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Words Remaining

Breadcrumbs Along the Path…

Words, Eggshells and Time

When I first began to write for someone other than my journal, I was hungry.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  I followed other writers whom I respected, and read books about writing as well as some of the classics.  I seemed to walk around in a writer’s daze, lifting subjects from the air I breathed.   Scripture would come alive with illustrations and my scribbled ideas filled post-it notes, gum wrappers and grocery receipts – anything I could get my hands on before I lost a thought.

I never wanted to write a book as such.  The concept of having a platform and marketing myself not only did not appeal to me, but actually seemed antithetical to Biblical teaching.  I just could not convince myself that strategizing and posturing for success was what the Lord had in mind for me.  I still feel this way.

A couple of years ago I attended a wonderful Revive Our Heart conference in Indianapolis that was preceded by a workshop on writing.  Lore Ferguson Wilbert, one of the speakers, has long been my favorite blogger/writer.  We all sat attentively in our classroom, pens poised for note taking, anticipating her words of encouragement and instruction.  She smiled, leaned forward and in her most loving and gentle voice, spoke words that pierced my soul:

“The world does not need your words.  The Word has already spoken.”

The room fell silent.  This advice, I’m convinced, is the best and most godly I could have received .  It has lessened the frazzle of having to have something to say all the time.  And it’s also continued to challenge me to weigh my writing in the frame of the Kingdom.

“For we who live, are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  2 Corinthians 4:11

We all need to die to many things, moment by moment, so that His life is manifested in us.  And it may be that this includes my writing.  I need to die to thinking that God needs my words.  He doesn’t.  Can He use them?  Yes, if he desires to, for only He can breathe life into them.

In recent years, I’ve found myself disconnecting from the preponderance of faith-based blogs, websites, etc.  They litter my in-box and suck time away from better things.  Maybe like me, you get drawn in and 30 minutes later you don’t know where the time went.  Even worse, you can’t give an account of what you read that ensnared you.

Quality writing can still be found.  But a search for that which compels us to know Him deeply, can be like fishing pieces of eggshell from a broken egg.  It’s slippery.  We are confused by a thousand voices that invite us into Christian culture.  Offered are tasty things that are good and enjoyable but may be short on solid truth and mind renewal.

I’ve taken a break over the past several months to reassess my writing and its purpose.  I will continue to plant the occasional seed of a post from time to time, realizing my place in the greater scheme of life.  It may be that just cracking the door open again will bring on a flood of thoughts worth writing about.  God is good that way.  He knows when my heart is where it should be.

Everyone who writes will have hits and misses.  But there is a challenge for all of us – those who write and those who feast upon it – to be discerning.  Please don’t let my words or anyone else’s become a snare to you.

 

 

 

Bridging the Divide

 

I came into this world with white skin.  I’ll never be a person of color, so my insight is limited to what I hear from one who does life from that point of view.  I’m sickened by the thought that I might see a person of a different skin color as less than me in any way.  God’s image stamped upon us declares value on every human life, and I dare not mar that image.

I only remember one person of color who attended my high school, a daunting position for sure.  Unfortunately, I was too traumatized by my own insecurity to see another’s burdens.  I never felt any superiority, but had little contact.  Our paths just didn’t cross. College and church opened up more opportunities but still they were brief and superficial encounters.  Over the years, I’ve noticed an absence of friendships of diversity, unintentional on my part, but perhaps that’s the point.  It’s so easy to dwell among those who are like you.

With all the conflict and violence of late, I’ve been trying to read and learn about racial reconciliation.  I vacillate between horrible grief over the atrocities, and annoyance over accusations of universal bigotry that I’m unaware of within my heart. Many would say that while I may bear no personal prejudice, my “white privilege” perspective limits my vision for what exists culturally. The very phrase floods me with guilt and shame.   But it also makes me feel helpless.  I had no control over the family I was born into, the affluence in which I was raised or the education offered me.  Yet I understand that with privilege comes responsibility.  And maybe this is the nudge that I feel.

Recently when in public, I’ve experienced an increased eye contact with other races and ethnicities.  The exchange, though limited, has been sweet.  Do they feel as I do?  Are they saying with their eyes, “I do not represent the current hostility and misunderstanding. I long for more.  Do you?”  Never have I had so many strangers in the course of my day ask how I’m doing, smile my direction, or make casual conversation in line.  I suspect there are many of us, who though silent on the spectrum of protests and hate filled articles, have a message of peace, longing and friendship pulsating within our hearts.  This is what I want to be attuned to.  Not the drumbeat of division as proclaimed by the media, but the reverberations of human connection.

So how do we close the existing gap?  How do we start the conversation?  Or better yet, how do we stop talking and start listening so that we can cross these unholy borders?  I wish I had easy answers.  It may begin with an acceptance that a problem exists.  And if our neighborhoods and local churches do not create a natural flow, then we, ourselves, must discover spaces that nurture this relational component.

In college, I read the book “Black Like Me”.  The author, John Howard Griffin, underwent a dramatic physical and medical treatment to temporarily change his white appearance to that of a black man.  He recognized that he would have to get behind the black man’s skin in order to see through his eyes.  His experience, though published in 1961, was insight into the misunderstanding between races that still persists today.

Jesus also took on a skin not his own when he came to dwell among us.  But it wasn’t for lack of understanding of us, but that so we could see God in Him. Maybe that alone is enough reason for us to reach out – to let others see Jesus in us.

In a world rife with discord, our efforts can reflect our Savior to a watching world and that might be the most important step anyone can take.

 

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Lessons from the Back of a Harley

I must confess, I never planned to ride a motorcycle.  As a former ER nurse, I have seen my share of rides gone bad and many did not have happy endings.  But when your beloved’s passion rests here, one has to at least reassess perspective.  In the short time I’ve been riding, there are a few things I’ve learned that oddly enough mirror living a life of faith

Know your Driver

I’m not by nature a confident passenger.  When I first began riding, I clung to my husband’s middle, grasping for flesh, shirt or whatever I could find to secure myself.  But I’ve learned to trust; to align myself with the rhythm and leanings of my husband’s body rather than fight them.  We then can begin to move as one.  When I refuse, it makes his job more difficult.  Like a drowning person who finally relinquishes himself to the lifeguard, I’ve stopped fighting for a false sense of control.  I know this man and he is worthy of my trust.

Similarly, God is the driver of my faith and life. There are times when I assume I know better than He. My limited perspective obscures reality, promising a more desirable outcome.  The years have proven that wrong.  He alone is worthy of ALL my trust.  So when fear grips me, I can choose to lean into His will for my life, because I know him as my Father.

Be prepared

Before I climb on, there are some important steps of preparation.  A helmet protects my head from that unexpected accident while goggles protect my eyes from insects and flying debris.  I wear long pants to protect from the heat of the motor and leather boots to secure my footing.  The sun’s piercing rays are repelled by the necessary application of sunblock.  These are things I know to do out of wisdom and experience and are key to the safety and joy of the whole riding experience.

The Bible provides a prep of its own.  It counsels us to hide His Word in our hearts and to put on the full armor of God. It says to forgive, pray, love deeply and be humble; to clothe ourselves with compassion and give sacrificially. These admonitions protect us from the weakness of our flesh, the assault of the enemy and our naive invincibility.  The One who created us cautions us to be alert and prepared in order to navigate the twists and turns of this life.  He knows what we need in order to be prepared for this earthly walk.

Enjoy the scenery

There is so much to behold on a ride through the southwest desert.  From flowering cacti and wild horses,  to mountains that ascend out of fields of waving grain.  On a recent morning, we passed a humble clapboard house on the Indian reservation  where a native couple relaxed on their front porch.  I thought to myself – “What a simple life they have and how few their wants must be.”  But then I turned my head and caught the majestic mountain range to which they were facing.  With all my blessings,  I could never claim a view of such magnificence.

In the busyness of life, I miss so much of a beauty that doesn’t require wealth to enjoy.  Often all I need is a change of mental perspective to really see.  Sometimes it’s found in nature but other times in the face of a grandchild, or words spoken by a friend.  Sometimes it’s in a discovery of God’s truth or through the blessing of music.  But I’m assured none of this without a bit of intentionality. My eyes will see what my mind is attuned to.

We’re family

As with anything else that unites people, motorcycle riders have a sense of belonging.  When we pass one another on the road, there’s a certain hand wave done to signify the relationship  It’s a type of brotherhood, described by Aaron Cortez of the Bike Bandit blog as “…a way to show some solidarity with people you don’t even know, just because they’re riders like you.”  And if you’re stranded on the side of the road and a brother comes along, you can be pretty sure help has arrived.  Riders share a sense of family.

But there’s something much sweeter in a family of faith that transcends hand waves and roadside rescues.  Though the church is a gathering of imperfect people, we are still the “Bride of Christ”. Rescues occur here as well, but ones of eternal proportions.   And because we know this world is not our home, our joy persists through difficulties.  If you aren’t committed to a Gospel centered church, you’re missing out.   Solo Christians are about as common as unicorns.

We’re planning our next trip. This one will take us through twists and turns, and up and down mountainous desert terrain.  I’m scared and excited.  But know this: No ride can ever thrill like the ride with the Lover of my Soul.  And this one lasts an eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking and Finding

Dear Seeker Church,

I understand.  I know that there are loads of people that walk through the church door who don’t know why they are there.  It isn’t as if they have had some apostolic vision calling them to your church.  And you think if things can be orchestrated nicely, just maybe they’ll come back.  Send them home with free gifts and tee shirts bearing the name of your church; reward them when they return and surely these will be enticements to coming on board.

But I fear you may have missed the mark.

There’s a striking difference between luring someone to church and drawing someone into a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Do we really need to nurture the consumeristic fever that permeates our culture?    Is this really what Jesus meant when he told the disciples he would make them fishers of men?

Perhaps if we spent more time making disciples rather than bench warmers INSIDE the church, there might be an authentic influx of those OUTSIDE the church.  Disciples breed and nurture disciples.  Programs beget…well, more programs.

There is no greater tragedy than those who sit in our pews, congratulating themselves for their attendance and bearing the name of Christian to the world, but whose untransformed hearts make a mockery of Jesus Christ and His bride.  I fear we’ve been far too easily tamed and molded into the shape of the world with the resultant loss of our message.  We must become a people with a flame burning deep inside that warms those in our midst.  God cannot be an addition to our lives, but must take over and progressively swallow up the self that rages and demands.If we’re not careful, our name may be on the church roster having never understood our sin and the magnitude of God’s grace and mercy.

I’m burdened for this because I was one of those.  And I was pierced in my barrenness even as I served in leadership positions in the church and thought I had it together.

The church must never forget: Only when we, ourselves, have been transformed by the Gospel, will we have the capability of drawing and transforming others in our midst.

Rosaria Butterfield said: “We may never know the treacherous journey people have taken to land in the pew next to us.”

Do we really want to send them on their way with only empty tokens?

Our message must always be:

Come into our midst and taste that the Lord is good. But there is more.  We’re not a country club but a stable.  We are a broken and imperfect people, hungering after a perfect God who is here among us.  We cannot clean you up, but He will take your meager offering of self and transform you.  And if you think life is hard now, the journey ahead with Jesus will be wonderful but unlike any you’ve ever undertaken.  It will take all of you.  If you come empty, He will fill.  But He will not polish your resume or guarantee health and prosperity.  Your heart will be broken a thousand times; you’ll have to forgive when it’d be easier to hold a grudge and you’ll likely have to die to self over and over again.  You’ll serve when you don’t feel like it and hold your tongue when you’d love to give a lashing.  Because once you really see Him and know Him, the value of all else plummets, assuming its rightful place.   This is what we as the church have to offer.  Only this.

So come.  Come see Jesus among us.  There will be no tokens given for your visit. 

But He will be your great reward.

Sweet Silence

Oh, beautiful silence

How you strum the chords of my heart.

You know me like no other,

Yet you live as an alien in a world

That espouses perpetual connection.

Ears heavy with noise leave no room for you.

The most vociferous sounds yielding the least,

Even while monopolizing airwaves.

Our world continues at a deafening pace and in peril,

A house with a shaky foundation.

As in the days of Isaiah,

It is ever hearing, without understanding.

No room for pause,

To think, to feel, to see one’s heart.

You, silence, are viewed as empty and lacking,

Yet you fill.

Seen as purposeless,

Yet you invite meaning.

For in your quiet,

I hear.

Threshold

It was like any other Sunday morning, but for some reason the speaker’s sermon pierced me and tears flowed unexpectedly.  Joe’s message was about what he had learned through the recent death of his 37 year old brother, Chris.  Chris had been a young pastor, with a wife and kids, but a devastating diagnosis of 4th stage melanoma interrupted his life.

And just like that, this man who served his King, was taken into His Presence.

I’m one who loves a new year.  The clean slate fuels all kinds of optimism in me for a fresh start.  It’s like having a huge dispenser of “White Out” that automatically kicks into action at 12 am, January 1.  And let’s face it, since most of us didn’t do so well on all those resolutions last year, the opportunity for starting over is sweet.  A second chance at life.

But 37 year old’s with advanced melanoma shake the foundation of what one resolves to do with the days of a given year.

The term resolution implies using my own effort to achieve what I weigh as important.  Why not let God, not only set my priorities, but enable me to accomplish them?  It might not look like losing weight or reading more books or becoming more patient.  Or maybe it would.  The emphasis is not on the actual goal, but who is setting it and how its reached. A desire for personal improvement isn’t wrong, nor is the attempt to accomplish it.

The problem becomes when we own it.

Hannah Brencher recently used a phrase about approaching the New Year that really resonated with me – “to be less expectant of myself and more expectant of God”.

The bigger God becomes to me, the more of life I’m able to turn over to Him.  So when an ugly diagnosis or any catastrophic event comes my way, which could happen to any of us, my days have already been entrusted to Him.

I don’t want to minimize the magnitude of tragedy.  Pain and death are unwelcome parts of this life because we’re wired to survive.  But trusting the One who cradles each day for our goals, application, and empowerment, erases the seeming randomness of life and glorifies Him.

Will you join me this coming year in leaning into Him?  Will you allow God’s piercing gaze to cut away what needs to be pruned?  Will you, with me, allow Him to lift the film from our eyes to see what truly matters, so with the time He yields to us, we’ll live with Kingdom intent.

And will you allow Him to carry us across the threshold into a new year, resting in His strength and wisdom, a place where failed self improvements and devastating medical diagnoses cannot limit God’s eternal purposes?

 

The Mystery of Emmanuel

There is a hook to mystery that draws us into a story.  By its very definition it means something that is hidden.  And who has not searched for hidden things? Answers to problems, lost items, or solutions to who- dun-its?  A mystery is compelling.  It surrounds a subject with intrigue and captivates one’s imagination.

This year, as I navigate the days and weeks before Christmas, I want to recapture its mystery – the inconceivable truth that God became man.

God’s presence in the Old Testament was unambiguous.  Events ranging from an audible voice to hand writing on a wall brought Him close. Visions, a burning bush, and pillars of clouds and fire assured of His presence.  But after 400 years of silence, he came into our midst in a form few recognized.

God entered our world as a vulnerable and dependent baby.  He would have experienced cold and hunger. Absent was the antiseptic smell of a delivery room.  Instead, scent of animal hides and excrement surrounded him. Straw likely bristled against the divine face as animals licked tiny fingers.

Months earlier, a young girl who had known no man, accepted an angel’s message of a Holy Spirit conception for the entrance of the Savior into the world.  Does the mystery get any deeper than this?  And yet, this part is central to the story.

Scottish theologian Donald Macleod writes,

The virgin birth is posted on guard at the door of the mystery of Christmas; and none of us must think of hurrying past it. It stands on the threshold of the New Testament, blatantly supernatural, defying our rationalism, informing us that all that follows belongs to the same order as itself and that if we find it offensive there is no point in proceeding further.”

Like Mary, I ask “How can this be”?  The Christmas story itself is so simple that a child understands and readily accepts it, yet so profound that its essence should take our breaths away.

As a child, I remember looking to the starry heavens, not only for Santa skirting the clouds and rooftops, but also in wonder about that holy night so long ago.  The years of adulthood and responsibility have dulled the flame of wonder in me.  I pray that my soul would not become so secure and so wise that His plan no longer amazes.

Mystery enlarges my faith.  It takes it out of my sticky little hands that try to mold, shape and make it manageable and throws open the doors to a firestorm.  To say I just do not “get it” would be to put it mildly.  How does one grasp the tension of a baby that is fully God and fully human?  But that firestorm makes me hungry for more.  And the message of this season rests on the fact that God was in that manger.

May we never rush past this in the haste of the season.

 

 

 

 

Detours

The “check tire pressure” dashboard light was still on.  I had just been to the dealership to have the problem remedied but despite reassurance from the service personnel, the light remained. Frustration had moved in.  It was then that I saw her.  For the second time.  She had been huddled in her wheelchair under the city bus stop shelter earlier while on my way to the dealership.  This time though her collar was up and her head down as if in blizzard mode.  The temperature was dropping.   Her face, obscured by the angle of her hat, kept her anonymous. And anonymous is so much easier when one’s life is on a mission and the role of good Samaritan is more comfortably left behind in the Gospel narrative.  But conviction pressed into me.  After a couple of intersections, I turned the car around and headed back to that bus stop.

I wonder how many opportunities are sacrificed because I am too busy or worse unwilling to involve myself with another’s stuff.  My life is programmed for full speed ahead with or without fully inflated tires on my vehicle.  It’s the nature of the beast that when I arise in the early morning hours and contemplate my day, there is a plan of sorts.  The problem is that once I’ve gotten my dose of Jesus, I’m off at the starting gate.   And sometimes He gets left there.

“This law of the holy love of God and neighbor is the whole tamale.  The rest is just commentary.”

JD Walt / Seedbed.com

If I hover over the Gospel long enough though, it’s pretty clear that the elevation of my plans over God’s is an oxymoron.  In fact, no matter how lovely and well intentioned my plans, if they don’t flow from God’s purposes I’ve missed the mark.  Of one thing I can be sure : His purpose involves people.  All types.  Not just the ones that fit unobtrusively within the flow of my day.

Oh, there are so many times when I wish it were otherwise.  I lack patience for all the ins and outs of people.  We are all so incredibly needy and I fear disappearing into the potential sinkholes.  I prefer easy fixes.  A quick quote of Scripture and a few choice pieces of advice and you’re on your way.  But life is messy.  And Lord knows I’m messy.

A Kingdom focus does not allow for a compartmentalized life. His touch for another will not wait upon all my criteria to fall into place before I act. When I attempt to fit God into my life as an afterthought,  I’m guilty of filling the jar with the small rocks first. Instead, the important larger ones must be placed first to allow the smaller, less important to fit later. It doesn’t work the other way around. Its a great word picture for Matt 6:33 –

But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.

How easy it is to forget that His life is my life;  I died with him and I no longer live.  Lest it escapes me, dead people don’t have agendas.  It’s His agenda or nothing.  There really isn’t another choice if I call myself His child.

When I returned to the shelter, the bus was just pulling up.  The outer garment that I was prepared to offer this stranger was unneeded and the delay in my day was inconsequential. But the greater lesson learned was in that one tiny act of obedience: I shoved self aside.  I didn’t have to move any mountains that day, but I had purposed in my heart that I was willing. And sometimes that is the hardest mountain to move.

 

 

 

Two Thieves

Of all the flesh with which I struggle, forgiveness has never been one of them. Until recently.

Mr. B has waged a four year war against our family’s livelihood without basis. An angry but highly intelligent individual with no intimate relationships, real job or physical limitations, he relies upon government assistance while he spends every waking minute constructing false litigations.  His knowledge of law is eclipsed only by his apparent evil intent to deceitfully twist it to his benefit.

Loving this man is just plain hard. It’s one thing to forgive when the deed is past but it’s an entirely different matter to continue to forgive when you know the detonation is around the next corner. How does one keep the heart tender in these situations?

Hidden beneath headlines of the day to day, lies the story of one who knows. American Pastor Saeed Abedini daily endures mental and physical abuse at the hands of those holding him in Iranian captivity. Around each corner is indeed more suffering but God’s grace and mercy sustain him in such a way that numerous prisoners are coming to Christ. And what about the abusers hearts? Who can speak of what might be happening there?

Over 2000 years ago the perfect Son of God hung on a cross between two thieves. Neither thief was better than the other. Each was guilty, depraved and without hope but only one of the two acknowledged it. Even before earth’s foundation, the One wedged between them knew that sinful mankind would repeatedly tread across His heart. And yet he bore the cost of the world’s sin with his life, and offered forgiveness. End of story, right?

It should be. But it’s so much easier to justify my anger at my enemy because his venom spreads and slowly seeps into me.  The battle begins each time I see his derisive and diabolical web postings or hear he’s pursuing another malicious prosecution. My own cost in this legal debacle is not my physical life. But it might just be death to my rights and my security, all of which should rest in Him anyway.

Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them.  Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?

Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place

I desperately pray that Mr. B will relinquish the rage he spews our direction.  I want deliverance from this trial.  From watching the pain and exhaustion in the eyes of my beloved. But more importantly, my prayer is that he will recognize his own depravity and cry out to the One who can’t be manipulated by any law but will love him unconditionally.  Because in my heart of hearts, I recognize that Mr. B and I are both thieves, for without God’s grace and mercy, I too am desperate for my own way and trudge through the darkness.

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