Dear Anxious Heart…(Psalms 46:10)

BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD.

“I AM. I am Yahweh. I am the Creator, the Sustainer, the Redeemer, the one who can bring life from death and light from darkness.  Me.  No one else.  Nothing else. I am all that you need. 

BE STILL AND KNOW…

“Know that I am for you.  Think on that.  Wrestle with it so that you can know it to the core of your being.  This world is a warzone and you are on the front lines.  Whether you acknowledge it or not,  you are in the line of fire and you have a mission to accomplish.  Even in the devastation of life and the pain that inevitably comes because of the war that is not fully won,  I AM FOR YOU.  Know that you are not alone.”

BE STILL…

“Often it is  all of your movement, your striving, your working, your fighting, your fleeing and  your freezing that blinds you to who I am. To what I’m doing both around you and in you. Get quiet.  Get still. Make room for silence.  Close your ears to the noise around you.  Stop arguing and maneuvering and worrying and planning.  Just stop… I am speaking. But you have to position yourself to listen and hear.”

BE…

“Be mine. Be safe. Be held. Be heard. Be loved. 

Because that, my child, is truth.”

Wrinkles in This Time

I try not to dwell on the fact that I’m getting older.  It’s hard to ignore when I can’t hold my tea without wincing at the stab of arthritis pain in my thumb or when my joints are stiff as I get out of bed in the morning. It’s hard to ignore when I scroll through my high school’s “50th Anniversary” page and realize how many of my classmates are no longer here.  But, it’s really hard to ignore when I look in the mirror and see wrinkles everywhere.  The truth is that those wrinkles are a sign of how blessed I am.  Of course, I have the worry lines between my eyes and the lines around my lips from pursing them in thoughtfulness or frustration. I’m trying to worry less but that’s just one of my ongoing struggles.  BUT, the majority of my wrinkles reveal decades of laughter, amazement and smiles.  My face is becoming an ever more topographical map of a life lived and, I hope, lived well.   

I realize I could wipe that map clean with a couple thousand dollars’ worth of Botox and I’m not against that at all, but I don’t think I’d ever want to completely lose these lines of mine.  The happy lines remind me of how blessed I am and, the others… well, they remind me that I can still learn more about depending on God and resting in His love.  That sounds very mature of me, doesn’t it?  Trust me, more often than not, I just see those lines and think, “When did this happen and how can I stop it?”  

Getting older isn’t great.  At least, I don’t enjoy most of it.  But there are some benefits to living, making mistakes, seeing how the world works and loving people for half a century.  I hope I’ll become better at gracefully growing old over the next few years.  As of now, I still recognize the depth of my pride and worry over what the next few decades hold but, I also hope that I have at least a few more decades.     

This past year has been a doozy and many of us are scared and confused about what could be next.  That’s understandable and valid but it would be worth remembering what other people have lived through and survived in the past 100 years.  We are able to overcome much more than we imagine and are capable of creating a better world than we have.  It may put a few more lines on our collective faces but which lines those are will be up to us.  Will we trust in God’s faithfulness and continue to find the joy and blessing in life so that those laugh lines become deeper? Or, will we worry and fear over the unknown and watch those lines deepen? It’s a struggle, isn’t it.  But isn’t it worth it to find more of God in the midst of it all and become more like Jesus? 

I mean let’s be real.  Crow’s feet are a blessing in the day of Covid.  How else do you know when someone is smiling at you?  Smile big my friends and lets’ rock those wrinkles. 

A Changed Perspective

The idea of walking through a wilderness has been running around in my mind for about 4 years. Throughout my life, I’ve heard messages, songs and testimonies about people who prayed to be free of “wilderness experiences” and people who taught that we should avoid them all together. The terms were varied but synonymous: wilderness, wasteland, desert, valley. The subtle message that anything hard was evil and that God’s blessing was seen in an easy, smooth and comfortable life was what came across. It doesn’t take a deep dive into Scripture to know that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We read about all sorts of difficulties both imposed on the people of God as well as caused by the people of God and it’s clear that we can experience both during our lives. However, it wasn’t the idea that we should expect and tolerate the wilderness experiences that captured my attention, it was the thought that maybe those experiences were actually holy and good.  If so,  why was it so hard for us, as believers, to embrace and accept those moments in life? 

I don’t know about you but 2020 has felt like a wilderness. When I did a little word study on this topic, some of the descriptive words I found were  unknown, uncultivated, barren, devastated, wild, uninhabited, desolate, deserted, lonely, and dangerous.  Does that describe our world for the last 7 months or what? Could it describe your heart? It’s been an uncharted, crazy, scary and lonely time that we have been through and I would venture to guess that we’d rather not have walked through it at all. Embracing it has not even been on the radar for most of us. But, what if God’s using it to reach us? What if he is wanting to speak to the hearts of his people?  What if we have the choice of taking this wilderness and turning it into something new and beautiful? What if it could actually be the start of revival in the world?

I marked Hosea 2:14-15 in my Bible almost 2 years ago. 

Therefore I am now going to allure her: I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor  a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.”

In the middle of a passage about God’s judgement on Israel for her disobedience, he breaks in with this promise to draw her heart back to him and to bless her. The Valley of Achor can be translated as the Valley of Trouble. In other words,  it seems that God can lead  us into the wilderness, or even into trouble, for the purpose of  pursuing our hearts and restoring our relationship with him.

The question is how will we respond?  It’s possible to be led into the wilderness and to come out on the otherside bitter, afraid and empty. It’s also possible to come out of a wilderness full of more love, peace and power than ever before. What makes the difference?   

For the longest time, I couldn’t put my finger on what that was.  The key came as I recently listened to a message by Kristi McLelland. She is a professor, teacher and student of Jewish and middle eastern culture. Her insight forever changed how I will view the various difficulties in my life.  In a nutshell, the answer seems to be found in my perspectives and expectations.  You see, the Jewish culture views the wilderness as a blessing because the wilderness is where God has always given his word to his people.  It’s where his voice has been clearly heard. From Abraham to Jesus, all throughout Scripture, God shows up in the wilderness and teaches his people things that they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) have learned anywhere else. The Jewish people consider the desert or wilderness to be a holy place because it is where they meet with God.  Their question is not “How can I get out of here quickly”  but “How can I carry the wilderness with me so that I don’t forget the word God has spoken to me?”  (“Jesus & Women” Lifeway)

The difference of how we walk out of the wilderness is found in what we set our focus on. Are we focused on the circumstances and struggles that are swirling around the situation or are we trusting God to work in the middle of the situation?  Are we overwhelmed and consumed with those circumstances or have we decided to lock eyes with Jesus in order to see what he wants to do or say through it all?  It boils down to what we place our love and trust in…this world, safety, other people, health, work…all of which are logical things to be concerned with, but, haven’t we all discovered since January that they are not secure? None of them provide peace.  In fact, to paraphrase a pastor I heard back in March, “We are fearful because we’re out of control and don’t know what will happen next.  The truth  is, we were never in control and were never guaranteed a tomorrow.”  This year has only shown us what has been true all along.  It’s led us straight into an unknown, wild, lonely, and dangerous wilderness.  

And that can be a wonderful place to find ourselves.

Maybe God wants to open our eyes to truth and set us firmly on the only thing that is certain. Him! Maybe he is calling us back to his heart.  The real question is what will we do with our time in this place?  

At the risk of sounding extreme, it seems to me that the best use of our time would be to press in HARD to hear what God is saying.  It may be difficult to train our ears to hear again after so many years of listening to other things and it might mean ruthlessly purging our lives of anything that is drowning out his voice. But, what if we were changed?  What if fear lost its’ power over us?  What if we knew God better? What if our perspective of the wilderness changed to one of God wanting to speak to his people?  Would that change our attitudes and expectations?  Would we wake up early to pray or sit in silence so we could learn to listen? Would we trade the news for 30 minutes in Scripture?  Would we find friends who want the same things and ask them to pray for us?  Would we turn off the tv and read a book or listen to a podcast that could feed our soul?  Would we listen to worship music while making dinner?  

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with life and the enemy will tell us that we’re too busy. That we don’t have time to seek God more than we already do. I’ll step out and dare to say that I’ve felt that way for years and have come to find that it simply is not true.  I have time for what’s important to me. And so do you.   

Peace comes from focusing on the one who is above it all. It takes more effort than just carrying on with the status quo but it will change us in ways we can’t imagine.  Being in God’s presence always does. The more we press in and know God, the better equiped we will be for the next wilderness we travel through and Jeremiah 17:7-8 shows us a beautiful picture of what that can look like. 

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green and they never stop producing fruit.” 

I’ve had quite a few wilderness journeys over the last 4 years. I can’t say that I handled all of them well or that I didn’t have moments of fear and anxiety.  But, I can share with you a few things I’ve learned in hopes that you will stand up, lace up your hiking boots and get moving on the journey that God has planned for you.

#1  I don’t want to be in the desert alone. God is always there and always wants to speak but he is also kind to provide fellow travelers to help me along the way – just in the nick of time. 

#2 Preparing, in advance, for the wilderness by getting to know God, makes the experience less terrifying. 

#3 Worship keeps the hyenes away and the fire burning in the middle of the night.  

#4 There is always hope because there is always Jesus.  I am only a visitor in the world and my true home is not subject to any kind of wilderness.

#5  The Holy Spirit and Scripture will speak directly to me if I’m consistently seeking God’s words.  

My prayer for myself and all of God’s people as we hope and pray for an end to the strange Corona wilderness that we find ourselves in is found in Song of Songs 8:5a (TPT)

    “Who is this one? Look at her now! She arises out of her desert, clinging to her beloved.”

Oh how I long for this to be true for me and those I love! And for you. That we would walk out of any and every desert or wilderness  we experience clinging tighter and closer to God than ever before.  That the world would no longer strike fear in our hearts when it’s crazy because we know who walks with us and that he rules the wind and seas. That the Bride of Christ would defy the enemy by coming out of every trial more beautiful and radiant than before. 

With that prayer in mind and as you set your intention to seek God in the middle of your circumstances,  here are a few verses that have encouraged my heart and soul over the last few months.  

Be strong and courageous my friends. The wilderness is an invitation to hear God’s voice to you personally.  You are loved and you are NOT alone!

Isaiah 26:3  “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”

Isaiah 41:17-18 “When the poor and needy search for water and there is none,
    and their tongues are parched from thirst,
then I, the Lord, will answer them.
    I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.
I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus.
    I will give them fountains of water in the valley I will fill the desert with pools of water.
    Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground.”

Lamentations 3:25-26 “The Lord is good to those who depend on him,  to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” 

Psalms 27:14  “Wait patiently for the Lord, be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” 

Matt. 7:14, 24-25  “But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult and only a few ever find it. 

Anyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.” 

 I John 4:18  (MSG)  “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.”

Ps 63:8  (TPT)   “With passion I pursue and cling to you because I feel your grip on my life. I keep my soul close to your heart.” 

Ps 86:11  (TPT) “Teach me more about you, how you work and how you move, So that I can walk onward in your truth. until everything within me brings honor to your name.” 

Psalms 23:4-6  (TPT) “Lord, even when your path takes me through
the valley of deepest darkness,
fear will never conquer me, for you already have!
You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.
Your authority is my strength and my peace. 
The comfort of your love takes away my fear.
I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.
You become my delicious feast
even when my enemies dare to fight.
You anoint me with the fragrance of your Holy Spirit;
you give me all I can drink of you until my heart overflows.
So why would I fear the future?
For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life.
Then afterward, when my life is through,
I’ll return to your glorious presence to be forever with you!”

“Tin Roof”

IMG_5738It might have been 20 feet long and 10 feet wide but there’s really no way to know.  The eyes of a child see things larger than they usually are simply because everything is larger than they are.

It wasn’t my favorite place to go growing up because I was the youngest, the only girl cousin, and usually left to play alone with my dog, Mitzi. The little lake cabin that my parents built with their own hands had a small bedroom, a bathroom, a tiny strip of a kitchen, a living room large enough for the 5 of us to sit around a table and play dominoes and the influential screened in back porch that ran the length of the  cabin. I remember pouting all too often as we drove there for long weekends or vacations and how my parents would tell me I could make the best of it or just be miserable. I usual made the most of it and breathed it in for years. The  tangible experience of that place has never left me.  I can still see Mamaw and Papaw’s larger cabin over the hill and down the road.  Smell the pine trees. Feel the mud between my fingers and toes. But, more than anything, I can hear the sounds from that screened in porch.

Depending on the season, the sounds and related feelings changed. In the summer, we would crawl into our bunkbeds with sun-kissed skin and wet hair, feel the stillness of the air and hear the crickets singing as we fell asleep. The autumn brought the sound of leaves rustling as they fell, a cool breeze blowing across our faces and a harvest moon brightening up the entire yard like God had turned on a light .  Winter was cozy as mom would pile stacks of handmade quilts on top of us and we would listen for owls in the distance. But, the most influential season to me was spring.  Waking up with the dawn to the sound of a bird chorus was magical.  The whistle of a cardinal punctuated by the steady cry of a  blue jay and the underlying trill of a warbler worked it’s magic on my soul as the ever present and characteristic call of a crow made me feel connected to a time and place in a way that I wouldn’t recognize until it was gone.  I often hear a crow as I sit on my front porch in the morning and it immediately takes me back to those times with my family.  Moments of simplicity.

Now I can see the depth and beauty of the times we spent there.  We were together and there were no distractions. Nature was our teacher and the lessons we learned seemed to be endless. We  had plenty of space when we were there and God always uses those moments of silence to speak in subtle and beautiful ways. The most beautiful was when I would fall asleep on that porch, under colorful quilts as a spring rain fell on the roof and splashed to the ground.

I wish I could describe the sound and feeling of that concert but the best I can do is to say it sounded like love and it felt like safety.  At times, it was melancholy to my emotional little soul.  The darkness of night and the sound of the rain sometimes made me feel like nature was crying, but more often than not, I felt peace.  Maybe even hope for what the next day would bring because everything was getting a shower and the next day would be fresh and new.  The rhythm of those raindrops on the roof sang me to sleep with a consistency that made me feel surrounded and protected by something larger than myself.

Those memories came flooding back a few days ago as I heard a song called, “Tin Roof.” I wasn’t sure why it resonated so deeply in my heart because, honestly, the words seemed a little poetic without much real meaning at first.  But then I remembered those evenings of hearing the rain on the roof of our little cabin.  That cabin that my parents built. It wasn’t fancy but it was purposeful and life changing.  That’s where I learned about setting aside time for peace, beauty and family. That’s where Daddy told us stories as we fell asleep. That’s where  I was a princess with her own rock “throne” overlooking  the lake. Nothing could break the spell of love that ruled in that little cabin and nothing could break the spell of peace in that 10 X 20  foot sanctuary as the rain would fall.   

I think  heaven is more like that than we realize. More than mansions, streets of gold, and constant worship. I’m not saying those aren’t true but I am saying it’s probably much more.  Scripture says God will make all things new.  A new heaven and a new earth where God’s people will rule and reign with him. It sounds like the completion of what he had planned from the very beginning… coming to dwell in his creation with His children.  A perfect creation similar to what we know here and now but far surpassing it.  Seasons, beauty, diversity, and adventure minus the sin and pain that scars the world as we know it.  A perfect creation full of worship that is far more than singing but that flows through everything done  for God’s glory.   Jesus’ mission was to complete God’s work and to redeem and restore all that had been lost.  He wasn’t making something completely different.  He was, and is, perfecting all that God had already done. Every beautiful, loving, good and pure thing in this life is a signpost pointing us to the truth of what will be. To the reality of the Kingdom of heaven. It’s all meant to give us a hunger for more because we are created for more. We are destined for more.

In “The Last Battle”, CS Lewis says this. “But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at least they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

So, what if heaven really is more than we’ve ever imagined? If every chapter is better than the one before?   What if it’s peace, wholeness, joy and truth but also excitement, beauty, purpose, purity and completeness?  I think it will be all of that and then some.  But, at a certain level, I think it will be as simple and comforting as my memory of falling asleep while listening to Daddy sing hymns with rain falling on the roof.  It will be perfect, calm and complete. It will be full of love.

It will be home.

That’s the ticket, as my daddy would say.  Heaven is home.  The mansions, streets of gold and heavenly angels may be impressive, but the beauty of heaven is found in the person of Jesus and  in knowing that we are finally under the same roof as the one who has made us whole.  That will be more than I can imagine and plenty more than enough.

 

Frightening Beauty

AslanMy daughter sat with a look of wonder on her face as she watched the flames turn colors in the small bowl.  A torn-up check turned to ash in less than a minute. That minute was enough to make her say, “Anyone who thinks fire isn’t beautiful is crazy.”

I could easily fall under her definition of what constitutes “crazy”.  I mean, this is the girl who’s also fascinated with medical procedures, blood, scary movies and books that have tragic endings.  I’m not.  Therefore, I might be crazy. But, in this case, I wasn’t.

“Yeah.  Fire is beautiful to watch but, it scares me.”

My words echoed in my heart for a while after I responded, and I realized that I’m afraid of quite a few things that I find incredibly beautiful. The ocean. Thunder storms. Lions. Tigers. Bears. (NOT snakes or rats…oh my!)

It’s the power that scares me.  The fact that such things could destroy me.  Consume me.  Overwhelm me.  Even kill me.

When I control my proximity to them, their wild nature is mesmerizing and even graceful.

I guess the truth of the matter is that their power doesn’t scare me as much as my losing control over that power.

Sounds about right. Control is a thing with me.

True to form, God took the idea past the point of observation and into the depths of my heart.

I love how our conversations often go.  I have a thought. He shines a spotlight on my heart.  Provides sufficient silence. And quietly says, “And…?”

It would be so much easier if God just told me the answers to these kinds of questions instead of asking me to figure it out.  After all, He knows my soul much better than I do.

Maybe that’s the point?

Anyway, back to all the questions that were implied with that “And?”.  Are there other things of beauty and power that I’m afraid of because I don’t want to lose control? Do I hold myself back from good things, so I won’t be consumed or overwhelmed?  Does my need for control prevent me from dying to myself in a good and holy way?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Love, forgiveness, humility.  Worship, obedience, surrender.

Faith, trust.

The Holy Spirit.

When I stop to think about it, everything about God is beautiful, powerful and frightening. He is the source of beauty and power.  He is the fullness of everything we see and cannot see. He’s untamed, uncontrollable, unexplainable, unfathomable and unavoidable. He is huge. My finite mind can’t comprehend the rhyme and reason behind God’s economy.  How does serving make me great?  How am I chosen but I also choose?  How is God sovereign if man has responsibility?  How am I holy yet am commanded to become holy? How does death bring me life? My words can’t explain the joy of the Holy Spirit’s power. My heart can barely beat in the presence of grace and forgiveness. My need for self-protection is lost when confronted with the truth of God’s love for me.  And still, I fight for control instead of handing all I am and all I have over to the fierceness of God.

If only I had the courage to drown in all that He is. Inching in a bit at a time doesn’t work.  The beauty comes in diving in, head first, in spite of all my fear.

“If there’s anyone who can appear before Alsan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.  “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.  “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”                 CS Lewis  

20/20 in 2020

What a year it has been and we’re only 4 months in. I feel like we all need to take a collective deep breath and just remember that this will pass.

Eventually.

Many of our grandparents lived through similar situations such as the Spanish Flu epidemic and 2 World Wars but the world continued to spin and those things passed into history like all things do.  I remember hearing stories about how different life was during World War II as well as after it was over, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what life will be like when the uncertainty and urgency of this passes. Will life be different?  Will WE be different? Or will things go back to “normal” as so many people are hoping?

Something that keeps popping into my head is that God wasn’t surprised by this virus.  He wasn’t surprised by the economic fallout or the worldwide fear that seems to be in the very air around us.  I also don’t think the timing is coincidental. 2020 –  a term used to describe clear and perfect sight or vision.  I mean, as a writer, God is my ultimate mentor.  Scripture is full of every beautiful writing technique. Allusion, simile, metaphor, foreshadowing… humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, dreams…poetry, history, mystery, romance, symbolism…. you name it and you can find it.  Shakespeare has nothing on God.  So, I can’t shake the thought that He’s using some double entendre to clue us in to what he’s doing in the world and what He wants to do in us. Could it be that He wants us to change how we see the world?  How we see ourselves? How we see Him and our faith? Could it be that He wants everything in us to seek His heart again and to put aside everything that has clouded our sight and kept us from total devotion?  If so, that implies that our vision has been hindered, our focus has been off or we have just gone blind. The next question is what are we not seeing clearly?

I’ve wrestled over these thoughts for a month. As of yesterday and as of this 5th draft, it still didn’t seem clear. Then I woke up at 3:28 am last night with these three things burning in my heart.  Sin, social issues and possibilities. I’m not claiming to be a prophet by any means but I feel like God has been speaking some things to my heart in a deep way and that He has burdened me to share it for whatever reason.  So here we go.

20/20 VISION TO SEE SIN

This worldwide quarantine has stirred up our lives and hearts. We’ve all seen things in ourselves that the busyness of our lives had previously hidden. The important question is, what will we do with those realizations?  Will we become more thoughtful and introspective as we ask God to convict us and show us what things need to be changed or will we dig our heels in because of fear or anger and become more blind and hard-hearted than before?  It would be a shame to walk through these trying times without learning and growing from them. It’s clear in Scripture, (and in history) that difficulties often lead God’s people to better things.  After all, He specializes in bringing dead things to life, taking old things and making them new and using what the world sees as failure to bring greater glory.  Not only that, people who walk through difficult times clinging tightly to Jesus come out closer to Him than ever before and with more purpose than they could ever have imagined. Could that be what God is wanting for us?  To be so close that nothing comes between us like it has in the past?  Covid-19 may be the mud that Jesus is using to help His people see clearly for the first time in a long time?

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”).     So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.    John 9:6-7

As God’s children, we’re called to live holy lives and to repent of any sin that we become aware of. But, repenting of sin is hard to do if we’re too busy to take an honest look at Jesus and ourselves or if we choose to believe that everything is relative. The enemy is covert.  He’s sneaky and devious in his ability to lull us into pride and pride brings selfishness, denial and justification as we compare ourselves with other people.  We sometimes forget that the goal isn’t other people, it’s Christ himself.

Two months ago, it seemed that we were all proud to answer the question “How are you?”  with a quick “Busy as ever.” As if busyness was the mark of a well lived life. I think it was easy to miss how those busy schedules had kept us from seeing sin in ourselves.  I know from talking to other people that it masked the lack of prayer, worship with other believers, time with family, and needed rest in our lives. Now that we’ve had to stop for a while, we’ve noticed that we’re struggling to live without certain things that entertained or comforted us. Sports, movies, concerts, shopping, friends. Sadly, the isolation has revealed other things that we’ve run to for comfort or to numb ourselves from all that’s going on in the world.  Alcohol, food, porn. Any one of these things, and countless others, become an idol when they replace God as our source of life, joy, and comfort.

God loves His people too much to leave us in a place of blindness to our sin and our need for Him.  Could He be using this time in history to shake everything around us so that we will turn to Him as the foundation for our lives instead of all the things that we had previously placed our hope and confidence in?  Could He be offering an opportunity for His children to catch a new vision of who we were really meant to be? Could He desperately want us to see where we’ve fallen short so that we can turn to Him and realize the incredible plans He has for each of us? Could this opportunity to take an honest look at where we were 4 months ago, and where we want to go, and be a gift from God?

20/20 VISION TO SEE SOCIAL ISSUES

There are some great things coming out of this season in our lives for sure, but there’s always a second side to every story.  A dark side.  Child abuse and domestic abuse are being reported at higher rates than normal; the poor have higher mortality rates because of previous problems with health, nutrition, and lack of medical attention; the homeless have nowhere to “shelter in place”; millions are out of work; slave trafficking has increased due to higher levels of abuse and poverty. I’ve read articles that suggest high levels of poisons found in water run-off from pesticides have been discovered in the victims of Covid-19. Pollution is another common denominator in the hardest hit areas. Do we see it?  Will we allow ourselves to resist the knee jerk reaction of explaining it all away as “not my problem” and realize that God cares a great deal about all of these things.  Injustice, inequality, widows, orphans, the weak, His creation…And, if He cares, we should care. In fact, you would think that God’s people would be the first to fight for the weak, the vulnerable and the world.

So many things blur how we see these difficult issues and it’s much more comfortable to allow ourselves to go blind to them.  Especially if it isn’t in our own backyard.  I’m not saying we can make life equitable or that we can obliterate poverty and injustice but I am saying we are accountable to what we do with what we know.  Ignoring or denying the pain and suffering around the world isn’t acceptable in the eyes of God.  If nothing else, this pandemic has opened our eyes to the myriad of opportunities we have to make a difference.

Throughout scripture, God speaks of caring for the poor, fighting injustice, defending the weak and giving ourselves and our resources to those in need. Throughout history, the Church has been the source of healing, mercy, care and hope in the world.  Even now, the Church has had a loving presence in the middle of our circumstances.  But, what if God has clearly revealed to us more than we may have wanted to know, for the purpose of opening our eyes to the hopelessness and need we are called to step into?  Not just as the Church but as members of the Church.  Not just by sending a few bucks to our benevolence fund but by getting involved on a personal level.  Helping those in our own town.  Simplifying our lives so we have more to share and give and more energy to get involved?  What if our eyes were opened to the importance of ALL people and we loved them and fought for them the way God does?

20/20 VISION FOR THE POSSIBILITIES

These are hard times but there are good things in the midst of it all if we will look. Families are reconnecting, people are getting the rest they need, children are learning how to use their imaginations, people are tapping into their creative side, many are taking this time to learn something new, the planet is getting a much needed time of healing,  people are praying and seeking God more, friends are making an effort to connect, neighbors are checking on one another more often, we’re being forced to consider the most vulnerable among us above ourselves, we’re cutting back on things that were never necessary, people are seeing the need for exercise…we could go on and on.

But, even among all the good, we’re hoping for the time when we can get back to “normal”. The question in my mind is, “What is normal?” and “Do we really want to get back to what was considered ‘normal’?” Of course I want certain things.  I want people to have jobs.  I want to see my grandchildren. I want to hug my friend’s. I want to worship with other believers and go out to eat with my husband and yes…I still want to travel to the beach as soon as possible.

What I don’t want is to become blind to the things I’ve seen in the world that obviously need our prayers, attention and action or to put my comfort above those needs. I don’t want to return to a prayerless life, meals on the go, large bank accounts and lonely families, pollution, a lack of appreciation for nature, nameless neighbors and lives that are so busy that church is expendable. I don’t want to idolize sports and entertainment so much that we forget the real heroes in life…teachers, first responders, grocery store workers, truck drivers, doctors, nurses, janitors and mail carriers among many others. I don’t want us to forget to say thank you or to stop sacrificing things we might need (maybe toilet paper) in order to help someone else in need (like the woman that gave her 1 pack to my mom when the store ran out). I don’t want to forget that life is fragile, people die and today is a gift. I don’t want to forget that my hope and my security is in the eternal life that Christ provides, which enables me to face the worst of this world with peace.  On my good days I rest in this. On most days, the world does a good job of blinding me to it but I want to see clearer.

Selflessness…I don’t want to forget that.

Gratitude.  I don’t want to forget that.

Dependence on God.  I don’t want to forget that.

Resting and Sabbath. I don’t want to forget that.

Suffering. I don’t want to forget that.

My responsibility to be a part of the solution. I don’t want to forget that.

Frugality…I don’t want to forget that.

Could it be that God is using all the things we are walking through to strip away what we thought was “normal”? Maybe it was never normal to Him.  Maybe some of it was just flat out sin.

I don’t believe things will ever be what we knew them to be.  But instead of assuming it will be worse, couldn’t it just as well be better?  That’s what our God does. He does the unexpected and the unbelievable.  It’s all throughout scripture.  Elijah and the widow with enough flour for one day, the feeding of the 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, David killing Goliath, and Gideon’s 300 men defeating the Mideonite army are just a few. Oh, and the greatest of all, the death of a poor carpenter to bring life to the world.

There’s nothing God can’t handle and nothing He won’t walk through with us.  To think things will always be easy is to remain blind as well.  God isn’t about comfort.  He’s about transformation. He’s about overcoming. He’s all about life. But an abundant life in Christ may look a lot different than we thought it did 4 months ago.

I have a feeling that God is calling us, His people, to a new normal.  To a normal that is more in line with His heart.  A normal life that consists of things like hope, joy, peace, love, power, and generosity.   Wouldn’t that be amazing?  Wouldn’t it all be worth it if, on the other side of all of this, our new normal looked more like the New Testament? What if people found emotional, spiritual and physical healing and the Church became known and respected for it’s love and unity?   What if God’s people lived holy lives in serves to others while expecting God to show up in power?  What if we spent more time just falling in love with God? What if God’s people humbled themselves, repented and prayed?

That’s a normal that I want to know and, I believe, that normal would usher in revival!

If 2020 goes down in history as the year God’s people regained their sight, it could be the year that a hurting and lost world finds hope. That would make everything we have faced worth it, and anything we could face in the future would simply pale in comparison to the glory God would receive.  After all, when we see clearly, we know without a shadow of a doubt that, yes, HE IS WORTHY!

Sunday – He Is Alive!

empty-tombAnd he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”    

Mark 16:6-7

“Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).    

John 20:15-16

      I’ve always loved these two details of the Easter story.  The personal nature of each reminds me that Jesus’ resurrection not only changed the world, it is meant to change me.

The miraculous announcement that the angel made in Mark is that Jesus, the Son of God, was dead but is now alive! That’s a HUGE declaration of infinite importance and everlasting consequence. Yet, the angel’s next directive is to not only tell the disciples but, specifically, to make sure Peter is included.

Peter. The one who swore he would die for Jesus but less than a day later denied him three times.  The one that scripture says “wept bitterly” over his failure.  This big, stubborn, strong fisherman was broken.  I can only imagine that he felt like a failure who didn’t deserve to be counted among the disciples anymore.  That kind of self-loathing is a heavy weight on a soul  and it’s hard to shake.  I don’t know if you’ve ever felt  that kind of failure or felt the weight of sin that caused you to run from God instead of running to Him but I imagine that would have been Peter.

And God made sure that the angel knew the importance of specifically naming Peter as one that needed to hear the truth that Christ was alive.  It’s as if Jesus wanted to make it very clear that He was still Peter’s friend.  That kind of forgiveness and acceptance can free a tortured soul and usher it back to a place of  peace.

In John’s account with Mary,  she’s frantically searching for Jesus’ body.  She’s broken-hearted, alone and trying to figure out the confusing mess going on around her  In a way,  she’s looking for the right thing – Jesus’ body. But, in another, she has no idea what she’s looking for – Jesus resurrected.  In her good intentions she can’t see what’s right in front of her.

Maybe you can relate to that.  Running through life searching for the right things, striving for more of God, assuming that you know what it is He wants you to do when, all along, He simply wants you to slow down, close your eyes and listen to His voice as He whispers your name.  Personally.  He wants to clarify all the things that have you bothered into one simple call for your heart to simply look at Him.

In that one word, “Mary”, Jesus spoke peace over her soul and He longs to do the same for you.

I don’t know if you woke up this Easter morning with peace and joy flooding through your body or not.  I hope so.  It could also be that you woke up dreading another day that may look just like every other in the past few weeks and those to come in the foreseeable future.  Maybe you were up late into the night worrying about someone you love or tormented over something you’ve done.  You might just feel “blue”.

No matter where your emotions, mind and heart are this morning,  Jesus is still alive! He has overcome this world, death and sin and He is desperately wanting you to come to Him.  He wants you to stop whatever you’re doing, stop all the thoughts that are racing through your brain, stop the feelings of failure and fear and listen to him say your name.  Not a random call to the human race in general but a gently spoken word of love for you to turn and focus on the risen King. This King who holds all the hope that you need and all the promises you could imagine for life, joy, peace and purpose.

ACTIVITY:  Sit quietly and ask the Holy Spirit to help you hear Jesus whisper your name this week.  Write a thank you letter to Jesus for all that He has done for you. And then find some hymns or worship songs to play and spend time worshipping the Risen King today.

     

Saturday – Grief

darknesses“The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’  So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”   So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stoneand posting the guard.”     Matthew 27:62-66

This is all that Scripture says about the day after Jesus’ crucifixion. Those who opposed His message were still worried after the crucifixion.  They went to every length to make sure Jesus was not a problem to them again.

At least they thought they had.

There are plenty of enemies trying to keep you from seeing the truth of Christ’s love. Plenty of distractions trying to keep your eyes off of tomorrow.  Plenty of worries trying to numb the joy that is waiting for you.

Where were the followers of Christ?  At home.  Sheltering in place away from those who hated Jesus and hated his followers.  Grieving over the incredible loss of their friend and teacher.  Wondering what all the promises Jesus made meant now that He was gone.

I imagine their grief was much like the grief many of us have experienced – gut wrenching, sleep stealing and never ending.  Can you relate?  Do you feel exhausted from grief, worry, disappointment, pain or failure? Do you really just want to climb in bed, pull the covers over your face and hide from the world.

I feel you.

Sometimes we just need to be real with God.  He can handle it.  Pour out your thoughts and feelings. Don’t hide anything because He already knows. Trust Him to hear you.  It’s okay to have those moments when we doubt. When we feel the darkness.  When we question if what we believe is  true.

You’re not the first and you won’t be the last.  But if you don’t take it to God,  you won’t find comfort.  Trust Him to love you right where you’re at. And trust that His enemies can’t defeat Him.  No matter how hard they try.

ACTIVITY:   If you can, and if it’s a dark spring evening, walk outside tonight. (Or go into a dark closet) Feel the darkness around you.  Imagine how hopeless Jesus’ followers, family and friends felt the day after His death.  Consider what you would do if everything you hoped for suddenly disappeared.  Maybe you feel like it has.

Whisper a prayer to God the Father for strength to endure the night and hope to wait for the morning. Ask the Holy Spirit for comfort, peace and a vision of what could be when the sun rises.

And anticipate what you could never imagine because the King of Glory is not finished yet.

Friday – The “good” in Good Friday

cross“Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”        John 19:10-11

Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.       John 19:28-30

By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.   The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle.  Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last. When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.”          Luke 23:44-47
     Today is Good Friday.  What an oxymoron. The day that the only innocent man that has ever lived was falsely accused, convicted, savagely beaten, mocked, publicly humiliated and murdered.  The Son of God sent to love and serve His creation suffered the unspeakable for all of the things that we deserve to suffer for. He took our place. He took our punishment. He took our shame.  And He died.
     His friends and family would not have described that terrible day as “good”.  They had no idea that anything good would come out of all the heartache, suffering and pain.  They had no way of knowing what Christ had known all along – that God’s plans are far above and beyond our understanding.
    We, too, can’t see or imagine the things that God has planned on the other side of our suffering but we have been promised that He is FOR His children.
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”       Romans 8:28
“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.”         Romans 8:31-34
     When Christ died, the curtain in the temple tore from top to bottom symbolizing the incredible fact that God had made a way for us to come close to Him. To know Him. To walk with HIm.  Not though a priest or through sacrifices but through Christ.  The one true priest and the final sacrifice of all time.
     That’s the “good” in good Friday. That’s the “good” in the good news. And Christ is still working out good for His children and the world.
     Whatever you are walking through today, consider that Good Friday speaks hope into that situation.  The suffering, heartache, pain, and death that we all face in life pale in comparison to Christ’s power. He is always at work and He is always our source of hope. He is greater than all things and we can not comprehend the plans that He has in store.  Dare to ask for hope to invade your soul today.
ACTIVITY:   Get alone and pour your heart out to God in a written prayer.  Express all the struggles that don’t feel “good” to you.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you faith and hope that God will work good from it. Thank Him for the good, the grace and the hope that He brought out of Christ’s death and remember that He continues to do the miraculous.

Thursday – How To Serve and Suffer Well

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.  He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”  John 13:3-5

This scene is hours away from Christ’s death. We know that Jesus knew what He faced because He had been explaining to His followers and referring to the fact that He would be going away throughout the week.  Knowing that He would be falsely accused,  tortured and mocked, how in the world did He have the composure to wash the feet of men that would abandon Him?  Why would He do that?  Why would He make such a strong point of teaching them how to humbly serve others in the face of His own suffering?

Could it be because He understood what we would face?  Difficulties, pain, uncertainty, betrayal, suffering, fear, death…

I believe that one reason Jesus came to live among us was to understand what our lives would be like. He’s our brother, and He knows about suffering. He understands every temptation and every trial we face. In the face of His own horrific death, He would soon be left in tears and torment as He struggled with the Father’s plan. Yet, He found the time to model servanthood and humility.  Even to those who, in comparison to His holiness, didn’t deserve it.

How?  And, as HIs followers, how can we?

The answer to that and to how we, as His followers, can face our own strange and uncertain times, is found in verse 3.  It’s ALL about perspective!

     “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going back to God…”

The secret to serving and suffering well is in knowing who is in authority over the universe and to whom we belong.  Christ is creator of all things and Lord over all.  He knew that all authority was His and that nothing was going to happen that He didn’t allow. Absolutely nothing that would happen to Him would change His power and authority over the rulers of that age, our age and the ages to come. (Or over any economic crisis or virus.) He chose to lay down His life for us. The men of His time may have thought they were in control but they had no idea of the greater plan that was playing out right before their eyes during that week.   AND Christ knew where real life was found.  Eternal life! He never lost sight of the fact that He was part of this world and had a purpose to accomplish in it,  but He was never a citizen of this world and would soon return to HIs Father and to His throne.  His kingdom was, and is, greater than this world.  He might die,  but He knew that it wouldn’t last long.   HE WOULD BE VICTORIOUS!

For His children….the same thing holds true! Christ is our King and His authority reigns above all that we face and we, as His brothers and sisters, will soon be with Father God in eternity.

That’s mind blowing! This life is a gift and every good thing in it, but all of the best things of our days are merely shadows of the incredible joy and beauty and life that we will know in eternity.  This world is lovely and vast but will pale in comparison to the earth that God will restore.  All things are being made new right now, and we are called to be a part of that.  BUT, all things will one day be completely new and perfect and just as they were meant to be.  Jesus will reign over all things and there will be no death, no sorrow, no crying and no pain.

When we catch a glimpse of this perspective,  of who is truly in authority over the things that we face no matter how hard they are, and of to whom we belong and where we are going after this life – suffering and service take on a whole new meaning.  They are temporary.  They have some purpose or meaning even if we don’t know what it is.  We are never alone and will, eventually, come out victorious because of what Christ accomplished on the cross.  When that is foremost in our thoughts, we can face anything. And when that is our joy and motivation, we will begin to see that, just like Christ’s life, our lives are meant to be poured out in submission and service to others and to God.  When Easter stirs this perspective and this purpose in the followers of Christ,  the world always stands up and takes notice because joyful suffering and humble service is a characteristic of those who have found grace.

 

ACTIVITY:   Spend some time thanking Jesus for His suffering on your behalf.  Ask Him to give you an eternal perspective and the passion and courage that comes with keeping your eyes on HIm.  Then ask the Holy Spirit who you could serve today.  Be still and quiet for a while until someone comes to mind.

Do something tangible for them.  Write  a letter of encouragement, take some food over, send some money, pay a bill, cut their grass, call and chat….trust the Lord to show you what they need and be willing to do whatever He says.  Even if it’s hard.