November 11, 2013

Who Do You Think You Are?!

“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed…” Romans 8:19

Who do you think you are?!  God knows who you are. The enemy knows who you are. Creation even longs for you to know who you are. But do you know? Do I? And what would happen if we did? How would we act? What would our lives look like?

When we really boil down most of our struggles, problems and needs it usually comes down to the question of our identity and value. It's been the question that's been asked since the beginning of time. A sense of identity and value was lost in the Garden when Adam and Eve entertained the doubts posed by the serpent about God's goodness and they believed the lie that the Father's way was inferior and His motives were suspect. They acted on that lie and chose their own path apart from His way and were driven from the presence of the One who created them, who knew them and who defined them. Thus began the search for identity and worth apart from God. 

When Moses was commissioned by God at the burning bush, his first thought was to doubt his abilities and his worthiness for such a task. It’s almost as if Moses turned around to see if God was talking to someone behind him with a, “Who me? Are You sure You got the right guy?” He questioned God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" Moses practically begged the Lord to send someone else. He just couldn't seem to believe that God had picked the right guy. God conceded in letting Moses' brother Aaron speak for him but it was obviously not His first choice.  And when Moses finally approached Pharaoh, Pharaoh fanned the flame of Moses' insecurity by asking him, “Who do you think you are?” every time Moses approached with his request. Moses’ worth and identity were attacked and questioned by Korah and Dathan and even his own brother and sister. But at some point Moses must have come to grips with it. Because there is no leader (other than Jesus of course) in Biblical history more respected than Moses. He had challenges and he had opposition but at some point in his regular conversations with God, Moses got His heart and he accepted God's calling and walked it out. And in the end, the world had no doubt about who Moses was and what God thought of him.

It’s what the enemy has always been afraid of us finding out. He is terrified of us knowing who God has declared us to be. He is terrified of us finding out our tremendous value to the Uncreated One and about the inheritance that’s ours NOW and the purpose and authority we carry in Christ. And he will pull out all the stops and plant thoughts or use people to speak his lies over us. Lies that we are failures, we are worthless, we’ve made too many mistakes, we are hopeless, we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough… you fill in the blank. He causes us to question our identity so that he can lead us away from God’s plans for us. He’s afraid of God’s plan. When Jesus was in the Garden, with each temptation the devil intoned “IF You are the Son of God”, “IF You are the Son of God.” It’s the button he always pushes. It’s the target he always aims for. It’s the question that’s always raised- Who are we? He doesn’t want us to know so he attempts to place doubt and confusion. If he tried it on Jesus, we can be sure that he’ll certainly try it on us.

I want to know who God says I am. I want to stand firm and not budge when my value is questioned or I’m told the opposite. I want my default to be God’s opinion above mans and to be so rooted and grounded in His truth that nothing or nobody can shake that sure knowing. This is a challenge living in a world populated by imperfect people who are often wrong and who say stupid things. And the enemy will sometimes use the most unlikely people to speak his lies over us. He doesn’t just use wicked deviants in back alleys because they’d be too easy to spot. But he has been known to use parents, pastors, bosses, authority figures, loved ones and friends as his mouthpiece. And if we’re honest we’ll admit that there have been times he’s even used us because let’s face it- we have ALL at some point been stupid and have voiced things to others that aren’t consistent with God’s truth or His heart for them. 

Who do you think you are?

Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding California says it like this “I cannot afford to have a thought in my head about me that’s not in His.”
What is in His head about us? How do we find out? There are enough voices around us eager to express their opinions but I encourage you to really know for yourself and not just because someone told you so. You are valuable and precious to Him. But don't take my word for it either. There comes a time in our lives as Christians that we need to find out for ourselves. Ask God and read the word for yourself. God does give us teachers and pastors to guide us and this is good but their instruction was never meant to replace our own personal journey of discovery. Shepherds help by leading the sheep safely to the good grass but they don’t then chew it up, spit it out and spoon feed it to them. The sheep feed themselves. If you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, you are fully capable of hearing from God. You may not be an ordained minister but you did not receive a smaller portion of the Holy Spirit when you believed. You got the full package!

Years ago, we were faced with a decision that affected our family. We fasted and prayed, got Godly counsel and after a while Keith and I both were certain about the direction God was leading us in and we proceeded in that direction. However, our pastor at that time and his wife met with us and basically told us that they knew what God’s will was for us in this matter and that we were wrong. Now understand, this wasn’t the type decision where we were wondering if we should engage in a life of sin or not. Rather, our decision involved personal choices like- Do we take this job or go to school? Do we move to this state or to that one? Since we had been so rigorously taught about the importance of respecting authority and to never ‘touch God’s anointed’, that after their conversation with us, we were honestly confused for a season. But with the exception of what they said to us, every single thing pointed to the fact that we had made the right decision and time proved it to be so. But during my period of confusion I shared the situation with an older saint who had walked many years with the Lord and she confidently said to me, “Kayla, you and Keith are perfectly capable of hearing from the Lord yourselves. And nobody’s going to hear clearer than you and your husband about what concerns your family.” Now that’s wisdom! Every one of God's children is capable of hearing from Him for themselves. Don't let anyone tell you any different. Kind of off the subject of identity but concerning this sort of thing that happened with our former pastor- years ago we heard a series of messages by Dean Sherman and something he said really stuck with me. It was  basically this-

Authority has its jurisdiction. On this earth there’s governmental authority, there’s church authority and there’s family authority.  A policeman has authority over you in regards to the law but in your own house, were a police officer to come in and tell you what to cook or how to run your home, he’d be out of his jurisdiction. Civil and pastoral authority doesn’t usurp a husband or a father’s authority unless he’s a danger to his family. Anyone who attempts to do that, has crossed the line of their assigned jurisdiction and has moved into control and manipulation.

All of that to say this: If you are a child of God, you are capable of hearing from Him yourself, period. Don’t doubt that. Authority is God-ordained for our protection and guidance, but never as a substitute for God’s voice.  Know God for yourself, know His word and know who you are in Him. Everyone misses it sometimes, but anyone who consistently encourages dependence on a person to hear God for you or your family, then that voice is not speaking truth and should be ignored. Don’t minimize the power of the Spirit of God living inside of you. We must know for ourselves, who we are.

I know I have only scratched the surface here but the importance of knowing what God has declared us to be is a pretty big deal. I think it’s ground zero for every single Christian and until we have a revelation of our value to God and our identity as His dearly loved children, then we are building on a foundation of sand and it will affect our entire perspective and alter the course of our lives. Just imagine how really knowing who you are (that you are a son/daughter) would change everything. A son is going to approach his Father differently than a servant. He knows he is a son and nothing or nobody can convince him otherwise and there is no hesitation or shame in approaching his Daddy. A beloved daughter knows her wise Father's plans are for her good and not for her harm and so she trusts Him and is eager to do what He says- not in order to earn His love, but because she is loved. Children who know they are treasured will likewise recognize the value of others and will view and treat them as they've been treated. A Ruler's son knows his Dad is stronger than his adversaries. He will face his enemy with confidence knowing His Daddy and all the power of heaven have his back. The King's daughter knows her Dad is rich and generous and that He delights in giving her good things. And she gives no thought to the absurdity that He would not meet her every need or provide for her. Knowing. Changes. Everything!

Determine to know who you are. Set your heart on a pilgrimage. We start by seeking Him, He answers by revealing Himself. Most of us could quote the scriptures about His love for us, about being seated in the heavenlies with Christ, about being the righteousness of God in Christ, us having the mind of Christ, being co-heirs with Christ etc. but are we living like we believe it? Has it permeated our entire life and become our reality? I’ve had some good teaching in my life and I’m thankful for it, but I’m not taking anyone’s word for it, I’m finding out for MYSELF. I’ve had some defining God-moments of revelation that have definitely affected my life, but I want the truth of my parentage to permanently alter my course. 

So who do you think you are? "As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is." (Proverbs 23:7)
God thinks some pretty great thoughts about us and has some amazing plans, much better than we could imagine. But we must start thinking like Him. If it takes an entire lifetime, I'm determined to know who I am. Even the creation waits eagerly for us to realize that we believers are sons and daughters of the living God-complete with all of the inheritance afforded, value attributed and authority given to a dearly loved son or daughter by a loving and good Father. When we really truly know for ourselves, the sky is not the limit. It's just the beginning.

October 6, 2013

For God's Eyes Only

My cat Moses being a literal writing block
"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens...a time to be silent and a time to speak." Ecclesiastes 3.
I may not have written in a long time on this blog but despite my absence, I do write. I write A LOT. Every day. For hours. And I have every day for nearly THIRTY years! I’m not trying to infer that I’m somehow more awesome because of this fact because to be honest, it’s as much of my life as putting on my contacts every morning or bathing every night. I’d even say it’s as necessary to my life as breathing, but that might be a tad dramatic. I suppose if I lost both hands in a horrific chimp attack I wouldn’t die from not being able to write but I do think that not only would writing be the thing I’d miss the most but it would affect how I process my emotions. Well God willing I won’t lose my hands anytime soon, so every day, come hail or high water, I write. It is not just a hobby or a habit, it is a vital part of who I am and how I tick. It frankly keeps me emotionally sound.

It’s a very unusual morning that will not find me, pen and coffee in hand, hunkered down over my simple spiral notebook. I seriously should own stock in the Mead company. Heaven to me would be to own the perfect fluid writing pen with a cushioned grip and enough ink to survive an entire notebook. I go through at least one pen a week. Maybe it's the pen company I should own stock in. Anyhow, you’d think with all that writing I’d be more proficient and have plenty of profound words to share with the world. But to be honest, the daily words I pen are for mine and God’s eyes alone. I’ve often told Keith that were I to kick the bucket suddenly that he probably needs to burn my boxes of notebooks. I don’t exaggerate. I have BOXES of them.

I started journaling in my early twenties. I read a book by Catherine Marshall (the author who most impacted my life) about how she wrote prayer journals to the Lord for years and years. I decided to try it, just pouring my heart out to the Lord- the good, the bad, the ugly. It’s the bad and the ugly parts that make me want them destroyed in the event of my demise. Because I don’t hold back from talking to God. I figure He knows it all anyway, so why not just be brutally honest? It’s not like I can shock Him. So I pour out the things I’d not share with anyone- my frustrations, my joys, my worries and fears, my jealousies, my greatest longings, my failures, sometimes my fury, and often my praise. Through my talking to Him all these years, God has become my confidante and my friend. He’s a safe place to vent. I’m not going to influence Him or cause Him to stumble. He listens and hears and cares and then when I’m spent, He gently walks with me through my tangle of emotions and He leads me to see the whole picture, not just my narrow-minded, emotional view. When life happens, sometimes suddenly taking my breath away, I find myself running to my notebook to write it down. It helps my scattered mind to focus so I can get down to business with God. Although yes, it is a place to unleash my thoughts and feelings, my motive and desire in these writings is to seek truth, to seek God’s perspective. And if I truly want it, He does give it. I know not everyone needs to do this and I suppose I would have still grown up to be a responsible adult had I never journaled. But it’s a tool I stumbled upon years ago and I never would have imagined that thirty years later I’d still be writing every single day.

There are the rare days where I’ll not fill an entire page.  But more often than not the words spill unedited out of my pen, page after page after page. Then there are the dark days when I tear through epic amounts of paper and ink until I fight my way through to the light. It can get intense and ugly sometimes, but He is safe. He knows what I mean. And He always leads me home. Especially in the processing phase, His word and Spirit’s influence in the secret place are vital. When our hearts are in a fragile, malleable place, the careless opinions of others can confuse our path. In such times, I guess I am extra careful what I share and to keep my thoughts for God’s eyes only.

I was raised in a different era. It was a time when, for the most part, certain things just weren’t shared or talked about and often things that should have been discussed were shelved or swept under the rug and kept to oneself. But as with most things, when something swings to one extreme we can over-compensate by swinging to the opposite extreme.  Either way it remains out of balance. And today, conversely our kids are being raised in an uncensored culture where nothing is left to the imagination and too much is shared. Today’s social media and reality shows are shaping this generation in such a way that discretion is becoming a thing of the past.

I use social media a lot and I’m not saying it’s bad, in and of itself. It can be a very useful and enjoyable tool. But the easy access to being heard by an opinionated audience can prove to be too big a temptation for some. Any random thought that occurs to us can be instantly shared seconds after it arrives in our brain.  We can get feedback immediately and be influenced and persuaded and heading down a particular path before we’ve fully processed or filtered the thought. Before social media, when we got aggravated, we would just mutter to ourselves, complain to our spouse and pray until we got breakthrough. By the time we actually saw someone, we would have had time to sort it through and to come to our senses before we had the opportunity to speak about it. But not so anymore. Today's unfiltered, premature sharing is like serving a cake half-baked or delivering a baby before it’s due. Social media’s encouragement for individuals to expose their tender hearts and uncensored thoughts to the masses is tainting this generation's understanding of the need for discretion. And in the area of entertainment, particularly with reality tv, there is nothing sacred or kept private anymore. There are some harmless, fun reality shows that I love to watch.  But this generation's constant exposure to the shameless voyeurism into the secret lives of other people for sheer entertainment is corrupting their understanding of the need for dignity.

I've succumbed all too often to the culture of over-exposure and have shared things I wasn't ready to or I shouldn't have. We all have done it. And there IS a time to speak. There's a time to testify and to proclaim. But especially when our hearts are in that fragile in-between place, before it's found it's way home, there needs to be a journey into the secret place where Gods perspective and heart are sought. It's wisdom to process our thoughts through His word and Spirit before we unveil them raw to the world. But even in times of strength, God's secret place is necessary, safe and beautiful.

"Here it's You and me alone God; You and me alone
You've hedged me in. With skin, all around me
I'm a garden enclosed; A locked garden
Life takes place. Behind the face". ~ Misty Edwards

Some things are private and just not appropriate to be shared. Some things are not safe to be shared except with certain trustworthy people. Some things are just not ready to be shared until they've had time to be sifted through the Truth. And some things are just for God’s eyes only.

Like my notebooks.

"O my people, trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him for God is our refuge." 

Psalm 62:8

June 25, 2013

A Love Story

Our first official date
I actually heard Keith's voice before I ever saw him. I was nine years old and my family had just moved to Ruston, Louisiana and we were visiting area churches. That particular Sunday landed us at Emmanuel Baptist Church on Farmerville Highway. I had already started fourth grade at Hillcrest Elementary and I didn’t see any of my new friends there so I was suitably unimpressed. But during a rousing rendition of 'How Great Thou Art' a melodic, distinctly masculine voice from the pew behind me reached my ears. I nonchalantly turned my head and in my peripherals I beheld the most beautiful sight my nine year old eyes had ever seen. He was tall, he was tan with dark tousled hair, and he was extremely handsome. And I was immediately and soundly smitten. But he was a sophisticated THIRTEEN year old in the eighth grade, much too old to take notice of a bespectacled, skinny, brace face in grade school. 

Well my parents did eventually join Emmanuel and I didn’t protest a bit. Our parents even became close friends much to my delight. And better yet, my cousin became his best friend which put him at our house on a regular basis. When my cousin allowed it, they let me tag along after Sunday night church for pizza. Thankfully Keith wasn't unkind. He included me. He teased me. He gave me a nickname- Bug. That’s all he ever called me. I absolutely loved it. I wrote his name on the back of my school notebooks and then drew pictures over them. But I knew what was underneath. And I never quit hoping. Every bit of attention paid, every perceived flirtation, all my tender young hopes of romance were wistfully penned in my diary. My dream of one day marrying Keith Johnson never wavered. 

Well, the years passed and he joined the Navy when he was nineteen. Before he left, he hugged me and called me my name, not Bug. I wondered if he was finally seeing me as a woman (after all I WAS sixteen years old now). But life took us in opposite directions. I had high school to complete and the Navy took him far away so what might have begun at that time was delayed. He got into relationships. I got into relationships. He was stationed in Florida and then South Carolina and I was stuck in Louisiana. But one Christmas he came home on leave and I finally caught his eye. And although I had a boyfriend, we started writing each other letters. He called me one day when I wasn’t home and although I wanted to, because I was in a relationship, I never called him back. Then on the very day I broke up with my boyfriend, I finally returned his call. And we talked. And we talked. And we talked some more.  We talked so often and so long that Keith eventually had to sell his truck to pay his phone bill. My dad knew Keith and his family and he knew he was a catch. At that point in my troubled young life I'd made enough wrong choices that my dad was nervous I might miss this golden opportunity (He needn't have worried). He viewed paying our enormous phone bill as an investment in my future and he did it without TOO much grumbling ;). For four months we talked every day for hours on end. I was a senior in high school and many a night I reluctantly hung up the phone an hour before my alarm was set to go off. Keith often showed up to work red eyed after talking to me all night long. Then oh happy day- he finally came home on leave. By our second date, we were engaged. He flew back home once more before our wedding in the spring to attend my senior prom with me.

I graduated high school in May and a month later on June 25, we married.  

June 25, 1983And here thirty years later, I have no regrets.
I can truthfully say that I have spent the last three decades with the man of my dreams and my best friend and it has far exceeded my girlhood expectations.
Stationed in Scotland
We’ve been blessed to travel the world with the Navy, to have four beautiful children and now a grandson.

We've lived in South Carolina, Florida, Hawaii (twice), Connecticut (twice), Scotland, Louisiana and now Missouri. We've moved more times than I can count. 

But maybe the most beautiful thing has been discovering and journeying together in our pursuit of God. We’ve grown up together. We’ve gone from foolish and worldly to curious and hungry, to ultimately determined that ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’. We’ve laughed a lot, dreamed a lot, loved a lot and have prayed a lot. Now don’t get me wrong. We’ve made our share of mistakes. We’ve had disappointments and failures. We’ve suffered loss and rejection. We’ve walked through a lot together these many years. But I can stand here thirty years later and say that we are profoundly blessed and I wouldn’t change a thing.

There's not another person i would rather do life with than Keith Johnson. There's not another person on earth who understands me and sees me as I am yet accepts me and loves me and honors me. And there's no other who I respect like I do him, nobody who can make me laugh like he can. He's a man of great wisdom. There's a high level anointing on his life to preach and prophesy. The authority he carries bring a sense of peace wherever he goes and young people are drawn to the shelter of his daddy's heart. He has selflessly provided our family with a protective covering and a loving foundation. 

Our relationship has matured and evolved over the years. It's amazing what God has done. There's so much more to our love story that is locked away in the secret places of our hearts but our beautiful story is still being written and I look forward to many more decades of love, laughter and adventure together.
Our beautiful grandbaby Gabriel Michael Ortego

So today on the anniversary of our marriage, I want to honor this man who caught my eye when I was nine years old. I've loved you since I was in fourth grade, Keith Johnson. We've come a long way! I am blessed among women. Happy Anniversary honey. You still are my sunshine!
From two kids who married in 1983 has come this beautiful anointed family. God is indeed good!