Are You Burdened by Regret?

When it comes to testimony, there are the Mary Magdalenes (those whose list of past sins could fill a ream of paper) and there are the John the Baptists (those whose past sins are so inconsequential they’re not even mentioned in the course of their story). I know some John the Baptists—people who made good choices even as children and who devoted their lives to the Lord before making the sorts of mistakes that throw one’s life completely off course. I wish I were a John the Baptist, but I’m not. I was Mary Magdalene, racking up sins (starting at the tender age of 15) that had lifelong consequences and leaving a path of debris and pain. I hurt others and myself, and, although I loved God, I wasted years that could have been spent for the Kingdom just trying to survive the fallout of my choices.

But then I remember that all are lost, all are hopeless apart from Jesus. It’s strange to think that Billy Graham was just as lost and hell-bound as the worst of sinners apart from the cross, but it’s true. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, needed a savior! No one deserves heaven. And those like me, who are ever-aware of the years they squandered and the wreckage they left in their wake—sometimes I think we’re even more mindful that we don’t deserve the mercy we’ve been granted. We don’t deserve those million second chances we’ve been given; we don’t deserve joy and love and beauty. For me, this awareness produces deep, deep gratitude and the determination to spend the rest of my years wisely. It propels me to give my time to the poor, to love the addicts and alcoholics who have (like me) made a mess of their lives. When you see yourself in “the worst of sinners,” there’s no room for smugness or complacency. I am a hair’s breadth away from the prostitute on the corner, and I pray I never forget it.

I’ve been known to throw myself into worship in an undignified way. I’ve danced until my feet were literally blistered. Why? Because, like Paul, I know that “Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King, came into the world to save sinners, and I am the worst of them all” (1 Tim.). He didn’t have to save me, but He did. He didn’t have to grant me mercy again and again and again as the years passed, but He did. So when it’s time to worship, how can I do anything less than unleash my love on the One who unleashed His grace on me? I don’t care what the person next to me thinks about me—that person didn’t pluck me out of the miry clay and set my feet upon a rock, Jesus did. My days are numbered, so each time I worship, I understand it could be the last opportunity to do so while here on earth, and I want to go out while giving Him what He deserves: ALL of me.

Are you a Mary Magdalene too? Don’t waste your energy, much less your time, on regrets. Regarding your past, let it go—but don’t forget it either because those who remember they’ve been forgiven much love much. Love your Rescuer without restraint or limits! Allow your scars to propel you into the heart of God until He turns those scars into gold and you begin to dispel light everywhere you go. Love and serve those who are still floundering and whose scars are still bleeding. Trust that God will redeem the years you wasted if you’ll simply do what He tells you to do from here on.

“But it is for this reason I was given mercy: by displaying His perfect patience in me, the very worst of all sinners, Jesus the Anointed could show that patience to all who would believe in Him and gain eternal life” (1 Tim.).


The Fear of God: More than Just “a Healthy Respect”

First, my apologies for being so lax about posting! What a season this has been! For months and months, I focused on finishing my book (Seven Days of Fearlessness). Then it was time to jump into grant-writing season (yes, I’m also a grant writer). After 4 1/2 months of that, I’m finally coming up for air. 

I plan to spend this next season, i.e. the summer of 2018, catching up on my writing, spending time with the grandkids, and doing short videos on the topic of fearlessness. Today I’m offering this excerpt in regard to the one fear that banishes all others: the fear of God. Enjoy.  

Though you don’t hear many sermons about the fear of God—and although the modern American church has lost much if not most of its fear of the Lord—the Bible has plenty to say about it. “Blessed is the one who always trembles before God,” we read in Proverbs (28:14, NIV). To fear God is to recognize His authority, dominion, worth, and supremacy while also acknowledging our insignificance and depravity apart from Him. I realize that many people “tone down” this topic by claiming that the fear of God is simply a “healthy respect” such as we’d offer anything that has the potential to get out of hand, such as a bonfire. But I disagree. God isn’t anything like a bonfire; in fact, He can hold the fire of a trillion burning stars in His hand.

When I think about the fear of God, I’m reminded of the ocean. Almost every summer, Kenny and I spend a week in our favorite place on earth, Tybee Island. We’ve developed a ritual: the evening we arrive, after darkness falls, we walk down to the beach. When we’re 30 feet or so from the water, I hand Kenny my shoes and he waits patiently as I take off, barefooted, into the surf. There’s something about the ocean that completely unravels and overwhelms me, so every single year, the same thing happens: I cry, and then I laugh—and often I do both simultaneously. Sometimes I run up and down the beach a little, sometimes I shout into the wind, but always the feeling is one of terror and worship.  Every trouble and sorrow that has hounded me is instantly washed away with the surf. I experience exquisite joy and relief, but also the compulsion to fall on my face and cry, Woe is me!

The first year we vacationed in Tybee was also the first time I ever swam in the ocean. Kenny and I bought boogie boards so we could play in the surf. As we jumped the gentle waves for hours, my emotions seesawed from exhilaration to dread and back again. From time to time, I was overcome with the realization that the body of water I was standing in was 25 thousand feet deep in some places and had swallowed thousands of lives. The potential for destruction was unlike anything I’d ever seen or felt, and yet I never wanted to leave.

I knew that what I could see on that brilliant, clear day was nothing in light of the vastness that was the ocean. I imagined the colossal creatures that swam deep under the surface, where no light penetrated. It made other so-called dangers seem laughable. And yet … something inside me wanted to experience this ocean in all its fury, to drown in it, for lack of a better phrase. Nothing had ever scared me like the sea did, and yet there was no place on earth I would rather have been—and this is still true.

Sometime during that first trip to the island, I realized I’d never encountered anything that embodied my feelings about God as perfectly as the ocean. On one hand, He’s “terrible” and terrifying; on the other, He shatters all my preconceptions, sweeps away all my sorrow and guilt, and makes all my other fears seem silly. He’s endless and infinite and yet I’m curled up in the palm of His hand. He evokes tears, laughter, joy, and terror. I want to drown in Him.

To fear God is to sense His fury: to recognize that He could, with a flick of His finger, annihilate every living thing. But here’s where the fear of God begets fearlessness in all other matters: the fact that He could annihilate us in an instant means He can do the same to our enemies.
And even though He could snuff out a billion times a billion stars with a single breath, He’s chosen to save rather than crush those who call Him Lord. Meanwhile, He’s defeated darkness, sin, and death, and one day His enemies “will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers” (Revelation 17:14, NIV).


“O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God…” (Nehemiah 1:5, KJV). 

Photos: fotolia

Remembering the Shadow-Seasons

“Now I am hidden in the safety of Your love.
I trust Your heart and Your intentions.
Trust you completely, I’m listening intently.
You’ll guide me through these many shadows.”
—United Pursuit/W. Reagan

This song has been wrecking me all day… but not because I’m in a place of “many shadows.” This season is good and bright and plentiful. But I’ve experienced shadow-seasons in the past; some were very long and saturated in pain. Yet every time, the Presence reassured me that He was around me, above me, within me, below me. And often, He granted me joy—not trifling, temporary happiness, but deep-in-the-belly, overflowing joy—right in the middle of the shadow-seasons. And it’s because of this kind of faithfulness that I can say today, “I trust Your heart and Your intentions.” His heart is pure beauty, and His intentions are pure goodness.

The kingdom of God is topsy-turvy. You might think that the flourishing, happy seasons allow me to live a little more independently, but the fact is that I’m no less needy than I was in my darkest shadow-season. I’m not able to breathe, much less do anything of any value, apart from Him. Life is lovely and yet I’m still desperate to have more of Him—and then more and more and more.

I often feel like Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who hollered “Jesus!” at the top of his lungs. Those who possessed a bit of dignity and class said, “Hush. For Pete’s sake Bartimaeus, tone it down.” But he only shouted louder because he knew the hopelessness of his situation. He knew he’d despair without the Lord’s touch. Like Bartimaeus, without Jesus’ touch, I’m blind to everything that matters. I’m a beggar. I must have the One who gives my life purpose and beauty whether I’m in “many shadows” or dancing in sunshine.

May we never, ever stand in the light and forget that it was His unspeakable love that carried us through the shadow-seasons.


How to Create a Prayer Closet

On the floor of a closet for 30 minutes a day for 30 days in a row: that’s how I’m starting this new year.

If you’re thinking that a half-hour of God-time per day ought to be part of my life already, you’re right. In fact, I’ll take it a step further: abiding in the Lord’s presence continually ought to be second nature to me after several decades of Christianity.

But there’s something different about being in a closet—a literal, dark, slightly dusty prayer closet.

IMG_0605Long ago, I created my first PC. It was back in the 90s, and I needed a place to escape the chaos in my life and just be with God, so I designated a small bedroom closet. I didn’t even need to clean it out, since we’d just built the house. I simply threw a blanket and pillow on the floor, along with a CD player (this was back when they were bulky and ugly), a journal, a tiny lamp… Voila! Finished.

I remember the first time I crawled inside that closet. It was so small I couldn’t stretch out, so I sat down on the floor, cross-legged. Then I switched on the tiny lamp and hit the power button on the CD player and waited to see what would happen.


The presence of God swept in so quickly and so completely that I started to cry. I was dumbfounded at the difference between sitting in that little closet in the near-darkness versus just a few feet away, on the other side of the door, in the bedroom itself. There was something about those four walls, which served as a boundary between myself and everything else. The sounds from the rest of the house were muffled; in fact, with the music playing I couldn’t hear a thing. And nothing was “pulling on me,” like the pile of laundry waiting to be folded or the stack of bills on the dresser, because I couldn’t see any of that. And even though I hadn’t instructed the other human beings in my home to leave me alone while I was in my closet, and even though they probably thought I was a little daft, they didn’t interrupt. If I’d been sitting in chair in some other room in the house, Bible in hand, they wouldn’t have hesitated to vie for my attention, but there was something different about the PC from day one, and they sensed it.

In the years since, there have been seasons when I’ve had no prayer closet (though this has little to do with lack of space because I’ve discovered that if you want a PC desperately enough, you’ll find somewhere to put it). There have also been sweet seasons of frequent and consistent PC time. What does a person do in a prayer closet, exactly? Sometimes, absolutely nothing. In our society and culture, doing nothing is a spiritual discipline, so I’d just lie there in the Lord’s company. Many times, I wrote. Often, I prayed or read my Bible. Occasionally, I ate lunch or drank a cup of hot tea. Sometimes I read a devotional. More times than I can count, I just chatted with Jesus and let the music speak to my heart. Frequently, I crawled into the PC with the intention of staying just 30 minutes, but the atmosphere was so yummy I wouldn’t come out for an hour and a half.


Annie the Wonder Dog wonders what I’m doing.

Anyway, since we moved a year ago, I’ve been (let’s be honest) lazy about the whole PC thing, and my spirit has been aching for it. So a week ago, I cleared out the guestroom closet floor, added a miniature lamp and some blankets, and committed to never using that space for storage again. I still have Kenny’s suits and a few of my dresses hanging on the rod, but that’s no big deal since there’s still enough room to lie down (albeit barely).

If you could see my house, you might wonder why I need a PC at all. This place has plenty of space for the two of us, including half a dozen cozy spots to curl up with God. Not to mention that since I work from home and my husband doesn’t, I’m here alone virtually every weekday, all day. There’s no chaos in my home like there was in the 90s, so I’m not escaping anything … yet I still need those four walls to set me apart from everything else. I need it to be impossible to see my desk, the laundry, the sink full of dishes. I need all sounds to be muffled except the rhythm of my own breathing or the music playing on my tablet. And I need the darkness.


Yesterday was Day One of the 30 days. As I suspected, the Presence rolled in immediately, creating an atmosphere of peace and deep contentment. Today, when the 30 minutes were up, I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving. So I stayed.

How can you create your own PC? It’s easy:

Decide that the presence of God is worth more than storage space.
Take everything out of a closet and stash it elsewhere (or just clear a space if you’re lucky enough to have walk-ins).
Vacuum up the cobwebs and mouse droppings.
Add a chair or a few blankets, a tiny lamp or lantern, your journal, Bible, etc.
Here’s the most important step: climb in and shut the door.






The Contemplative Life

I’ve always been intrigued by the writings of monks and priests—Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning, Brother Lawrence. Manning used to spend months alone in a cave, with no companion except God, and though part of me cringes at the idea of such solitude, another part of me understands it. I live continually with a relentless longing to be with God every day, all day—to “splash around in His heart,” as a friend who now lives in heaven described it. I can think of no better way to spend a minute or an hour, a day or week or lifetime, than in connection with God—sometimes talking, sometimes silent, but always in His Presence, always listening, always aware of His nearness.


I thank the Lord for a husband who’s more than happy to take second place in my life, who doesn’t doubt my absolute love for him while also making ample room for my madness for God. Kenny doesn’t blink an eye when I crawl into my prayer closet or pull on my running shoes and head to the park because I can’t go another minute without getting alone with God. He takes it in stride when I talk aloud to Jesus, though sometimes he has to ask, “Who are you talking to?”—knowing the answer could go either way.

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I used to find the verse “Pray without ceasing” confusing: How could a person possibly get anything done if all she did all day was clasp her hands together, close her eyes, and intercede for the sick? But there’s nothing impossible about that verse at all! To pray without ceasing is simply to cultivate a constant awareness of Jesus, to converse with Him with the ease of one who talks to a best friend, to develop the ability to see Him everywhere. There’s no striving in this kind of life; in fact, if you’re trying to white-knuckle your way into His presence, give it up. You need only to lean back into Him because He’s already there, within you and around you. Dare to see, taste, and hear Him right where you are, right now. Practice His presence, and one day soon you’ll realize you’ve spent the whole day tuned into the heartbeat of Jesus.

That is the contemplative life.

The Nature of Grace

There are a variety of opinions in regard to the homeless, and most of us have heard (or even voiced) the following: They don’t deserve a handout. No one is twisting their arms, forcing them to shoot up or buy another bottle. No one forced them to leave their families to go live under a bridge somewhere.

imagesPlenty of people land on the street through little or no fault of their own—yet it’s also true that some are less than model citizens. I learned this early on. Eight years ago, when my husband, Kenny, and I were serving in Tent City in Nashville, there was Howard, the sex offender. Then there was Sarah, a twenty-something girl who made money by posing for online porn photos. And there was Donny, who mentioned the first time I met him that he’d just finished a lengthy stint in prison. Within a month or so he ended up back in jail for threatening to remove a man’s head with a hacksaw. Every town, including Clarksville, has its Howards and Sarahs and Donnies. It’s not uncommon to ask about one of our mobile soup kitchen regulars only to be told, “He’s back in jail, didn’t ya hear?”

I love Kenny’s point of view. He’s convinced that if someone is capable of being a functioning member of society but chooses to live under a bridge, it’s because he believes it’s all he deserves, and therefore that person needs our acceptance even more than most. He needs to know that Jesus died for and loves him. Therefore, whatever the reason for a person’s destitution, it’s our duty to feed, love, and welcome him as much as possible.

Here’s the crazy thing about grace: The model citizen doesn’t deserve it any more than the pedophile or the prostitute or the guy who sells drugs to 12-year-olds. This seems outrageously unfair; surely Mother Teresa was at least a teeny bit more deserving of heaven than the repeat offender who made an eleventh-hour confession, right? Wrong. If grace were about fairness, it would cease to be grace.

Walk to the crossOne of the most liberating things you can do is be brutally honest about your own immense and imminent potential for sin. It will make you acutely aware of God’s mercy and prompt you to extend grace to others without hesitation. You’ll look at the homeless man and see yourself looking back. You’ll look in the mirror and see a thief. The person who lavishly loves others is the one who acknowledges, “I am the worst of sinners. I don’t deserve Jesus. And yet He loves me, and sees me as perfect and beautiful.”

Our Beloved Church Props and the Presence of God

PrintHow have we, the American Church, managed to make the Sunday experience so complicated while simultaneously stripping it of the presence of God? Perhaps it’s because we suspect that God is insufficient—that His sweet, savage presence is not enough—and so we’ve overwhelmed and burdened ourselves with props. We tell ourselves we’re promoting God with our endless list of beloved props (though many are, in fact, designed to promote ourselves). We pour our money and energy into grand buildings, artistic bulletins, endless theatrics, elaborate graphics, computer effects, light shows, and cutting-edge programs until we’re too exhausted and preoccupied to invite Jesus into the mix.

At the same time, we perpetuate the spectacle/spectator mindset with our stages and theater seats as the select few carry out their duties while everyone else, including Jesus, is expected to sit there and behave. And all the while, we remain unchanged.

Don’t misunderstand me: I am not anti-technology, nor am I saying that building funds are unbiblical. But who can deny that we’ve become so rehearsed and polished that we’ve wrung ourselves dry of all spontaneity, leaving no room for the Holy Spirit and forgetting that, if left to Himself (deprived of all our props), He would be what He’s always been: absolutely everything we need.