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Encountering The King In The Courtyard

The last week I have been sweetly reminded how God often uses His people to manifest his presence. Three times, to be exact, I have been swaddled by His embrace through encounters or conversations with a friend. Sometimes these unexpected blessings play out in a way that it is undeniable whose pen strokes scripted the story.

I am resharing this for anyone struggling today. Whether it be fear, physical or emotional pain, anxiety, depression or anything else that renders you feeling alone, this is for you. Sometimes God sends His children, and sometimes His creatures to articulate and authenticate His affections.

May you feel the security of the shady shelter of His wing today! You are loved.

Does your faith need a cool drink of refreshing water?  Read along.

I see our Lord everywhere; in people, in children, in my dog, (yes, my dog), and especially in nature.  Some people raise their eyebrows at this concept, but when Jesus Christ saturates your life you cannot help but view life shaded in a reflection of Him.

I will never forget last Thursday when one of my more memorable encounters with My King happened in a courtyard at Covenant Counseling Center.  I had finished a session with my counselor, but earlier in our time together I was describing a story a friend told me about when she was a little girl.  She explained that her daddy would kneel every night and pray before she and her sister went to bed.  The two sisters would fight to be the one who got to get under him as he was kneeling in prayer.  The story was so precious and touched me so much that the imagery I formulated will forever be imprinted in my mind and on my heart.  It was a story that reminded me of a verse that is very special to me. Psalm 91:4 ~ He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings.  His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

I was telling my counselor how this verse has been layered over me time and again the last couple years.  Little did I know that just a short time later, that very verse would come to life right before my eyes.

I finished my session and walked out to a crisp, sunny, beautiful day.  I had an urge to be outside, so I drove home, got my reading materials and came back to the same location to sit in the peaceful and inviting small courtyard in front of the building.  One thing I love about that courtyard is it appears like an umbrella of trees, so it feels secluded and safe. While I was sitting on the bench, I was praying and again reflecting on many verses in addition to Psalm 91:4.

I was there about an hour when my peace was interrupted by an onslaught of noise in one of the trees just to my left.  A majestic, red tail hawk landed on a sturdy branch, and he had an army of crows, after him.  Crows are loud, and they are relentless predators.

I suddenly froze and was unable to think or react quickly because I could not believe what was evolving.  In that quiet place Psalm 91:4 was beautifully played out in the nature that surrounded me.  I was in awe of my faithful and loving Father, who goes to creative lengths to express His presence and love.  Let me explain.

After studying the battalion of crows charging at the hawk for several minutes, I noticed the hawk was using his wings as a deflector and shield of protection.  I eventually maneuvered myself into a location that I could see the hawk was protecting something under his wing.  Time and time again crow after crow would dive at the hawk, and the hawk would bat his wing to deflect the attack.  I watched this go on for over 15 minutes. The hawk was protecting a baby and was doing so with such commanding diligence, strength, and care.  The crows were not giving up easily, but neither was the hawk.  He was resolute.  Despite the continuous assaults, the hawk shielded that vulnerable baby.

The other thing that impacted me was the stability of the hawk; as he was hit over and over again using his wing for defense.  Some of the attacks were aggressive enough that he would bobble or slightly lose his balance.  Every single time, however, he would regain his footing, readjust and return to an anchored stance on the branch.  He never moved from the same spot the entire time even though he would stumble at times.  He never flew away in an attempt to flea from fear.  He never gave up, and he was the lone one standing in the end!

When we are under the shelter of our Lord Jesus, we are a lot like that hawk. Attacks come, fear assaults us and enemies persecute us.  We may lose our balance; we may have to readjust, and we may be shaken, but we are never shattered because our anchor is under the wings of a King, who is our armor and protection.  He will not be moved.  When our foundation is solid in Him, we may falter, and need adjustments at times, but we can withstand life’s storms still returning to a stable stance.

I was also reminded of Revelation 5:6 that day. ~ Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders.

Jesus suffered throughout his life.  Many attacks were forged against him and He was eventually crucified.  Sometimes life can leave us feeling battered, bruised, betrayed and cut up as if we, too have been slain.  The key to the verse in Revelation is the Lamb, though he looked as if he had been slaughtered, He was still standing.

Life is hard, but when His feathers are our garments and His wings our refuge, there will be times we are disturbed, but never defeated because the Promiser keeper says He is our sure foundation.

 

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Unhitching From The Crazy Train

Shame loves nothing more than to be my shadow.  I am so prone to beating myself up over choices, (right and wrong), that have resulted in uneasy circumstances.  Sometimes when I forget the gospel, it manifests like this, if I had done, (blank) instead of (blank) life would be more comfortable.
 Whether as a mom, wife, daughter, friend or child of God, I can look back on so many examples of situations I wish I handled differently.  When I allow myself to go down the road of regret, condemnation is waiting on me with open arms.  Accusation always breeds self-pity, and both are fruits of unbelief.
Despair over my choices sheds light on the subtle sediment of unbelief that wrecks my peace and contentment.  When I believe I alone am responsible for how my story goes, I am maximizing myself and minimizing God.  Yes, there are consequences, both good and bad, for my choices, but if I profess to believe in a sovereign God, I cannot leave Him out of the equation.  For all the decisions I have made, right and wrong, God was in the midst and on the throne at the very moment of decision.
Emancipation day from the supremacy of my choices was a lot of years in the making.  I have a very vivid memory of sitting in Julie Sparkman’s office one morning and giving her a tearful litany of all the things I had done right, yet there I sat shattered because life was not reflective of the pictures I developed in the euphoric realm of my expectations. The reality that my “goodness” was no guarantee from pain had come crashing down around me.  Oh boy, did I have a lot to learn!
Chapter four of Julie’s book, Unhitching From The Crazy Train, is one of my favorites.  It is titled, The Deadly Theology of Good Choices.  Does this sound familiar?  If I do A+B, it will =C.  If I eat all the right foods, I will not get cancer.  If I raise my kids right and make sure they have good friends, they will make right choices…   Notice the keyword?  I.  If you believe something along these lines of thinking, you need to read this book.  If you know this kind of logic to be untrue, you, too need to read this book!
Below is from chapter 4:
“Good choices can lead to good outcomes, and alternatively when we make choices we know to be disobedient, there will probably be natural consequences of those choices, and we are called to repent. However, the redemption story God writes cannot be rewritten by our choices. We are held accountable for our choices, yes, but God is bigger than our choices, so they cannot trump God’s overarching plan.” ~Julie Sparkman/Jennifer Phillips
Friends, I have no incentive for highly recommending this book other than I believe with all my heart it will enhance your life in so many ways.  I love you all and earnestly long to see more and more people brought into the freedom that the yoke of Christ offers.  Please do not misunderstand me.  This book is not a self-help, quick fix guide to all of life’s hardships.  It is a better way through them.
We work so hard and bear so much responsibility, no wonder we never feel like enough.  John 1:51 reminds us that Christ already did the work and paved the way.  He is the way.   “I tell you the truth; you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.” ~Jesus.  Notice He does not say I am at the top of the ladder so try your hardest and climb fast.  He is the ladder.  Jesus has bridged the gap between Heaven and Earth for us.
I sincerely hope you will read Unhitching From The Crazy Train.  You will laugh, I promise.  You may cry.  I know for sure, though you will be able to identify and you will find freedom and rest regardless of your current circumstances.
Unhitching From The Crazy Train will be available for order February 5th.  Amazon.  Lifeway.  You may pre-order now from www.newhopepublishers.com.
Julie counsels clients at Restore Ministries in Birmingham, Alabama.   www.restore-ministries.org.
Jennifer writes a blog at www.jenniferphillipsblog.com
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Depression

Someone needs this today. Christ followers are not exempt from depression! Depression holds no prejudice and often strikes the most committed of believers. If you are weary, worn and maybe depressed, do not let shame tell you that you do not have enough faith. It is not up to us, and playing the role of savior is a crushing burden. The point is not how big our faith is but how big our Father is.

After a great victory in 1 Kings, Elijah runs away and seeks refuge under a tree. He is in the depths of depression asking God to let him die. The angel of the Lord visits him, and it is important to note what he says as well as what he does Not say to Elijah. The angel does NOT state; you need to pray more. He does not say; you just need to have more faith. The angel of The Lord does not tell Elijah if you had a more consistent quiet time you would be better. The angel says to Elijah, get up and eat, so he ate and slept some more. Then a second-time the angel tells him to get up and eat some more or the journey ahead will be too much for you.

Friends, it is good news that our adequacy is not dependent upon us. We have a Savior outside of ourselves who lived to know every ache, pain, and ounce of turmoil we feel. God isn’t shaking his head in disgust at your depression. He longs to touch you and give you the nurturing rest that only he can offer.

If you find yourself feeling blue or outright depressed, I pray that you leave it at the foot of the cross where all our struggles are known, accepted, accounted for and redeemed. The story of Elijah demonstrates God longs to acknowledge our most basic needs first; then in due time, He will take care of the rest.

We often are good at giving grace to others but not ourselves. I pray you love yourself today where you are, not where the enemy says you should be.

You are loved!

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Shine Where You Are Planted

 

Uncertainty is one of the most significant barriers to a prolific life. There is a formidable enemy who loves to entangle our eyes and command our concern with questions such as, what if…?

In the presence of the unknown, and that would be every moment forward, it is easy to stumble into the mire of temporal thinking. The danger here is that we are rendered useless in the present because of our preoccupation with the worrisome possibilities of the future.

Lord Jesus, we often lug old crosses into the New Year, some shaded in a cloud of ambiguity. Help us to fix our senses on You, our unwavering Father, not an uncertain future. Give us the grace to be fruitful where we are right now, not where we think we need to be.
Comfortable, peaceful and problem-free are not prerequisites for productivity, as evidenced by the life of your Son. May we remember that and move forward with the perseverance that only comes from a dependant heart rooted in You.

Friend, I pray 2018 is a remarkable year for you, but this I know for sure, trials will come. There will inevitably be a voice telling you, “I cannot do anything until I get through this, (fill in the blank).”  If we live our lives listening to that lie, we will be shackled by stagnation.

We are just as valuable in the midst of our limping as we are running, sometimes even more.

Shine where you are planted and watch what grows not only inside of you but also around you.

I wish you an abundant New Year! I love you all.

 Photo: Havana, Cuba.

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A Pilar of Comfort

When Carter was in the intensive care unit in Oregon after his traumatic brain injury, he was struggling with pain and double vision. In the early morning hours after an arduous night, he asked me to come and lay beside him because he saw two of me and he would feel better if the real one was close to him. As I laid there, my heart ached because I could not take the pain away. I wanted to be his substitute but had to settle as his soother instead.

Friend, God must see you, His child, like I saw mine in those wrenching moments. He looks down and knows you are struggling, in pain and hurting. For reasons you do not understand, He cannot take the pain away, but He does desire for you to invite him to come and lay down beside you so that He may be a pillar of comforter and peace.

The love of God does not negate our suffering, but it gives us what we need to get through and beyond it.

I pray you welcome Him into your circumstances tonight and that His peace is perceivable in your weary heart and pacifying to your worn out hands.

Be watchful. His steadfast faithfulness manifests in many ways.

You are loved.❤️

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Come and See

Please, come and see.

The wise men came to see the baby, Jesus.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry scores of people, a blind man, a bleeding woman, a man seeking healing for his daughter, and multitudes more would come and see.

Countless came to see Him crucified.

After He defeated death, Mary came to the empty tomb, unknowing she was there to see Him.

Jesus himself invited the disciples to come and see where He was going.

This Christmas season we come and see all the lights.

We come and see all the shiny stores with a million gift options for every person.

We come and see all the parties and people dressed up to celebrate.

We come and see all the beautiful trees and decorations.

All of these are wonderful, and I love looking at them, but they are not the hope of Christmas.

We have gotten so far from the original intention of the season that it has also become about coming and seeing a lot of junk too. We rush, we hustle, we plan, we drive all over trying to locate that perfect gift while the deafening roar of a tight schedule is screaming hurry up you have to be somewhere. I am as guilty as anyone.

This Christmas I want to encourage us all, myself included, to come and see.

Come and see the elderly who are alone and shut in.

Come and see the orphans who have no stable place of belonging.

Come and see the sick, physically and mentally.

Come and see the hurting. The crying ones and the happy ones. Oh, the pain that a smile can mask!

Come and see the lonely and the poor.

Come and see the homeless, the hungry, the outcast.

Come and see the addict.

Come and see the widow, the divorced and the single mom or dad.

Come and see the grieving who have lost a parent, a grandparent, a sibling or a child.

Many who are hurting will not ask for help. Support manifests in many forms, but to come and see a soul; to genuinely recognize and gently touch the depths of their story is a gift that no amount of money can buy. It will transform two lives, theirs and yours.

Friends we were given eyes to see. Let us use them to see beyond all the distractions of what is alive and visible and into what is dying but viable.

This Christmas season may we all come and see, and in doing so be reminded that the center of Christmas is a Savior who came to see you and me, dying so that we could freely and without shame, condemnation or guilt come and see Him.

Come and See.

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Hold People Close, But Jesus Closer

I was not able to go to church today because I have a pretty sick patient. I am always so grateful for the gift of technology to watch online. Our pastor said something at the start of his sermon that made me want to jump up and cheer! Yes! Yes! That!!!

He said, Jesus is enough, but He is not all we need because we were created for relationship.

Sometimes I can brutally condemn myself because I think I am supposed to feel like Jesus is enough when deep in the honest places of my heart, I still crave more. As our pastor said, He is enough for our salvation. He is enough for my sin and my righteousness and much more. Jesus is my number one confidant, comforter, and counselor. I love Him and covet His tangible presence, and there have been many hard, dark moments when He has unquestionably been enough for me, and I know there will be more. However, in the totality of my days, I still need people who point me to Him and represent Him often.

What I have learned, is that although I desire relationships with people, I have to hold that yearning in balance. When I begin needing people more than I need Jesus, then I have a problem brewing because every single relationship, except with Him will fail me at some level.

I want to hold my people close, but Jesus closer. I pray to allow my friends the blessing of showing me Jesus, without the expectations of them being Jesus.

Religion says Jesus is all we need-period. A relationship with Christ shows us our community is part of the way He does not forsake us-period. I need Jesus every day, but I want my people, too.

Friend, I appreciate doing life with you. Thank you for being present!

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The Best Thing

If you are a loved one are waiting in a hallway of uncertainty, bearing the weight of the unknown, I have a word for you that I pray brings encouragement.

I have been standing on shifting sand the last couple weeks stumbling in ambiguity and anxiety. It has been an all-out fight for me to remain the manager of my mind and keep my spirit in check with the peace of The Lord.

Health circumstances have forced me day after day to examine the authenticity of my theology. What set of beliefs am I operating out of not in fruitful times but fearful ones? I have been like a pendulum swinging back and forth as waves of victory and defeat have washed over me.

Last night in the midst of dark silence, God gave me the sweetest love note that has hushed my hastened heart.

D’Anna, what is the worst thing that can happen? Then, He so gently reminded me that the worst thing, should it be, is the best thing.

I often forget that. Heaven is our Home, and it is second to none.

Friend, if you or someone you treasure as dear are walking a dark road, please do not lose sight and fight to remember that as adopted children, what the world sighs at as dreadful, we can hold with maybe hurting, but absolutely hopeful hands. You are loved.

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Change

 

Hate never changed a heart.

Blame never changed a belief.

Shame never changed a soul.

Hypocrisy never changed a human.

Disparagement never changed a decision.

Bickering never fixes broken.

Panic never paves the way for peace.

Ranting never promotes respect.

Standing up for what we believe in with courage characterized by civility, humility packaged in honor and strength yoked with self-control just might change a lot.

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Not Always Merry and Bright

I so wish for life to be like a Hallmark movie. Love and contentment always win. The ending is tidy, happy and sealed in a pretty package accentuated with a red bow on top. But it is television, and so far from the reality, we inhabit.

I think that is one of the allures of Hallmark movies. They provide a magical escape from the tender truths that are indigenous to what we have always falsely believed is the happiest time of the year.

Pain wears many faces and holds no prejudices. It does not adhere to our calendars or circumstances. Maybe the agony shows up in the loss of a job, marriage, a parent, a spouse or the incredible heartache that settles in when we hear someone has to bury their child.

Broken people, broken families, broken worlds; they may all present differently, but fractured hearts are inherent to us all. The holidays as merry and bright as they are for many, are equally melancholy and bleak for others.

Life is incongruent to my desire for everyone to be happy, but I have learned this piercing lesson: happiness is a circumstantial frailty, not a gospel actuality. Without the assurance of our eternal inheritance, we stand here today poor, hopeless and lost. But it does not have to be that way.

A 1700s French writer captured something very tragic, yet I think significant in his last words. “And so I leave this world, where the heart must either break or turn to lead.” ~ Nicolas Chamfort

Sometimes our greatest challenge as we go about living in this world that is remarkable one moment and ruthless the next is continuing to engage. It is so easy to check out, but we are called to check in. It is so simple to let our hearts turn to lead, but we are called to be light instead. Is any of this straightforward in our climate of death, destruction, hatred, and hostility of unparalleled proportions? No, it is not effortless, but it is essential.

Dear friends, I know many of you are facing unspeakable burdens. My heart aches for you and throbs with you. Right now pressing in may be asking too much. That is ok.

We, unfortunately, have to drink from the cup of hurt before we can be quenched by the hand of The Healer.

God never forsakes us, though. One way He manifests himself is through our community. I pray wherever you find yourself today, the love of those around you warms, even if just slightly, the weeping heart inside you. Your internal song may never be the same, but this I know, someday your soul will sing again.