Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Needle marks and an identity crisis.

"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9

Have you ever had an identity crisis? Have you ever doubted- even just for a moment- who you were? Doubted who you have been? Doubted who you will become? An identity crisis is  confusing and disorientating, and can come out of nowhere. It can be sparked by the breakup of a relationship, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or position, the loss of respect by someone close to you, your own thoughts, guilt and shame over actions that are out of character, regret over wrong decisions,  the criticism and judgment of others, messages from society, the way that people treat us, or a host of other issues can lead us to doubt who we KNOW we are in vulnerable moments. 

This weekend, I had quite an unexpected, short term identity crisis that really shook me. 

I went to the emergency room because I was having trouble breathing. While in the emergency room, they gave me a breathing treatment and took some blood for lab work. They discharged me and sent me home with steroids. No big deal.

The next day, however, I started having problems breathing again (which, I know realize, was from using excessive amounts of bleach in cleaning my basement a few days before). I went into urgent care, where they decided to give me IV steroids. When the nurse lifted up my sleeve to inject the steroids into my vein, she saw the mark on my arm from the night before. She sort of gasped and looked at me, then looked at her chart, and commented "oh, I see that's where they drew blood last night."

For a split second, I felt the condemnation and judgment that I used to feel when I WAS an IV drug user. Years of feeling unworthy, unwanted, hopeless and disgusted with myself when I was using heroin came rushing back like a ton of bricks. I haven't  been looked at that way by anyone in almost a decade, and I was not expecting that gasp and judgmental glance to hit me the way that it did, because I knew what the mark was from, and so did the nurse, so there was no reason for me to feel condemned over it. I wasn't doing anything wrong, I hadn't done anything wrong. If anything, I should have been appreciative that the nurse took the time to make the observation, since there is a very real, very big heroin problem in this area.  I brushed it off, and the nurse started to try and administer the steroid shot.

What people who haven't been addicts don't understand is that anyone who has ever been an IV drug user will always have some sort of trauma when needles are injected into your veins for medical procedures. Using intravenous drugs is an experience that is intimate in a way that I can't even put into words. The very ritual of using a needle becomes an addiction of its own. Addicts will shoot water when they don't have drugs, just because they are addicted to the needle. And the thing is, that even after long periods of time without touching a needle, once it's injected into your vein, your body remembers. Your mind remembers. Your addiction remembers. And, the hard thing is, in that moment, your mind doesn't differentiate between the fact that the needle is in your vein for a medical procedure, and not to get high. It just knows that there is a needle in your vein, and once you've had a romantic affair with the needle, floods of emotion come back no matter the reasoning.  

Usually, when I get blood drawn, it is over so quickly and I have been clean for so long that it doesn't affect me too much anymore. As long as I don't participate in the ritual and let my head go to a bad place- watching the nurse look for veins, watching them put on the tourniquet, watching them insert the syringe and pull back the blood- I'm alright. As long as I close my eyes through the whole thing, the actual poke doesn't bother me too much. 

However, this is where things got bad for me in Urgent Care. I closed my eyes, and the nurse tried using the vein that the ER had used the night before, and she couldn't get it. She inserted the needle four more times into the same vein, and still couldn't get it. Then she tried a vein in my hand, not once but 3 times, and couldn't get that either. She moved to my other hand, got a vein, but blew it out- meaning that the vein rolled and she shot the steroids into my tissue instead. She got up and said she had to get another shot- all the time saying that she never misses, and she didn't understand what was going on. 

I had managed to keep my eyes closed the entire time. However, when she came back in, I couldn't keep my eyes closed anymore. I was so tired of getting poked with needles that I was going to watch her and make sure she was doing it right. I was praying that God could let her get this, because it was really, really starting to mess with my head. 

I watched the whole thing. She put the tourniquet on, and went to use my "good vein"- the one I had always used when I injected heroin. I watched her insert the needle, and try to pull back blood- in the same spot I myself had done it for years decades earlier. She couldn't get it. She inserted the needle twice more in the same spot, and still couldn't get it. I had an overwhelming urge to scream at her to just let me do it- that I know how to inject things into myself. I had years of practice. I had been a junkie. I know what I am doing. I just wanted it to be over. I just wanted to get out of there. My resolve was starting to wear to a scarily thin place. 

In that moment, I forgot who I was. Who I AM. I was remembering what I had once been, and it scared the life out of me. Feelings and emotions that I never thought I would experience again in my life as long as I stay clean smacked me upside the head like a semi truck. I was transported back to a time in my life when I was a junkie, when I was desperate to find a vein in order to get high. My adrenaline was pounding. I was sweating. I was watching very intently to see blood drawn up into the needle, the same way that I used to look with excitement to ensure that I had gotten a vein before I injected my heroin, so I didn't waste my drugs. 

I felt like a heroin addict again, without touching a drop of drugs. 

What made it worse, is that for the next few days, I was walking around with needle marks and huge bruises from being stuck so many times all over both of my arms and hands. It has been almost a decade since I have had to walk around branded with the track marks of a junkie. While in my head I knew that they were from the hospital and urgent care, my emotions were screaming something else. 

Some photos of needle marks after this weekend. 

It has been so long that I have had to walk around with needle marks on me, that I forgot what it felt like. Every time I looked down at my arms, memories of my addiction popped up. I remember when those marks WERE there because of drugs. I remember how hopeless and horrible and judged I felt. I was conscious of the fact that people could see the marks on my arms and hands, and I remember knowing how visible they were to other people when I was a drug addict, and that they read as a clear sign to others to stay away from me- branded as junkie garbage- even though what I desperately needed was someone to reach out and try to help. Someone to make me feel human. Someone to let me know that needle marks didn't define me. Someone to let me know that there was a way out- that Jesus could free me from my scars, from my hurts, from my hopelessness, from the needlemarks on my arms. 

I know who God is. I know what He delivered me from. I know His power. I know who I am in him. I know that I am no longer a drug addict, that I am no longer lost, that I am no longer enslaved to drugs. I remember what he brought me from. I look at the wonderful life that I have now, and can describe it as nothing short of a miracle. I know I am beloved and forgiven and saved and set free. 

But knowing that doesn't stop Satan from trying to convince me- or to convince you- otherwise.

He will pull out every attack that he can to make us doubt our identity in Christ, and the power that we have over every bondage, stronghold, and mistake in the power of Jesus. 

He doesn't want you to walk in freedom.
He doesn't want you to realize you are forgiven.
He wants you to give up hope.
He wants to distort God's power.
He wants to make you believe you aren't worthy to be called a Christian. 
He wants you to have a false identity- the one he has branded you with through condemnation and sin, rather than the one you have gained through Christ. 

That's why it is so hard for drug addicts to get clean and find freedom in Jesus. They live with the belief that the false identity Satan had them under is who they are, instead of who Christ says that they are. That false identity is just reinforced by the bad things they have done, the mistakes that people won't let them forget, the police records they accumulate, the judgmental glances from people, society writing them off as a lost cause. It is so hard to walk in a new identity in Christ when everywhere you look there is guilt, shame, and condemnation screaming that you are worthless, and that God would never want anything to do with you. Most people don't make it out of addiction because they can't hear God's voice telling them who they are in Him over all of the other noise their addiction and mistakes have caused. That can't hear who they are in Christ over the voices of the people that they have hurt who won't let them forget what they've done, people who want to keep them there.

The truth though, dear one, is that Jesus gave you His identity. No matter WHAT your identity was before, once you accept Christ, you are a new creation, and your identity is in Him. The trick is walking by faith in that truth, and holding God's word about who you are up as the only truth. God's voice and scripture are the only ways to refute the lies that the enemy uses to condemn you. And in order to recognize the lies, you have to tune into God. Pray without ceasing. Repent. Read your bible and study the scriptures and write them on the tablet of your heart, so you can recognize the voices and thoughts that don't line up with them and refute them.. Arm yourself for spiritual warfare- for identity crises that tell you you aren't who God says you are- because I promise you that they will come. 

The beautiful thing is, that even when you DO mess up, even if you relapse, when you make a horrible mistake, when you sin, when you act in an ungodly manner- when you repent and turn back to God- you are STILL His, no matter what you've done. His grace is enough for anything. Your identity is still in Him. Even if those needle marks on my arms would have been from heroin, Jesus still would have loved me. He still would have forgiven me.  The enemy doesn't want you to know that. He wants you to believe that if you fall, or fail, or sin, that you are a hypocrite. He will remind you of all of the horrible things you have done and try to convince you that Jesus wouldn't want anything to do with someone like that- and that if you were REALLY saved, it wouldn't have happened, and God doesn't love you.

The truth, though, is that Jesus came for the sole purpose of saving sinners. He came just for the purpose of saving people who screw up. People who sin. Drug addicts that relapse. Not perfect people, but people who need to be forgiven. It is all throughout scripture. Any voice that tells you anything else is lying, and satan is the father of all lies. 

Who you were- no matter WHAT you were- before God, does not define who you are now in Christ. Never forget that, no matter who or what tries to tell you otherwise.

Do you really know who you are? Where are you getting your identity from? Whose voice are you listening to? 

Listen to Jesus, and walk boldly in your identity in Him, because His voice is the only one that matters. 

"The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned." - Psalms 34:22

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." - 1 John 1:9

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." - 2 Corinthians 5:17

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The storms of life prove the strength of our anchor.

    The storms of life prove the strength of our anchor.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
                                                     Proverbs 3:5,6 

The past few months, our lives have been filled with storms- and I'm not talking tiny ones. Not "my kid spilled juice on my new carpet", "I'm fighting with my best friend", "we are tight on money this month" kind of storms. I'm talking earthshaking storms, the kind that change your entire life. The kind that will either force you to panic and lose all faith, or make you cling to your belief that God will get you through the other side of the storm. 

We lost our home.

While we were camping with our CROSSroads group at LifeFest (a huge 3 day Christian concert in Osh Kosh), we got a call telling us that our apartment had flooded. The tenant above us broke a pipe, and water drained down into our apartment for over an hour, and the damage was so bad that we would have to move out for them to be able to fix it. 

Now, as a woman, your home is a safety net. It's where a lot of our stability comes from, and the place we offer stability to our children and spouses. To have it pulled out from under you with no warning leaves you in a state of panic that I can't even put into words.

The home we had spent years building, caring for, and making memories in was just suddenly gone.

We had to do an emergency move- and thanks to some great friends, it got done pretty fast. Thankfully, NONE of our stuff was ruined or even wet- only the walls in the apartment were damaged. We were put in a temporary upstairs apartment in the same complex, but told we would need to find somewhere else to live. We were basically homeless- technically having somewhere to stay for awhile, but not able to have a home, and living out of boxes with most of our stuff stored in the garage because we knew we were just going to have to move again. 

For weeks, I prayed and fasted. I didn't understand why this was happening, but I knew God had a reason. I've been walking with God and doing ministry long enough where I have seen God use crazy, confusing circumstances to orchestrate His will, and use bad things to bring blessings.  

Knowing that, however, didn't stop me from worrying. Or grieving. Or hurting for my little boy- the little boy that I am responsible for giving a stable life-  who was so confused about where his home went and didn't know where he was supposed to sleep at night, that he walked around with his blanket crying until finally settling on the floor and falling asleep, because he no longer had his bedroom. I felt like I had lost a big part of our lives, without the chance of closure.

Being in limbo is a horrible feeling- especially if you are someone who isn't blessed with the spiritual gift of patience. The not knowing what is going to happen next is a nightmare for someone with control issues. 

How were we going to find somewhere else to live? How were we going to move everything? Where we were going to come up with all of the extra money to do this? I had tons of thoughts racing through my head, until a still, small voice reminded me that He has never failed me before, and He won't start now. I had to trust Him- because ONLY He could turn this situation around. He was allowing this situation to force me to give up my control, and depend completely and utterly on Him. 

God uses the hardest times in our lives to get us to cling to Him the most. I have grown the most as a Christian when I was personally suffering the most. It is in the times of confusion, of fear, of doubt, of wondering, of feeling forgotten or hurt of lonely, that we grow the closest to Him. It's in the valleys of life where we can truly see God walk with us, and when we come to the mountain on the other side and look back, we can see He was with us all along. 

It is in the valleys where we realize that He alone is enough. When there is nothing that we can do to fix a situation, He shows just how powerful He truly is. Seeing His faithfulness in impossible situations shows us just how much He is God, and just how much He loves us. Seeing Him work things out in ways that no human could, keeps us in awe of His glory and omnipotence. 

 Through all of it, God kept reminding me to put my trust in HIM. Was my security in where I lived at, or in God? Was I putting my faith in a home, or in the one who made all things- including our home? The one who had given it to us to begin with, the one who promises to never leave us or forsake us, the one who has taken care of me through the years even when I wasn't walking with Him- was I really going to believe that He would stop taking care of me now?

God was using that time to build my faith- to trust and depend on Him alone. I believed He would come through- He had to, because there was nothing I could do to fix the situation. I know God well enough to know that He doesn't fail, that He loves me, and that He will never stop caring for me. Yet, everyday, I had to fight the doubt that would creep into my head with the word, prayer and fasting. I had to hold fast to my faith, and trust that my God would come through for me- no matter what it looked like. He will always provide, sometimes just not the way we envisioned. 

I had to fight fear with faith, I had to believe that God would move, I had to recall all of the times He has shown Himself faithful and come through for me before. I had to tell the little voice in my head that would pop up to taunt me with doubt to go for a hike. I had to really, truly stand fast in my faith. The only other option was to completely crumble, become hopeless, and give up.

I have a tattoo on my ankle of a cross, a heart, and an anchor. I got it to remind me of  Hebrews 6:19- that hope in God anchors my soul. I also have a tattoo on my wrist of a cross with a semi-colon to remind me to keep going when I could give up and stop, because God is not done with me yet. I have spent a lot of time in the past month looking at those two tattoos.

I chose to try and look at the positive in the situation. I could have blamed it on the devil- that He had taken our home from us, that we were being punished for something, that God didn't love us anymore- but the more I prayed and fasted, the more I heard God tell me that HE was using our apartment being flooded as a way to move us to where HE wanted us and needed us to be.  It was time for us to move on. He was in control, and I just needed to give my control up to Him, and let Him work out our situation.
So I waited. 
And God showed up.
The end result of all of this chaos was an answer beyond our wildest dreams. God gave us a home that we could never have imagined having. A beautiful, huge house, with tons of room to run and a big back yard for our little boy, a park basically in our backyard, a giant screened in front porch, and wonderful Christian neighbors that uplift and help us. It is literally everything we wanted, and everything we dreamed. It is everything we thought we would never have- and wouldn't have if it wasn't for Him. He has placed some wonderful people in our lives that I will forever be grateful to. 
It's a far cry from our two bedroom apartment that was surrounded by neighbors who hated the fact that we were Christians. 
We are happier than we have ever been. I am astounded and humbled that God loves me the way that He does, because I don't deserve it. That He cares so much about us that He would do whatever He had to (including a flood) in order to get us to His blessings and plan for our lives is amazing. The fact that the creator of the universe knows my hearts' desires and provides in a way that is miraculous is astounding to me. I am nobody, but I am somebody to Him- a beloved daughter of a father who has a good plan for my life, and chases me down to show it to me. 
What we thought was home in our apartment, is not what God intended for us. It was never meant to be permanent, but a stepping stone. He had better things in store. We just had to let go of the old, so that God could give us the new- and not complain about it in the meantime. 
I read a story once about a little girl that had a costume jewelry ring that she loved. She wore it everywhere, and wouldn't take it off. It was fake and made of plastic, but to her it was her most treasured possession. One day, her father came and asked if she would give him her ring. She clung to her little plastic ring, and cried and pleaded to keep it, because she loved it so. Little did she know, that behind his back, her father was holding a real diamond ring. He had something better for her- something better than she had ever known- but she needed to give up what she was holding onto to receive it.
God works that way with us to. His ways are not our ways, and He sees the big picture. He knows what we need, where we need to be, and how we are going to get there. He wants us to trade our plans for his- to give up our plastic ring for his diamond one. Yet sometimes we become so attached to what we know, to what is comfortable, that we lose out by not following God into the unknown. 
God knows. If he takes something away- even if we believe we really need it- it is only to give us something better, or to get us to where we need to be. We just need to trust him in the journey.
In the unknown, in the midst of the storm, is where we learn just how weak we are, but how powerful our God- our anchor- really is. We gain a closeness to God that we would never get any other way.  And in the end, that makes it all worth it. 
James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

1 Peter 1:6-9 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. 

Hebrews 6:19-20

 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

   Job 1:21 
He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I don't want to be a chariot truster.

"Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God" (Ps. 20:7, KJV).

This verse came to me this morning. My husband and I are under intense spiritual attack right now. We knew the attacks would worsen once he was ordained as a pastor a few weeks ago, and we thought we were prepared. Spiritual warfare, however, has been taken to a whole new level, in multiple ways. Attacks have seemingly been coming from every side. I started thinking about what I could do to head off the attacks, how I could fix things, what I could do for plan B, who we have in our lives that could help us. Then I remembered this verse.

There have been two other times in my life, besides now, where this verse got me through. One is a time before I knew God- but looking back in retrospect, I saw God working this promise out in my life even before I was willing to accept Him- because He loves us even when we refuse to love Him. It was in 2008, when I was at the height of my drug addiction. My life was a disaster - in and out of jail, I had lost custody of my kids, hopelessly addicted and had just finished my 13th drug rehab (which I only went to avoid prison time) and I had criminal charges in five different counties that I was on probation for. I had no job, but my boyfriend did. At the time, he was my only reason for wanting to continue to survive. Then one morning in May I woke up and found him hanging by an electrical cord around his neck from the rafter in our basement. 

His suicide made me lose the small reasoning I had for trying to hold on to life. I was done fighting. I had no will to live, and had no idea how I could live even if I wanted to. I had no idea where I would live now that he was dead and couldn't pay the bills, and none of my relatives (rightly) trusted me to be in their homes - especially since his suicide made my instability that much more unstable. I had no idea how I was going to eat, how I was going to pay off my probation fines every month (which meant going back to jail), but most importantly I had no idea how it would ever be possible for my life to be redeemed from that point if I was forced to continue living. 

I remember sitting besides his casket at his wake, hopeless and distraught, with those thoughts running through my head. Then, clear as day, I heard a voice tell me that it was going to be okay. As I stared at my dead boyfriend in the funeral parlor, I remember screaming to myself "how is this ok? This is the furthest away from ok that you can get! There is no fixing this!"

And I was right. I couldn't fix it. No human could. 

Not too long after, however, I learned that God specializes in fixing the impossible. It was through my boyfriend's death that I ultimately got desperate enough to surrender to God, and he made a way where there was no way. He placed me in a Christian restoration home where I was not only taken care of, housed, and fed, but I was able to get to know Him in a way I never would have been able to otherwise.  He used that horrible time in my life to draw me to himself, healed me from drug addiction, gave me joy and a purpose again, turned my past from something to be ashamed of into a testimony to help others, and gave me a family. It was a long road, but He showed up. I would have never have dreamed that day in the funeral home that God could turn that situation around. But where I only saw problems, God had a plan all along. I was just too entrenched in my circumstances to be able to believe it. 

The second time in my life this verse really got me through was when my husband and I moved to Marshfield from the ministry we had been in for years in Milwaukee. When we came up here, we had nothing but our bibles and some clothes. We didn't know where we would live, how we would pay bills, how we would get furniture or food, or how we would get around with no car. We had no idea what we were doing here, but we went because God told us to go - and take nothing with us. And He provided in more ways than we could imagine, even when we didn't see how it would happen. Even when WE couldn't make it happen. 

Both times, God showed up. He provided. He says He will never leave or forsake us. And He doesn't lie. 

God had it all along. He always will. Why I act like an Isrealite so many times in my life and start wondering if God has freed me from Egypt just to let me die in the desert is beyond me. He has proven his faithfulness over and over again. Everything comes through Him- every help, every escape, every resource, every open door. And He has a good plan for my life, even when it makes no sense to me. He has shown me that over and over again, and I feel like he is using our current situation to remind me of that and my need to be dependent on Him and Him alone, because He is more than enough and can make a way out of no way. 

When we try to make things happen or worry or look at the resources around us and put our faith in those things instead of God, we are trusting in chariots. When we trust in credit scores or bank accounts or manpower or battle plans or our own self reliance, We are trusting in the created instead of the creator. We are thinking about how we can take care of ourselves instead of trusting in the one who holds the world in the palm of His hand, and whose thoughts are too wonderful for us to understand. 

Sometimes God closes doors because He doesn't intend for there to be a human solution.  He wants to show up in a way where there is no doubt that it was Him, and Him alone that brought you through. He wants to build our faith, show His glory, and display just how much He loves us and is willing to step up for His child. 

Here’s what’s interesting. Although their enemies used horses and chariots in battle, initially God prohibited the children of Israel from even having horses! (Deut. 17:16). 

Imagine the terror the people of Israel must have felt whenever they looked across the valley and saw their enemies lined up in these menacing machines of war, ready to attack.  I know I can feel that way when circumstances are out of my control and I have no idea how I will make it out. Yet look how God instructed them to face their enemies on the battlefield:

"When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. ... For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you" (Deut. 20:1, 4).

You would think that not having horses or chariots would have made Israel extremely vulnerable against her enemies. So why did the Lord forbid them to multiply horses? The Word tells us why:

"Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright" (Ps. 20:7-8).

God wanted Israel to trust in Him, not horses and chariots, and not their own battle plans. When they faced their enemy on the battlefield, they were to remember how He and He alone - not their weapons, not their intelligence, not their self sufficiency, not their manpower - had delivered them in times past. They were to remember how He delivered them from Egypt’s chariots at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:7). Their faith was to be in Him, not their own ability  (that's why God became so angry at David for taking the census in 1 Chronicles 21- he turned his faith from God to his army). God alone was their battle plan. 

As they remembered Him, they put their trust in Him. And He delivered them. He has done so for me too, and will again. 

When we are in the heat of the battle and it looks like the enemy is closing in, we need to go back and remember all that the Lord has brought us through. He has not changed. Just as He brought us through the trials of yesterday, He will bring us through the trials of today and tomorrow too.

I don't want to put my trust in chariots, though it is the first reaction of my flesh. Chariots have no power. God alone does, and He is the only one who can save. I pray that God gives me the strength to rely on Him and Him alone, because He is all I need, and has a solution for every battle I face. 

"Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still." Exodus 14:13-14.

Monday, July 18, 2016

You will always have a Peter and you will always have a Judas.

With all the craziness the past few days, I realize just how wise Pastor Cano (the one who discipled me) at Victory Church was. He told me once that in ministry, you will always have a Peter and you will always have a Judas, and both are necessary and part of the plan. That man was truly wise beyond his time. I'm thankful for all of the Peters- those that support us, have grace for us, and speak life into us - the armor bearers who wage war against darkness as partners with us. I'm thankful for an amazing pastor (who is also wise beyond his time) who walks through messy ministry with us, takes the time to have multiple hour conversations and fellowship with us, and realizes we are human. I'm also thankful for those who don't extend grace and mercy to us, those who are determined to see bad intentions or accuse, because it reminds us just how important it is that we extend the grace and mercy we don't receive that much more to others, and reminds us that God uses all things for good and His plans can't be thwarted. Thankful that God exposes the motives and intentions of the heart, that he removes and prunes but also provides. Thankful that Satan may accuse, but God will always justify when you are in his will. I'm Thankful for the negative things people may say or imply, because it only makes me that much more determined to rely on God to fight for me, and to justify. I'm Thankful for attacks because it reminds us we are a threat to the enemy. Ministry is messy, but God will always make a way, and fighting for the kingdom of God is always worth it. When the enemy comes in like a flood, God will raise the standard. That I know for sure. I am grateful for this journey, and to be counted worthy to be a small part of God's plan. I'm thankful for the Peters that make this journey easier, and for the Judases who keep us on our toes and renew our determination to keep pressing on with God's plan despite any and all adversity, and for reminding us just how seriously we take our commitment and calling.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Wise counsel lessons from Job

I was talking to someone earlier about the book of Job. The thing that stands out to me the most in that book, aside from God's redemptive power, is how confusing the whole situation looked to outsiders. His wife told him to curse God and die, and his friends accused him of sinning and being punished by God. They were too spiritually immature to realize that all of the negative circumstances were in fact being used by God as an Avenue to bless him more than before, for How's glory to be shown in his life, and to strengthen his faith. They didn't know God well enough to believe that he uses everything - even the bad things - for ultimate good, and that he is Redeemer of all who will never leave or forsake us. They accused Jobs of doing wrong, when in reality God allowed those things to happen because he knew Job was trustworthy of handling the adversity and remaining faithful to worshiping God  even when he wasn't being blessed by him, where others would turn their back on him. So many follow God for the loaves and the fishes - but God wants soldiers who will follow him even though adversity. If Job would have listened to them, he would have lost faith. Instead, he ignored their negativity and kept his eyes on God, and was better after the tribulations than when he went in. Moral of the story : be careful whose counsel you listen to. Don't let the enemy speak lies to you through other people's opinions and speculations. Listen  to those who know God, who have been through horrendous storms that have brought them incredibly close to God and allowed them to witness his faithfulness. Those who know that he will use all things for your good. Not everyone realizes that God works through the valleys even more than he does the mountain tops. Not everyone has been through a deep enough valley to have seen God's redemptive and saving power. I know that God is faithful, as he has seen me through some tremendous valleys and blessed me on the other side. Job's friends looked like fools in the end, because they couldn't see that God was working behind the scenes all along. Don't have people in your life who tell you to curse God and die, kick you while you are down, or whisper and gossip about your misfortune and speculate about God's not loving you, or what you did to cause it. Surround yourself with people who know God well enough to know that he is orchestrating all of your circumstances - even the negative ones - for good, and who will remind you of that when you are weak. I am so thankful that I have those kinds of friends in my life. Those who know that God has plans to prosper, and not to harm. Those who speak life instead of death. Those who stand stand beside you instead of abandoning ship because they think bad things are happening because you did something wrong. Those who truly know God's heart. They are few and far between, but with friends like that, a few is enough. That is a blessing far and beyond anything money can buy.  God is good, all the time. That I know, and that they remind me of. For that I am grateful.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Doing crazy things for God- and stepping out of the box.

If there is one thing that I have learned since being saved and doing outreach ministry, it is God will ask us to do crazy things sometimes. Things that seem insane in the natural, but make perfect sense to Him and His plan. Things that we can't see possibly working, things that seem too big for us to take on- because logically, they make no sense. I have seen a lot of crazy things in ministry, and I have been asked by God to do a lot of crazy things in ministry.

The thing is, we have to allow God to do "crazy" things that don't make sense to us sometimes in order for His will to be done. God is not a God of the natural, but of the supernatural. I think that many Christians have forgotten that. They have stopped expecting God to move the same way that He did in the bible- through miracles, signs and wonders.

For the most part, our culture has put God in a box. A nice, safe, box where we believe that He can only move so far. Only far enough to where it still makes sense to us. When the spirit of God moves in ways that don't make sense, many people don't know how to react to it.

When God tells you to do something "crazy"- something that defies logic, things that seem impossible, many people aren't going to know how to react to you either. 

There is a very familiar story in the Book of Luke of how four men helped an invalid man to Jesus. They went to great measures to lower him through a roof-top down to where Jesus was. In this story Jesus heals the man and at the conclusion of the narrative it says:  “And they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, We have seen strange things to day."
Luke 5:26

They said what happened was strange to them. I started thinking about other "strange" (miraculous!)   incidences in scripture, where faith defied logic, and the supernatural moved outside of the box of  the natural.

There are so many incidents in scripture where God instructed people to do something outside the realm of logic. What we see as miracles today, looked crazy to the people who were watching them back then.

Jesus healed a blind man by spitting in the dirt and rubbing mud on his eyes (John Chapter 9).

Abraham was told that he would have a son, even though his wife was 90 years old (Genesis 17:17)

Naaman’s was told that in order to heal his leprosy,  all he had to do was go wash seven times in the Jordan River.  (2 Kings Chapter 5).

Peter went to Jesus and said he needed money for taxes and Jesus responded, “Go catch a fish and look in his mouth,”  and low and behold there was money in it!  (Matthew 17:27).

Then there was the time when the disciples needed to feed thousands of people and they asked Jesus what to do, and He told them to feed the crowd with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. (Mark 6:37).  If you had been there, wouldn't this have seemed crazy?

Ezekiel was told to go preach to the wind and then to the bones. (Ezekiel Chapter 37).

Lazarus' sisters were told by Jesus that he would bring him back to life- even though he had been dead and buried for 4 days (John 11:17).

Peter was told to walk on the water, even though scientifically it's impossible (Matthew 14:29).

Moses was told by a burning bush to go to Pharaoh and demand that he let God's people go (Exodus Chapter 3).  Joshua was told to conquer a city by walking around it, and the walls would fall down (Joshua Chapter 6).

Gideon was told to battle nearly 135,000 Midianites with 300 men and they were only to arm themselves with a pitcher, a lamp, and a horn (Judges Chapter 7).
If you were there, wouldn't this have seemed like strange instructions? More importantly, would you have been able to obey what God was telling you to do, rather than fear defeat because you didn't have the "logical" weapons?

And, of course, let's not forget Noah being told to build a huge ark, in the desert, when it had never rained before, because God told Him it was going to flood (Genesis chapters 5-10). Surely he was mocked by passerby's who saw him working on this huge ark in the middle of the desert day after day, year after year. I'm sure that in today's culture, he would have been committed to a mental institution for a psychological examination.

In every instance the instructions did not make sense in human logic, but every time there was success- because God was behind it.

The bible is full of people God asked to do crazy things.  The People of Jesus who seem to make the biggest difference are the people who step out and do things that most won't BECAUSE they think it's crazy. When you're doing crazy things for God, sometimes ALL you have to stand on in blind faith in Him alone.

Hebrews 13:8 says that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
In the bible, God moved in a way that wasn't logical. Why has today's Christianity expected Him to change that? Why is it that the crazy things of God are no longer celebrated, but feared? Why are we not open to "seeing strange things to this day"? Why do we feel like God must make sense to us? Why is it so hard for us to believe that God can still do the miraculous- no matter how crazy it may look?

It's important to remember that God is so much bigger than what our small human brains can comprehend, that He is more capable than we can imagine, and that He can move outside the realm of what we think is possible. . It's important that we don't let logic box in our faith.

The fact that I am in ministry at all, I'm sure, looks crazy to religious people. Using the wise, the educated, the moral to spread the gospel makes sense to man- using a former heroin addict doesn't.  Paul, prophets run out, told they were crazy. When Jesus chose his disciples, many of the religious people of the day couldn't comprehend why he was using a rag tag gang of misfit sinners instead of the Pharisees who held a high moral code and knew the bible back and forth.. It didn't make sense that Jesus was hanging out with prostitutes and sinners and preaching on the streets instead of  in Jewish temples. That's why they didn't believe He was God.  If He was God, in their mind, that would have been the logical thing to do. But He was working out of the box- the box they had came to believe God had to operate in. And they missed the living God right in front of their faces because of their logic.

The Bible tells us that God “by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes” (Ephesians 3:20 LB). Do we REALLY believe that? Even when it seems crazy? Even if we are mocked, ridiculed, and made fun of for having an outlandish faith in something that we know God has told us?

Is God telling you to do something crazy? Something that looks foolish to others, but you know without a doubt is from Him? 1 Corinthians 1:27 says that "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." Whose voice are you going to believe? Will you be obedient to God or to the opinions of man?

It's also important to remember that when God tells you to do something crazy for Him, it might not always work out the way you thought it would. It may even look like a failure in your eyes.  But you can guarantee that it is working for good, according to His purpose- no matter what it looks like on the outside.

Paul (in the book of Acts) was told to just GO and preach, and build the church. He had no building, no elder team, no fundraising plan. Everywhere that he went, there was either a revival or a riot. Surely the revivals seemed to prove that Paul was doing God's will, but the riots looked crazy to those watching, and I'm sure they couldn't possibly understand how that could be part of a God's ordained plan. Moses went to Pharoah multiple times and he refused to let the Israelites go. Most of the old testament prophets were run out of the cities that God sent them to speak in. The disciples were jailed, beaten, martyred, and killed. In logical terms, that seems like a failure. But in the supernatural, it was a part of the plan all along.

We are only responsible for being obedient- no matter how illogical what we are being told to do is. God is responsible for the results. So step out in faith, and leave the rest up to Him.

The world can call me crazy. I'm okay with that, because " If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you" (2 Corinthians 5:13). I will take being crazy for God over being sane for man any day. And that attitude is hard for me, because at heart I am a planner. I like to know what is going to happen. In fact, I used to be so horribly paralyzed by the need to control circumstances and for things to make logical sense that I would have twenty backup plans for plan A, and totally fall apart if the course deviated the slightest bit from the way I had planned it (which is a very stressful way to live!) I like to have my ducks in a row. I also prefer NOT to look insane.  

But I also know that when God moves, we can't try to stuff  Him back in our box of logic, plans, and constraints. Because if we allow God to fully move, it will be much better than anything we could have planned out anyway.

Because what seems crazy today, could end up being a miracle of God tomorrow. God doesn't need to make sense to us.  And if you need to see, don’t be surprised if Jesus spits in the dirt and rubs mud in your eyes. 

Isaiah 55:8-9New International Version (NIV)
  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
  declares the Lord.
         “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."-  Isaiah 30:21

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Our tour of PGM- a testament to God's faithfulness!

This past weekend, my husband and I went to the south side of Chicago along with some friends of ours who also run a non-profit in Marshfield.  We got to take a tour of Pacific Garden Ministries- the biggest homeless shelter and addiction program in Chicago, and home of the radio program "Unshackled", which tells true stories of people being saved and redeemed by Christ.

We were absolutely floored by the experience. Pacific Garden Missions has been around for 139 years. We were able to take a tour and spend the day there. It was so amazing to see the faithfulness of God, and how he has kept this ministry running all this time off of only donations from people! We wanted to see Pacific Gardens to take note of what they have done to remain successful for so long, and to see what things they do that we can implement into our upcoming recovery homes for drug addicts in Marshfield. 

Walking down the "Yellow Brick Road", where all of the offices, dining areas, counseling programs, day rooms, and sanctuary are kept. 

The sanctuary where service is held and "Unshackled" is recorded.

The size of this place was absolutely overwhelming. They serve 3,000 meals a day and house 1,200 people a night. We were amazed as we walked through, and were in awe of what God had built. 

Pacific Garden Missions started 139 years ago in an apartment in Chicago- ironic, huh? ;) The couple who started it wanted to reach the homeless and addicted. They soon started renting a house where the homeless and addicted could stay at for free (again- pretty ironic, since this is exactly how CROSSroads started and what we are going to be doing in the future).

Street lights on the Yellow Brick Road.

Aerial view of Pacific Garden Mission- look how gigantic is it!

One night, the day before the rent on the house was due, the couple who ran it were in a panic because they had no money to pay the rent. They sat up all night praying for God to make a way, as they had no idea where the money was going to come from. The next morning, they woke up to their back yard covered in Morel mushrooms- which sell for $50 a pound. They picked the mushrooms and sold them, which enabled them to pay their rent on the house. The mushrooms had never been there before and never came back again. What an awesome testimony of God's provision- much like Manna from heaven!

They soon moved into a small storefront, then eventually a bigger building, until finally they moved into the huge building that they have now a few years ago. As the ministry grew, God provided everything they needed in the most unlikely ways. People drive up and hand over the keys and titles to cars. Jimmy Butler from the Bulls comes in once every other month and orders $15,000 worth of pizza for everyone. Private donors help them meet their 4.5 million annual budget. God's hand has been there through it all.

I was really touched by the stories of God's provision. It renewed my faith in the fact that if God wants something to happen, he will provide a way for it to happen, even when we don't see a way. It's important that we remember first and foremost that these ministries are God's, and that He will take care of them. 

Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in worry, wondering how God will work things out, where the money will come from, where the people will come from, where the help will come from. I know in our ministry, we wonder how we are going to be able to help all of these people, how we are going to fund the homes, how we can possibly do all of it when we are just a few people. It's good to be reminded that we don't have to do anything, God is the one who will make a way. He takes care of his people, and He is the one who provides provision. I can only pray that we have the kind of faith in CROSSroads that Pacific Garden Mission has been able to hold onto for 139 years, trusting God even in the hard times. 

The greenhouse.

The massive cafeteria where meals are served.

Taking a tour of the dorms where people sleep.

The "hotbox" where clothes and blankets are sterilized before people enter the facility.

Our day here was such an uplifting experience. For the past few months, I have been struggling with my faith a little bit. Things have been going crazy and the spiritual attacks have been relentless. I was struggling with whiter God saw what was going on, and if He was going to intervene. I was questioning if we are really doing what we are meant to be doing, because we were going through such hardship.

The thing is, just because you are doing what God commands, doesn't mean it will be easy. If anything, you have to expect it to get hard. Not only will there be spiritual warfare if you are a threat to Satan, but I think so many times God allows impossible situations to happen so that He gets the glory when things are worked out. He makes it humanly impossible, so we know it was only by His will and power that things turned around. Hard times of trusting develops our faith, and we can recall how God was faithful when we go through another hard situation.

So often, we put God is a box. We ask for what we expect is humanly possible, rather than relying on the supernatural truth that God can do above all we ask or think. His plans are much bigger than ours- so big, in fact, that Him showing up and opening doors are the only way that those plans will manifest. It's important that we stay God-reliant instead of self-reliant.

Extra mats

And that is just what PGM did. God transformed their ministry into something much bigger than they could have ever dreamed, because they relied on Him and Him alone. The faith of this ministry is astounding, and I can only hope to be as faithful to what God has called me to do as they are- to be able to have blind faith even when I can't see anything happening. To take God out of the box, and let him do what He WANTS to do- not limiting Him to what we believe is possible.

A map of all the other countries besides North America where "Unshackled" is aired.

Some of the awards that PGM has received.

Radio equipment from when "Unshackled" first started airing.

The "Unshackled" office.

Good motto!

Our crew, getting ready to view a live taping of "Unshackled".

The atmosphere was absolutely amazing. To have thousands of drug addicts and homeless people crying out to the Lord in worship service really affected my heart. It reminded my husband and I where we came from. We were saved in a ministry very similar to this, but on a much smaller scale- Milwaukee Victory Church. It is there where we met God, and He turned our lives around. Being back in that environment made me call to remembrance all of the wonderful, miraculous things that God has done in our lives- and will do in the lives of the addicts we are trying to help.

I am so excited for our recovery homes to open up in Marshfield, so that other addicts can experience the power of God like we have, and like we did this weekend. There is something amazing about being at a church service that isn't full of "good" religious people, but broken sinners who know they need God and cry out for Him to heal them. It is an experience that most people will never have the luck to encounter. This is my husband and I's life, and calling, and it was so refreshing to see that we are not alone in wanting to care for the outcasted. 

The service was filled with testimonies from people who God has restored from addiction. They do three services a day there- one before each meal. That is how people change- through the word of God. That is the only thing that was able to change my husband and I. 

The pastor gave an amazing message. What really blew me away was that it was on 2 Samuel 16. That was the first bible study that I ever wrote, and I have never heard anyone else preach on it. My husband and I looked at each other in shock when the preacher went there, because it's a chapter that we talk about often, yet have never heard anyone else talk about. In reality, it is my life verse for ministry leadership. It's about how King David was attacked, insulted, and slandered by Shimei. He didn't defend himself, however, because he knew that God would defend him. He knew that if he just left it in God's hands, God would bring good out of the persecution he was suffering. When people throw rocks at you, God will bless you to make up for the distress they have caused you. I have seen God do this personally in my life numerous times. We are dealing with something right now where someone who we helped has turned vindictive, just like how David helped Saul only to be attacked by his cousin Shimei. It was the perfect word for me. Keep pressing on- even when people kick you while you are down. God will bring good out of it if you let him. I felt like the message was directed at me, and left in awe.

"Unshackled" getting ready to be  recorded. 

This lady had the most amazing voice!

Our friends Ed and Nancy outside of PGM.

The basement where the donations are kept.

God has spoken so clearly to us through this trip that if we allow Him to build it, He will do great things. No matter how overwhelming ministry can get at times, God has the power to give us perseverance, and provide our every need. His plans are good, and we only need to be obedient and have faith in what He is doing- even when we can't see the end result. 

More awards for this amazing ministry. One really cool thing that we found out during the tour is that Mr. T comes in and preaches every few months. How amazing is that?

The dorms

Our group

My husband and I.

All in all, it was a fabulous trip. It was just what we needed, and our faith in God has grown tremendously. I will recall this trip when we start to get discouraged, tired, or feel like things aren't happening the way we think they should. This trip was a reminder that God is faithful, and that we can do nothing without Him- but He can do everything through us, if wee just believe!