I Just Don’t Care

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In response to his uncle’s teasing at a Thanksgiving celebration, our youngest grandson (three years old at the time) simply turned and walked away saying, “well, I just don’t care.” All of us burst out laughing and since that time, the phrase has become a common response in our family.

But something important happened. A small child evaluated the situation and reached a wise conclusion all in a matter of seconds.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I’ve had a year or so to consider how beautifully that little boy delivered a life lesson. His ability to clearly see a potentially awkward or uncomfortable encounter on the horizon enabled him to cut it off before it even had a chance to become anything. He wasn’t clouded by “what if’s” or “maybes”. He just stood his ground and declared truth.

We care too much, sometimes. We take on worries about stuff that doesn’t matter, and those worries weigh us down, cause stress, inhibit our growth, block opportunities, and they can immobilize us completely. We have all experienced a measure of that since Covid-19 changed the world. It’s hard to say we just don’t care when the crisis (real or manufactured) is thrown in our faces all the time.

Here’s the thing.

We have the Father God, who has given us His Holy Spirit to help us to discern what is worth caring about and what isn’t. We can rely on His direction when we don’t know whether or not to get involved in things that could potentially harm us or move us ahead. We have Jesus, the Counselor, who teaches us what we need to know, where to find answers, and when to act.

Keeping our eyes on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith, give us the confidence to say, “well, I just don’t care,” when the enemy lies to us, in whatever form that may take. And he will lie because deception is all the devil knows to do.

Care about the things that really matter. Walk away from the rest.

Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ.So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always. Philippians 4:6-8 (TPT)

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Constructive Criticism

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Constructive criticism is one of the most enormous oxymorons I’ve ever encountered. There is nothing constructive about criticism.

I am very familiar with this process and its disguises: effective feedback, productive assessment, practical observation, etc. I used them all during my management years. Almost every employee or colleague encounter of this nature, no matter how skillfully orchestrated, resulted in myriad hurts, resentment, and a decrease in job performance.

Why?

Because these conversations were seldom initiated with the receiver’s best interests in mind. They were usually about what was going to benefit the department, or the company, and in some cases, the manager. I’ve been on both sides of meetings like this. Neither is pleasant. I do understand that sometimes the slack needs to be jerked out of certain situations, but there is a right way to do so. Please hear me out.

Constructive criticism (I even dislike typing the words) has leaked into Christian circles, perhaps even more so because it can be used to manipulate people in a seemingly spiritual way. How many times have you heard, “I believe the Lord wants me to tell you . . .”, or “God showed me something about you . . .”, as somebody proceeds to point out your faults and mistakes? This is particularly damaging when it comes from a pastor or church leader since it’s all in the name of Christian love, of course. Oh, and maybe they’ll offer to pray for you so they can feel good about ripping you to shreds.

Why do we feel so compelled to bring someone else’s dirty laundry into the light of day, whether that be in the form of gossip or right to their face? How can we even consider that it is our duty to bring life’s garbage to someone’s attention? Truth be told, they probably already know. And your words will likely do more damage than good. I’ve been on both sides of these meetings as well. They weren’t helpful.

Whatever happened to loving one another?

1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the bible’s love chapter, gives us a really good picture of what love looks like and how that needs to be lived out every day. There is no room for criticism, constructive or otherwise. Even in the context of sincerely motivated feedback, love has to be the anchor. Otherwise, it’s just a clanging cymbal.

If you’ve been hurt by constructive criticism, ask God to help you to forgive those who have wronged you. Then allow Him to heal those hurts and so you can respond with love. If you’ve been the giver of such criticism, in any of its many forms, ask the Lord where you may need to ask for forgiveness. And allow Him to show you ways to go forward with love.

Read the following and think about it. A lot.

Love, the Motivation of Our Lives – 1 Corinthians 13 (TPT)

If I were to speak with eloquence in earth’s many languages, and in the heavenly tongues of angels, yet I didn’t express myself with love, my words would be reduced to the hollow sound of nothing more than a clanging cymbal.

And if I were to have the gift of prophecy with a profound understanding of God’s hidden secrets, and if I possessed unending supernatural knowledge, and if I had the greatest gift of faith that could move mountains, but have never learned to love, then I am nothing.

And if I were to be so generous as to give away everything I owned to feed the poor, and to offer my body to be burned as a martyr, without the pure motive of love, I would gain nothing of value.

Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offense. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.

Love never stops loving. It extends beyond the gift of prophecy, which eventually fades away. It is more enduring than tongues, which will one day fall silent. Love remains long after words of knowledge are forgotten.Our present knowledge and our prophecies are but partial, but when love’s perfection arrives, the partial will fade away. When I was a child, I spoke about childish matters, for I saw things like a child and reasoned like a child. But the day came when I matured, and I set aside my childish ways.

For now we see but a faint reflection of riddles and mysteries as though reflected in a mirror, but one day we will see face-to-face. My understanding is incomplete now, but one day I will understand everything, just as everything about me has been fully understood. Until then, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love—yet love surpasses them all. So above all else, let love be the beautiful prize for which you run.

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Get Your Own Word

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One of the “trademarks” of the Christian circles I was a part of for the past forty years was the overwhelming desire of many to receive a Word from God. People would flock to the prayer lines at the end of hours-long church services hoping that the pastor or guest speaker or someone would have a word from the Lord for them. When and if received, this word would presumably change their lives. For the better, of course.

Please understand that I absolutely believe God can and does give messages to people through others. I have delivered a few myself. But I also know how easy it would be to speak out something that sounds prophetic to someone standing in front of you, desperate to have God, through you, tell them what to do. I’ve been on the receiving end of “thus saith the Lord” a number of times, and I would have to say that at least half were definitely not God’s word. I knew it at the time and I still know it today.

I have to say, though, that while it is really, really awesome to have God speak to you this way, you don’t need to go to every church meeting in town to hear His voice. You can get your own word.

I am NOT saying that you shouldn’t go to church, or that you can’t hear from God while you are there. You should and you can. But a church building is not the only place God speaks. And the person in the pulpit is not the only person God speaks through. The Lord has things to say to you specifically when you take the time to talk with Him, to read what He has to say in the bible, and to listen for His voice. Become aware of Him. Notice His presence in you and around you all the time. Get your own word.

Learn to trust what you are hearing based on how you know the Father. Of course, you are going to trust the person closest to you, right? God is even closer than that closest person. He has no ulterior motives, no hidden agenda, and He doesn’t mess with your mind. What He tells you is always completely honest and true. You don’t have to second guess Him. Ever. He will speak things that are for your ears only, precious and wonderful things that He wants only you to know. His mysteries. His secrets. His heart. They are things between you and God and they are not for public scrutiny. Get your own word.

I have a picture in my head of God sitting on the edge of His seat, clapping His hands, and grinning in delight when I ask Him if He has time to talk. He always says yes. He has so much He wants to say to me and He’s so eager for me to know all His things. He’s thrilled that I want to listen – that I want to be with Him just like He wants to be with me. And He really wants to give me my own word.

He’s got a few for you too.

But God now unveils these profound realities to us by the Spirit. Yes, he has revealed to us his inmost heart and deepest mysteries through the Holy Spirit, who constantly explores all things. 1 Corinthians 2:10 (TPT)

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This We Believe

The denomination in which I was raised did not practice infant baptism, but rather, encouraged a personal decision to follow Jesus Christ, usually followed by baptism and church membership a few years later. I was eighteen years old and about to graduate from high school when I got baptized along with several of my friends.

Prior to baptism, all candidates were required to complete a catechism course (ours was taught by the truly awesome pastor of our church), and we studied a book called This We Believe, by James H. Waltner. I lost the original copy of my book somewhere along the way and it’s out of print now, but a few years ago I came across one at a thrift store, so I forked over fifty cents to go home with a piece of my past. My purpose? I wanted to trace my faith back to its roots to discover if what I believed, or was told to believe in that catechism class, was what I still believed today.

Reading the book has surprised me. First of all, the deep description of the Christian faith is remarkable. I’m pretty sure that as a teenager I never read the book with much serious thought about how and why my salvation was actually possible. It just was. Second of all – and this may sound like a contradiction to my first of all – the book barely scratches the surface of where my faith is today.

Does that mean I’ve made progress? I sure hope so. What I do know is that the more I study God’s Word and spend time with Him, the more I realize how much I don’t know. But instead of being frustrated by that knowledge, it motivates me to dig in and study more. Allowing the Holy Spirit to teach me the things I need for where I am right now is the absolute best place to be and the best way to grow spiritually.

It’s sad when people give up on their faith because they think God doesn’t hear them, or because reading the bible is too complicated, or following Him requires too much sacrifice. None of that is true. Sometimes, however, it requires a return to the basics to find out what you believe and why you believe it.

What do you believe.

For this is how much God loved the world – he gave his one and only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in him will never perish but experience everlasting life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge and condemn the world, but to be its Savior and rescue it! John 3:16-17 (TPT)

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Don’t Poke the Bear

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I prayed about what to write in this post. One side of me is so angry at how people, particularly those in positions of power and authority, mistreat each other. But I realized that if I allow anger to be the “go to” emotion, then I am no better than the ones who are doing the mistreating. The other side of me – the calm and reasonable side (yes, I do have one) – is filled with compassion and even sorrow for those who feel it is their duty to diminish others.

A phrase that comes to mind is, “don’t poke the bear” – a warning to refrain from saying or doing something that might provoke a negative response from someone else. You probably know some of those people. They’re the ones who deem it their right to needlessly provoke, upset, intimidate, or annoy others, sometimes going out of their way to do so and often presenting the action as a joke.

Not funny. And certainly not funny if you’re on the receiving end of the jab.

I think most everyone has engaged in this kind of behaviour at one time or another, not that it makes it right. We lash out at the authority figures who make rules we believe are ridiculous, but we have to abide by them anyway. This is particularly evident during this time of Covid-19 restrictions as social media is overrun with scathing comments, senseless arguments, and cringe-worthy responses. I am saddened when I read some of the words coming from people who should be offering encouragement and hope, but instead are using Facebook as a forum to vent. They’re poking the bear – inciting others to join them in their negative rants.

With empty words. Dangerous words.

1 Timothy 1:5-7 says: For we reach the goal of fulfilling all the commandments when we love others deeply with a pure heart, a clean conscience, and sincere faith.Some believers have been led astray by teachings and speculations that emphasize nothing more than the empty words of men.They presume to be expert teachers of the law, but they don’t have the slightest idea of what they’re talking about and they simply love to argue! (TPT)

I read that and could do nothing but take a good long look at myself. Am I leading people astray by teachings and speculations that emphasize nothing more than empty words? Am I arguing simply because I love to argue? Have I been prodded to poke the bear by reading and listening to others who do so? Lord, forgive me.

My goal, as in the first part of the scripture above, is to fulfill God’s commandments by loving others deeply with a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a sincere faith.

Be encouraged to do the same. The Father is always close by to help.

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Pick One – The Right One

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When my kids were teenagers, I encouraged them to stop and think about the consequences of every little decision they made. For instance, if they were standing at the top of the escalator at the mall, what would happen if they decided to stay on the floor where they were instead of going down to the lower level? Could such a small decision potentially change the course of their lives? I had a few of these speculative questions which, as you can imagine, frustrated my children to no end. My purpose wasn’t to annoy them, but rather to reinforce the importance of thinking through in order to make good choices. I don’t know if the lesson stuck with any of them, but I hope so.

The older we get, the tougher the decisions. They come with greater consequences. Our successes or failures can depend on what we choose to do. To say. To think.

I’ve made some pretty bad decisions in my life, many of which have caused unnecessary hardship and heartache for me, and sometimes for others. I’ve also made lots of good decisions that resulted in great favour, achievement, and progress in my personal, spiritual, and professional life. Guess which choices were made when I thought I was smart enough to do it on my own, and which ones included consultations with the Lord?

I’d really like to say that I’ve learned to make completely wise decisions one hundred percent of the time, but I haven’t. I am, however, much better at listening to what God has to say before I leap into something. Better, I said, not perfect. I will always need to clutch His hand and follow His lead. It really is the only way.

He’s right there, you know, ready and waiting to give you a nudge in the right direction. Even when you think you know best, you don’t. But He does. And He will give you what you need to make the right choice. Just ask. Read His Word. Listen to what He says.

A very familiar scripture says: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 (NKJV)

I love the same verse in the Passion Translation: Truth’s shining light guides me in my choices and decisions; the revelation of your word makes my pathway clear. Psalm 119:105 (TPT)

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The Puzzle

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I am seeing a marked increase in the number of social media posts that openly decry, belittle, and condemn decisions made by our federal and provincial governments, our civic leadership, and law enforcement organizations. No, this isn’t going to be a political post; it’s going to be a concerned one.

The distressing fact is that much of the garbage-spewing I see is coming from Christians. And much of it is garbage.

Here’s the puzzle.

Part 1: My decades of church involvement were sprinkled with ideas/programs/campaigns to get people into the building, as if that feat alone would bring the unsaved into God’s presence and they’d be “set free”. I will say, the odd time it actually worked. But for the most part, the church was a private club for believers. We didn’t bother anyone and most of the time, very few outside our ranks even knew we were there. So, we went along our merry way, having our meetings and clubs and events and services, never giving much thought to our privilege to gather. There was no contingency plan.

Part 2: The year 2020 came along and with it, Covid-19. Businesses closed, workplaces reconfigured, and congregations were unable to meet in their church buildings the way they’d been accustomed. Restrictions varied from one province to another, but everyone was experiencing some degree of shutdown. Oh, the uproar! Those Christians from whom no one had ever heard a peep suddenly spoke up in outrage at the violation of their rights as Canadians. The rest of the country raised an eyebrow and shrugged, so what? And the churches wondered why they weren’t being acknowledged.

This is where pastors and church members start objecting to remind me of all they’ve done to become a valuable presence in their communities. Really? Some have, for sure. I personally know of several churches that have done, and still do the work of Jesus despite the current limitations. They’ve been so creative in their outreach and have developed ways to keep their congregations alive and growing. Is it a coincidence that the ones not spouting off negativity on social media are the churches that are growing exponentially? Nope. They are not the ones I see blasting the governments’ decisions and mandates.

I cringe when I see open criticisms of the people who are doing their best to keep our country safe during this unprecedented time. The point isn’t whether or not the restrictions are warranted. The point isn’t whether or not the medical or government officials are qualified to make decisions. And the point isn’t whether or not you agree with those decisions.

The point is that Christians in general haven’t done a very good job of loving people. We haven’t done a very good job of breaking out of our bless-me clubs to embrace the world around us. We haven’t done a very good job of representing ourselves in civic, provincial, and federal government circles.

So now – now we get angry and whine because we can’t have church as usual. Who’s going to listen? Certainly not the very authorities we’ve mostly kept ourselves separate from. And certainly not the neighbours and acquaintances to whom we’ve neglected to show love.

Do the puzzle.

Find the pieces and put them in right places. It’s not hard. Look for ways to show love to the people around you: the grocery store clerk, the mechanic who fixes your car, the neighbour who shovels your sidewalk, the kid who delivers your paper, your local government representatives. And if your church isn’t meeting right now, start a video bible study or prayer time with a few friends. Look for people to help. It doesn’t take much.

And stop complaining! You’re only hurting yourself.

I read this quote: “It’s not our job to change people, fix people, or judge people. It’s our job to love people.”

That’s all.

No one has ever gazed upon the fullness of God’s splendor. But if we love one another, God makes his permanent home in us, and we make our permanent home in him, and his love is brought to its full expression in us. 1 John 4:12 (TPT)

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Ancient of Days

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We used to sing a song in our church that started like this:

Blessing and honor, glory and power, be unto the Ancient of Days . . .

Some of you nodding and humming the melody in your heads right now. It was a popular song in Christian circles during the 1990’s, and I still hear it occasionally. One of my favourites.

I hadn’t thought about this song for ages, but the other day I was driving in my car and for some reason, the words just popped into my head. Since then, I have been having conversations with God as to why. I’m certain it wasn’t random.

I wanted to find out where in scripture Ancient of Days was mentioned. Surprising to me, Daniel chapter 7 has the only three references in the entire bible – verses 9, 13, and 22. Okay then. The book of Daniel is primarily a prophetic one and my knowledge of its contents, I’m finding, is rather lacking.

Most commentators say that the Ancient of Days is God, the Father. In Daniel 7:9, He is preparing to judge, seated on a fiery throne wearing a garment white as snow and hair like pure wool. I get why we’d assume that we’re reading about God here. This fits our mental picture of Him, right? But one commentator made a good point. The Ancient of Days can be no other than the Son of Man, Jesus. What? In John 5:22, Jesus says, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son.” So, if there is to be judgment, the judging will be done by Jesus Christ.

The following description of Him in the book of Revelation corresponds to the one in Daniel.

When I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, I saw seven golden lampstands.And walking among the lampstands, I saw someone like a son of man, wearing a full-length robe with a golden sash over his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool – white as glistening snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire!His feet were gleaming like bright metal, as though they were glowing in a fire, and his voice was like the roar of many rushing waters. Revelation 1:12-15 (TPT)

Stay with me here.

Daniel 7:13 and 22 mention the Ancient of Days again, but this time as God the Father. We know that because the Son of Man, Jesus, came to stand near Him. Two separate beings.

What does all of this have to do with anything, you ask?

The title, Ancient of Days, was used interchangeably, I believe, confirming Jesus’ statement in John 10:30; “The Father and I are one.” John 1:1 says, In the beginning was the Word (the Word is Jesus Christ), and the Word (Jesus) was with God, and the Word (Jesus) was God. They are One with the Holy Spirit, just as they are separate.

A lot of stuff in this post, I know, but the Ancient of Days, whether He be the Father or the Son or the Spirit, is everlasting – ancient. Outside of time and space. With complete clarity of the reality of all there is to know. He existed before days even were a thing.

This is what God wanted me to know: That He was here before all and will be here after all. He knows the before and the after and everything in between. About me. About you. His love surrounds us, flows in us, through us, and is for us. His love is ancient. It has never failed and it never will.

For none can compare to Your matchless worth! Sing unto the Ancient of Days.

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Help

When I was eight or nine years old, I thought I was going to drown. I was at a lake with my family and, being a dauntless kind of kid, I jumped into the water at the end of the dock. No big deal, right?

Wrong.

The water was deeper than I had anticipated and I couldn’t swim, at least not well enough to compensate for the depth I was in. I started thrashing around, went under, came up and thrashed some more. That’s when I decided it might be a good idea to call for help. Except no one was around. No. One. I think my guardian angel must have rolled his eyes when God gave him the nod to get me out of yet another mess of my own making. By some miracle (thanks, God), my legs straightened out and my feet touched sand. I made it to the shore and upchucked a few gallons of lake water. I was safe.

I don’t know what I expected when I cried out for help. I had no conscious thought of calling on God for assistance while I was flailing around in that water, but He heard me and made certain that a foolish and terrified little girl didn’t drown in the lake that day. I admit that I never even thought to give Him credit until years later.

This memory reminded me of how often we find ourselves drowning. Drowning in trouble, in sorrow, in debt, in broken relationships, in loneliness, in anger, in confusion, in fear, in unforgiveness, etc. It’s an awfully long list. We plead with God to help, asking for answers that don’t seem to come, and we grow weary. Hopeless. Desperate, even. We sink, floundering in the deep water.

In those impossible situations, it’s hard to see the answer, especially if it doesn’t look like we think it should. We have ideas in our heads for what we think the perfect solution is, but our Father, who knows us even better than we know ourselves, always provides the best way to overcome the problem. How often do we miss it because we’re looking for our way and not His? We revert to survival mode instead of trust-in-God mode. Believe me when I tell you that it doesn’t work. At least not as well as it would have had God’s direction been followed.

Trying to keep yourself from drowning isn’t fun. I know this. Neither is relying on your own resources. They may keep you afloat for a while, but you’ll sink eventually. Call for help. Listen to what the Father has to say about your circumstances, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Trust Him.

He really does have the best answers. I know this too.

The following became a life scripture for me when I memorized it as a child. I like it in The Passion Translation:

Trust in the Lord completely, and do not rely on your own opinions. With all your heart rely on him to guide you, and he will lead you in every decision you make. Become intimate with him in whatever you do, and he will lead you wherever you go. Proverbs 3:5-6 (TPT)

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Perception

Now you see it, now you don't: what optical illusions tell us about our  brains

Years ago, someone had the wrong perception about me. They discovered that I was a long-time Beatles fan, which was an appalling flaw, apparently, since I was a leader in the church. Another time, someone was shocked to see me laughing and dancing around with my small grandchildren at a social event. They had the perception that Christians weren’t supposed to have fun. More recently, there have been some who frown upon my current lack of church affiliation, as if that were an indication of declining spiritual commitment. All these perceptions were and are based on people’s personal belief systems and not on actual conversations with me. In most cases, they didn’t really know me at all.

Perception: The act of perceiving or of receiving impressions by the senses; or that act or process of the mind which makes known an external object (Webster’s Dictionary 1828).

We all have notions and ideas – perceptions – that came along for the ride as we grew up. These were formed as a result of what we saw around us, what we were told by our parents, teachers, friends, or the media. While many of our perceptions may have been based on fact and are therefore correct, a whole lot of them were not. We act on those perceptions and they become what we believe. Then we become what we believe.

Think about God the Father and what you believe about Him. Is He going to reject you unless you come to Him in a certain way or believe the right things about Him? Will He love you less if you don’t measure up to the standards of the world, the church, your family, or most of all, His expectations of you? Does that specific sin cancel your ticket to heaven?

You probably answered no to those questions because, of course, everyone knows that God doesn’t operate that way, right? But come on, who hasn’t heard the “God is going to be so disappointed in you” phrase, whether it be a voice in your head or from someone else.

Perceptions.

And so, another question arises. Do you believe and know the Father God? Or do you perceive and so believe and trust something else?

Really knowing God for myself – not someone else’s perception of Him – is an ongoing game-changer. It’s an amazing process. I spent most of my life listening to other people tell me about God, the bible and what His will was for me, and I just accepted it all until it became my perception too. It was gaining knowledge about Him rather than an experience of knowing Him. There’s such a difference. When I allowed myself to respond to the nudging of the Holy Spirit and put aside all those notions and ideas (perceptions) of who I thought He was so I could know and experience Him for who He really is, I also began to know myself in Christ.

Discovering who you really are – who God created you to be in Him – will lead you out of old ways of thinking which keep you convinced that you aren’t who you are. These are Satan’s weapons. Deception. Lies. Surrendering old thought patterns (perceptions) can be scary to your mind, and the devil knows it. Who do you think put the fear there in the first place? When you introduce something new, the neurons in your brain throw up warning flags. It takes work to change how you think. It’s always easier to give up and not make the effort. But there is no victory in that.

For me, there was, and still is opposition. Opposition from others who cling tightly to their perceptions and tell me I’m heading down a dangerous path. Opposition from within – the fight to dredge up my own perceptions and look at them through God’s microscope. Change is hard. Questioning why I believe what I believe is hard, and it’s a process that doesn’t always have simple answers.

But I trust my Father, so I think I’m in pretty good hands. I know He is real. I know He hears me. I know He speaks to me. I know He is in me and around me all the time. I know He loves me and cares about what I think and feel and do.

He is good.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Psalm 34:8 (NKJV)

Another translation puts it this way:

Drink deeply of the pleasures of this God. Experience for yourself the joyous mercies he gives to all who turn to hide themselves in him. Psalm 34:8 (TPT)

If you’re looking for me, I’m hiding in Him.

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