Wednesday, June 28, 2017

This day

We are heading on an adventure today, off the grid, taking a trail that is new to us, into what only appears as a wilderness to us.  But to God?

He not only knows our way, God has intricately designed our every step, every moment in this day.

I don't want to miss His wonder in it by my premeasured ideas.  I want to seek Him and be wrapped and enraptured by His glory. Even in this. Even on the mountain ridge. Even through the miry bog. His glory is the same both places, wherever the LORD leads me this day, however He unfolds it.

I have no idea what to expect today,
but it is no mystery to Him.

Do I seek His blessing in it?
Or seek to bless Him?

One and the same.  Wherever, in whatever, among whomever. Even in this.

Every day is a story of God's faithfulness.

Happy is he
whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
    Who made heaven and earth...

                     Psalm 146. 5

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Other Side


Early this morning, I posted on my other daily blog (www.worddujour.blogspot.com) a passage of Scripture that is one of my favorite accounts in the Old Testament.

I love the Bible because it is not only the Word of God, but it relates the real stories of real ordinary people and how they come to realize who God is and what He can do in their lives.

And through my reading His Word this morning, God reminded me:
                The circumstances are not the main event.

When the servant of the man of God
rose early in the morning
and went out, behold,
an army with horses and chariots
was round about the city.
And the servant said,
"Alas, my master!
      What shall we do?"
Elisha said, "Fear not,
   for those who are with us
   are more than those
   who are with them."
Then Elisha prayed, and said,
"O LORD, I pray to You,
open his eyes
      that he may see."
So the LORD opened the eyes
   of the young man, and he saw,
and behold, the mountain was
full of horses and chariots of fire
                        round about Elisha.

                   2 Kings 6. 15-17

(Feeling that kind of
           overwhelmed?
"Then Elisha prayed..."
It is not that
    "God will show up,"
but He opens our eyes
           to see He is already here.
The LORD is my strength.
Even in this.)

Enlarge our vision, O LORD,
that we may see
    what is really going on.
And that we may know You
even more in this
and through this impossible situation.

God never works in singular outcomes.
His faithfulness stretches
   even beyond the heavens He created.
And surely,
                  a lot more than this.

Feeling overwhelmed?
   Look to the LORD
                who overcomes.
There is another side to this.

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.

                             2 Chronicles 20. 12


Monday, June 19, 2017

Because, quite frankly, there just might be a reason for it


The clock was ticking faster than it should.  I needed to bring something awesomely chocolate for our daughter's birthday lunch.  And I didn't have the time to drive to the store to even buy a box of brownie mix.  A bizarre idea flew across my thoughts.  After checking with the book The Joy of Cooking, all the ingredients for its brownie recipe were waiting on my pantry shelf.

I could make homemade brownies in the oven faster than it would take to drive to the store and back.

I followed the recipe up to the point of greasing the baking pan lined with foil. "And why exactly would I do that?"  I thought.  Lining a pan with foil doesn't sound necessary.  I had never heard of doing that.  This recipe is from the original 1931 edition of this cookbook.  Things are different now, I tried to justify my own defiant heart.

And then, the conversation in my head reached a new level, "And who exactly is the resident expert in this situation?  Who wrote the cookbook?  And of course, there is a remote possibility that maybe she might know something more than me?"

Ok, ok, I'll follow the instructions, the rebellious chef within me finally resigned.  Because, quite frankly, there just might be a reason for it.  

(And if you have followed this blog for very long, you are familiar with my long saga of culinary misadventures which could be entitled, "Yes, you need to follow the directions.")

The recipe came together quicker than I could have imagined.  And the brownies were SO good, I made another batch for our small group meeting the next day.

"Why would it call for lining the pan with foil?" I later asked my husband with his engineering mind.  He didn't have to think twice about it.  Because the foil reflects the heat upward and bakes the brownies more evenly, decreasing the possibility of the brownies overcooking or burning on the bottom of the pan.

So, there IS a reason for it.

And when I read Scriptures, there are verses in which God calls me to do something quite counter-cultural like loving difficult people and going the second mile in a hard situation and listening to His way in the impossible places.  And stuff even harder than that.

My natural self reacts with, "And why exactly would I do that?"  It doesn't make any more sense to me than lining a baking pan with foil.

Because there is something much deeper going on here, something incredibly supernatural.  God is the reality of this equation.  And that makes all the difference. 

I am not God.  He is the resident expert here in this.  And God authored the Book.

"And if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments...And all these blessing shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God."    Deuteronomy 28. 1-2

There is ALWAYS a reason for it, deeper and multi-dimensional and more generational, than I can ever know.  Even in those things I don't understand.  Even in those things I may find hard... or seemingly ridiculous in my myopic vision or stubborn way.  Even in the easy stuff no more difficult than as if lining a pan with foil.  There are no small acts of faithfulness.

Following God into it is not just because He says so. It is responding in love to Him.  It is because I know He bears His profound purposes in it. God never works in finite dimensions or singular outcomes. That which is unknown to me is no mystery to God.  I would be astonished by what the Almighty is doing.  He has seamlessly woven His glory into the most intricate details and His faithfulness into the bigger story.

And I can trust Him with my very life.

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,
                             says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.

                                  Isaiah 55. 8-9

My Very First Ever Homemade Brownies
          (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

Grease a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan, lined with foil.
Melt together 1 stick unsalted butter and 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate in a small saucepan.  Let it cool before adding to the other ingredients.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat together 4 large eggs and 1/4 teaspoon salt
Gradually add 2 cups sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla while continuing to beat, until thick.
Switch to a wooden spoon and stir in the cooled chocolate mixture, and add 1 cup flour.  If desired, stir in 1 cup chopped pecans.
Scoop batter into the prepared pan and bake 25 minutes.  Cool completely in the pan before cutting with a plastic knife.




Sunday, June 18, 2017

A little message for Father's Day


Finally brothers, whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.

                        Philippians 4. 8

What are you going to dwell on?

Look for something good.  
And thank your dad for it.

And even when the relationship is rocky,
      there is another way in this.
God heals.
God redeems.
God is faithful.
Make sure those you know
and those who come after you
            know that God can create
a new story for His glory.

Let God redeem.
And think about these things.

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 that He has done.
...to teach to their children,
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...

                                  Psalm 78. 4, 6-7



Thursday, June 15, 2017

...because in him
there is found something
   pleasing to the LORD...

                 1 Kings 14. 13

(And that always looks very different
     than the ordinary response.
Help me, O LORD,
to seek what is pleasing
                 in Your sight.
Even in this.
Especially in this.)

Friday, June 9, 2017

What is draining my phone?


It snuck up on me without fanfare, as these things often do.  All of a sudden, I noticed last week late in the afternoon, my cell phone's power was balancing on the abyss of being entirely drained.  I had not done anything different, nothing unusual, but unless I plugged in, I was going to be done for the day.

It is easy to blame the "big rocks" for those things that decrease power, but most of the time, it is the silent drainers that deplete on the fringes - those apps I never use, those websites I forgot to close down, the little stuff that nibbles away at the fuel.

What is draining my phone's power?  What is draining my heart?

It is sometimes the big detours I make around God's way in something, a route that never quite ends up in the same place.  It is sometimes the little details -- the tiny knots of a rebellious heart -- that develop into a huge disobedience that is hard to unravel.

It is the little things that distract, the other voices I follow, the cumulative details that subtract, and the ways I am not seeking His strength.  And even little fears grow exponentially into enormous black holes, also known as anxieties.

Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel,
"If you are returning to the LORD
with all your heart,
then put away the foreign gods
and the Ashtaroth from among you,
and direct your heart to the LORD.

                                1 Samuel 7. 3

What are the things that get in the way of my relationship with God?  What do I need to haul out to the county dump and leave? 

The solution is not a matter of stuffing God someplace in a pocket of my day, but to direct my heart to the LORD.  It is not that everything will suddenly change, but God enables me to see all things differently.  I am running with Him.  I am running on the strength of the LORD.  His power is never used up.  His power in us only grows stronger.  He changes my vision.  He changes my heart.

Even in this impossible place,
   even in this difficult relationship,
breaking into,
invading,
interrupting my own small rebellions,
      which are never unimportant at all.

What coveted things in my life are draining my energy and distracting me from Him?  Those things I don't want to let go of.  Those things that "aren't a problem."  Those things I can justify with a milliondy legitimate reasons.  Justifications should always send up a red flag.

For my phone, I plug in every night whether the device needs it or not.  For my soul, I plug in every morning, whether a day of big decisions or ordinary living, whether I think I need it or not.  There are no ordinary days in God's economy.

You never know what strength you will need.  Even those things which we deem insignificant are discovered the most profound of all.  And most crises are never announced ahead of time.

His power not dependent on circumstances or my own puny muscles,  but an empowering of the Spirit which transcends anything thrown along the way.  That kind of fuel comes from prayer and daily time in His Word.  That kind of strength comes only from Him.  That kind of life.

I don't want to miss a thing.

O Lord GOD,
You have only begun
to show Your servant
Your greatness and
    Your mighty hand...

                  Deuteronomy 3. 24


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Even in the midst of a mess


The place I was living my last two years of university was like taking an upper-level graduate course on navigation through stormy seas.  There were women from all different social circles and world views, and very few who stepped tenderly through that mine field.  Sibling rivalry in all forms looked like child's play, compared to this turmoil.

As far as I knew, I was the only Christian residing there, which placed me not in a realm of isolation but in a wide-open opportunity to love others.  After a year of living there, I was designated as the resident adviser which both paid for my room and placed me on the front lines of the battlefield, pointblank in the midst of squabbling, wounded feelings, and what appeared at times downright war between foes. Trust me.  There is nothing more vicious than vengeance among females.  I did not just pray daily for wisdom;  I continually prayed.  I never knew what a day might bring.

In one instance, food was being pilfered from the small fridge in the second floor lounge.  It didn't seem to matter that people wrote their names on their containers.  Any item seemed to be fair play. The mindset appeared to be, "what is yours becomes mine."  Coming down hard was likely to foster even more rebellion.  "O LORD, guide me."  I chose humor instead.

I merely taped a notice to the door of the fridge: "Certain items in this fridge have been laced with Ex-Lax.  If you take what is not rightfully yours, we will know who you are." The pilfering stopped suddenly and completely.   A bit of grace lingered instead in that space.

Shortly after that, early one morning, one of the renown ringleaders of trouble in that rooming house stopped me by the communal sinks in the bathroom. "We know you are a Christian," she said.  "And we are watching you."

I had no idea.  But I have never forgotten her words, now some forty years ago.  Others are watching, not to see if I am perfect or horribly imperfect, but to desperately know if God is real.  That does not just show when things are good and the skies are crisp blue, but when things go incredibly wrong and the storms don't seem to stop. What does my relationship with God mean then? Does my life look any different? Not to be impervious and detached in the midst of a deep mess, but responsive and living faithfully in it.

...and you shall be
My witnesses in Jerusalem
and in all Judea
and Samaria 
and to the end of the earth.

                 Acts 1. 8

There are no exclusions.  

Even here?  Maybe especially even here,
   strategically placed,
   divinely appointed,
the gospel livestreamed.
Being a witness
     underlies whatever we do,
     influences whatever we do,
               how we do it,
     changes who we are.
The concentric circles of witness
        have no boundaries
and run farther
          and profoundly deeper
than we can ever know.
A witness points to the evidence
      of a life changed forever.
 
What does that look like
     where I am today?

Excuse me,
   your witness is showing.
Even now.
Even in the midst of this mess.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bring your net


Yesterday, my husband Bill went fly fishing in the rivers and streams that meander along the mountain roads.

I tagged along, not to fish, but just to enjoy his company and being outside.  I finished up a book I had been reading.  I ran a gravel road through a cathedral of trees, their tender green leaves creating a visual masterpiece against a Hand-painted dome of the deepest blue. I hiked a trail that used to be a rail line for logging companies who robbed the mountains of its trees and left behind the marks of greed. But now, I hiked through a place so beautiful there isn't even a word yet invented for it.  Left for dead, I saw what God's redeeming looks like in a life. The forest didn't survive. It thrives. 

As we arrived at one trailhead, two fishermen were packing up for the day. How were the fish? Bill asked. "Not much," one grumbled. As we moved toward a foot path down to the rushing stream, he added, "You're not going to catch anything down there."  We proceeded anyway to check out the flow.

As soon as he climbed down the bank, Bill cast his line into the water, and in one continuous movement, pulled out a ten inch trout.

You never know what incredible things flourish below the impossible.

As I returned from a run, Bill was walking up to the truck. "How'd you do?" I inquired.

"I caught some good ones," he said. "One of them was big enough I should have brought my net with me."

I had just been praying as I ran. For family members down to the smallest ones. For friends in impossible situations. For obvious needs of those I know. For the not so obvious wounds all around us. For help. For forgiveness. For practicing the Presence of God.

When you wade into the water, I wanted to tell Bill, bring your net. Fish expectantly.

And when we come before the LORD, pray expectantly. 

Bring your net.

So they cast the net,
and now
they were not able
   to haul it in,
for the quantity of fish.

               John 21. 6


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Why did the chicken cross the road?


"Why did the chicken cross the road?"  the long-established riddle asks.  And amid the elaboration of creative answers, the original stands firm, that which states the obvious, "To get to the other side."

This past week, we explored yet another public playground with two of our grandchildren.  On such a hot and sunny day, an enormous tree held out its arms as a welcome refuge, shading most of the space, a prevailing breeze swirled around us, and the children ran up and down through the wooded structure, designed like a fort.

At one point, our four-year-old grandson, not more than ten feet away from us, stood on a strong beam a mere foot above the ground.  The beam was designed as a bridge of sorts, leading from one part of the structure to another, the literal way and means "to get to the other side."

With one hand on the support post, he took a few steps.  When he had to let go, he realized his vulnerability.  He was on his own.  There was nothing to hold onto.  He looked at us, not for direction, but for deliverance.

"Take one step, buddy."  And he did.  "And now, another step."  Which he also did.  He was making his way across.  One step.  And then, another.  The steps became smaller, until a single step began the smallest of shuffles.  At that point, instead of keeping his eyes on the beam or looking to us for direction, he looked down.  Big mistake.  That short hop to the ground appeared as an abyss to him.

Instead of taking another step -- which would have been the easier thing to do -- he balanced himself, bent his knees and reached down to grip the beam with his hands.  He crawled  the rest of the way.  And that was ok too.  He made it.  Steps, shuffling, and crawling, but he made it to the other side.

Oh baby, I thought, learn to trust God when you are only twelve inches off the ground and when you can see the other side five feet away.  Because not if, but someday, your lifeline will be trusting God across a literal tightrope when the outcome is not so obvious.  Someday you will be a long way up on a slender thread into unknown territory and that seems to go on forever.

Trust God on your beam in the playground.  Trust God with this.  This experience is not an end in itself, but a chronicle of His faithfulness to you... and exactly what you are going to need in your skill set in the years to come.

No matter the impossible difficulty ahead of you today, look to Jesus.  Eyes on Him, staying faithfully on His path for you, even the hard stuff, even that which may make no sense to you at all.  That's what trust is made of.  It may appear to look like devastation, but that is when His power and His grace break through. Take one step, no matter how tiny it may seem.

The first step of a long obedience in the same direction
       is simply that:
                  a first step.
God is faithful.  He will direct your path.

A couple of years ago, we were faced with some huge changes.  What do we do?  It was as if God whispered to us, "Take the one step in front of you."  And then when we did, "Do you trust me with the next?"  We were quite literally inching through the dark.  And even shuffling counts.

When we trust Him, it is not for our glory "Look at me!!!  I did it."  But for His glory,"Look at Me."  Because that is exactly how we get to the other side.

It is not necessarily that God takes us to another place.  The other side may just be a deeper intimacy with him. God enlarges our vision that we may see differently right where we are.

You gave a wide place
             for my steps under me,
and my feet have not slipped.

                         Psalm 18. 36

Monday, May 15, 2017

Not the same person


It is a story about transformation.  It is a story about new affection and new direction.  It is simply a new story for two people who desired change and who changed their desires.  For all intents and purposes, most people would say that they are not the same people, and yet, they have become even more of who they really are.

They haven't lost anything, but have gained new life.  The pictures say it all.  You can read this story of change here.

The transformation is obvious.  But it made me think about other, even more profound, changes in lives, changes in desire, changes in the trajectory of so many lives.

Lee Strobel, the former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, was an atheist who sought to prove God wrong.  In the end of his investigation, God changed the course of his life.  His journey is documented in Strobel's book The Case for Christ, which was recently chronicled in a movie.

But what still brings tears to my eyes are a couple of paragraphs, hidden in the last few pages in his book.  As he continued his spiritual journey, now with Christ, his life began to change before his eyes.

Strobel wrote:  "Maybe that sounds mystical to you;  I don't know.  Not so long ago it would have to me. But it's very real to me now and to those around me.  In fact, so radical was the difference in my life that a few months after I became a follower of Jesus, our five-year-old daughter Alison went up to my wife and said, "Mommy, I want God to do for me what He's done for Daddy."
    "Here was a little girl who had only known a father who was profane, angry, verbally harsh, and all too often absent.  And even though she never interviewed a scholar, never analyzed the data, never investigated historical evidence, she had seen up close the influence that Jesus can have on a person's life.  In effect, she was saying, "If this is what God does to a human being, that's what I want for me."
     "Looking back nearly two decades, I can see with clarity that the day I personally made a decision in the case for Christ was nothing less than the pivotal event in my entire life."

Nothing will ever be the same.
That would be your heart.
That would be your life.

The world says you are stuck
    and that you can never really change.
But God says to the contrary,
    God shows to the contrary.
God specializes in changed lives.

Therefore,
if any one is in Christ,
he is a new creation;
the old has passed away,
behold, the new has come.

                2 Corinthians 5. 17

Sunday, May 14, 2017

All the grand blunders of being a mom


All the great blunders I have made as a mom through the years,
the enormous shortcomings,
the large selection of "what was I thinking?"
the "I was not going to make that mistake again,"
the regrets,
the "I should have's"
     and what I did instead,
the D minus days,
an insensitive heart
        and that would be all mine,
the "I had no idea,"
my myopic vision,
the nonreturnable words
     -- final sale, no exchanges--
my downright sins,
the justifiable selfishness
     which is never justifiable,
all these blunders,
          gaping potholes of my own making,
      are just a reminder
that God is God
            and I am not.

I need God.
He is faithful,
    even when I am not.
O LORD, have mercy.
And when I offer up to Him my life
       -- even my mom guilt--
God redeems.

Even that.
Even now.

And as God's Word says 62 times 
           in the book of Ezekiel:

"...and you shall know
          that I am the LORD."

I cannot rewind the past,
but I don't have to dwell
      in the miry bog of deep regrets.
I can repent.
And God can redeem.

I can't do anything about the past,
    but God gives me today.

               
 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Love you Mom


Every year in mid-May, I would stand in front of the racks of Mother's Day cards, pulling out one card and then another, none appearing to be a good fit.  My mom was a different kind of mom -- even more so than I could realize at the time.  I just wanted a card to say, "I love you, mom."

Last week, I stood in the store, buying a card for my precious mother-in-law as well as our two oldest daughters who are both now incredible moms-of-four.

As we checked out, my husband looked at me and said, "What's the matter?  Did we need anything else?"

"I wanted to get a card for my mom too," I replied.  He nodded and gave me a hug.  "I can understand that," he said.  She has been gone for twelve long years in the redeeming place on the other side of life.  I rejoice because someday, I will see her again.  I do not grieve as one who has no hope (1 Thessalonians 4. 13), but I still miss her.

What I wouldn't give to have a cup of coffee with her, to catch up, to listen a little deeper than I ever did before.

What I wouldn't give to be able get her a card for Mother's Day to let her know how much I love her, how much I still love her, how much I always will. 

The ten commandments really boil down to only two:  love God and love people.  The first five commandments address our relationship with God.  The second five are headlined by our relationship with our parents.

Honor your father and your mother,
that your days may be long in the land
which the LORD your God gives you.

                           Exodus 20. 12

What if we really took God up on that promise?

Because how I treat my mom
                           sets the pace.
How I speak of her even now that she is gone,
      those indelible marks of grace and forgiveness
              impact everyone around me
              and even the children yet unborn.

Honoring one's mom
has nothing to do
with her performance as a mom,
                       but grace.
My relationship with my mom
is Exhibit #1 of God's redeeming.
It is what love looks like
        in ordinary ways
        on the most ordinary days.

Mother's Day is designed not to remind your mom
                that you love her,
but to remind you.
The rest of the year is designed
                            to show her how much.

And even deeper than a mother's love is this:
      the LORD loves you even more.

Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion
               on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
              yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have graven you
   on the palms of my hands...

                             Isaiah 49. 15-16

We may not all be moms,
        but we all have one.
   If yours is still available,
                         call her for me.
Make her day.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Pack your bags


My husband is an avid cyclist.  Even as I write this blog, he is watching on his computer the famed Giro d'Italia bike race, today in its seventh stage.

As the British journalist reported on the event today, the words served more than a description of the riders, but spoke to my own heart.  These cyclists are pushing themselves to the limit in a race.  And we, each and every one of us, struggle with something, sometimes an entree that changes by the day.

"84 km to go and the break are starting to dig deep into their suitcases of courage.  I hope they brought more than just carry-ons.  They'll need the full allowance of 20 kg per person.  And then, of course, you have to pay extra if you bring too much courage and go over the said limit.  "Did you pack this courage yourself, sir?"

Digging deep into their suitcases of courage. I love that.  Because that is exactly what it feels like in a race when you don't feel like you can go another step.

What have I packed? 

What have I been training for?  Life itself.

The cycling news resonated with Psalm 108 that I read earlier this morning:

With God we shall do valiantly;
it is He who will tread down our foes.

                       Psalm 108. 13

God does not promise that we will win,
                       but that He is with us.
The outcome itself
    may not be the triumph,
success may not be the point at all,
but His strength in the journey there.

Dig deep into His strength, my friend.

John Wayne once said, "Courage is being afraid,
and saddling up anyway."

God says, "Don't be afraid.  Trust Me."




Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Go MAD!


When our girls were young and leaving the house for school in the morning, we would tell them how much we loved them, and then often, we would say, "Go MAD!"

Don't just stumble through the day,
don't just do the minimum to get by,
and not just what not to do,
        but what to do.

Go Make A Difference.

We think of making a difference
in HUGE actions and decisions
and that which is recognized
                  as "significant,"
but the biggest changes in this world
are made
    by ordinary people on ordinary days.

That would be you.
That would be me.
We have no idea
   what profound things
   hang in the balance.

What has God put on my path today,
who has He put on my radar,
listening, hearing, and heeding
       "This is My way in this..."

In a take on the tune Home on the Range,
we live in a culture,
"Where seldom is heard
         an encouraging word."

And that is within the power
      of every one of us.

We will never fully realize the difference
        that can make in a life,
often in those deep crises
that are invisible all around us.

No word of encouragement is ever forgotten,
no act of kindness is random.

Plan good.
Look for the opportunity
to Go Make A Difference.
To stand in the gap,
to stand by someone's side,
to do something
     however puny it may seem.

He has told you, O man,
what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

                         Micah 6. 8

What does that look like today?

I cannot solve all the problems of this world,
nor fulfill every need,
but I know in my own life
how an unexpected phone call,
a kind word from the sidelines,
a simple "praying for you!"
     has strengthened this flagging heart.


Do not withhold good
from those to whom it is due,
when it is
in your power to do it.

              Proverbs 3. 27

Monday, May 1, 2017

Suspended in thin air


When I arrived, the parking lot was mostly empty.  But over the course of the next hour or so, women arrived from many seasons of life, taking out of their cars duffle bags, suitcases, and pillows.  They showed up at the YMCA camp for our church's women's retreat.

And with their arms full of necessities, each one brought needs below the surface:  heavy hearts, deep wounds, weariness, desperations with all kinds of disguises, a hunger to belong, and a strong desire to hear from God.

I am not a "retreat person," but I know from experience that I need to seek out the stitches of spiritual formation in daily ways, the weekly gathering of God's people, and those opportunities to listen, to ask, to go a little deeper in relationship with Him.  I have found those times are not just something else to put into my already busy schedule, not the things that tie me down, but release me and cause His strength change my heart degree by degree.

On my way to the meeting hall, I passed the zip line, which looked even higher this year.  Done that once.  No need to repeat that particular fear, I chuckled to myself..

But on the last afternoon, chatting with a new friend, and passing that skyscraping zipline tower as we headed back to the dining hall, she turned and said, "Come on, let's do it."  My reluctance rose up like a shield around me.

No, no.  Can't do it.  Not my skill set.  Not my idea of fun.

Amid that litany of very fine and legitimate excuses, I heard a whisper inside me, "This is not about fun."  but something much deeper than that.

We climbed up to the lower platform.  I can back out at any time, I reassured myself.












A young woman clipped us into the harnesses.  You need this, and this, and this, as she handed us the pieces of equipment, piece by piece, things that I have no idea why, or what, or how they work, not to weigh us down, but to prepare and equip us, and to free us to do the task staring us in the face.

Be strong in the Lord
and in the strength of His might.
Put on the whole armor of God...

                Ephesians 6. 10-11

We had pretty much all that armor, it appeared.  And then, she didn't just hand me a helmet, but tightened the strap and made it secure.

And take the helmet of salvation,
and the sword of the Spirit,
which is the Word of God.

                Ephesians 6. 17

We were ready, so equipped, that essentially we didn't even have to hold on by ourselves.  So far, no big deal.  We were, at the time of this picture, a whopping ten feet off the ground.


















We began to climb the tower stairs, winding our way, up, up up, to the higher platform, the place for which we had been equipped.  With each stair tread, my courage decreased.  And then, I caught a glimpse of reality.  Whoa, it is a really long way down.

"I can't do this," I said to the young woman at the top who was strategically positioned to encourage me and to slip me onto the cable.  I thought about how many times in life God has placed people -- sometimes strangers -- who handed me a word of courage when I desperately needed it.

She just smiled gently at me.  She hears those same words hour by hour, day by day.  She hasn't lost anyone yet.

I stood paralyzed, looking so far down.  I simply could not step off that manmade cliff.

"Look out not down," she said, "and if you sit and rest on the harness, it will carry you."



Lowering myself, resting on that harness, I began to roll forward, slowly and gently, beyond my own strength, into a new dimension of trusting God.  Resting on that harness.  That's all I had to do.  And instead of FRIGHT in capital letters, a cool breeze rushed past my face, the world opened up in front of me, high above the trees, and a few friends down on the ground cheered as fear lost its grip on me.

Analogy aside, God was carrying me.  I didn't have to know where or when this wild ride would end, but it was an incredible sense of being held secure in an impossible place, an awareness of just being held, where my feet didn't touch bottom, beyond my control, exceeding my puny idea of strength.

As soon as I reached the end -- and I did not die -- God impressed on me that there have been and will be things in life a lot harder than that.  I need to do things like this zipline.  Because someday, I won't be harnessed in.  Someday there won't be a strongly attached cable with a definitive endpoint.

But there is God.

He's got this.
He's got me.

I need to know not just what trust feels like,
    but God's faithfulness live streamed.
I need to know Him
                  like that,
resting on that harness,
         and let Him carry me
                      into His wonders.













Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Going forth into the day

There is a schedule for the day, big rocks to navigate, appointments in place, some of which I cannot yet see.

But God......

Even what is unknown to me is already in His hands.  There is not fear in the unknown, but sheer wonder in the supernatural....

......because I do not travel alone.  God never intended me to.

And Gideon said to him,
"Pray, Lord,
     how can I deliver Israel?
Behold, my clan is weakest 
                 in Manasseh,
and I am least in my family."
And the LORD said to him,
"But I will be with you..."

               Judges 6. 15-16

His Presence 
         makes all the difference.
There is always victory
          in obedience
sometimes in ways
    beyond our understanding,
sometimes just realizing
            God's faithfulness 
       in impossible places.

"But I will be with you..."

How does that reality change
                my vision in this situation?
How does God 
             change my heart?

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.


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?