Monday, April 24, 2017

Who is this all about?


A couple of months ago, in the midst of seeking God in this crazy season of life, I had been praying about the next step.  And then, it arrived.

I received an unexpected email from the coordinator of the women's spring church retreat.  She presented a need for cabin leaders at the event.  Would I consider being one?

I moved onto the next email, hoping somehow it would disappear, buried in my inbox.

I was not even sure I wanted to GO on the retreat.  But being a cabin leader?  Ahhhh... a dozen immediate excuses lined up in my mind. Outside of my skill set.  Not on my list of gifts.  Not on my life.

I am willing to serve and support in any capacity, fill any need behind the scenes.  Serve?  Sure.  Lead?  Off my radar. And so, this was an easy request for this introvert to pass on to another woman more outgoing, one who bears the extrovert's dream of directing the troops, someone who loves to lead and be in control, more gifted than I, organized and hospitable.

The tsunami wave of excuses gave me pause.  Whenever that surge of justifications floods my thoughts, I know that I am in a losing battle.

God doesn't nag.  God doesn't harangue.  Those are the tools of the adversary.  But God....God continued to lay the opportunity before me.  "Consider this."  

What if....He really wanted me to do this?

I have seen too much to question God in this.  I have witnessed, I have experienced that even one little step of obedience impacts lives we never would have expected.  God opens up something different, not just a new door, but deepens my heart and vision right where I am.

God never operates in singular dimensions.

Last year, a good friend pushed aside my reluctance and signed me up for her cabin at the retreat.  I discovered divine appointments there that I would have missed that have enriched my life and enlarged my understanding of God.

And so, when I received that email, I found myself for a couple of weeks, skirting around that request, like walking around a pair of boots left in the hallway, out of place and gently drawing my attention to "what are you going to do about this?"

As I often pray, "LORD, give me peace, or give me direction."

I accepted the challenge, and God gave me both.

...until the middle of last night.

I awoke when our two-year-old granddaughter cried out from the room down the hall.  She turned over and went back to sleep.  But I didn't.  And all the anxieties about being a "leader" this coming weekend came out of the woodwork.

But before they could gain a stranglehold, I asked God again for peace and direction.

And I felt like God was asking, "Who is this all about?"

"Would you do this for Me?"   

God has placed on my path an opportunity, a need, divine appointments, deep encounters that I cannot possibly fathom, something beyond my own strength, that may not be about me at all.  And probably isn't.

Following God is rarely convenient or comfortable.  The issue is not the outcome or even my lack of abilities, but my own willingness to love Him back.

In reading Scripture this morning, a little piece of a verse stood out to me as if highlighted in neon orange, "and the leader as one who serves... I am among you as One who serves." (Luke 22. 26-27)

It is true that there are many good things that I can do,
         but there is no substitute for His call.
Only one thing is needful:
      Have I followed the LORD in this?

This is not about leading at all, but serving.
Not about being successful in the outcome,
                    but being faithful in the doing.
Not about me at all,
        but all about Him. 



Saturday, April 15, 2017

Evidence


I am convinced of the resurrection. Not just by the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection, but from what happened afterwards.

The disciples were sure that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Indeed, the word Christos is the Greek word for Messiah, or Anointed One. And here, their leader had just been killed in a horribly painful and humiliating death. This was not at all what His disciples expected. And so, they huddled behind locked doors, terrified that they would be next.

The disciples thought that was it. Let’s hide until things settle down. At this point, the missing body had caused quite a stir in Jerusalem, to the point that in an effort at damage control, the Pharisees spread a rumor that the disciples had stolen it (Matthew 28. 11-15), further imperiling the disciples.
But that was not the end of the story. The tomb was empty, the grave clothes cast aside, a huge stone rolled away, and the Roman centurions guarding it were shaking in their boots. And Jesus appeared. Over and over and over again. He was alive. He had risen from the dead. Christ was who He said He was.

Nothing would ever be the same. And this raggedy group of cowards were empowered and transformed from a state of fearfulness and despair into those who were fearless and bold. In the ensuing years, with one exception, each one died a martyr’s death after spreading the love of Christ like wild-fire to the uttermost parts of the world.

The disciples were changed. These men who cowered behind locked doors now stood before kings and tormentors. They were transformed. Men will not die for what they know is a lie. But they will give their lives for what they KNOW is Truth. They were eyewitnesses. And nothing could stop them.

What makes the difference is that God is supernatural and life is eternal and Jesus is alive. Death is not “game over.”

That, to me, is the reality of the Resurrection: transformed lives. It still is. I see it all the time. Lives are turned right-side up with no other explanation than realizing the amazing grace that we know as Easter.

He is not here,
for He has risen,
        as He said.

          Matthew 28.6

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Overtaken


The last time my husband Bill and I took this wandering road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was in early December last year.  The forest had just been devastated by a huge fire that engulfed 11,000 acres of the heavily wooded mountains.  Thousands of huge trees lay on the scorched black earth, like so many gallant soldiers fallen in battle, the other towering trees stood vigil, wounded gravely and imprinted with deep scars from the flames.

It was like traveling through a black and white photograph of a war long lost but never forgotten.  The acrid smoke lingered with a sadness and a grief that was hard to breathe.  The air smelled of death.

Late last November, two teenage boys had been "horsing around," one account said, flicking lit matches one by one, laughing as they dropped them into the dry brittle leaves along a wooded trail, an area already stressed from a long-abiding drought.  Huge devastation always emerges from even what would be considered small rebellions.  Sin is never small.  And it always impacts others.

A few days later, the anger of the flames was caught up by hurricane-force winds.  Within a matter of hours, the raging fire spread to Gatlinburg, filled with tourists for the Thanksgiving weekend.  Houses burned swiftly to the ground, tragically killing at least 14 people who, surrounded by the inferno, struggled to evacuate, and leaving homeless thousands of those who made it out with just the clothes on their backs.

But even then, even as the winter rains and snow fell, even in that deep greyness that looked like despair, the redeeming had already begun.  Because even in how God created the trees and the foliage, He designed inherently in them the stuff of resilience and restoration.

God redeems.  We know that.  But this weekend, Bill and I saw the evidence.

We drove along that same road, noticing that the grey barrenness was now showing the beginnings of tender green on the singed forest floor, as an old photograph hand-tinted.  We pulled into a picnic area that had been closed due to the fire.  A trail we had taken in the past was now opened. 

We prepared our hearts for the worst.  We expected a cemetery, a solemn walk, a wake of sorts for the dead, for what had been and what had happened.

But as we emerged up the short ridge from the parking lot, we were speechless, but not from devastation.  We saw what resurrection looks like.



















What appeared as beyond hope, that which was dead or dying, had been overtaken by green, the great bursting forth, not just of hope, but the reality of the God of breaking through and a vision of God's faithfulness.

And He who sat upon the throne, said,
“Behold,
       I make all things new.”

                      Revelation 21. 5

If God can renew, restore, and redeem a dying forest, oh, what He can do in our own devastation and despair.  He brings us impossibly back to life.

Biologists already know that in the aftermath of a tragic fire, newness follows close behind.  The first sign of renewal is the rapid spread of grasses, plants, and a proliferation of wild flowers that are oddly nourished by minerals and  nutrients left behind in the soil by the fire.

 

















What God designed was an emerging carpet of deep green and blossoms as far as we could see, overtaking the scorched areas.  Indeed, even tree seedlings have already begun to spring up out of the ground.  One particular species, the Table Mountain pine tree, which only grows in this mountainous area, actually depends on fire to reproduce.

In some areas where the canopy of large hardwood trees had been opened by the fire, sunlight now penetrates to spur on the growth of young trees and other plants.  And as a result, wildlife has returned to those areas, providing a new and fresh source of food for woodland animals, both great and small.

God redeems.  There is not a person on this earth who has not been affected by this fallen world.  But even in the struggle and the suffering, God provides the strength to get through.  God has already designed the way out, the way through, the way to newness.  He did not just leave hope behind in the ashes or even in what we can see coming up from the ruins.  He gives us hope on which to stake our lives.

We are surrounded by the devastation of wrongdoing, we are consumed by the blight of our own selfishness and that of others, but stronger still is God’s forgiveness to us.  It comes at a cost.  And that is why God sent His Son Jesus.  

To bring us back to life itself – the way God meant us to be -- overtaken by His love and grace.

"They would see with their own eyes, and touch with their hands, the evidence that God's power is greater even than death -- they would know that nothing, and no one, can ever be ultimately lost when God acts to rescue and restore."   -- Andy Crouch, Strong and Weak (2016)




Friday, April 7, 2017

And wouldn't THAT be incredible?


A week ago, we were dog-sitting our daughter's dog Lo.  At one point that afternoon, she dashed out the back door into our fenced yard to "greet" the neighbor's pair of golden retrievers.  A great barking festival ensued, each dog trying to out-bark the other.  When Lo totally ignored my pleas to "come," I ventured into the yard to get her attention.  Together we ran back and forth along the fence as if playing tag, until the other dogs went back into their house.

About an hour later, just minutes before our small group arrived for supper, I noticed in the mirror that one of my earrings was missing.  I scoured the floor inside the house, glanced over the boards on the deck, and reluctantly realized that my little loop earring must be hiding somewhere in the grass.  I looked in the area where I was chasing the dog, but I could not find it.

In the seven days since, it has rained several times, and the lawn has been mowed.  But this morning when I opened the back door, I ventured again into the yard with the wild idea:  "Wouldn't that be incredible if I were to find it now?" I thought.  "It would be so evident of God's hand if I suddenly spotted it in the grass -- something amazing that only God could do."

Even as I looked closely, my hand moving back and forth across the deep shaggy carpet of green and searching between the blades, I was thinking about what a great story that would be, if it suddenly appeared before me.

And as I searched, I thought about many other times when I tried to write a script for God, prescribing what would bring God glory, if He were to fulfill my great idea. "What if God did this...?"

I remembered one particular time long ago in a different season of life and a different city, remarking to Bill when we were on the brink of yet another corporate relocation, "That would definitely be of God, if He moved us there,"  I said, specifying a familiar place.

We were driving in our minivan with three young daughters in the back, and I was pregnant with our fourth.  Even after all this time, I can pinpoint exactly where we were on that winding road, because God nudged me, "And wouldn't it STILL be from Me if I didn't move you there?"

God had greater adventures in mind than I could have ever imagined, most often in places I would have never chosen and in what appeared impossible ways.  What we would have missed is staggering.

Over and over, it was not what I knew, but what I didn't know that proved God's faithfulness and His inconceivable purposes, divine appointments, and strategic encounters -- even in what I cannot yet see, even in what I may never recognize, even what looks like a failure, a huge loss, a bad mistake, or a big fat unresolved mystery, even if it doesn't make for a grand story, even if the earring remains buried in the yard.  All of the above.

"Trust Me."

And wouldn't THAT be incredible?

Now to Him
who by the power at work within us
is able
   to do far more abundantly
than all that we ask or think,
to Him be glory...

                 Ephesians 3. 20-21







Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Less is More


Faithfull,
fruitfull,
selfless.

Woven together without seams.

Enough said.