Friday, May 22, 2015

To Obey is Better than Sacrifice


Recently, I've been pondering my impact upon the world and wondering how fruitful it has been. Not for pride or vanity's sake, but for the simple fact that I seem to live two lives. Online, I'm an outspoken Christian, full of vim and vigor, blogging and Facebooking about our glorious King. And yet at home in my personal life, I am more reserved and less in-your-face. Of course, I do sing fairly loud to my Christian music in the kitchen, but that's beside the point.

I took the issue to God and asked Him if I was doing it wrong. Are people confused when they read my fiery posts and then encounter shy little me in real life? Am I genuine in my beliefs?

Many in my life have denounced Christ, so for the most part, I stay quiet in my faith so as to respect their beliefs. I figure if they're interested, they'll ask or read my posts online. I have shared Christ and discussed doctrine with a few of them, but life goes on as it always has - the sun rises, the sun sets, and another day has passed.

I don't often make it to church every Sunday and I don't always give to the needy, but I try my hardest to live with my heart wide open. I teach my children about Christ and they witness first-hand my prayer life and how often I study. I buy many books on theology and sermons, as there's a drive in me to learn and know and share with others. This is likely why I have the outlet of posting online, because I don't have that outlet in my day-to-day.

The Lord has been showing me it is the state of the heart that truly matters to Him. A Christian life is marked with good works, however, to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). How interesting to think we get so sidetracked into believing we must make sacrifices for God to be true Christians, yet our Lord says He cherishes obedience to His commands above our sacrifices. Why is that? Well, anyone can make a sacrifice. Consider the offerings of Cain and Abel. God accepted Abel's offering, but not Cain's. They both made a sacrifice, but it was only Abel who pleased God (Genesis 4:3-8). It is the one who has a heart of love for their God who will obey His commands (John 14:15). And what are Christ's Two Great Commands? Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31).

I strive to obey Yeshua's Commands to my greatest ability. I know I often fail. But God sees every little detail of what I do for Him. I am reminded that the beauty the Lord God esteems is a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4). These are quite precious to Him, far above rubies (Proverbs 31:10).


It is my hope those around me would say a "quiet and gentle spirit" is who I am. Catch me around dinnertime, however, and it might be a different story! I am well-known for my evening grumblies. When the blood sugar is low, I stomp around the house like Godzilla. In fact, my kids and hubby affectionately call me Momzilla when hunger strikes. But as a rule, I don't like to be contrary. I hate conflicts. If you happen to be over when dinner is ready, grab a plate. If you need a place to sleep, here's a blanket. If you have a boo boo, bring it in for hugs and kisses. Heh, I'm a mom, what can I say? And I believe in the catch-and-release method whenever I find a bug in my kitchen. Why should I kill it when it's just looking for food?

I realized during prayer that what haunted me was the Great Commission. Christ told us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). While I've been busy online, have I neglected my own personal mission field? That's when the Lord opened my eyes. We are to be lights for Christ in the world. As women, we are to teach our children and younger women in the Lord (Titus 2:3-4). If our spouses don't believe, we are to be of good conduct so as to win them without a word (1 Peter 3:1). Is this what I do?

All my children are believers and have a tender love for Jesus. Some may show it more than others, but being children, I wouldn't expect them to be as sold out as I am. It takes time to mature in the faith. Anyone who walks into my house cannot deny that a Christian lives here. My walls are adorned with Christ, Scripture verses are quoted in the planter, and random books on theology are scattered about. I blast my Christian music, either in my kitchen or in my car, and my afore-mentioned singing cannot be missed by anyone within a half mile radius. I never take off my cross necklace, and I even have Christian tattoos.


My real life is anything but hidden under a basket. God has shown me that having a quiet and gentle spirit does not mean one is neglecting the Great Commission, and the point of this post is to bring peace to those who might be in the same boat as I am. Ultimately, my goal is to disciple my children as well as make disciples online. I regularly speak to my older girls about marriage, motherhood, and the Messiah. (Oo, alliteration!) I am annotating my entire Bible in order to leave some wisdom for my son when I pass on. My 6 y/o knows more theology than your average baby Christian, as her penmanship lessons are Bible verses. I do honor the Great Commission in my home. This is where my efforts should be focused.

While my mind might be grieved that I don't do more, give more, or say more, the Lord has spoken to my heart and told me I'm exactly where He wants me to be. I don't live two lives, because my online presence is an overflow of what's already in my heart (John 7:38). My real life is likewise an overflow of my heart, as I train up my children in the way they should go. I do what I do online in order to share what I learn and study with others who are willing to listen. There is no double standard or hypocrisy in my beliefs. I am honoring Titus 2:3-4. Like Mary of Bethany, I am sitting at Yeshua's feet.

And in all honesty, the Lord works through me in the "works He's prepared in advance for me to do" (Ephesians 2:10). And this is what I believe it means to share the yoke of our lives with Yeshua. His yoke is easy and His burden is light because we simply shine -- we tell the world the Good News, and He takes care of the rest!


So be encouraged, my dear sisters in Christ. If you have a quiet and gentle spirit, do not be too hard on yourselves that you're not actively evangelizing or doing great and marvelous things for the Lord. If you have an obedient heart toward God's commands and a thirst for Yeshua Himself, He naturally works out of the overflow of your heart. We scatter the seed. The Holy Spirit waters and cultivates. If you train up your children to follow Christ, if you counsel your younger friends, family, or daughters in the issues of life and marriage from a Godly perspective, you are doing exactly what the Lord has called you to do. Cover everything you do with a blanket of prayer, and trust in the Lord with all your heart.



Amen.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Narrow Way


I live between two extremes: absolute joy, and utter sorrow. It is an odd feeling, to be both joyful and melancholy at the same time. All the great theologians will tell you that in His presence is fullness of joy, and yet the closer we are to God, the more we weep over our sin. When we ponder His greatness, His goodness, His mercy, we are overcome with rejoicing in these great truths, yet we also become aware of a certain weight of awe that turns the eye inward and sees the unrighteousness that still stains our nature.

While Christ is our righteousness and God no longer charges sin to our account, until we are glorified in our new eternal bodies, until our salvation has fully come, we remain in this body of death. The Apostle Paul outlined this dichotomy in Romans 7, and we all still wrestle with our old man.

When God opened my eyes to my sin and bid me to return to Him a few years ago, I remember I asked Him to help me love Him like the Apostles. I wanted to know that deep, abiding love we only read about in Scripture. If the Shepherd was carrying me home from my long jaunt in the wilderness, I didn't want anything to lure me away again. I wanted my love for Yeshua to be genuine. I knew, even then, that there was something missing from mainstream Christianity - the fragrance of Christ.


I've always been an odd duck. Even as a child, I was the one doodling crosses in the margins of my history tests. I was the one listening to Christian music. I was the one praying in my backyard. I was the one who drew a giant Lion of Judah on my jean jacket in 9th grade. I was the one who decorated her room with Jesus posters. I guess you could say I've always been intense when it comes to God. And it was never due to another friend's influence, nor was it due to a religious family. It was fueled by...well, now that I know more doctrine and theology, it was likely fueled by God Himself. I honestly believe He allowed my wilderness period to grow me into the Christian I am now. I've always been zealous for Him. But now, I have a determination and a drive to know Him and seek Him like never before. 

However, I'm noticing that I'm still an odd duck.

Old friends who used to share my zeal have cooled. Current friends respect my beliefs but do not share them. Even other Christians seem to be content with the status quo. There are different levels of commitment, too. The "cultural Christian" was born into a religious family but not necessarily a believer themselves (which means they're not Christian). The "nominal Christian", who maybe made a decision to believe in Christ once upon a time but does nothing about it. The "Sunday Christian", who goes to church to keep up appearances, but that's about the end of it. The "small group Christian", who might be a bit more involved with the church activities and maybe reads a few Bible verses with the kids. Any more effort than this, and you're in "pastor territory".  Or maybe God's got a "calling" on your life. Perhaps - wow, you have the gift of wisdom!

I just shake my head.

What's the difference here? An insatiable PASSION to pursue God. That's it. Maybe God does have a calling on these people's lives. Perhaps they will become pastors with the gift of wisdom. But I tend to think rather than being a special case, this is the goal of every Christian's life - to know Him and make Him known.


Somehow, we've bought into the idea that those Christians who are serious about Christ fall into one of two camps. Either they're "Super Christians" like the Puritans and a few choice preachers from yesteryear, or they're "Jesus Freaks", those crazies who decorate their car with Jesus fish and religious bumper stickers. Since when has serving our God above and beyond the "norm" been considered a bad thing?

When has God given us permission to slack in our sanctification?

When has God become an accessory to our life rather than being our Life?


For me, when I returned to the Lord, I was like a racehorse who'd stumbled out the gate and trailed the pack. It didn't look like I'd be able to catch up with the others. But then, something happened. I began to study and read and make an active effort to pursue God and seek Him -- to know Him and share Him with others. It didn't take long before I sailed past the horses who once knew more than me as I bolted down the track. And then like Secretariat, the Holy Spirit has been widening my stride again, and again, and again, eating up the track until I'm so far ahead of everyone else they have no hope of catching me.

I'm not saying this to boast. Obviously there are more knowledgable Christians than me in the world. Many teachers and pastors have labored long years before the Lord and likely feel the same as I do. I speak of those who skate by in their beliefs, who do no study and pray minimal prayers. Why is there such a strong draw to chase God in some but not in others? I can only assume it's by God's grace. God blesses obedience. Perhaps it is the child of God who is willing to be used that the Lord uses mightily. The one thing I've always been willing to do is God's will. Even when I was a child, and even when I was in the wilderness. I prayed for it. Is that the secret to grazing on the sweet highland pastures rather than the barren lowland plains?


God can do much with a willing heart. You don't have to be rich, lovely, or even healthy. God can use you where you are. I'm fairly sure my prayer for God to help me love Him was a childlike plea for Yeshua to kickstart my sanctification. And boy, was He faithful to do it! Likely that prayer shall be perpetually answered throughout the whole of my life and I will never come to the end of it.

In chasing after God, I have found my ultimate Joy. Despite my circumstances, nothing can take it away, for my Joy is found in Christ alone; I cannot be separated from His love. However my sorrow is a godly sorrow, as I mourn and pray for my nominal brethren to know Christ richly and deeply. This narrow road is a lonely one, but I wouldn't choose any other path. If you cannot find the fragrance of Christ for yourself in this world, endeavor to be His fragrance to others. 

O beloved, imagine if every Christian treasured Christ above all things! How glorious His Church would be!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Reformation Study Bible Review - Ligonier Ministries


Today I received my long-awaited Reformation Study Bible (2nd Edition) from Ligonier Ministries.  I have the 1st Edition, but I wanted this one due to all the things they added - and boy, am I glad I did!  My Bible is their white hardbound edition - but the hardbound also comes in vivid red.  I am contemplating buying the red hardbound edition when the NKJV version is released in the fall of 2015.

I collect different study Bibles in various versions.  I have yet to own a NKJV version.  I am looking forward to the fall when it is released by Ligonier Ministries.  The Bible I'm currently reviewing above is the ESV version.

The first thing I noticed about this Bible when I took it out of the shipping box was that it's a BEAST.  This Bible is so packed full of new content, it is literally thicker than any other Bible I own.  It is as thick as my thumb is long.



 


It comes without a dust jacket (thank goodness!) and instead, has a lovely box.  Along with the Bible is a small booklet outlining what's inside.


I was floored when I found out what is packed into this Bible.  First of all, they have the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Westminster Confession, the Westminster Larger (and Shorter) Catechism... the list goes on.


Along with the creeds and confessions, they've added many topical articles by well-known teachers of Scripture.



There are copious maps scattered about the text, not just in the back, which I love.  Snippets of theology appear in dark grey boxes on certain pages.  This Bible doesn't just help you read Scripture, it helps you STUDY Scripture.



The text of Scripture is in a single column while the study notes are in three columns underneath.  This was done for ease of reading, as the previous edition of this Bible had two columns of Scripture text.

I am in awe of everything they give you in this Bible.  And as if that wasn't enough, each Reformation Study Bible has it's own registration code.  If you register your personal Bible online, you get even MORE, including these online resources:


EBooks, teaching series, subscriptions, and more.  Ligonier didn't merely fashion a new edition of the ESV Bible, they gave the layman a SEMINARY.  I am speechless.  This Bible retails for anywhere from $40 - $45 depending on where you buy it.  This price, in my opinion, is shocking considering the content that's at your fingertips.  The history of the Bible, the history of the church, hermeneutics, apologetics...  My mind is blown.  I knew this Bible would be good.  I just didn't know how good.

The binding of this Bible at first glance looks odd - the pages seem "wrinkly".  This might turn off some people, however, I have since come to learn this book is bound with Smyth Sewn binding.  It is not glued to the spine, rather, it is stitched together.  That means this Bible will likely not fall apart any time soon.  For a book this size, that is VERY good news.


The drawbacks are what you might expect.  This mammoth book is quite heavy.  It is not for the casual Bible reader, but the serious student of Scripture.  I am unsure if this Bible will fit in a store-bought Bible cover.  Perhaps an extra-large sized cover.  I know for a fact it would not fit in a large cover.  If a Bible cover doesn't matter to you, the box would be enough to protect it on the shelf.

The pages are extremely thin.  There are over 2500 pages in this volume, and I'm assuming thin paper width was considered to keep the book a reasonable size.  Highlighters would be fine, but I'd be nervous to underline any text on the pages with a pen.  I would also caution anyone who flips through their Bible vehemently - these pages cannot be flipped with too much gusto without chancing creases, folds, and likely rips and tears.

In other words, this is not the Bible of an in-the-moment street preacher, this is a Bible that will stay in the study.  However, I believe the 2nd Edition of the Reformation Study Bible will be an invaluable tool for anyone who wants to delve deeper into the well of theology.  For everything that comes with this book, including the online resources, you cannot get a better study Bible for the price.

Well done, Ligonier Ministries.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Fun Kid's Devotional Activity for Psalm 98:4


I've written a fun devotional activity for anyone with young children.  It's designed to get the child interested in Bible study as well as getting them to think of God as a personal Being who wants a relationship.  I pulled Bible verses from the Psalms with my own daughter this week to improve her handwriting skills, but I soon realized we were actually doing devotionals.  So I decided to write this one out and share it and see if others enjoy it as much as we did.

It's not too profound, it is for children, after all.  The underlined passages are prompts for you to say in order to get the child to think about the Bible verse, while the indented passages are what to do and expect from the devotional.  I hope you try it and have fun with it.  This can be adapted to the level of the child, from one just learning how to read and write, to an older child learning cursive and more about God.  You can even print it out and elaborate upon it.  If you do go through this with your child, I would love to hear anything else you might have done with this activity, as I'm sure more creative types and actual teachers might have more input on the subject.  Let's teach our young ones about our awesome God!

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0Q0XawU_4DUWWhJUUdSellHZW8/view

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saying No to the World and Yes to Jesus - My Testimony



I don't believe I've ever actually told this story.  Many people who know me know I used to write erotic romance before I repented and returned to the Lord.  I feel now it's time to dust off my testimony and let everyone know what actually "happened" to me five years ago (wow, five YEARS?!).  Hopefully someone out there can find peace in my story, and know that it's okay to say no to the world and yes to Jesus.  :)

~*~*~

The sky was the limit.  I had nowhere to go but up.  Everything was coming up roses.  In 2010, I was on the cusp of making a name for myself in the eBook romance industry.  Ever since I was a little girl, it has been a dream of mine to become a published author.  

My parents divorced when I was young, and I wanted true love to last.  I was always drawn to romance and its 'happily ever afters'.  I wanted to write stories where love wins.

As I got older, I found Christ.  Rather, He found me.  I was a lonely young girl.  I needed Him.  He knew it, even if I didn't at the time.  I can still remember that childish prayer that humbly asked Him to save me.  I wanted to be a Christian more than anything - I wanted Him.  I don't know the date, but I remember the elation that rushed through me after praying that prayer.  The world was different somehow.  I was a new creation!

Despite that prayer to become a daughter of God, my dream of becoming an author was always separate from Him.  I used to stare out my bedroom window, imagining myself at a book signing or seeing my own stories on the bookstore shelves.  In order to make that dream happen, I took a typing class in high school to learn the keyboard as well as an advanced English class and a creative writing class.  I was always picked to read my piece in front of class.  One of my stories won a ribbon at a writing fair.  Everyone seemed to enjoy my stories.

However, I'd never written a novel-length book. When I first decided I wanted to try my hand at being an author, I wanted to be a straight fantasy author.  Nothing fascinated me more than castles, dragons, fairies, and the like.  I dug out one of my old short stories from my childhood and expanded upon it.  It took me eight years to finally finish it, but it had somehow turned from straight fantasy novel into a fantasy romance.

I’ve always been a hopeless romantic.  I’d read romance novels ever since my sister left her old books behind on her sojourn to college, so I wasn’t ignorant of them.  I enjoyed the connection of the characters, the theme that love conquers all, and of course, that they always lived happily ever after.  That’s what I enjoyed the most.  I wanted and needed the characters to find their happy ending, because nothing is a guarantee in real life.  

Since I was a Christian, however, I didn’t know how this would play out for me.  I wasn’t too comfortable writing the more intimate, steamy scenes, but I still wanted to write romance.  My first few books as a professional author were Christian romance, and I enjoyed writing them.  I was rejected at a few Christian publishing houses until I was accepted at a now-defunct Christian e-book publisher.  Of course, when I was first published, we didn’t have fancy things like “e-book readers” and “iPads”.  And no one wanted to read on their computer.

My family and friends always asked when I would “really” be published.  No one bothered buying my books because they didn’t want to read on their computers.  Apparently none of my real life friends are romantics.  No one I know reads romance.  But that didn’t stop me from wanting to write it.  

Unfortunately, Christian romance e-books had no following at the time, and I made no money whatsoever.  It just didn’t seem worth it to me to go through the time and effort to write the book and publicize it when no one was interested in buying them.

So I took stock and asked myself what sells?  Mainstream romance.

By then, a few publishers had heard my name from certain online websites and forums we all chit-chatted on, and I’d convinced one of them to take a look at a new mainstream romance I was working on.  She loved it and contracted me within a week.  I was off and running!  

At this point, I was able to suppress the nagging voice inside my head that I was compromising my beliefs.  I justified it by telling myself the Song of Solomon in the Bible is basically a romance novel, right there in the Word of God!  If God created sex, and sex is a beautiful thing, then what I was doing wasn’t so bad.   

Once my popularity grew, so too did my ideas for plots.  When you’re not restricted by plotlines and limitations on how far the characters can go with each other (as in Christian romance), the sky’s the limit on what you wanted to do.  It was so much fun.  

And through it all, I was praying for God to guide me.  I wanted His hand in my writing at all times.  I didn’t want to be doing anything out of my own desire or will, I wanted to do it because this is what God willed for my life.  I’d always dreamt of becoming an author.  Now I was here, and God was my pilot.   

The ironic thing was that I’d suppressed the voice of the Holy Spirit within myself so much, I was literally blinded to what I was doing.  My books regularly featured couples sleeping together before marriage, openly cussing, even with the Lord’s name, and other lude behaviors.  But it was all in the name of entertainment.  It wasn’t anything I was doing myself, this was all fiction.  There, again, was my justification.  Its just fiction.  What could it hurt?  

After the Kindle became popular and more and more people bought smart phones and tablets like the iPad, the market for e-books skyrocketed.  All they needed was a platform to take off, and take off they did.  I suddenly found my books up on Amazon and I was getting more and more popular.  I was definitely numb to the content in my books, and that was very dangerous for my spiritual life.

I submitted a few of my manuscripts to more popular publishers in New York and London, but every time I was rejected.  I was so disappointed and I wondered what God was doing here.  I’d ask Him for guidance.  I wanted my success to be on His shoulders, but time and again, doors were shut that I was sure would have welcomed me.  

So I continued on with what I knew, giving my freshly-written books to the publishers with whom I had already been contracted.  My horizons weren’t expanding as much as I wanted them to, even though I was known at the houses I was with.  Perhaps this was my pride shining through.  Other more famous authors had it made.  They had huge followings with successful book signings, and here I was, writing (what I felt were) good books.  My fans loved them, but publishers were still closing doors to me.  I didn’t understand what God was doing, because of course, my career was in His hands. I got caught up in that world of dog-eat-dog, and I wasn’t making as much money as I would have liked.  I’d complained about it to my publisher one day, and she mentioned how well her erotic romances were selling.  People love those hotter books with unmentionable jargon.  

I just happened to have a great idea for a series, and if I made them hotter, perhaps I could publish them under the erotic romance banner of my publishing house and do an experiment of sorts.   

I wanted to see just how well erotic romance sells.  

Well, it didn’t take long to get my answer.  I was suddenly making two, three, four times more than I had made previously.  I concluded if you wanted to make any good money in romance that could actually pay the bills, this is what you had to do.  

I had already suppressed the voice of the Holy Spirit with my other books.  But the moment I began writing erotic romance, I kicked Him into the darkest closet of my heart and threw away the key.  I could hear Him banging on the door every now and again, but the ends justified the means, and I found myself praising Jesus with one hand while writing erotic romance for titillation with the other.

And for some reason, I was cool with this.  For quite awhile.  I suppose it’s that feeling of fun when you rebel against something.  You know you shouldn’t do it, it’s forbidden fruit, but doing it and getting away with it is rather thrilling.  And since I was always praying about my success, it had to be condoned by God…right?  

My erotic books were met with high praise.  Of course, that’s more fuel for the pride fire.  I was good.   I was finally getting my name out there as a romance author, and I was finally making good money.   

Thank You, Lord!  God was looking out for me.  I’d found my niche. I typed happily along, content in my blinded stupor of pride and vanity.  I still prayed, but my time was eaten by homeschooling, chores, writing, and being a wife and mother.  I had no time for God other than a passing word of greeting.  I never read the Bible, and obviously, never went to church (other than Easter and Christmas.)  However, I still listened exclusively to Christian music and belted out the tunes at the top of my lungs while driving or doing chores.  Our God is an awesome God!  Our God reigns!  Lord I lift Your Name On High!  


But I just couldn’t see the burning hypocrisy within myself.  My husband rebuked me when I first started writing mainstream romance.  He was aghast and a tad embarrassed that his wife wrote such things and published them.  But being full of pride, I didn’t listen to him.  I was going to do what I wanted to do.  Becoming an author had been a lifelong dream of mine, and no one, not even my husband, was going to stop me from fulfilling it.  

My husband wouldn’t have cared if I’d become an author of straight fantasy or science fiction, or even women’s fiction.  But writing descriptive, intimate romance was crossing a line.

I regret not submitting to my husband.  However in my mind, I was a grown adult, and I was going to do what I wanted with my life.  So not only was I full of pride, greed, and vanity, but I had a spirit of disobedience (to both God and my husband), and a deep selfishness.  In order to keep peace in the home, my husband relented, and away I went.  

I still didn’t see his rebuke as being concern for doing the right thing, but rather, as an affront to my childhood dreams and an oppression of sorts.  Since the Holy Spirit was essentially “bound and gagged” within the dark closet of my heart, I once again justified my desire to write romance due to my lifelong dream.

But with the addition of writing erotic romance to the mix, the banging on that closet door grew louder and louder.  I had started out as a sugar-sweet Christian romance author who’d somehow turned herself into a full-on, unrepentant erotic romance author.  I was proud to claim Jesus in online chats with fans, but my actions were anything but Christ-like.  

One thought led to another and another until a slow, consuming conviction began to overtake me.  I’d forgotten something about belonging to God.   

I am not my own – I was bought with a price (1Corinthians 6:19-20).  

Eventually, God takes back what is His.  

It didn’t take long before the Holy Spirit exploded out of the shadowy closet of my heart in a breathtaking array of Power and Glory.  God was through with being silent, He was about to take me to task and there was nothing I could do to stop Him.  I could only be stunned as I suddenly remembered my Scripture.  

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. ~Revelation 3:19

And repent I did.

~*~*~ 

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” ~Hebrews 12:6 

I repented, all right, but I tested the waters to see just how much slack God would give me.  Don’t all misbehaving children do this?  Don’t they test their parents to see just how much they can get away with without getting into trouble?

“All right, Lord, I will stop writing erotic romance.”

NO, I WANT MORE.

“You’re right.  My mainstream romance still has cussing and fornication.  I’ll cut that out too.  My plots will only feature married couples, therefore the intimate scenes won’t be sinful.”  (Seriously, I was bargaining with the Most High.)

NO, REBECCA, God said.  GRAPHIC SEX SCENES ARE ONLY THERE FOR ONE REASON – TO AROUSE YOUR READER.

I sighed.  He could see right through me.  “Oh, You’re riiight.”  I think I may have stomped my foot and rolled my eyes.  “But the money’s very good, Lord.  And I have a lot of fans.”

I DON’T CARE.

Taking a deep breath, I must have pinched the bridge of my nose.  “So You want me to quit writing romance all together, is that what You’re saying?”

YES.

“Seriously?”

YES.

“I mean, You’re serious right now?”

REBECCA, He replied, DO YOU LOVE ME?

“Of course I love You, Lord.”

THEN QUIT.

I wrestled with the Holy Spirit back and forth about this for a few weeks.  But in the end, I decided He was right and that I needed to bow out quietly and not write any more new books.  The decision was actually freeing.  I hadn’t realized it, but I had been feeling more and more uncomfortable while doing edits for my books.  What had once taken me hours to do now took me a month or more.  In all honesty, I didn’t feel like I’d made the wrong decision to quit writing.  Despite my push-and-pull with God, I knew this was absolutely 100% the right decision.

Little did I know that God wasn’t through with me yet.

REBECCA?

“Yes, Lord?”

YOU NEED TO PUBLICLY RETIRE.

Oh no. He knew I had no intention of declaring what I’d decided. “What?” I replied, trying my best to sound innocent. 

YOU NEED TO DECLARE TO YOUR READERS YOU’RE RETIRING FROM WRITING EROTIC AND MAINSTREAM ROMANCE.

“I suppose I could—”

AND, the Lord continued, interrupting my thoughts, YOU NEED TO CONFESS WHY.  YOU NEED TO CONFESS ME.

**crickets**

The excuses were forming in my mind.  I was scared to do this.  How could I do it?  People didn’t just end a promising career for God!  And if they did, they certainly didn’t declare it!

Then God’s next words floored me.

IF YOU RETIRE FROM WRITING WITHOUT DECLARING WHY, YOU ARE NOT GIVING ME THE GLORY FOR YOUR DECISION.

That realization sucked the wind out of my sails.  If I didn’t go public with why I was retiring, I wasn’t giving God any of the glory, honor, or praise for my choice.  If I kept everything quiet, no one would know why I quit, and God wanted me to claim Him as my First Love before all of my fans.

I didn’t obey Him for a few weeks.  I still wrestled with what He wanted me to do.  I mean, this was BIG.  I had confessed to be a Christian online a few times.  I’d even written a handful of Inspirational romances.  I knew my fans were aware of my beliefs.  But this was different.  This was standing up for my beliefs.  This was throwing away the world and putting on Christ!  And quite publicly, I might add.

But it was all for God’s glory.  I knew He had a plan.  He is sovereign.  So I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and did what He told me.

I went on my website, I went on my Facebook, my Twitter, and made a few videos on YouTube explaining the situation.  I told folks of my decision to retire and Who I was doing it for.  And you know what?  I wasn’t met with ONE negative response. 

In fact, I was approached by quite a few other authors who’d felt the same way as I did!  When I spoke up for what I believed, I had given them the courage to do the same.  A lot of my fans left my friends list, but the majority stayed.  And I realized something.

God wanted me to change my focus.  It was His will all along for me to become quasi-famous in the eBook industry so that I would have a small following He could reach when I retired.

I remember friending a few Christians on Facebook and Twitter, but all these Christian folks were doing nothing more than praising Jesus.  Like” if you love Jesus!  While giving God praise is absolutely admirable, where were the meat and potatoes?  I was tired of the milk. 

Like a light bulb going off, I knew what God wanted me to do.  He wanted me to use my Facebook page as a ministry of sorts.  Everything I was learning and studying, He wanted me to share with my fan base.  From being bold and courageous for God, to the Gospel, to the Trinity, to baptism, and to songs and pictures I adored. 

But even greater than this was the fact that God Himself had shaken me awake from my spiritual slumber.  Retiring from writing mainstream romance was only the tip of the iceberg.  He’d just been cleaning house.  What really amazed me was the fact that I was emerging out of the wilderness in my walk with God and stepping over into the deep, abiding, unfailing love of my Creator.

Over the course of the next five years, I have been on an incredible journey.  The Lord has been on a mission to restore the years the locusts have eaten.  This blog is a testament to that.  Since 2012, I have annotated 46 books of the Bible, leaving 20 more to go before I finish the whole thing.  Theology is my bread and butter.  I adore learning about my God.  I love diving into things others find boring. I read old preachers, listen to countless sermons and podcasts, and study many doctrines as a Berean.  I'd rather know the doctrine for myself than be told by someone and blindly believe.

God has done a great work in my heart, all because I decided I loved Him more than the idol of my childhood dream.  I had allowed my desires for success to overshadow what was truly important.  I was selfish and vain, bragging about how many copies I'd sold or a new amazing review.  The drive for more money launched me into compromising my beliefs.

You could say I did achieve my life's goal.  I had become a published author.  I had just begun to scale the mountain of popularity and the world was my oyster.  All I had to do... was write more.  I had plenty of plot ideas.  I would have been set these past five years.  If I had continued on that road, I would likely be in a very comfortable place right now.  But God showed me my childhood dream was an empty one without Him.  It was definitely a learning experience for me.  I had achieved what I set out to do, but it was never enough.  I wanted more fame, more money, more accolades.

The world will tell you that anyone can accomplish their dreams if they put their mind to it.  And they're right - many people have done so.  But accomplishing your dream is peddled around like some kind of Shangri La - "If I live my dream, I will be happy, content, pleased, and at peace.  My life will be complete."  But that is a lie.  Whether you are in the valley or on top of the mountain, you are still you.  You cannot outrun yourself.  If you're miserable now, you will be miserable then.  Joy does not depend on your circumstance - joy is a state of being. 

I have found my Joy in Christ.

While God had me lay down my romance novels, He did not have me give up my writing.  Through this blog, my Facebook, and the books I've written on Christianity, I now write for a different purpose - His Glory.  And let me tell you, this is much more fulfilling!  I won't get rich, I don't hear many accolades, no one reviews my work, and I'm not in bookstores, but I'm doing work for His Kingdom, which is far better.  I'm no longer seeking worldly gain, I'm storing up treasures in Heaven.  Christ has refocused my talent to serve Him and I am overjoyed.  I may not know how many people I reach or how many lives are changed by what I do, but He's told me simply to scatter the seed - He does the watering.

Hopefully this post has given a little more insight into my journey in the Lord.  He's not through with me yet, and I can't wait to see what He has in store in the future.  What I have learned through all of this is that God is greater than anything I can dream.  When we focus our dreams Godward and live our lives for His Glory, amazing things happen.   

In all thy ways, acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. ~Proverbs 3:6      


~~Becka 

Friday, January 30, 2015

I Never Knew You; Depart from Me


I don't know about you, but these words spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 7:21-23 are some of the most horrifying words in Scripture.  As a young girl, I used to be terrified, wondering if I was going to make the cut.  If these guys didn't get in to Heaven, then what chance did I have?  I would constantly measure myself and think well, maybe it's not for us to know until we stand before Him on That Day.  Will we be worthy enough to enter in?

We are told in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to test ourselves to see if we're in the faith.  I've been pondering this verse for a few days and posted on my Facebook page for others to test themselves.  For whatever reason, I recently thought of those in Matthew 7 who cry out, "Lord, Lord!"  What disqualifies them from the Kingdom of God?  And can we compare ourselves to them in order to know if we're in the faith?

Ever since that question took root, I knew I'd have to do a study on these verses.  So with some prayer and contemplation, I want to share what I've learned on the subject.

First, Christ lays out the fact of it - not everyone who calls Him Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom, BUT he who does the will of His Father.  What is God's will for believers?  That can be found in John 6:29: "that you believe in Him whom He has sent."

We also know elsewhere in Scripture, that those who do the will of God are part of Christ's family (Mark 3:35). Therefore, some who claim, "Lord, Lord" are not in Christ's family.  They also have no faith in Him.  Because of this, they are not born again.  We know from 1 John 5:12 that only those who have the Son of God have life.  These do not have the Son of God.

Now, Christ expounds further on what He has just laid out.  He gets more specific for a purpose, otherwise true children of God would seriously question their own salvation.  Let's take apart these people's excuses from Christ's example and see why they don't measure up to a true Christian.

They say the word, "Lord, Lord" twice, as if to accentuate to the Lord Himself that they really mean it.  In biblical times, repeating something twice had much significance.  If Christ said, "Truly, truly", it meant, "Hey, listen up, this is important."  They then tell Jesus they have prophesied, cast out demons, and have done mighty works in His name.  Let's outline what these things are, first and foremost.

Prophesying can mean two things - you're either foretelling the future as a prophet of God, or you're giving interpretation of Scripture, such as a pastor exposits verse by verse.  

Casting out demons can mean either demon possession, or someone "driving out" the "demon" of sickness or addiction, etc. 

Mighty works means just that, great things such as a big tent revival, reaching millions on TV, or being a missionary to the nations.

Now, let's contrast all these things against the original statement Christ made, that only those who do the Father's will shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  We already know these people do not have the Son and therefore do not have life.  This means whatever "prophesying" they were doing, it was false.  Thus, they are false prophets.  God has some very choice things to say against false prophets in Jeremiah 23.  We know there are no more prophets like Isaiah and Elijah, because God no longer talks to us in that way.  We have been given the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ Himself.  This is proven by Hebrews 1:1-2. So we know out the gate anyone claiming further prophecy of God for the future -- that isn't in chapter and verse -- is a false prophet.  Otherwise, their words would be on par with the Word of God, and we're just not willing to call their prophecies "Scripture".

If these people are pastors or teachers expositing Scripture, then they are either interpreting the Bible in the wrong manner, with the wrong intentions, or with doctrines of demons.

Casting out demons could have been for show, or perhaps deceit on the demons' part to give "validity" to this person's "ministry" to serve their own purpose.  However, Christ told His disciples in Luke 10:20 NOT to rejoice that the demons obeyed them, but to rejoice that their names were written in Heaven.  Because these people bring up the demons obeying them, it would be safe to assume they never rejoiced that their names were written Above.  In other words, pride filled their hearts that demons obeyed them, and they never humbled themselves to rejoice in their salvation.

The mighty works show these people rely on their own strength and righteousness.  They have pride in themselves.  They believe their accomplishments will impress the Lord and get them a pass into the Kingdom - like the Pharisees - banking eternity on themselves instead of surrendering their lives to the finished work of Christ.  Their works have won them much acclaim in life so as to make them comfortable in death, only to find out they weren't saved at all.  These aren't just works, but "mighty" works, assuming big, flashy works hold sway in God's courtroom (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  This means they have no knowledge of grace.  They underestimated Heaven's currency.  Their "mighty works" are a pittance - filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  Their works cannot make them perfect.  They are not covered in Christ's own perfect righteousness. 

Now, notice how these people say they did all these things "in Your name".  We know they're not in the family of God.  Therefore, they have taken the Lord's name in vain.  Only one who is a citizen of the Kingdom of God can actively and productively do things in Jesus' name.

Notice too how these people do not seem to accept the Lord's Judgment upon them, assuming there must be some mistake.  Instead of accepting His will as His child would do, they argue with Christ!  This arguing is very telling.  Perhaps they also "argued" with Scripture or didn't quite believe or teach what it said in full.  Perhaps that is why they are false prophets, because they chase after their own lusts and what they wanted Scripture to say.  Because of this contrary attitude, they prove Jesus is not the King of their hearts, for their argument is surely the correct one.  "Didn't we...?"

Questioning Jesus' Judgment is questioning the Word of God.  This reveals the very first sin of Adam and Eve.  These that stand before Christ at the Judgment have questioned Christ's integrity.  "He must be wrong.  Didn't we do all these things?  There's a mistake!"  This also insinuates they believe He might be fallible.  And it's obvious they have no fear of God if they're willing to argue with the Judge of all the Earth once their sentence has been read.

Then for Christ's rebuttal.  "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!"

Most people think of these words as relational.  These people didn't have any intimacy with Jesus.  They didn't even have any passing knowledge of Him through the revelation of the Scriptures.  If they did, they would have known that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  They wouldn't have doubted His judgment.  They wouldn't have had to unravel their laundry list of why they should be granted entrance into Heaven.  Because they didn't know Christ, they had no relationship with Him which means no prayer life, no study life, and were likely led by mystical feelings and their own false prophecy.

"Knew" in this passage is Strong's #1097, which is "ginosko" in the Greek.  It means to become known, to understand, to know, to become acquainted with, or its sometimes used as a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse.  It is safe to say, then, that the Lord had no familial relationship with them.

However, it also means something much, much deeper.  "I never knew you."  This assumes not EVER, not just within the span of their lives, but in eternity past.  Christ never knew these - He never FOREknew these as outlined in Romans 8:29-30.  This means these were never called by the Spirit, never written in the Lamb's Book of Life, and never known by God.  

WOW. 

Ultimately, when Christ says, "Depart from Me", what He truly means is, "You have had your reward."

Matthew 6:2, Matthew 6:5, Matthew 6:16

These people might have been able to fool men in life, but they cannot fool the One who can search hearts and minds (Proverbs 15:11). 

Therefore, let us review the traits of these who cry out, "Lord, Lord!"

* They had not love.  They were resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.
* They had not the Son, which means...
* They had not the Father (1 John 2:23)
* They relied on their own works of righteousness for salvation.
* They argued with the King of Glory.
* They questioned the Word of God.
* They had no fear of God.
* They had no prayer life.
* They didn't study the Scripture.
* They didn't trust in Christ's finished work.
* They didn't believe in the grace of God.
* They gave no glory to God for their "mighty works" and took the glory for themselves ("Look what we did!") 

All of these are glaring reasons for why Jesus did not know them.  All of these are excellent examples that we can compare ourselves to in order to test ourselves and see if we're in the faith.  Brethren, we do not need to be worried that we'll "accidentally" fall in to the Lord, Lord crowd.  If you do not resemble them, you will not be counted among them.  These words are not for God's true children.  They are for the charlatans and the ones who only pretend at being disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They have fooled others and maybe even fooled themselves, but hopefully God will open their eyes to their deceit and compel them to surrender and rest upon His finished work by His grace alone.

It is my prayer that God opens all our eyes in these trying times to return to our First Love.  And not just because we don't want to go to Hell, but because it is our earnest hope and our greatest desire to be with Him in eternity future as our Beloved Bridegroom and the Lover of our souls.  If the desire of our hearts is to be with Him where He is, no matter the cost to us in this life, then rest assured, we are known of God.

Praise the Lord.