Story of Grace: Grieving with Grace

Chelsea Taylor is one of my very sweetest friends. She likes to pretend she was raised in the South (She probaby should have been). She’ll make you laugh with her emphatic sass, and then turn around to speak God’s Truth and Word over you in a way that emboldens, strengthens and challenges everyone around. Check out her blog here

I feel like it’s a round of the association game. You say grace, but the first thing that pops into my head is grief.

Do you think I’m crazy?

Don’t  worry. I probably would have a couple years ago, too. But being a perfectionist doesn’t leave a lot of room for this other sad G word – actually, for it really doesn’t leave room for either one.

The last few years of my life have been riddled with suppression. I think life got to a point where it hurt so much I just didn’t want to grieve anymore. Grief and I have been “friends” for years we go way back. But after being saved, wasn’t that supposed to be taken care of? Were people who knew and loved Jesus supposed to grieve? If there’s one thing the enemy wants, it’s for us to get lost in translation.

“You’re not a wise enough woman.”

Oh, the enemy knew how to torment me with those words. It wasn’t just those words, though. They just happened to be when I decided I didn’t want to grieve things anymore. I didn’t know how to grieve properly the loss of my so-sought-over perfection, and I didn’t want to. My thoughts began to change. I could notice myself peeking out into the world to see what I could find because I clearly couldn’t even be good enough as a Christian.

I loved the Lord and clung to His Word for my very life. The inability of someone else to see that, to validate that, broke me… a little too easily. I didn’t realize it yet, but there was an idol(s) in my heart sitting in Someone else’s place.

So, why am I talking about grief? Because I didn’t let myself believe, though I see now, how destructive it is to stifle the act of grieving in our lives as believers.

Not allowing myself to grieve led me to suppressing the hurt, which led me to sin.

I didn’t seek to be rebellious, but I didn’t seek the Lord…could we argue that’s one in the same?

I didn’t realize how much of a ploy it is against God’s people, you know, tricking us into thinking grieving isn’t important, isn’t essential, or that we can shortcut to the end of our grief. In seeking perfection and stuffing my grief, I was forsaking the process because embracing the process meant admitting I wasn’t perfect.

Remember the shortest verse in the Bible?

“Jesus wept.”

John 11:35

Yeah, even Jesus grieved. It even goes on to say that the Jews knew His love for Lazarus because of that very grief. If it was important and right for Jesus to grieve, I argue it is for us as well.

It was this moment of grief that allowed people to see the glory of God:

“Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?'” John 11:40

 

See, joy comes after grief. Jesus tells His disciples:

“You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”

and,

“Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

There isn’t a shortcut to the fullness of life that Christ offers us. There wasn’t a shortcut for Him as He chose to be obedient to the Father and go to the cross for us, for the joy set before Him (Heb. 12:2). And the joy set before us doesn’t have a shortcut either. Embrace the process. If we can’t grieve, there is a barrier between us and God. But if we embrace the process, the Lord is so, so close. He enters into it with us.

Having walked both sides now, I know I would much rather have my sorrow at the present time and have Jesus than to have a false sense of comfort and a grief I seem to always be trying to outrun. 

The ruler of this world wants nothing else than to keep us stuck or to pull us back into darkness. He’s already defeated, so immobilizing us is the best he can do. Don’t let him! This has been God’s grace to me – continuing to be faithful to me and His name in not forsaking me or leaving me in these past few years. I have had to learn to accept grace, to trust that His grace does truly work and cover me, and to trust that His grace is actually teaching me and empowering me through Holy Spirit to say no to sin and yes to holiness. His grace is this revelation that grieving is what I’ve been needing and that He’s going to be there for this journey as well.

I heard recently that He calls us to be near to us. He makes us perfect through the blood of His Son so that we can be made perfect through our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Isn’t it ironic…I have Perfection I could have never bought with my own efforts through the blood of Jesus Christ. All the while, the only perfection I knew to seek was like filthy rags in comparison to a gift given me freely (Isa. 64:6). I’m learning to continue entrusting myself to God… I hope you will too.

The Heart of a Persecutor & the Persecuted: Are We Both? – Esther 3

In our last study through Esther 2:5-23, we encountered our Heroine, Esther. We learned that this woman had a story, and maybe not one you would expect a Queen or one chosen by God to have.  This orphaned Jewish girl, taken from her Uncle, Mordecai, at the order of the Persian King Xerxes, eventually became Queen.

In chapter 3 of Esther, we come to an introduction of a character of a much different sort.

Haman was a man who advanced under King Xerxes rule more than any other official. He was so powerful that a declaration was given that all must bow before him to pay homage to him.

Day after day, all the King’s servants would get on their knees and pay respect to Haman as he walked by – that is all but one, and that one was Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, for He was a Jew. Infuriated, Haman not only sought to destroy Mordecai, but also intended to wipe out the entire Jewish people under the rule of Xerxes. Haman wanted genocide of the Jews as a response to his hurt pride.

The King sent out yet another decree. This one declaring that all Jews were to be slaughtered in one day. Men, women and children. All of God’s chosen people to be annihilated. And while the people of Israel mourned at the news, King Xerxes and Haman sat down to drink.

It sounds pretty hopeless right?

Thankfully, there are seven more chapters in the book of Esther. The story of God’s people will continue.

But what does Haman’s introduction teach us as humans and as Christians?

Well, though there are many more applications, I believe there are two main points.

  1. As humans tempted towards pride and ego, we too can have disproportionate responses to “disrespect” when our pride goes unchecked and our sense of entitlement grows.
  2. As Christians, we can expect persecution, prejudice and misunderstandings as we live as outsiders in this world.

One thing I always seek to do in my bible study, is to ask the Lord to convict me of sin in my own life. Oftentimes, He does so by drawing connections between an antagonistic character like Haman to my very own heart.

While reading through this chapter, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a time when I wasn’t chosen to be a leader for a ministry team. He then guided me to hard parts in my heart that continue to harden when people don’t recognize my value or respect my thoughts and ideas. I can tend to grow indignant, insensitive and very self-righteous to the point that in my heart I desire to see those who don’t sing my praises to eat dirt, if ya know what I’m saying?

How do you respond when your feathers get ruffled? How do you receive criticism, rebuke or correction? What do you feel and do when your idea, vision or position aren’t respected or praised?

My guess is that many times we all respond a little self-righteously.

To expand on the second point, that as Christians we can expect opposition and persecution. Mordecai made a stance for his faith. Because he was a Jew, he would not bow down and treat Haman like a God.

As Christians, people should notice when we don’t worship the things they do. We should be living a life that shows that drunkenness, promiscuity, popularity, social status, and wealth are not things we bow down to or give our lives to.

People today live for the parties, the social status, the wealth, the praise and when we don’t live like that it’s going to ruffle some feathers. Whether it comes out as a simple disagreement or full on persecution, don’t be surprised to experience opposition in a world that is so opposed and offended by a just, holy and good God.

So questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I living in a way that shows I’m seeking the praise of my Savior rather than the praise of this world and culture?
  • Have I chosen to bow down to what our world and culture says I should worship?
  • How do I use my voice well to glorify God in our political and cultural landscape?
  • Am I afraid to be an outsider?

Let’s engage in this culture and world humbly, each one of us seeing ourselves as the chief of sinners, yet living in a way that shows we bow down to none other than the One who felt the pain of the Cross.

 

 

Story of Grace: Toxic Shame

Amanda Dewing is a friend of mine from right around the time I came to Christ. God has woven a beautiful story of redemption and of breaking the chains of shame in her life with the power of His lvoe displayed on the cross.

I was super excited to see Chenea’s passion of sharing stories, being real, and of being saved. There is something so very powerful in that, and to have someone in my life fueling that ministry is beyond amazing. However, despite my excitement to get involved, I didn’t.

Oh how Satan gets to us. Or was it God waiting to show me what to write? Probably both, so here it goes…

To sum up the last 13 years of my life would be impossible in this short space. The theme woven throughout those years was what I thought the heavy burden of  “guilt.” When I was 17, I met my daughter’s Dad. I was 17 when I married him, 18 when I had my daughter, and 19 when I divorced him.

WOW.

The aftermath of what would be considered a toxic and abusive relationship wreaked havoc not only myself, but on everyone else standing in my path. I was lost and so confused.

Trauma in our lives seems to go one of two ways:

We cling to God and recover,

 or

We then create our own doom and gloom.

I, unfortunately, did the latter. In order to cope with the feeling of shame  that I carried, I found myself pursuing unhealthy drinking, seeking validation in men, and experiencing bouts of depression and isolation, thus creating shame of mine own. 

I was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, formally known as the LDS or Mormon Church. I left the Church when I was 25. This, on top of all I had been through and put myself through, was just as tough of a battle to overcome. Leaving a religion can be tough for all involved.

Two more years of my regular shenanigans without God was a pretty big disaster.  I found myself backed against a wall with no way out except to turn to God. So I did. (Fun fact, Chenea’ was actually a part of the first group of friends that I told that I had accepted Christ J). Christianity was so different from the Religion I once knew. I didn’t have to work my way to God any longer. God was now working his way to me.

Fast forward. I am now married to an amazing man of God who has been such an impactful influence on my life and walk with God. We just had our one year anniversary in March! God is using me in this new season of life in many ways and it is truly amazing to watch it all unfold. Being married has been wonderful in so many ways, yet also difficult in others. It has brought out many of my own insecurities, flaws, past hurts, and my old friend “guilt.” Through all of this, I have learned that I need tremendous healing. My husband has been so supportive with this, and very encouraging. He stands as a reminder to me that God’s love, mercy and undeserving grace renews itself everyday through Christ.

BREAK THROUGH. “Guilt” has been something I thought I struggled with my whole life; especially after all I had put myself through. But I’ve been learning lately, that what I know to be “guilt” is actually not. Toxic shame is its true name, and Satan uses it to keep me quiet, to keep me from shouting Christ’s mercies and redemption in my life from the rooftops for all to hear.

Now, it holds no place in my life. I can’t explain how freeing knowing the difference between guilt and shame has been for me! I no longer have to feel the way I have for years on end anymore.

I truly believe, that by his wounds we can start to heal (Isaiah53:5).

I am 5 weeks into a program call “Mending the Soul”, and up to this point, I have felt frustrated and defeated. Now that I know the difference, my eyes are not only open to Satan’s schemes, but also to the Truth in God’s word. There is freedom in the cross, and now I see it.

I still have a long road of recovery ahead of me, but seeing this tiny victory over so many hard feelings, has been huge in my life. My hope in sharing this, is that it will help others in dealing with this same feeling of toxic shame.

I think once we truly start to see truth in our lives, the road to healing becomes so much more clear.

Keep going!

I am not healed today, but I know someday I will be. God has been so good to me, and I am thankful to share my story and pray that it may help bring light to others.  I have truly, been made new by Grace.

I’m a Fraud – Esther 2:5-23

“They are all so perfect. Perfect Christians, perfect friends. They come from perfect, holy Christian homes and families. They are not going to want to hang out with me once they know my story.”

These are all things that passed through my mind at a dinner my host family held for me after I had first moved to State College, Pennsylvania. They had invited over staff from their college ministry, who were about my age, to meet me. They were all so friendly and close with one another and it seemed that they all had lived what one may consider the perfect Christian life.

I on the other hand had not, and my community in Arizona was built of a whole bunch of prodigal sons (Luke 15) just like me. See I had a story (later I would find out that though a little bit different, my dinner partners did too). Mine was wrought with promiscuity, heavy drinking, and a bunch of scarring done by my own hand and others. I felt like I was a danger to a community full of saints. I was stained and I wasn’t so sure how I would be received or thought of. I knew the Truth that Christ washed me clean, I had just never been around people who didn’t have stories like mine or to the extent that mine went. I felt like a fraud.

As I continued to get to know these people, I was continually comparing myself to them. They mentored so many college students. They dressed perfectly and appropriately. They had major impact on students. I couldn’t help but to be led to think could God even use me?

Have you ever felt that? That if people knew who you were, what you had done, where you came from that they would label you a danger to their way of life? Have you felt too scarred, complicated or dirty to be used by God?

I find a lot of comfort for my story, and I hope you did and will, in Esther 2:5-23.

We are finally introduced to our heroine, Hadassah, more commonly known as Esther, but she looks a little different than maybe you thought she would. Though lovely in beauty, she has a story that you would think would disqualify her from being queen, but also by being used by God.

 

  1. The author makes it point in 2:5-6 to tell us Esther’s lineage. Esther comes from an exiled Jewish family “who had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah”.

At this point in history the exile had ended and many Jewish families had returned            to Judah in order to rebuild the temple. However, Mordecai, Esther’s uncle and                    adoptive father, along with other Jewish people had decided instead to stay in the              Persian capitol Susa.

This is important to note. It not only gives us the perspective that Esther walked                  around as an outsider in this land, but it also shows that she is a part of the Jewish              people who did not, for one reason or the other, find it important enough to return            to Judah to rebuild God’s temple.

  1. We are also told that she is an orphan being brought up by her relative Mordecai.

“He (Mordecai) was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother… and when her father and mother died..  Mordecai took her as his own daughter.”  (Esther 2:7)

          Though she was an orphan, we know she was truly loved b Mordecai because after           she was taken away to be a part of the King’s harem, “..everyday Mordecai walked in           front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and what was happening to               her” (Esther 2:11)

  1. She was taken away as one of the virgins gathered after the King’s decree went out. She was taken to the harem, where she was went under beauty treatments for a year before going in to the King. (v8-9)

We are also told, that at the command of Mordecai, Esther was not to reveal that she          was Jewish. She had to hide a part of her identity at this point in the story.

  1. Esther lost her virginity to the King as an unmarried woman. Feminists today, would possibly condemn her for playing into the patriarchal society. Others may have grace as it seems she didn’t really have another choice. According to Jewish law and scripture, she could be stoned for having sex before marriage. She seems to be a failure either way.

 

This woman has a story, and it’s not the prettiest cookie cutter one. She’s an outsider, oppressed, kidnapped, raped, no longer a virgin, and rather than choosing God at the cost of her life she chose to lay with the King.

This woman is broken, even though she is lovely to look at and finds favor in Mordecai, the eunuch in charge of the harem, and eventually the King.  Though she is crowned Queen, part of her identity is still a secret.

How in the world could this woman ever be used by God? She’s weak, she’s betrayed the Law it seems, she has no real family unit, she’s kidnapped and taken away from all she knows.

But this is the beautiful thing about our God, He is the ultimate Redeemer or broken people. I really believe, the invisible hand of God is at work in Esther’s life and that He’s setting her up to make a large impact. And we begin to see that played out in the last few verses of this section after Esther has been crowned Queen.

“19 Now when the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 20 Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him. 21 In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 22 And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. 23 When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.”

We begin to see God’s invisible hand bringing both Esther and Mordecai into more favor with the King as they unravel a plot of his servants to kill him.

See God uses unlikely, unqualified candidates to bring about His will and the good of His people.

To the eye, I am an unlikely candidate to be used by God. But in fact,  my brokenness more than qualifies me to be used by my Redeemer to display his power.

Our life story is God’s story. It holds power and displays the gospel so clearly when we aren’t afraid to share the not so pretty spots.

We will continue to see the rest of Esther & God’s story unravel in future chapters.

 

Reflection/Application Questions:

  1. When circumstances change in your life do you cling to God’s commands the way Esther did with Mordecai’s? Why or why not?
  2. What part of your story are you too ashamed to share? What does God have to say about it?
  3. How do life circumstances change your view of God?
  4. Are you willing to bear the cost of hardship in order to be placed in a position to make change?

 

Wakey-Wakey-Eggs & Bakey Bonus Smoothie Recipes!

I am a breakfast fiend. The smell of french toast and bacon in the morning wakes me up drooling.

I could eat it in the morning, afternoon, evening and if I’m up late enough, at midnight. It’s just that good.

I also know that breakfast can be either one of the healthiest meals of the day or the unhealthiest. We’re going to touch on two ways breakfast can be unhealthy, and also what I personally do for my normal “wakey-wakey-eggs-and-bakey” 😉

Some of us literally kill ourselves in the morning when we don’t eat breakfast. My husband can be one of these criminals. Ya’ll, a healthy breakfast is SO important. Not only does a healthy breakfast give us energy and curb our appetites throughout the day so we don’t get the munchies for those pop tarts in the vending machine (or is that just me?), but it also kickstarts our metabolism. Our guts are a key part of our bodies that we can use to measure good health. (FYI -If you’re not making two or more trips to the bathroom daily, you’re either not eating well, not active enough or not drinking enough water.) Not eating breakfast gives you less energy throughout your day, allows your digestion to slow down, and lends to snacking on things that aren’t the best.

I know for myself, not eating breakfast isn’t my problem. My temptation is to eat the whole nine-yards. Pancakes, butter, syrup, eggs – aka glory. Although it sounds and smells good, a breakfast like this one actually has similar effects to not eating breakfast at all. When we eat an unhealthy breakfast, our metabolism isn’t ready to process all the junk we’re feeding it so it slows down. The loads of sugar leave you crashing later. You’re body doesn’t receive the substantial energy it needs to function throughout the day. So when that inviting aroma of pancakes is calling your name, remember your body needs to be fueled with more than carbs and sugar.

Okay now, before I share my breakfast routine with you, I need to add this caveat – it’s okay to splurge here or there. Part of fueling your body with grace means living a healthy lifestyle that is maintainable. Most weeks, my hubby will make pancakes, eggs and bacon (protein with carbs is a helpful thing!) on Thursday or Saturday mornings. Instead of having three larger sized pancakes, I’ll opt for two smaller ones (or my mini-Mickey Mouse Waffles).

All right here we go.

Before I eat ANYTHING I down two big glasses of water. This helps kickstart digestion, clears out my gut, and hydrates my body because I can often forget to through out the day.

The next thing I make is my fruit and veggie smoothie (recipe below). We’re supposed to have 4-5 servings of fruit and veggies a day, so why not knock out two of them in the morning with a tasty smoothie made solely from fruit and veggies?

I’ll get my protein in usually with a couple of eggs and yes, sometimes even a couple pieces of bacon. That’s right bacon. When we are eating a healthy diet throughout our day, the fats in bacon in smaller amounts can be really good for us!

If I’m exercising that day, I make sure to eat an english muffin or some other carb without butter. (I attempt to cut out dairy where ever possible, but cheese can be a weak spot. I’ll be writing another blog on the affects of dairy on your body at a later time.)

I would say the most important things for me at breakfast are to get water and veggies. I also have a tendency to have lower blood sugars so the eggs help me balance that.

If we want to reach our highest potential and the calling we believe has been placed on our lives, we need to take care of our bodies. You want to chase those dreams? You need to be healthy to get there. Bad health = distraction and energy spent elsewhere.

So…

What two things can you implement into your breakfast routine to fuel your body better?

Leafy greens, dairy-free yogurt substitutes (I love coconut cool whip!),  & protein powders can be added to each of the recipes below.

fruit-smoothie

Basic Fruit Smoothie

(1 serving)

  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1 -2 cups frozen spinach
  • 5-10 baby carrots (to taste)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup 0% greek yogurt

Banana Ginger Smoothie

(1 serving)

  • 1 frozen banana, sliced
  • ¾ c (6 oz) vanilla yogurt (substiture
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • ½ tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 cup frozen leafy green of choice (kale, spinach, spring mix etc)

Pumpkin Pie Fall Smoothie Recipe

(Makes 3 cups )

  • 1 cup almond/coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon agave syrup/pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 apple, cored

Strawberry Mango Spring Smoothie Recipe

(Makes 3½ cups)

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 banana, peeled, sliced, and frozen
  • 1 mango, skinned and chunked
  • 5 large strawberries hulled
  • 1 cup packed frozen spinach
Super Green Super Vibrant cucumber apple & ginger smoothie
 (2 servings)
  • 1 small cucumber
  • frozen handful of spinach
  • 1 apple, cored
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger
  • freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
  • 1 Tbsp honey/agave/maple syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup ice

Spinach orange smoothie

(1 serving)

  • 1 navel orange, peeled
  • 1/2 frozen banana, peeled
  • 1 cup tightly packed frozen organic spinach
  • 1/4 cup coconut water, adjusted as desired
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds, optional
Pina Colada Smoothie

(2 servings)

  • 1 cup frozen baby spinach
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple chunks
  • ½ cup frozen mango chunks
  • 1 small frozen banana
  • 4 oz 0% plain greek yogurt
  • ¾ cup cold water

Peanut Butter Banana Cream 

(1 serving)

  • 1 frozen banana, ripe
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter
  • ½ cup fat-free greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp milled flaxseed
  • 2 low-fat Graham Crackers, crumbled

Happy breakfast!

Story of Grace: The Perfect Satisfaction

This week’s guest blogger is an extremely sweet friend of mine. Theresa Gionta is a laughter loving, dynamic, honest and real woman. I have seen her walk through many struggles, temptations and come out on the other side with a new beauty that Christ has given her. She’s also a nutritionist and blogs some pretty yummy, healthy goodness. You can check that out here.

As women, there are many standards we set for ourselves. Receiving the best education, owning a nice car, sculpting the perfect body, dating the cutest boys, and the list goes on. We strive for satisfaction in these areas and the more we strive, the less we have. It’s almost as though we are trying to fill an empty hole in our hearts with the material things of this world expecting some type of gain. I can honestly say that none of those things I listed above have ever satisfied me. The only satisfaction I have ever received in this life is by completely dedicating my life to Christ.

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:14

Surrendering my life to Christ did not automatically make my life easier, but what it did was even better–it creates a new life under God’s authority that’s not my own. Why would you want to let someone else tell you how to live your life, you ask? Grace. God’s grace and redemptive power are the reason I chose to dedicate my life to Him.

Before knowing Christ, I remember spending countless hours of my high school years asking myself about the purpose of life and thinking that everything I did was worthless. I believed the only point of life was to grow up, go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, and then die. How sad is that? Thinking that life has no meaning or purpose. This thinking led me into a serious depression which ruined my self-esteem. I lived for being skinny, popular, smart, and successful, and when I fell short of these standards, it made me depressed. I was a slave to perfection.

My sin led me to believe I had to be perfect in every way to be loved, but the gospel set me free. I no longer need to strive for perfection, because He lived the perfect life on my behalf. I remember the day Christ gave me life. It was as if an excessive amount of weight was lifted off my shoulders. He redeemed me through His death on the cross. He died as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, so that we can be free from the bondage of it for eternity. I found perfect satisfaction when He called me to Him and adopted me into the family of God.

“For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

To be honest, striving for perfection is a sin that I still struggle with and always will, evidenced by how upset I am every time I forget to do something on my to-do list, make a mistake that affects me, or eat too much one day and feel “fat.” I will always fall short of the glory of God, but I am reminded of this verse:

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

(Romans 3: 23-24)

We are all still flawed and our world is still broken, but for this, there is grace. God’s redemption has taken place in my life, but I will continue to be broken. I will never be perfect no matter how hard I try and that is because no one is perfect apart from the one who had no sin. The power of sin has been broken in me, but the urge to always be perfect still lives in me and will always be redeemed by God’s amazing grace.

In God’s Absence – Esther 1:13-2:4

As I sat on our living room couch late into the evening, Ricky and I grieved the pain we had just been submitted to and we weren’t sure just how much more we could bear.

“It’s just hopeless and only gets worse. If it keeps going like this, I’m not sure I want to keep watching it,” Ricky lamented.

See, we had just hit the first episode in season seven of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”. My eyes were misty, my heart was sad, and I was dreading where the series was going. (spoiler alert!!) We had become emotionally invested in this show and its characters. In that first episode of season seven, we watched two of our favorite characters die horrific deaths at the will of this new, evil and all-powerful Negan guy and his “girl” Lucille, a barb-wired baseball bat.

Why would the writers of the show do this?

Haven’t they had it bad enough?

Who wants to watch a story without any sight of hope to hold onto?

As we continue into the book of Esther, working our way through chapter one, verse 13 through chapter 2, verse 4, I started to ask the same type of questions that I did after watching that brutal episode.

Why is King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) so angry that he would willingly cast away his wife?

Why are all these evil men so powerful?

Why are women so oppressed in this time?

Why should I care about this King’s drama?

And where in the world is God? Is he blind to the evil going on? Does He care about the ugly pride of Xerxes and his friends? (by the way, I challenge you to look up the meaning of each name of the men listed in 1:14)

The fact is, friend, we will see no mention of God throughout this story of Esther. It is the only book of the bible that doesn’t refer to God once. And in our repeated word observations, I not only discovered what seems like the absence of God completely, but also the story of a man just like The Walking Dead’s Negan.

Xerxes is looking to exert and make a show of his power after Queen Vashti has undermined his authority. He is acting impulsively after being enraged at his wife’s rejection of him. He is surrounded by self-seeking men who also celebrate enslaving the weak. (Side-note – this is not where to go for a biblical view of marriage or God’s view of women. Ephesians 5 is the place to go for a correct biblical view of marriage.) In his offense, King Ahasuerus decrees the second-rate nature of all women to their husbands. He casts out his beautiful wife and bride, never to be seen again. He makes an example of her.

And then, in verse one of chapter two, the King fondly remembers Vashti and regrets his impulsive decision. That is, until once again, his friends offered more thoughtless advice to first fill the emptiness inside of him with all the young beautiful women in his Kingdom, and then whichever woman he enjoyed the most in his overnight rendezvous, He could take as a wife.

Once again, the King became pleased with the thought of fulfillment through sex, power, and affirmation.

What do we take away from this?

When we are not looking to God for answers, or believe He doesn’t care because we don’t see Him at work, we turn to others and our own devices, often acting out impulsively.

The next morning after watching that horrible show, as I was getting ready for work, I watched the “talk-show” that usually runs after each episode of the Walking Dead. It was from the writers of the show themselves where I found the hope to carry me through this latest season. They gave me a new perspective and a reason for why they allowed what they did, and though I didn’t have to like the brutality, I could continue to watch with expectant hope of seeing a grander story appear.

But I wouldn’t have found that hope to keep going if I had simply based my view on what I was seeing. I had to look to the author of the show for revelation. I had to know they weren’t just sadists.

God is not a sadist. If only we would be still and wait to see Him unravel the masterful story not only in Esther, but in our own lives as well. He is there despite what you think, feel or even see. Often He calls us to His Word to find the reassurance and hope to endure through what seems like His absence. The bible is full of stories in edition to Esther where God’s people fear His abandonment or distrust His plans in the face of battle. But sweet sister, whatever it is you are facing, I pray you will find an anchor and hope for your soul in the gospel and the truth that He will never leave you nor forsake you. Hold on, He has a better resurrection headed your way.

“The awareness of a master storyteller weaving my life lets me pause and, like an artist, see hidden blessings and patterns where I begin to bear the cost of narrowing my life. It let’s me endure in love because I know Someone is guiding the story toward resurrection.”  – Paul E. Miller, A Loving Life

 

Are You Bold Enough to Dream?

I’ve been reading this book “You’re Made for a God-sized Dream” by Holley Gerth. First of all, a God-sized dream doesn’t have to be large in the world’s eyes. A God-sized dream is one that stems from the desires He has placed within the dreamer. It could be being a parent or a spouse, traveling foreign countries to serve others, writing a blog, or creating a vulnerable community. There are two things all God-sized dreams have in common. A God-sized dream brings the dreamer closer and into a more intimate relationship with God, and a God-sized dream loves other people. That’s it.

Easy-peasy.

There is so much injustice in the world – so much hurt. God has equipped many people with the ability to stand up and fight for the weak and oppressed. And yet, so many people that don’t because of fear.

“All the king’s servants and the people of the kings provinces know

that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called,

there is but one law- to be put to death,

except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live.

But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”

Esther 4:11

What if I told you, that you and I, were made to take a stance against the injustices that break, tear and ruin our hearts? What would be the response? Would it be Esther’s first response to Mordecai’s plea for her to appeal to King Ahasuerus to end the genocide of her people – a denial to stand against injustice for fear?

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come from another place,

but you and your father’s house will perish.

And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Esther 4:14

If a dreamer stays quiet and refuses the call, someone else may step up to address the issue, but then world will never see the unique legacies that only the dreamer was built to leave. The dreamer will have become nothing. The world – the hurting, abused and enslaved, they will never experience or see the light the dreamer was made to shine.

All because we were afraid to step out in boldness and faith. Because all we saw were our weaknesses, this world’s obstacles, and how the combination of the two seem like a recipe for failure. Because we stand in fear, instead of in the faithfulness of God and the freedom He has given us to live an abundant life.

“I will go to the king, even though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

Esther 4:16

Oh, if every dreamer had Esther’s courage. That if she’s going to perish, she’s going to perish not in silence but in boldness and faith.

Silence is not a response I’m willing to choose. I don’t know what God’s going to do with my dream. I don’t know how he’s going to transform and morph it. But I pray with everything I have that He turns it into something beautiful. Something that changes lives. Something that leaves behind not my own legacy, but the legacy of the house of my Father. The legacy of the Kingdom of God.

 

Reflection Questions

  • What’s holding you back from chasing your god-sized dream?
  • What do you want to do with your life?
  • What are two ways to make steps toward your dream?

 

Story of Grace: Officially Unfriended

I am so excited to introduce our first Story of Grace! Madi Wenger is a sweet friend, campus missionary for DiscipleMakers, lover of Jesus, and blogger at She Laughs Without Fear. She is talented, joyful and so, so wise. Check out her story below! 

I realized that a friend from college unfriended me today. We were friends from theatre, had enjoyed watching movies together, and a smattering of other memories, but she unfriended me at some point over the past few years. I’m not surprised. She’s one of several individuals that I still care who have decided to no longer be friends with me on Facebook.

Every time I realize that I’ve lost a friend whether online or in real life, a number of thoughts flow through my mind…

 Was it something I posted? Did I share something that offended her?

Is it because I’m a follower of Jesus?

It’s at that point, Paul’s words to the Galatians comes to mind:

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Galatians 1:10

Five years ago, I would have been devastated to find that someone unfriended me. You see, I lived for the approval of others. I wanted others to take notice of me, of my abilities, personality, and to praise me. I put my worth in what others thought about me, and my days were spent feeling high or low depending on how people responded to me that day. Simply put, I was enslaved to the approval of man.

I’ll never forget the first time a dear friend and mentor brought this to my attention. She brought my people pleasing into the light, and I came face-to-face with a habitual sin in my life, one that blinded and enslaved me for years. I had just started following Jesus earlier that year, and I was learning how God was renewing my heart and my mind to make me more like His Son. My friend encouraged me from Scripture to see that my worth is in the finished work of Jesus on the cross and to live for God’s approval, which I already had in Jesus Christ.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been working through this sin for years, seeing the subtle ways that I seek the approval of man: wanting more followers on Instagram, desiring others to praise my blog or my work, getting jealous when others have more seemingly fruitful ministries than mine, or even coveting others’ homes or belongings. And let me tell you, seeking the approval of man always leads to emptiness, but the gospel has set me free as I choose to live in light of God’s approval.

You see, Jesus Christ did not live for the approval of man, ever.

He lived for his Father’s approval and he pleased God. (Mark 1:11)

He was perfect, and yet so that he could save others, he died a death that he didn’t deserve, and his Father forsook him (Mark 15:34).

Jesus was forsaken so that I could have God’s approval, even as I struggle with wanting the approval of man instead. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus rose again, defeating the grave, and defeating sin and death… defeating my sin of seeking the approval of man over God.

When I have moments like I experienced today, when I realize that people aren’t pleased with me, I’m free to walk in the freedom of the gospel, knowing that I don’t need the approval of man. Because of Jesus, I have God’s approval, and his approval brings more life and joy than any person’s approval ever could.

God is making me new by grace by taking an approval junkie like myself and helping me to not find my worth in the approval of others, but rather in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

How about you, my friend?

Have you experienced enslavement to the approval of others in your life?

If so, I would encourage you that you don’t have to be enslaved anymore. There is true freedom in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and there is hope to be made new.

Tell Me I’m Pretty – Esther 1:1-12

Esther 1:1-12

Not only was this Valentine’s Day our first one as a married couple, but it was also the first that Ricky and I were able to spend together.  So when I got home from work, I of course tore through my closet and tried on about four or five different outfits that would (in the words of Thomas Rhett) “bring him to his knees”. I even put on a pair of pumps which is a rare occurrence.

Ricky had ran out and bought flowers earlier in the day and set up a super sweet card on the table with pictures and the flowers. He showered me with words like “my love” and all the other encouraging, sappy, sweet things that as a woman I melt for. He had made a reservation at one of those places in town that you don’t go to without a special reason. It was a sweet setup, but one thing was missing.

When I walked downstairs, my husband didn’t tell me how beautiful I looked.

Left without the affirmation I wanted from my husband, though I had everything else, my spirit deflated and my heart grew disappointed and frustrated. How could his knees not get weak looking at me in these painful high heels, perfectly cut dress and curled hair? If he really was attracted to me, if he really loved me, if I really had value to him, he would have swooped me off my feet with his Song of Songs poetic lines about my beauty too. But, he didn’t and I was frustrated that the man I married didn’t revel in my beauty like other men I knew.

I waited throughout the entire evening to have my beauty acknowledged, and I waited to no avail. In fact, for other reasons Ricky withdrew throughout the evening.

Instead of ending our night together, I went to bed this Valentine’s Day without the acknowledgement I thought I deserved and I was left frustrated, withdrawn, even more insecure and as far as I could get away from him in our king-sized bed.

Can the wives here relate?

Even if you’re not a wife (but still oh-so-special-and-loved), aren’t there times in life where we parade our beauty, money, clothing, children, husband, career, home, car, hot date in hopes of affirmation from others about such a thing and then get severely disappointed or even angered when our friends, colleagues or family don’t affirm our value because of these things?

This is the situation we find ourselves peeking into when we open the first 12 verses of Esther. King Ahasuerus is throwing a huge party, and not just a normal one-night or weekend party. No, this party is 180 days long. It’s purpose? To parade all of the things the King finds his worth tied to – the “riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his pomp and greatness” (v4). The King was parading his wealth and power before all the higher ups in the land, possibly to grow trust in his power and their allegiance to go fight the Greeks. And after that, he throws another feast, this time for a more modest week, for all in the capital city of Susa. As he demonstrates his worth to his subordinates and princes on the last day, the King thinks of Queen Vashti, his wife, “for she was lovely to look at” and he orders his eunuchs to fetch her to display her beauty (and his worth) to the people and princes.

But Vashti, refuses the call.

And the King becomes enraged and I would guess embarrassed in front of those whose affirmation he was seeking.

See we are not so different from King Ahasuerus. Often we find ourselves tying up our worth and value in things that aren’t secure, that we have no control over, and that can be destroyed. Whether it’s our appearance, intelligence, children, or home décor, these are all fleeting and the affirmation we receive because of such things (though not innately bad) will never fill up our souls and spirits.

Those things are made to be blessings and gifts, not to serve as a measure of our worth or act as ego-boosters. That affirmation from that one person you desperately want attention from (husband, child, mother, father, teacher, coach) is good and encouraging, but it should not define you. You will be left disappointed, hurt and angry when these fail.

But this world is passing away, every day there’s death and lies and hurt people hurting people.  So where do we hold onto for security?

I know a King who gave up all the heavenly riches and glory He had, in order to parade you, my sweet sister, as His inheritance. In stark contrast to King Ahasuerus, Jesus Christ set aside His power, riches and beauty to save you unto himself even to the point of death.

But He is risen.

And He calls you beloved, chosen, set-apart, beautiful, and precious. His love is based on nothing you got goin’ on for yourself and endures despite the pieces of you that you try to leave hidden. You don’t need to prove yourself and parade yourself before Him to love you. He already does.

So, sweet sister, whatever it is that you’re finding your value and worth attached to that is passing way, lay it down and take up the easy yoke of Christ’s love once again.

What did you gain from your study of Esther 1:1-12?

Let us know in the comments below!

 

Next Saturday we’re continuing our study of Esther 1:13 – 2:4.

Keep highlighting repeated words, listing what you learn about each character and try splitting the passage into 3 sections to help break things down for your study!