Unclogging Our Spiritual Heart Valves

Upset woman by herself in a dark alley. For years, I chose misery over life. I tended to magnify the negative and completely overlook the good. Not only did this strangle the joy, peace, and vitality from me, birthing in their place bitterness and agitation. It also routinely distanced me from Christ. I often felt disconnected from Him, confused regarding His guidance, anxious regarding my circumstances, and unfulfilled in my relationships.

I routinely blamed others and my circumstances for my inner disconnect. Or, I’d simply try to shove all the negativity down in an attempt to muddle through my dimmed existence in my own strength. But then, come Sunday, I’d enter into the church sanctuary, and praise music would begin to play. As was expected, I’d begin to join in. Before I reached the chorus, however, I’d sense God tugging on my heart: Forgive, and as if to halt any excuse hidden in feigned ignorance, a name or face would follow, and in this I was given a choice.

I could continue feeding the negativity brewing within me, or I could step into—bask in—my Father’s grace—a grace deep and strong and present enough to bring light and joy and life to the most deadened hearts, mine included, and lifeless situations.

1 Peter 2:1 lays this out pretty clearly. It says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

In other words, we’re to do two things: Deliberately and diligently purge all that is dark and ugly within and seek out God’s light. As we do, He draws us closer to Himself and floods the deepest recesses of our hearts with those things that are good and lovely and pure.

My heart cannot be deeply united with Christ unless it is also deeply immersed in His will. I cannot simultaneously Woman sitting outside with text pulled from post. experience the full expression of His love and grace within me while withholding those same gifts from others. What flows in will necessarily flow out. Therefore, if God’s reconciling, forgiving, life-giving Spirit isn’t flowing freely from me, it’s quite likely my heart valves have become clogged.

The results of spiritual blockages are similar to what one experiences with obstructed arteries. We lose oxygen and energy. We lose our vitality and dilute and distort everything good both within and without. Within because those best parts of us, those unique personality traits God hand-crafted within us to add color to our world and strength and healing to our relationships becomes tainted with self-protection, distrust, and harbored offense. Without because this settled anger begins to blanket our thoughts and distorts our perceptions until we see more gloom than good.

In John 10:10, Jesus said that He came to give us “abundant” or “filled to overflowing” life. This speaks of a vibrancy that saturates to our core and spills out into every moment and on every encounter. Envisioning what this might look like lived out, I’m reminded of my daughter as a toddler. She had a joy about her that radiated so brightly from within, she often captured the attention of strangers. Her laugh could produce smiles on the gloomiest faces and often made one feel as if, but for a moment, they’d encountered the divine.

Woman laughing with text pulled from post.Because, in a way, they had. Whenever we see joy, we catch a glimpse of heaven, where joy abounds.

When we express joy, we experience a token of eternity in the here and now.

But when we harbor bitterness in the heart Christ gave His dying breath to cleanse, we quite literally become our own killjoys.

We all want to experience vibrant, joy-filled, thriving life. We all have access to that life through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Why would we allow anything or anyone to steal that joy from us?

Let’s talk about this! We get to choose whether or not we’ll live with joy or bitterness, forgiveness or offense. When hurt, what are some things we can do to center ourselves and our hearts in Christ’s love? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comments below.

Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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Love For Those Who Don’t Understand It

 

Sad woman sitting on the groundHow do you explain God’s love to someone with no concept of it? Someone who’s only known manipulation, conditional and temporary relationships, or partial acceptance coated with the threat of rejection?

I asked that question to a church friend maybe ten years back, and she quickly responded, “You tell them about the cross.”

And I thought, ‘She doesn’t get it.’

She didn’t understand what it felt like to be betrayed and abandoned by the ones who were supposed to protect you and hold you close. She didn’t know the sting of trusting someone, believing they truly loved you, or at least hoping they did, only to have them leave or discard you, without a backwards glance. Or worse.

Our world is filled with those who’ve experienced deep hurts by those who were supposed to love them most, and they carry the scars and distrust, which often presents as anger and skepticism, today.

It’s filled with men and women going through life with deep wounds only Christ can heal and aching holes only He can fill but who, because of past hurts and scars, can’t see Him.

Though He reaches out day after day in a thousand different ways, their hurt-tainted perceptions distort His hand. We keep proclaiming Jesus, but our words seem to have little effect, and we wonder why.

So again I ask, how do you explain the cross to someone who has no concept of true, sacrificial love? How do you help them understand that Christ died not for a cause or movement or to make a statement but for them, so that they could live?

The longer we’ve been followers of Christ, the more removed we can become from this question. We can begin to take His death and resurrection for granted, and in our familiarity with the Good Friday story, we can forget it’s depth. Though I suspect we’ve all wrestled with its implications, at least, if we truly grasped what Christ did and have owned His radical deed for ourselves.

Did you see the Passion movie? I did, and walking in, I felt certain I understood Christ’s sacrifice, what it cost, and the gift I received through it. I knew I was a cherished, redeemed, child of God destined for heaven. But I hadn’t a clue just how loved–unfathomably, deeply and radically–I was.

Then I saw His flesh tear as the metal tipped whip scourged his back. I saw the agony on His face as His executioners hammered nails into His hands and feet. And I saw Him hang, exposed, abandoned and rejected, until, with a final word, “It is finished,” He relinquished His life.

For me.

That was all I could think, as I sat in that dark, quiet yet crowded theater. He did that for me.

Jesus died so that I might live.

Me. Sinful, selfish, and prideful Jennifer Slattery.

Suddenly, what I knew to be true became all the more real. And my only response was, “I’m sorry. Forgive me, Lord, I’m so sorry.”

There was nothing else to say. No promises or declarations or pious acts could compensate for what He’d done.

Jesus showed me, through that film, what true love looks like. A love that gives of oneself completely, until one has nothing left. A love that chooses to die so that others, like me and you, might live.

So again I ask, how do we explain the cross to someone with no concept of love? Someone who’s only known the manipulative, conditional, temporary love often displayed in our culture?

Sure, we could take them to the movie, and we could tell them how Jesus died for them. We could even flesh the story out, doing our best to make it vivid and real.

But first, we must do as our Savior did for us.

We need to show them. We need to demonstrate a love that reaches, perseveres, endures, and sacrifices. A love that remains even when mocked, rejected, and pushed away.

That’s the kind of love our world needs to see. A kind of love that, quite likely, may not make any sense to those receiving it. It may confuse long before it illuminates. But with every kind word and gentle smile, it helps pave the way for a love even more radical and unfathomable than any we can display.

This isn’t the quick, easy answer my friend gave. Nor is it easy to display, but it’s more effective than any gospel tract.

Let’s talk about this. What are some ways you are actively demonstrating the love of Christ? What can you do this lenten season to be God’s ambassador and image bearer–someone who reveals who God is at His core and His heart for mankind? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below, because we can all encourage and challenge one another!

Rising Above the Negativity to Sludge to Live in the “Heavenlies”

Scripture tells me I’ve been “seated in the heanvenlies” but I often allow myself to get caught up in the sludge of negativity. Of anxiety and uncertainty. Of pride and selfishness.

I can become so consumed with all the chaos and noise around me, I forget I was redeemed to rise above.

When this happens, I must remind myself of who I am, who I belong to, and therefore who’s sovereign over the big and little details of not just my life, but all of humanity overall.

I’m not a powerless, helpless orphan forced to navigate this harsh world on my own. I’m blessed with every spiritual blessing, chosen, adopted into God’s family as His beloved child, forgiven, and lavished with kindness by the One who has full authority of all things, my family and circumstances included, and is, at this moment working everything out in accordance with His good and perfect will. (Eph. 1:4-11).

Standing on those truths allows me to shift from reactionary living to empowered, courageous, and eternally impactful purpose.

To look beyond the problems and concerns of today to the victory of tomorrow.

Last month, I spent an evening serving in a local church spanning three stories accessed by relatively steep stairs. As children raced up and down, their breath grew heavy, their faces sweaty, and their legs fatigued. The younger ones, however, moved much slower, their much shorter legs greatly challenged.

Standing at the bottom, or even the midway point, the climb ahead of them must have felt monumental, as if the staircase went on forever.

You may know precisely what that feels like.

One little girl in particular, perhaps two years old, clearly labored for every step. Her father, holding her hand, watched her patiently, lovingly, gently tugging her forward. Then, about halfway up, likely sensing her strength was gone, he scooped her up and balanced her on his shoulder.

Resting deeply in his embrace, she smiled and watched his strong and sure feet take her higher and higher, effortlessly. From that view, those stairs looked much different. A little less steep, each one not quite so high. Not nearly so insurmountable.

This is the type of view our heavenly Father offers. He knows our journey is tough. Exhausting. He knows, at times, the climb feels never-ending, and ten times more so when we survey the staircase from a ground level view. But God wants us to shift our perspective. To remember we’re not stuck in the muck that appears to stretch for miles in every direction. The anger and confusion and uncertainty of this present world. We are, at this moment, raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms.”

Our home is elsewhere, so though we still struggle with the day to day, we have the power and authority in Christ to do as victorious daughters of the risen King. Notice, this is the truth. Where we presently, at this moment, reside.

Jesus paid a high price to grant us this position. With every action, reaction, and interaction, may we choose to live in the reality of this standing.

Let’s talk about this! How often do you give negative thinking more power than God’s voice? How can you more intentionally and more consistently focus on truth? What are some ways you currently do this? Share your thoughts, examples, and suggestions with us, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

You may find this video, week one’s video presentation for our Becoming His Princess Bible study, encouraging and helpful as well.


 

If you haven’t grabbed your free copy of our study yet, you can do so HERE.

Want me or my team to come speak to your Bible study group, Moms group, or next women’s event? Contact me HERE.

When We Questions God’s Leading

When life becomes hard, the road ahead uncertain or steep, it’s tempting to pull back and begin searching for an easy, perhaps “guaranteed” route. But no matter where our steps lead, our heart will be most fulfilled when they are aligned with those of our Savior. He truly does have our best in mind, always, and no matter what we face today, we can trust that God’s plans are best.

When We Question God’s Leading in Our Lives
By Jarm Del Boccio

Have you ever followed a course of action you thought God had approved, only to experience opposition? Did you question His voice? As an author, my desire is to bring God glory, yet I have questioned many closed doors along the way. But with God’s guidance, I’ve persevered.

An Old Testament account, written centuries ago, became a source of inspiration for me. Nehemiah, the Persian king’s trusted servant was on a mission from God: to leave the king’s faithful service and rebuild the broken-down walls of Jerusalem to protect the Jewish inhabitants.

What did he do first? He prayed for guidance.

“Let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, to hear the prayer of Your servant that I now pray before You day and night for the people of Israel your servants . . .” (Nehemiah 1:6a, ESV).

Miraculously the king gave Nehemiah permission to go and build, granting him safe passage and a supply of timber for the task ahead.

Did everything go smoothly? No. He faced enemies along the way. Immediately, foreign rulers gave resistance to the plan. But Nehemiah had his priorities straight. He prayed again and carried on, even with opposition. In the end, Nehemiah accomplished his task.

So, what does this have to do with a lowly debut author?

I was convinced the Lord was leading me into the secular publishing market where I had made many wonderful friends and connections. But after submitting my middle-grade historical novel to agents and editors, there was silence. The publishing world is changing, and what I had to offer wasn’t on their wishlist. My desire was a godly one—to be a Christian influence in the mainstream market. So why wasn’t God listening to my prayers?

Nonetheless, I persevered. And the answer came.

Last spring, through a #FaithPitch event, a MG Biblical fiction I hadn’t considered for submission was requested by Ambassador International. To make a circuitous journey short, I signed a contract for The Heart Changer, which debuts April 26th. As I made connections with my book’s soulmates and their adults—home educators, Christian grandparents, teachers and librarians–I realized there was a great need to bring back traditional stories from a biblical world view. My debut novel was filling that need.

My confusion and disappointment disappeared as I saw the purpose of God’s re-direction. The Heart Changer, based on an Old Testament account, would encourage my young readers to persevere under trial — the times when God’s ear seemed shut to their prayers. 
Maybe in the future, the Lord will re-direct me to secular publishing. I’m waiting with open hands and heart. I’ve grown to love all my kid-lit friends there. But for now, I will rest in God’s present plan for me.

What is God calling you to do? Do you feel opposition? Do you question His leading? Be a Nehemiah. Pray first. Listen to God’s voice, and trust Him for direction, even though there are no open doors at the moment. If all seems clear, and you’ve received wise spiritual counsel, move ahead. Pick up your tools and continue on in His great work, but most importantly remember, regardless of the outcome, so long as you’re obedient to Him, you can count your efforts successful.

Let’s talk about this! What is one thing you can do today to focus on God and His will with diligence and perseverance?

Get to know Jarm!

Jarm's author photoJarm (‘J’ pronounced as a ‘Y’) Del Boccio finds her inspiration in everyday life, but in particular, when she travels the globe, observing the quirky things that happen along the way. Focusing on lives of characters from the past, Jarm is devoted to breathing new life into the pages of history.

Jarm taught elementary and high school students, and served seven years as school librarian. Grateful for the opportunity, she was a missionary teacher in an isolated area of Papua New Guinea. She is part of SCBWI and American Christian Fiction Writers, and has published articles in “The Old Schoolhouse” magazine.

Jarm is content with the journey God has placed her on, and lives with her husband, adult daughter and son (when he lands at home) in a tree-lined suburb of Chicago.

“Making History Come Alive: Illuminating the Past. Making Sense of the Present. Offering Hope for the Future.”

Visit her online at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Instagram.

Check out her debut novel, The Heart Changer:

Can an Israelite captive, wrenched from all she loves, serve the very man who destroyed her village?Cover image for The Heart Changer

Miriam is asked to do the impossible: serve the wife of Naaman, commander of the Syrian army. Clinging to treasured memories of home and faith, Miriam faces captivity with bitterness.  Little does she know the Heart Changer is preparing her for a greater mission — far beyond what she could imagine.

Buy it HERE.

 

Anxiety, Distorted Vision, and the Power of Christ

You may have heard it said that each of us view our world through rose-colored glasses, which means we perceive situations or perhaps events as being better than they actually are. I disagree. I think, most often, our

woman with splattered glasses

Image by Noah Black on Unsplash

perceptions are distorted by a combination of garbage-splattered lenses and curved reflections similar to those displayed by carnival mirrors.

Our vision is tainted by past hurts, pride, fears, sin, and deception, making it hard to see God’s hand and clearly discern His guidance.

This spring, as all my vision distorters fight for dominance, I’m combatting them with truth. This is the only way I’ll be able to clearly see God’s will and heart for me.

In Matthew 6:22-23 Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if you eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

In Scripture, vision refers to one’s ability to view our world and lives from God’s perspective and clearly discern His heart and plans. Our vision sharpens as we grow closer to Him and align our thoughts and actions with His truth. It dulls when we move further from Him and become increasingly consumed with self—our sin, desires, and concerns.

Our family has hit some financial challenges that have me prayerfully questioning how I spend my time. My first response is often to plot and plan ways to “fix” the situation. Where and how can we cut our spending and increase our income?

According my wisdom, it seems logical to allocate my time differently, focusing on those things that generate the most income while reducing those tasks that don’t. Though there’s great honor in providing for our families, when doing so, we must operate from a heart that is completely centered in Christ and His will.

Because we can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). We can’t live enslaved to our bank accounts and clearly hear and heed God’s voice. If our focus is on the here and now and finding security in material things instead of, ultimately, in Christ, the voices of fear, insecurity, and greed will drown out that of our Saviors. The result will be confusion rather than clarity and anxiety and angst in place of peace.

“Therefore,” Jesus said, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you will wear,” Jesus said. Do not marimnaó about your well-being, which means allowing your anxiety to draw you into opposite directions and pull you apart. Do not be internally divided, acting as if you were an orphan forced to rely on yourself and navigate life on your own.

Instead, God invites us to live like a child of the victorious, risen King. An adopted and chosen heir of the One who loves us deeply, knows us intimately, and holds the entire world, our lives included, in His hands.

Seek God first, Jesus said, and trust Him to provide, knowing He truly is a good and attentive Father.

Let’s talk about this! Why do you think Jesus sandwiched the passage regarding spiritual vision between the section talking about money and the one on worry? In what ways have you seen worrying distort your vision? What are some ways we can maintain a clear and accurate vision?

Share your thoughts, verses, and stories with me in the comments below.

Faith — A Clear Sign to Hold Tight To

sad teenagerChurch had become a painful place for our daughter. She loved Jesus and wanted to grow closer to Him, but she’d experienced deep hurt from His people. Hurts that initiated inner lies like, “I’m not good enough. This faith thing isn’t working for me. God must not be pleased with me.”

Every time she entered the sanctuary, those lies played, swirling through her mind and drowning out the songs and proclamations of grace.

I could sense something was wrong, something deep. I saw it in the way she tensed whenever I asked her about her prayer or Bible reading time—really, anything faith related. She grew abrupt, clearly wanting to end the conversation.

Being the … perhaps overly involved mother that I am, I pressed, out of fear. A fear that, when acted upon, could have pushed her away from the faith entirely. Luckily, my husband stepped in and told me to back off. Even more fortunate, I actually listened.

And waited.

And prayed, and prayed, and prayed for God, the only One who knew precisely how my daughter was feeling and thinking, to step in and grab and heal her heart.

A few edgy and frightening months later, He opened the door for conversation, and in the dialogue that followed, He broke my heart nearly as much as my daughter’s had been. She shared years of hurt, of being misjudged, of feeling as if, because she didn’t respond to God (really, to worship music) as her church friends did, that she was unengaged. Uninterested. And not accepted, not just by her peers, but by God.

“What’s wrong with me?” she asked. “I don’t see God in music; I see Him in math!”

To which I responded, “That’s beautiful baby.”

Then I reminded her of Jesus’ words in John 13:35. He didn’t say, “They’ll know you’re My disciple based on how emotional you get during worship service” or “how high you raise your hands.” He said, “By this everyone will know you’re My disciples, if you love one another.”

Friends embracingWhen we love like Jesus, we demonstrate we belong to Him.

And I’d seen His love displayed in her again and again in her school and among her friends. God hadn’t rejected her, nor was she failing in her faith. He’d drawn her near and was working in and through her each time she interacted with the hurting and dismissed. She’d turned to Him for salvation as a child, read her Bible, and did her best to honor Him, but still, at times, she worried somehow, for her, saving faith hadn’t clicked. And, surrounded by other more emotionally driven believers, she felt as if somehow she wasn’t enough.

But, as a friend reminded me, when we allow our emotions to dictate our assurance, we’re actually relying on works-based religion, rather than grace received through faith. Quoting a line from an old hymn that says, “‘I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name,’” she added, “Frame was the old word for feelings. It is so easy to rest on feelings instead of the finished work of Christ, which never changes.”

We are saved through faith in what Christ did on our behalf, regardless of how we feel one moment from the next.

In 1 John chapter four, the author wanted to give ancient believers that same assurance. False teachers had infiltrated the church, were denying vital truths regarding Christ, and claiming to have a special, mysterious, and “secret” knowledge of God that the others didn’t have. In response, John, the apostle who write all three letters bearing his name, wrote a missive refuting this deception and assuring true followers of Christ that they did indeed belong to Him.

They could know, know, know that they truly belonged to Jesus based on what they believed regarding Him (that He was fully human and fully man), that they obeyed what He’d taught, have received the indwelling Holy Spirit, and based on how they loved one another.

“Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God,” John said (1 John 4:7).

And for those who may have been confused as to what this love looked like, he added, “This is how God verse graphics 1 John 4:19showed His love among us: He sent His One and only Son into the world … as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:9-12, NIV).

The love of God is sacrificial and initiating, and when we love others well, as Christ has loved us, His love is made complete, or has reached it’s full expression, in us.

We don’t need some special knowledge to prove to others or ourselves that we belong to Him, nor should we rely on our emotions to assure us of our faith. We simply need to live in, and live out, what we’ve received—through faith.

Have you ever encountered something similar to my daughter, when others gave you the message that you weren’t expressing your faith appropriately or according to their expectations? What are some ways you’ve found assurance in your faith? What are some ways you’ve assured others who, despite a clear belief in Jesus, have expressed doubts regarding their standing with God?

Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

When Ministries Die

woman sitting outside

Imagine forsaking your way of life to answer a call, pouring your life into following God, however He leads, only to learn, at the end of a long, difficult journey, your efforts will eventually come to naught. Those people you prayed for will turn away from God. Those relationships you fought for will fall apart anyway. That ministry you built and nurtured and grew from nothing but a vague idea will die completely.

Some 3,500 years ago*, God called a meek shepherd to leave his way of life in Midian to accept a monumental task—to free God’s people from centuries of oppression. After some hesitation, this man, named Moses, agreed, successfully liberated the Israelites, and led them to the land God promised them.

But this wasn’t just a rescue mission. Through Moses, God was changing worldviews and revealing His heart and will to the world.

Moses’ life is an example of surrendered obedience. Though he never entered the land God had promised, when his time on earth concluded, he could look back over all the lives he’d touched and imagine, with confidence, the legacy he’d leave.

Except that wasn’t exactly what happened. Though he did leave a legacy, I suspect it wasn’t what Moses had hoped for. As he was about to die, God said, in essence, “Everything you’ve worked for, everything I’ve called you to, will fail. The people I loved, provided for, and protected are going to rebel against Me.” (Deut. 32)

They would enter the Promised land as God had promised, and in response, the people would reject their Creator. God knew this, before He led them out of Egypt and drew them near.

Because God’s faithfulness is never dependent on our actions.quote from post.

Nor is our ministry dependent on results. That said, regardless of how things end, during our lifetime, or even for generations to come, God’s will prevails. We saw this, quite clearly, through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and we’ll see it again when He returns to earth to reign for forever more.

As we wait, we’re called to be faithful. To focus on Him and His will done in and through us. That is and always will be enough.

More than enough.

Though it had to sting, to hear his life’s work would soon deteriorate, Moses could die in peace, because he’d done as God had commanded.

When we do the same, and daily step out in faith and surrendered obedience, we can call it a win, regardless of the results of our efforts. And despite what may feel like a huge loss today, we can celebrate knowing in the end, Christ triumphs.

Let’s talk about this! Are you tired? Has something you’ve worked for turned out different than you expected? How might focusing on the faithfulness of God instead of the often faithlessness of others help you stay focused and encouraged? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

For those who live local, join me for two great events! Live teaching of Wholly Loved’s Becoming His Princess Bible study (Register HERE), and one of our Fully Alive Conferences. You can find out more and click through links to register HERE.

You can snag your free copy (ebook) of the study HERE.