Friday, August 29, 2008

Seasons of the Soul

     As I sat outside Starbucks this morning the gentle breeze reminded me that fall will soon be here.  It won’t be long before these mountains will be filled with the beauty of change; the trees bursting out in color.  Fall always represents beauty to me.  

     Fall is an amazing  picture.  The beautiful color of the leaves comes from their death.  As they die out they burst into vibrant colors of brilliant yellows, fiery reds and bright oranges. Color fills the trees as each leaf prepares to die. It's a profound picture. Things die out in autumn preparing for the rest of winter.  The death of my old man takes me to the rest of God.  As the old dies away, His beauty covers me.  The death of fall prepares us for the rest of winter.

     Winter ushers us into a season of restoration.   The colorful leaves turn brown and fall in death from the trees that once held them firm. The trees stand empty and stark.  Beautiful flowers have gone into hiding.  Cold airs move in, bringing elements that keep us inside, hibernating.  In winter everything is made to rest in preparation for the new life of spring that follows.

    Spring brings the fruit of winter’s rest.  Newborn calves and foals are seen nestling beside mothers.  Foliage returns to the trees.  Plants hidden underground emerge, doubled in size.  Flowers burst into bloom while bees buzz about gathering pollen.  New life breaks out everywhere revealing the fruit of winter's rest.  Gardens are planted with anticipation of their yield preparing the way to enjoy the bounty of summer.

     Summer brings long days of sunshine. Vacation and outdoor activities increase.  Swimming, cookouts, and celebrations are all part of summer.  It's the time to play and enjoy the fruit of our labor.  Fresh vegetables out of the garden are harvested and put away in preparation for the days ahead.  The bounty of summer prepares us for the change of fall.

     The seasons have a part they play in life as well as in the soul.   Winters' barrennesses is the season I have found most challenging to weather.  I fought the hiddenness of winter for many years. It felt so bleak and empty. Loneliness poured in like a cold, biting breeze.  I wanted to be "about His work", doing for Him.  I didn't like being still and hidden.  I had been so used to performance and striving that when it came time to be still I didn't know how.  Then He began to tenderly whisper to me about rest.  

     In the soul’s winter I have been stripped to barrenness.  Who I was in my old man and my work emerged showing the cracks in my foundation.  So much value was tied into what I had to offer.  I discovered something astounding.  It's not about me and what I have to give or do. It was never meant to be about me.  It is Him, and Him alone that this life is about.  It is He who lives His life through me, not me living my life for Him.

     As winter is designed to do, I began to find rest in the one who was and is and is to come.  A sweet stillness swept over me as I realized I'm off the hook.  HE is the new life of spring, the bounty of summer, the preparation of fall and the rest of winter.  He’s enough; therefore I don’t have to be.  As I embraced this, my need to offer who I was and what I could do was stripped bare.  Restlessness turned into rest.

     In many ways I still find myself in a season of hiddenness.  Today as I sat outside and felt the breeze rushing over me I realized, for the first time, I'm looking forward to winter.  It is there I am at rest.  For in winter my heart is emptied and prepared to bear His life in spring.

     Find rest; O my soul in God alone; my hope comes from Him. Ps. 62:5

©copyrighted 2008 by Julie L. Todd


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Stealing Your Identity

A couple weeks ago I got an authentic looking e-mail from an e-mail supplier. It told me they were updating the files and purging old accounts. They needed some information to keep my account current. I was uncomfortable giving all they asked for, so I gave them what I hoped would be enough.

Soon after, I received another email thanking me for responding but telling me that they still needed my password. It was signed with what looked like a valid signature. Though I didn’t want my account closed, something held me back from giving it out. I wrote them and told them I was uncomfortable with their request. The e-mails stopped. That’s when I realized I’d been the target of an attempted identity theft. Though a failed mission, it left me feeling vulnerable.

The next couple of days I was hit with intense fear. What if they got on my account? What if they saw some of the e-mails I had on there; bank transfers, credit card payments, etc. Could they steal all that I had? Immediately, I changed my passwords on all accounts, deleted all e-mails with personal information, and contacted my bank and credit card companies, just in case. There was no evidence of any entry to my account, but it scared me enough to beef up with reinforcements.

The whole process left me thinking. This is what the enemy does to me on a regular basis. He sends his messages to me trying to steal my identity. He wants to distort who God made me to be in my mind.

How often do I give him access into my person? I hear the whispers and don’t even pay attention. In fact I often agree with what I hear. “You screw things up.” “You are so stupid.” “Nobody wants you.” “You are too much for everyone.”

How often do I go to the extra measure to protect my God-given identity? Do I guard over my heart, or do I open the door to a thief? I can spend more time guarding over my stuff, than my heart. How often do I take what I’m hearing to God to see if it’s true? One attempt after another is made to steal my identity and I don’t even notice.

I Peter 5:8 says, 
“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Am I alert to the attempts to rob me of my identity? Be watchful, it says, pay attention, there’s a thief lurking about.

When I called the bank to tell them about what happened, they told me something interesting. “People are closing down accounts and starting over all the time because they’ve given out too much information.” They are caught off guard. They are deceived into thinking that someone is helping them, while all the while they are setting them up to be robbed.

Proverbs 4:23 says 
“Above all else, guard over your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” How well do I guard? Am I more aware of the amount of money in my bank account than the state of my heart?

The heart is the center of man. It is the center of who we are. God bestows our identity on us. It is His image represented through us. It is not marked by our sins. Our sins do not define us. Who we are is who God designed us to be. He sees us in the original cut, before sin marred our lives, before the wounds dictated lies to us.

How well are you guarding over your identity? There is one who lurks about to steal, kill and destroy. Giving out your password will guarantee you will be a victim of identity theft. Agreeing with the enemy’s words to you will guarantee the same. Agree with God’s words. Silence the enemy once and for all by shutting down his attempts. Don’t respond. Renew your mind with God’s transforming revelations of who He says you are. He knows who you are. Do you?

Who’s dictating your identity?

Who are you agreeing with?

Do you know who God says you are? If not, ask Him. He can’t wait to tell you.

Papa, thank you that you bestowed our identity on us before we were created. Thank you that in your eyes it is intact. Take us to the revelations of that true identity. Shut down the attempts to rob us and show us where we are agreeing with the enemy. You are our identity.

This devo is also posted at Heart of the Matter Online:
©copyrighed 2008 by Julie L. Todd

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Being Loved, Just Because

Every sermon I’ve heard about Martha refers to her inability to stop working. She’s considered a busy woman too preoccupied with distractions to sit and be with Jesus. Personally, I see more truths buried in this story, maybe because I see myself.

I see in Martha's behavior a picture of my own attempts to please God. Life was about working hard to make everything just right. I wanted so desperately to prove my devotion. I was uncomfortable just being with Him. There was too much shame that covered my soul.

In the midst of growing up in the church I was taught that what I did made a difference. If I had my quiet times, prayed my prayer lists, volunteered for ministries, gave my tithe, I would be giving my life back to God. It’s what was required if I wanted to prove I loved Him.

I thrived on my efforts for God. Somehow it made me have value to Him and His kingdom. I missed the point of the relationship, the cross, the resurrection and my life. God didn’t bring me here to work for Him or fulfill requirements. He brought me here to love me, just because.

I diminish the work of the cross when I put myself in a position of “have to’s”. The cross restored the broken relationship with God and the resurrection brought me new life. I have nothing left to prove. I don’t owe anything. I have nothing to pay back. If I try to pay back the gift of relationship and love, I diminish the purpose of the cross and the resurrection. The cross finished the work, removing the “have to’s, bridging the gap so that I might experience deep, intimate love without requirements.

I believe Martha loved God with all of her being, could it be that she just didn't know how to rest in who she was apart from what she did? I don’t think that Martha preferred being busy with preparations. I wonder if she thought it’s what was needed from her. Because of my own life experience, I believe Martha was loving Him in the only way she knew.

Underneath the busy woman is a woman who isn’t comfortable being loved as she is. She’s not even comfortable being alone with herself. She’s the woman who volunteers for everything at the church, is the most disciplined woman in her Bible study and quiet times and is busy dabbling in all sorts of places. When she misses her quiet time she feels guilty. She strives for perfection in her relationship with God, because she sees her imperfection and is uncomfortable with who she is before Him. She doesn’t feel like she’s enough. Therefore, she’s still trying to earn.

I know, I was that woman. Underneath the work was a woman longing to be enough to be worthy of love, and somehow be found pleasing. All along I was pleasing to Him. All along He saw me just as I was and loved me still. He loved me, because love is His nature. It’s not about what I do, it’s about who He is.

I don’t see Jesus’ words to Martha as a rebuke. That doesn’t fit His heart. I see His words as affirmation and invitation. I hear Him say, “Martha, I see all that you are doing to please me, but all I want is you.” “I want you to know how deeply and intimately I love you, just because.”

He says to you, to me and to Martha, “stop your efforts, be still, come let me love you, just as you are” “I am delighted with you.” “Nothing you do will make me love you more.” “You can cease from your work and rest in mine.” “You already please me, just because.”

Also posted at Internet Cafe' Devotions
©copyrighed 2008 by Julie L. Todd

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Today I am thankful

   My friend Tiffany asked me if I had ever posted for "Thankful Thursdays".  I said, "No".  She said, "why not"?  I didn't know why not.  I didn't have an answer.  So here I am.

   Last night as our small group met I couldn't help but be thankful for so many things.  We are reading a great book together; "He Loves Me" by Wayne Jacobsen.  In the chapter we were on last night, the first two pages describe a woman who is the busiest woman in the church.  It's out of her desire to be loved that she works so hard. She's not comfortable in her own skin so she works to gain approval, value and love.  That was ME.  

     As we talked about the chapter I realized how much things had changed.  My heart overflowed with gratefulness that Papa God had come after me to love me away from my work.  He had relentlessly pursued me.  He loved me so intimately that He refused to leave me striving in my own ability to gain love.    So He came after me. 

     It didn't come easy.  There was much strain and struggle to live free.  After all those things were what had given me value.  There were years of performance and striving attached to me.  To let them go, at times, felt like having an appendage amputated.    But in His mercy and grace, He gently cut them off, one by one.  And now I am free.  Free to bask in His finished work.  Free to realize that I am crucified and no longer live.  He lives in me.

     I am resting, now and it is the most satisfying place that I have ever known.   It is truly the sweetest freedom my heart has ever experienced.  

     He loves me so deeply, so intimately, so personally without my doing a thing.  Amazing.

    Thank you Papa God for setting my heart free.

    Thank you for your relentless pursuit to love me.

    Thank you for your perfect love that perfects my imperfections.

    Thank you for seeing me as I am and loving me until I see it.

    Thank you that He who the Son sets free is free indeed.

    Thank you for setting my marriage free.

    Thank you for the beauty that surrounds me.

    YOU are awesome!

    "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners."  Isaiah 61:1