Unseen Study ~ Chapter 13

“Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Matthew 26:13

“We become God’s friend when we listen for His heart and His soft whisper in His Word.” – Sara H. (Pg 224) Becoming God’s friend, knowing Him more…this is what this chapter is all about, in fact, I think this is what this book is all about…knowing Him, drawing near to Him, wasting our time, our lives, everything on Him. My days become so task driven and such a whirlwind that I need this reminder to be hidden and unseen with Him. I have realized that through this study and others and especially time with the Lord and His Word that my “anything” comes from being “unseen”. Praying anything you want me to do Lord and being hidden seem so far apart but it is because of the hidden and unseen times that cause me to pray that anything prayer. Knowing Jesus more produces boldness in me, spending more time with Him causes me say yes to the uncomfortable things He calls me to and this makes me want to be hidden, unseen, different from the world and growing to be more like Him and to know Him more.

“Familiarity can be the greatest enemy to growth, and yet most of us (if we’re honest) hang out around the same side of God that we know — over and over again. Sometimes over years. Decades. And admitting it to ourselves, to Him, to others, only opens us up to possibility. I pray often: “I barely know You, God.” Sometimes, just to remind myself that there are vast landscapes of Him to explore — and just when I think I’ve figured Him out.” – Sara H.

What an adventure it is to know Christ and be known by Him. It is the greatest gift I have ever received and it continues every time I seek Him. I want to have a story like Mary’s, not to be shared and told but a story that says she loved Jesus above everything else.

MY FRIEND IS A MURDERER – PART TWO

by Christy Hoagland

Since we have been doing prison ministry we have met many people, many offenders who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. I have looked into the eyes of people I knew were murderers, pedophiles, rapists and have loved them. I think God has given me the ability to love them, it is a supernatural thing. I have never been afraid of anyone I have encountered in our prison services or felt the need to shun them. Now don’t get me wrong, I abhor their sin (I abhor yours and my own too) and if I were to think on their crimes too hard and too much I may start to get carried away in my flesh and think less of them but God reminds me of His grace and keeps my eyes fixed on His calling for me, for this ministry – to speak the truth and hope of the Gospel into the lives of the incarcerated, even a murderer and to love them.

Not long ago I was told the details of an ex-offender’s crime, a murderer but now follower and lover of Jesus. To be honest, it affected me, I became queasy and my heart ached for the lives lost, their families and so much more. And then in another wave of emotion just seconds later my heart turned toward him and it hurt for him, for the memory of his sin and the years of consequences. We were getting ready to set up for an event so I held back the tears until an appropriate time and then I wept for him. I couldn’t help thinking how he has probably replayed this memory over and over because that’s what the enemy likes to do to us to keep us from remembering what Christ has done for us. I thought about how this now NEW man must feel about the old one. I really wanted to go find him and throw my arms around him and tell my brother in Christ that he is loved. I believe he knows this truth and I am thankful. But there are so many more that struggle with God’s gift of grace, that it can cover the size of their sin.

My friend, the murderer, is a great man of God and God is going to use him is so many amazing ways. But that is because He believes God, He believes the Word of truth that says he has been redeemed and set free and made new. And if we should have any doubt that God forgives and uses men such as he, let us look at Paul.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Let’s go tell about a forgiving God, about the sacrifice of Jesus for all sin no matter who they are or how big their sin…

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 12

I can’t pretend to know how Mary felt as she anointed Jesus with the oil. It is a little overwhelming to think about me in her place and although I can’t “change places” with her I am called to live a life that is devoted, surrendered and saturated with Jesus, hidden in Him – a life poured out at His feet. I am just now learning this hiddenness thing or maybe just now beginning to understand it and I am sure that I never fully will but as I pray and seek Him, I will try to put away the distractions, rest in His presence and listen for His voice.

“Some things that I will ask of Him, no one will ever see or know or hear. ‘The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him,’ we read in the Psalms (Ps 25:14). Pouring out my thoughts to Him and carrying the thoughts of His heart toward me, and toward my family and the people in my world, is not merely a part of life in God. It is all of life in God.” – Sara H. (Pg 202)

I don’t want to miss Jesus…miss out on really knowing Him, who He is, what He is saying to me. I don’t want to live a safe life and wake up one day wondering where the years went. I want to live every day, every seemingly significant or insignificant moment in His presence. “We’ll mature without effort into wrinkles and gray hair, but our hearts won’t mature deep into God by default. We have to desire more and more of God. Paul prayed for such greater fullness in our experience of God. Sara H. (Pg 207)

“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

Seek Him, talk to Him, pray.

“God told me what I already knew, but what I needed to hear again: the story of God and me is my most significant story. His eyes on me and into my life are the source from which I draw everything else. Whether I am folding laundry or speaking from a platform, my exchanges with God are always about His reach for me and my reach for Him in return, again and again. The rest of life is the overflow.” – Sara H. (Pg 212) I love this! I hope you are listening for His Holy whispers, I sure am trying to, to listen and abide.

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 11

“He [God] loves to heal what has broken.” – Sara H. (Pg 190)

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

God loves to heal our broken hearts…and He is really good at it. I have been really sick this week and I was scheduled to lead worship at a Pastor and Leaders Conference today, I hated telling them I couldn’t come, I hated that I was not going to be able to network with other church pastors and leaders and I hated losing out on getting paid. But God gently reminded me that He is my provider, my comforter, my healer, my everything. And it’s gonna be okay.

So, as I was reading this week’s chapter I was reminded of God’s healing the broken, not only physically but spiritually, emotionally. We’ve been remodeling our house and our stairway is finally finished, I had picked up a large shadowbox and other things to display my dad’s uniform from Vietnam along with the flag folded at his funeral. My grandparents and aunts had allowed me to receive these precious items and I wanted to display them in honor of him. This project, along with reading this chapter wrecked me. My dad passed away in 2008 in a car accident, he was 58 years old. I had a hard time with my dad’s passing because of me…I loved him and didn’t tell him enough, I didn’t return phone calls in the months leading up to his death, I played his cheerful message left on my answering machine from my birthday over and over wishing I had one more chance to talk to him, to tell him I loved him and that Jesus loved him. Upon hearing of his death, the first words from my mouth were “I never told him about Jesus”, my mom reassured me that she had and my wonderful aunt told me about his faith in the first minutes I saw her when I arrived at the funeral home. God’s marvelous grace…poured out over me through my aunt. God knew what I needed and he began healing my broken heart over my own sin in not sharing the Gospel and not letting my dad know how much I loved him and that he was a good dad to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over myself but God continues to move and grow me through it. He has given me an urgency to share Him with the lost, with my family and strangers. I am thankful for His grace, His love for me and His continued healing in my brokenness.

“When we acknowledge the parts of us that are broken, we have significant growth spurts in God.” – Sara H. (Pg 198)

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 10

Thirsty for Jesus…

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God.” Psalm 42:1

When I am at my weakest I thirst for more of Jesus. Sometimes as I am reaching for Him I feel restless, lonely, and miserable. But these are the times I remember being filled up, renewed, refreshed and propelled in my growth in Him.

A few years ago (2015) I battled a prideful and entitled spirit in myself, it was ugly and I had a hard time letting go and letting Him fill me with more of Him. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 30:30 I needed to surrender this part of myself to Him, I need to thirst more for Him and let Him be what fills my life…not this need to have my own way. When I finally relinquished control of this area of my life things started to change in my life. Grace filled my thoughts when things didn’t go my way and the doors God wanted to open for me began to fling open. I trust God, He has a much better plan for me than I do, He knows what’s best for me and will show me great and mighty things when I am dependent upon Him.

“What feels like a wilderness, a desert – the hidden seasons and the hidden spaces throughout our day that expose we are dry on the inside – cannot thwart the maker of rain. These are the times our roots forge deeper through the earth to find the water source…Our water is Him. This beautiful God. His eyes, they know us – all the parts of us. His arms, they’re strong and they hold us. His whisper speaks life and breathes dust off what’s old and needs reviving.” – Sara H. (Pg 183/184)

“I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there.” Hosea 2:14

I am reminded of a song, “I Surrender” by Hillsong…”Drench my soul as mercy and grace unfold, I hunger and thirst, I hunger and thirst”

MY FRIEND IS A MURDERER – PART ONE

by Christy Hoagland

Some of the most godly people I know are incarcerated. That may seem like an odd statement but God’s Word confirms its truth. “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:47 ESV

Johnny says that Jesus made him a wimp but I believe that Jesus forgave Johnny’s sin and overwhelmed him so much with His grace and mercy over that forgiveness that Johnny just cannot help but weep for those who weep and love others much. Look at King David, he was in fact a murderer and at the same time a man after God’s own heart. I met a man awhile back who became a regular at one of the institutions we visit and he amazed me with his knowledge of scripture, his gratefulness to God for saving his soul, his love for others and his boldness in sharing the Gospel of Jesus. He was forgiven much and loves much.

So what does this say of those of us who have not been to prison, not been identified with societies “BIG SINS”? Do we have the ability to love others much?

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 ESV

You’ll have to answer that question in your own heart. Ask yourself, do you love societies most hated? The incarcerated, drug dealers, homosexuals, rapists, Muslims, abortionists…? We forget that we can love people without condoning sin or we at least act like we can’t love them. We can stand up for God’s truth and Christian values and still love much.

Let’s dig a little deeper, if we believe God’s Word, we are all murderers.

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer…” 1 John 3:15 ESV

If we are honest with ourselves then we know that our minds have thought the worst of others at times. We are all guilty. We are all sinners!

Maybe you agree with all of this but you are still having trouble with the first sentence of this post. It seems that a lot of people don’t really believe that God can change the heart of a man, at least a man in prison or who has done some heinous crime. Do we believe God has the power and the ability to change the sinner? Even the most guilty of sinners? We say yes with our mouths but in our hearts we doubt, our actions betray our yes when we look at others who we think are the worst of the worst. I think what our real struggle is we don’t believe God and His Word. He shows us how He changes people again and again. Take a look at Mark 5 and the demon-possessed man, he was so miraculously changed that people marveled at what Jesus had done for the man.

“And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.” Mark 5:15

“And they were afraid”…we are afraid of what we do not understand, of what we do not have control of or can make sense of but this is the kind of God we serve! His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts. Jesus says in this same chapter later on “Do not fear, only believe”! Believe that God has the power and want to to change lives, every life that will call on Him. Let us examine our hearts, believe God and love much.

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 9

“We search vainly from others for the acclaim that only God can give.” – Sara H.

Finding our value in Him instead of other people, listening for His voice, His leading instead of our own or others or the enemy! Let’s tune out the noise but while we are tuning it out let us invite Him into the stillness.

Let’s face it, we want to be noticed by other people more than by our Creator. We want to be lifted up, made much of, and thought well of by the world…our flesh sure does and when we try and listen for God’s voice it gets pushed out by everything and everyone else. But why wouldn’t it, we fill our days, hours, minutes with constant noise; social media, television, music, and our incredulous thoughts. And then we wonder why we aren’t hearing from God. I’m sure if my time spent on other invaluable things was put up against how much time I spent soaking in the Word and thinking about, praying to and listening to my Savior I would not be surprised at how the noise invades so much space, so much of my mind!

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” Ephesians 6:12

And the enemy wants to have our thoughts directed toward anything and anyone else than Jesus. Put on that armor and continually call out to Him to renew you, revive you, and cleanse you. I love how Sara prays the Psalms, what a truth, comfort, and renewal can come from them. That’s where many of my song lyrics have come from. “The Psalms are to be prayed, recited, and sung…to be done, not merely to be read. We are not simply to read the Psalms; we are to be immersed in them so that they profoundly shape how we relate to God… [They] are the divinely ordained way to learn devotion to our God.” – Tim Keller “The Psalms demonstrates that we can bring to God all of ourselves – with all of our emotions – and trust that He has the power to change us.” (Pg 169)

“My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” Psalm 119:25

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7

Truth time – I am really trying to give this good portion to the Lord…my time, my mind, but it has been difficult. I find myself over and over thinking about that dreaded to-do list! BUT, at least now I am realizing that I’m thinking about it and trying to intentionally shift my mind to Jesus and not get caught up in what I didn’t get done and simply love the time I have spent with Him.

“Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!” Psalm 30:10

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 8

“All of us have the privilege of being called to be His servants. Jesus said that He Himself didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give [which we should hold] in the back of our hearts all the time. We haven’t been called to some big outward thing, to be written about or publicized; we’re called to serve Him. We serve Him because we love Him. Whatever we’re doing we’re doing for Jesus and doing for Him to be uplifted.” Helen Roseveare

Confession time…on my path of surrender, of anything God wants I thought I had to DO big things for Him to be fully surrendered. But I have learned that being hidden in Him, my time with Him, is what leads me to big or small or whatever kind of thing He wants to use me for. And as I was being obedient to His calling on my life I was forgetting to seek Him in the ordinary. I was putting all my efforts into big things that I failed to be on my face for every thing my heart ached for… I think this study is just for me but in leading it and doing it along with you it has allowed my eyes to be opened to these new truths. That God wants to be my friend, He wants an open, honest relationship with me, to know me on a deeper level and make Himself known to me more. And this happens when I spend time with Him, not just “time”….but devoted time with Him (not that check list time). “No longer do I call you servants,” Jesus said to his followers, “for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15 “When I let friendship with God become my first priority – talking to Him, hearing from Him, letting His Word shape my thinking – I align myself with an agenda that does, in fact, help meet the needs of others. I move from being an efficient and productive worker to a friend who can touch and see and engage with God. I grow to love the things and the people He loves – with my actions, with my time, and with my presence.” (Pg 135-136)

I want unity with the Father. Jesus took time to be with His Father, what an example He is of how important this is! Take time to be with God, pray, read the Word, and speak His Word allowed to yourself. I have scripture posted around the house, the more I read them…the more I believe them and the more alive the truths become to me.

“He rescued me, because He delighted in me” Psalm 18:19

You are not forgotten, You are seen by Him and He delights in you. Serving our King, our Savior, begins with time alone with Him.

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 7

Wasting ourselves on God…

“God’s currency is communion – a relationship that grows, nearer still. A depth of relationship that feeds the recipient in the way that productivity and accomplishment just cannot. What a waste. What a beautiful waste.” – (Pg 125)

Sara in the airport, people watching and praying for strangers, wanting to encounter God and then heeding His voice and nudge when she heard it and felt it. This is how we need to live life – in an uncomfortable, heart pounding, “this person is gonna think I’m crazy” kind of way. Always ready to share Jesus in some kind of way. In 2012 I went on mission to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, it was quite the experience and I returned several more times to love on people there. But during this first trip my eyes were opened to the lostness of the world, I met people from around the globe who didn’t know Jesus, who didn’t have a relationship with Him. And the greatest gift I came home with was seeing lostness everywhere I turned, when I walked into the grocery store, put gas in my car, etc, etc. Looking at strangers as if they were on their way to hell changes your day to day. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to give someone hope, the Gospel. Some may know Him but need loved, a word of encouragement, a hand of friendship. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, I have chastised myself when I have passed someone by and knew I should have said something because I know and have seen what God does when we obey. Sometimes it is something so simple, last year I saw a woman holding a cardboard sign and gas can by Wal-Mart in my hometown, she was overweight, a mess, and created in the image of God. I rolled down my window, gave her maybe $5 and told her Jesus loved her, she was beautiful. She said “thank you, I needed to hear that”. A few months ago I saw a family at a carwash with a minivan, the father had a sign that said something about needing gas/money to get home to California. I stopped and gave them $11, it was all I had in my wallet except for that secret place that you stash money for a special occasion 😉 I drove away and knew I needed to go back and give them that $100. I turned around and got out of my car to give them the money, I grabbed a couple CDs as well and as I handed them the goods explained why I needed to give them more. They began to cry, I asked them if they knew Jesus, they said yes. I prayed with them and hugged them and went on my way. This isn’t about giving money, I don’t always have any to give but I can share the hope I have in Christ and that is the greatest gift I can give. This is a result of Jesus’ work in my life and I gain this confidence because of hiddenness in Him. Wasting my time with Him grows me into the woman He wants me to be, a woman He can use when someone needs to hear from Him.

I heard a great sermon last weekend and the speaker talked about private prayer leaving no room for pride…we can’t show it off. Seeking the Lord is the most important thing we can “do”. Let’s love Him first and most!

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5

Let’s embrace this time with Him.

“Lord, I have loved the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells.” Psalm 26:8

“The waste of extravagant love we pour at Jesus’ feet is never squandered. That love expands us, it doesn’t diminish us. We weren’t made to ration our love. We were made for extravagance.” (Pg 131)

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 6

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'” Genesis 1:26

We are image bearers of God, pretty cool, huh? Yet time and time again I have to be reminded of that very thing. In my pursuit to be seen I try to look like everyone else, to fit in or make myself seem more important than I am. But the greatest truth is that what makes me important is being an image bearer of my Creator.

“If you want true beauty, look into the face of Jesus”, writes preacher Charles Spurgeon. Beauty is in the lines of His face, the humanity He wore for you and for me. But we tend to be a people of quick glances – even with God. Life at warp speed allows for little beholding. (Pg 106)

One of my favorite parts of chapter 6 is Sara’s “wonder hour”, I want to implement this into my days and of course that means not worrying about the productiveness of my to-do list and letting everything go. Why do we tell ourselves we can’t do this? Why do I tell myself I can’t do this? That it is not acceptable? If I turn my heart toward eternity, then most of my days should be looking in awe and wonder at the Savior, spending time with Him. “Internal stillness takes practice. It is the fruit of hiddenness – a life that’s lived looking at God, a life of wonder in Him – and it needs to be cultivated.” (Pg 111)

He wants my affections and attention not my doings, achievements, checked boxes. Lord, help me to have my eyes only on you while the world goes on without me.