Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Jackets, little shoes and can't we go NOW?

I was getting on little sister's jacket and shoes.  Big brother was anxious to go ahead without me, with all of his two-year-old energy ready to race outside into the world.  "You need to stay inside," I told him.  He wiggled and jiggled and begged to wait on the porch.  All of my experience told me, one step over the transom and all would be lost.

"I need you to obey in place," I told him.  Immediately, he stopped in front of the door, right where he was, and sat down until we were ready to go.

Obey in place.  Not over there.  Not where I think would be a better place, a greener pasture, a more strategic or comfortable location. But in place.  There is a purpose in it.

The phrase "in place" refers not to a random location, but a given place at a given time, strategically layered to fulfill the purposes in it.  Right here.  There are too many reasons to list, too deep to comprehend at the time, precise even when it is not apparent, a proper ordering, now in effect, even when I can't see it.  Ready to be used.  Already being used.

Obey in place.  Here, O LORD? Wouldn't over there be better?

Pray in place.

Serve in place.

Love God.  Love others.  Right here.  In place.

But you shall seek the place
which the LORD your God will choose
out of all your tribes,
to put His name
and make His habitation there;
thither you shall go...

                      Deuteronomy 12.5

God's profound purposes 
    and His faithfulness are seamlessly woven,
even when I don't understand.

Wherever He leads
every opportunity,
every encounter,
every direction,
              why am I here? 
To be faithful to Him,
                   even in this.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Seven Words that Changed the World

At Christmas, the angels said,
          "He is here."

At Easter, the angels said,
          "He is not here."

Jesus didn't just come.
Jesus came to change everything.
               Even my heart.

Because He lives...

And very early
on the first day of the week
they went to the tomb
when the sun had risen.
And they were saying to one another,
"Who will roll away the stone
for us from the door of the tomb?"
And looking up,
they saw that the stone was rolled back
-- it was very large.
And entering the tomb,
they saw a young man
sitting on the right side,
dressed in a white robe;
and they were amazed.
And he said to them,
"Do not be amazed;
you seek Jesus of Nazareth,
who was crucified.
He is risen,
           He is not here.

             Mark 16. 2-6

He is risen.
He is risen indeed.
And nothing will
       ever be the same.
Not just another worldview,
        but the truth that is
                      a life changer.

Happy resurrection day, my friend!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Without Good Friday...

To most of this world, this day will pass like any other without any recognition at all, and yet, this day commemorates why Jesus came.

Why is this day largely ignored?  Because of what Christ has done for us.  And acknowledging that requires a realization of our own sinfulness, the selfishness that messes up our lives and takes God's rightful place in our hearts.

Jesus did not die because I am a good person.  "But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5.8  He came to earth and died because we cannot save ourselves.  He paid the price.  "Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins."  Hebrews 9.22

Christ's followers thought this was the end.  They expected a great political overthrow.  And now, here He was, dying on a humiliating cross.

They forgot the ancient prophecies about the coming Messiah that revealed how they would recognize Him. The prophet Isaiah wrote 800 years before Christ:

For He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on Him
          the iniquity of us all.

                             Isaiah 53. 5-6

Christ did not call for political revolution, but a call for personal repentance.  Little did they realize, that is where the revolution of hearts begins.

So also the chief priests,
with the scribes and elders,
mocked Him, saying,
"He saved others;
He cannot save Himself.
He is the king of Israel;
let Him come down now
        from the cross,
and we will believe in Him.

                  Matthew 27. 41-42

But if Jesus had come down
             from the cross,
if He had not died for our sins,
        He would not be our Savior.
That is why He came,
because He loves us that much.

Without Good Friday,
   there would not be Easter.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Four little words that reminded me this morning

Last evening, a sweet friend who God has recently put into my life shared an experience she had at work yesterday.  After giving the details about the situation, she smiled.

"God is at work," she reminded me.

I woke way too early this morning, a little bit overwhelmed by... well, everything, including headlines in the news, people I have only heard about, and situations where I am right in the line of fire.  And I began to drag each of these heavy boxes to the altar.  Show me Your way in this, O LORD.

But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God.

                         Psalm 73. 17

And I felt the words of my friend engraved in my heart:
             "God is at work."

That is the reality.

Reality is what actually exists.  As my father's 1931 dictionary defines it, "Reality is what is, despite appearances.  It is opposed to the imaginary, the make-believe, the fictitious, the merely apparent, the artificial, the ostensible, the world of make-believe."

And as God says, "I AM."

This is not a different perspective on things,
a positive outlook,
a coping mechanism,
             but the reality of who God is.

God is at work,
    far more,
    far deeper,
    far abundantly
         than I could ever imagine.

Sometimes we get a glimpse
              despite appearances,
the deeper work of God.
Circumstances are not the end,
but they are just what He uses
                 and what He redeems.

"God is at work"
are the four little words that reminded me this morning
               of God's faithfulness.

You have only begun
to show Your servant
Your greatness
     and Your mighty hand...

                 Deuteronomy 3. 24

...that which only God can do.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

If you see something, say something

Even as I am writing this, I looked up for just a fraction of a second.  There, running across the road and up the shaggy un-mown hill, was a red fox.  I have never seen one in this area.  And I would have missed it if I had not been looking.  The creature moved so fast that I was unable to snap a picture with my phone. It scurried through the tall weeds on its tiny foxy feet, here for just a moment and gone the next, like so many opportunities to share Jesus in one way or another.  Open my eyes, O LORD, to what is around me, to those who are right in front of my eyes.

I have found when I share the gospel with someone, there is inevitably a grandfather, a parent, an aunt, a sibling or a good friend, who is a believer and who has been praying, sometimes for years, not just for them, but for a believer to come into their lives.  God works through relationships more powerfully than anything else. 

In the New York subway system, there are reminders in unexpected places to be on the alert.

I would change that sign to read, "If you see someone, say something."

"Bring the name of Jesus there," said the late Henri Nouwen in his book In The Name of Jesus.  Into that conversation.  Into that relationship.  Into all that you do.  Find a place in your day, find a place at your table.  In word and deed.  Someone is praying for that person.  Someone may be praying for YOU.  "Bring a believer into his life."  "Please, O LORD, bring someone to tell her about Jesus."

You may be that "someone,"
you may be the answer to their prayers.

...that God may open to us
a door for the Word,
to declare the mystery of Christ
...that I may make it clear,
as I ought to speak.

                       Colossians 4. 3-4

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Surprise endings

Bill devoured a novel this week, reading as he does at the speed of light.  But as the plot unfolded into a good story but a fairly predictable one, suddenly at the conclusion, the narrative took a sharp turn, and all the elements converged into a surprise ending. "I didn't see that coming," he said.

I came to my own surprise ending this week. I have been training now for a marathon for about four months, steadily building up my mileage, going a little farther each week, inching toward the event with long runs, hill workouts, and pounding it out on the treadmill. The marathon is tomorrow.  I arranged and rearranged my schedule to accommodate it, but God had something different in mind.

I will not be at the starting line in the morning.  All the elements converged into a completely different story that I didn't see coming.

And if my tweaked hip muscle was not enough, God affirmed my decision with the weather.  Earlier in the week, there was a possibility of rain. No big deal.  A couple of days later, the forecast was mid-30s with an accumulation of snow.  Well, I've run in worse conditions.  And then, to close the door completely, it is now predicted to be a bone-chilling 29 degrees at the start of the race, high of 41, and 80 percent chance of snow and rain.  How bad did God have to make the weather before I would click "cancel?"

Even early this morning as I arose, I contemplated the 12 hour round trip of driving for a four and a half hour run in the cold rain.  And then, I hobbled a little bit across the bedroom floor.  Case dismissed.

I thought that God was leading one way, but here at the end of the training, I find myself in a different place.  And it might not have anything to do with running at all.

And strangely, I do not feel defeated by this sudden change of plans, but feel released, moving freely within this alteration, another time, a different season, other purposes in it yet to come.  My upbringing has taught me to stubbornly stay the course, dig in your heels, and never quit.  But my faith has taught me to follow God into the very details, be faithful on the long paths in the wilderness, and always be ready to turn on a dime for that which God has prepared -- even that which takes us unexpected and unaware.

I am not giving up anything at all.

It may be a surprise ending to me,
                            but not to God.
The richest part of this story
         was not at the finish line
but in the adventure itself
                 in the getting there.

We focus too dearly,
cling too tightly to a prescribed course of action
               a logical outcome,
 an obvious path,
even a vision of God waiting at the finish line
                             when all is said and done,
          but instead I find that He walks me through.
God is faithful.
Beyond what I can ask or fear,
                     He is there,
beyond all things,
                          He is.

"Do you trust Me in this?"

When we are open to His leading
      and heeding His voice,
even when we can't see where we are going,
          we are on the way. 

It's not the end at all,
     but just ready for so much more ahead.

Surely the LORD is in this place,
and I did not know it.

                         Genesis 28. 16

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Leprechauns, Easter eggs, and one generation away

I took our three year old grandson and 18 month old granddaughter to the public library story hour last week for a half hour of stories and songs.

Of course, being March, there was a song about St. Patrick's Day with lucky leprechauns, pots of gold and the wearing of the green -- none of which have anything to do with St. Patrick who wasn't even Irish.  

We are just one generation from the truth getting buried altogether.  I refer to my posting last year on March 16, 2015 St. Patrick and the Superheroes.  Let your children know who he really was.

Twenty five years ago, just a week or two before Easter, I was reading to one of our daughters and her friends.  Somehow, we ended up reading the story about Easter out of The Beginner's Bible.  Her little friend Grant listened with eyes wide open.  At the end, he exclaimed, "I had no idea Jesus had anything to do with Easter!"

I thought about that as I passed the other day a sign at a church announcing an Easter egg hunt between services on Easter morning.

One generation away, I reminded myself.

Over and over, Scripture repeats the urgency of teaching the next generation about  God.  "And when in time to come your son asks you, "What does this mean?" you shall say to him... (Exodus 13. 14)

What happens when truth is not intentionally taught to the next generation?  The next generation just doesn't know.

On December 26, 2004, a tsunami in the Indian Ocean caused destruction in eleven countries and the loss of a quarter of a million lives.  Tsunami waves are not unknown in that part of the world, but the last major tsunami in that region occurred on June 26, 1941.

In the past when the ground shook, children had been taught to run up into the hills -- up until this generation.  But this time, when the water pulled back, people ran to the beach instead of away from it.  There was a mere hour of time before the wave hit, destroying all buildings one-half mile from the shore.  Destruction reached one mile inland.  Walking briskly, even children can cover a mile in about twenty minutes. But no one had told them to run away.

Strangely enough, on the island of Simeulue which was amazingly close to the earthquake epicenter and one of the first to be hit by the tsunami, not one of the 70,000 people on the island was killed by the waves even though 90 percent of the buildings along the coast were destroyed.  One report pointed out that these islanders had passed on traditions that stemmed from a tsunami that had hit their island in 1907 -- when the ground shakes, run into the hills.  The secret of their survival had been passed on from one generation to another.

Leprechauns and Easter eggs?   What happens when truth is not intentionally taught to the next generation?  The next generation just doesn't know.

And that teaching is up to you.

We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD,
                and His might,
and the wonders which He has wrought...
That the next generation might know them,
         the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep His commandments.

                       Psalm 78. 4-7

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Another proverbial race...or a completely different course

I am a few days from the starting line.  I have done the legwork.  I have run long lonely miles of training when the only ones who cheered me on were an occasional dog barking in the distance or a horse raising its head as I passed by.

There were days when training was a joy.  There were days when a run was the last thing I wanted to do.  There were days when I reminded myself not that I have to, but I get to.  Two and a half years ago, my days of running had come to an end, or so I thought, one race too much, concluding with an injury that didn't seem to go away, the end of a running adventure that lasted a decade at an impossible age and for a most improbable athlete.  I was thankful to God for what He had given.  It was time to move on to something else.

But God slowly brought healing about a year ago.   

And now, each run, I am thankful to God that I get to run again.

And on a lark, one warm afternoon last September, I signed up for another marathon.  

The marathon is this Sunday.  The training is done.  And as I have seen in the past and I see now again, the LORD saves, sustains, strengthens and changes me in the process.  On the outside, it appears as training for a race.  On the inside, it is training for life, that which sanctification looks like.  It is not just the discipline itself that transforms, but the wide open conversations with God that change me on those rough stretches of trail and ribbons of country asphalt roads when I can pray outloud, listen without distraction, and feel His indwelling taking over and rearranging my thoughts and attitudes like so many pieces of furniture.  I come back from a run, and I see things differently.  I am thirsty for Him.

A couple of weeks ago, at a small group supper, not even on a run, I felt a little twinge in my hip.  A tight muscle, perhaps, but it put a little wrinkle in my thoughts.  Do I finish this thing out.... or do I walk away from it?  Run through the pain like I did last time...or call it a day?

I know that I don't have to have an excuse to pull the plug on this marathon.  I don't have to prove anything.  I just need to be faithful to God.  He will work the rest.

I just want to make sure that I am not seeking the easy way out in this, nor make a decision out of fear or timidity, but to look to His way, to look on the other side, even in this, what seems so trivial, a few hours on a measured course.

I can hear one of our daughters saying, "Mom, don't overthink this."  I can hear one of the others saying, "Get a new hobby."  Our youngest said, "This doesn't have to be the last time."  And our other daughter just looks at me and asks, "Why wouldn't you want to?"

Am I asking for advice and prayer because I want someone else to make the decision for me?  Am I seeking God in this because I just don't want to make a mistake?  Decide for me, O LORD.

He doesn't work that way.

I have every reason to race this weekend.  I have every reason not to.  Guide me, O LORD, in this.

It seems a rather insignificant thing to ask God about.  But God reminds me, "Pray about everything."  (Philippians 4. 6)

And I realized this morning, whether I run this marathon or not, He may have prepared me through it for something else entirely.  "No effort is for naught," my grandmother used to say.  God doesn't waste anything done for His glory.

I realize that my seeking may have nothing at all to do about a marathon, but instead, coming to know a little bit more about God's faithfulness, a deeper relationship with Him, another dimension, another course for next week that I cannot possibly imagine.

I'll keep you posted.

since we are surrounded by
so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight
   and sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with perseverance
    the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus...

                      Hebrews 12. 1-2

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The written list and the one that is not

I am making my list for the day, navigating the big rocks that already appear before me, responsibilities to take care of, and all the stuff that I forgot to do yesterday.  And I am very aware that the most profound things I encounter today do not appear on this list.

I know, underlying all of these words and tasks on the surface is something more.  I only think I can dictate my day.  That is a profound failure, not just of my imagination, but a profound denial of the reality of God. He can change the course of my day and the trajectory of my life before I am even aware of it. I witness that in varying degrees everyday.  It is not that God can change it all, but that God has.  The story of my life is radically different because of my relationship with Him.

That is not a theological concept nor a religious affection, but the reality of who He is.

In the olden days in church, these stories of God's Presence were labeled as "testimonies."  These life-changing stories were not mere anecdotes with God's name tag artificially and awkwardly attached.  God is at work in great and powerful ways, in the shifting of tectonic plates and in the tiniest details.

And for that timid little girl sitting on those hard pews, and now for this still timid grandma, I am encouraged and inspired by stories of grace.  Because they reveal not just the working out of a Biblical worldview, but the reality of God.  The LORD is not just working in others' lives.  He is working in me in ways I may never know on this side of life.

Sometimes we get a glimpse.  But always we can know.

I read these ancient writings of God in His Word that are not just relevant to my life today, but a great hoard of treasure, transforming and so incredibly personal, a precious revealing of the reality of God, a continual reminder of His Presence.  " I am with you.  Do not be afraid."

And daily I learn that, "It means simply God is here.  There is no place, there can be no place, where He is not," writes A. W. Tozer in his 1948 classic The Pursuit of God.

I stand at the beginning of this sacred day, in its midst, and at the midnight hour, in that which appears significant and that which looks like only a simple task, and learn to find Him there.

Because He is.  Is worship just a sudden awareness of Him?

"Oh, you see God in everything," doubters accuse.  "Things just happen."


And Tozer proposes "...allow at least the possibility that such experiences may arise from the Presence of God in the world and His persistent effort to communicate with mankind.  Let us not dismiss such an hypothesis too flippantly."

The reality of God is not subject to prevailing public opinions.

His Presence changes everything.  Everything on my list for today... and all those things never even written there, even those things yet invisible on my radar, God's faithfulness is inscribed all over it.

My times
   are in Your hand

              Psalm 31. 15

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Looks mostly dead to me

I glanced out the kitchen window this morning at the forest of trees that surround us.  Right now, the scene is largely devoid of color, greys, musty browns and barren.  A few gangly rhododendrons persevere through the winter and remind me what green looks like.

The landscape looks mostly dead to me. 

But I know what is coming.  It is not just what I can hope for.  It is of what I can be assured.  It is what I can know.

In a few short weeks, these woods will shake their drowsy heads and burst forth with a thousand shades of tender green, their praises bombarding the senses, their joy resounding all over the forest.  The animals emerge from their caves and holes in the ground.  The birds form a neighborhood chorus.  Tendrils of wildflowers find their way through the hard rocky ground to carpet the earth with beauty.

The flowers, leaves and fruit decorate the branches.  But the growth comes from the roots.

The landscape is not dead after all, but being redeemed.

No matter what we believe,
the awe we feel
    is worship to the Creator
just coming into view.

Despite what appears on the surface, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes.  Silence does not denote that God is absent.  Silence is His unfathomable Presence beckoning us to go deeper, to listen not just for an answer or for change to happen, but to seek Him, be still ourselves, and know that He is God.

“All human wisdom is contained in these two words:  Wait and Hope,” says Alexandre Dumas in his classic The Count of Monte Cristo.

Don’t get ahead of God.  Wait and hope.

Spring is not just coming.  God is bringing it.  God is redeeming the landscape.  God is redeeming your life.

…as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might walk
             in newness of life.
              Romans 6. 4

Friday, March 4, 2016

Because that is what hope is

It was a messy cold wintry morning when our daughter called on her way to work.  "Coldness!" she lamented in our conversation.

"Well, you know what my dad always said about it," I said.

"Deal with it?" she guessed, which I have to admit sounded a lot like my dad.

"No," I laughed, "actually, I can always remember him saying in the middle of those bitterly cold Chicago winters, "Every day is just one day closer to spring."

It was a word of hope when all looked like despair.  Look forward to spring.  It's coming again!

But the true essence of hope is not manifest in the future.  Hope is manifest in the faithfulness of God in our past and in our present.  Hope is secure in what He has redeemed and what He is redeeming.  Hope is seamlessly woven in the right now's of life.  It is not what is yet to come, but today.  Not just in the waiting for it, but through it.

I noticed over the weekend shy daffodils scrambling to the surface, their tender green sprouts standing in fierce defiance on a bleak black and white landscape, a visible reminder of God's faithfulness.

The world views hope as wishful thinking.
But hope in the Bible is not just a positive thought,
    but a reality on which
                  you can stake your life.

This is the day which the LORD has made.
Let us rejoice
       and be glad in it.

                     Psalm 118. 24

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Dog-eared pages

Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do.

                             --Andrew Murray

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A route not so obvious to me

I sat in traffic the other morning.  As the cars ahead slowed to a crawl, I first thought I should have taken a different road, one much quicker, one that would shave off a few minutes.  And then, I realized that God slowed me down for a reason.  Perhaps...  to listen to Him.

Sometimes God's way appears to be the slowest route of all.  And sometimes the most absurd.  "Why would You have sent me this way?"

It is often not what I would have chosen, not what I intended, and certainly not what I had planned.

And I am reminded of the most transforming words in the Bible, the verses that begin with the words "But God..."

That reality changes everything.  God does not just show up.  He has been waiting for you.

I have no idea what you are going through right now.  But two things I do know is that everyone struggles with something.  And you are not alone.  God is there. God is faithful, even in this.

In what appears to be a mystery, or surely a mistake, or a wrinkle in time, God has something different in mind.  God has placed much more on my radar, things I cannot even identify yet, some things I will never realize in my lifetime, but all bursting with purpose.

In 1967, teenager Joni Eareckson inadvertently dove into shallow waters on a beautiful summer's day and broke her neck.  In that very moment, she became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down.  For weeks, she lay on a Stryker frame in a sterile hospital room, crying out in deep despair, and desiring to end her life.  But the changing point in her life came when she stopped asking "Why, God?" and began asking, "What, God?"

Step by step, she worked her way through rehab and became an artist, musician, author, and an international advocate for the disabled.  She is now 66 years old.

In our culture, we worship efficiency, goal setting, and that huge idol of the finish line.  But the profound value, the significance and the meaning is not just what becomes of this particular situation, but His purposes that are woven in the journey itself.

And sometimes that means
what does not make sense
                             to me at all,
but all the sense in the world
      in God's design,
not just for me
   but everyone around me.

Help me, O LORD,
to be aware of the deeper part,
that which has nothing to do
             with circumstances
but everything to do with You.

God redeems.
              Even this.

...Who calls into existence
the things that do not exist.

                   Romans 4. 17