Tag Archives: grace

Spiritually Dry: When you’re doing All The Spiritual Things… and He still feels far away.

Do you ever feel like you're in a spiritual desert even when you're actively pursuing God? Me too. Then I found a beautiful (and surprising) encouragement tucked away in the Scriptures. It has changed everything. Find strength for your faith in this quick read.I recently read the account in Joshua where the Lord stops the flow of the Jordan River so the Israelites (and the Ark of the Covenant) can cross.

And my brain exploded a little.

Before we get to the brain explosion, let me bring you up to speed. After they crossed the river, the Lord instructed them to set up a memorial using stones taken from the bottom of the Jordan riverbed (where the Ark was held on dry ground as the people crossed). Here’s a quick excerpt from the account:

[Joshua] said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what He had done to the Red Sea when He dried it up before us until we had crossed over.” – Joshua 4:21-23

Did you see it?

He dried it up.

The Lord dried up a path through the Red Sea until they had crossed over.

And He dried up a path through the Jordan River until they had crossed over.

Okay, okay, so the Lord did the same thing in two places. Big deal, right? But, oh man, I relate to the two places in very different ways — and it’s rocking my world (cue brain explosion). Think about it with me:

Start with the Red Sea. We often associate the sea with “the wind and the waves.” You know, life’s struggles. Spiritually speaking, drying a path through the sea evokes images of the Lord making a way through trials, hardship, or distractions. That makes sense. (Also sounds insane and miraculous. But it makes sense because it sounds like something our loving, powerful God would do.)

But now come to the Jordan River. Unlike the sea, we usually associate a river with life and joy. Let the river flow. Streams of mercy. The river of life. But here, God stopped the flow of the river. He dried it up before them. And a dried up river is pretty much exactly how I feel when I say, “I feel spiritually dry,” or “I’m in a dry season.”

Now, sometimes that dry season comes because I’ve been disobedient or stopped investing in spiritual disciplines (reading my Bible, prayer, and worship to name a few) that draw me near to the source of abundant life, God Himself.

But sometimes I’m doing all these things and I still feel spiritually dry.

Today, I see a new possibility. Perhaps the Lord Himself has dried it up before me until I cross over. Cross over what? I don’t know. Not yet, anyway. But, being dried up because I walked away from God, and being dried up because God’s hand is holding back the flow even while I walk toward Him, are two entirely different things.

You see, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years because of disobedience. I’ve known that kind of dried up ground. (Not 40 years’ worth, thank goodness.) Crossing the Jordan River was different. There, they were exactly where they were supposed to be, doing exactly what they were supposed to do. They weren’t in sin. They weren’t walking away from God. The Israelites were walking in obedience. AND BECAUSE OF THAT, the Lord dried up the river until they had crossed over.

I must walk through some circumstances or seasons with Jesus WITHOUT THE FLOW OF THE RIVER, but on DRIED UP GROUND, simply in obedience; simply in pursuit of God Himself.

Why?

“He did this so all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” Joshua 4:24

So I’ll know Him, love Him, revere Him more.

It’s lovely to know and love God when the river is flowing. It is something more to also know Him on dried up ground — and through to the other side.

I wonder if anyone else, like me, has found themselves on dried up ground EVEN WHILE pursuing Jesus, serving Him, practicing spiritual disciplines that normally would lead to a rich experience of feeling connected to God — a river of “spiritual flow.” And perhaps when it began to feel instead like dried up ground, we let go of some spiritual practices. I mean, they stopped being “effective” anyway, right?

Well, I guess that depends on how we define effective.

If effective means I FEEL close to God (river flowing), then no. I guess spiritual disciplines aren’t always effective.

But if effective means I AM close to God (whether I feel like it or not), then like the Israelites, I can be on dried up ground right in the middle of His presence and His will.

Okay, okay — dried up ground, flowing river.. who even cares!? Does it really even matter!?

Well, maybe not. But, do I worship HIM or the flow? Do I know and trust Him in the flow and on dried up ground?

Because THAT MATTERS.

I invite you to return to the riverbed. And if you find it all dried up, don’t be discouraged. He is waiting for you there.

Bob Ross and My Messy Beautiful

As we tell the truth about our stuff - the good, the bad, the messy, the beautiful - we'll see God, who loves us so, turn what we thought had ruined us into the miracle that frees us. Looking for a story that could set you free? Don’t miss this read.

Did you ever watch Bob Ross back in the day? You know, The Joy of Painting, Burnt Sienna, White Ochre, and oh the happy little trees…

My brother and I watched him, transfixed, every weekend. Even more than his happy little trees – or THAT HAIR – I remember watching him paint something awesome.

And then paint a huge ugly stroke across the canvas.

Every single time, we gasped, “WHAT IS HE DOING!? HE RUINED IT!” 

And every single time, he turned that mess into a crazy awesome tree or some other unexpectedly brilliant thing – the showpiece of the entire landscape.

We stared at the screen, awestruck. “I thought for sure it was wrecked. HOW DOES HE DO THAT!?”

As a child of about five years old, I had a sexual encounter with a girl in my neighborhood. Because she was also a child (about five years older than I) and was, well, a girl, the situation didn’t match my understanding of sexual abuse. So, I never called it that. I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t tell anyone. It never occurred to me that I should.

This encounter prematurely awakened my sexuality, my sensuality. But, I never processed this as something introduced to me by another. Instead, I owned it. As a 5-year-old, I wasn’t capable of handling this awareness, this awake-ness. I became fixated on sexual, sensual thoughts and play. Over time, I developed a notion of “that kind of girl.” Over more time, I believed I was that kind of girl, and believed my memories were proof I’d been that kind of girl even as a small child.

The shame weighed heavy.

I secretly carried and grew that mass of shame, alone, for many years. Then one day I found myself as a college student in a small Bible study where this challenge was issued: share with the group – bring into the light – that deep, dark thing that holds you captive with shame. I had no idea what to share – not for lack of examples, but more like, “Where do I even begin?” I wrestled through my long, shameful list and landed on what I believed was the pinnacle of my shame: I’d had sex with my boyfriend. As a Christian, I thought it was the most sinful thing I’d ever done and the glaring proof I was “that kind of girl.”

Our intimate circle gathered close, and a friend named Kate bravely shared her story first. She had been sexually abused as a child, she said. By a girl just a few years older, she said.

As Kate continued to pour out her story, nineteen-year-old me flashed back to five-year-old me. My world went off-kilter a bit and tears ran down my face as shame and regret and long-held beliefs about myself began to crumble beneath my feet. Until that moment, it had never once occurred to me that my childhood encounter was abuse. That it wasn’t my fault. That it wasn’t proof of my brokenness, but rather the brokenness of this world.  That perhaps I wasn’t “that kind of girl.”

That perhaps NO ONE IS.

You see, I know something important now: there is no such thing as “that kind of girl.” That kind of girl is a lie we put on ourselves or others that shames and isolates. You know that thing you are owning as proof of your shamefulness? “That thing” isn’t the whole picture.

Kate’s mess, what felt to her like a huge stain across her life’s canvas, became a tree of hope to me. It meant I wasn’t alone. It meant that all these dark stirrings I’d carried alone for over a decade could be brought into the light.

Here’s the big thing about Bob Ross (well, the biggest thing after THAT HAIR): He didn’t redeem his masterpiece by covering up that bold stroke of paint. He didn’t hide it; he finished it.

If Kate had kept her story hidden in shame, I would still be locked up by mine. Her vulnerability unlocked my door to freedom. I am fiercely committed to telling the truth about our stuff because maybe I can be someone else’s Kate. As we tell the truth about our stuff – the good, the bad, the messy, the beautiful – instead of hiding it, we’ll see it finished. We’ll see God, who loves us so, turn what we thought had ruined us into the miracle that frees us – by freeing others. IT’S A FRONT ROW SEAT TO THE REDEMPTION OF OUR BROKEN PLACES.

What’s your story? Maybe it’s like mine, maybe not. What stuff do you own, hold onto in the dark, use as ammunition against yourself?

My story is messy. And my story is beautiful. It’s the messy that makes it beautiful. It’s the messy that makes it spill onto someone else’s page. As my bold, ruinous stain becomes finished, it spreads into a tree of hope whose branches reach another canvas.

Stop hiding. Be brave, come into the light, and paint the bold strokes of a messy, beautiful life.

*Kate’s name was shared with permission. I encourage you to click here to visit her at The Accidental Traveler. She writes wonderful things when she finds time amid her FIVE messy, beautiful children!

I was honored to write and share this post as part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — to learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!  And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, CLICK HERE!

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The truth about grace. And why Jonah was pissed.

As Christians, we often talk about “grace and truth” or refer to speaking “the truth in love” — as if the “truth” is very unlike grace or love.

But for a moment, can I address the truth about grace? The truth about love?

The truth about God’s love and grace is that both are way too extravagant for our comfort. Some will even say (and have said) it’s dangerous to preach “too much” about God’s love and grace.

But don’t we already know the Gospel is dangerous? It cost Jesus His life. You’re absolutely right it’s dangerous. Remember the powerful passage from The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe? When Lucy asked if Aslan is safe, Mr. Beaver answered,

“. . .Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

You may be familiar with an account of God’s dangerous grace — Jonah and the whale, anyone? Quick synopsis: Nineveh is bad bad bad. God tells Jonah to go there and tell the people to turn back to God. Jonah refuses. Then the bit about the big fish. Jonah finally obeys God. Nineveh turns back to God. God has compassion on them.

But have you ever paid attention to Jonah’s response to God after he calls out the Ninevites and God shows them mercy? Jonah says,

“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2b)

You probably know the story of Jonah and the whale. But you may find this part shocking. (I did!) If everyone knew this, it could change everything.

Sounds great, right? But if you read it in context, you see Jonah is actually hurling this at God as an ACCUSATION. Because truly, the people of Nineveh were THAT BAD. They were “those people.” Whoever “those people” are to you – that was the Ninevites. And no, I’m not specifying any one particular sin — because which sin is irrelevant. This applies to any of it, all of it. Plus, I’m pretty sure they had every sinful, selfish thing covered and then some.

Even so, God called out to them. And they responded. They turned back to God and He received them in grace and compassion. It was such an extravagant display of grace, it made Jonah uncomfortable. Actually, it pissed Jonah off.

God’s grace is so deep and so wide, it’s quite unsettling.

Can people take grace and abuse it and use it as license to sin? Yep. But if you are welcomed into the presence of God, just as you are, and still encounter and receive the fullness of His love – even in your imperfection, your selfishness, your stuff… who can come away from that unchanged?

I recently asked God, “Do You really love me as I am right this moment? Imperfections, selfish ways, and all? Or do you love the potential in me? The me I could be? This feels important. I need to know.”

He took me straight to His Word for the answer:

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

God really loves me just as I am. Not some future version of me. Not some what-could-be or what-might’ve-been. ME NOW. ME MESSED UP. ME TODAY. But my sin was not without effect – the effect was that I could not access that love. So… JESUS.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17, emphasis mine)

Please understand: I’m not saying we don’t repent when we come to Jesus. What I am saying is, REPENT doesn’t mean “clean yourself up first.” Biblical repentance is a change of heart and mind which results in a change of action. It’s changing your mind from rejection of Jesus to faith in Jesus. And Jesus transforms your life.

God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness, he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.
(Romans 2:4 MSG)

How can anyone change except in His presence? And how can they get to Him if we just throw rules and condemnation at them?  His kindness. His unrelenting love. His fierce compassion. It warmed my heart and changed me from the inside out. “… it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love…” (Hosea 11:3,4) I can’t even begin to tell you where I would be if it wasn’t for Jesus. If not for His kindness. His mercy. His unrelenting pursuit of my heart.

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. (Anne Lamott)

The world doesn’t need more rules. The world doesn’t need more condemnation. The world needs Jesus. Y’all, condemnation doesn’t change the world. Changed hearts change the world. And Jesus changes hearts.