All those open doors for God to pour Christ’s light into!

Capistrano beach sand heart

 

 

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.Colossians 4: 2-6 NIV

As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9: 4-5

 

Twice in as many days, and this isn’t to honor me ,but  to brag on God and His timing and open doors, his loving, caring, compassionate heart, and what happens if we’ll just be, as Patsy Clairmont said in the title of her humorous devotional book,”Cracked Pots” who let the Light shine through our humanity. On Tuesday morning at the opening women’s ministry meeting, I hung my purse on a chair, only one woman I didn’t  know sitting there , brought back a plate of fruit, and began engaging in conversation with the four  other women at the table. Nothing earth-shaking – just friendly conversation. That led to me  connecting with Peg. She told me  later  she was a bit unsure but got the Holy Spirit’s nudge to talk with me. And the result was me being able to drive Peg to the Tuesday night Healing Room at Two Rivers Church, to intercessors  who’ve blessed me many times, so she could get some words from the Lord. When I heard the laughter coming from the prayer room, I knew I’d done the right thing, and Peg indeed got her “socks blessed off.” Way to go, Abba God!

Then this morning, for whatever reason, I decided to pop into the grocery store I’d visited on Tuesday to see if any of the reduced price protein drinks were still there. so I pull into a parking  lane and wait for the older (says she who is 68!!) woman to  walk  by before I pull into a spot. She’s getting a cart at the entrance as I walk up, and she motions me to go ahead,  but  I say,”No,  please go  ahead.” As she walks in, she jokingly says, “Open sesame!”  and I reply, ”Oh, you must be magic !” That  silly little exchange opened the door  for her to share that she’dpaid a large bill by check, put it in the mailbox,  but the letter carrier dropped  that envelope, someone picked it up, “washed” the  pay to line,  and chased her check. Now she was in a tight financial  bind. I touched her  shoulder and prayed with her for God to bring her vindication, and restitution, and she thanked me and  said, “Amen!”

Twice  in two days straight, after Carol had shared on Monday about being Holy Spirit-nudged to pray  with a woman  in the produce section of Wal-Mart, motivated by the lack of plastic bags readily available! And Melanie on Tuesday driving back to give some encouragement and affirmation to a woman she’d passed, standing on the sidewalk,  who said  thanks  after Melanie simply said hello to her! Linda’s had those encounters, and so have Donna, Libby, Lily, the other Carol, Yolanda, Val, Debbie, Julia ……

It ain’t me!  It doesn’t just happen to me! It’s God pouring out HIS light, love, encouragement, empathy, compassion, smile, validation, affirmation, acknowledgement  to people who need a bit of light, a word of cheer, and breath of hope from The Almighty Himself, just poured out through us “cracked pots”!! All we need to do and  be – all YOU need to do and – is available and ”cracked” enough to get over yourself and your insecurity (yes, I get it; me, too!) and start a conversation! I’ve lost track of how many times God has done this through. (See my past post about “Connect the Dots” for a few more).

Oh,Rose and ________________  (fill in your name), why do you ever doubt Jesus loves you?Why do you ever doubt the Holy, Almighty, Creator and King of Kings DOES want to live and love through you,to be a vessel of His Light and Love and Truth and Word on Earth?! Why do you think you’re the power that moves in these Divine encounters? As in the opening words of the book The Purpose-Driven Life, “IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!”

Soooo …… as Jesus told us, HIS “disciples” meaning “sent ones,” “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9: 4-5  Carry HIS Light! Be that “cracked pot” that God’s  Light can shine through. Night IS coming, and we need to  get out into the Harvest fields of people all around us and share God’s  Love through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit who DOES live in you and me and us who call ourselves Christ Followers, not just Sunday morning  pew warmers. 

Your”…BUT…”to pray: God, I admit it ,sometimes I’m downright too insecure and chicken  and people-pleasing/people-fearing to open my mouth and say hello to someone, much less pray  WITH them, BUT YOU ARE ABLE, so help me get over myself and_______________________________________and help me SEE  the next open door YOU open in front of me so I can help someone who needs to see and experience YOUR LIGHT of LOVE right then and there. Holy Spirit – gulp – I know YOU will help me, so I ask this in Jesus’ Name, amen!

Capistrano beach sand heart

Making the most of the sands of time

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“O For a Thousand Trucks to Sing …”

This is as close as I could come to the truck image with “OUR MOST  VALUABLE RESOURCE” on the side. “SITS HERE” wasn’t on the truck I saw, but instead an arrow pointing forward.  

 

Oh how I wish I’d seen those two trucks coming in time to get out my phone and photograph them, coming one after the other on the opposite side of the freeway. I might not have noticed them a second later, but as it was, I’d literally just finished a prayer as we were driving, asking for God’s  clear guidance and reminding myself, as well as the LORD, “God,  help me to put YOU first” when I opened my eyes to see the large words “U FIRST” on the back of the transport truck passing us, followed closely by a second  transport truck painted with the large words “OUR MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE” and a red arrow pointing forward.

No, I didn’t  chalk it up to “coincidence.” My words “you first” weren’t more than a second out of my mouth when I saw the trucks. The message wasn’t lost on me: GOD Himself is my/your/our most valuable “resource,” and it’s more  than right to put Him first in my/your/our life. I look back over my life and  think about kind things people have done for me, and I look back over events that”happened” which later turned out to be obviously God’s prior “set up” hand and provision for needs I’d have even as much as ten years down the road.

True confession, more often than not I look for goodness from other people, as though they directed the path of my life. When things don’t go right, though, aren’t we ALL, and I include myself, all too prone to immediately blame God, rather  than laying responsibility at the feet of those other people? How  in the world do I fall into the flawed mindset that good things come from people, and bad things come from God? I think I know the answer. In a devotional email yesterday, the  author made the point that yes, Adam sinned,and stood accused before God, but now that Jesus has paid the price for every sin you and I ever commit,  we stand before God covered in the righteous Blood of Jesus. Satan can’t stand before God and accuse us as he accused Job, because Jesus took our sins upon himself and paid the full price, so Satan speaks accusation against us  and accusations against God into our thoughts. Oh, the crafty, subtle lies of the Father of Lies!

I have to remind myself of the Truth, and God’s Word in the Bible is Truth:

 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.  James 1:17-18 NIV

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.  What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Romans 8: 26-32 NIV

I’ve seen hurtful evil slung at me in the past eight years, more evil than I – naive girl who I was growing up into adulthood in the midst of God-honoring, kind, honest, caring  people  – ever knew existed in the world, on either side and  right in front of me. In complete honesty, I’ve cried out to God in confusion, asking why He allowed such painful, heart-ripping, gut-wrenching things to come  into my life, as though God was the author and purposer of harm. BUT this I know for sure: we live on a battlefield of the mind, with genuine evil warring against all of  the goodness that God intended and still intends to reign in, for, and through His children on Earth. At the times  I’m  feeling lowest,  thankfully I can remind myself of Joseph, thrown into a pit,  sold as a  slave, wrongfully accused of evil, thrown into prison, seemingly forgotten by God, UNTIL a confrontation with the brothers who did him intentional harm revealed a powerful purpose for God’s saving grace and goodness both for Joseph and  through him for many others:

 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.   Genesis 50: 15-20 NIV

Personally, intimately, God has spoken  so many  affirmations to me in a variety of ways in these same eight years:  waking me up to  His  words ”You’re worth fighting for” ; bringing me  word from a  woman I didn’t even know that “You are my chosen  child. Do not fear what man tries to do to you”; a slip of paper with words from an intercessor who was praying over the people who were praying with me, “I’m trying to bless you – you have to let  me”: license plates  like  the three in a row I saw in 2014 “JUSTICE” “CHRISTZ” “CHRONOS” ; the chrome words ‘Jeremiah 11” on the back of a black car in front of me last month, powerful words God gave Jeremiah about people who knowingly break His  covenant, when the only words in chrome I’d ever seen before or since on a  car were model names;  the license plate  “PS7686” leading me to these Scriptures

It is you alone who are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry?
From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet—when you, God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land. Ps 76: 7-9 NIV

You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.

You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.

Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
    no deeds can compare with yours.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God.

11 Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.
12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
    I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
    you have delivered me from the depths,
    from the realm of the dead.

14 Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God;
    ruthless people are trying to kill me—
    they have no regard for you.
15 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and have mercy on me;
    show your strength in behalf of your servant;
17 Give me a sign of your goodness,
    that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
    for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. Psalm 86: 2-17

 

Truth, Truth, Truth coming against all the lies, all the “but look at these nasty things  happening to you that God could have prevented” insinuating lies that I know, I know  that I know, come from the enemy of my soul, not from the Lover of my soul Jesus. The Truth is this:

A psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23: 1-6
I love you, LORD, my strength. 2The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3I called to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies…He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. 17He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. 18They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. 19He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me….To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, 26to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd. 27You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. 28You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.  Psalm 18: 1-3, 16-19. 25-28 NIV

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep... John 10: 7-11, 14 NIV

Back to those two trucks that passed me last  week. Our most valuable resource? God Himself IS my/your/our resource and provision, God alone, God HIMSELF, God  who gave us life and who keeps us/you/me in His hands, ultimately bringing us the greatest good imaginable: eternal life with Him in Heaven where no evil,  no lying voices, no crafty insinuation  can reach us or do us harm EVER.
 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16: 33 NIV
” 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6: 31-33 NIV
Do not rejoice against me, O my enemy; for if I have fallen, I shall arise; if I sit in darkness, the LORD is my light. Micah 7: 8 NIV
So WHO is my most valuable resource? U FIRST, GOD!  I don’t know how the painful battles I’m STILL in the middle of today will conclude, BUT I do know God’s love and goodness will never, never fail me, so I pray for God’s victory and glory, His way, His will, His time, for His good purposes. Jesus  loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so! Thus I sing  (and look for ) “O for a thousand trucks to sing my great Redeemer’s praise!”
Keep  on truckin’,  God!
A “…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, help me to remember that, above everything else that I see, feel, or experience, YOU are ______________________________ People may “do me dirty,” BUT God, You promise to __________________________________________________ and in faith I ask You, out of Your mercy and love,  to show me a  sign of Your goodness this week, even today, and as I sing in the song,”Open my eyes, Lord, I want to see Jesus,” so help me keep my eyes open for ANY and EVERY way You choose to use to speak to me, in Jesus’name, for God’s  Glory. Holy Spirit, speak even now ____________________________

Tandem Blessing – No Kidding!

“You have to be kidding me…” I thought when Ken asked me to clip into the pedals on the back of the tandem bike he’d joyfully bought for the two of us. Never more than a casual biker until I met Ken, part of my marriage commitment to him was purposing to get stronger, so fears and anxiety set aside, I clipped in and rode 25 miles – for me challenging and heart-pounding after the first 16 – with him every Friday. “Stoker” is the word for the rear rider, but “blind truster” is more accurate, because where he went, I went; my feet had to go as fast as his, and if he fell down, I fell down too. He did agree to put straight handlebars and a softer seat on the back for me, simply glad I was willing to try to become a fuller part of his world and passion.

 

Eight months later, “You have to be kidding me….” flashed through my mind when the sheriff’s deputy standing in my driveway bluntly told me Ken had been killed just two hours earlier in a cycling accident while leading a group of cyclists visiting from out of state. My world, my new hopes, my life toppled over in the gravel as surely as if ken and I had run off the edge of the road on the tandem. Nothing in my life seemed stable when my heart was torn and bleeding.

 

But, and thank God he always has a “… but…”, four months later my friend Deb’s husband Rob stood in my garage looking over the tandem to buy, I thought, for tandem rides and races with a fellow cyclist. “You have to be kidding me …” I gasped in delight when Rob told me he’d just decided to volunteer for a veterans’ cause and actually wanted the tandem so he could take disabled veterans on bike rides with the group VeloVets, a nonprofit started by Guilianna, a young woman Ken had introduced several years earlier to the cycling club he belonged to.

 

Full circle, I thought. Ken was an Air Force veteran himself, and I couldn’t think of anything that would make him happier than knowing blind and disabled veterans would get the chance to fly down the road behind Rob, wind in their faces, hearts pumping, feeling whole and vital, valued and accepted.

 

“Rob, the bike is yours! Take it, oh my gosh, please take it and know Ken must be beaming in Heaven!”

 

God’s timing was impeccable. Sunday I’d texted Rob about coming to look at the bike, Monday he met Guilianna at his own cycling club meeting and decided to volunteer with VeloVets, Tuesday he drove to my house to check out the tandem, and Tuesday the miracle happened. Wednesday the miracle continued when a local TV reporter heard about the tandem’s donation, and I was able to honor Ken’s generous, giving, encouraging spirit and his deep Christian faith on the local news.

 

Tears of joy still flow when I think about the improbability of all of the elements of this true miracle coming together. I could barely see through tears to mount my bike a few weeks later when Rob and Dr. Les, a blind veteran, took off down the bike trail in the hot summer night with a group of avid riders. The smile Les wore was brighter than the evening sun.

 

Coincidental? Accidental? I can’t possibly believe so. Ken and I were part of something bigger than the two of us. We’d thought so from the early days of our relationship, and this glorious gift of new meaning and purpose poured into my heart with joy that eased the pain of my grief. Ken was still giving joy into my life, and I know he always will. I have no clue what other surprises and miracles of meaning God will reveal to me, but I’m clipped in with him now as I ride into each day, going where he goes, my feet pedaling to keep up with God’s passionate love and value-giving purposes, breathless again for a new reason. No kidding! img_1203

“Leave your table looking like …”

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA(No, I am not scolding him; I’m actually praying a blessing on each child)

Reward, success and insight come in the  strangest places.

In the third week one of my least favorite jobs, I listened to the assistant principal decisively tell the room full of fifth graders that if they didn’t clean up their table and sweep the floor after their lunch period,before the sixth graders came in, they’d be sitting in his office. That went over like the proverbial lead balloon, and I thought, “I’d better find another way to inspire these kids  or it’s  going to be a very, very long semester for us all.” I give the Holy Spirit credit for the  thought that came to me. I began going table to table, cheerfully and positively telling the boys, “You’re young men of valor,courage, integrity, commitment, teamwork, strength, and honor. I know you want to leave your table looking like a man of that true strength was sitting here,” and to the girls, I said, “You’re beautiful young women of honor, virtue, strength, courage, compassion and kindness. I know you want to leave your table looking like that kind of  beautiful woman was sitting here.”

Completely puzzled looks met me, but I simply smiled and moved to the next table,and  repeated the process for every grade level that came into the multi-purpose room for lunch. One eighth-grade  girl had the surprised confidence to respond, “Miss Jackson, nobody ever talks to us like that!”

“Well, I’m going to tell you that until you believe it!” I  replied,  and her face lit up. Encouraged, I repeated the process for the rest of the week, for fun throwing in situations to the boys like, “You’re the pit crew, and you want to take care of  this ‘car’ and leave the pit ready for the next crew, looking like dedicated, capable,  smart, honorable men were just here,”and similar  girl-themed situations for the girls. Table after table, boys raised their hands and asked if they could be pit boss, and girls asked if they could be the head attendant at the coronation.

For three weeks,  grade by grade, twenty-minute lunch period by  period, I repeated character affirmations to the girls and boys, young men and women, from fourth grade up to seniors in high school, and in those three weeks, something wonderful happened: children started asking me for the rags, spray bottles, and brooms.  No threats of detention, no raised voice, no wagging  finger, just an affirming call to be someone higher, greater, and to have the power to lead by a servant-hearted example of true strength and grace. The assistant principal was surprised by how clean the room and tables were, I was enormously glad  that my venture worked, the students  felt good about themselves, and even more importantly and delightfully, I began to develop good relationships  with quite a few of the children.

It occurred to me at the same time that I was also telling myself something important about myself, as well as others: this is precisely what Father God wants for us and from us as His  children: to conduct  ourselves in such a way that  we leave our corners of the world looking like women of inner beauty, valor, value, honor, strength, kindness and compassion were “sitting here,”and men of courage,  strength, integrity, commitment, teamwork,  and honor were “sitting here.”

There was not time and no place in the multi-purpose room for, “It’s not my job. Oooh! That’s yucky! I don’t want to. Somebody else can.” May I propose that there is no time and no place in our  families, friendships, relationships, work associations, neighborhoods, churches, cities or world  for those kinds of self-centered, self-serving, weak, uncaring, and flatly irresponsible attitudes either. God may not call us into his “office” or wag his finger in our  faces, but we can be assured of  this certainty the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Romans 14:10-12 NIV

Sadly I see a spirit of taking offense and entitlement rising in our nation, perverting the idea of individual liberty (which ought to include individual accountability and responsibility) into narcissism. This  attitude is nothing new,and sadly, it isn’t limited to immature children. Jesus dealt with this attitude among his disciples.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10: 35-45 NIV

We should take  Jesus’ words very seriously, but can we put the same affirmative spin on this command that I put on cleaning up the lunch tables? Can we live out our lives in the strength, beauty, dignity, honor, commitment, kindness, and courage of  humbled service, knowing how it positively impacts others,  how glad it makes our Father God, and how much  true strength, validation, and outright joy we will find within ourselves when we live our lives with an eager, enthusiastic, “May I please have the rag and spray bottle?” attitude? If it was good enough for Jesus,  theKing of KingsandLord of Lords …. then there is true greatness in  every act of giving, listening, sharing, forgiving, mess-cleaning helping, and walking alongside one another.

And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23: 9-12 NIV

I know the children  at that school with a high academic reputation were and are not  simply brains to be filled, but lives to positively, affirmingly, enthusiastically shape for a lifetime of real valor, courage, strength, kindness, beauty, dignity, commitment, compassion,and serving.

IMG_5439

 

A “…BUT…” to pray: Father God,I  admit I’ve looked down on people who work at jobs like ______________________ and I’ve drawn back from_______________________ because I thought it would be yucky,time-consuming,  no fun, someone else’s job, beneath, or __________________. I seen I have missed opportunities to rise to true strength and dignity, integrity, honor, courage,inner beauty,commitment, and compassion,  BUT you never tell me it’s too late or I’ve missed and messed up too much. Awaken me to opportunities to live  my life in Christlike ways. Holy Spirit, what could I to today,this week? Where and for whom could I “leave this home,job, relationship, community, world looking like a man/woman of  those  values was ‘sitting here’?” ______________________________________________________________ Please  remind me to pick up the “broom”  or ask for the “spray bottle” where and when I can, and help me remember that bending and sweeping and wiping and serving lifts me up to the greatest I could possibly be within me, not justified by works, but reflecting the character and powerful love of Jesus.

As Simple as it Gets

As Simple as it Gets

I couldn’t find the bunnies, flowers or rainbows in my circumstances. I was so crushed yesterday, and I recognized my deepest grief is the contradiction between what I know and read of God from the Word – nothing shall be impossible for God – and what I see in the free will He allows us all to walk in, often to the wounding and discouragement of others. What I heard for 18 months was a grand and hideous silence and contradiction. This morning it even hurt too much to let God’s word in and listen to any of my favorite Bible teachers. That contradiction slapped in my face again was more than I could bear.

“When your words came to me, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty. . . . Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive (intermittent) brook, like a spring that fails?” Jeremiah 15:16, 18 NIV

So, the question to me on my morning dog walk was simply which side of this razor’s edge I’m going to fall on. Do I believe my circumstances reveal the character of God, or do I believe somehow, against all the grief within me, that God’s character gives meaning to my circumstances? I want with every fiber of my being for God to change my circumstances, BUT . . .

I love, I hope, I’m crushed – I rise in love, I hope, I’m crushed – I crawl back up to my feet in love . . . . I genuinely understand why sometimes people feel death would be easier than this life. BUT . . . it all comes down to the cross, and the cruelty I see Jesus bore for me. He was taunted, and their taunts were true. He COULD have called down legions of angels and taken himself off the cross, but the end of Jesus’ pain would have begun eternal torment for all the rest of us. Real, raw honesty here today, I have come close to despairing of life, just two months before God brought the faint dawn of a new hope into my life. I don’t doubt for a minute that there is someone who will read this and identify exactly with my feelings. Keep reading!

It all comes down to the cross. For love, Jesus emptied himself of all his majesty and rights as Deity and took our betrayal and rejection of him, even my imploring questions now. He loved, he hoped, he was crushed, he rose up in love. What could it have meant to Jesus to be stripped – willingly, but stripped nonetheless – from all that incomprehensible union with pure joy and love and Oneness with the Father? Whatever it meant, it meant winning me.

No, I’m not at all equating myself and my suffering with Jesus. It’s just that now I begin to understand the ferocious depth of his love for me. He IS love. I don’t BEGIN to grasp how much, but I desperately want to soak myself in him.

Words water down the impact of this truth.

Aaugh . . . as much as this still – hurts isn’t strong enough a word – grinds me to dust emotionally, I will not let my circumstances and the horrifying choices someone else is making inform me about the nature and love of my Jesus. Whatever meaning comes out of this in the end, it will be the meaning LOVE incarnate gives to me.

“Come under my wing,” God whispers, and we cry out, “Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD, for I hide myself in you “ Psalm 143:9

“Shelter Me” by Tab Benoit

The earth can shake the sky come down*

The mountains all fall to the ground

But I will fear none of these things

Shelter me lord underneath your wings

Dark waters rise and thunder pounds

The wheels of war are going round

And all the walls are crumbling

Shelter me lord underneath your wings

Shelter me lord underneath your wings

Hide me underneath your wings

Hide me deep inside your heart

In your refuge – cover me

The world can shake

But lord I’m making you my hiding place

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! Psalm 32:7-11 NIV

In the shelter of your presence you hide them from all human intrigues; you keep them safe in your dwelling from accusing tongues. Psalm 31: 20 NIV

Why, my soul, are you downcast?Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5 NIV

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,  and he began to teach them. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5: 1-10 NIV

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'” Revelation 7:17 NIV

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . Romans 8:28 . . . . If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8: 31 NIV He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 NIV. . . For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither height nor depth , . . . nor anything can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:38-39 NIV

A “,,,BUT…” to pray: Sometimes God, and it might be right now, it feels like the whole world is against me because ____________________________________________________________________________. I tried to _________________________________ but __________________________________. BUT God, help me remember hat YOU are greater than the world, and if YOU are for me, then you must have a plan to bring something good out of _________________________________________________________________. Show me where you are, Father, and Jesus, help me truly feel in my deepest heart how much you love me. I never asked you about your feelings on the cross. Jesus, what did you feel? Can my love for you bring you joy? It CAN! Then I trust you enough o give you ______________________________________________________ and let you work something good from ___________________________________________________. I have to “hand it to you,” so I will, by a choice of faith. What do you want to tell me today? Amen in Jesus’ name, and Holy Spirit, I’m listening ________________________________________________________________________________________

Riding Tandem: Training Wheels

“Gosh, I can hear the Bible as I’m riding,” I thought as I pushed a little faster than I wanted to and shot down the hill on two thin tires at 38 miles per hour, keenly aware there was nothing between my skin and the asphalt but a thin jersey and bike shorts. Others must surely have seen the same parallels riding on the back of a tandem road bike; now I entered their cadre, not entirely willingly. I ride with a man who loves cycling. Before I met him I enjoyed riding my bike to the grocery store and back, and noodling around the neighborhood on evening pleasure rides. He, however, is of the “conquer the hills, the faster, the better” squadron, and he knows I’ll love riding once I get more miles under me and build up my endurance. Humph.

I look at the hill he’d love to climb, at least an 8% grade all the 20-mile way to the top of the mountain, and I shudder. I never want to be THAT fit! When we ride independently, I usually “flake off” at the eight-mile mark, cut across a road lined seasonally with wildflowers and with a walking/biking path where I’ll generally find someone to stop, say hello to, and pray with. The surprise of a perfect stranger offering to pray for them delights me. I am God’s carrier pigeon on two wheels, bringing a word of His love to someone in their day, and I have fun being part of the “air drops” He allows me to make.

I remember riding on the handlebars or on the back book rack od my brother’s bike. That was fun, and I didn’t have to do any of the work

But when I’m on the back of the tandem …. new rules apply.

  • Where he’s going, I have to go. (And last week wearing his jersey and staring at his dorsal side, I wryly thought of how Peter must have felt when Jesus told him, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” John 21:18 and Amen!)
  • I can’t see or control where we are going.
  • As far as he goes, I have to go. (And I thought of the woman in the cycling club who replied to her husband’s comment that she wasn’t giving him enough on the back of the bike, “If I give it all to you know, you aren’t getting any of it when we get home!”)
  • I have to match his pedaling speed because I’m “clipped in.” (Because against my protests, he did put clip pedals on and even bought me cycling shoes to lock into the clips so I can “give it more power” and use my hamstrings too. My hamstrings were quite happy letting my quads do the work, thank you very much, quit when they got tired, and I liked being able to freely leap off my bike if I started to fall.)
  • Which brings me to this point: if he falls, I fall.
  • When he stops, I stop. (Generally gratefully. At intersections I counterbalance his foot on the ground.)
  • I’m dependent upon his judgment and character.

These may sound like negatives, and in some ways they are, but I choose to rename them “sobering realities.” He has a few “sobering realities” to face as well:

  • He has to put his muscle to the pedals, but if I so choose, I can pretty much rest in his strength when I’m tired.
  • I can take my hands off the handlebars and sit upright because he’s steering.
  • I can communicate my needs/limitations, and he will out of consideration choose an easier or shorter route. (or face my stiff neck, sore wrists and sat-out seat)
  • When my energy is used up, it’s up to him to get us home.
  • If I shift my weight, he has to compensate to keep us upright. (Whew, I have to learn to reach for my water bottle without leaning to either side)
  • He is responsible for my safety.

I have heard the test of a relationship is if you can ride a tandem without killing each other. The rule is: what happens on the bike, stays on the bike. But every time I click my feet into those pedals, the word “captivity” springs to mind: the state or period of being held, imprisoned, enslaved, or confined. BUT that is one perspective, half of the truth. The other truth is that riding on the tandem makes a way for me to be with my friend and do what i couldn’t do, without great exertion, on my own.

I also know this is true about lasting relationship: “Perfect romantic love never does last, of course. Under the best conditions, it evolves into something more realistic and lasting, where two imperfect people discover one another’s virtues and faults, grow to appreciate the goodness in each other but also to accept the disappointments.” I have to add, though I’d rather not, learn to accept challenges to grow, stretch, get stronger.

As I crank my heart out grinding up the second or third of the of the “only one more hill” hills, I sometimes ruefully sing the old song to myself:

tandem-bike-drawing

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do.
I’m half-crazy all for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage.
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.

The tandem truth is that, in sending Jesus, God made a way for us to receive what we can’t do out of our own strength or “righteousness”: ride with him, depending on his strength, endurance, blood, love.

A rabbi’s disciples always walked in the dust of their teacher, following in his footsteps wherever he lead them. Jesus’ disciples did the same, and if I want to be His disciple today, I’m going to have to put in some miles. I can’t keep up with him our my own limited resources and “goodness,” but i can clip into the pedals behind him and ride where he’s going.The disciples were on two feet; I’m on two feet with you, Jesus, and sometimes literally on two wheels in the company of some of your competitive “conquer the mountain, harder, faster, longer, first” children who don’t know you yet, but need to. All I want to conquer is the enemy of my soul, not the pavement! Stop and smell the Texas sage, people! There are lonely folks to be prayed for out there…. but they ride on.  Sigh.

Okay. Once a week, at least, I saddle up as sidekick. Hop on the back of the bike and lock in with Jesus, who genuinely is crazy about you and me,  as you read these verses. Ask the Holy Spirit if and how they might apply to your life today:

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, Hebrews 10:23-24 NIV

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1: 4-8 NIV

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Psalm 31:3

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:26

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,

and he will make your paths straight.[Proverbs 3:5-6a]

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31

Oh, God, that’s what you want for me, isn’t it? Rats! I’d much rather noodle around the neighborhood and never get serious about going somewhere with the faith and gifts and strengths you’ve given to, and invested in, me. I’d rather quit when I feel tired, hop off when I want, go where I want at the speed I want and not be obligated to anyone for how long it takes me to get nowhere in particular. But I have a sneaking suspicion – and last week at a conference I heard a “name of God” for the first time: “Jehovah Sneaky” – that you want me to do something with the talents and desires and gifts you put in me, you want me to follow the road you planned for me, to go as far as You want to go, willingly stop when you stop, and trust your love for me whether I can see where we’re going or not. I recall speaking on this subject ten years ago, but then I hadn’t been required to walk down a road I never wanted to travel, for longer than I wanted to be in battle and in limbo. Now I’ve had to live it, and it hasn’t been rainbows, bunnies and flowers. It’s been hard, uphill, in the dark, in the rain, against the wind, and a challenge to keep my heart free from bitterness, anger, pulling away from you and fear every turn of the wheel.

God, you told me two things over two years ago: “You’re worth fighting for” and “You are my chosen child. Don’t be afraid of what man tries to do to you.” You didn’t tell me where we were going, how long the road would be, or how steep the climb. I suspect my fear and inability to hang on made this trip take longer and be harder than it needed to be. Did I switch places and try to be the one in front? Did I let go of “manna” you gave me because I was grieving too hard? Well, I know you forgive me and your mercy is new every morning. I want to take the back seat now and let you pull me up the hill, pump hard when I can’t, stop when i/we need to, and yes, I desperately need to trust your character to take responsibility for my safety.

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, I know you want my life to count and have meaning. I do, too, but honestly, “clipping in” with you makes me feel _____________________________________________________. I know you understand, because you know I’m human, and not seeing where we’re going , I feel ____________________________________________. But I know you love me and your plans for me are for good, not for evil, so as I ride with you, Jesus, I’ll give my best to _______________________________________________________________________________________ and I’m leaning on you, holding on to your character and love, and asking you to ______________________________________________________________________________________. When I start to lean, slip, get tired or want to quit and go home, please _______________________________________________________________. Thank you that you “know my frame” and you love me even in my weakness, as well as in my strength. I need your renewing strength to _______________________________________________________________________________. Thank you that you wont quit on me! In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Grace for Greatness

Praise-God-christianity-30399917-450-227I could have pretended when the lizard ran across the trail in front of me. I was walking with a man, and I could have clutched his shoulder, turned my head into his chest and squealed, “Oh, “_______” (he shall remain nameless), a LIZARD! I’m so scared! Throw a rock at it! make it go away!” And after he did, I’d look up into his eyes, bat mine, and in a higher register than I use to speak with my female friends, I’d swooningly say, “Oh “_________,” you’re so brave and strong!” And if he took the bait … I’d be calling that man to a level lower than his true courage, integrity, and valor. Pardon me saying this, but PUKE! In spiritual terms, that translates to “abomination.”

I’ve seen it, girlfriends. I’ve listened as you did it, and even if you are truly afraid of lizards, do you think falsely building up a man’s esteem calls him to greatness? It may salve his insecurity, but Jesus wants more for him and from him than a false hero status. God wants him to live in  greatness. Guys, give that woman a second and third look and then tell her that her husband doesn’t appreciate al she is? God wants her to live in greatness.

Gentlemen, I’m addressing this to you, and ladies, to you as well.  Today is Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Passover and the Resurrection, when God’s Spirit fell on Jesus’ disciples and followers in the Upper room. They were, we can imagine, staying there in Jerusalem not just in response to Jesus’ instructions, but also in some sense of confusion and fear, not knowing what would come next or where they would go, or how they could go on about life as usual after having walked with the Son of God, so real and present in that room with him after his resurrection, so many days and weeks absent now.

The lizard ran across the trail in front of me, and instead of shrieking – gosh it was just a small striped lizard, terrified of my big feet clumping down the trail close on its tail – I gave a very fake shriek, feigned terror (after having told him I like lizards) and then in all seriousness said, “________,” if you want to show me how courageous you really are, if you want to make this Christian girl swoon, load a “mortar round” of prayer and lob it at the Devil for me! THAT is courage! THAT is a true hero! God’s Grace to propel into greatness!

And I wasn’t  kidding.  This guy has fasted for me and prayed for me, and if I truly care about him as a friend and brother in Christ, my job is to call forth the greatness in him, the greatest greatness he can live. I can’t encourage him in sin, no matter how tempting it might be to lead him into a false sense of superhuman stature just to get his affection. Math teacher in me, I’d be degrading him to the “Lowest Common (cultural) Denominator”. Oh, gag, how insulting I would be if I even thought of encouraging a brother to sin, and how denigrating I would be if I didn’t believe in the greatness Jesus has instilled in him through the Holy Spirit to call him to courageous action, to the “Greatest UN-common Denominator” of the best, truest, and most courageous life God has for him, conforming to the likeness of Jesus as a Blood-bought child of God. “My agenda” for him means nothing’; God’s agenda for him means everything. GUCD!

I acknowledge here that I did do something for my former husband that allowed him to think the sin he was in, by his own words, “Wasn’t so bad, and if that’s the worst of (my) sins, well, God made me this way.”  Oh, vile lie of the Devil!  Did I think I was being submissive to enable him to sin without consequences or speaking to him that HE was worth more than that?   Was my compliance being an obedient wife, or was it allowing him to stay in a level far below the true courage, integrity,  honork, dignity, purity and valor God intended that man to live in and live out? I don’t take responsibility for his sin, but I am responsible for how I responded to it. Oh, if I’d had the courage to trust God enough to speak up out of loving truth and called him to righteousness in his choices.  God would’ve  taken care of me no matter what his response was, as long as my motives were for his best, for his true grace-given greatness.

As I relate to others now years later, I recognize that I cannot call forth less than the greatest from my bothers and sisters.  When I consider the price God paid for her, for him, when I think of the treasure that person is to God’s heart, how can I use, manipulate, or hold her or him to less than the most meaningful, vital, alive, on-fire life from all God’s Spirit has poured into them, to live in and live out of them?

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.”  1 John 3:1-10 NIV

I love the old hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us.” Knowing the price God paid in watching His beloved suffer whipping and then the indignity and agony of the cross, how can we think God means for grace to do anything less than call us to greatness, true greatness? Ought we to do less, ought we to lower our expectations of each other and give flattery instead of encouragement to greatness? Why would I want to allow someone I love to live in anything less than the grace and greatness God gifted her or him with when she or he made Jesus Lord? If Jesus is his Lord, her Lord, then he is a son of the King of Kings, and she is a daughter of the Lord of All, grace gifted through Jesus to rise in strength, courage, compassion, valor, dignity, kindness, purity and truth to live a life and leave a legacy of greatness .

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

My stand cost me dearly, because I couldn’t let a loved one live out less than the greatness God his Father  called him to. Others – “friends” and colleagues spoke into his life to encourage him to conform to the standards of the world and live far below the integrity God wanted him to live in and live out.  Was that true love?

Today I want, and I pray you may consider, to call the people you love in your life to the truest greatness they can live in and live out. a measure of our love is the measure of grace-gifted greatness we call forth in and from eachother.Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we  should be called the sons and daughters of God.

Two songs to share with you: the first is the why and how, and the second is what we can become as we encourage each other to greatness.

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

I will not boast in anything

No gifts, no power, no wisdom

But I will boast in Jesus Christ

His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

So then, what does this measure ask of us? All I want to do is be a soul on fire for the love and purity of God and call it forth in the hearts of others! So, my sisters, my friends, my brothers, lob a grenade of prayer at the enemy in the lives of those you love today! Selah! Amen!

My “…BUt…” to move: God, I’ve settled for less than courage in my own life. I’ve even tantalized others to live in so much less than the greatness of Your grace in them to flatter them and make them like me or to “get” something from them, BUT today I purpose to,and ask you to help me to call ____________ to the best in ________________________________________ that you long for him/her!