Monday, November 5, 2007

The Places Where I Have Died and Yet I Still Live

I climbed a dangerous mountain called covenant and found when I got to the top the battles I had fought to get there and the convictions formed as I pushed my way upward were quite different than those of others I met along the way.

I died on that mountain.

It sent me down to the valley of great loss. I lived in that valley for a very long time, bearing heavy burdens, weeping great rivers of tears, carrying great shame and reproach. Much anger arose in my soul, great opportunity to accuse, question, blame others and myself. The greatest despair was to be found in knowing that God led me this way and in order to truly live out my convictions they had to be tested and proven. The pain with which it pleased Him to grieve me was that of authenticating my convictions and my love for Him above all else.

I died in that valley.

I climbed another mountain called hope it was a twin of the first peak I climbed. In fact I would fly from one to the other at times. This mountain had great promise of provision, breakthrough, dreams coming to pass, prophecies coming to fruition. None turned out the way I envisioned, expected or believed for.

I died on that mountain.

It collapsed beneath my feet and plunged me into a wilderness of depression. In that wilderness I could do nothing but cry, I could not provide anything for myself as every little task became a mountain to me. That is where I met ravens who came and fed me, nurtured me, wept with me and prayed….they were from the very heart of God and sustained my weary soul.

I died in that wilderness.

I finally got up from there and traveled to the beautiful Garden of Gethsemane, the place that caused me to know the aloneness of the soul from all other humans and the absolute sacrifice of my will to His. No one could go there with me, it was my place to go alone, to wrestle my flesh, the Lord and the devil. It was not pretty, definitely not easy, and not something I took lightly. The more I suffered the closer He came for He understood, He’d been there before.

I died in that Garden.

Unbeknownst to me, the next step was the cross. The place where my crown was that of thorns—all hell against my mind, the nails in my hands and feet, held me in a place where I could do nothing, and go nowhere. There I was for the entire world to see helpless, hopeless, dieing, and bleeding. Thieves, religious mindsets, friends, devils all seemingly opposing, accusing, misunderstanding all exacting the blows that would finish my cross. I found that in my nothingness, inability, nakedness and helplessness He became my all, my ability, my covering and my help. He found me beautiful in that place in only a way He can.

I died on that cross.

That death sent me to the pit of hell. In that hell I found the devil holding keys that were mine. I did not know they were mine. Weary from the battles, the death, the aloneness, and hopelessness, I could not see that he had no power to keep them. He taunted me for days, hours, and moments reminding of my failures, my lack, my past, convincing me I had no hope for the future, why because I was there and I was not capable of anything. I found the Lord saving my soul as He showed me that from the womb, the enemy had 3 lies he had whispered that now had become shouts within me and my interpretation of all that was around me. They were truth to me, I believed and allowed them to determine my thoughts, decisions and interpretations of things. I did not know for they were intricately woven within my soul, but TRUTH came and He crushed those things and told me the real truth, the truth that brings life.

I have not died here…I am fighting for those keys. The keys that are mine, that were given to me by the king to rule the portion He has allotted to me. I have seen a glimpse of them but have not yet held them. The danger for the enemy is that now I know he has them and they are mine. I have not died these many deaths in vain. I know I am nothing and that is a great weapon because all that I am not…He is. I know I have no ability, anointing, or favor unless He has mercy and grace towards me and extends it to me. I know the keys the enemy is keeping from me are powerful and able to unlock the chains of many and open huge doors for others or else he would not be holding on so tightly and fighting so ferociously. I hate him and he hates me. We have that in common.

I have died many deaths this year, some I have died well and with great grace and ease, others I have died screaming, cussing and crying all the way down without any poise, grace or spirituality. But this one thing I know---I’m in love with God and God’s in love with me, this is who I am and this is who I’ll be and that settles it completely.

Ministry of the Shelf Life

We find many products on our shelves that have a shelf life. They are best if used by the date stamped somewhere on the package. We often keep certain things for rainy days, for someday down the road, or we would just like to try it sometime. Often, we find the day we desire to use it, and the date is expired… we wonder can it still be used. Maybe it’s best before this date, but certainly it would be fine after the date…wouldn’t it?

During certain times of our lives, we might find ourselves where God has prophecied, developed, and prepared us and we are ready to be exactly who He has called us to be. He then allows us to step out, maybe even pushes us out to begin to function in those giftings. Just as we begin to gain confidence and see why we’ve been through the refining process, what all the heat and stretching on the conveyor belt of His divine factory was all about, we are removed, boxed and shelved…to be used at a later date.

Yet, the shelf life is not what it seems. It is not that you are not useful, you messed up, your best days are behind you or that your creator likes to play mean games. He is not just getting your hopes up to then crush them. No, the shelf life is when you know who you are, the product God has made you to be. But the shelf, the still, unuseful, not being utilized, or added to anything around you place of seeming stagnation, is the final test of where your heart is. The test of where your security truly lies.

Is it in who you are, your gifts, and abilities? Is it in who others think you are? Is it in you thinking that you know how you will be used? Can you be just as satisfied, secure and confident in the hidden place on the shelf as you are in the obvious, public, useful place?

This is the place where it’s wrestled out from within…whether your identity is in Him who made you or in what He called you to do. This is the place of patience and trust knowing that HE has stamped seasons on our life and He knows when those times expire. He knows that we will be best if used by… but His timing isn’t necessarily about a specific day, it often involves the response of our heart…our heart readiness.

He is not just after the product being useful and having purpose. He cares about us and how we will be affected by the pressures, requirements, and temptations we will face once we are fully released.

He knows the end from the beginning and knows what faces us down the road. The greatest gift of love is to test our security so that we will know regardless of being loved or hated, our identity and safety lies in Him. Our hope is in Him, our purpose is in Him and for Him. But, we have to taste usefulness, success and then have it be pulled away to test us to see if our identity, passions and heart are about the call or about Him who called us.

He gives and He takes away. Does He do it to frustrate, embitter, or cause us to doubt. No, He does it to do us good in the end. He tests us so we can travel through the paths of frustration, visit the streams of bitterness and taste the fruit of self doubt and doubting Him. We then have to choose if we will walk from frustration to the path of peace, visit but not drink in bitterness, wrestle with the taste of doubting, and decide that we like the taste of His goodness and trusting Him much more.

We then realize that regardless of where we find ourselves, being added to other ingredients in His kingdom or placed specifically on the shelf to be called upon for another time, we are secure. Secure in knowing our life is not our own, we are His for whatever He needs, whenever He sees fit.

Down the road, we may be the donkey He needs to carry destiny on our back whether to Bethlehem or through the streets of Jerusalem. We may be the tree that helps others climb to see Jesus. We may be the clothing used to cover another’s shame, or a stone to slay a giant.

We might find ourselves called to be a deliverer of millions, shelved in the desert for 40 years, or shelved in prison until the time to save a nation. Maybe we will be a voice in the wilderness, or an alabaster bottle filled with the fragrance of Christ’s character broken just to minister to someone our great love in a time of their greatest need.

The shelf life is a special time that digs into deeply hidden places in order to bring them to the light so that the fullness of all He is will be what brings us life.

Great is His Faithfulness

In His faithfulness

40 years ago He spoke to a young woman of 32 who already had 6 children, was very poor and had no insurance and said “Have another child”

--that child was me

In His faithfulness

as an 8 year old He got a hold of my heart and caused me to visit the altar many times in conviction.

In His faithfulness

because He had more for us then dead religion, He allowed my parents to get fired from the Christian school where they taught because we visited another church where they believed in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He led us into a place through difficulty so that we might have more of Him.

In His faithfulness

He saw a young 19 year old girl who fell in love and had plans to get married to a particular young man—He supernaturally broke us up…because He had something better.

In His faithfulness

He found me 2 years later, still reeling from the “divorce” of my heart, having given up hope, gone my own way – looking everywhere for something or someone to stop the pain…He called me away to Himself, He wanted to be that something.

In His faithfulness

He set me aside for six months, called me to quit my job, move back home and then gave me an older woman and a prayer partner who encouraged, prayed with me and helped me to stay on the course of righteousness

In His faithfulness

He caused me to meet the man He had chosen for me—allowed it to be completely different than anything I had ever known in order to deal with my flesh, my carnal emotions and to grow in trust in Him.

In His faithfulness

He gave me the best in my marriage and required me to have children before I wanted; causing me to put ministry and other things He had spoken on the back burner.

In His faithfulness

He knew the hardships of having children would deal with my selfishness, laziness, apathy, bad attitude and harshness and He knew the joy of having children—would cause me to give and receive love, and laugh like I never had. He knew family would do more to prepare me to minister then just stepping out and “doing ministry”.

In His faithfulness

He called us to start a church around the same time we started our family---with no money, no real training, no other families with small children…just a word from Him and our obedience. Through our difficulties in the early years of our relationship He gave us a heart to call people to a higher purity in singleness, and to build strong foundations in marriages—through this He added to us many spiritual sons and daughters.

In His faithfulness

As we began to prosper in Tallahassee and see things we had been hoping and praying for come to pass, He saw a people in another place calling for a church, He chose to send as an answer to that call and we started over again.

In His faithfulness

He called me to home school, although I never liked school the first time, and called Chip to stay home when He had been sending him overseas. He did this to bring us rest and bring our family together in a different way…great patience it has produced.

In His faithfulness

He has kept us through great financial difficulty, relational disappointments, and delayed promises. He has softened our hearts yet strengthened them, focused our vision yet enlarged us, allowed us to die to many of our dreams in order to give us the dreams He has for us; which are much better and larger than ours.

In His faithfulness

He brought us here to this great people of Atlanta in order to labor, cry, believe and battle together. That we would see lives changed one at a time, marriages built, babies born, children trained, the youth released in gifting and destiny, and campuses reached. That we would be a diverse people connected together through one heart and one vision—to love God and love people.

In His faithfulness

He has helped us and kept us as we wandered in a dry desert place. He has loved us so much that He has allowed the bondages and mentalities of Egypt to be purged out of us so that we might truly SEE HIM and step into the fullness of His promises.

In His faithfulness

He has prepared, refined and brought us to this point, right here, right now to be alive for such a time as this.

In His faithfulness

He is calling us upward, to fly higher, reach farther, and to take hold of our inheritance. He is calling us to have courage and risk again. Because of the great record of His faithfulness, He is beckoning us forward to trust Him for more as we remember how He has led us and kept us this far. He is faithful and true.

Transitioning Well --Part 2

Now to transition, the part I really wanted to get to. “Transition is generally the shortest part of labor; however, this is also the most intense part. Transition is similar to scaling the last large cliff of the mountain. It takes tremendous energy and support to make it through this short, yet difficult part. The major emotional marker for this stage is GIVING UP. It is not uncommon for a mother to say, “I can’t do this,” or “I need something.”

Have you ever felt the intensity or battle for your dream so strongly, the weariness, the exhaustion from the fight, voices in your head, pushes you towards giving up? Pastor Jim Laffoon, preached a message at City Life called Becoming a Giant. He said, “In moments of crisis, transition, going to the next level, the devil will magnify the voices of those who have said negative things about you or have ever hurt you. You will hear with a megaphone everything that has been whispered for years. The more impossible it seems to you, it seems impossible to the devil too. He doesn’t believe it could be different. When torment and fear come …you cower down. Instead, get the word and run toward it. The devil isn’t used to someone running after him.” These are great words of truth from a man who has fought many battles naturally, spiritually and physically.

I can’t help but identify with the “I need something”. Definitely when in natural labor, it is very hard to know what you need as all of your senses are extra intense and you just want the pain to stop! What helps is when others who know you and are discerning, help encourage and coach you during this time.

“Remain Calm, Remain Positive, Keep It Simple, and Remind Her of Her Progress,” Jennifer shares as the main tips for those coaching a laboring mothering during transition. “The laboring mother is very suggestible. If you look or act concerned or stressed she will pick up on it and become concerned that something is wrong. You must keep yourself calm and relaxed. If necessary, take a step back, take a deep breath and remind yourself that transition is normal. She is highly suggestible to negative comments, she needs you to be positive, and encourage her that she is doing well. Tell her how good she is doing, how proud you are of her.

A woman in transition doesn’t have energy to waste, and if you try to give her detailed or complicated directions she many not remember them when you are finished speaking. Give her simple commands. Remind her of her progress, some women find it easier to handle the intensity of transition when they realize it is transition. Knowing that they are almost done can give some women a burst of energy or confidence.

We all might find ourselves in different seasons, as a coach for those in transition. Keeping ourselves calm for their sakes and not responding negatively to them will cause a much easier and blessed process for all those concerned. But we should all go beyond not being negative, by BEING POSITIVE. As a support for them we can build up and encourage. Although their dream might not be yours, speak life to the dream they have. Tell them how good they will be at it, print out articles that might interest them, pray for them and give them scriptures to hold on to during tough times.

Maybe they don’t know they are in the transition phase from laboring to birthing and you could encourage them in that. They will then feel strengthened and get a new burst of energy and confidence. We can all use that.

Anyway, if you know someone close to you who is in transition, don’t get frustrated because they are not who they have always been to you or they are extra focused or sensitive right now. Pick up on the fact that something has changed, ask them questions if you are unsure what is going on and then it might be good to leave them alone for a season. This is definitely not the time to be selfish. It would be similar to me being at the point of birthing a natural baby and my husband asking me to focus on him, because he feels left out or as if I’m not paying attention to him (hmmmm!) Maybe he asks me to run and get him something to eat…this labor stuff has made him hungry (this is not a real life example-smile). I have often laughed at the exhaustion, or tiredness men proclaim after their wife has a baby. Now truly it is emotionally exhausting for men to see their wives go through labor but all things considered who is the one who has paid the price and needs the sympathy and support? The same with those in transition or moving forward in other things. Don’t take it personal or try to get them to focus on you. That could keep them from being faithful to what they are to be doing because they feel responsible for you. Love them enough to let them focus on other things.

Now with that, if you are the one in transition, communication is the key. You cannot expect others to always know that things have changed with you. With practical things it can be very obvious as in a job change or moving to a new location. But, if it is more spiritual or calling oriented once you have a pretty clear picture of what is going on it is good to share those things with others that are close to you. Whenever things are changing for you it will always affect others in one way or another. Since we know that, it is truly a great kindness to share it with others at a proactive time. Often, we shift, or know something is changing and we wait until conflict happens and then react to others reactions. On the other hand, maybe conflict doesn’t happen but those that you left out of the process feel hurt or unsure. It often can create great insecurity. Neither of those ways of handling changes is good. We can save us and others so much unnecessary pain if we would think about how our changes might affect them.

Jesus was great at communicating about transition. The 3 ½ years he walked with his disciples he communicated that he was with them for a while but that he would be leaving them. He shared the fact that he would die on the cross, be buried, but that he would be raised up after three days. They didn’t understand it all until it happened, but when they looked back they realized he had been preparing them.

We need to be like Jesus and prepare others when we can about changes in our lives. They might not understand at first, we often don’t understand fully ourselves, but that’s not our responsibility. Ours is the responsibility to care for those around us by communicating with compassion.

It’s hard when people change. It causes us to have to adjust our hearts and expectations. Even if communication is given we don’t always understand until after the change has happened. But if we can be open hearted and open minded we will be free from trying to keep others in the box/role we have always known them and we will break out of our own box!

In closing, many of us have lived through cycles of birthing. We have birthed personal freedom, our family and friend’s freedom, other ministries and many have been involved in the birthing of the Atlanta church, City Life. We have now entered into a transition of birthing we have never experienced before. God is birthing our individual calls and identities in Christ as it relates to His purpose in our city and our generation.

May God bless you greatly in whatever stage you find yourself.

[1] Jennifer VanderLaan and Birthing Naturally,

Transitioning Well--Part 1

All of life is about change and transition. We change, the people around us change, the world, even landscape along the road you ride down every day. New shops, subdivisions, and Starbucks seem to appear daily.

We go from being part of a certain family, leaving for college, a job or just moving out, then usually onto marriage and a new family. Then, just when you adjust to that new spouse in your life, the baby arrives. Babies, cause nothing but change. You change diapers, clothes, bottles, perspectives, attitudes, everything. Soon babies grow into children who require different things from you. The children grow into teens, and the teens grow into wonderful new challenges that produce one of the greatest transition tests, the test of letting go.

Now, we all know life has many transitions, yet I find that in times of transition few people process it well. We all need to have greater grace to understand and walk with wisdom in the timings, seasons and proper progressions of what God is doing not only in us but in those around us.

The first area I want to talk about is Birthing. Now men don’t run away from this topic, I believe this analogy fits well with what I want to teach. Besides, women have heard a million analogies about football, basketball and Braveheart, etc (yawn-just kidding) and we can grasp the truths with open hearts, because some of us women are Bravehearts! Anyway, here I go with birthing. Men hold on tight.

God is a creator and life giver. He requires us to birth things in the earth. Often that is a term used when referring to intense prayer or intercession. It can be called birthing prayer. Well, we all have dreams in our hearts, some realized and some unrealized. In the unrealized state you could be considered pregnant with an idea, concept or dream. During this time, it is important to be careful “what you eat”, and to take care of that “baby” dream inside of you. You need to nurture it with the right care and proper thoughts, read inspiring books on the area that connects to it, pray a lot for God to bless it and to bring it forth.

Once you have carried something for a long time something switches and it seems as if great frustration seems to be your companion. Moodiness, lack of sleep, people bugging you, an overall sense of “I’m sick of being pregnant” could I get this baby out of me!!!

Now the new fun begins, active labor. According to Jennifer VanderLaan, “As active labor progresses, you will become more serious or “focused”. You will naturally spend less energy on “non-labor” activities such as moving or talking. The increased focus it takes to labor prevents concerns with societal norms leading to decrease in modesty and the pleasantries of conversation.” [i] (All the women who’ve had babies say, “AMEN!”)

As a mother, I completely understand the truth of those things having experienced them in the natural. Yet, I cannot but help to see how they can be applied to destiny and dreams. So when it becomes time to produce something in the natural it requires more focus. You will stop doing extra things that don’t help your labor (watching t.v., spending time with friends, reading books that don’t help the dream). Often, you will find a “decrease in modesty”—talking more positively about yourself, declaring what you are doing and accomplishing, some might interpret it as pride rather than strength of focus or conviction. Also, you probably won’t have time for pleasant conversations (“chit, chat”), any extra time needs to be spent talking to God getting His heart and mind, talking with those called alongside you to build, talking out the plan.

“Many women, find themselves tuning out the world around them, sometimes called “going inside yourself,” helps them to stay relaxed and handle the labor/contractions more effectively. For those it is the focusing phase, this is when you might feel as though no one understands; you tune out the world and don’t want anyone to touch you. It causes your focus to be lost if people “touch it” at this point because they don’t always understand where you are and what is going on. If they “touch it” through putting their two cents worth in it can often hinder you, send you in a wrong direction or cause you to lose precious emotional or mental time.

[i] Jennifer VanderLaan and Birthing Naturally,