Strength

 

This cross stands in the Roman Coliseum, steps from the box Emperors sat in two thousand years ago. Just a few blocks away, on a street lined with tourist shops and restaurants, you can look down, past a rusty grate and see where prisoners were held until dragged into the arena where they would fight to their death against gladiators and exotic beasts.

Some of those prisoners were believers in Jesus Christ; held like cattle and murdered like criminals because they refused to worship Caesar. Though they were powerless in this life, they held to the strength of the Almighty and woke up in Paradise.

My own sins have held me captive. So many days and nights I’ve spend grasping for strength, yet tightening my sin chains, the smell of earth and death all around me. I have been dragged into the arena to battle the Evil One, that prowling lion, looking for a spot to rip into and destroy me.

I am powerless to fight him. My strength is empty, my soul brittle dry like the dirt of that arena floor.

Then Jesus comes to stand in my place. He who created the cross and the tomb so he could die a criminal’s death and I could wake to eternal life. The Highest of Powers bends down to my weakness.

He caresses my tear and bloodstained cheeks and raises me to my feet. The powers of this world are no match for Jesus. No emperor or tyrant can restrain the Lion of Judah.

“The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” Psalm 121:5

The Hebrew word “tsel” means “shade” or “shadow”. In the moments of my life where I have felt truly powerless, I sought out strength from anything this world could provide. And all along I stood in the shadow of Strength.

Jesus keeps me close to his side. My power is weakness until I am standing in his shadow. I am strong because His glory goes before me and his might is beside me; strengthening me, holding me, keeping me.

At the foot of the Cross lies my shame, my weakness, my guilt. In the shadow of the Cross I stand strong, cleansed, free.

 

 

 

Live

Brian and I have moved 8 times in 14 years. We talked a couple of days ago what our next move will be like, where will our feet land, when will that transpire. 
We are no strangers to packing and unpacking, meeting and greeting strangers, visiting churches, learning new cities, memorizing layouts of grocery stores and how to get home from them. 

Every other time we have viewed moving as a way to advance us further down the road in Brian’s career, a step in the direction that turns our daydreams into the American dream. 

But this next move we want to be different.

In Acts 17:22-28 Paul is addressing a “religious” crowd in Athens. They loved worshipping and revolving their daily lives around the Areopagus “tickling their ears” with loads of information, none of it mighty enough to save them. 

And I think about us, how we are so religious and we surround and inundate our eyes and ears nonstop with information. It soothes but it doesn’t save us. 

Paul addresses this crowd and my soul, making the “Unknown God” KNOWN. 

This God does not live in temples or churches made by man. He does not need our service. The Lord of Heaven and Earth gives life and breath and everything. He determines the times set for every person and the exact places where they will LIVE for the sole purpose that all will seek him. 

I am here and you are here at such a place and time as this, breathing the gift of breath God ordained and gifted us to breathe for this moment. And he does this, not so we can have all our hearts desire, but so we can fulfill His heart’s desire. That we will shine lights into the dark places where the lost are “feeling their way towards God”. 

Friends, we don’t live and move because we are good and because the plans of our hearts are good. 

We live and move and have our being because we are in Him and He is good. 

New

Time to turn a new page. Think new thoughts. Try new things. He is busy. He is making all things new. Paths where no feet could trod. 

Streams where his children thirst. 

If I cling to the old..if my eyes are closed…my ears shut…my heart cold…I’ll miss it. 

Make me new Lord Jesus. Ready my heart and soul, renew my strength and mind to perceive and join your work in your world. 

“Remember not the old things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”  Isaiah 43:18-19

Commit

I would’ve run down the aisle if I could have. Run towards the man, the love, the life ahead. And even now, knowing what the next 14 years had in store for that girl, I would run to him again. This time faster. We weren’t ready. We had no idea what was ahead and what kind of spiritual foundation God was going to lay. We just loved with our whole hearts and for better or worse we were committing to walk together until death parts us. 

Peter, Andrew, James & John weren’t ready either. They weren’t well equipped, well known, well educated. In fact, when Jesus saw them, these four men were doing what they assumed they would die doing. 

But then Jesus called. And what I just cannot get over this morning is how they IMMEDIATELY abandoned their life (Matthew 4). Their boats, their riggings, their nets, their fish, their families. 

Everything they had acquired and obtained and accomplished they left behind and ran to Jesus on the shore. Whole-heartedly, without any doubts, second guessing, wondering, these men took hold of their lives and handed them over to Jesus. And I am here today because of their commitment to Him. 

My own fear of failing, perfectionist heart has trouble committing to everything. But today I commit to lay my life, my will, my future, my successes and failures, all I hold dear to Christ’s care and control. 

And I want to run down the aisle and to the shore, straight into his strong and capable arms. 

Be

We’re in a waiting and listening time right now and have been for months. And today I started my Lent journey with one word “Be.” 
Because I can’t be any other place at any other time but right now. In this second. At this house, in this community, with these babies. So today I am practicing “being” and I am trusting that meanwhile, the Lord is straightening my paths. 

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and find safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act….Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” Psalms 37:3-5, 7

Winter Wilderness

Hydrangeas are easy to love, round, full, bursting with beauty, overflowing with petals that bloom multiple times a year.

This fall was unseasonably warm in our area and the plants became quite confused. My tomatoes were producing all the way until early December. My basil went to seed and grew more basil plants thinking it was spring already.

But the hydrangeas were especially lovely. I do not understand the science behind this gorgeous plant, how it flowers in different seasons and the color of the blooms changes by season. I just know from one of the bushes in my yard, I have harvested oak green, blueberry blue and rosy pink from the same bush.

Around Thanksgiving I noticed the blooms on one of my hydrangea bushes had changed color. They had turned from a rosy pink I had intended to pick for weeks, into a deep burgundy and sage green, perfectly timed for the upcoming Christmas season.

Sitting in beauty on my kitchen counter, I have felt God speak to my soul. The last two months have been unseasonably warm for me as well, as I have felt the fires of testing and trials rising against me.

I have desired to hop off and run in beauty and strength. But the vice grip of the Lord has held me fast, forcing me into a painful season of waiting and uncertainty, of soul darkness where character defects and sinfulness I thought were behind me, rose ugly from my heart.

Yet the still voice of God whispers, “Abide in me. Hold firm to me, your vine, your home. I have intended you for beauty beyond what you can imagine. Wait for me, wait with me through this fire, through this dark. I am coming for you and I will save you at the time your colors are just right for the picking..”

AdventusComing. This year has been shackles of trial and temptation, of wandering and wondering. Still he is coming for me. He is coming for all of us.

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence-as when the fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-to make your name known to your enemies and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” Isaiah 64:1-2

He tore the veil, yet we are here. He is Immanuel, “with us”, but we also are waiting for him. Like the wandering Jews in the desert, he was cloud by day and fire by night, yet still they cried out for his deliverance.

And so we cry out. We are wandering. Waiting. Desperate for this fire and darkness to end. Until you come, Lord we will abide. We will wait, fixated on you, enduring the pruning and transforming. Patiently hold us fast to you.

Redeem us, heal us, change us, prepare us to bloom beauty in Your time that makes the Maker known.

Come Lord Jesus. We are waiting for you.

 

 

Today I pray…

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Today, on the Day of Atonement, I am deep in prayer over our country, the election, our future and especially, the Church.
I pray that we can all do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.
I pray that all people of all colors can stand together, for each other.
I pray for my daughter and sisters and friends. That as women we are not subjected to the lie that we are what we look like but that our identity is in Jesus.
I pray for all the victims of sexual abuse and assault, that they hear a strong word from Christian men that it will not be laughed off, tolerated or ignored.
I pray for the millions of unborn babies, terminated before they could open their eyes. I pray for their mothers and fathers and families who suffer for that choice and loss.
I pray for the poor, the downcast, the frightened.
I pray Jesus come back.
Most of all I pray that we can have the courage to speak truth, love, grace, peace and gentleness to the hard of hearing and to the lost in our world.
I pray that we can stand up to evil in our day to day life.

I pray we can walk fearlessly into the path God is setting before us.

for his pleasure

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courtesy of pexels.com

Arms linked, heads tilted. Backs resting on the blanket in the bed of that old Ford truck parked on a lake side beach. The chill of the autumn Oklahoma air nestled us closer as we talked all manners of things, from constellations and homework to God and the future.

Young love. I knew he was it. My babies would have his eyes and his hands would hold mine until death parted us.

But just under the dreams and the hope and the thrill of new love lied deep, harsh, painful rumblings of the past. A past that disqualified me from deserving a love like this, dismantled my dream and disintegrated my hope.

He will never choose you, once he really knows you. You have nothing to offer him but a bucket of damaged goods.

Three babies and thirteen years later the fight rages on as we battle together against the words of my past that continue to scream “You will never be good enough” and “Just give up before you screw up”.

The Liar wants me to believe that I am done before I begin. He knows what my God has knit inside of me and is terrified of what I am capable of doing in the strength and gifts of my God.

And he fights like Hell to make sure that does not happen.

So I sit with my gifts and my junk and my thoughts and I do nothing. I believe the Destroyer instead of the Creator and I give up before I begin.

Yet The Word sings a love song to my bashed-in heart and woos me gently back into His arms.

“You are worthy, O Lord to receive glory and honor and power; for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” Revelation 4:11

My Lord created me for His pleasure. Not for my spinning and striving and in spite of my slipping and sinning. He knit me to delight in me. He uniquely crafted me to bring him pleasure in a way only I can.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1

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courtesy of pexels.com

Stars gazed upon by young love in an old Ford truck shine and shout the glory of their Maker. They don’t  wonder if they are bright enough. Nor do they look at other stars and covet their glow. Heavenly lights don’t care if any eyes ever gaze upon them, save the adoring eyes of their Heavenly Father.

They shine and shout only for His pleasure and His glory.

Symbols of promise to a wandering Jew. Divine instruments announcing the birth of a Newborn King. Stars proclaim the glory of God and the work of His hands.

What has dulled your shine? Perfectionism? Fear of failure? Past regrets? Lack of education or experience? Judgment from other Christians? Are you seeking the approval of anyone else but God?

If we allow those lies to bench us, we might as well bury our talent under that bench.

Know this: God gifts us. He uniquely created each of us for a specific purpose for His kingdom. Enabled by the Lord’s power and strength, we proclaim and glorify His name when we do not shrink back from using our unique gifts. He knows us. He loves us. He is delighted WITH US!

“for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (NIV) Phillipians 2:13

Just imagine our Lord delighting in you when you sing, write, play, create, bake, dance, encourage, teach, love. Through each unique life with unique gifts acted out in unique ways, the world knows the one, true God and the darkness flees from His light gleaming through us.

“shine like stars in the sky” (NIV), or as “lights in the world” (ESV) Phillipians 2:15

Shine on.

empty (I Kings 17)

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She scratches her spoon against the bottom of the wooden bowl and sighs. A handful. Just enough for one small cake. She picks up the jar. Oil slides around and she breathes in the fruity aroma for the last time.

The widow closes her eyes, listening to the labored breathing of her only son, all that is left of her life, slipping away on the couch across the room. This meal will not be enough. But she will make it and then they will die together.

She touches her son’s cheek and assures him she will return after she gathers enough wood for the fire.

At the Zarephath city gate she picks up her sticks. Thinking back to the thousands of other times she gathered wood for meals she prepared. Meals shared with her son and husband.

Before the drought. Before death. Before poverty. Before starvation.

There are no more gods to pray to for help. She has been to the temples. No one sees her. No one hears her. No one knows the sound and smell of her dying son. No feels the beat of her dying heart within her.

She feels as empty as the bowl of flour and the jar of oil waiting for her return.

But there was a God who did see. He saw and heard her cries. And he spoke to his man about her and sent him to the gate.

Elijah watches her weary, frail, emaciated body bending over to pick up sticks. He calls to her and asks for a drink. In her kindness she obliges. A gift of extra time before she has to face her son and that last supper.

Elijah asks for a cake of bread. Is he joking? If only this kind stranger knew she was preparing the final meal she would share with her son in this life.

The kind prophet assures her that his God has seen her. He has heard her heart’s cries. I AM has brought the drought and I AM will see this tiny widow and her only son through to life.

And with each cake of bread and each passing day, the Lord God provided. Each and every meal, there was just enough. God saw the emptiness and he filled it with his promises of life and hope.

Later, the son who had gone too long without food, lost his breath. The widow sits at his bedside and cries out. What good were these extra days if the plan all along was to empty her of her only son?

Elijah grabs her son and runs to the upper room crying out for Almighty God to change his mind, to have mercy, to return what was lost. And the body of the boy, empty of life was filled with breath again and he was revived.

“Now I know you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” (v.24)

There was another Son, an only Son, whose breaths were numbered. Another Last Supper. Another Upper Room.

This Son, who emptied himself of his throne, would now breathe his last and be placed in a tomb. Creation would weep for the death of her God.

But on the third day? Life breathed into an empty body. Women gazed into an empty tomb.

The Word. The Bread. The Truth. The Life. Alive again, just as he promised.

He did this for us. Jesus is not surprised by our emptiness. He is drawn to it only to fill it. Fill it with his presence, with his love, with his hope, with his life.

And what looks and smells like emptiness and death, transforms into fullness and life through the power of his blood spilled on that Cross.

Nothing else can feed us, soothe us, heal us, save us, free us and fill us like Jesus.

No meal. No drink. No sermon. No drug. No likes on social media. No job. No house. No car. No book. No preacher. No teacher. No friend. No parent. No child. No spouse.

Only Jesus.

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!”   Habakkuk 3:17

 

storm-part 2 (mark 5)

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Clang Clang. The chains are clanging. Chains that had been bound, wrenched apart and bound again. The broken sound of false freedom.

Rock gashing human skin. Skin just closed over and pink with newness and healing, now shredded by a jagged edge unleashing the life blood once again.

Screams. Piercing, desperate cries of a desperate man who is desperate to physically leave this place of death and destruction but spiritually is held prisoner to the war he is losing inside of him.

Then just there, on the coast, a boat approaches. No local fishermen dock or launch from this sacred burial ground where the tormented soul resides. And yet, here is a boat and there is a man stepping out onto the beach and he looks and smells like Heaven and Holy.

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you please! Don’t torment me!”

Heaven and Holy is here, approaching us and we are so sin sick in our hearts and souls that he doesn’t look like freedom, he looks like fear. He can’t possibly be the solution. And what would God have to do with me? Has he even seen me? I live and smell of the death that surrounds me and dwells within me.

“My name is Legion, for we are many.”

And this is who we are. To the world we look like one, but locked up inside our hearts and minds are the many voices of doubt and discouragement, of deep sadness and terror, of rage and anger, lust and envy, hate and malice . Our minds are broken and our hearts are divided within us as we continue to choose the grave over the Giver.

Waves of confusion sweep over me. Winds of discouragement and doubt rage against my faith. Anger and jealousy like lightening rip apart relationships. Thundering fear rattles my bones.

Storms are stilled all around me: children saved from death, marriages restored, addictions broken. Yet my mind is a wreck cast upon the sand, searching for the Savior to still the storm inside of me.

I surrender my chains for your yoke Jesus. I throw down my jagged rocks that have tormented my body and I empty my soul of all that tries to fight you while you fight for me.

Jesus will not share his temple with the stench of death. And just as he drove out the moneychangers in Jerusalem that day, so he has the power to drive out the storms raging inside of us.

He has a unique healing for each of us, in his own time. It looks like a sermon or a therapist. For me it was Celebrate Recovery and the love of the women that surround me there every Friday night. I see Jesus in their faces and hear him in their voices as we all walk hand in hand to the Cross.

And I lay at the foot of that Cross every day. I confess I hide my storm so well and I deny Jesus the chance to be seen through my chaos. And the Cross is not a tool of condemnation but a passageway for perfect love.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” I John 4:18

Jesus, continue to drive out the evil many inside of me and make room for the Heavenly and Holy One. Dwell within me and fill me abundantly, over-flowingly full of you. I will proclaim what you have done for me: how you broke the chains and set me free, how you emptied me to fill me and how you stilled me to stir me to do your will once again.

Today I will trade the grave of sin for the Giver of restoration, peace and life.