Confused?


DSC_0059With so many contradicting messages blasting through our world right now, it’s easy to be confused about what to think. Who’s sharing truth and who’s manipulating people’s emotions?

As someone who loves Jesus, the saddest aspect to me is when I see or hear about proclaimed followers of Jesus arguing about politics, doctrine, and their own opinions. Are we adding to the confusion or showing a hurting and broken world faith, hope, and most importantly, love?

Accusing various believers or specific organizations of not being righteous or godly because they worship differently, pray silently or openly, baptize in various ways, support a political party, or wear masks (or not) divides us and drives us into confusion rather than the unity that Jesus desires for us.

The first and most important issue is whether we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. When we receive his gracious gift of laying his life down for our sinfulness, we are part of a family. That’s good news no matter how we receive it—whether in a church service, at a beach worship time, or in our bedroom, car, or shower. We might be homeless in an alley or looking at a sunset when we realize the love of God for us and choose to follow him.

After that, Jesus gave us some pretty clear and simple instructions for the rest of life.

  • Love him. He loved us first. He gave his life and longs for us to respond to his love.
  • Love ourselves. We are created and loved by God. He has a great plan for us. Treat ourselves kindly.
  • Love others. We’re all created and loved by God. When we realize we’re loved, we can extend that love.
  • Seek God first. Everything else falls into place when we do.
  • Live humbly. While we have our own thoughts and opinions, so do others. God is God. We’re not.
  • Speak the truth in love. Be honest with ourselves and others always.
  • Mercy over judgement. God forgave us. Forgive others, and let God be the only judge.
  • Grace, not deeds. God’s showed us grace when we were a mess not because we did something right. Be gracious to others in the same way.

I’ve been guilty of seeking my way, thinking my way is the only way, judging others, and not wanting to show grace or forgive.

We all have.

But when we get caught up in whether others are doing it our way, or sharing our opinions, or applying God’s word differently than we think it should be interpreted, we divide rather than unite.

God says a house divided can’t stand. So naturally that’s the enemy’s plan. If he can use us in the church to divide the church, then it’s a win, win for him.

And a loss for us and for those who don’t know Jesus yet and are turned off by our portrayal of him.

We have to let go of ourselves. Our agendas. The way we think things should be done.

Die to self is what Jesus calls it.

Not because he doesn’t want us to be the thinking, creating, unique individuals that he designed us to be, but because he wants us to be free to live fully in those ways. And his plans give us so much more than we can secure for ourselves.

When he increases in our lives, and our broken, self-focused, my-way-is-best decreases, we can walk in love. Loving him, loving us, loving others. Loving life.

And the world will know that Jesus is Lord, and he SO loves them.

John Mark Miller: The Real Deal


Recently I had the privilege of interviewing John Mark Miller, a musician and writer who leads worship at First Baptist Church of Sunset, Texas. John Mark inspires and encourages other Christian artists with his blog and has recently been showcasing various artists. I was blessed to be on his list.

What I admire most about John Mark is his genuine love for the Lord, music and fellow artists. He exudes grace and kindness. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I have.

Hi, John Mark. Thanks so much for spending some time with us today. I’ve appreciated reading your blog and interacting with you through comments and emails. I guess we’ll jump right into the questions I have for you.

First, let me ask when did you first know you were born to be a singer and a writer?

I was born singing, and I caught on to writing as soon as I could! When I was just a toddler, my mom remembers finding me rolling around the back yard on my riding toy, singing a hymn that she and my dad had sung in church that morning. She was impressed that I remembered the melody perfectly, and started to encourage my musical gifts. I sang my first church solo when I was five years old and started taking piano lessons when I was seven years old. I honestly cannot remember a time when music wasn’t an important part of my life, and here I am all these years later, still making music and teaching others how to join in!

Interestingly enough, it was my dad who honed in on my gift for writing. He read some of the stories I wrote for spelling class and told me that he thought I had real talent. He was a pastor, and before I knew it I was writing articles for the church newsletter and helping him prepare Sunday School curriculum and church publications. One weekend as we drove to a funeral, he realized he needed a poem to recite for the Graveside Service and told me to write one on the spot! I did… and thanks to his belief in me as a writer, I’m still at it!

It’s great that your parents were so encouraging and helpful in fostering your God-given talents. Perhaps that’s one reason you are so great at encouraging other artists.

So, along those same lines, what is your favorite worship song?

My all-time favorite worship song is “Before the Throne of God Above,” but I also find great inspiration in “Give Me Jesus” by Fernando Ortega and “All of Me” by Selah.

I love that song by Fernando Ortega as well. A few of his CD’s spend time in my player!

And how about favorite books?

Where books are concerned, I’m going to have to break this down into categories! I would say that my favorite devotional book is “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers, my favorite fictional book is “The Robe” by Lloyd C. Douglas, and my favorite biography/memoir is “Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickham.

That’s quite a nice collection. I read and re-read “My Utmost for His Highest” over a three year period, and it literally changed my life. What do you feel most inspires your creativity?

I feel most inspired when I spend time outside, either walking for exercise or just sitting and drinking in all of God’s beauty. Taking time to notice the splendor of Creation helps me to quiet the distractions, focus my prayers, and allows me to listen for His still, small voice. It has been during these quiet moments of reflection that many of my greatest ideas have come to me.

It’s amazing how even a little bit of time outside can bring out the creator in us!

Now this may seem like a strange question, but I think you can tell a lot about a person by their favorite “working” drink. I tend to stick with water or tea. How about you?

I absolutely love a steaming mug of hot tea (either Earl Grey or Vanilla Rooibos) while I’m working on a project. The warmth is comforting, and the aroma stimulates the senses. I’d have to agree with C.S. Lewis, who said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me!”

That’s a great quote! I might have to add it to my bulletin board. When is it that we would find you nursing that steaming mug of tea? Are you most productive in the morning or at night?

Though I’m married to a night owl, I will forever be a hopeless morning person! Much to my wife’s dismay, I wake up bright and early and ready to work. My best work takes place early in the morning, and I’ve noticed that my writing is much stronger and more focused after I’ve spent some quiet time with the Lord.

I so agree with you. Spending time with the Lord makes the difference between a good and rough day, writing or otherwise. Do you have a “life verse?” How does it influence your creative endeavors?

Since high school, my life verse has been John 15:5: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” I used to get very nervous playing the piano in church, to the point that my fingers and pedal feet would shake uncontrollably and cause the entire piano to have tremors! I remember sitting in church waiting for my turn to play, and reading this verse on a small index card. It was comforting to remember that without God I could do nothing, but with Him behind me I was guaranteed to bear good fruit. I have clung to this through the years, and it’s just as helpful to me now as it ever was!

That’s a verse my husband has been meditating on lately. It’s so true that whatever we produce comes from Jesus working in us. It’s a great reminder. What would you say is the most important message you want your listeners or readers to take away from your work?

The sole purpose of launching my blog, The Artistic Christian, was to help people realize that the beauty of God is all around us. There is such rich beauty in the midst of the most everyday moments, and all of it declares the truth of Who God is. Psalm 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God,” and each aspect of nature tells us something about God’s character. Immovable mountains declare His strength, soft rose pedals declare his tenderness and beauty, and so on. Not only this, but anytime an artist creates he or she is imitating God, since we are all made in His image (Gen. 1:26). Because of this, artistic works also point us to God, since they reveal the divine spark which lies in each of our hearts.

I hope that by reading my work, my readers will have their eyes opened to the beauty and splendor that lies everywhere they look, and realize that all of it was designed to draw our hearts toward worshiping God. And once they begin to see this, I want to remind them that if they will seek God with all their heart, they will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

I certainly get that from your blog. Where can people find your work? Can they purchase it yet?

I am still working on getting a book published, but my reflections on art, culture, and life can be found at my primary blog, The Artistic Christian, at http://theartisticchristian.wordpress.com.

Also, my sermons and thoughts on Bible Study and church life can be found at my self-titled devotional blog, at http://johnmarkmiller.wordpress.com

Finally, readers can keep up with my thoughts and latest releases by following me on Twitter: @JohnMark_Miller

Thank you so much for investing this time with us today!

Thank you for interviewing me. It’s been an honor.

Go visit John Mark Miller on Twitter and his blogs. I guarantee you’ll be blessed and glad you did!

Why Pray?


Have you ever asked yourself that question?IMG_0368

I don’t mean in a skeptical, it-won’t-do-anything kind of way. What I’m talking about is that deep searching of what prayer means. It’s not like God needs us to tell him what’s going on in our lives. He knows everything. And he knows what we need, so do we need to remind him? Besides, He is God Almighty, creator of the universe and the one who holds everything together and controls it all. Does he need our input?

So what is the purpose of prayer then?

Well, I asked Him. After all, in James he tells us if we lack wisdom to ask and he will give it to us. So I asked. And I guess that is the first purpose of prayer. God wants to give us things and he’s waiting for us to ask. He says if we ask, we will receive. And wisdom is a good thing to start with. But sometimes we can feel like we’re asking Santa for a Christmas list, and that’s not the point. Even though God longs to give us the desires of our heart.

I thought there was something more.

Partnership is a concept we’ve discussed in church. A former pastor, Daniel Brown, used to describe God wanting to partner with us in doing his will. Like a father asking his son to help him take out the trash. Dad doesn’t need his little boy’s help, but it’s about the relationship. Doing something together. I like that.

But, I still believed there was even more.

So when I asked, I was reminded of the Lord’s Prayer. We call it that because it is how Jesus told us to pray. Hmm…maybe there’s something in that.

I grew up reciting that prayer as a rote tradition. Even singing it, while deeply moving, didn’t impart the depth of it’s meaning to me. But the day I asked Jesus about praying, this is what struck me…

If God is all about us talking to him, and asking him for things, and partnering with us, then maybe praying that prayer would look something like this (translation my own):

Our Father, who is in heaven, I praise your holy name! I honor you as Almighty God. You are so holy! You are so worthy of my praise. Because You want to do good things for us, I invite you to bring your kingdom into my life and do your will just as you have purposed it already in heaven because you are great and good and have wonderful things planned for me. Whatever that is, I want it, so I ask you for it. Please, Lord God, I ask that your kingdom would come here to earth. That your will would be done here on earth. And please, since you know all I need, will you provide it. Just for today? I won’t worry about tomorrow, but trust you to give me what I need today. And about forgiveness, Lord. You forgive me for everything so will you please make me willing and able to forgive others the same way? Thank you that temptation is never from you. Will you please deliver us from evil? That awful enemy, Satan, who is looking to distract us from you and destroy our lives? I know you can and will do all this because your kingdom is glorious and powerful, and you love me so very much.

What do you think?

I’ve begun to pray this way, acknowledging who God is and inviting him to bring his kingdom to earth. That his will would be done in my life, in my home, my marriage, my children’s and family members’ lives, my friend’s lives, in my church, community, city, state and nation, as well as the world. Because if I believe God is who he says he is then I have to be open to and accepting of what he wants to do here on earth.

And I’m seeing incredible things happening.

Not always what I expect, but always great and good. In my life, my husband’s life, our marriage and family. Truly amazing.

God is a gentleman and never forces us. But he longs to do good for us, with us and through us. As soon as we invite him, remembering who he is and what is truly important, he will bring his kingdom to us.

I challenge you to give this a try and let me know what you see happen in your life.

God’s Not Dead, but Maybe “Christianity” Should Be


Are we shouting “crucify him?”

Finally, after decades of complaints, prayers, token support and watching “B” Christian movies barely funded and with the best intentions, but not always much in the way of acting, movie goers have been inundated with a plethora of positive cinema. All in this month before Easter. You’d think the Christian community would be thrilled and celebrating.

Of the famous four, “Son of God”, “Noah”, “God’s Not Dead” and “Heaven is For Real,” I’ve only had the privilege of viewing the first, so far. Plans to see the others are in the works. Kids are begging for them, especially after viewing all the trailers a couple of days ago. My opinions, therefore, are limited.

But the point of this post isn’t to give a review.

I saw “Son of God” with a girlfriend the second day it came out. I felt it was well done, and while it may not have depicted the intensity shown in “The Passion of the Christ,” it evoked deep emotion. I appreciated the scenery which created an experience for me of walking with Jesus, and the way he was portrayed in such a personable manner, as I imagine Jesus would have been. Woman followed him in the Bible, so I appreciated the inclusion of the female gender, not only the men who were his disciples.

While some of the scripture was re-ordered, omitted or changed (probably for cinematic affect), the message remained unscathed and potent. Jesus came to save us, sinners, through love and compassion and ultimately his death on the cross and resurrection. We weren’t blown away by the film, but liked it a lot in spite of its “creative license.”

The shocker to me?

The criticism these movies have garnered from the Christian community. I don’t expect reviewers who don’t believe to rave in a positive way about any of these movies. After all, they talk about God and the Bible, Jesus and Heaven—topics that often raise objections among the majority of folks. What I didn’t expect is the flak from Christians who have complained on a number of points.

Really people?

The arguments seem to stem primarily from the pious protecting the Bible, or worse, their personal theological views. But the end result is cutting the throats of fellow believers who are living out their faith in a way they hope will make a difference by infusing the public with a taste of the Lord.

It may be presumptuous, but I choose to believe that each of the participants, who created, acted in, produced and directed, sought wisdom from God in what they did. Did they miss the mark? Probably in some ways. Are they human? Yes, which makes them potentially fallible. But did God use them to touch lives by showing people a bit more of him through these films? I’m betting, yes.

What’s the real point?

God created us, loves us and wants to be with us. Jesus died on the cross and rose again in order to make that a reality in spite of our free will leading to sin. We can have all kinds of theological debates(which we’re admonished not to do – see 2Tim.2:23 & Titus 3:9) over the “right way” to portray the truth, or simply be grateful that someone has the guts enough to do it. In some manner, these movies have the potential to bless believers and sow seeds for those who may not have thought about God before. Maybe some curious chap will choose to view and actually come away choosing Christ. It’s possible, regardless of what many are saying.

Bottom line?

Today we celebrate what Jesus did for all of us, and look forward to symbolizing his resurrection in a couple of days. People do that in many ways all over the world. It means something different to each person, each year depending on their personal relationship with Jesus. In the same way, the message of a movie, book, blog, or work of art can inspire whatever God wants despite the human factor of the messenger.

But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.                 Philippians 1:18

When will we lay down our agendas and uphold our brothers, the church, and join in unity to bless and not curse?

Oh gaze of love so melt my pride that I may in your house but kneel, and in my brokenness to cry, spring worship unto Thee.”  Hymn by Jars of Clay

What do you think? Seen the movies? Read reviews?
 
Disclaimer: I did not create this YouTube.

Stop the Abuse


I’ve never re-posted a blog post before.

But this post encouraged me and reminded me of the past I left behind. It also gave me something to think about in terms of my current relationships and whether I am living in a healthy way. I felt it valuable enough to pass on.

Thank you to Diana for allowing me to re-post. If you’d rather read the post on Diana’s blog (where you can see her great graphics) click here.

3 Ways to Stop Worshiping the Abuser

November 5, 2013 By

I remember a story my mom always used to tell me.  She said,” Diana, how do you boil a frog?” I said, ” I don’t know.” She said, “A little at a time.”

You see when we put the frog in the water it was cold water. It wasn’t hot, no reason to jump out.  That’s what an abusive relationship starts out as – a cold pot of water. Then, after a time, the abuser lights the stove.  His behavior starts to change.  This may be accentuated with alcohol or drugs. Then the water starts to boil, as his actions become more and more controlling.  First he doesn’t want you to see your friends. Then he cuts you off from the family for some reason or another.  Then he won’t let you work.  Then he takes away the car, and the money.  And the water is so hot by then you can’t even imagine getting out.  So you don’t even try.

By this time, you are afraid when the sun goes down. You are constantly on edge trying to please “His Highness”. Anything to avoid a fight.  Especially when you have small children.  He says he wants the house clean and dinner ready by the time he gets home.  So you do exactly as you are told.  You tell yourself to “be the good wife” and not rock the boat.  You pick up after the kids all day, have the house clean, and a great dinner – but then he doesn’t come home. Until after 2am.  You pace around all night, scream at the kids because you are so angry, and finally get them to sleep.  You try calling his phone – but he turns it off.  So you wait.  Your whole world revolves around what he does and how you can please him.  He has become your God.  You would do anything for him.  As he walks all over you and squashes you like a bug.

Welcome to Abusive Relationship Training 101  This is not normal.  This is not healthy.  This is not a pattern you want to teach your children.  Real love doesn’t look like this.

Here are some ideas on how to start to change YOUR MIND.  What HE does is not the focus of this article.

We cannot control what the Abuser does,

but WE CAN CONTROL OUR REACTION TO IT!

worship (verb)

  1.  to honor or respect (someone or something) as a god
  2. to show respect and love for God or for a god especially by praying, having religious services, etc.
  3. to love or honor (someone or something) very much or too much

Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/worship

3 Ways to Stop Worshiping the Abuser:

1.  Admit that you have put him on a pedestal

Yes, we did. We think we are trying to keep the peace, but in all reality there is no peace.  A relationship like this thrives on chaos and confusion.  The fights become more frequent and more intense as the relationship goes on.  The first step in changing this picture is to stop worshiping the ground he walks on.  He is not God.

This may be difficult as many victims have an idealized picture of what the relationship looks like.  Victims tend to idolize the “honeymoon phase” and ignore the “big blow out” phase.  We lie to ourselves.  If we told ourselves the truth, then we would have to DO something. This was one of the hardest things for me.  I knew how to live as the victim.  If I stayed the victim, then in my mind,  I always had someone to blame.

Taking back my thoughts was step one of my healing.  I didn’t have to worship him.  It was not my job to change him.  He was not who I thought he was, and that was the truth.  And I was not myself either.

2. Admit that even though he thinks he is GOD, he is not.

Another step to healing was to admit to myself that my thoughts could be different from his.  And I didn’t have to prove them to anyone.  I have my own thoughts and feelings. God gave them to ME when He made me.  The Abuser was great at telling me how I should feel, what I should look like, what I should do.  I gave my power away.  I gave my thoughts and dreams away to him.

No more.  I gave myself permission to think differently. Just because he said something, didn’t mean it was true.  I  gave myself permission to seek out my own truth, and ‘own’ my own feelings.  And I didn’t even have to tell him.  Talk about freedom!

One of the things I learned to say after years of therapy/spiritual counsel was, “I am sorry YOU feel that way.”  That helped me divide my feelings from that of my abuser.  It was liberating, it was awesome, and he hated it.  Be prepared at this point for the fights to increase.  Any sign of ‘unsubmission’ may irritate the abuser more.  Be prepared to walk away.  Have an action plan, and a safe house to go to at this stage.

3. Develop your own Spiritual Plan of Action and Worship

The last step that I did to de-throne the “king” was to develop healthy relationships with other people.  I chose to go to therapy and seek Spiritual Counsel.  I asked the abuser to go with me.  He did for a time, until he got thrown out of the office!  Yep, more than one counselor, and more than one time.  Then we started to go to church.  We would go together until we met with the Pastor.  I have had 3 different Pastors from 3 different churches tell me that I needed to leave.  That the abuser was not interested in change.  I left the abuser 7 different times in 8 years.  The last time was Oct 2004, and I haven’t gone back.  My kids and I got out, and with the help of the local YWCA Shelter, we started our new life.  I am not a frog, and neither are my children!

Now I am not a counselor, although I have been a patient.  I am not a Pastor, although I have been a follower for many years now. Having other people in my life that taught me about who GOD really was opened my eyes to who I had been worshiping all these years – the abuser!

 

Getting Well Part 3 – The Choices We Make


When we’re accustomed to living broken lives, how do we learn to make healthy choices?DSC_0059

I began by evaluating each area of my life and asking myself and God if the situation was the best God had for me. At that particular time. In that exact way. Until then, I hadn’t been in the habit of asking what God had for me because I was used to taking on anything and everything that seemed acceptable.

It was amazing how many things received a “no” answer.

Sure, some situations seemed a little obvious to me like: not keeping a bottle of wine in my refrigerator (I had struggled with alcoholism), or not spending time talking to the attractive, single man at church (since my marriage then was in trouble), but to other areas, I was oblivious.

Like: How bad could it be for me to volunteer for everything at church??

Actually, pretty bad. I was worn out with activities, mostly at church, because I didn’t know how to say no. I felt obligated to do anything anyone asked. I feared their disappointment, anger or disapproval. God wanted me to see that though he has something for everyone, not everything is for me. I knew I shouldn’t worry about the approval of people, but I had always lived to please others. I didn’t know any other way.

I hated to let people down.

Truthfully, because of choices to make changes in my life, some of my friendships changed. I mourned the loss, but suddenly saw where some of my relationships were lacking in depth. I also began to see that when I stepped out of something, or said “not this time,” it opened a place for someone else to participate or serve.

Even good activities can be bad if they aren’t the best for you.

I had to choose to give up things that weren’t adding to my life in positive ways. Even seemingly good things. I discovered that if some situation was good, but the timing wasn’t fitting, it wasn’t the best for me. How did I know? Gut instinct. A little whisper in my heart that said “not this one” or “give this up.”

At one point, I struggled to give up a sports activity that took a tremendous amount of my time and energy. I loved playing hockey, coaching my kids and helping on the board, but deep down I knew the situation wasn’t the best for me or my family. When I asked a friend for her input, she simply asked,

What is your gut telling you?

And I knew. If I was willing to be honest with myself.

God really did have a good plan!

Part of his plan was to simplify my life so he could deal with areas that needed healing. I had used busyness as a way to numb my pain and keep from dealing with issues I couldn’t fix. I needed time to be still and listen to God which couldn’t happen running from one activity to the next while taking care of four children and a business. I needed discipline and balance to replace my pinball game life. Rest and refreshment were completely foreign to me, but necessary for my sanity and health!

Finally, I recognized my tendency to be pressed by what seemed urgent.

However, God is rarely urgent. He may be gently insistent or persistent, but the panicking voice I heard in me pushing me to say, do or acquire something right now wasn’t God. God is patient and has a specific time for everything. So, if something seemed too pressing, I learned to deliberately choose to ask God again for his direction and wait. His plans would give me the very best of life. Like my husband.

How have you learned to make better choices? What is a good choice you’ve made?