only recently been aware of what is really going on – a spiritual attack – and been able to combat it by praying and asking God to intervene for me.

I imagine this has happened to you before, too.  Hopefully, you realized what was going on and put a stop to it before you got sucked too far down in the muck.

The sooner we get a handle on what’s truly happening, the sooner we can stop it.

Recognize the attack and the attacker and immediately resist it with prayer, by calling on Jesus name, or by rebuking Satan and letting him know he has no place in your mind and in your heart.

Don’t let him ruin one more beautiful moment of your life.

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The infamous shirt 😉  

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Stubborn Like Me?

The promises God gave us in the Bible are sufficient that we should obey what He tells us to do right away. He promises us, His children, everything He promised to the Israelites in the Bible. God, through His word, promised us His presence, salvation, grace, love…this should be enough to warrant our immediate obedience when we have a word from God.

But, just like Gideon in the book of Judges, we hesitate. Our faith is weak. Our theology is off. We want God to prove it’s Him! We ask for a sign to make ourselves more confident.

I’ve been there. I’ve taken months, even years to respond with obedience to conviction from God through the Holy Spirit. At first, it was because I didn’t know it was God. I wasn’t walking with Him. I wasn’t allowing Him to be my shepherd, so when He spoke, I didn’t know His voice.

Now, I honestly have no excuse. I walk and talk with Him daily. His voice is familiar. Yet I’m still slow to respond sometimes. I’m still reluctant.

At times, I’m just plain stubborn. I don’t want to do what He’s told me to do – not right then at least.

But delayed obedience is disobedience.

Sometimes I don’t want to do the thing the way He’s told me to do it. In my pridefulness, I think my way is better – MY timing, MY sequence, MY procedure.

Even though I know better, y’all!

In the end it always comes back to Him though. I try to do it the way I want to do it rather than the way God said to do it, and I screw it up. Then, I have to throw up my hands, and do it His way after all.

Wouldn’t I have wasted less time, used less energy, and endured less struggle if I just did it the way He told me to do it in the beginning? The first time I felt Him nudge my heart?

He gets the glory in the end anyway – no matter how I respond in the beginning. But do I miss out on some of the blessing I would have received if my obedience had been immediate? Do I fracture my faith? Do I tarnish my testimony? Do I hurt my heart? Am I a poor witness for others?

I’m Sorry

I’m sorry if you’ve been hurt by people and now you’re mad at the church or at God.

I’m sorry that someone who said she was a Christian was unkind to you because of what you wore to church or because you smoked or had tattoos or because of your past or who your parents were or who you married.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that a Christian did something to you and now you don’t like Christians.

Unfortunately, we’re just flawed people trying to share the perfect message of God’s Good News.  Trying to pass it on to others like He told us to. We’re gonna screw up. It’s gonna go wrong and get messy.

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Photo Credit: heartprintsofgod.com

But the other morning while I was studying Matthew Chapter 9, God gave me a message. First it was for me, and then I had to share it with you!

God desires compassion more than ritual (Matthew 9:13).

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Photo Credit: picmonkey.com

This is how He wants His people to treat others.

But it goes both ways, in a sense.  Our ability to show compassion grows from a strong relationship with Him because God is compassionate.  We don’t know how to love others unless we have learned to love Him. We won’t know how to love Him unless we’ve built a relationship with Him in prayer and in reading His Word.

God wants a relationship with us rather than for us to be religious.  God wants us to have relationships with other people rather than being religious in front of them.  The latter will definitely drive them away from us and will probably drive them away from God. The former should draw them to us and, in turn, to God.

I imagine that’s what happened to you, and I’m sorry that you experienced someone who was more about religion than a relationship.

The MacArthur Study Bible commentary on Matthew 9:13 explains that religious people focus on “the outward, ritual, and ceremonial aspects of God’s law” but ignore the parts that were meant to show us how to live the way God would have us to live and the parts of the law that focus on our hearts.  When we focus on the ritual and ignore relationships, we become “harsh, judgemental, and self-righteously scornful of others.”

Does that remind you of an experience you’ve had with someone else?

Does it remind you of you?

When I read this commentary, I cried.  I knew this was me. God let me see how I am perceived through someone else’s eyes when I forget the compassion of God and only focus on the commands of God.

It is a blessing for our compassionate God to let us see ourselves through the eyes of others – even, or maybe especially, if what we see isn’t pretty.

So, I’m sorry if you’ve been hurt by people and now you’re mad at God.

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Photo Credit: perpetualbliss.me

But, consider this: people screw up, even if they had good intentions at the beginning. Rather than turn your back on God because of the way someone represented Him to you, why not go find out about Him for yourself?

Talk to Him.

Ask Him to show you the truth about Himself and how He wants you to live.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Read about Him in the Bible – start in the Gospels.  I’m reading Matthew right now, and like I said, 9:13 is what inspired this post.

Ask Him to send a Christian into your life who isn’t religious – someone who truly knows Him and is living for Him.

He’ll hear you.  He’ll answer you, and it’ll be beyond anything you could have imagined.

The Quiet Advent Calendar

The frenzy is already building.  Can you feel it?!  The frenzy that is the Christmas season – only 31 more shopping days to go!  Who’s left on my gift list?  What am I going to bake to take to my in-laws’ house on Christmas Eve?  I didn’t even start decorating yet!!!

Oh my goodness!  No wonder we rarely enjoy the season anymore.  It’s too crazy busy.

Let’s take back the holiday season this year.  Let’s focus on the real reason we celebrate – the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Let’s prepare our hearts for the Advent season.

I’d like to invite you to “The Quiet Advent Calendar” from my friend, Julianne Gilchrist.  Join me in 24 days of delighting in this season of Advent.  I’m excited for this Advent Calendar because, as I’ve gotten to know Julianne over the past 6 months, I’ve discovered that she’s all about slowing down, breathing in, and just being with God.  Her concern is helping people learn to hear God’s voice above the hum-drum of life.  And I can see her desire for sacred space built into “The Quiet Advent Calendar.”

If you plan to join, let me know, and we can walk through it together.  Just click on “The Quiet Advent Calendar”, fill in your name and email address, click Send Me The Quiet Advent Calendar, and settle in and get ready.

I can’t wait to get started.

When God Says No But You Do It Anyway

“Even things of great value should be given up if they are leading a person to sin.”

        ~English Standard Version Study Bible

             Commentary on Matthew 5:29-30

Ouch!  That stings a little.

I might stubbornly hold on for a minute or two to (what I think of as) “real” sin when God convicts me.  These are things such as losing my temper with my children or watching TV shows or movies that don’t bring Him glory.  Then there are things that are easy for me to agree are outright sins – murder, abortion, adultery, worshiping another god…

But I don’t want to agree with Him, and I dig my heels in when He convicts me of something I don’t see as “real” sin.  When He begins to show me that I have to let go of something because it is distracting me from fulfilling His purpose for me.

You see, that is sin, too.  Anything that separates me from God is sin.  Anything that does not bring God glory is sin.  Anything I want more than I want Him is sin.

And that’s a bit harder to swallow.

If something causes me to sin, I have to get rid of it.  If God says something has to go, it has to go. If He points me in a direction, and I refuse to go, I’m being disobedient.  And disobedience is sin.

I’ve known for several years that God said no to my photography business.  But taking pictures wasn’t a “real” sin. I wasn’t getting drunk or cheating on my husband…and I liked photography, and people seemed to like my work, so I pursued it anyway.

But, it’s funny what happens when you do something after God has said no.  It might become very difficult and you have to work way too hard; you might begin to hate it when it was something you really liked to begin with, or He might take it away from you altogether.

He will get your attention.  He will continue to convict you.  Just because you pulled a four-year-old and folded your arms, poked out your lips, stomped your foot, and acted like you didn’t hear Him doesn’t mean that He gives up.

He is God, and He said no.  If you move forward anyway, you do so at your own risk and in complete defiance of Him.

“But it’s just photography!”  You say. “It’s just something to do for fun.”

True, but I tried to push it beyond that.  I tried to act on my own outside of God’s sovereignty.  I tried to make it what I wanted it to be.

See, I thought I would be a photographer when Emery went back to school.  I had worked up a nice like side business while I was at home with my kids, and I thought I could build it up to the point that I wouldn’t have to go to work outside the home.  I thought I could present it to Bill when he said it was time to go back to work, and he’d let me do that instead.

Long story short, God said no.

It honestly took me several years to let it go.  I kept holding on to little bits and pieces of it.  I almost completely stopped doing weddings but kept doing regular sessions.  Then, I slowed way down on the regular sessions…but in the end, God made it clear.  The answer was still no.

Not – “you can do other stuff just not weddings.”

Not – “just do a few sessions a month to make extra money.”

Not – “you can keep working with past clients, just don’t take on new ones.”

The.answer.was.no.

Not at all.

None.

Stop.it.now.

Taking pictures wasn’t a sin.  Making money wasn’t a sin.

Continuing to do something God told me not to do was a sin.

I finally started to come to grips with the truth of this earlier this year when I attended a women’s retreat and the speakers’ messages centered around John 15:1-11.

Their focus overall was verse 11, but God got a-hold of me with verse 2:

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that is may bear more fruit.”

I was so arrested by that verse the first night of the retreat that I couldn’t leave my seat after the session was over.  The speaker taught on other verses from that section, but I was fixated on verse 2.

That night, I studied on my own – reading a commentary on the verse and praying and journaling about it.

The ESV commentary said, “ ‘He prunes’ gives a picture of painful but necessary removal of some interests and activities in order that the remaining branches may bear even more fruit.”

There it was, plainly written on the page.

God wasn’t just “being mean” or saying no just because he could.  Taking pictures wasn’t a sin. But it was an interest or activity that needed to go so I could bear more fruit – fruit I wouldn’t bear if my energy and attention was on photography.

The next day at the retreat, another of the speakers focused on verse 2.

Hallelujah!!!

I was riveted!

Her name was Lindsay deBuhr, and she used an extended description of grapevines, vineyards, and vine dressers to explain John 15:2.

Among many other eye-opening tidbits about how a vine dresser cares for the vines in his vineyard, Lindsay clarified that pruning was removing clusters of grapes or leaves or branches so the vine could give its energy to the best fruit.

To the untrained eye, the clusters of fruit the vine dresser removes might look perfectly healthy.  There might be nothing visibly wrong with the leaves or branches he cuts off the vine.

But the vine dresser knows. (The vine dresser in John 15 is an analogy for God, by the way 😉 )  He knows the difference between good fruit and the best fruit. He knows which leaves are blocking the sunlight from the best fruit.  He knows which branches are growing the wrong way.

And He removes them.  Then, the vine can focus on the best fruit.

“God removes all things in the believer’s life that would hinder fruit-bearing.”

                    ~Macarthur Study Bible Commentary on John 15:2

Pray this with me:

Father, you are the divine vine dresser.  You know the fruit the branches could bear, and you know how to get the branches to bear that fruit.  You tend, and you care, and you cultivate, and you prune.

All I can do is submit to the pruning.  I am the branch, and I am in the vine, your son, Jesus Christ.  I want to abide in Him, and I want to bear fruit. I stretch out my arms, and I lay down my life, and I give it to you.  Prune me, Lord. Take out all the stuff getting in the way. Take out all the stuff keeping me from you. Take out all the stuff draining my time.  Take out all the stuff that divides my interests. Cut it all out. It may be painful at times, but I’ll abide in the vine, and I’ll remember you are cutting out the sins, the hindrances, the drain…you’re doing this because you know what is best for me.

Most importantly, teach me to come to you first before I even bring this junk into my life in the first place. Teach me to let you make the decisions.  Teach me to seek you and to be obedient.

Amen