Monthly Archives: August 2014

Welcome to The Wilderness

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I love The Cosby Show. Don’t know a single kid from the 80’s who doesn’t. TVLand ran a marathon the other night and StevieP and I could not turn it off.

I tried to pick my favorite episode, but with every one we watched or reminisced it seemed they all are favorites. Among the top are the one where Theo is introduced to “The Real World,” the one where Theo gets his ear pierced, and the one with Rudy’s sleepover when Cliff gives the kids bucking horse-rides, saving the last ride for Peter. (If you need to smile right now, click the links to watch a clip of each episode.)

One particular Cosby episode has come to mind, though, the one where newly married Sondra and Elvin announce their plans to open a “Wilderness Store” in Brooklyn. Claire and Cliff are livid as plans for medical school and law school are seemingly laid to rest. Cliff hopes Elvin catches poison ivy and Claire wants Cliff to take Elvin “on a long trip in the country and drop ‘em off.”

If you ask me, Cliff and Claire were right to be concerned. I mean, think about it. A “Wilderness Store” in Brooklyn? Doesn’t make for a great business venture. But the couple’s bad business idea was the least of the Huxtable’s worries; they didn’t want their “baby” throwing away her dreams and spending life in “the wilderness.”

Without knowing it, many of us have done what Sondra and Elvin did, only spiritually. We’ve thrown away our dream of happy, fulfilled living for the reality of disciplined, mundane Christianity.

I have been living in the spiritual wilderness for the past I-don’t-know-how-long. If you were to watch me, you’d see me going about business as usual, everything the normal amount of crazy for my life and home. But underneath the surface my heart has been sore.   My soul, parched. My body weak and spirit weary from living out my faith with an assortment of action and busyness.

If you missed my previous post, click this link and go back to take a look at where I was. I was frustrated with just about everyone around me; family, friends and strangers alike. Everyone seemed to rub me wrong or let me down. I was moody, swinging from overly emotional to intentionally aloof.

I was pouring every last ounce of me into doing my faith and ministry and it was leaving me dry.  Parched. Empty.

But isn’t living for The Lord supposed to fulfill me?

Before I go too far into my story, let me simply explain what I mean by “the wilderness.”

First outta the chute, let’s clarify what The Wilderness is NOT:

  • It’s not a trial, difficult situation or circumstance.
  • It’s not grief or sorrow due to a loss.
  • It is not “burn out.”
  • It cannot be blamed on Satan.

Here’s what The Wilderness is:

  • It is dryness within, a lack of purpose, a loss of meaning.
  • It is “going through the motions” with no passion.
  • It is having eternal life in the hereafter, but no “abundant life” on earth.
  • It is the result of sinful attitudes.

If you read that list and it meant nothing to you, you may not be a Wilderness wanderer. However, if you read that list and found yourself saying, “OhMyGoodnessYES!” then this is for you.

Welcome to The Wilderness.

As I mentioned in my last post, The Lord took the blinders off me with a series preached by Pastor James MacDonald titled, “Lord, Change My Attitude Before It’s Too Late.” Y’all, I honestly had no idea that my attitude was the root of my problem. I listened intently to each of the messages broadcast during the month of June and all I can say is I needed steel-toed boots. God stomped all over my toes with this.

I began to understand how He feels about my attitude, how it speaks so much louder than my actions of who I really am. It was an embarrassing realization, which I will no doubt share the hideous details of, but the facts I quote will come from James MacDonald’s book, which bears the same name as the series. Seriously, I cannot even begin to tell y’all how much I needed this.

So, have I scared you yet? Ready for a hike? Hope you grabbed those boots I mentioned ‘cause this trail ain’t for sissies.

The Wilderness. Think more of a desert than a forest. Imagine dry, lifeless, scorching heat. Someplace you probably wouldn’t choose to visit and definitely wouldn’t want to live.

This is where the children of Israel found themselves after their exile from Egypt. They had been slaves and God sent Moses to set them free. They physically experienced Almighty God through the parting of the Red Sea, a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. They had the Ten Commandments and the Ark of the Covenant ridin’ sidesaddle. They had both visible and tangible evidence of God, even though they were in the physical wilderness.

After eighteen months of traveling, they made it to the edge of the land “flowing with milk and honey” God had promised them. But guess what happened? God said No. Nope. Nu-uh. No-way-Jose am I giving you this land now. Back to the wilderness you go. Scoot-scoot.

Have you ever stopped and really wondered WHY God wouldn’t let them go in? WHY a loving God would instead kill off an entire generation of His own people?

Hearing this story since childhood, I’ve always chalked it up to crazy Old Testament stuff and focused just on the end of the story, when they sent the spies to check out the land and the prospects of their occupying it.

I’ve always assumed God wouldn’t let them in because they were afraid and didn’t trust Him. The twelve spies returned and only two of them (Joshua and Caleb) had faith God would provide victory; the other ten had no faith whatsoever. They were ready to stone the two faithful spies and even said, “We wish we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness,” (Numbers 14:2). They were certain “Jehovah will kill us there, and our wives and little ones will become slaves,” (Numbers 14:3).

Seriously? After all God had done for them, they reasoned that He would bring them into the Promised Land simply to kill them? What a waste of time and miracles.

I figured these comments alone were enough to make God mad and decide to pull the plug. I mean, they were getting what they asked for, right?

But here’s the thing I’ve learned: The incident with the spies was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“God never gets angry without a good reason.” ~James MacDonald

These people—these precious, chosen children of God, had bad attitudes from Day 1. God had been putting up with their “grumbling” throughout the entire journey and by this point He was just done with them.

“The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. Say to them, “As I live,” says The Lord, “just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you. Your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me.”” ~Numbers 14:26-29

Wow. Would you agree that God was angry and that it possibly had to do with the peoples’ attitudes?

As MacDonald teaches, “God doesn’t just lose it and then wonder what happened.” This radical move was purposeful. It was intended to teach us something, as we see it referred to over and over again in scripture.

“All these things happened to them as examples—as object lessons to us—to warn us against doing the same things; they were written down so that we could read about them and learn from them in these last days as the world nears its end.” ~1 Corinthians 10:11

When I really felt the gravity of the situation, I wanted to know exactly what those people did so I could do the exact opposite. I do not want that sort of righteous anger zeroed-in anywhere near the target on my back.

So what did they do that was so bad? The old King James Version of scripture says they were “murmuring” and God heard it. ALL of it. Their complaining, grumbling, pitiful, irritating murmurmurmurmur…and He was like, “One more outburst from you and I will be forced to strangle you with this microphone wire.” (Adam Sandler, The Wedding Singer. You’re welcome.)

If you’re a parent, I’m sure you know exactly the sound I’m talking about. It’s annoying and God was finally like, “ENOUGH!”

Here’s an understatement: God is serious about our attitudes. Maybe, like me, you’ve been mostly concerned with your ACTIONS, but I’m here to ask you to rethink that. This story and these passages of scripture make it dead clear just how important our attitudes are to God. And His response to our attitudes is still the same as back then: He judges them. Only, He doesn’t thrust us into a physical wilderness anymore; He allows us to experience a spiritual one.

The cool thing is we have a big part in determining whether this happens to us or not. We choose our attitudes. They don’t choose us; we choose them. We must accept this as fact or else we will never be able to choose differently.

“Attitudes are patterns of thinking formed over a long period of time.” ~James MacDonald

Take note of that statement because the course of this study hangs on this thought. Over our lifetime, we develop patterns or ways of thinking about the world. Attitudes are like habits and some of them are harmful.

I began to take notice of my patterns of thinking and uggh. They were disgusting. I began to annoy myself with my own thoughts. No wonder God got sick of it; He was listening to THOUSANDS of peoples’ thoughts and words. Remember Bruce Almighty and all the voices in his head whenever people prayed? Now imagine them all whining, complaining, griping. (Oh wait. I’m a mom and a youth pastor’s wife. I don’t have to imagine.)

There are five attitudes that Pastor MacDonald identifies that constitute this “murmuring” way of life that leads to wilderness wandering. I will go ahead and tell you I have had all five at some point or other, and when this series aired, I was specifically dealing with three.

Now here’s a cliff hanger. I know you’re dying to know what the five attitudes are, but if I tell you now you may not wanna come back. Just sayin’.

I’ll focus on one attitude per post, hopefully in a timely manner. School has started around here so this house has been a’hoppin’. I write when I’m provided the time, so if you want to find out more—help a girl out and pray that I have time to write!

If you’ve identified yourself as a Wilderness wanderer, take heart. God makes His best moves in The Wilderness. It is where He spoke to Abraham, Moses and David. Where He made manna rain down. Where He courts His people and speaks tenderly to them.

I know it’s never easy, but let’s purposely open ourselves up for change. For Relocation. Let’s get a bag and get to packin’ so we can move out of The Wilderness and into the Promised Land of abundant living.

Like the new song by Casting Crowns says, “It’s time for us to more than just survive; we were made to thrive.”

I want to thrive. I’m ready for joy AND happiness. I want to move past just hoping He comes through for me while I scurry about making backup plans “just in case.” That kind of living is exhausting and He has such a better plan for us anyway.

Regardless of my circumstances, I want to live in the cozy security of God’s promises, where I can snuggle up at night, sleep peacefully, and wake up with a soul that sincerely feels good. Don’t you? There’s nothing wrong with that, friends!

“You can stop the flow of negativity that causes happiness to hemorrhage, and you can start the flow of good attitudes that causes abundant joy to overflow.” ~James MacDonald

If you’re really ready to embark on this journey, then you will be able to agree with the following list from MacDonald:

  • You have decided that you believe attitudes are critically important for your life.
  • You understand that attitudes are very important to God.
  • You understand that there are serious “wilderness” consequences to wrong attitudes.
  • You have decided that you want your attitudes to change.
  • You have embraced the idea that you can’t change your attitudes without God’s help.
  • You are willing to study God’s Word to learn which attitudes need to change and how to begin.

If you’re in agreement, pray this prayer with Pastor MacDonald and me…

“Lord, thank You for the powerful message that You have preserved more than three thousand years. Thank You for loving me enough to seek me and pursue what is best for my life. As best I know how, I submit all my attitudes to You in this moment and pray that You will begin the process of transformation in me. I want the landscape of my life to change. I want to experience the unhindered joy and blessing that You have promised to those who will leave wilderness attitudes behind and move into the promised land of attitudes that please You. Change my attitudes for Your own pleasure, and use [these] truths, which come from Your Book, to do it, I pray. Do that work in me, oh God, and begin today. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen!”

See you at the next stop.

Jessie

“But I will court her again and bring her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her tenderly there…I will transform her Valley of Troubles into a Door of Hope. She will respond to me there, singing with joy as in days long ago in her youth after I had freed her from captivity…” ~ Hosea 2:14-15

I Am a C

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“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” ~ James 5:16

Well stink. I thought this whole blogging thing was going to be about The Lord using it in the lives of others. Instead, He’s mostly using it in the life of Me.

I thought I’d get to share the things I wanted to share, but like Uncle Si would say, “Nahh.” In order to keep my promise of a blog about “real thoughts from real women about real life,” apparently I must tell all and pray someone out there can relate.

Kinda like reality TV, this ain’t always gonna be pretty (or grammatically correct).

Through honest confession and testimony I’m realizing who I really am vs. who God wants me to be. Confessing my self-righteous thoughts and judgmental spirit to the world is not high on my list of things to do.  Yet, as the scripture says, confession brings healing.

I want to be healed.

With that said, you should know I’ve sat down to write this post probably a dozen times now, but every time I get flustered and walk away. Nevertheless, I value sleep and if I ever want to sleep soundly again, I have to do what The Holy Spirit leads. (I don’t know if you know this about Him or not, but He plays the Insomnia Card like a boss.)

So here we go.

It all started as I helped a family I dearly love move out of their just-foreclosed-on home. As we moved boxes and furniture, there they stood. The Neighbors.

I wish I could say I felt love for this neighborhood lined with “Pray for Joe” yard signs, but I didn’t. I felt anger. Infuriation. Rage.

How can they pray for [Fireman] Joe, who they’ve likely never met, yet stare in judgmental silence as their actual neighbors struggle?

How is it that friends and strangers who lived an hour and a half away could come and help this family, yet the very people who lined their block could only manage to gossip and stare?

Angry doesn’t accurately convey the emotions I felt. I was appalled. These neighbors actually claim to be Christians. How on earth?!

As the weeks passed I began to notice more and more hypocrites around me.

… The honking maniac who cuts you off while sporting a shiny silver fish above his taillight.

…The angry woman at the grocery store who can wear a Christian t-shirt but can’t crack a smile.

…The churchgoers who knowingly worship in the same congregation but ignore one another in public.

Right about now you may be wondering where I live. It may (or may not) surprise you that I live in The Bible Belt. Rural Texas, to be exact. A country community where everyone claims to love Jesus and The Longhorns. (A few love That Other Team, but we won’t mention them since they left The Big 12.)

As my sister-in-law from Denver observed, here we don’t ask, “Do you go to church?” We ask, “Where do you go to church?”

If you’re from here, Christianity is basically an implied part of your identity. It is socially acceptable to “go to church” and we just expect that everyone does. If you find someone who doesn’t, they’re probably under 25 and here on scholarship.

So if the majority of my community is Christian—which literally means to be like Christ—one would assume this would be the most loving, graceful place on earth, right?

Wrong. We in The Bible Belt are among the most judgmental and unloving people on earth. We have the ability to tell you off politely and with a smile. Bless your heart. (Think Julia Sugarbaker. And if you’re too young to remember Designing Women, I can’t help you.)

If you don’t “fit the mold” of our church, we eventually run you off. And if you visit, don’t even think about sitting in “my pew.”

Sadly, this is not just a problem in my neck of the woods.

I recently returned from my third mission trip to Tennessee. You’re probably wondering why in the world Tennessee, of all places. Don’t they have churches there? Yes, yes they do. But as one pastor put it, the people in those churches do not live out their faith.

While their church buildings are full, their community is wasting away. So a separate ministry has been organized to bring in other churches to help.

Did ya catch that? They bring in other churches to help.

Did you know a 2012 Gallup Poll estimated some 77% of Americans profess to be Christians and of those, 52% claim a Protestant or “Other Christian” identity?

When you turn on the news, does it seem that 77% of the people in this country are Christians? If so, shouldn’t America look slightly different? Better yet, even if 52% of our country lived like Christ, wouldn’t this be a totally different place?

I was reminded of an old song from Sunday School, “I Am a C.” Remember that song? I began to sing the lyrics…

“I am a C. I am a C-H. I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N. And I have C-H-R-I-S-T in my H-E-A-R-T and I will L-I-V-E-E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y!”

We used to sing it faster and faster until finally all you could hear was a jumble of L-L-Y’s.

As I sang, it occurred to me that for many of us, this is where the song of our faith ends. I’ve got fire insurance, I’m good to go! Thanks, Jesus!

“If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:14-15 (NIV)

But isn’t there supposed to be more to Christianity than just salvation from Hell? What about the “abundant life” Jesus promises to give those who trust in Him?

“I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” ~John 10:10 (The Message)

I began asking myself crazy questions like What if I was dropped on an island and told to find the Christians there? If there were no church buildings, where would I start? What would I look for to identify them?

I asked The Lord, What exactly makes someone a Christian? Is it simply believing in You, Jesus? Is there a difference between being a “believer” and a Christian? Is it just a label we claim after joining a church?

Of course, The Lord answered my question.

“And how can we be sure that we belong to Him? By looking within ourselves: are we really trying to do what He wants us to? Someone may say, ‘I am a Christian; I am on my way to heaven; I belong to Christ.’ But if he doesn’t do what Christ tells him to, he is a liar. But those who do what Christ tells them to will learn to love God more and more. That is the way to know whether or not you are a Christian. Anyone who says he is a Christian should live as Christ did.” ~ 1 John 2:3-6

I love how God gives such blunt, to-the-point-answers.

According to 1 John 2:3-6, there are 4 things that define a Christian.

1—A Christian is someone who sincerely strives to do what Jesus wants him to. (vs.3)

2—A Christian is someone who actively does what Christ tells him to. (vs.5)

3—A Christian is someone whose love for God continually grows. (vs. 5)

4—A Christian is someone who lives like Christ did. (vs. 6)

Do you see the action in those words? According to this passage, Christianity is not a passive belief; it is an active faith.

After we are saved, there is usually a desire within us to actively live out our new faith. We are “on fire” for Jesus. So what happens along the way to snuff the flame?

Life. Life happens. We get busy, consumed with our circumstances and focused on our problems.

The song in our heart ends in a jumble of L-L-Y’s and the other songs of our faith fade away.

It is not well with our souls.

Grace is not amazing.

Our eyes aren’t turned upon Jesus.

Believe me, I totally get this. It’s hard to turn my eyes on Jesus while sitting in a car without a/c in the Texas summer sun. It isn’t well with my soul when I’m stressing over finances. Grace is not amazing when I get a speeding ticket on the way to church.

In my own experience, when life just becomes life, that “C” from the song quickly comes to stand for something else…

I am a Complainer. I am not satisfied with what God is doing or not doing for me. He’s not meeting my expectations. I deserve to be happy and enjoy “the good life.”

I am a Coveter. Not just of other people’s possessions, but I want more, better, or different things than what I currently have. I want a different job, a better marriage, more stuff—a better situation in general. I’m entitled to more and if I had it, then I’d be content.

I am a Critic. Be it of the church, fellow Christians, or—even worse—the lost around me. I am the jury and the judge of everyone. If they don’t meet my standards, I don’t speak to them. Or wave.

I am a Controller. I am the master of my ship. No one will convict me or convince me that my ways are wrong. I get to decide what is right for my life. If I’m in control then I have nothing to doubt. I will “make it happen”.

I am a Contradiction. I say I love Jesus and believe the Bible in its entirety, but my live-in lover is okay. Besides, marriage is an old fashioned concept imposed by society, so my rebellion is justified.

I am a Consumer. I buy and do what suits my likings, not just my needs. I value church in much the same way. I’ll go to church, but when the pastor leaves or the music is no longer my style, I’ll just find a new one. After all, The Church is not about being a committed family; it’s about feeling good when I leave at noon.

I am Confined. I live in a perfectly rose-colored world, so don’t mess it up. I know The Rules and I follow them to a tee. I have God in a box where I like Him, where I feel safe. No need to step out of my comfort zone; the Lord will send someone else to talk to “that family” next door.

Before you think I’m criticizing and condemning, hear this: God has revealed the plank in my own eye. I have been or currently am All Of The Above.

Like the story of the sheep Nathan used to reach David, I realize I have been That Neighbor. (2 Samuel 12) I have lived across the street from a young, widowed, mother of two and never lifted a finger to help or befriend her. I have avoided eye contact with “the weird people next door” to avert an inconvenient and uncomfortable conversation.

Listen to what God would say to our hearts through the prophet Ezekiel…

“My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before You to hear Your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.” ~Ezekiel 33:31

Basically, going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than visiting the zoo makes you a monkey.

God’s people should put God’s words into practice. That means we actually DO what He says. We LIVE like He says to. We ACT like He wants us to.

If we, as God’s people, can’t do and live and act like God wants us to, then why would we expect our country—our world to get any better? There’s no hope in that.

As one of my favorite songs says, “We are Your Church; We are The Hope on Earth.”

Can you think of someone right now who you would describe as “The Hope on Earth”? I hope you can.

The truth is you should be able to think of a CHURCH FULL of Somebodies! How in the world are we going to be The Hope on Earth with frowny faces and sorry attitudes?

Now please don’t get defensive—I love The Church. I am The Church.

I point these things out, not to condemn or criticize, but out of a desire to see The Body live abundantly and to see Jesus Christ glorified and accurately portrayed through the lives of His people.

Church, we’re not living abundantly. Many of us are not even living happily.

I literally cannot count the number of women who have confessed their misery to me.

“…Life is so hard…I’m just not happy…My husband isn’t who I thought he would be…My family isn’t close…I’m saved but how come my life isn’t abundant?”

My heart is heavy because these are precious, beloved Daughters of The King. I see their despair. I watch them either fake a smile or slump around on Sunday mornings, but either way, they are sincerely joyless. Unhappy. Miserable.

There is a dark, dying world that desperately needs our Light, but we can’t shine it while wearing The Cloak of Misery.

This observation has nothing to do with salvation. I’m not questioning anyone’s eternal security here. But I am questioning the abundance of life that is being enjoyed and the image that is portrayed of what life with Jesus looks like.

Those alternate “C’s” do not lead others to Him and they do not lead to abundant life. In fact, The Lord has taught me they lead to life in the wilderness.

Though I recognized the problem, I didn’t know what to call it.

Then, right on time (as usual), God dropped the hammer on me through a recent series preached by Pastor James MacDonald called, “Lord, Change My Attitude Before It’s Too Late.”

What I’ve been witnessing is His Children living life in the wilderness, just like Moses and The Children of Israel did.

I didn’t know it, but I’ve been living in the wilderness myself. Though frustrated and angered by the attitudes of Christians around me, I realize I am no different. What I saw in them, God has uncovered in me. A spiritual wilderness.

Graciously, He has shown me the way out.

Being a Christian isn’t about being perfect or getting it right all the time. It’s about the attitude of our heart and mind. The way we strive to live and what we seek to accomplish—our will and wants or God’s?

Chuck Swindoll said, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

Isn’t that what this boils down to, our attitude? When our attitudes allow it, we find ourselves in a miserable place, a spiritual wilderness.

I’ve learned attitudes are patterns of thinking formed over a long period of time that, when left unchecked, make life a dry, hard, joyless, parched experience.

Consider this post an introduction to “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say. Over the next few weeks I will attempt to cover the attitudes that lead to wilderness living, as well as the attitudes that lead to abundant living.

I am currently on my way out of the wilderness. Won’t you come with me? All it takes is recognizing the bad attitudes within you, confessing them as sin and repenting.

We didn’t get to the wilderness overnight, so this journey will take some time. (Hopefully not 40 years!) Let’s step out together and watch with eager anticipation for the clouds and fire God will use to lead us out.

Now go grab your boots.  We’ve got some walkin’ to do.

Jessie

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” ~ James 5:16

Click here to listen to one of my favorite songs, “Build Your Kingdom Here,” by Rend Collective Experiment.