Saturday, December 10, 2011

Breakfast with My Best Friend

I went to breakfast this morning with my best friend. I wore my favorite sweatshirt, jeans and tennis shoes. I did put on a bit of makeup, but only a bit. My unkempt hair was tucked under a ball cap, but its unruly manner still showed since one side refused to stay neatly tucked in. My dear friend looked very much the same. Instead of a ball cap she embraced the ever popular “clippy” for her hair. She wore make up, but only as a meager attempt to cover the lines left by sleep. She too wore a sweatshirt, no doubt one of her favorites. We chose a less than fancy place to eat. It was quiet (completely empty except for us) and the food tasted pretty good even though it was cheap. We were comfortable, and both a bit worn out. You could see it in her eyes--just that weary look that comes at the end of a long week. Mine showed more in my emotions being right at the surface of my speech. I think I hid it pretty well-but honestly, I didn’t try too hard, because she knows me. There really isn’t much to hide anyway. At this breakfast there was no fear that I needed to be anything but who I am. I was totally accepted, unconditionally loved, not pressured at all. I feel confident that my dear friend felt the same way. She had no guards up. She was just relaxed with no protective gear on. We had no need for any of that today. I really enjoyed this time. Although it cost us both about an hour of sleep, it was worth it just to connect in a meaningful way with someone I love.
What a blessing this time was for me. As I drove home I began to think how much that breakfast looked like my quiet times with the Lord. I just get up and find a quiet place where it’s just the Lord and me visiting. It does cost me sleep, but in return I get a beautiful visit with a friend that never pressures me to be anything but who I am. No need for makeup or beautiful clothes to cover who I am. I don’t have any guards up, I am relaxed because He knows me. He knows the me that is happy and content with life, and He knows the me that is broken and worn out. He knows the me that has it all together, and He knows the me that is on the verge of insanity. He knows the me that is an unrighteous sinner, and He knows the me that is a tremendous woman of God. We share it all. I don’t hide my many faces from Him; He doesn’t hide His face from me, and as a result He sees me—every part of me, and He loves all of it completely without a thought or reservation.  He can’t help Himself but to love me, and I can’t help myself but to love Him because we know each other the way best friends know each other.
I have two challenges for you today. First, call your best friend this week and if possible make some time for each other. God built us to be in relationships that feed our souls. Next, call on the Lord and make some time for Him. Show him the face you are wearing today. Seek His face so that He can show you that He loves every part of you completely and without reservation.  He can’t help Himself but to love you and I feel confident that He wants to show you that right where you are today.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I Wish I Was Simple

As I age, I become more and more simple in many areas. It seems to me that I’m growing in the directions that I want to grow in many different parts of my personality. But as I grow, I also realize that there are so many ways that I am a complicated person. I try to keep it in check, but sometimes I not only complicate simple things for myself, I also complicate simple things for those I love the most and occasionally I complicate simple things for people I hardly know. As I watch other women around me I realize that many of them are complicated too, and I’m convinced that those who seem simple just haven’t been watched long enough. I work with lots of women: teachers, moms and teenage girls. It appears to me that we all seem to have our moments when simple things are not simple, and when small things are not small. Of course things have happened recently to make me look at this, but the tiny things that I made big are less important than what I see about myself as a result. I’ve come to the conclusion that the way I respond to everything that goes on in my world is a made up of a very complex set of circumstances that lives inside of me. These circumstances change from moment to moment, from day to day and from week to week. Unfortunately for those people that I spend a lot of time with, it means that the response they get on any given day could vary widely from what they would normally expect, and a person that is generally easy to hang out with (me) can become high maintenance at least for a period of time. Something that is small may be big, and something that is simple, may become very UNsimple. My responses to my world are made from a complicated (and sometimes very messy) mix of emotions that are built by past hurts, past injustices, past relationships, my upbringing, my second grade teacher’s personality, what I had for breakfast, how much sleep I got last night, my current stress level, my hormonal status, and the phase of the moon-not to mention the fact that in being a woman it is almost required that I feel and am affected by almost every emotion of my children, my husband and practically everyone in the room with me at the moment. Combine these things with my own sin nature and the fact that I have an enemy constantly attacking me and I have a mess just waiting to happen.
I’ve learned 3 very important things from this realization. Number one: I should always show grace to people when they respond in a way that is uncharacteristic-soon I will need that grace. Number two:  I am so thankful that I am surrounded by people who love me anyway-people who just accept me for who I am, and really don’t worry too much about my bad days. They are a gift from God. Number 3: While I will never excuse the times I when I damage relationships with the people I love by complicating simple things, I should consider showing myself the same grace and acceptance I would give my dearest friends. I am convinced that it is a sign of a having a mature walk with Christ, since ultimately that grace is what He died for.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why the Wilderness?

You know, it’s interesting that God didn’t take the children of Israel straight into the Promised Land. Of course, it was not His original intent that they wander around in the desert for 40 years either, but He did not command them to spy out the land in preparation to go into it until 2 years after they left Egypt. The Lord sent them from Egypt to Mount Sinai and they camped there for just over 2 years before God gave the command in Deuteronomy 1:6-8 “The Lord our God spoke to us in Horeb, (Mount Sinai) saying: “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey…See, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land…”” Why, by God’s original design were there 2 years in the wilderness before He was going to allow them to go into the Promised Land? We find clues to the answers in several places of scripture. The book of Numbers has several places where the Children of Israel get into tight spots and they begin to complain. But their complaints always go the direction of “We wish we were back to Egypt!” In Numbers 11 they got tired of the manna that fell to the ground each morning and said, “(Those) who were among them yielded to intense craving…We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic.”  When things got a little boring, they focused on Egypt.  They do this in this scripture and several other places. When water runs short, they want to go back to Egypt, when the spies come back out of the land and tell them about the difficulties ahead, they want to go back to Egypt. Apparently they had already forgotten that in Egypt they were slaves living in oppression. They had forgotten that the land of Egypt was hard to work and that they had to haul water or dig ditches to get water to their crops. They had forgotten that Egyptian soldiers would whip them, taunt them and abuse them in many ways, but they did not forget the savory foods or the culture that they had grown so accustomed to that it became what they craved.  Any time they got a little bored or the road ahead became a little uncertain, they craved the things of Egypt and began to make plans to go back. 
I feel like Preston Morrison said it best while speaking at Gateway Church. “The wilderness is not about getting you out of Egypt, it’s about getting Egypt out of you.” God designed 2 years in the wilderness so that He could reshape and restructure the minds of the Children of Israel to prepare them for His promises. In order for them to go into the incredible place He had waiting for them, He first had to get Egyptian culture out of them so the cravings for all things Egypt would be gone. We will never fully enjoy or receive the promises of God as long as we are constantly looking back to the things of Egypt. The problem with the Children of Israel was that Egypt was so engrained in them that they never were able to look forward to the inheritance God had for them. They could not focus on God’s amazing plan when the stress levels went up. All they could do was crave what was back in Egypt. God left many of them in the wilderness. They wandered there for 38 more years and died there because they refused to let go of what God had pulled them out of and look forward to what God had promised them.
Are you in the wilderness? Please understand that it has a purpose. God designs the wilderness days to chip away at the cravings for the things He’s delivering us from.  Do you notice that when you get bored or stressed that you start to crave the things He’s in the process of setting you free from and lose sight of the things He’s put in front of you? If so, you aren’t ready for the Promised Land, that land of complete blessing and spiritual abundance. We can’t enter the promises of God if we are constantly looking back at the things of Egypt with craving in our hearts. Let it go. Whatever it is, just let it go. Walk away from it. God has a better plan, a better way and a better place. Focus on what is ahead of you--“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills: a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey: a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing…” Deuteronomy 8:7-9

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

From Faith to Faith

Romans 1:16-17  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (NIV)

I recently heard someone speak on these verses. That phrase “from faith to faith” got stuck in my mind. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it and what it means. I think I understand what it means for something to generate from faith. But for something to generate “from faith to faith,” well I didn’t understand what that was about at all. If Paul had just written, “For in it (the gospel of Christ) the righteousness of God is revealed through faith.” Well that’s easy enough to understand. It would simply say that your faith opens the door for God to show you some things, in this case, His righteousness. But Paul added two words to what he said that really change the meaning of the passage. He didn’t just say God’s righteousness is revealed through faith, or by faith, or from faith. He said, “God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith.” How many times have I skimmed right over those two words and never given them any thought? So this past week God showed those two words to me. For the first time, I wrestled with them, trying to understand this detailed intricacy of God’s word.
I think what Paul is saying here is that you must have an initial saving faith in Christ. It’s that first time that you make the step from not knowing or not believing to believing that there is a God and that He loves you with a love like no other. But what Paul is getting at is so much deeper than that. He is talking about a faith that starts at a this point as a tiny undeveloped thing. Simple belief must grow into something more if we are to be the mature Christ followers God wants us to be. The faith I had when I first believed in God cannot compare to the trust I have in God now, and I hope that what I have now cannot compare to the faith I have in 5 years. You see a saving faith does not require us to let go of the perceived control we have over our lives. We can have a saving faith, but deep down, still believe our work will get us somewhere with God. We can have a saving faith and still think that we can somehow depend on ourselves in every circumstance. But that simple belief, that saving faith, must turn into something more if we are to be mature, and when we are mature, we will realize that God wants us to depend on Him and Him alone. When this transformation takes place, that saving faith will grow into a complete and total trust in and dependence on a God who knows all, sees all and loves us beyond all measure. You see, what Paul is saying is that we must first have faith in order to have FAITH, or we must have faith (simple belief) and out of that will grow FAITH (complete, total trust and dependence on God.) 
This mature faith which can withstand the darkest nights and the fiercest storms of life will only come by walking through difficult, sometimes impossible, and even worse, heartbreaking times with God, and coming out on the other side seeing that He had it in His hands all along. Faith will grow into a deeper, richer faith when time after time we place ourselves under God’s authority and say the words, “I trust You, Lord, even on my darkest, stormiest nights. I will not row this boat, I will not curse this wind, I will rest in the promise that you have even this in your hands, and I trust you.” We put our faith in God as an act of our will when we are in our darkest nights.  It will not come naturally, but when we place our trust in Him, out of that faith grows more faith. But this faith, the faith that grows out of faith, is deeper, richer, and more intimate than the simple belief we started with. So I leave you with a challenge today to examine your faith. Can you, as an act of your will, trust God in the middle of your darkest, stormiest nights? Can you stop rowing the boat and cursing the wind long enough to say the words, “I trust You, Lord. Even with this, I trust You.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Forget to Remember

Father’s Day was two days ago. I realized driving home tonight that I didn’t think about my dad on Father’s Day. I thought about my husband, and I thought about my father-in-law, but I forgot to think about my dad. I probably wouldn’t have thought of him today, except that I had a conversation with a friend that prompted me to remember my dad. Do you suppose that’s normal, not to think about your dad on Father’s Day? After all, mine has been gone for so many years, right?  Do you suppose that’s normal since I rarely even talk about him? In some ways, I think it’s good that I forgot to remember him. It means that I can honestly say that any wounds he left behind are healed. I can honestly say I don’t resent him anymore. I can honestly say that I’m not angry anymore. And, yes, I can honestly say I don’t hate him anymore. You see, my dad was broken from the day I was born until the day he died. I never knew him as a whole, healthy man. And even though I craved his approval, I never respected him. I do think I loved him. When I was younger I loved him, and when I got over my anger, I loved him again. But today, I just don’t think about him much. I guess you could say I forget to remember. I suppose that’s kind of sad. When I used to think about him, it was all questions. My nature is to figure everything out, to understand why things are the way they are. So my thoughts were just a series of questions about my dad. Memories tied to questions of why he was the way he was. Why was he so mean? Why did he drink so much? Why was he so sad? Why was he so hurtful? Why couldn’t he just show up to a ball game sober? I’ve come to the conclusion that there are some things that I will never figure out. Questions I will never know the answers to. Years ago I stopped asking those questions, and when I stopped asking, I stopped being sad about the answers I would never know. And when I stopped being sad about the answers I would never know, I stopped remembering to think about him, even on Father’s Day. 
My challenge to you today is to consider the people in your life that matter-especially your family-even if they are less than perfect.  If the relationships you have are even remotely healthy, don’t take that for granted. Don’t let time slip away without saying the things that need to be said. There will come a day when precious people are gone. Parents pass on. Best friends move away. Children grow up. What I wouldn’t give to sit and drink a cup of coffee with my dad as the man God designed him to be.  But I can’t ever do that, and I never could. But maybe you can. Or maybe it’s inconvenient for you or just plain hard for you, but can you still try? Or do you let that worry of being disappointed again get in your way? Maybe it’s a brother or a sister or your mom or one of your children or an old friend that you need to touch base with. And during that visit, maybe you can push aside your past disappointments and even overlook the things about your family that make you crazy long enough to hear their heart. You might even find out that when you push aside the past and you listen to their heart with your heart, that love grows in a way it never has before. Maybe you can find the relationship God has designed for you and your family, even if you thought that could never happen. You might find that God grows a love that is stronger than you ever imagined possible. My hope and prayer is that God blesses you with a love like that, and that as a result, even though the years go by, you won’t ever have to worry about forgetting to remember.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Darkness is Not Dark to Him

Psalm 139:1-12 (NIV)

 1 You have searched me, LORD,
   and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
   you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
   you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
   you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
   and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
   too lofty for me to attain.
 7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.”

I landed in this Psalm in my quite time this week and the words, “even the darkness will not be dark to you” have been in my mind ever since. How great is our God that the darkness cannot even stand in His presence. When He began creation, He created the heavens and the earth but it seems that the darkness was already there. He didn’t have to create it. No, it was the exact opposite; He had to create the light.  The first recorded thing He said was, “Let there be light.” (Gen 1:3) Isn’t it funny how the darkness was built in, but the light had to be created by God? It seems to me that this is still true of life today. The dark times just happen don’t they? They are built into life-no need to be created. But in His time, when God starts moving, the first thing He does is create the light. When God starts to move in our darkness, the first thing He will say is, “Let there be light.”  This light reveals to us the truth of the situation, or it shows the next step in the situation, or it just simply takes away the darkness we feel inside.
            Our problem is that the darkness is dark to us. There are times when the storms of life are so dark that we cannot see our way out, and the darkness is so very, very dark, at least to us. But a part of God I don’t think I will ever understand is that, as the Message translation of the Bible puts it in verse 12, “It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.” I don’t think that I can grasp that the dark and the light are both the same to God. To me they are so vastly different, but God sees every detail of my storm and perhaps does not distinguish between the stormy days and the sunny days, because He can see things that I cannot see.  They are just days to God: if we could only see those stormy days through His eyes. The problem is that the darkness is dark to us, and unfortunately, it is rare that I truly see much of anything through God’s eyes, especially when I first start to look. That’s why Psalm 27 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” And that’s why II Samuel 22 says, “For You are my lamp, O Lord; The Lord shall enlighten my darkness.” And that’s why Micah says, “Do not rejoice over me my enemy; When I fall, I will arise; When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.”  And that’s why there are so many other verses that tell us that the Lord will be our light. We need Him to be our light, and in that need we can see one of the reasons for the darkness. If it wasn’t for the darkness, I’m not sure how much I would lean on God at all, and it’s those times of leaning on Him that I find myself as close as I ever get to my Savior. There is a sweet spot with the Lord that we simply cannot find without the stormy, dark days. There is something in ou humanity that causes it, and though I don’t understand it, I know that every person who wants to walk closely to the Lord will spend some time in the storm.
            And so my challenge for today is this; are you leaning on the Lord in your times of darkness? Is He truly your light and your salvation? Do you believe with all your heart that when the time is right, He will speak over your darkness the words, “Let there be light?” Do you know that, even when you cannot see the way, that He sees every detail and that He is guiding your steps, even when you are afraid to take them? And lastly, do you trust Him? Do you trust Him to walk you through each broken day that lies ahead even when you cannot see where the path leads?  When you are afraid, remember that He’s got you in His grip and that “the darkness is not dark to Him.”  Hold on my dear friend, the Light is coming… Hold on.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

It's Only the Ship

I have lots of favorite stories in the Bible, but some of the best are in Acts where Paul is thrown in prison, stoned, left for dead and shipwrecked. At one point Paul was traveling to Rome to be judged by Caesar for the crimes the Pharisees accused him of. He had already been in prison for over two years, then he was sent by ship to Rome to be tried by Caesar himself.  Unfortunately, it was October, which apparently was a bad time of year to be sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. Paul had already had a really bad feeling of about the trip. He warned the centurion taking Him to Rome to spend the winter somewhere, anywhere, but out to sea. The centurion didn’t listen.  It became obvious not long after Paul’s warning that the crew had made a huge error in judgment. Before long the wind was so strong, they couldn’t even think about heading the right direction. To get a little higher in the water, they threw everything except the necessities overboard, and they lowered the sails because the winds were so precarious they would have certainly crashed if they kept them up. So they just drifted, with no way to steer, no way to direct themselves, and very little hope of survival. They had drifted this way for several days without any relief from the hurricane like winds when Paul said (speaking of everyone except himself) in Acts 27:20, “…all hope of our being saved was finally abandoned.” (Amplified Bible) But Paul held onto hope. Even in the midst of such a dark stormy time, he had confidence. In fact, only 2 verses later Paul says, “But [even] now I beg you to be in good spirits and take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you but only of the ship. For this [very] night there stood by my side an angel of the God to Whom I belong and Whom I serve and worship, and he said, Do not be frightened, Paul! It is necessary for you to stand before Caesar; and behold, God has given you all those who are sailing with you. So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith (complete confidence) in God that it will be exactly as it was told me.” (Amplified Bible)
            Isn’t it amazing how Paul could still believe even when he had absolutely no control over the situation, no way to steer the ship, no sun and no stars to really even know exactly where he was? It gets even better though. Notice how he uses the word “only.” “Only the ship.” He was telling a group of men who were in charge of the safety of 276 people, floating adrift in a near hurricane, in the middle of the sea with no way to steer, not really sure where they were, having thrown almost everything overboard to “be in good spirits,” because the only thing we’re going to lose was the ship.  As a matter of fact, he said, “only the ship.” Now I’m not so sure about you, but I’m thinking at this point, the ship is kind of an important thing. There are about 300 of us in the ship, we are in the middle of a near hurricane, and as if that isn’t enough, we are in the middle of the sea, but in Paul’s mind, it was still only a ship. He already knew it was going down, but he also knew what God had promised him, and in the midst of the storm, he kept his focus on that promise not on the storm and certainly not on losing the ship no matter how important the ship seemed to be at the time.
            In my mind the ship would have been everything and if it was lost, all would be lost.  But apparently, even then, at least to Paul, it was only the ship. In an odd sort of way this story reminds me of a young man that approached Jesus and asked how he could be saved. Jesus listed several things that the man should do, and the man assured Jesus that he had tended to those things since his youth. So Jesus then told the man to sell all that he owned, give it to the poor and to come and follow Him. The Bible goes on to say that the man walked away sad, because he was very rich. Can you imagine the thoughts in that man’s mind when Jesus told him to sell it all?  Seriously? Everything? I bet he had some discussions in his mind like, “Obviously, Jesus doesn’t know how hard I worked for all of this.  Sell it and give it away? If He had any idea how much blood, sweat and tears I have in all of this, He wouldn’t ask me to just give it away!”  Yes, Jesus demanded everything. Yes, Jesus knew exactly how much the man had invested in all of it, and He was asking him to let it all go. Just like when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, He demanded that Abraham give up everything that mattered to him. Yes, the ship was everything, and God allowed the ship to crash. Just like Jesus knew how much the man had and how hard he had worked for it, and He asked him to sell it all-everything-anyway. There are times when God wants to know if we are all in for Him. I wonder if I could do it myself. Could I give up everything if God asked me to? If God told me today that the ship I was in was about to crash while out to sea, in the middle of hurricane like winds, could I put my full trust in the promise that He would rescue me out of the deep waters? If he asked me to walk away from everything that my husband and I have worked so hard to build together in order be closer to Him, could I lace up my walking shoes and take a single step?  If I’m honest, I’m not sure I could do it. I hope I could do it. I pray I could do it. But in the end, I’m not sure I could say, “It’s only the ship.”