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EXPERIENCING THE LIVING GOD

 

HOW DO WE KNOW

IF WE TRULY KNOW HIM?

HOW DO WE KNOW

IF WE ARE  TRULY EXPERIENCING THE LIVING GOD

OR JUST GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS OF RELIGION?

IT’S VITAL TO KNOW

FOR IT’S THE DIFFERENCE

BETWEEN DEATH AND LIFE


In our study on The Stonecutter, we’ve seen God’s promise from Ezekiel to exchange our dead hearts of stone for living hearts of flesh. We’ve repeatedly talked about letting The Stonecutter remove the stone idols from our hearts — the things we often think we have to have to be beautiful, significant, or satisfied. But those idols lie — they have no life giving power at all, Instead, if we cling to them, we will go into a downward spiral, and we will shrivel up — like Rachel did. Though she was the wife who was loved, though she was the woman who was so beautiful she made men weep, she is the dead flower on the left, whereas her sister Leah, whom the world did not value, blossomed into life and left a legacy. Rachel clung to her idols. She thought she could not live without them. She said to Jacob: GIVE ME CHILDREN OR I’LL DIE! Rachel is also the one who stole her father’s household gods, hiding them under her skirt.

The Seduction of Lesser Gods by Leslie Williams

In The Seduction of Lesser Gods, Leslie Williams writes something I think is worth memorizing:

Without knowing fully what we are doing, we hide the things we secretly love under our skirts, like Rachel, sitting primly and righteously on our camels, wondering why we are not whole, why we still suffer, why we feel un-reconciled to the God we profess.

We have also learned that idols cannot be removed, they can only be replaced. Our only remedy is a vital relationship with the living God. It is He who gives us beauty, significance, and satisfaction. This is where we are turning in our final leg of The Stonecutter. Many of you are grasping it, and those who have just joined us may feel breathless to catch up, but let me know when I am not clear, and I and the sisters on the blog will try to help. Keller said once, “If you think you understand the Gospel, you probably don’t — if you think you are just beginning to get it, you probably are.” The Gospel is so much bigger than just being saved from the wrath of God — it is about realizing, on a moment to moment basis, both how weak and needy you are, and yet how loved you are and how He longs to be your all in all. Jack Williams put it like this:

We are so sinful Christ had to die for us.

Yet we are so loved that He did.

 

This truth must shine in your heart so you are willing to release your idols, the things that in the past you thought you had to have, even going to the point of “hiding them secretly under your skirts.”

Last week  Terri and Anne articulated the joy of grasping the Gospel:

Terri: –I have been overwhelmed this week by the truth that God pursued and pursued me because he loves me so much and wants me to be free from guilt and the bondage of sin.

 

 

 

 

Anne: I remember an image from a sermon a few years ago of driving the gospel deep into my heart. It is like a peg, the deeper it goes the stronger it becomes. I feel like that is what has happened to me this week.

So we are going to let the Word of God keep hammering the peg of the Gospel into our stony hearts, that our stones may fall apart, and that He may give us hearts of flesh.

 

Richard Lovelace, a Puritan and poet from the 17th century, made this comment on why it is so important to grasp the full power of the Gospel:

Christians who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure
persons, much less secure than non-Christians, because of the constant bulletins they receive from their Christian environment about the holiness of God and the
righteousness they are supposed to have. Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce defensive assertion of their own righteousness and defensive criticism of
others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger. They cling
desperately to legal, pharisaical righteousness, but envy, jealousy and other branches on the tree of sin grow out of their fundamental insecurity… So it is our insecurity regarding our acceptance with God which is the reason we make idols. We look at our knowing of him (which fluctuates so much) instead of his knowing of us, in Christ. We are desperately trying to firm up a positive self-image by using our idols. Paul reminds us that in the gospel we don’t need to make ourselves beautiful or lovable to God; he already knows us. If this is the case, we don’t need to make an idol out of other people’s approval or even our own self-approval. The classic statement of this is in I Cor.4:3-4. There Paul says that he does not only not care about other people’s evaluation of him, he does not even care for his own evaluation of himself. Rather, all that counts is God’s evaluation or “judgment” of him.

Some of our newcomers, and I’m so glad they did, expressed confusion, the sense of getting lost in our journey. So I am feeling led to turn to the New Testament letter of John, one of my favorite places to go. It always feels like going home to the arms of God. It is a letter that has helped me more fully comprehend the breadth of the Gospel.

 

Come home with me.

 

 

1 John is perhaps my favorite letter in the New Testament, My guide, A Woman of Beauty, is on this letter, and Kathy Troccoli and I also delved into it in our curriculum, Living in Love with Jesus. Plugging into 1 John with your heart, mind, and soul will help you experience God. It has helped me, and it has also helped to reassure me that I know the living God. I have seen in your posts how you often, as I do, can feel discouraged — you’ve made so much progress, and yet, those stubborn stones come back. But you can know you know Him, that His mighty energy is at work within you, and you can have the joy John expressed. Yet we must ever be vigilant. John closes this letter with this warning:

My little children, keep yourselves from idols.

1 John 5:21

If that seems like a strange command, perhaps this paraphrase from Today’s Living Translation will clarify:

Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.

Idols are not the stone gods people bow down to, but anything from which you are getting your significance. Examples:

Rachel had to have children or she didn’t want to live, so having children became the most important thing.

Practicing homosexuals have to have intimacy with the same sex or they feel life is meaningless, so that intimacy becomes the most important thing.

Many of us feel like we have to have the approval of others or we despair, so that approval becomes the most important thing.

Christ wants to be our all in all.

Christ wants us to experience God. To have an ongoing intimacy with Him, an awareness of Him, a joy in Him.

How do we do it?

Let’s just take two ways this week:

Child gazing at stars

1. Let Him fill up your senses by living in the present.

When you enjoy one of His gifts, let it turn your heart to Him in gratitude. Live in the moment, like children do. They are neither feeling badly about

the past or worrying about the future — they enjoy the moment.

Look at this clip of my fifteen month old grand-daughter Miabelle (David — our website guy’s daughter) loving the moment.


Now, as you live in the moment, give thanks — and you will be enjoying intimacy with God. A person who doesn’t know God simply enjoys His gifts, but a person who knows God allows that gift to turn her face to Him in gratitude. Think of Ann Voskamp’s “Eucharisto.” Consciously live that way this week, letting life lead you into gratitude and into His arms.

 

2. Let His Word light a fire in your heart by going slowly, waiting until it burns.

I’m not going to give you a lot to study, because I want you to slow down until it lights a fire. I am praying you will experience God.

Let me pray for us before we begin — please join me in praying for your sisters.

Father, we want to know You more.  We do not want to be dead, lifeless — we want your pulsating life to fill our hearts. We know that is the secret, and we are helpless without You. As we turn to this letter of John, to this Apostle whom You chose to remain to the end, please quicken our hearts, please light a fire, please help us understand the breadth of the gospel and thereby experience You. I ask this in the name of your precious Son Jesus.

ICEBREAKERS: (Do both!)

A. Look at the picture of the dead versus blossoming flower, imagining them as Rachel and Leah. What have you learned about the contrast between these two sisters that could help you turn from your idols to God?

B. Take one or at most two things from the introduction that stood out to you and contemplate it. After telling us what it is, tell us why it impacted you.

PART I. BIBLE STUDY:

FELLOWSHIP, KNOW, WALK, ABIDE — ALL TERMS FOR EXPERIENCING GOD

1. Read  1 John 1 through 1 John 2:6 in your first quiet time. Read slowly. Then read again, circling these words which are interchangeable words for experiencing God. Circle them in any form (fellowship, fellowshiping…walk, walking…abide, abiding, know, knowing)

2. After doing this, write out your reflections on what you’ve learned about better experiencing the living God.

GETTING TO KNOW JOHN


THE OPENING OF HIS GOSPEL

AND THE OPENING OF HIS LETTER

CONTAIN THE SAME AWE

THE SAME JOY

HE CAN HARDLY CONTAIN HIS ENTHUSIASM

HE WANTS YOU TO KNOW

WE SAW HIM WITH OUR OWN EYES!

WE TOUCHED HIM WITH OUR OWN HANDS!

THIS IS THE APOSTLE WHO WAS ONE OF THE THREE CLOSEST TO JESUS

HE IS THE APOSTLE WHO RAN, BREATHLESS, EASTER MORNING

Eugène Burnand: Peter and John Running to the Tomb

 

INDEED, AS HIS OPENING SAYS

HE SAW HIM

HIS OWN HANDS TOUCHED HIM

 

Caravaggio's Doubting Thomas

 

BY THE TIME JOHN WRITES HIS LETTERS

ALL OF THE OTHER DISCIPLES HAVE DIED MARTYRS’ DEATHS

JOHN ALONE IS LEFT

AND HE LONGS FOR US TO GO DEEPER

TO EXPERIENCE THE LIVING GOD

THAT OUR JOY MAY BE COMPLETE


3. What stands out to you about this opening concerning John the Apostle and why?

4. Read 1 John 1:1-2

A. Compare Genesis 1:1; John 1:1; and 1 John 1:1 and find the similarity.

B. In the opening of Peter’s 2nd letter, he says, “We were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus

Christ.” (2 Peter 1:16 NLT) John wants us to know the same. How does he express this here?

C. Can you remember the first time you became aware Jesus was real — and that He really cared about you? Share something about it.

D. Has there been a time in the last week when you were aware of the same? It may have happened when you “let Him fill up your senses and gave thanks;” or it might have happened when His Word lit a fire, or it may have happened in another way. Share, if you can.

5. Read 1 John 1:3-4

A. In verse 3, John talks about two kinds of fellowship, one vertical and one horizontal. First, he talks about the horizontal: having fellowship with other believers,  Christianity is not “me and God,” but corporate. Fellowship with one another is essential, for this is one of the ways we experience God.  Name one way you experienced joy this week interacting in Christ with another believer.

B. John also talks in verse 3 about fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. This is “interactive,” just like our fellowship with one another is inter-active. This is harder, but vital for experiencing the living God. We’re concentrating on two ways this week. Re-iterate what they are:

6. Has His Word lit a fire in you yet? If so, share.

 

PART II. THE TIM KELLER SERMON

My first choice for you is one that is not free. It is called “To Know The Living God” and it is on the opening of 1 John by Keller. (LINK)

Here’s a quote I love from the above sermon:

Daniel Steel – a Methodist 19th century English minister

Almost every week and sometimes every day now a pressure of his great love comes down upon my heart with the light of his radiance presence. The inner spot of my heart has been touched and its flintiness has been melted in the presence of love divine all loves excelling.

There is also a free sermon that has many of the same truths. Some of you have heard it before, but it is one I have listened to many times. It is where he says, as he does I believe in the above, “That the sense of His absence is a sign of His presence.” (Link)

7. Please write down the points that stood out to you from the sermon and explain why.


PART III. REBECCA’S TESTIMONY

Rebecca has been with us for some time, and it gives me joy to see the transformation in her. She exemplifies what happens when we turn from idols to the Living God. She also truly lives out what we are talking about this week — letting God fill up your senses. Her testimony is filled with word pictures, as she does this. Though she has a challenging life with four boys, two of them special needs, she enjoys them, seeing God at work in them. She’s a cheerleader to not just her boys, but to us. (My daughter-in-law also tells me she has a wonderful husband. )She abides in His Word until it is honey in her mouth. She sings amazingly, and God is whittling away her fear of people so that she can shine for Him.

I was depressed, sinking into the abyss, feeling so far away from God. I blamed everything around me for my condition.

I was overeating both with food, and politics. I clung to politics like if we had the perfect leaders everything would be well and just in life. My desires were telling God that He wasn’t the desire of my heart, that He couldn’t comfort me like food could and He was certainly not a God of justice. I couldn’t trust Him for the future because my hope was in these things. I was isolating myself from other brothers and sisters in the Lord as my world continued to spiral downward.

Then I remembered what my sweet sister in the Lord, Julie Brestin, Dee’s daughter in law, told me about Dee a few years ago. I had heard of her studies, but didn’t know about her. What Julie shared reminded me of an older woman who discipled me years ago. I remembered what a well that was and how God used that in my life. So, I went online and noticed Dee had an online Bible study, although reluctant of what others might think of me being on an online study, I joined anyway. I so desired to be mentored by Dee.

Immediately I was drawn to the women who were godly, transparent and teachable, and whom God had given a heart to pursue Him. This became a well for me given by the hand of God and he started getting my heart ready to hear what He was about to tell me.

A few months after being involved in the Bible study, Dee started the Stonecutter study. I was filled with a lot of pride, let me tell you! When she posted the topic, I thought “Great! I don’t have a heart of stone. I know the Lord! “

I was wrong. As our study moved on, God soon revealed in me a heart of stone and that I was an idolatrous and had been deceived for many years. He began to chip away at my stone and revealed to me the core of my problem with depression. I had some real stressors in life, but instead of running to Him for comfort I was running to my comfort idol who promised me food would bring me comfort and politics would bring me hope.

I was in bed with my comfort idol tasting the sweet honey he offered, that soon became bitter. His love was like a worthless poison berry-beautiful, enticing and and inviting on the outside, but once eaten poisons the soul.

I was drowning and though I could rise up for air for quick relief from the things my idol offered, I grew weaker and could no longer get to the top as my idol wrapped weeds around my ankles pulling me deeper down into the depths of depression.

God came in like a gentle, shy lover at first and then like a hurricane when he revealed his jealous passion for me. Dee took us into Jeremiah 2. God spoke to me-it was the turn in the road for me. When we got to verse eleven it stuck with me “But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.” I was his bride in a covenant relationship with Him-my glorious God, my husband, provider, comforter, who loves abundantly overflowing, in bed with another lover-a worthless lover, a dead stick bent on my destruction. I saw God’s jealous, passionate love for the Israelites and how their idolatry grieved him. I knew mine did too for God never changes.

My stone began to crumble over time as I started to see how jealous, how passionate and how deep His love is for me and how my sin grieved Him and that drew me to repentance over and over again and I fled from my idol.

I drew closer to God as He pressed me into Him deeper and he began to peel back the layers of lies and replace them with truth. I gave up over eating and watching political shows and replaced it with spiritually edifying books.

I gave up sweets and trusted God for the timing on when I could eat them, not as a tool to bring comfort, but just simply to enjoy as a gift from God.

I did lose weight, but unintentionally it became a fast, and I soaked in the Lord instead.

I could enjoy the birds singing again in the mornings, every song new, every sunrise was as new as God’s mercies! He opened my eyes and ears to really see and taste His love for me both as I saw His majesty and wisdom in creation and as I drank from His well in the word.

The honeymoon was renewed, yet sweeter and deeper . I truly tasted the sweetness of His honey.

Yet, around the corner my idols vie for my attention daily, so having my time with the Lord in His word every morning, and to be in sweet communion with him throughout the day is crucial in me hearing Him and taking heed to the Holy Spirits red flags when these idols began to start drawing me in again. I am still an idolatrous who can easily be led away from God, but at the same time I am His princess and I have tasted Him in a deeper way which compels me to abstain from my cheap, worthless idols and fall into the arms of my glorious, passionate, creative and loving God.

8. What stood out to you from Rebecca’s testimony and why?

9. How can you affirm Rebecca this week?

10. What is your take-a-way this week and why?

P. S. If you feel ready to send a Stonecutter testimony, please send it to comments@deebrestin.com     If you are not ready — then wait! 🙂

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360 comments

  1. 2. Reflections on what you’ve learned about better experiencing the living God.

    Until I joined this blog I never really understood what experiencing the living God was all about. For many years I went through bible studies not really grasping the whole truth but after I removed my mask of hypocrisy and exposed my soul God began revealing more of himself to me. His word has slowly changed the course of my life and I cannot imagine living any other way. I experience the living God as I read his word and his spirit shines the light a little brighter so I can see the hidden treasure.

    3. What stands out to you about this opening concerning John the Apostle and why?

    I was struck by the words ‘He alone is left’. I remember Jesus’ words to Peter concerning the end of his life and instead of pondering those sobering words Peter wants to know about John’s future. Jesus asks him if I want John to live until I return what’s it to you?
    No contemporaries are left. His brother James was the first to be martyred. John has seen everyone he loves taken yet, instead of wallowing in self pity, he shares his secret of joy-his eyewitness account of the life of Jesus-God in the flesh. I’ve always been fascinated with the final words of his gospel: If I wrote down everything Jesus did the world couldn’t hold the books. Makes me wonder what all Jesus did. John is still speaking today in this 21st century. ‘Hey, Jesus is real. I talked with him, ate with him, walked with him, and I saw him do mighty works. Jesus is God with us. He is trustworthy.’

    4.C. I’ve shared before that I was introduced to Jesus when I was a toddler. I have always been aware of Jesus and after I surrendered to him I knew I truly belonged to him but until recently I don’t believe I really grasped that he truly loves and sees me. I had a dream one night and in this dream I was married. Before the dream I had had a most difficult day or something had really irritated I can’t remember the specifics. In my dream I come home and my husband wants to know why I’m all upset and he gives me his full attention as I tell him about what has upset me so. When I finished giving him the specifics my husband took me in his arms and comforted me. I woke up and realized Jesus was my husband in the dream. I never saw his face but I knew it was him. After the dream I knew for sure that I am never alone and Jesus really sees and cares about my the well-being of my soul.

    1. Tammy, that is a great dream!

    2. That was a wonderful dream, Tammy – a dream, yet it is true! I also like how you reminded us of what John said about if he had written everything down that Jesus had done, the world couldn’t hold all the books there’d be – and you are wondering just what all did Jesus do? Me, too!

    3. I love this…..”…I am never alone…” how comforting!

      1. Tammy, I agree with our sisters here that this was a wonderful dream and it encourages me to hear how God came to you in this way. He is so faithful and He is making you so beautiful, Tammy. I am always encouraged by your posts!

  2. ICEBREAKER
    B. The thing that really stands out to me is the quote from Richard Lovelace. It begins to illuminate for me some things that I have lately noticed. In my own life and in dealings I have had with other Christians I have noticed that things can go horribly wrong. We can hurt others exponentially more than our non Christian counterparts. I have done it and it has been done to me, and I have wondered how this can be. Lovelace says it is when we stop believing that He loves us just because, and begin to think that we must earn His love that things go awry. We are insecure because of constant reminders that we do not measure up to His holiness and this can make us very much like the Pharisees. Ouch! What I need in dealing with the idol of approval is Paul’s attitude in 1 Cor 4:3-4.

    1. Anne, Man, I sure can relate to everything you said here. We will always let one another down that is for sure and I am sure I have let others down, well I know I have! I also have been given honest sisters in the Lord too! 😉 I too loved this quote from Lovelace: “It is when we stop believing that He loves us just because, and begin to think that we must earn His love that things go awry. We are insecure because of constant reminders that we do not measure up to His holiness and this can make us very much like the Pharisees.” I agree with you in the “ouch” department. 🙂

      I could be wrong but I also think that is what drives us to try to see other’s motives which I think can be SO DANGEROUS and divide us. We can paint a picture of someone by thinking we know their motives and sometimes even gossip about them, but what if we are wrong? As Paul says further on in verse 5 that God will bring to light the motives of the heart-that isn’t our job-so we must love one another.

      1. Rebecca, thank you for this affirmation. What you say about looking for motives in others is profound. It reminds me of something Dee shared that Steve said. He would rather be taken advantage of by 5 people than to withhold grace from 1 in need of it. God will indeed see to the motives of others.

        Today 1 Cor 4:3-4 has been well used by me ;o)

      2. Oh and please know that I do not refer to relationships here. Some very unsettling things have happened at church and that is what I was thinking about.

  3. 1. heard, seen with our eyes, observed, touched, revealed to us, fellowship, practicing, walk, know Him, in Him.
    2. These words that I have written as I read seem to be on a continuum. They begin with hearing and go through the senses to fellowship, then practice then knowing Him to finally being ‘in Him’. But sandwiched in between is the gospel. It is before knowing Him which leads to being in Him. We hear, see and touch but without repentance and the gospel it goes no further.

  4. I just love this picture of Peter and John. They ran breathless. Can it possibly be? Their thoughts are so visible.

  5. 3. It seems like John would be nervous and fearful after what has happened to the other disciples, but he is not. He is experiencing joy right here on this earth in the midst of dangers and prison. He wants to show us how we can experience the same.
    4a. Each tells us that Christ is, from the beginning, with God.
    b. Peter tells us that they were eyewitnesses to His majesty.
    c. The first time I became aware of His reality and love was when I experienced His love through another person loving me. I was only a child but I responded to that love and believed in Jesus.
    d. I think my greatest experience of His love is in small things. Today I have experienced Him in so many ways. I so enjoy the women I work with and they blessed me numerous times today. Then after I got home there were several times when the sky was so beautiful I ached. Then this evening after dark I opened the window and a balmy breeze gently caressed my face and I knew His caress. I have these nagging thoughts that my experience should be deeper and would be if I were more disciplined but I think for now I will be happy with what I have. It is a continuum I think, and I will not really arrive until I get to heaven.

    1. Dee, thank you for the update! It sounds like God is really moving through discipleshipunlimited and through you, and it is so good to hear about the women with depth and hunger there. I can’t imagine what it must be like adjusting to flexibility in the prisons. I am sure that takes time as you said, yet when you see how they are treated it must really be hard. Then when you go on the outside and see women who are free and pampered yet without depth it must be a struggle and especially so for a gifted teacher like you.

      Lord, Thank you for how you are moving through Discipleshipunlimited. Thank you that you have given Dee and Linda hearts to care about what you care about and thank you for how you are teaching them, enlarging them through this. Thank you that there are hungry and depthy women there in the prison and that you have lovingingly provided for them through Dee and Linda and the workers at discipleshipunlimited. Lord you amaze me how you love these women in prison and how you have transformed them! When we see Dee’s heart of passion in hating the things you hate and loving the things you love it is a balm to our souls for it is You shining through her. Lord I pray you would give the women in prison and on the outside hearts that care about what you care about. Lord we know you hate a luke-warm heart so give them hearts aflame. Set the women’s hearts on fire that Lind and Dee touch in prison, and Lord set the hearts on fire of those at Dee’s conference this weekend. Open their ears and quicken their hearts. Lord thank you for your faithfulness in giving Dee the strength she needs to accomplish what you have given her for this day when evil is so rampant and hearts are so stony-for it is your hammer and you are the Stonecutter.

      Oh and Lord, I too echo what Dee said..I want to be one who cares about what you care about.

      1. 10. What is your take-a-way this week and why?

        That quote by Daniel Steele. I want to be aflame for the Lord every day. I am a mess, really I am just about every second of the day, yet at the same time God now has me open and tender to being quiet and letting him come into my mess-yet I can easily close up and curl around it so I must learn to be quicker at repentance. This is daily and mostly minute by minute. He is helping me throw off the things that hinder me from being intimate with Him-He is all I want and I want to be with my brothers and sisters because of Him and I want that fellowship to be deep and meaningful.

        I want to sense His presence more and more as I fellowship with Him in His word-breathing His breath in, and as I go along the way each day I want to taste His sweetness in the moments in life. I really do believe I won’t be perfect until He comes, but I also believe the same sweetness in my relationship with Him when I see Him face to face can happen here on Earth although not as glorious perhaps, but I can get a deeper taste of Him here than I ever have in the last 20+ years of knowing Him and I am thrilled to know He wants to take me into deeper depths with Him!

      2. Dear Father in in Heaven, I pray the same prayer for Dee and linda and all the prison ladies and for the texas laws to be changed. We take for granted how blessed we all are here, when we hear of how they are treated in prison. Please give Dee blessings to uphold her throught the week-end and mercies home. In Jesus name, amen

    2. Prayed for God’s Spirit to fan the flame in your spirit Dee. I had the thought as I read in Matthew 26 the story of the woman breaking her alabaster jar and pouring her perfume on the head of Jesus that we who are on the outside of prison are afflicted with prosperity. I prayed for the women who attend today’s retreat that their hearts will be moved with compassion for our sisters in prison. Love you.

  6. 10. What is your take-a-way this week and why?

    My take away is what i learned about the Horizontal and Vertical relationships I had no idea what they meant and hadnt even heard of it before.. Fellowship with one another is essential this statement really stood out to me because i can feel it when i havent been in fellowsip with other believers i tend to get “down” in the doward spiral.. but it can happen to when i havent been connected with God too.

  7. Dee, I will be driving home today, so will pray for you as I drive. Thanks for the updaes, so we really know how to pray for you. I am going to pray that God really moves on the hearts of the women so they give more than they would have if they had actually taken an offering. let us know.

  8. Dee, we are so blessed to be able to ‘see’ into these prisons through you. Lord I am so thankful for Your heart. Thank You for bringing us along with You as You reach into the suffering of Your loved ones. How awesome to see how You have lifted Dee up in Your Spirit. It is so painful when we understand the suffering around us. As Dee reaches into the abyss that would take these women, both the ones inside and the ones outside whose hearts are hard, lift her up in Your Spirit. There is nothing that she can do or say today that will change the hearts of those she is speaking to, but You can. We ask for the power of Your Word today to pierce hearts to the dividing of bone and marrow. Raise up a holy army of people who will care for the least of those who suffer. Provide from Your vast supply of resources and volunteers. Lord, I know that Dee’s heart is heavy with these things that You have shown her. Help me Lord to find the words to express this. There is the pain of seeing this but there is also Your power to take it, make it new, make it a holy work that will display Your glory. We ask for that power to flow today lifting Dee and all those who would reach in. Amen

    Sorry for the rambling prayer. My heart is disturbed.

    1. Anne–thank you for this prayer. It seemed to say what my heart has felt since reading Dee’s first update, and this one. My heart is disturbed too, heavy laden for these women. I can’t seem to stop tearing up every time I think of them and the ones without faith dorms, living such a mundane, painful life. “We ask for the power of Your Word today to pierce hearts to the dividing of bone and marrow.” Yes Lord, Amen.

    2. Anne, your prayer comes from your heart, and I feel the same pain for the women in those prison’s. It could be any of us there. I am praying your same prayer as it was so meaningful. Please lift then all up Lord, and give Dee the strength and quickening she so needs.

  9. I did listen to Keller’s sermon about knowing God yesterday, but I think I will have to listen again today. It was alot to take-in with just one listen through!

    Dee, we will keep encouraging you and keep praying; may God use you to bring revival to the women’s hearts that have grown cool. I wonder; in the prison, the women really have only God. I had the privilege to hear Joni Eareckson Tada speak several years ago. She talked about “most Christians” – we wake up in the morning, jump out of bed, shower, have coffee, and go… she must lie in bed, waiting for someone to come and bathe her, dress her, do her hair, get her up into her wheelchair, brush her teeth. She said many mornings, she asks Jesus to give her a smile for the person who will come, because she doesn’t have one. She is truly helpless without Jesus, and she knows it. I think we are fooled by our “independence” and distracted with our to-do list and schedules. We can decide when to eat, what to eat, what to wear, what to do today. These women in prison can’t do that. The only freedom they have is freedom in Him. That is true for us, too, but we easily forget.

    1. Amen Susan! Great food for thought!

  10. 8/9. What stood out in Rebecca’s testimony. Affirm Rebecca.

    It is evident through Rebecca’s testimony that she is an earnest devotee of Jesus Christ. Her heart is full of him and no matter where I meet her, here on the blog or on facebook, she is always sharing his love with others and testifies of his power in her life and the lives of her husband/children. I watch her encourage her friends and I am grateful to the Lord for bringing Rebecca alongside of me.

    Rebecca your life models the words of Asaph in Psalm 73:28, “But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign LORD my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.” (NLT)

    Love you Sis!

    1. Tammy, How I love the fellowship God has given me with gifted teachers like you. 🙂 My heart melted with this encouragement. Thanks so much. 🙂

  11. I am really struggling today. I am sad that my family is going through so much with Sarah and everyday is a new strain on our relationships. I am in Dallas this weekend to attend a wedding, and my family is home trying to all get along. I am the mediator in our home. I see that Sarah is really weak and needs us for a long time compared to other kids her age. My husband is not so forgiving. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say he has no patience with her and I am not there to mediate. He struggles with depression and won’t admit that he has this affliction so he won’t get help. He was out of work a year, broke his leg bad last winter, lost his dad last October, and now his mom is real sick and has been all summer. So, he has no patience for our daughter who daily stresses us out. Sorry to ramble, but I am worried about my marriage here. I’m willing to tough things out, but I’m not sure he is strong enough. Please pray for him to be rational and kind with Sarah this weekend, as well as strength to hold our marriage together. Thanks so much.

    1. oh Laura-dancer

      My heart aches for you. Lord I ask you to be with Laura this weekend. Help her not to worry and give her comfort i pray for her husband that you will give him patience with Sarah this weekend, and i pray for thier marriage you are our healer and you redeem i just ask you would do this in Laura’s marriage, and i pray that her husband will go and get help if need be. In Jesus Name Amen

      Love you Laura

    2. Lord, I lift up Laura and her whole family to you-for I know you Laura so loves you Lord and You love her and her family and your heart must grieve. Lord give Laura’s husband and Sarah an extra measure of Grace and show yourself to them for your glory alone is greater than anything the enemy can do to this family. Lord come in a special way to Laura’s husband’s heart and encourage Laura to know you are working. Give her patience, love and help her to figure out the next step that needs to be taken. Lord if there is restoration and healing that can be done between Laura and her husband help them move in that direction somehow, either with Christian counseling or in the way you see fit. Lord, comfort Laura as she is away and is concerned about what is going on at home. Lift her spirits today in You and may this cause her to dive deeper into you. We pray this in Jesus precious and holy name.

    3. Lord, I so agree with the prayers of my sisters for Laura. I pray that You will be right in the middle of the relationship between her husband and Sarah and bring good out of it. May there be healing for both of them and Your protection over this marriage. Amen

      1. Lord, I agree with these prayers for Laura’s family. I pray her husband would get healing for his depression, that You would bring him to the place of seeing the need for help. I pray that this weekend You would do a miraculous work in his relationship with Sarah. Lord, I pray You would break the barriers between them, that You would work in their hearts, pierce them, bring restoration. And for Laura, I pray You would be her Comforter. Give her Your peace, protect her marriage Lord.I pray that this time while she is away would be used by You, for Your glory Lord.

    4. Praying for you, Laura

    5. Ladies, thank you so much for the beautiful prayers. I feel comforted knowing God is in control. Sarah has been gone so far this weekend, and I found out she left with the new friend (this is good). My husband is getting some relief and I am as well. Maybe we all just need a break from our situation. Thanks again 🙂

  12. I think my take away this week is that i have become someone who loves God so much I ache to hear his word and put it into practice. This blog is a great place to keep focused and grounded. Also, when Dee said that John was “chosen to be last…” wow I never thought of it that way! He saw all the bad things happen to all of his friends and was chosen to be here through all of it. Thought provoking for sure.

  13. Lord, I have to admit I am growing a disdain for government institutions as they can be so evil, yet Lord you desire for us to pray for them. I thank you Lord for the good you have done through them as well, but my heart aches with Dee in that I am sick of the lies on both sides. I am sick of them even using your truth to get elected in hopes they will garner our favor. It is all about what they can get, not about honoring and glorifying you and trusting You with their State or the country you have given them stewardship over. Lord move in the hearts of the servants in Government in Texas in a mighty way so that there would be a break in regard to the inhumane treatment of prisoners, so that your word can go deeper and further there. Lord lift up our brothers and sisters in Texas to help somehow. Lord bless the ministry of discipleship unlimited so that they can send more sisters and brothers in to plant seeds, to come along side and disciple these men and women in prison. For your glory alone, Amen.

  14. 4.D. Has there been a time in the last week when you were aware of the same?

    Sorry my answers are out of order. My life seems to flow out of order at times.

    Yesterday was my birthday and God let me know through a birthday card that he is proud of me. The card was given to me by my ex-husband and when I read it tears came to my eyes. These are the words on the outside of the card:

    You are God’s masterpiece,
    created in His image and by His divine design.

    He said, “FAITH,”
    and gave you the strength to move mountains.

    He said, “HOPE,”
    and shaped the desires of your heart.

    and on the inside the card reads

    He said, “LOVE,”
    and made you the amazing person you are.

    Happy Birthday

    The verse on the inside cover is Ephesians 2:10

    For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…

    I must confess having to celebrate my birthday with my ex-husband was not my desire but had I shut him out of my life three years ago after the annulment of our marriage, I would have missed out on getting to know God on a deeper level. As I read this card He whispered to my soul, “I am so proud of you.” God used Pedro to give me a couple of tangible desires of my heart and his landlady baked my birthday cake. It was an abundantly blessed day! So many times I look at what I think is yucky only to find it is a beautiful gift from God. Oh how he is merciful to me!

    Another way God filled my senses this past week was when I got to hold a three month old boy during Sunday’s sermon. I had been wanting to hold him since his birth but everytime I saw him with his parents he was asleep in his carrier. Imagine my delight when I became aware he (wide awake)and his mom were sitting next to me on the pew. I leaned over and asked if I could hold him and his mom handed him over with a burprag and warning-he’s just ate. I felt as if I was a grandmother getting to hold her grandson for the first time. Oh he smelled so good! It was pure delight watching his smiling face as he looked up at the lights. After a while he got fussy so I handed back over and immediately a thought came to my mind. Jesus was once just like little Rennon. A smiling content baby aware of his surroundings who trusted Joseph and Mary to take care of him.

    I use the dragonfly as a live symbol to remind me that God is with me. Last night, as I came up on my porch after walking my dog, I heard something buzzing around and when I looked up I saw two huge dragonflys hanging on my porchlight. Proof that HE IS INDEED WITH ME.

    1. Wow Tammy! Happy Birthday! You have eyes to see His blessings and I pray for many more.

    2. Yes–Happy Birthday Tammy! I love the story of you holding the baby–I can just picture the joy in your heart, what a birthday gift from Him…and the dragonflies–WOW, a kiss.

      1. Tammy, I seen on facebook too, that you had a birthday! Hope you had a great day!!!

    3. Tammy! Happy belated birthday! You made me cry with that story. I wish I could have celebrated with you.

      I am also in a stage where I love to see precious newborns and remember when my kids were just born. Lucky you to have held little Rennon!

  15. Ladies

    I just came on to ask for prayer tonight. I saw my ” ex girlfriend” today and I was a bit scared at first but then has been ok since no bad thoughts etc. So can you pray that that continues that I would have good thoughts through out the night and not have any bad dreams thanks!

    Love you all!

    1. Lord, we thank You for Meg. Thank you that she is so honest, so real. Thank You that her faith is being tested, but proving strong!
      Lord, we pray Your protection over Meg–her mind, her heart, her dreams. Would You put Your army around her Lord, and not let the enemy have a foothold in her thoughts. She is Yours Lord, You are the Lover of her soul. I pray she will rest in that, Lord.

      1. Yes, Jesus!

  16. 10. My take-a-way for the week comes from Angela’a post:

    “I think instead of taking offense at others who I think should act this very way I need to pray for them because it’s possible they do not even know the Lord. Even if they are members of my church. I then in turn need to speak truths inot their lives instead of scorn them.”

  17. 5a. I have joy when I have tea with a dear friend who is so mature in the Lord. We talk and can get down about the things happening in our families but we usually end our visits with a time of prayer. Because we have just talked about all of our problems, they are fresh in our minds and we bring them to the Lord. We both feel so much better when we do this. And, we have seen marvelous answers to our prayers.

    Part 2
    This is again an excellent sermon. As we have continued to gain freedom from idols I often think about how I am doing and try to gauge myself. Unfortunately my gauge works sometimes and sometimes not. This has given me milestones with which I can measure progress and that I can strive for. I see that I am farther along than when I started but still have far to go. My heart is far from melted but I understand more of how this can be accomplished. But even that is not my motivation. I want to know Him because of who He is. John said that if all of the things Jesus did were written the world could not hold the books. The same is true of His attributes-there is no end to the greatness that is our God. He is that great-and He desires me. Unbelievable!

    I realize now that I may have only once experienced Him truly, in the manner Daniel Steel explained. I have been satisfied with way too little.

  18. Rebecca, your testimony illustrates the freedom gained in knowing God. It is full of beautiful word pictures that give us pictures of what it is to walk with God and also how it is when He is not so near. The thing that stands out to me the most is what you said about how your eyes were opened to the beauty around you, like birdsong and sunrises. Kind of like little Mia learning to lick ice cream 🙂

  19. My take-away this week is from the sermon. It is in the understanding that experiencing Him is how my heart is softened. It is also the understanding that losing the heart of stone is only a fraction of the benefit of experiencing God.

    Another thing I am taking away is 1 Cor. 4:3-4. It is the perfect thing for me to remember when the approval idol is kicking.

  20. Hey,

    I have been struggling with internet issues this past week. Internet at times is really random at best. I am still doing the study, but am realizing that I might need to post in the mornings vs trying when I am done with work. B/c it seems that my internet is not strong enough to pull up this blog in the evenings. 🙁 But this morning, I tried again, and it worked. But I want you all to know that I am still here with you. Really enjoyed the study this week. And am posting my answers now. And I hope to be able to look at what you all wrote.

    Look at the picture of the dead versus blossoming flower, imagining them as Rachel and Leah. What have you learned about the contrast between these two sisters that could help you turn from your idols to God?

    I will keep this short, because many of you wrote similar things to what I was thinking. But what stood out the most was that Leah, might not have looked like the beautiful living flower to the world (b/c she had weak eyes) but in fact she was the one who had a living relationship with God. She in fact was living- b/c she learned to put aside her idol and praise God. Whereas Rachel- was the dying flower, b/c she could not give us her idol of wanting children. She even took a stone idol and hide it thinking maybe this god would help her. She was withering and dying b/c she refused to put God first in her life.

    Take one or at most two things from the introduction that stood out to you and contemplate it. After telling us what it is, tell us why it impacted you.

    The following 2 quotes really stood out to me from the introduction.
    “We look at our knowing of him (which fluctuates so much) instead of his knowing of us, in Christ.” “We don’t need to make ourselves beautiful or lovable to God; he already knows us.”

    I love the consistancy in both of the quotes above. Christ is consistant. Christ knows us and He already loves us.

    2. After doing this, write out your reflections on what you’ve learned about better experiencing the living God.

    This passage is so personal. And filled with words that describe how we can know God. Verse 7 stood out the most. “But if we walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son, purifies us from all sin.” It really stood out that our sin affect not just our relationship with God, but also our relationship with others. We cannot not sin and have it just affect us. It affects the whole community. And I love how the verse ends- that we have purification through the blood for ALL sins. Not just some, but all. And our relationship/fellowship/walk with Christ can be restored.

    What stands out to you about this opening concerning John the Apostle and why?

    The Apostle John walked with Christ. He saw him, looked at his nail pierced hands, touched his body and knew an intimate relationship with “the eternal life.

    4. Read 1 John 1:1-2
    Compare Genesis 1:1; John 1:1; and 1 John 1:1 and find the similarity.

    The similaries is the word “beginning”. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning was the word…. And That which was from the beginning…” Christ has always been. He was present in the beginning.

    In the opening of Peter’s 2nd letter, he says, “We were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord JesusChrist.” (2 Peter 1:16 NLT) John wants us to know the same. How does he express this here?

    John wants us to know that the story of Christ is true. He clearly states that he and many others were eye witnesses to the story of Jesus’ resurrection and that he even saw the nail pierced hands.

    Can you remember the first time you became aware Jesus was real — and that He really cared about you? Share something about it.

    I remember the 1st time that I knew Jesus was real. I was homeschooled for my elementary years. When I was in kindergarden or 1st grade, I remember having a conversation about what Jesus did for me on the cross. I remember talking privately with my mom about this and realized that Jesus was very real and cared about me. That He died for me. I was really impressed by this fact and realized that I wanted to ask Jesus into my life. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I do remember that I was in my parents bedroom and that I clearly felt the love of God like never before.

    Has there been a time in the last week when you were aware of the same? It may have happened when you “let Him fill up your senses and gave thanks;” or it might have happened when His Word lit a fire, or it may have happened in another way. Share, if you can.

    Every Friday, I pray with 2 girls that are working for my team this year. The last few weeks we have been talking about this verse: 1 Corinthians 1:27, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to share the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are.” I was just struck by this verse as we read it, and discussed among ourselves. That God chose me! That God loves me- despite any/all of my failings/weakness. And this chosing was done even before the foundations of the world. I was just reminded of God’s love and care towards me through this verse. 🙂

    5. Read 1 John 1:3-4
    In verse 3, John talks about two kinds of fellowship, one vertical and one horizontal. First, he talks about the horizontal: having fellowship with other believers,  Christianity is not “me and God,” but corporate. Fellowship with one another is essential, for this is one of the ways we experience God.  Name one way you experienced joy this week interacting in Christ with another believer.

    My roomate and I also spend an hour or more every Sunday praying together. Praying for our work, for our lives, for our neighbors, and just for more of Him. I absolutely treasure our time together praying every Sunday. I think this as well as my other prayer group (2 intern girls) has been a huge blessing to me. Its a place where transparency and honesty exist. And where we can lay our burdens down and leave them at the cross. I love and look forward to Sunday and Friday mornings where I can be with my “sisters in Christ” and can fellowship with them in prayer and be encouraged by them. I feel so loved by these groups.

  21. Rebecca,

    I am drawn in your testimony by the progression you describe, first of your despair and depression then by your increasing freedom as you became awakened to the fierce love God has for you

    I am so glad you were drawn here to Dee and to the study. You are such a positive presence, your exuberance for Christ overflows onto us all. Your desire to encourage is a gift. I admire your enthusiasm for the things of God, as you share truly living water flows and those around you are blessed.

  22. Chris, Thanks so much! Again I am further encouraged to persevere in telling all that He is doing and has done in my life-His power within me-His love enveloping me! Yet, I see this in you too! You are a gem Chris and your life overflows with His presence and I have seen an abundance of His presence in the midst of your grief and it has flown out to all of us on this blog.

  23. ICE-BREAKERS
    1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
    I mentioned above how much I loved the pictures, as always—appreciate the time given to help make all of this so real.

    I resonated with this quote from Dee: “I admit I feel a little jealousy. I want that too. Yet it also creates in me a hunger, a good hunger, for more more more of the presence of God.” Also the end where she said “Most of us have not had this — but it is possible.”
    I so appreciate Dee’s humility that helps me feel hope. Some of my sweetest moments, the kind that take in your soul and you feel lost in Him, were easier to come by when I was in college—before all the distractions, away at a youth camp I worked for, times like that. Now the moments are fleeting—squeezed between “life”. Yet He surprises me if I open my eyes to Him…but I want more, I do hunger for more!

    2. Is the metaphor of marital intimacy helpful to you in understanding intimacy with our ultimate Bridegroom? If so, how does it help?
    I do like the metaphor, but I think it has taken me years to get here. I have been married almost 18 years, and only in recent years have I really had a “healthy” view of physical intimacy, truly seeing it as beautiful, holy, a gift. I agree our culture, our individual pasts, make it difficult to see intimacy this way. I believe it’s one of Satan’s top schemes to ruin such a beautiful thing.

    My husband read the intro (I have to share things THIS good with him-he loves Dee!) and said “what’s the deal? I don’t see any problem with what Anne Voskamp has said—she’s talking about our souls!” It is soul intimacy—the closest kind possible, intertwined with Him—amazing.

  24. PART I. BIBLE STUDY
    3. Find a metaphor for marriage in the prophets, the poets, the parables, or the letters of Paul that speaks to you and explain why.

    I just started looking, but found 2 I wanted to share—love these!

    Hosea 2:19-20 “I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD”

    I love that He says FOREVER. He is my Lover forever, and He makes me righteous…I also love it when I read about His compassion towards me. It feels like that one thing I wanted my whole life is compassion, and He gives it to me. He gives, and strengthens, my faith in Him.

    Isaiah 54:5-8 For your Maker is your husband—the LORD Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth. The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,says your God.

    This one reminds me of the white horse picture we had a few weeks ago–the Lord of ALL, calls me to Himself…out of every pit of distress, He saves me.

  25. I just listened to the free sermon from last week. Sorry that I am behind. How wonderful that God is the one who meets us thus starting and stirring a desire in us to seek Him. He first met me when I was in 9th grade. I had seen something in my sister Terri that I wanted to have. She had been living a life centered on God. After I was met by him I started seeking Him. He has been real to me in many ways since. As a senior in high school he spoke to me in a class telling me I should be a nurse. I listened and still love the job I have. He knew way before me what I should be/do in life. I am so thankful that he speaks to us and as his children we can know his voice. I pray that he would create a new found hunger and thirst for HIM, not what he can do for me or give me. That is my prayer, that I would seek only Him. How comforting to know that when I sense his absence it is because he is present. May we all grow closer to Him and know him more fully day by day.

  26. I gave my notes above to the first Keller sermon, but I also re-listened to the free sermon, Finding God—another favorite!
    I think my notes get too lengthy at times, and I am sorry—I will work on that. I’ll just share the main ones I wrote down—
    As a Christian, we must expect to experience times of dryness, even if we’re still practicing spiritual disciplines. Sometimes it is from a lack of community—we need both individual and corporate prayer. Sometimes it is disillusionment at the events in life. Sometimes it is physical—we need more sleep, or to eat better.
    But in those times, we 1) Pour out our soul to God, lament; 2) Analyze our hopes—what have we been putting our trust in other than God?; 3) Remember God’s grace, faithfulness; 4) Preach truth to our heart
    For me, the last step is key. I can pour out my soul to God, I can even ask myself what I’m hoping in other than Him, I can look back at His faithfulness—but I need that 4th step of telling my heart the truth of the Gospel and allow the truth to stop the spiral I’m in!