The Fruit Don’t Lie

A graduate degree, thriving career, two boys and one prior marriage, plus he seemed like a Christian too. Surely this must be him.  Surely this is “Boaz,” the man God had selected just for me.  If all that weren’t perfect enough, he was commitment minded. No desire for endless dating, immediate talk of marriage and a future for “our” kids and family.  I was falling quickly.  And then it happened.  It was the song, my song, that song that every time I heard it the lyrics made me cry.  He played my song and said it represented how he felt about me.  Of all the songs in the world, why that one?  Clearly this was a sign from God to confirm my initial thoughts that he was indeed “the one.”

And there were other signs, acceptance by my friends and kids, blessing from many of the elders of my life and on and on….. The signs all pointed to him indeed being my guy.  There is only one problem with this entire scenario.  None of it was real.  No degree (in fact he had to finish high school in night school), four sons not two (one he denied for 25 years), his great career in operations was actually an hourly sales job, hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to include more than $250,000 in IRS debt alone.  There was another marriage which may or may not have ever been dissolved and the biggest lie of all was the care and commitment towards me and my children.  When my youngest daughter became seriously ill he rolled out, a mere year and two months after we said, “I do.”  I could blog forever and not list all the ways he lied to me.  He had essentially used me to provide a roof over his head and a place to visit with and entertain his family.  I had been duped.

I was completely lost and mystified. The signs had been so clear that he was indeed my guy. What happened?  The Bible says, “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it….” (Matthew 6:4).  Clearly, I had missed that verse of scripture.  So, how then, can we know that we are aligning with the right people for both friendship and relationship if signs can lead us in the wrong direction?

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15-20)

In short, the fruit don’t lie! You can’t fake fruit. Fruit is evidence that what should be produced, what is said to be being produced is in fact producing. The answers we seek are always found in the truth of God’s Word. No signs, feelings, or songs can ever replace checking our relationships against the truth of God’s Word. If I had  taken the time to look for fruit of all he claimed to be I would have saved myself thousands of dollars, months of therapy and the devastation of divorce on my children.

Over the next few blogs we will take a closer look at the attributes of Boaz, especially for those sisters in a season of waiting. In fact, all of our friendships and relationships should pass the “fruit” test.  Remember we should only want what God wants and what He sends to us.  Since He is not the creator of lies & confusion, He does not send that to our lives, “The blessing of the LORD, it makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.” (Proverbs 10:22). So if the gift is from God, if it is His blessing, His plan it does not bring grief, mourning, distress, regret, anxiety, or sadness.  For years in my single walk I would pray and ask God for discernment about the relationship situations I found myself in.  Perhaps, what I should have been praying for was the ability to read.

Don’t Change Your Name

After what will probably go down as one of the worst months of my life, I was finally finding my way back to peace. My 9 year old daughter had suffered for a month with debilitating back pain and three straight weeks of nausea. The doctors proclaiming everything from cancer to MS, I watched her pain in helpless horror anticipating the absolute worst. Oh, and my marriage was crumbling. The man I expected to stand by me and be my pillar of strength in a crisis was instead distant, cold, and angry. Three X-Rays of my daughter’s spine had not identified the cause of her lingering pain. MRI number 1 brought horrible news. The appearance of tumors grouped around her spine in the exact location she complained of pain. Six doctors appointments and dozens of phone calls later, another MRI would be needed. My relationship with my husband grew increasingly grim as did my daughter’s diagnosis. Nothing was going right. I was lost beyond words, afraid, hurt and completely alone. I felt rejected. How could a loving God deal with me so harshly and allow so much pain? I lost myself in sorrow, fear and grief.

We see something similar in Ruth and Naomi’s story. There had been several years of famine in Israel.  In an effort to find food and a better life for their family Naomi, her husband, and sons left their homeland and headed to Moab. Moab would be where both Naomi’s boys would find and marry their wives and Moab would be where Naomi would suffer unbelievable life changing tragedy; the death of both her sons and her husband. Now childless and widowed, Naomi was left with the task of supporting and caring for her two daughters-in-law.   Three widows who had endured unspeakable pain together living in Moab,  without provisions, struggling to make it. Realizing this was going nowhere fast Naomi did the wise thing. She dusted herself off, picked herself up and headed home. At least at home people knew her, and could provide the needed support at the most devastating time of her life.

Upon arrival in Bethlehem, Naomi was greeted by family and friends excited to see her after many years and ready to receive her with love and gladness. This, however, was not the Naomi they knew and loved from years gone by.  Naomi’s return home quickly turned from a joyful family reunion to a proclamation of Naomi’s hurt and brokenness.  The crisis had taken its toll.  How could a loving God allow so much pain? Naomi had become angry and embittered towards God.  So much so that she no longer wanted to be called by her name but instead insisted chose to be labeled by her wound.

 Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” Ruth 1: 20-21

How could a loving God allow so much pain? Have you ever asked yourself that? Have you ever been so broken and so devastated with life that you no longer identified yourself with your God-given, mamma chosen name but rather through the eyes of the sorrow you experienced.  Maybe for you it is not pain?  Maybe it’s disappointment or frustration or fear?  Living from the vantage point of a wound can have devastating impact.  It is fertile ground for the enemy of our souls to wreak havoc in our lives by dominating our thoughts with what has been lost.  If the enemy can convince you that this is how your life will always be or that you can never get over the pain, loss or failures of your past then he can cause your mind to spiral into depression, thoughts of suicide and worse.

So, what do you do when you realize that you have allowed your wounds to dominate your thoughts and “change your name”? The Bible’s remedy for pain might surprise you. We are told that that praise is for the spirit of heaviness (Isaiah 61:3).  It can be difficult to worship God when life is crumbling around you. But remember, His ways are indeed higher than ours.  Sometimes we have to just be obedient.  Turn on the worship music and leave it on.  If it takes all day for you to be able to sing a long then so be it.  But praise breaks bondages and lifts yokes that cannot be explained in our human understanding.  It just works. So do it!

Secondly, find a godly, loyal friend or two (see Blog on Loyal Sisterhood) whom you can trust and with whom you can talk, cry, pray, and allow to minister to you. There is no better way to capture the heart of God than when we intercede for one another.

Finally, meditate on The Word of God day and night. The Bible tells us to check every thought and hold it captive (2 Cor 10:5).  In other words, make sure your thoughts line up with what God promises for your life.  See the “Want More” section for some great verses that will carry you through seasons of loss, depression and hopelessness.  In my case, MRI #2 showed no tumors.  My daughter was miraculously healed. In the case of Naomi, out of great loss God sent a “redeemer” who would restore Naomi and Ruth.  God used Naomi and Ruth’s tragedy to draw Naomi home for a divine connection with Boaz, God’s plan for their redemption and restoration.  We may never know the “why” on this side of Glory for many of life’s struggles.  But we do know the “Who” that promised that all things are working together for our good because we love Him and are called by His name.  So, don’t allow tragedy, hurt or depression to rename you.  You already have a name written in Glory.

Today’s Prayer

Father you said in Your Word, that You are closest to the broken-hearted and save those who are crushed in spirit. So many of us have been broken by betrayal, loss, tragedy and the disappointments of life.  Father, please walk with us and help us see your hand working even in the most difficult of situations.  Please cover us in our broken places and bring healing, redemption and restoration as only You can.  We love You and we need You.  In Jesus Name, Amen

Faith vs. Feelings

I was reflecting this morning on the tragedy experienced by Naomi, Oprah and Ruth.  As you continue to the read the book of Ruth, Naomi’s grief and pain from losing her two boys and her husband feels so real that my heart breaks for her (see Ruth 1:20).  We have all had our seasons of tragedy.  For me it’s been dealing with a sick child.  The Bible does not mention how Naomi’s family received the news of her loss when she returned to Bethlehem. But, I can remember last year, around this time, some rather interesting reactions to my own crisis.  My daughter, London, was sick much of 2016.  In the midst of this I had a conversation with a friend regarding London’s situation. I was having a down day just hours after a less than favorable MRI result. In my sorrow, I shared the possibilities from the doctor to which he retorted, “Where is your faith!?” Oh, how those words stung.  It was as if  he was saying that having faith required me to have no reaction to her current suffering or feelings about what the future might hold.  Today, I realize that sometimes God allows us to experience moments like this to bring TRUTH to light.

The Lord took me to the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35). This is the story of Lazarus, Jesus’ friend.  Jesus received word that Lazarus was ill some time earlier but chose not to go to Lazarus immediately.  He arrived just days after Lazarus succumbed to his illness. We all know the story; Jesus was there to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Knowing this, why was Jesus weeping? After all, He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Why then, knowing what was about to happen, would He be weeping?  Did the Author and Finisher of our faith lose faith in that moment?  Of course not! His tearful reaction was not because He questioned the outcome or lacked faith to raise Lazarus from the dead but rather because He knew the process to the resurrection had caused the people he loved pain. His tears were tears of compassion.

We see another illustration of an emotional reaction from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was sweating drops of blood in anticipation of what lay ahead of him. Clearly, He was feeling anxiety and fear about the cross.  He described His own feelings as His soul being “overwhelmed with sorrow.”  Is feeling overwhelmed and sorrowful about something horrible sin to the man who knew no sin? Of course not! He did not allow the natural human emotion of fear to stop Him from fulfilling His destiny. In spite of His fear, His faith stood when He submitted His will to The Father’s  and said “nevertheless not my will but Your will be done.” (See Matthew 26:39). He knew the outcome would be that he would save all humanity, conquer death, be crowned Lord over all but the process would involve agony.  No one rejoices at the thought of physical agony, not even our Savior.

The Bible says that He carries us from Glory To Glory (2 Cor 3:18). The word “to” suggests that not every situation will be glorious. But God will get us through. That is why He instructs us to love and care for one another (John 13:34). He tells us to bear with each other in love (Eph 4:2). Even tells us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Why??? Because the journey, the process can and does cause pain. Jesus understood that in the end all would be well. His perspective on suffering was as perfect as He is.  There is no condemnation in expressing feelings of fear, sadness, disappointment or frustration.  Emotions are a natural human response to the trials of life. But Sisters, there is no greater faith than to acknowledge how you are feeling and press forward anyway.  Just like Jesus did in the garden and Naomi did as she ventured back home.  Let us not confuse walking in faith with dredging through life in denial pretending that the trials of life don’t exist. Faith is accepting where you are and what you may be faced with and, in spite of it all, standing on the truth of God’s Word and moving forward. Faith says, this hurts but God I trust You to use even this to move me closer to my destiny and ultimately for Your good.  Faith causes us to profess the goodness of God in the worst of circumstances and believe that He will indeed come through.  Because, He’s a good God.  He takes care of His own.

Prayer for Today

Father, thank-you for the perfect example, in Jesus, of how best to endure and overcome tragedy as well as how to love the people around us through tragedy. Help us to love one another as you have loved us.  Teach us to have an enduring faith that is not based on denying the situation but rather based on your love for us and Your ability to see us through.  We love You and we trust You.  In Jesus Name, Amen.

The Loyalty of Sisters

cropped-background3.jpgToday’s Reading: Ruth 1: 1-19

Welcome to the Sisterhood of Ruth.  You might wonder why of all the heroes and heroins in the Bible we chose Ruth as a model for our ministry?  Ruth’s perseverance through widowhood and loss, her fearless decision to leave her homeland and serve God, ultimately resulted in tremendous favor in her life.  There is a little Ruth in all of us; the ability walk through the trials of life and still wear a smile, to keep going in the face of pain, loss, rejection and even death; to stand firm in our faith, trust God and support each other is the essence of godly womanhood.  We first see this strength to overcome in the life of Ruth as she is entering widowhood.  Most widows, in Biblical times, would walk out their days with a marginal life of extreme poverty.  Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, understood the stigma attached to widows. As a Jewish woman who had fled Israel during the famine to Moab, Naomi, railing from the loss of both her sons and husband, was now faced with the task of packing up her life and returning home empty handed.   Returning to Israel and extended family was her only hope for survival.  But, Naomi understood the cultural impact of bringing her daughters-in-law, two Moab women,  back with her and the rejection they would face.  She understood that remarriage for Ruth and her other daughter-in- law, Oprah, would be all the more unlikely in Israel.  It was out of love and concern for their well-being that she insisted that they both remain in Moab and return home to their extended families.  Ruth’s courageous response to that request is remarkable.  Naomi’s future was unsure but Ruth’s loyalty was unshaken:

Ruth 1: 17-18
   But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

It is Ruth’s loyalty to her “sister” Naomi that inspired this ministry.  She chose to risk everything, walk away from her home and family, to follow her mother-in-law into an unknown and future.  I have seen this loyalty modeled in my own life through four special, godly women who have walked with me through the darkest of valleys and cheered me on at the top of the  mountain.  These women have fasted with me, prayed for me, cried with me and stood in the gap for me when there was nothing left.  Remember, godly sisterhood always points you back to The Father.  A true sister in Christ will always lead you towards home.  Not only did Ruth admire and love Naomi but she saw something in Naomi that made her want to serve God too.  This is the true test of godly friendships that your sisters encourage you to step out in faith, to reach new heights and to achieve your God given purpose for your life.  We chose Ruth because she was that kind of woman; a loving friend, a person of tremendous & tested faith, she was fearless, selfless, resourceful, resilient and immensely loyal to Naomi.  Her life reflects the struggles and trials of womanhood  and provides an awesome testimony to the faithfulness and loyalty of our God when we do it His way. My prayer is that we will all walkout the same loyalty with the women God brings across our paths and that our Father and Provider will fortify your heart with the sweetness of godly sisterhood.  Take time to recognize the gift of sisterhood in your life just as I am today as I honor my sisters: Ebonie, Monica, Pamela & Karen, and dedicate this ministry to the example you have set in my life and The Awesome God who sent you all to me.

Today’s Prayer:
Heavenly Father,  Thank-you for the gift of Your Word and the opportunity to minister to Your girls.  Thank-you for sharing the story of Ruth.  Help us to model similar loyalty in our interactions with our sisters.  Remind us to return love and loyalty back to the ones who love us through the difficult times.  Use us as iron sharpening iron as we grow to be more like you.  Use us to love one another as you have loved us. In Jesus Name we pray.  Amen