Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A daily practice, a daily Presence

Sometimes a swell of thankfulness rises up for the good we see and hear and feel all around us. But in the tough times, the hard circumstances, the tears, it is the patterns of daily gratefulness that emerge from within that hold us fast even when, even when. 

Thanksgiving is not an event, but a daily abiding in the LORD, impervious to how, in our own eyes, we judge what is good and what is not.

Because as we sing in church: 
God is good all the time,
All the time God is good.

Even beyond recognition or understanding or before the redeeming comes into focus.

Learning to be thankful FOR the daily blessings of God enables us to be grateful IN, when we see no explanation and cannot possibly understand.

Gratefulness is a pattern of seeing life differently, a pattern of seeing God in all things and trusting Him in it.  

Even in the hard stuff.

I have rested this year in the mercies of God, in times His strength beyond what I have ever known.

O give thanks to the LORD,
       for He is good;
for His steadfast love
        endures forever.

                Psalm 113. 1

Happy Thanksgiving, my friend.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Just on the other side

In 2011, at just 28 years old, Jennifer Pharr Davis attempted both the absurd and ridiculous.  She set out that summer to establish the fastest record time for men and women hiking the 2,180 mile Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine.

As noble as that sounded, shortly into her epic hike, incredibly averaging about 47 miles a day, reality set in.  She was exhausted, cold, wet, and suffered painful shin splints.  She crept along until the next road crossing where her husband Brew met her with supplies.  "I'm done," she said.

"That's fine," he said.  "Just not right now.  If you still want to quit by the next road crossing tomorrow, I'll take you home.  But you can't quit now."

So she kept on hiking, knowing that in the matter of several hours, the pain would be over, and she could go home.

But something happened in those succeeding hours.  She felt just a little teeny bit better.  Just enough to keep going another day.  And then another.

Her story was not over yet.  She completed the entire trail in 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes, a record unsurpassed for the next four years.

One step and then another.

Last weekend, I ran a familiar trail in the woods that starts with a five mile ascent that always seems to go on f.o.r.e.v.e.r.  It was fiercely cold.  It was all uphill.  And yes, it was hard, each gravel crunching step, each winding turn in the road followed yet by another.  "Just get to the other side of this bend," I convinced myself. 

Even though I didn't quite know where I was, I knew it was not a random journey.  As in any responding to the Lord, I was not just going somewhere, but God is going somewhere with this.  Even the really hard stuff does not lay beyond His redeeming.  There is another side to this.

We've all been there on one road or another.

Despair will get you nowhere fast.
       Or I can choose to trust Him.
                                  Even in this.
And pretty much throughout the entire Bible,
cover to cover,
God tells His people,
                      "Don't quit now."

show me Your path,
Your way through.

God is
going somewhere with this.

And as I came around what I was hoping the final bend in that steep rutted road, dusty and dreary, suddenly spectacular beauty surrounded me, the sunlight streaming through the woods like the glory of God, and golden leaves were intricately imprinted on a sacred sky of deepest blue.

If I had quit and turned around, I would have missed the awe.

For Your steadfast love is great above the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
                                   Psalm 108. 4

It took that momentary affliction of running uphill for me
to not just acknowledge God,
or even believe,
         but to know Him more.

    the hard stuff always leads to that.
God redeems the impossible
     in ways we never expect.

The view is not just at the top,
      not just on the good days
when the breeze is warm and favorable,
          but when I want to quit.

...let us run with endurance
       the race that is set before us,
       looking to Jesus....

                         Hebrews 12. 1-2

Even on the uphills,
following God
    even in what
    may make no sense at all,
                    to us,
God is going someplace
                     with this.
Even in this mess,
even in this seeming failure,
even in the bleakest wilderness,
                 God is.

Your story is not over yet.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Bleak? Look again.

Recently, my husband and I were traveling back home from a family wedding through the utter flatness of southern Illinois.  The landscape is truly a manifestation of "on a clear day, you can see forever."

Pretty bleak, I thought.

And then, I realized, that through another's eyes, this flat seemingly empty barren expanse was anything than bleak.  A farmer sees the opportunity for growth, for his livelihood, fields just waiting to be planted and in his vision, a field ripe unto harvest.

And other seeds fell into good soil
and produced grain,
growing up
and increasing
and yielding thirtyfold
and sixtyfold
and a hundredfold.

                   Mark 4. 8

It is not just how you look at it,
but what you do with it,
and how you
 let God work through you.
He strategically positions us
in impossible places
                    for His purposes
                    and for His glory.

What I need
is not a change of circumstances,
a change of location,
        but a change of heart toward Him.
And then,
and then,
and then,
           God changes my vision
           for where He has placed me.
I see something different,
something deeper,
not just about the place,
            but about trusting Him.

We have moved a lot in my lifetime,
sometimes to places where I wondered
"Why in the world
would He have brought us here?"
But oh, through the years,
God reveals His faithfulness.
And I have been
         amazed by what He has done
and how blind I had been.

Bleak?  Look again.

Dig in.
Sow the Word.
Bring the love of Jesus there.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Why in the world would he do such a thing?

It is a rare day now that we do not hear of yet more violence, somewhere in the world.  O LORD, have mercy.   And as I read the accounts about those intentionally injuring and attempting to kill as many people as possible, I struggle with the question: “Why in the world would he do such a thing?”

Often, the police unveil the strategic plans of a cell group, plotting destruction, despair, and the loss of precious lives.  The aim of these groups is to wreak havoc on a global scale.

In these news reports, the term “cell groups” catches my attention.  Just about every church I know has a network of small cell groups to minister to the needs of the congregation, to disciple, teach, pray and build community, particularly in multi-site congregations and churches with multiple services.  In my own experience, it is where I have learned to connect and be engaged in the local church. 

Of course, it was Jesus who initiated the whole concept of cell groups when He said: 
“Where two or three are gathered in My name, 
  there I am in the midst of them.   
                                Matthew 18. 20

And so why has the concept of small groups been hijacked to spread evil?

What if….what if….cell groups of Christian believers strategically thought about, engaged, and put into action the spreading of kindness, goodness and mercy?  What about cell groups designed for intentional good, instead of perverted for evil?

We each have personal responsibility to practice the love of Jesus wherever God places us, --even in dark places and especially in impossible situations.  But another incredible dimension opens when there is more than one person involved. What happens when two or three work together, or when a church does?   As a leader in our congregation has often said, “There is a profound reason for organized religion.  Together, we can do so much more.”

The adversary knows that too.

What if the headlines revealed goodness being spread like an infectious wildfire, what if kindness grabbed the nightly news?  What if our culture recognized:  What kind of people do things like that?   The work of selflessness.  The impact of personal sacrifice.  A tsunami wave not of evil but of great goodness without borders for strangers, the marginalized, the undeserving, which all of us are.   Incredible grace and love for the common welfare of all people.

Love God and love people are the cornerstones of God’s commandments.  But Jesus takes it even further.  Love those who persecute you.  Love your enemies.  And yes, even love the annoying brethren. 

If you love those who love you, 
               what credit is that to you?  
 Even sinners love those who love them. 
                                             Luke 6. 32

Who sees anything different in you? 
“This courage to be distinctively Christian and therefore to live differently must be restored to the heart of the Christian faith,” says Os Guiness in his book Impossible People.  

Do not be overcome by evil
      but overcome evil with good.
                              Romans 12. 21

Push back the darkness
Don’t run from it.
Strike love on a global scale,
       one act of kindness at a time,
and there is
   never anything insignificant in that.
That is how the early Church took root
        and changed the world.
That's how the Church today takes root,
            bears fruit,
                 and still changes the world. 
Not by random acts of niceness,
    but through intentional grace.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The lion under my bed

One of my childhood memories is cowering in my little twin-size bed at night, terrified that there was indeed a lion crouched underneath, ready to pounce if I so much as put a single foot on that cold bare wood floor.

To qualm my fears, my grandmother would leave on the closet light.  But fear is the most creative of all the emotions.  Even that tiny line of light and shadow often grew into something equally scary.

I lost a lot of sleep that way.

And I think of the ridiculous things that still wake me in the night.

Am I still fearful about imaginary monsters under my proverbial bed, ready to pounce through the shadows?  An awkward social situation, words I should have said -- or left unsaid, things I should have done -- and left undone, my feet unable to run, still bound by barbed wire that doesn't even exist?

"Fear not.  Be not afraid."  God repeats that phrase over and over.  Because when Eve ate that apple, sin alone did not enter the world.  Fear did.  
In His Word, the LORD reminds me that He has already overcome anything that I can possibly fear.  It is not that I am a super hero, but He is the supernatural One, my strength and deliverance.  There is a reason why He is called Savior, not just to save us from our sins which are many, but to save us from the enslavement of fear.  God does not just release us;  He breaks out the teeth that grip us, turning that lion into a big kitten, turning my fear into turning me toward Him.

Worry never works things out
                        or gives me strength.
Worry always robs me blind
        and leaves me destitute on the side of the road.
Worry shuts out the light
             on the deeper work God is doing.
The LORD is the One
   Who gives power and strength.

And He says to me,
"What if you trusted Me in this,
                and how would you do it,
      if there was nothing to fear?"
Rebuke the beasts
   that dwell among the reeds.

                     Psalm 68. 30