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.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

In my own handwriting


Too many times I have stood --cart in hand -- at the entrance of the grocery, saying out loud, "And what was it I needed to get here?"

I have tried little mental tricks to remember those necessary things like counting the number of items, alphabetizing the list, fooling myself that, of course, I will remember THAT when I get to the store.  I can remember most things, but I nearly always forget something.

My sure-fire method now is to keep a running list on my cell phone.  I may forget a paper list on the counter at home, but I almost always have my phone which I can access, and even add to the list as I go about my day.

And often, just the act of writing it down engraves those things in my mind.

In a recent Bible study, my teacher and dear friend introduced me to the ancient practices of the Old Testament scribes, the early Christian church, and now in countries where it is often illegal to even own a copy of the Bible.  These people for thousands of years hand-copied Scripture, word for word, word by word.  They had their own copy of the Scriptures because they wrote it out by hand -- God's Word in their own handwriting.

And like the grocery list, what we write down, we are more apt to remember.

Despite crazy seasons of life or demanding schedules, this is something every one of us can do.  Pick a book of the Bible.  In the case of my study group, we are focusing on Philippians. Take a spiral notebook, a journal, a piece of notebook paper, and each day, copy out a few verses from God's Word. Copy the entire book, verse by verse,  a few at a time, day by day, word by word, not just sorting through for the big stuff.

When I read Scripture and write it out, a verse, a particular word, a passage, a little piece of a verse gets stuck in my head for the rest of the day.  Think about those things, linger with them, take them with you.  Let your soul marinate in God's Word, deeply emerged in an entire book of the Bible, written out word by word, not just a few familiar verses.

And then, pick another book.

Personal guarantee:  These words will not just be written on paper, but the passages will resound in your thoughts in whatever you are doing.  These same words will slow-cook in your mind and heart.  And you will be changed by God through them.

I don't know if it is the physical action or mental engagement, but writing something down keeps me from forgetting it and engraves it in my life.

Scripture hangs out in your thoughts and does a number on your heart, comforting, directing, and changing the trajectory of your life.  It is not just about information, but all about transformation.  The Bible is not a collection of platitudes made up by man, but the very Word of God.

And there is nothing more powerful than that.

Your Word is a lamp to my feet,
and a light to my path.

                      Psalm 119. 105

Write it down.
Take God's Word with you.
It will change your life.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

By All Appearances


I recently read a book where the author wrote about a time she was the keynote speaker at a meeting.  As she spoke, she looked over the faces in the crowd.  Things always look very different from the stage.  People may have been listening, people may have been changed or energized by what she was saying, but they certainly did not give any appearance of being engaged.  Blank faces and empty expressions seemed to be the common denominator.

Except for one woman ... whose countenance glowed, whose eyes were on her, who had a pen in hand and a notebook on her lap, taking notes, nodding occasionally, smiling as if in recognition of a truth expressed.  Her facial expression reflected an earnest heart.

In her book Pursuing the Intentional Life, author Jean Fleming notes the impact our countenance has on others:  "My body language and expression telegraph signals to those around me.  What message am I sending?"

What message am I sending?

Is the expression on my face being misunderstood as critical or uncaring or irritable?  Is that the feeling I intended to send?

Has my face caught up with my heart in this situation?  Yes, I am listening to you.  Yes, I am concerned.  Does that show visibly?

As Jean Fleming challenges her readers over and over again, an intentional life does not just happen.  Who do I want to be when I am older?  It takes effort.  My heart and my countenance at age thirty will not suddenly be changed when I am seventy, she writes.  The reality then is based on what I am doing towards it now. 

If things are going to be different, something has to change.

This morning I read, "And as He was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered..."  Luke 9. 29

It is not that others can tell that I have been spending time with God by how I look, but that by spending time with God, He changes me.  And even in these situations and relationships that I lay before Him, God may (or may not) change the circumstances, but He always changes my heart, my attitudes, my actions, how I see Him, how I see others, how I see the situation, how I see myself.  Even my facial expressions.  And I don't even need a mirror to know that.  There is something different there... an alteration!  And that would be Him.

My time with God cannot help but change even the message my countenance is sending to others. God changes me.  Right down to the laugh lines on my face.

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.

                           Proverbs 31. 25

Through prayer, God drains the despair and fills me with His Spirit.  What is a burden or a heavy load -- and we all struggle with something -- is transformed not by weight but by His strength.

...it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God...

                           Psalm 73. 16-17

What message is my countenance sending today?
          Weariness
          or His Presence that gets all over everything?

 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Shelter in place


...in the place which the LORD will choose,
to make His name dwell there.

                      Deuteronomy 16. 2

As I contemplated the day before me, and sought the LORD in His Word early this morning, this verse popped out to me in the first couple of sentences I read.  A good reminder, I thought. Where should I go today?  What should I do?

I had underlined those words before. As we were raising our family, we were like a nomadic tribe as my husband was transferred to many places for his job.  There were dates jotted down in the margin.  One date from 1987 had the words next to it "news of another move."  I remember that place. At that time, I could not wait to get to the next location.  I guess I had claimed this verse in anticipation of pulling up our stakes yet again.  A new place?  Sure, LORD, when do we go?  I'm ready.  Get out the moving boxes.

As I thought about that date, I realized that in real time, we did not move for another two years from then.  I was ready to go, but God was not.  He had other purposes in mind.

And this morning, as I continued to read the chapters in front of me, I read the same words again and again and again, as if God was making sure that I didn't miss them.  Indeed, the same phrase appeared nine times in two chapters. 

A Bible teacher once pointed out to me that when the same word or phrase is repeated two or three times in a short passage, God means to highlight these words:  Don't miss this.  But repeated NINE times?   Did I get what God was saying yet?

As I wrote out the verse in my journal this morning to engrave it into my mind and my day, I thought about where God wanted me to go and where He was leading me, "the place where He will choose."

And the thought stopped me cold, "Why do I always think that is someplace else?"

I am thinking about going.  God is talking about dwelling.

"Shelter in place" is a term that is used in light of danger and disasters, such as finding a refuge in the face of an impending storm or tornado.  Don't go anywhere.  Stay right where you are.  Stop focusing on another place, the next thing, that other pasture, what someone else is doing.

Dwell here. Not just in my physical location, but in my mind, my heart, my attitudes, my vision.  And wherever I find myself today, as Henri Nouwen once wrote, "Bring the name of Jesus there."

God has deep purposes right where I am, His faithfulness all over it.

O LORD,
help me not be distracted from the present
by what is yet to come.
Fulfill your plans for me
              right where I am today.

Shelter in place.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Pockets of time


Even so long ago, in the busiest seasons of my life, God made me aware that He invented time, 24 hours in the day. How was I going to use those precious minutes?  With the blessing of four young daughters, working from home, running the household, I was often overwhelmed not by what I was doing, but by how much was still left undone at the end of the day.  At that point in my life, I felt like when I woke up in the morning, I was already trying to catch up.

One of my favorite people at that time was a mom who had seven children.  She got things done.  She had time for people.  She served faithfully at the church.  She appeared to have margin in her day for what God would bring on her path.  She did not seem frazzled.  She gave the impression of not being overwhelmed at all, but overflowing into the lives of all those around her.

And so, I watched, as it says in the Bible to "mark those people," the faithful ones (Psalm 37. 37).  Watch who they are, what they do, how faithfulness to God is stamped on their days and in their lives.  How did she do it?

My friend did not have huge swaths of time allotted to her, her hours were no more than anyone else.  It was just how she viewed them. Time was not a battle, but a sweet gift from God. And from her, I realized her "secret sauce" was being aware of pockets of time -- and being ready for them.

God was not just a priority in her life.  He was not just prominent.  He was preeminent.  "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." (Colossians 1. 17)  Notice in the space of one sentence, "all things" is repeated twice.  "All things" in the original Greek means "all things."  Even now.  Even in this.

And so she saw all of life from a different perspective.  She rolled with opportunities that I would view as interruptions or dead ends.  And she was prepared and ready when a pocket of time rolled into view, no matter how few minutes came in the package.

Once when I asked for time to talk with her, she said, "Great.  Get in the van."  And so, we had a heart-felt conversation for a whole precious hour while she went about her day, picking up one child from school for a dental appointment, taking a meal to someone else, and picking up that same son and taking him back to class.

Between the front seats of the van, I noticed a briefcase.  That, she said, was her "office."  When a few minutes presented themselves, waiting in the carpool line, waiting in a doctor's office, or for someone to show up, in the face of delays, cancellations, disruptions, instead of getting stressed out or irritated, she was overjoyed for a few minutes to get something done.

She carried around with her a Bible to make sure she had yet bathed in God's Word for the day, first things first, and even to refresh a passage of Scripture she was memorizing.  She also carried in that briefcase:   bills that needed to be paid, correspondence to be answered, preparing a Sunday school lesson to teach, lists of people to pray for, the latest book she was reading, and her children's schedules lest she forget practices, appointments, or a kid waiting in front of the school.

She did not waste time.  She used it.  She knew the value of pockets of time, the treasury of hidden minutes.  And when they appeared in unexpected places and in the busiest of days, she was ready.  "If I have to think about what to do," she advised me, "I've already lost the time."

I had one of those occasions this past Sunday afternoon.  There was not enough time to go home between a church meeting and a baby shower, leaving about a 20 minute gap.  I took my things with me, sat in the car where I needed to go next, and prepared my lesson for Bible study this week.  It was not much time. I was not able to get it all completed, but I am already this week 20 minutes ahead, instead of 20 minutes behind.

Pockets of time.  God is faithful.  You can never comprehend how much you can do -- how much God can do --with the gift of a few minutes lodged between the big rocks.  Those minutes are deeper -- and more profound -- than you can imagine.  Go forth prepared.  And keep an eye on your radar, not for if they come, but when.

But I trust in You, O LORD,
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in Your hands...
       
                        Psalm 31. 14-15





Friday, March 24, 2017

Whatever it is


I went to bed anxious last night.  Not a good thing.  Because anxieties are never singular.  They travel in an unruly mob.  I lay stiff, wounded, and not knowing what to do about a particular situation.  "O LORD, give me peace, or give me direction," I prayed.

I was internally hoping God would just evaporate my feelings and let me get some rest.  But instead, two words kept a unending loop in my thoughts, "forgive and love."  And as I pulled up each feeling, each infraction, each wound, the same two words, over and over again.

Forgive and love.

Despair was getting me nowhere.  It never does.  But those two words, forgive and love, softened me.  And I was reminded how, earlier yesterday, I had encouraged someone to bring forgiveness to a toxic relationship and an impossible situation.

And it was like God was saying to me, "Your turn."

I can't say that those two words lulled me to sleep, but they began unraveling the tightness in my heart.  And remarkably -- this woman who like David in the Psalms is awake in the watches of the night -- I slept until my husband's alarm, so deeply that I couldn't figure out what that noise was.

God granted me the peace.

And then, through reading His Word this morning, God gave me direction.  As I read my passages for the morning, I was amazed at the words in this ancient book thousands of years old, as if each verse this day was written personally for me.  Because it was.

Verse after verse was applicable to my situation.  Verse after verse encouraged me not what to do, but how to trust Him.  As hard as it is to figure how to work something out, it is even harder to trust Him through -- to follow Him in this, and not with my own patched together solution.  Because while I want to fix it to avoid the pain, God wants to heal it and redeem it for His glory.  And the only way to the redeeming is by my forgiving and being forgiven.

And as I have often quoted my friend Crawford Loritts, "The only thing harder than waiting on the LORD is wishing that you did."

I read in 2 Chronicles 20. 12:  "For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You."

My eyes, my heart, my mind, my attitude.  Help me to follow Your slender scarlet thread through these volatile places and be prepared for the storms that don't even appear on the radar.

And immediately I saw God's reply three verses later:  "Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's."

I don't need to fight this.  I need to follow You in this.

There is always a lot more going on below the surface than I can ever know ...or need to know.  If I don't respond with "forgive and love," I will always be in the midst of a battle.  Battles never end well.  Forgiveness always does.

Give me Your peace, O LORD,
      and give me Your direction.

Trusting God takes me to a different outcome, leads me through the thicket, and creates a path for others to know Him, and let His glory unfold.

I have no idea what you may be facing, and we all struggle with something.  But whatever it is, forgive and love.  And let God proceed with the redeeming.  He is faithful.  Always and forever.

Friday, March 17, 2017

St. Patrick and his shield


This is a story -- the real story -- about St. Patrick that I posted two years ago.  It bears repeating.  I remind myself every year there is a deep reason for this holiday.

Marvel Comics are not the only ones with super heroes.  I write today about one who lived an adventure of intrigue, narrow escapes, and who conquered hordes of adversaries, armed with only a shamrock and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

I am posting this account about St. Patrick because your kids need to know -- indeed we need to know-- about this man of faith who lived passionately for God in the face of palpable adversity.  His incredible story is not just great and exciting; it is true. 

St. Patrick (389-461 AD) was kidnapped as a boy and taken to Ireland as a slave.  Years later, he miraculously escaped, but compelled by God, he returned as a missionary to tell the Irish people about Jesus and literally change the course of the world. 
The famed shamrock we associate with his holiday has nothing to do with luck, but everything about Christian doctrine.  Patrick used the shamrock as a visual aid to teach about the Trinity in a way that people could understand, the three in one, the one in three. 

As the Bible reminds us, if we do not pass on to the next generations the true life stories of the faithful, they will soon be tragically forgotten.  These individuals are not merely historical characters, but people of faith who spelled out the reality of God across the centuries.  This is what a relationship with Christ does to a person. This is what redeemed looks like, living what would be impossible if it were not for God.  Christ with me, Christ within me.
Patrick spoke with great gentleness about the grace of Christ to everyone around him for more than thirty years. In the year 433 AD, he composed a prayer which came to be known as "Patrick's Breastplate," a cry for protection in a time of certain hostility and opposition.  Patrick was not naturally courageous. The LORD was his strength.

I had never before heard the powerful words of Patrick's prayer, and it was read responsively at church on Sunday.  The phrases appeared on a screen, recited by five hundred voices strong in unison, and the lyrics washed like a deep current over us, the words no longer belonging to a distant past, but invigorating and fresh. 

Let the words of St. Patrick's ancient text surround and challenge you on this holy-day.

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One,
      and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith,
      Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River;
His death on the cross
       for my salvation.
His bursting from the spiced tomb;
His riding up the heav'nly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God
            to hold and lead,
His eye to watch,
            His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need;
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide,
             His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heav'nly host to be my guard.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poison'd shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation:
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.


For a more detailed account of St. Patrick and his impact on the world, I suggest reading the book How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, or check out "Wearing of the Green," posted on Nightly Tea on St. Patrick's Day 2013.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Show me what it looks like


The door opens and lets in the wintry air.  Shy individuals walk into the large room, the struggling families, the small children, war-torn fathers, grieving mothers, young adult men and women who have known nothing but living in displacement camps, indeed many of them born there.  They troop through the doors of the clinic for their initial health screening in this country.  To them, they expect just another clinic, the lines, the long waiting, the grey strangeness, the enduring, the impersonal --the things they have come to face living as a refugee, without a familiar place, without a home, and treated too many times as a person, it seems, without a name.

I see it on their faces as they enter the reception room.  They see the tables and the molded plastic chairs.  They already look tired.  And it is only 8 in the morning.

But there is something different here.  A gentleness, a peace, some have said, a place where everyone is welcomed by name.

The room is crowded with the senses -- the colors, the smell of weary travelers, the flowing scarves, Hello Kitty t-shirts, new shoes that don't quite fit, many languages blending into a symphony, and here in this place, kindness is the main interpreter.

I have come to love Monday mornings when I volunteer at the refugee clinic.  These people from many nations around the globe have suffered so incredibly much.  They are easy to love.  I am not a medical professional like so many others here who are volunteering their time.  I only weigh these new friends and mark down their height.  And I check their eyes, using a chart taped to the wall 20 feet away from a blue line on the tiled floor.

Because of the language barriers, the many different alphabets and unfamiliar letters, we use a chart where our friends can simply point in the direction of the figure:  to the right, down, up, to the left.  No reading is necessary, no speech, just pointing... until they hesitate just a bit where the figures suddenly fade into just a grey line.

Image result for snellen eye chart

Some use large sweeping motions with their arms to point in the appropriate direction, some just subtly tilt the palms of their hands , and the shy ones, use a barely perceptible index finger pointing in the right direction.

Some refugees are familiar with the procedure, having done it before. For many, the interpreters give instructions.  And for others, well, a lot of instruction can be communicated simply by hand signals and smiles.

Yesterday, a shy little six-year-old girl from the Congo stood on the blue line.  I indicated for her to cover one eye.  And then, I pointed to the figure at the top of the chart.  It was obvious that she had no idea what this was and what to do.  I asked an interpreter to give her some instruction.  He spoke to her.  We tried again.  She did not understand. The chart meant nothing to her. The translator spoke to her again, this time a little louder. He was frustrated and ready to give up on her.

"Perhaps," I suggested, "perhaps, if she watches someone else do it, she will understand -- if someone can not just tell her, but show her what it looks like."  The interpreter motioned for her brother who was a year or two older to stand on the line with his sister beside him.

The boy had already watched his father take the eye test.  And this little boy marched right through, pointing like he was a general, directing his troops.

He finished.  And the little girl took her turn, now easily pointing her way through the chart.  She understood.  She just needed to see how it was done.  The directions were, in a sense, translated into a language she could see and understand.  It was like a light bulb had turned on in her head.  "Oh, so that is what it looks like."

And I thought about so many people around me to whom the name Jesus means nothing to them, and Christianity is just another religion, a different culture, and even something it is not.  They don't understand my worldview any more than a chart of figures that doesn't make sense or spell out words at all.  They don't understand the radical grace of God that Jesus came to reveal.  It is like a foreign language to them. 

All I have to do is stand next to them and stand with them to show what the gospel looks like, revealed in what I do, in kindness, gentleness and grace.  It comes from Christ and how He has changed me.  What love is.  Who God is.

Speak the gospel in words, with the Word, in stories, and in kindness.
But show the gospel, what the love of Jesus looks like, not just in deeds, but by loving others.

 "Show me what it looks like."

"Lord,
when did we see You hungry and feed You,
or thirsty and give You drink?
And when did we see You a stranger
                      and welcome you,
or naked and clothe You?
And when did we see You sick
     or in prison and visit You?"
And the King will answer them,
"Truly, I say to you,
as you did it to one
of the least of these My brethren,
         you did it to Me."

                   Matthew 25. 37-40



Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cutting the shore line


I awoke in the night, surrounded by so many proverbial pre-schoolers vying for attention, prodding me awake.  I came to the surface of sleep, opened one eye to catch the time 2:38 a.m., (insert "groan" here), but I was not quick enough to feign sleep.  And the entire crowd of phantoms cheered, "She's awake!"

It was as if there was a rather large disturbance in the universe -- at least on my side of the bed -- while my husband slumbered away, undisturbed.

Of course, there are always the familiar fears that lead the parade, terrifying situations and the usual notorious suspects that I thought I had tossed out the front door a long time ago.  "Surprise, we're baaaaack!"  Hurt feelings, rejections, harsh words, sprinkled with razor-sharp bits of panic.  They were all there, along with their first and second cousins, some of whom I had not yet met.  Over and over, they churned around me with their accusations and bullying cries.

"O LORD," I prayed.  "Give me Your peace, or give me direction."

The hours ticked by.

As I turned over one way and then another, listening to the wind howling outside, waiting for the first shadows of dawn, the disturbance continued.  But now as each word and situation came to the surface to testify against me, instead of fighting against them, trying to justify, trying to forget, trying to go back to sleep for even a few minutes before the alarm rang, I felt like the LORD was whispering, "Forgive it.  Forgive it and let it go."

I would pull up another fear or anxious thought.  "But what about this?"  Forgive it and let it go.  "But what about THAT?"  Forgive and let it go. "Even that?"  Even that.

Forgive as you have been forgiven.

Forgive them back.  Forgiveness starts the healing.

After two hours of tossing and turning, I sneaked out of the bedroom, made the morning coffee, and this is what I wrote down, the words spilling over each other in my journal:

Forgiveness doesn't have to wait for someone to ask for it. I can go ahead and in my heart forgive the person, forgive the offenses and the wrongdoings, and the harsh words meant and unmeant, and not keep accounts.  Forgiveness is not saying "Oh, that's OK," condoning the storm, but letting go of the bitterness before it metastasizes like berserk cancer cells on a campaign of their own, before the hurtfulness hardens into ammunition for another battle, before it builds an impenetrable wall in the way of relationship.

Forgiveness means you are more important to me than anything.  Forgiveness acknowledges that we all mess up, all we like sheep going AWOL.

Forgiveness is not snapping a plastic shield in place to keep from being hurt again. It is not like the non-stick coating on my frying pan that gives the appearance of "I don't care."  But instead significantly, forgiveness forms the stickiness of relationships.   

"Confession and forgiveness are the concrete forms in which we sinful people love one another," stated Henri Nouwen in In the Name of Jesus.

Forgiveness is the highest form of love.  I love you no matter what.  My love for you is not based on you performing to my standards, not based on your lack of perfection or mine, but just because you are you, and I love you.  Just like God loves us.

On my bathroom mirror right beside my ragged typed out passage from Romans 12. 9-21, I scribbled on an index card another quote of Henri Nouwen from his thoughtful book Home Tonight"But constantly forgiven, we have power to love others more." 

I have read those words and repeated those words and engraved those words in my heart for the past three months.  Because I am forgiven, I can love again.  Constantly forgiven, I can love even in this.  I can love.  Because He first loved me. (1 John 4: 19)

But after my reluctant "conversation" in the middle of last night, I feel like I need to add, "But constantly forgiving, I can love others more."  Again.  And again.  And again.  Forgive and let it go.  Not time to move on, but time to stop picking at a wound already forgiven.

I DID ask forgiveness.  I don't know if I was forgiven.  "Doesn't matter," I felt like God was saying, "Forgive and let it go."  Before their asking, before even recognizing the wrong, before acknowledgment of the hurt, before realizing what was done -- maybe even without EVER realizing the devastation that was caused --.  forgive it in my heart and let it go.  Start the healing,.  "IT STILL HURTS," I cry to God.  Yes, I know, says my Savior who died for me.

There are no small forgivenesses, nor any too big for God to redeem.

Am I the one in need of asking God's forgiveness?  For not forgiving others, or asking their forgiveness?  For even my "5 percent of fault" in what escalated, or how I responded, or to what I am still clinging?

"Our agony comes through the willful stupidity of our own heart.  We won't believe, we won't cut the shore line, we prefer to worry on," notes Oswald Chambers in his classic My Utmost for His Highest.

Forgiveness cuts the shore line.

Am I the one not letting go?  To let it heal?  To allow God to redeem?

After all that time last night, it turns out it was not fear or anxiety that kept me from sleeping.  It was not the adversary's accusing rant.  It was God's still small voice and some unfinished business with Him.

Be kind to one another,
tenderhearted,
forgiving one another,
as God in Christ
               forgave you.

          Ephesians 4: 32

Forgive
       and let it go.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What do I want to be when I grow up?


Yesterday was a splendid “I-can’t-stay-inside” kind of winter’s day, with a crystal blue sky, a life-rejoicing 75 degree temperature, a different universe in mid-February for this girl from Chicago. The cherry trees were already decked out a month early with their spring finery, and the yellow forsythia blooms competed for attention.  

We are visiting my husband’s parents in North Carolina for a couple of days.  When a pocket of time appeared in the late afternoon, I pulled on my shoes and went for a walk.

After just a few minutes walking the winding road around their neighborhood, I realized that I did not need my fleece vest at all.  I carried it in my hand and rejoiced in the mildness of the day.  On my second loop around, I passed an older woman walking briskly in the opposite direction.  As we approached one another, I lifted up my vest and remarked cheerfully, “It’s warmer than I thought!”

She looked at me, as if deciphering whether she knew me, but then, she glared sharply at my friendly greeting.  “It’s not warm. It’s HOT! “ she snapped at me, her voice increasing in volume, as if I was the cause of the day’s weather.  “I lived for fifty years in South Carolina,” she stated in the harsh tone of a trial attorney, and then,  it sounded like she said in bold print and in italics. “ I HATE HOT.

“I even had to turn on my air conditioning this afternoon,” she fumed as she stomped away.  The sky was still blue and the birds chirped from the tree tops, but dark storm clouds swirled in her wake.

For a moment, I didn’t know what hit me.   My first reaction was, O my dear LORD, what kind of pain is that woman bearing?  What is she facing, what is she going through, what heavy baggage is she carrying underneath that blue Adidas shirt?  Everyone struggles with something.  Everyone.

My second thought was, “I don’t want to be like that when I am older.  Is that what I sound like now?”

 I was reminded of a book I read last week  If I Live To Be 100, based on interviews with centenarians that author Neenah Ellis conducted for an NPR series.  In the book, she tells a bit of her own journey:

“But I only recently started thinking about what my life might be like at one hundred…As I listened to their life stories, I realized that I was being given a chance to choose my own future, like Ebenezer Scrooge.  By lining my life up alongside theirs, I got a better idea of where I might be headed…I felt the need to make more choices;  I could decide what sort of old person I wanted to be.”

I could decide what sort of old person I wanted to be.”

What do I want to be when I grow up?

None of us has to wait until we are older.

No matter the circumstances, there is a choice between bitterness or joy.  To leave an unpleasant aftertaste -- or the sweet aroma of Jesus.  

This past year, I had to navigate a difficult situation and make some intentional choices.  To keep me focused,  I scribbled some questions on an index card and taped it to the inside cover of my journal:

What do I choose in this?
What kind of person do I want to be in this?
What is God’s way in this?
What is God trying to say?

Despite the dense brambly thicket around me and the ensuing storm, God’s Word rolled over and over in my thoughts:  “Be found in Him.”  (Philippians 3. 9) 

My choices impact everyone around me – as I learned from an elderly woman yesterday -- as well as people I will never know.   I can decide what kind of person I want to be when I am older, I can choose what kind of person I want to be today.


Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
                                    Proverbs 31. 25

Saturday, February 18, 2017

And what I found along the way



Most mornings, I have to put on my proverbial seatbelt to write.  When a day appears wide open to write, I almost always awaken to urgent needs around me  in bold print, all caps, and italicized, even that which is not URGENT by any measure. 

I don’t even get to the computer before there is a crowd at the door of my thoughts, taking numbers as if at the meat market on sale day, sometimes shoving and shouting like so many elementary students getting in line on the playground after the wildness of recess.  “Me first!!!“  And what stands in the way of my needful work are so many distractions, the laundry, the making of soup for supper, one ingredient at the grocery, even what is someone else’s calling.  And I am often tempted by the alluring thought, “Oh, just this one thing, and you can get back to your work,” like a single cookie or potato chip that morphs into a LOT more than I intended.

Go put on your seatbelt, God reminds me.

After a brief conversation this morning, I knew what I was going to write about.  I sketched out my idea in my journal, based on a verse that through the years God has engraved on my heart.  I just couldn’t remember the chapter and verse in the Bible.  For efficiency’s sake, I looked up two key words in the concordance at the back of my Bible.  I couldn’t find the verse.  Instead of quickly looking it up on the internet, I KNEW that I had written down the verse somewhere on the back flaps of my Bible.  I was ready to grab the verse and plow ahead.

God had bigger plans than that.  God always has more profound designs than my puny intentions.

I first glanced through my scribblings on the back flaps of my Bible, verses jotted down through the years.  I scanned over them.  Nothing initially popped out.  But then, other verses caught my attention as well as the words of godly people I know, and truths verbalized in a sermon or two.

I was looking for a single verse and a quick write.  But when I sought a little deeper, God overwhelmed me by His love and His faithfulness.

“The only thing harder than waiting on God is wishing that you did.” – Crawford Loritts

…for it is not a trifle for you, but it is your life.  Deuteronomy 32. 47

“Making the invisible Kingdom visible.”  -- John Calvin

“Live in such a way that He is seen.” – anonymous

“Everything we do has significance with God.”   --anonymous

Keep you from sudden panic.  Proverbs 3. 25

“Sin ruins it all up.” – our granddaughter Maggie at age 4

You whose glory above the heavens is chanted by the mouth of babes and infants.  Psalm 8. 1-2

“Learn to read the Bible slowly.” – E. V. Hill

What emerged on those back flaps were four full pages in my own handwriting in teeny tiny letters, in ink so they will not fade and I will not forget.  God never intends me to rush through, grab a bite for the road when I think I need it, a band aid for a broken leg, a platitude to hang on my wall. 

God wants me to marinate.  He wants me to linger.  God converses.  It is not a quick fix, nor a list of rules or beliefs, but a personal, conversational, loving, grace-filled relationship.  That is why God gave us His Word,  that is why He invented praying, that is why He sent Jesus.  Even in the busy-ness  of days, I can pray all I want, I can dwell on His Word no matter what I am doing, and as He promises over and over and over again, “I am with you wherever you go.”

I rarely think about the enormity of things, those little jottings with so many different pens in so many seasons of my life.  When I inscribed these verses, and words, and thoughts, did I realize that decades later they would still be strengthening, building His truth in my life, and reminding me of His faithfulness?

The things of God I learn today may be equipping me for what is yet to come.

Ok, well, I really departed off the designated trail this morning.  Off on a tangent, or utterly distracted?  Or perhaps redirected to a different panorama of things and the intricately engineered details of the Creator of the universe.  I am amazed what I found along my way to somewhere else.  Following Him into it.

All these things don’t just  fit together. God made it so, beyond my wildest imagination, even more than I can know.

He is before all things,
and in Him,
     all things hold together.
               Colossians 1. 17

All who wander are not lost. – J. R. R. Tolkien