Friday, February 26, 2010

Something Special

My youngest daughter slipped a folded up piece of paper in to my hand, as we sat side by side in church. She whispered, “Here I made this for you.”

Opening it up, there was a picture of a person sitting at a table, smiling and holding a heart.

The next picture revealed a drawing of God, handing my daughter a heart that said, "I love you" on it. She was smiling, eager to receive the gift.

“Tell me about it, honey," I whispered back to her, “What is happening?”

She smiled, “In the first picture, God is making me something special and in the next one, He is giving it to me because He loves me, and I am very happy.”

What a beautiful reminder from a little girl, full of faith and confident of Who God is, to me who needed the reminder. I love the way she sees God sitting down, filled with joy, making her something special. And then how she stands happily next to Him, eager to receive the gift that He is giving her, a gift made with love and marked by the truth that He loves her.

Dear reader, in times of trial or in times of peace, God has prepared good things for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). They are made with His love and marked with His love. He makes them, creates them in His own powerful and loving Hands, and it brings Him joy to give them to us. They may be tangible gifts and they may be intangible ones, like joy, peace, confidence, strength, and long-suffering. Let us strive -- no, let us rest -- let us rest and possess a child-like faith. Then let us be aware of and joyful in seeing the love of God extended to us, and confidently reach out and accept it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Redemptive Story of Shame (Part 2)

The small statue arrived in a card board box, surrounded by a soft coating of bubble-wrap and protected by layers of Styrofoam popcorn. She is special - a treasured possession. The figure is bronze in coloring and in the shape of a woman, curled up in a ball, arms wrapped tightly around her knee with her head cast down.

The feel of a card board box was familiar to her. The last time she was surrounded by cardboard, she was tossed in to a box with other rejected items, thrown together and delivered to a place that she did not know – a garage sale. She was unwanted, discarded and of no use to the previous owner. It appeared that she had no value other than what could be gleaned from the sale.

This time she arrived in a box marked “FRAGILE: Handle with Care,” for not only is she fragile and special, she is being used for a purpose.

Months ago, my friend and I spotted her on a table at the garage sale. Upon seeing her we sighed, “shame” and bought her immediately. We saw value in her -- we saw ourselves in her. She depicted shame, sorrow, pain and loneliness – a part of us that we learned (and were learning) to realize, embrace, and grow from. She is the “shape of shame” with a redemptive story. (For more about "shame," see "The Shape of Shame").

My friend placed the statue in her counseling office. One day, a client came to visit. The client noticed the statue and asked, “Where did you find that?” My friend explained the story of the statue -- the shape of shame -- and the client (a decorator) realized that she had discarded a treasure. At one time, she decorated the home of a family and they decided that the statue did not fit the “new” decor. It was – she was – discarded. This time when the client saw the statue, it had a new value to her as she began to realize her own story of shame and a desire grew in her to look at her own shame and be changed.

I sent for the statue one day. That is when she arrived in the box marked “FRAGILE.” I used it when speaking to hurting women, reminding them of the loving-kindness of Jesus, Who is the lifter of their heads – not the deliverer of shame. She sits on my desk, right now, as a reminder to me of the same truth.

Dear reader, perhaps you feel discarded today. Maybe your story is one of being cast out, not wanted rejected. It is a very lonely and vulnerable place to be, but take heart God is at work. You are special and He has a purpose. He does redemptive work in the lives of the ones He loves, and who love Him. He takes that which is painful and He brings life from it. We may struggle and wonder, “Could it be true?” Sometimes it is scary as we do not know what the result will look like. However, God is faithful and He desires to take those painful places in our lives, heal them and bring purpose out of them.

The statue, even though just a statue, is a reminder to me that God can and will take the lives of those who feel discarded, hurt and lonely, and deliver them, when they surrender their lives to His will and trust Him for all aspects of their lives. This statue is made by human hands, but we are formed by the Hands of God, and in continuing to hold us, He brings about change and beauty. We may not know exactly what it will look like, but we can trust that He is faithful.

Soon, I will place the little statue carefully into the cardboard box and send her back to my friend, but for now I am enjoying her presence as a reminder of the One Who delivers, redeems and loves unfailingly (Psalm 44:2).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Like Birds on a Wire

Being naturally curious and prone to thinking about random things (especially while driving the car), I find myself frequently noticing and pondering this, “Why do birds on a wire sit so far apart from each other?”

I researched the question and various “non-experts” seem to agree that the electricity in the wire keeps them warm, so that is why they sit on the wire. No one comments on why they do not sit close together. I’ve done some observational research, while driving from pillar to post, attempting to answer this question and others that crop up. Isn’t it cold and windy up there in the winter, even if their little feet are warm? Why don’t they choose to sit in a tree where they are protected? Why are they not sitting closer together? Do they not like one another? Are they afraid that if they get too close they may catch some bird disease? Did they have a bad experience with another bird almost knocking them off the wire and thus are hesitant to trust other birds? How do they keep their balance? Do they sleep up there or are they awake? Are they afraid?

Regrettably, I have no answers for any of the above questions.

However, it led me to thinking about how we sometimes (may I be so bold to say, often times) are like birds on a wire. Instead of seeking safe shelter, we put ourselves out in the elements without protection. We find precarious places to sit or stand that feel warmer, clinging on for dear life, when really there are safer places for us to rest and a safer One to cling to. We sit alone. We have been hurt by others. We are afraid of getting too close. We don’t trust others, because – well, because experience shows us that getting too friendly means that we’ll get hurt, somehow, someway, someday.

And yet the irony is that we, in an attempt to “play it safe” and not huddle together, we run the risk of being more prone to predators – doubts, fears, temptations.

As lovers of the Lord Jesus, we are to gather together. We are to warm each other with His Words and His truths. We are all going to go through “chilly” seasons when we may feel as if we are alone and we lose sight of what is right and true. We need each other. We need to care for one another, hold one another accountable and love one another with a Christ-like love. We need to seek safe shelter in the Lord, together, encouraging one another day in and day out (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Dear reader, are you feeling like a lone bird on the wire? I do sometimes. First of all, draw near to the Lord (Hebrews 10:22). Spend time with Him, resting in the shadow of His protective wing (Psalm 91:4). And then ask Him to show you who “safe” people are – people you can trust, people who love the Lord and people who will not allow you to wander or grow faint. People who will stand by you.

Or perhaps today you are not the bird on the wire, but you see little lone birds around you. Ask the Lord to show you people whom you can minister to. Listen to their heart. Reach out to them and allow them to share their pain. Keep it confidential. Speak truth in love. Share your life with them and help bring balance to their lives. Pray for them and lead them to the place of perfect shelter, Jesus.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Winter Waiting

Outside of my office window, a row of bushes line the side of my house. It is winter, and they show no evidence of life. The dark sticks reach upward and stand out against the white snow.

If I didn’t know better, I would say they are dead. They are brown and brittle. It appears that life was there at one time, as a few dead leaves grip the branches, but other than that there is no remnant of a living, flourishing bush.

Now, generally speaking, I do know better. Every winter I lose sight of life in the trees and bushes around me, and yet, every spring they begin to bud and grow new leaves – revealing life.

Yet, on this particular day, I find myself pondering, “What if they don’t? What if one of the bushes does not sprout back to life? What if most of them do, but not all of them?”

And then I realize that (more than I would like to admit), I find myself doubting God in this same way. I know that He is about the business of change and re-growth. I have seen it in season and out of season, time and time again. However, there is this nagging thought, “What if He decides to not bring a certain part of my being back to life? What if it looks dead now and really is dead?” I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can “what-if” myself into a pit.

The reality is that God can do whatever He wants to do, and He is not only in control of everything but He is good. I need to remind myself that my hope is in Him, not in what He chooses to do and not to do.

If one of my bushes outside does not grow back, it’s OK. I will dig it out and plant something else there -- maybe something different, something prettier, something stronger.

Dear reader, perhaps you find yourself in a “winter season” of life, when all seems brown and brittle in the midst of a great trial or a time of waiting and wondering. We all experience it from time to time, and it is hard. We do not know what God is going to do next, and it can be a time filled with doubt. He may be asking us to trust Him in the winter, but He has good things for us in the spring. We live by faith, and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). If He should choose to allow something to die, He may plant something else in its place. Either way, He is always growing in us a greater faith when we choose to trust in Him – and that truly does make us stronger and more beautiful.

How do we do it? How do we live by faith? Well, I am definitely a “perpetual student” in this area of life. From what I have learned thus far, we choose to trust God -- believing in Him and loving Him in all circumstances of life. Step by step, minute by minute, day by day we offer to Him a willingness to follow Him in times of cold and in times of warmth. We make this choice not based on what the outcome will be, but out of our love for Him and a belief that no matter what, He has our best interest at heart and loves us very much.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Olympics of Life

“It’s not too late, Mom,” my children said, almost in unison. “You can still do it!”

“You’re faster! Stronger! Built to last longer, Mom” my ten year old son added, with a smile on his face that oozed playfulness.

I briefly pondered whether he thought I was similar to a Ford truck, and then went on to say with a sigh, “No, I don’t think I can do it. I’m afraid it’s too late. There are no 45 year old mothers in the Olympics.”

The children and I bantered back and forth about, if given a chance, what event we would do in the Olympics. My 10 year old son wants to do mogul skiing. My 14 year old daughter dreams to be a figure skating (of course). And for me? Anything fast, I decided – perhaps speed skating.

I love the Olympics and by osmosis (or genetics, I'm not sure) my family does, too. We stake out our domain every night in the family room and watch with great enthusiasm. (I do believe it is the most I sit all year). Something about them makes my heart race, my legs twitch, my eyes narrow and my brow furrow, as I take on the anticipation of the events that are being broadcast on my television set. Little known fact about me – I always wanted to be an Olympic athlete.

Truth be told, I never even got close to being an Olympic athlete, nor have I ever speed skated. I lettered in high school track all four years and did compete in a mini-triathlon in the last year (trust me, very mini), but that is about it for my competitive athletic ventures, at least to date. I’m okay with never feeling the weight of the gold around my neck or making a victory lap. let alone walking the ring of the opening ceremonies. Really, I am. (sniff -sniff).

As I watch the games though, I have been thinking a lot about running the race with the Lord. It requires intense training in righteousness that comes through enduring trials, courage, fighting the good fight – and guts. It requires keeping our eyes fixed ahead of us, on Jesus. It demands devotion and determination of the bravest kind.

The thing is, in the Olympics of life, we may not wear a gold medal around our neck but God does tell us that someday we will receive a crown that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:25). So dear reader, whether you are gifted with physical athletic abilities or not, continue to run the race that God has set before you, in heart, soul and mind(Hebrews 12:2). Someday, rest assured, we will be run a victory lap with the One who won the victory for us – Jesus. It will be more than worth it!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Never Ending, Forever Extending Love

Blessed Valentine’s Day, dear reader.

Holidays have a way of marking time. Sometimes that is a good thing and sometimes it adds to the pain. Some years, we feel that we are surrounded by love and other years we experience loneliness and heartache. Perhaps you are eating chocolates with your family or maybe you are weeping on your bed. You may be resting in the arms of a loved one or feeling a deep cavern of loneliness within your heart.

Whereever you may be and in whatever circumstance you may find yourself, I want to encourage you that God is aware of every tear that you shed and YOU ARE LOVED -- “with the Lord is unfailing love.” (Psalm 130:7).

His love is eternal – never ending, forever extending. Rest in His love for you today. Call out to the Lord and be aware of His love for you, regardless of what others say, the choices that you’ve made or the heartache that you feel. The Lord is good and He is faithful to bring you comfort and assurance.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Caulking the Cracks

“What’s the mouse count today?” I kidded with my elderly friend.

“Three,” she said. “I’m hoping we got them all. The neighbor caulked around the stone outside where there are some cracks, so hopefully they won’t get in. I think I’m at peace again.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but from time to time, some pesty vermin start scurrying around inside of me. When I develop cracks in my foundation, they sneak right in and try to make themselves at home. Little critters (and sometimes not so little ones) like fears, doubts and worries, make their way through openings in my heart. The cracks are usually a loss of my confidence in the Lord and His love for me, especially when my foundation is shaken by crisis and trial. When I hear the pitter-patter of their little feet, I need to caulk up the cracks with the firm filling of God’s truths.

I wish that the cracks would never come, but they do. However, knowing that we have the perfect caulk helps, as long as we remember to use it and apply it properly. God’s Word is a great healer and a great barrier to unwanted “vermin” in our lives. The more time we spend with the Lord in prayer and in His Word, the less we have to worry about these cracks forming or getting big enough to let in these unwanted visitors, but when they do – God and His truths are present and able to take care of the cracks and give us peace, again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"What Did You Say?"

The loud drone of the engine and the highway filled the space in our Suburban, between the children and me, as we drove down the road.

“I was thinking of taking you all to Milwaukee to see the Dead Sea Scrolls,” I said, as I looked in the rear view mirror at them, attempting to speak loud enough for them to hear.

“What did you say?” my 9 year old daughter asked, from the back of the vehicle. “Why are we going to Milwaukee to see dead squirrels?”

I’m still laughing about it.

Sometimes, in the craziness of life, we think we hear one thing and really an entirely different thing is said. Distractions. Busyness. People vying for our attention. Things to do. People to see. Troubles to worry about. They all can get in the way of our hearing what God really wants us to hear.

Dear reader, it is so important that we take time with the Lord and be still, and spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer. It is hard for us to hear His voice and His truths over the drone of the details of everyday life. Make sure that you are carving out a spot for Him. Mark it on your calendar. Make it a priority. Arrange a time and a place.

His Words are too important for us to get mixed up, or to even not hear at all. Through His Word He brings us life, comfort, direction and strength. How fortunate we are that our Lord loves us so much to spend time us. Let us make sure we are spending time with Him.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Strength Training

I ducked my head under the bar bell, brought my aching shoulders up under it, and grasped the bar firmly with both hands. The bar, with heavy weights (at least 1000 pounds, I am certain) stretched out past my shoulders, with the ends resting in the supports.

“Are you sure I can lift all of this?” I said to my trainer, Dave.

“I know you can” He replied. “I’ll be right here behind you, watching and ready if you need me. Go ahead. You can do it.”

I straightened my legs, lifted the bar out of the supports and stepped backward. Up and down, I squatted with the heavy bar balanced on my shoulders, the weight bearing down on my whole body. I knew I was not alone. I could not see Dave, but I was confident that he was there, ready to make an adjustment to the bar if I was getting off balance, or reminding me of the proper body position when I faltered a bit.

1 … 5 … 8. Done. I stepped forward and placed the bar back in its resting place. Two more rounds of that, and although exhausted, I knew that it was what it would take for me to get stronger.

Sometimes, dear readers, it feels like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. Our hearts are heavy and it can even be hard for our bodies to move. Trials of all sorts come in to our lives and we are certain that we will not be able to handle them -- carry them. Heartache. Loss. Betrayal. Loneliness. Illness. Ministries. Callings. Waiting.

We may call out, “Are you sure I can lift this one?” to the Lord. Have you been there? I certainly have been -- am. Seems like, feels like, it is just way too much to bear.

But, and I say this with an immense measure of hope and faith, God is present. You may not be able to see Him, but He is right there. He has you covered. He is there to make adjustments, show you what to do, help you when you need help, and in the spiritual realm, He is actually helping you carry the burden.

These things He does give us to carry – as overwhelming as they are -- for a purpose. They are to make us stronger, to make us more like Jesus and to bring Him glory. It hurts, but He is present, coaching , helping and watching. As hard as it is, we know that it must be this way.

My arms are sore today, but I am chuckling as I think of Proverbs 31:17, “She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.” OK, Lord, I get it. I don’t like lifting weights, and I don’t like bearing trials, but I know it makes me strong for my work for You, and that makes it worth it. Thank you for loving me so much.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Extravagant Love

Mary of Bethany came to the feet of Jesus, once again, and poured over Him an alabaster jar full of perfume. It was a sacrificial offering of her love. Jesus says that it was beautiful, and He sticks up for her, despite a band of critics (the disciples) who thought her offering was a waste.

I’ve been immersed in this story found in Mark 14 for the past week, on my six-week journey of speaking on “Remarkable Moments with the Savior.” The aroma of the story has permeated my heart and my mind in powerful ways, and I am convicted and encouraged as I dig deep in to the story. I won’t be able to consolidate my whole lesson on the blog – so I thought I would just share a couple of points that I think are thought provoking, perhaps even life changing.

1. Each time we meet this Mary of Bethany in the scriptures, she is at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him and loving Him. That is a good place for us to be, as well.

2. Mary gave lavishly and lovingly to Jesus (the worth of a whole year’s wages). She was not embarrassed to show her love for Him. Neither should we be.

3. Mary’s love for Jesus flowed out of a confident belief that she belonged to Him and that He loved her very much – with an extravagant love – a love that gave His life for her. If we really know that love, I don’t think we can help but being crazy in love with Him, either.

4. Jesus stuck up for her. She did not need to fear others; Jesus was there to validate her and honor her. Our identity does not need to be determined by what others think of us – God knows who we are, and that determines our worth.

5. Nothing that touches the life of Jesus or that He touches is wasted. Nothing.

6. Mary seized the moment to love Jesus, when she could, where she could, in a way in which she could. There are opportunities that come in to our lives which we must seize at the moment – they may never happen again.

7. The aroma of Mary’s offering filled the room. When we love the Lord and others in His name, there is also a sweet aroma of godliness that permeates the space and hearts of those around.

As we become aware of the deep love of Jesus has for us, we will have an increasing passion to pour out an extravagant love for Him and for others.

Mary did what she could. We cannot do everything, but we can take the gifts and resources that God gives us and love Him with those. Maybe it means spending more time with Him, praising Him, sacrificing money for Him, or waiting for Him. Extravagantly loving the Lord may look like trusting Him despite the outward appearances of our circumstances. Saying, “I’m going to love you, Lord, by believing you.”

We can also love others with an extravagant love, as a result of understanding what the Lord has done for us. Again, we cannot do everything, but we can do something. Write a note. Bake a pie. Make a visit. Plant flowers for a friend. Clean a house. Walk a dog. Hold a hand. Give a special gift. Speak a kind word. Extravagant love can also be expressed as patience, forgiveness, speaking the truth boldly but gently, sharing in another’s joy, or offering a sympathetic ear. It does not need to cost a year’s wages (as Mary’s did) – sometimes the most valuable gift is a gift of yourself.

I think the more we are aware of God’s extravagant love for us, the more we are able to love extravagantly. Dear reader, seek Him today. See and believe that He loves you so very much. It is beautiful.

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