let love take the wheel

 

The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
though she may stumble, she will not fall,
for the Lord upholds her with his hand.

Psalm 37:23-24

Let’s go.

I’m in the passenger seat, my head hanging out the window, my hair blowing in the winds of your grace. It feels like we’re driving in circles, but we’re really rounding mountains – and we’re going higher. We’re going up together.

And Jesus, you’re driving.

There are moments when I’m grateful that it is you in the driver’s seat and not I – the moments my eyes see narrow roads and wide risks, the moments wrought with an unavoidable awareness that one wrong move will send the car careening off the side of the mountain. I don’t want that responsibility. I’d rather close my eyes and trust that you’ll get me to the next level safely.

You always do. Here’s how it goes:

The road tightens along the edges of the mountain. My chest tightens as I see the crazy curves coming closer; so I close my eyes like an infant in her mother’s arms and entrust myself entirely to your care and careful driving practices. I may slide in my seat ever so slightly as we swerve, but I stay in the car. Though my eyes are closed, I can sense your hands on the wheel. You do what you do to get us through.

 I wasn’t watching what you did, Jesus. I don’t how we got to the next level. I just know that I open my eyes; and we’re here.

We’re here because I acknowledged that I cannot round this corner on my own accord, and I intentionally surrendered control of the car to you, my Savior. We’re here because of You. 

But what if I forget that?

What if, after it’s all over,

I forget who was driving that day?

What if I forget that what comes so easily to you doesn’t come so easily to me; and I attribute the victory more to my faith than to your power?

There is where the road gets dangerous. Though we’ve passed the challenge of the curve, and we’ve made it to the next level, we’re now in the precarious passageway of pride – where the roads are wide and the snares are secretive.

It looks like I can handle it on my own. So, I insist:

“Let me take it from here, Jesus.”

I reach over the console and wrestle for the driver’s seat; confident that I can chart territories not yet seen.

But unlike my virgin eyes, you’ve already seen this level. You’re not fooled; you know its traps. You see the lusts laid to lure me off that are hidden from my eyes; so You don’t let me drive – you just let me wrestle for the chance.

As I undo my seatbelt and grasp at the steering wheel, I begin to trust more in myself and less in You.

But you don’t budge.

You maintain control of the vehicle even when my eyes are not on the road. You won’t let us fall.

Why?

Because You love me.

You love me even when I talk to others before I talk to You. You love me even while I tell others of your faithfulness without thanking you first. You died for me knowing that I would accept the credit for my own breakthrough. Credit that is due to you, Jesus.

Forgive me,

my Jesus.

 

 

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linger in the uncomfortable

“So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him.

Mark 5:1-4

My devotional time has been spent camped out in Capernaum for weeks. Throughout this journey into the words of Jesus, a journey sparked by conviction and continued in curiosity and wonder, I’ve found that the more I stay with Jesus, the less I want to leave Him. While all Scripture is God-breathed, the Gospels recount the Word and His many interactions with everything and everyone that is not like Him. Therefore – there’s so much to learn. Every phrase breathes life.

Even the uncomfortable ones.

We’ve all heard about the man possessed with a “Legion” of demons who’s deliverance ended in the passing of many pigs. (Er, if some of us haven’t, go check out Mark 5.)

Hey, church people! Let’s get honest: many of us don’t quite know how to approach this passage. The imagery is so far-removed from anything we’ve ever seen with our own eyes, so we catalogue it as one of those crazy Jesus stories and just chalk it up to the mysterious power of God. Plus, the demon stories make us squirm, so we skip over the prelude and search the page for red letters to read.

Spoiler alert: Jesus gives the demons permission to enter a bunch of pigs. The guy goes away praising God.

Phew.

I get it. Demons are creepy. But please, let me challenge you: linger in the uncomfortable passages.

Why? Because there’s so much to learn – about ourselves, spiritual forces, and Jesus.

For example: this man’s behavior is a perfect representation of demonic behavior. Jesus taught that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand – and we can clearly see that the kingdom of darkness uniformly controlled the life of this man. The legion – or, anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 demonic spirits – worked in tandem to keep this man in Satan’s mission of prolonged destruction and isolation.

Because we do not war against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, it would benefit us to learn more about our enemy’s tactics.

So, what can we learn about the nature of demonic oppression from this man?

1.) Demons destroy the image of God in us.

Put yourself in the context of this passage, just for a minute.

See the man: the man with long, thick, curly black hair and tanned brown skin. See the man who scares the village, the man who looks more like an animal than a man. The man who never sleeps, never ceases from howling and running and bleeding. See the man who looks like death, sounds like death, and dwells in the realm of the dead.

Let’s face it: nothing about this man’s existence is pleasant. He doesn’t have community. He doesn’t have a home. He doesn’t love. He doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t even feel pain!

His life looks completely opposite of the life that God intended for us to have – the life that Jesus died to give us. 

We are created in the image of our God – and our God is the God of the living, not the dead. Though demons might not murder us, they will murder everything in us that looks like God.  

St. Iraeneus is famously quoted for saying, “For the glory of God is the living man, and the life of man is the vision of God.”

If a demon can kill any part of us that was meant to reflect God’s glory, we will look less and less like God.

God is peace. God is joy. God is love.

By stealing your peace, your joy, your love, Satan steals God’s glory. He purposely dims the holy fire lit in the hearts of God’s most beautiful creation – humans – to make us look more like him and less like our Father in Heaven. Don’t let him do it! Let’s get jealous for God’s glory! Pray and ask the Father to order your life’s steps in the way that would draw attention to Him.

2.) Demons are drawn to the presence of Jesus.

The passage tells us that the moment Jesus climbed out of the boat, the man came out from the tombs to meet Him. They sensed Jesus coming out of the boat. And in our lives, they can sense His presence from miles away.

This is why you and your husband will get into a fight while you’re in the car on your way to marriage counseling. This is why you begin to hear voices of doubts in your head whenever the pastor opens up the altar for prayer. Demonic forces can sense the power and the presence of Jesus. They can sense the approaching healing, and they want to do everything they can to keep you from Him – so they come out of hiding when His spirit approaches. They want to scare you away from meeting with Jesus because they know they’re no match for Him.

Knowing this can help prepare you for deliverance! Don’t be scared. Don’t be fooled. When demons come out to play, the healing power of Jesus is on its way. Push through.

3.) Physical bondage cannot free us from spiritual bondage. 

This point is two-fold.

Firstly: we cannot fight a spiritual war with physical weapons. Simmering in the passage shows us that the man could not be restrained by any of our world’s means. While the purpose of chains and shackles is to bind, we cannot use physical methods to bind spiritual forces. They tried putting physical shackles on the man with spiritual shackles – it didn’t work. The sheer nature of anything natural is powerless compared to the anything supernatural.

Secondly: We cannot bind spiritual forces with more bondage. Bondage does not lead to freedom. Only freedom leads to freedom.

What do I mean by this?

Imagine that you are heavily addicted to pornography. You want to stop because your addiction is affecting others. So, you concur, “This is a physical addiction. If I remove all physical aspects of this addiction by placing boundaries and binders on my behavior…and if I limit my access to it, I will no longer partake in it. This is way to defeat it.”

And thus, you add chains to your chains.

You unsubscribe from porn websites. You place software on your computer that blocks you from accessing the websites. You may even exchange your smart phone for a dumb phone to limit access to the internet.

Please, hear me: all these actions are recommended actions to take. Jesus said himself, “If your eye causes you to sin, gauge it out.” Get radical in your pursuit of freedom and get rid of any open doors to temptation.

But if you do not first heal from the spiritual chains of the agreement of addiction, and replace that spiritual bondage with spiritual freedom, the physical chains you place over your spiritual chains will not suffice. 

The spiritual chains will break through the physical chains you have placed over them.

Translation? You will find a way to access porn. And once you do, you will be so ashamed of the measures you had to undergo to fulfill your craving, your chains of shame will become even heavier. Your bondage will lead to more bondage.

Bondage does not lead to freedom.

Freedom leads to freedom – freedom that can only be found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. 

Freedom that we don’t have to work for or earn – we must just receive.

Now, be free!

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 

Romans 6:5-8

 

Friend of God?

“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
    and he makes known to them his covenant.”
  Psalm 25:14
Long ago, while in the throes of a tug of war for my soul, (AKA middle school), I regularly attended church in Connecticut with my parents. This was a pivotal season wrought with spiritual warfare. Adolescence begets identity – hence why the enemy tries tirelessly to highlight times of insecurity and shame. Even now, as I look back on those years, I see many moments I long to forget.
But lately, as I’ve been searching the scriptures, I’m reminded of something from that time period that’s seemingly insignificant…a song we often sang at church.
The song is “Friend of God.” It has, like many 2000’s worship songs, since evaporated into the ether of Sunday morning service planning software. It’s earned a bad rep from many for being too casual in referencing our relationship to the Almighty God. The simple chorus sings, “I am a friend of God. I am a friend of God. I am a friend of God – He calls me friend!”
While, admittedly, the hook is slightly annoying, “Friend of God” is a much more powerful song than I’d ever realized.
Psalm 25 declares that the friendship of the Lord is not synonymous with our understanding of human friendship – it is a bond birthed in holy fear.
“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him.”
Have you ever met someone who oozes Holy Spirit power? Someone who’s presence feels as if you’re in the presence of Jesus?
She is a friend of God.
But what qualifies her to receive that title?
Her fear of Him!
The fear of God is a holy reverence for who He is. It’s the beginning of wisdom. And this rightful recognition of who He is results in His friendship.
Our fear of the Lord grows naturally over time. The longer we walk with God, the more we fear Him. We begin to truly believe in His power, His holiness, and just how good He is. The longer we walk with God, the easier it is to trust and obey Him, because He is immutable; He never changes, and we can recall His faithfulness time and time again. The longer we walk with God, the more we can boast in His character. When we willingly decide to dwell beneath the banner of His redeeming love and unending power, adamantly acknowledging His rule and reign over all things, He takes notice. He instructs us. He calls us friends, and He makes known His covenant to us.
What is His covenant?
 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”
 then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Hebrews 10:16-17
His covenant is newness. His covenant is a cleansed conscious. His covenant is made possible only through the blood of Jesus. His covenant is for His friends.
I will not allow the enemy to bury the powerful message of this song within the skewed view of my awkward middle school years. Singing of our status as friends of God is not a mockery of His holiness – it is a faith-filled declaration of His promise. Yes, it’s radical. But oh, what a wondrous truth! The friendship and secret council of the Lord is not a casual arrangement. It is a gift reserved for those who fear Him.
It is reserved for those who daily allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the immeasurable beauty and power of Jesus Christ through His Word. It is saved for servants wrapped in the reality of Jesus’s righteousness – in awe that somehow, despite our unending sins, we still haven’t lost our favor with the Lord. It is for those who look on Him with wonder; who worship Him spirit and in truth.
It’s not casual – it’s radical.
The friendship of the Lord is for me…
…and it is for you.

follow your feelings…?

How do you make decisions?

Do you assess the pros and cons of every option, or do you just do what you want to do?

I know what you’re thinking: Different levels of decisions require different decision-making processes. You might say that you dedicate more thought and prayer to the more significant decisions, and take a more casual approach to the less significant ones. Some decisions are weightier than others, more consequential – while some are more menial; they matter less overall. For example, selecting an outfit requires a different decision-making system than selecting a city to live in.

You might say that, while the bigger decisions take more time and effort, you may decide on the smaller things, (i.e. what to eat, say, or wear) by what you feel. 

Here’s the problem with that response:

Our feelings are not always for us.

Think about it: do you usually have to will yourself to want dessert? No. If dessert is offered, we’ll want it. All our emotions associated with cake, (nostalgia, laughter, gluttony, shame) will conspire together without our cosigning to get us to desire dessert. It takes zero effort on our part to feel like we want cake – in fact, we exert more effort in deciding to say no!

Now, feelings surely should be considered during decision-making. God often uses our feelings to communicate to us. God’s spirit often guides us towards something or warns us away from something through our emotions.

But in order for our feelings to reflect God’s will, we must first align our hearts to His word. Without first meditating on the truth of His word, our feelings cannot be trusted.

Listen: we’ve got close to a million voices in our minds speaking thoughts into existence. God speaks, too – but He only has one voice. And the only way to truly know His voice is to know His word.

Okay, fair enough. So is it safe to isolate the bigger decisions from the smaller ones; to say that we’ll trust His word for the bigger decisions and just trust ourselves for the smaller ones?

Well, not quite.

Firstly: We do not have the authority to determine the significance of a decision. Only God can do that.

Who says that choosing an outfit isn’t significant? In our eyes, it might not be. But God tells us not to lean on our own understanding. God just might want you to pray about your outfit; because He might tell you to wear a certain shirt that He knows will draw the attention of a certain person and thus unlock a certain divine connection for your future. Trust Him.

Secondly: If we’re not careful, our bigger decisions will also become solely motivated by our feelings.

Following our feelings is an addictive way to live. It takes no effort, no prayer, no fasting; and it always serves our better interest. The less little things I pray about, the more big things I will forget to pray about. And before I realize it, I’ve completely eliminated my need for God.

Proverbs 3:6 says,  “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Here, we have a promise. The Word promises us that in every way we acknowledge God, He will direct us. But if we do not acknowledge Him, He cannot direct us!

We need His direction.

Because while our feelings are not always for us,

our God is always for us.

 

whispered bricks

Thoughts are bricks that build a life.

Some hold, some don’t.

Some exist for the purpose of structure…Some, for divine design.

Some are mine. Some, I thought were yours.

You whispered bricks to me a while back,

But I pretended not to hear.

The command that should’ve been a pillar fell down without a fight.

Instead, I stole bricks from other people and built my own castle.

It was going well…until you sent waves of conviction from your endless supply of wisdom, exposing my bricks as paper.

And all that I thought I knew was wrong.

Well, not all of it. The bricks you laid stayed.

But where do I go from here?

I assess the situation and take a deep breath.

Jesus,

Speak.

“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” (Luke 6:46-49)

Sometimes, You are the one who sends the storm.

 

 

tennis truths

I am the Lord, and there is no other;
    apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
    though you have not acknowledged me,
 so that from the rising of the sun
    to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.

Isaiah 45:5-6

This past Easter, I gave my 8-year-old cousin Sophia a very special gift – my 18-year-old Picture Study Bible. On the inside front cover of the thick paperback comic-book Bible reads a hand-written note from Grandma Anne to Gina Maria. Now, on the inside back cover of the thick paperback comic-book Bible reads a hand-written note from Gina to Sophia.

Recently, while babysitting Sophia on a school night, I asked her to fetch the Bible so we could read it together. I opened it up to the Old Testament story of Joash – the 8 year-old boy king. (Yes, I know the Bible says he was 7; but Sophia is 8. So for our purposes, Joash was 8.)

We learned about Joash and his unique upbringing, raised under the tutelage of the high priest. We learned that he was taught to love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, and mind; and we learned that for a while, he did. But we also learned that later on in life, he caved to the pressures of people’s idol worship. We learned how God then saved his people through the faith of his servant Hezekiah; God was with him. We learned that God fights our battles for us. We learned to ignore anyone who says otherwise.

When I thought we read as much as she could handle, we went out to the driveway to folly a tennis ball back and forth. As we grab the rackets from the garage, Sophia speaks softly.

“Gina…if I tell you something, will you tell my mom?”

“No, Sophia.” I thanked God for this moment and asked the Holy Spirit to speak through me. “What’s up?”

“Well, a long time ago, there was this math sheet that I was supposed to do. And…I kinda forgot about it. And now, it’s somewhere in my room. Should I finish it and bring it to school or should I just forget about it?”

I waited a second. “Finish it. It’ll be okay.”

My hand caressed her hair and stopped at her shoulder, guiding her out to the driveway. “Thank you for telling me, Sophia.”

As we wacked our rackets back and forth, sending green tennis balls into the neighbor’s lawn, I could tell she felt guilty.

I walked over to her and put my arm around her.

“Sophia, I’m so proud of you…”

Her eyes were nervous as her words fumbled, one story into the next.

“I just forget things sometimes, and I got in trouble at school and then I couldn’t use my chrome book and then Mommy came downstairs and she was SO mad because I got a 52 on my social studies test…and sometimes, I just get a feeling in my tummy where I feel like something’s wrong and I have to tell the truth.”

I bent down towards her. “Sophia, that’s the Holy Spirit. God wants us to be honest because He is honest…He can’t lie.”

She nodded her head in agreement.

“Pray that God will help you learn in school and help you to be honest. He will do it, I promise. He loves you.”

“Okay.”

And with that, we played tennis.

And God was with us.

let’s paint the town red

“I will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me.
    You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.”

Psalm 30:1

Just a reminder: our Enemy is a liar. Do not entertain his fantasies.

They are false. They are not true.

We’ve all experienced the moment the Enemy plops a meticulously planned memory in our minds. It’s sprinkled with elements of truth, but it’s not true. It’s old content, but looks like it’s happening right now. And though it’s twisted, it feels real. We think we want it because it’s there. We can feel it, taste it, touch it.

Newsflash: It’s not actually there. It’s an illusion.

Nonetheless, we willingly toy with the temptation to say yes to distress, to dance with the darkness of our minds.

But in spite of who we are,

God is.

God says no when we don’t.

In His goodness, faithfulness, and love, God rescues us from the mental trap of illusion. He refuses to let our enemy triumph over us with untruths. Our Father whispers through light, space, and time, “It’s a lie.

He exposes the weakness of the enemy’s lies – every time. He pulls off the mask held over our faces; allowing us to see, hear, and smell the fabricated fantasy for what it truly is: false. 

Let’s get one thing clear: spiritual deliverance is a necessary component for every believer. As we walk this walk, generational spiritual wounds of sin and shame must be uplifted, and the ground where they once stood must be drenched in the blood of Jesus.

But years after the deliverance has happened, the enemy attempts to convince us that we need to be delivered again – that this old thing has come back.

It hasn’t. That’s a lie.

One time, the Lord gave me a vision. It came on the heels of 40 days of fasting for deliverance from an intense sexual stronghold.

I saw an moving image on a wall; a short film played out as a projection. It felt 4D- I could hear it, feel it, taste it. It was a fabricated sinful sexual situation; a composition of recycled garbage from my past. But on the floor next to the wall was a bucket of bright red paint and a paint roller. As I dipped the roller into the bucket of crimson, and rolled it up and down the wall, the mural faded into oblivion. As the red paint washed over the sinful flick, the wall turned white. The projected film that once felt so real had been exposed as a fleeting hologram; one completely subjected to red paint – the beautiful blood of Jesus.

Let us never forget the power of the blood of Jesus. Let us take up our paint rollers and apply the blood to any and every thought that exalts itself above the knowledge of Christ; for the enemy’s calculated lies are never in competition for truth.

Truth wins every time.