A Tree Planted Next to a Stream

A Tree Planted Next to a Stream

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

A series on being deeply rooted must start with a scripture about plants. How could it not? These verses in Jeremiah are pretty well known and I can see why. It’s a beautiful illustration of a life fueled by God. Who doesn’t love trees, water, and fruitful prosperity?

In Jeremiah 17, God was calling the people of Judah out for their sin. They had an idol problem. This problem was so great that parents were sacrificing their children on altars like the pagan nations who worshiped false gods.

God said to them in verses 5 and 6, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.”

God was warning them that idol worship is not where security and prosperity originate. Good things come from God the Creator. When man turns from God, he turns from his light source. It’s just how it goes. Man on his own in the dark is a bad thing. Has anyone seen Law and Order? People living outside of God just get progressively chaotic and dark. It happens today and it happened back then. Every person needs God so that they can step into the light. We won’t do it naturally.

After God’s reminder to Judah about the emptiness of a man that worships himself, He gives the picture of a man that trusts God:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

It is through trust in God that man receives security and prosperity. In the Old Testament, it looked like this:

Obedience = land, large families, food in abundance, lots of oxen, sheep, goats (wealth)
Disobedience = war, pestilence (more than just bug problems), and famine (poverty)

The Israelites were under a conditional agreement with God. If they obeyed Him, they would receive blessings and if they disobeyed Him, they would receive curses. This was not because God was some kind of egotistical deity on a power trip. God truly knew what was best for Israel.

The conditional agreement is not how it goes anymore. We are under a new deal because of Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of that covenant. Our agreement with God is unconditional love and guaranteed salvation because of Jesus’ obedience. It has nothing to do with our works. In this new deal, we have been given the Holy Spirit as our downpayment of the life in God’s presence that is to come.

I think that the words spoken to Jeremiah back then are still true today but through the lens of our New Covenant with God. A difference between the shrub and the tree in the Jeremiah 17 illustration is placement. The shrub is in the desert and the tree is by a stream. They both experience harsh weather conditions, but the tree continues to be fruitful because of where it is planted.

In codependency terms, I’d like to call this a perspective change. Where is your mind planted? Feelings and actions begin with the intellect. Placing trust in God dissolves fear and anxiety because your thoughts are positively set on the provision and care of God. The tree was planted next to a stream and received all it needed for the heat and drought. Placing your trust in God doesn’t mean your life circumstances necessarily change, it just means you possess what many search for outside of God but can’t find: Peace. Prosperity. Security.

If you are a Christian, you have everything you need through God’s provision. He knows what you need and He will take care of you. It may not be in the way you think, but personally, I find that it’s always better and much more fascinating than what I would have done.

It’s easy to say “trust in the Lord” and much harder to do when you’re not so sure if He is who He claims to be. My suggestion is if you feel you don’t know God or don’t trust what you do know… seek Him further. Ask questions. Figure out what your perception of God is and ask why. Is it true? How do you know? Ask God to show you He is trustworthy. You’ll see it more and more as you’re looking for it.

God has given us creation, His word, His Son, and the Holy Spirit. He wants to be known by you. Plant yourself in Him and enjoy the adventure! A life with God brings joy and peace. It’s so much fun and there’s nothing I would recommend more highly.

 

The Discipline of Self Care

The Discipline of Self Care

Recently, I had a health issue flare up. I won’t give you all the gruesome details, but I will tell you that it was disgusting and life changing. The worst part is that it was preventable. I neglected the issue originally and let it grow into a big problem.

This particular health issue came to be about a year and a half into my codependency recovery. I was working at a particularly stressful job and could not find the time to get it checked out. When I left that job and started a new one, I had it looked at by a doctor and was prescribed a cream (you trying to guess what the issue is? 😛 ). After I got the cream, I went back to my life and, guess what, my new job wasn’t as emotionally stressful, but it was time consuming. And! It was very hard to find coverage for my position. So, needless to say, it was not easy to leave for a follow up doctor visit.

I worked that job for a little over a year and the health issue remained but it was very tame. Sometimes I would go for long periods without really noticing it. You get used to health issues sometimes… they become your new normal. In codependency, many miseries are normal: The fog of confusion as you try to make decisions about jobs, relationships, and boundaries. The chaotic state of your environment. The poor health of your body. The lack of true intimacy with those who care about you. Your view of God.

All these elements are part of living in survival mode with your codependency. If you are throwing all your chips into one category of life, the rest are going to get neglected. That’s just the way it is. There are five basic pieces that create a balanced life: relationships, work, spirituality, physical health, and mental health.

In my case, work was overtaking the other elements of my life. It was consuming so much of my time and energy that my physical health got neglected. An issue was allowed to remain and fester. When my health was compromised, all my energies went to regaining my physical health. Then! The other elements were being neglected because all my focus was on the physical! It can become an exhausting cycle of putting out fires.

This cycle can be portrayed in other ways, as well. Work life crazy can cause neglect in all areas (not just the physical). If you are consumed with work, that means time for relationships is put to the side, your living environment might become a little messy and chaotic, your physical appearance roughens up, your soul starts feeling like a desert, and your mental capacities are just about to run out. These signs may all seem very obvious, but in codependency, that’s not necessarily the case. These issues can become so normal in our survival mode mentality that we don’t even notice them. The screams for order become muted and we trudge on in our misery. What may be very obvious to others can be invisible to the codependent in crisis mode.

Another way life unbalance has affected me in the past was when I would be obsessively focused on a romantic relationship (or desire for a romantic relationship). The drive to have my Disney fantasies come true would steer me away from investing in other friendships and engaging in my life. How could I care about my career or hobbies when I had a relationship to bring to fruition?? Where could I find the time or desire to stop and respect God’s leading? What if He didn’t want what I wanted for myself?

Putting too much emphasis on relationships will lead to neglect of other important areas: like the spiritual. What could be more important than listening to God? But! When a codependent becomes entranced in a fantasy, it’s hard to see past the highs and lows of interactions with that significant other. Obsessive thinking can set in and, when that does happen, say bye-bye to the rational. Everything in life, besides that special person, becomes an afterthought.

Codependency is a dangerous cycle that brings chaos. God has great plans for you in all areas of life… not just a career, not just a relationship, not just school, not just you fill in the blank. If you evaluate your life and decide that one area is getting more attention than the others or if you feel that your life brings a chaotic presence, seek counsel. Go to God as best as you know Him and discuss everything with Him. See a counselor or talk to someone you trust. Living a life of balance feels good! When we become too focused on one area of life, it is easy to make that our god. Giving away the place of God undercuts His power in your life. It says you believe something else can provide you what you need. However, nothing can love and provide like God.

Refocus and go to Him with your life and your calendar. After my health issue, I did some serious reevaluation. So due to that change, I’m thankful I went through what I did. It brought me closer to God and taught me a valuable lesson. Would I want to do it again? Absolutely not and I pray I never have to. But I’ll take my lessons and walk with God to the next adventure. It’s a good life He has blessed all of us with and there’s a lot to be thankful for.

Celebrating the Life of Nabeel Qureshi

Apologist, husband, and father, Nabeel Qureshi, passed away September 16, 2017. It may seem that I am a little late in writing this, but I’ve honestly been having a difficult time processing all the thoughts that came with his life this past year, death, and entrance into a new life.

Nabeel was diagnosed with an aggressive stomach cancer in August 2016. I had read his book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, maybe a year prior to his diagnosis. He was a man of strong conviction, intelligence, passion, and love. He spoke around the world and often in places that were hostile to his message: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only way to salvation.

He was an attentive husband and deeply cared for his young daughter. He loved his family very much.

When I heard the news that Nabeel had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, my immediate thought was, Why, Lord? Nabeel was having a large impact for the gospel and was only in his mid-30’s. Surely this was just a trust test that God was bringing him through. He’d do some chemo, struggle a little, get better, and continue on with his life.

Well, that was my hope, but that was not reality. Nabeel had his ups and downs during treatment, but ultimately, the cancer took over and he died.

Attending Nabeel’s funeral was not what I expected. I realized, sitting there, that God wasn’t done using Nabeel yet. Nabeel may be gone, but the powerful impact of his life stayed hanging in the air.

I looked around at the people present and saw such a variety of individuals coming to pay their respects to a man that had influenced their faith. Nabeel’s life and testimony had strengthened my faith in the past, but I didn’t know his death would grant me peace and courage for a fear I hold.

In a blog post earlier this year, I wrote about my crippling fear of eternity. God has been gentle in walking through this fear with me and taught me a lesson at Nabeel’s funeral. On the front of the funeral program, it had a picture and the words, “Celebrating the Life of Nabeel Qureshi.”

And that’s what the funeral was: a celebration of the life Nabeel lived here and a celebration of the life he is now living in the presence of God. I’ve never experienced a funeral quite like this one and I believe that contains some reasoning as to why eternity has not been a welcome thought for me. The only reality I had of eternity was that time would essentially be nonexistent. Everything else seemed too abstract to even think about.

But this funeral changed that. The sting of a young man dying, while leaving behind a wife and daughter, was overcome with the certain hope that they will see him again. The songs we sang became songs of joyous triumph because we knew that Nabeel was not dead. The power of Jesus’ resurrection took Nabeel’s soul from here straight to God’s presence. He is now in a reality greater than ours.

When I miss Nabeel, I find myself wondering what he’s doing now. And that’s such an interesting thought… because he is doing stuff. He’s alive and interacting with God on a level I can’t really imagine at this point, but the reality that Nabeel is in that realm makes it more real for me. Heaven has grown in familiarity because he is there. I look forward to seeing him again and hearing about what he’s got going on up there.

I wouldn’t say Nabeel’s funeral “cured” me of my fear of eternity, but it gave me more perspective. I hope that my funeral is like his. I hope it’s a celebration of life and that it puts joy in the hearts of all who attend. I know there will be sadness because I’m not around, but there should also be a miraculous elation in the power of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A Mini Break

A Mini Break

Hello, friends!

I’ve been MIA for the past month, but it’s been for a good reason. God blessed me with a contract job to write a 5 week devotional for families traveling together. That, along with work, my book proposal, and another side job have kept me pretty busy. But! I have finished the devotionals and would like to share one of the days with you.

When I write for churches, I don’t use blatant codependency terms. It’s not a popular concept within most church congregations yet. However, I try and describe as best I can what connecting with God through recovery truly feels like. I want people to know that they can live in freedom and joy in Christ.

Below is day three entitled, “Grace Perspective”. Enjoy!

Romans 5:1-11

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Read devotional as a family:

Even though many say they are Christians, it’s hard to come by individuals actually living the Christian lifestyle. When I say “living it out”, I’m not talking about their actions. I’m talking about their perspective. How many Christians do you know that are still living, frankly, a miserable life?

Reading Romans 5:1-11 and seeing the gains from a life under faith in Christ, it’s hard to imagine a Christian emanating darkness instead of light. It happens all too often, however. God opens someone’s blinded eyes to the light, they accept His truth, and revert back to their dark chaos. This is not to say their lives have no transformation and their salvation wasn’t real. It’s to say that the choice is frequently made to live a life of complacent, sepia-toned Christianity and not step into the daily adventure that God has created for those who love Him. It’s a choice to push away that breezy-blue-sky-Saturday-with-people-you-love, hot pizza when you’re starving, packed out dance party, confident like a boss; “so young and in love” type life.

When a Christian attempts to operate out of their human capabilities, obligation creeps in and life is not lived as an overflow of joy and gratitude for the gift of eternal life in Christ.

Before we could see the truth of God we were in darkness. It is when we come to see the truth of our depravity, the salvation Christ offers, and the justification we receive through faith that we can live a life of peace and joy with God. Peace. Isn’t that what everyone is looking for? Peace, contentment, satisfaction… lack of worry. And we have it!

That’s not all we gain from receiving Jesus as our savior. We receive access to the presence of God because of the grace we have been shown. It is this access to God’s presence that allows us to obtain such peace. We also gain hope in the glory of God. The word hope in this context is ἐλπίς in Greek. It means expectation. We are given not only peace in the present, but expectation for things to come. Namely, the glory of God. We are expectant to see the reveal of God on earth.

After being given peace with God, access to His presence, and hope, we get the gift of the ability to rejoice in our sufferings. Why? Because no longer are sufferings pointless inconveniences and disappointments in a one-shot-at-life mentality, but they are a process of sanctification getting us ready for the glorious kingdom ahead. Sufferings lead back to hope because we have been given the Holy Spirit as our guide and counsel through those times of suffering. We overflow with love no matter what circumstance because of the power of the gospel.

God’s peace gives us the freedom to put away obsessive thinking and surrender our anxieties. The hope of the glory of God provides an eternal perspective that fills this appetizer of a life with purpose. The Holy Spirit clears our mind of chaos and replaces it with clarity, confidence, and direction. God guides us every day and provides all our needs in their right time.

We have all of this, not because we deserve it, but because God loved us in the midst of our weakness. He wanted us to be in His presence so He gave the ultimate sacrifice of parting with His Son for a time so that we can all be with Him. Jesus died for us at the time we were the complete package of a depraved Romans 1. And it is His sacrifice that covers our messed up selves in the presence of God.

It is through Jesus’ blood that we are justified to God and saved from His wrath. We died with Christ to now live. The understanding of who we were, where we were headed, who Jesus is and what He did, what we gained from His life, death, and resurrection, and who we are now because of who He is leads us to a life of freedom, gratitude, and joy. What could we possibly need that God hasn’t already provided? If He went to such great lengths so that we could be with Him, why would He not come through in other matters?

Live in the freedom of a life with God through Jesus Christ here and in the eternal future.

Discussion:

  • What are potential consequences of living for ourselves and not for God’s glory?
  • Do you feel that you are living in the peace of God every day? Why or why not?
  • Do you believe that God will come through for you? Why or why not?

In Death, In Life

In Death, In Life

Happy Post-Resurrection Day!!

I hope you enjoyed celebrating the day Jesus rose from the dead! My day was filled with church, family, food, games, and travel… followed by wine, cookies, and recap with family and friends. At the end of the day, it was lovely to relax, pet my dog, and be with like-minded friends that love Jesus.

My neighbor, aunt, and I are celebrating Jesus’ resurrection for the next eight days. Each day this week, we’re living in the joy of new life through Jesus Christ. Today, I wore sparkly shoes and put flowers at my desk. Tonight there will be a toast with my neighbor and we will reflect on the impact of the resurrection in our lives.

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With all this celebrating going on, you’d think my heart would be light and I’d have a smile plastered on my face… but that’s not the case. Well, not continuously. This morning actually started off pretty weird. I was running a little behind this morning and didn’t get to do anything that out of the ordinary in my quiet time. I had wanted to add something extra to celebrate the resurrection, but didn’t get the chance. I threw a lunch together for work, got in the car, and had technology fall apart (which seems to be my norm). As I’m trying to connect my phone to the Bluetooth in my car (because it had disconnected for some reason), the system isn’t recognizing my voice, repeating commands, and failing to pair up. I’m screaming, “CONTINUE!” at my car like I’m speaking to an elderly person with hearing problems. I’m calling people idiots on the freeway and wondering how they received a drivers license.

Halfway to work, I finally got the phone to connect, got my Resurrection playlist going, and felt miserable. How could I praise God for a new life after the fit I had just thrown? I was able to play a song and a half before pulling into work and rushing to clock in. Some day of celebration.

At work, my sparkly shoes were hidden by my desk and everything felt horribly normal.

Lunch came around and I got in my car to run some errands. I put on my Resurrection playlist for a second time and asked God for a fresh start. I’ve been discovering that God can change my day without me going to sleep and waking up the next morning. He can change it in an instant. He can change me in an instant.

The song, “One Thing Remains,” started playing. I listened to that song while at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. That is where it is believed Jesus was crucified – His tomb not too much further away. Thinking of His sacrifice fills me with gratitude when I think on it.

A lyric came that surprised me as I drove in the car.

“In death, in life, I’m confident and covered by the power of your great love.”

At church yesterday, we covered Romans 8:31-39. A well-known part of that scripture reads,

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

The two connected for me in that moment. Neither death nor life. In death, in life. God knows I’m not perfect. Just because I have the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean I’ve reached glory yet. I’m a work in progress. And whether I’ve reverted to my old self (pre-Christ) or whether I’m living the fully satisfied life under Christ, I’m safe. God isn’t looking at each one of my actions, words, or feelings and weighing the balance of good and bad. He’s looking at His Son.

How can I celebrate the resurrection after realizing I’ve been a murmuring, whiney, first world human? Remind myself that is the whole reason Jesus came to live a perfect life, die, and resurrect. He did it so that I can place my trust in Him and know that I am secure regardless of my failures. Not only am I secure in physical death and physical life, but I am safe in spiritual death and spiritual life. There is never a time that I am not protected by Jesus Christ. Praise God!

The fact I am secure while being an idiot is glory to God and His magnificent grace, mercy, and love. His power to save a humanity that does not deserve it! I tell you, after thinking through this remarkable truth, my spirit was lifted and resurrection celebration was on!

So, be encouraged. God loves you and He is able to be present with you because of the sacrifice of His Son. God will never leave us and His love will never fail.

During my lunch break, I bought some flowers to put on my desk. The leaves have a thorny appearance with a beautiful, soft flower in the middle. I thought it was perfect for the lesson God taught me today. The crown of thorns Jesus wore and the suffering He experienced places a hedge of protection around the new life I’ve been given. It can never be taken away and my future glory is promised in Christ.

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Happy Resurrection Week!

Perfectly Imperfect – Time Change

Perfectly Imperfect – Time Change

Morning! Unless you’re in the greater area of Arizona, you are struggling with the rest of us to adjust to the time change. Now, don’t get me wrong when I use the word “struggle.” I am in love with this new hour. When I get home from work, IT’S STILL DAYLIGHT! I can take my dog for a walk and feel like we’re not walking at midnight when it’s only 7:30pm. I love the longer day. I wish it would stay this way forever… America? Please? Can this be it?

However, with my love for more daylight in the afternoon, I also “struggle” in the mornings to wake up. This is frustrating to me because finally, FINALLYYYYYY, I have been getting up between 6:00-6:10am. And I mean, it’s on the daily. It’s been wonderful. I exercise, feed the dogs, make my coffee, and have time to settle down to read and write before getting ready for work. It’s phenomenal. It’s what I’ve wanted for years and never ever been able to accomplish. I can’t tell you all just how long I’ve worked, strategized, and prayed to be able to get up at 6am. It’s been since my high school days, so we’re looking at about 15 years of attempts and failures. The last half of 2016 and the first part of 2017 have been life changers for me and waking up. I’ve been living it up in the mornings. The feeling of organization, productivity, and calm before I go to work is absolutely lovely.

Now that the time change came on Sunday, I’ve been lurched back to my old issue: I can’t get up at six! Technically, in my brain, it’s 5am! Who gets up that early? I wish I could, honestly. That wish aside, I’ve been tempted the past couple of days to focus on my failures in the morning and get discouraged. You may be dealing with the same disappointment in yourself this week. A rough morning seems to light the pathway for a rough day. It’s hard to calm down from a frantic drive to work after running around the house like a mad person to get out the door.

This morning, instead of bashing myself for waking up an hour later than intended, I had to remind myself of one truth: I am perfectly imperfect.

And so are you.

God knows we are not perfect. That’s why He sent Jesus to live a perfect life for us. If Jesus were physically here in our world, He would’ve felt the fatigue of daylight savings time, but He would’ve turned off the alarm at 6:00:00 am and got out of bed. Because He’s Jesus! But you and I are not.

Sunday, I woke up at 8:00am. Two hours late. Yikes. Monday, I got up at 7:20am. Not as bad as Sunday, but still a rush to get ready for work and out the door. Today, I got up at 7:02am. Hey, progress. And hopefully tomorrow it will be earlier. I’ve missed working out the past few days and that makes me sad, but I have to allow myself a transition period. And you need to give yourself the same grace.

Be patient with yourself and don’t beat yourself up. I’ll practice too. Together, we can get back to routine! (If you have one… and if you don’t, I highly recommend one.) 😛

If you have any suggestions for waking up on time, I would love to hear them! I’m always looking for a new strategy.

When Fears Consume Us

When Fears Consume Us

I have a great fear that has hung with me since I was a child. It haunts me and it’s also inevitable. When I think about it, my body goes cold, I feel sick, and my mind is trapped in a prison of panic. My fear is of eternity. It’s a puzzle I can’t solve. It’s a hypothetical with no conclusion. It’s my destiny.

I’ve asked my parents, teachers, mentors, counselors, and friends what the best way to deal with it is. Some say suppress it, others have not had the fear of eternity and don’t understand mine, and others have advised I think of something else when the fear creeps in. I’ve tried it all.

Lately, the thoughts of eternity have been running in the background of my mind. Now that I’m not obsessively thinking about guys, I guess my mind needed something else to continuously ponder unhealthily. Eternity, it is.

However, things are changing for me. I’m hosting  a workshop at this conference in March and the topic is spiritual warfare. Due to the nature of the subject, I’ve been studying angels, demons, and the devil. Not a topic I get into daily. As I’ve been studying Satan – who he is, his career, motives, and end goal – I’ve found he began his rebellion in deception, lives to deceive believers as a hindrance to the work of God at present, and seeks to rule in God’s place by ultimately deceiving the world into believing he is God.

Knowing this, the thought occurred to me yesterday, am I misconstruing my fear of eternity as God-given, instead of an attack from Satan? If Satan’s goal is to deter me from the work of God, what greater way could he do that than terrifying me into distancing myself from my Creator? Fear is a powerful thing and we can allow it to control us.

Last night, as anxiety churned in my stomach for far too long, I decided things were going to be different. No more! Satan has been using this fear in me for far too long and it stops now. I wrote a letter to God last night writing out my fears in detail and asking Him to remove them.

“Lord, I pray that You remove the fear and anxiety from me in Your divine, perfect will. I pray that You replace it with peace, confidence, and a hope of things unseen. Show me an alternate way to think of life that never ends. Show me joy, gratitude, and anticipation. Forgive me for dreading Your greatest gift. Father, walk with me in this one. Let Satan have no jurisdiction here. You are greater than my fear. You are so good. Have me see that. Have me live that.”

What fear is controlling you? Have you given it to God yet?