Who inspires you? Pulls you up out of yourself? Even loves you enough to expose your limiting defenses? Who brings out the real you and celebrates all that you are and are becoming?
I'm beyond blessed to have many soul-sisters sharing this life-story of mine. But this blog: Bees Knees and Mac-n-Cheese has been influenced by, and is dedicated to, the one and only Judi Maloney. Many of you know and adore this woman of deep faith, high humor, and unrelenting grit. To describe her myriad of magnanimous qualities would go well beyond my word limit (my editor - Andy Six - says I need to keep these shorter to hold your - SQUIRREL - attention), so let me sum it up with one of Judi's personal mottos: "Stroke Shmoke".
5 years ago, and 2 weeks after running her first 1/2 marathon, at age 48 Judi suffered a severe stroke. Myself and many other friends and family joined in fervent prayer for her to 1) live, 2) recover, and 3) and turn sour lemons into sweet lemonade (Judi shares her own story and wisdom at: genuflecting.blogspot.com).
God answered our prayers. 1-2-3-check-check-check. Judi is whole-heartedly alive, recovering - though overcoming incredible obstacles, and despite daily pain, she is living with a passionate purpose to inspire others to become all God has designed them to be.
Fast forward to last month, when Judi and I challenged each other to write outside of our comfort zones. To trust how God made us and that He desires to work through us for who we are and where we are. No pretensions, no unreasonable expectations, no image management. Just raw, real, and relatable.
Sandy, another seasoned sister who championed my writing, said more than a year ago, "Less from your head, dear, and more from your heart." But how?! I wondered. How do we become more real? How do we tap into and intentionally participate in who we are becoming?
Bees Knees & Mac-n-Cheese for me is a word-picture. It conveys slowing down to savor the sweet and simple gifts of life. I think a story says it even better.
One of my favorite activities is cycling. Last Sunday, when our delayed spring temps finally warmed to 70 degrees, Andy and I took to the TART Trail for a 20-mile ride to Sutton's Bay. Countless conversations and joyful occasions have accompanied our miles peddling on this old railroad now bike trail. I was reminiscing on some of these memories when I noticed a new sign: WARNING - Bees Ahead.
On one side of the trail were apple and cherry trees begging to blossom. On the other were some very, very busy bee-boxes. As I scanned side to side, taking in the stunning scenery, we were suddenly showered by bee-bullets. Not the most enjoyable experience. At one point, I looked and a bee was buzzing along right next to me. Like he was on a parallel track. It was a Matrix-moment. The rural backdrop stood still and just this bee and I were floating along at the speed of the wind, wings, and wheels. I just smiled. Happy.
We wouldn't have been out for this ride, except the previous Friday I had completed my last course for my Master's of Ministry degree - and I was finally FREE! Overcome by unanticipated relief, I wept with wonder and gratitude. After several years of sacrificing my time to my studies, I was finally able to just "be" with my husband. To sip real lemonade, throw some burgers on the grill, and savor us some Cracker Barrel, sharp cheddar mac-n-cheese. To be fully present. To sit in unhurried silence without the weight of "what's next?" heavy on my mind. I was beginning to see that life was now suddenly slower. Sweeter.
This is the new me. I notice small, insignificant joys in the moment.
I ride with bees.
Life offers us many lessons. There will always be more yet to be known than what is known. Earning a master's degree taught me many things, but one concept is key: there is only One Master. I learned to not lean on my understanding but to look to the Master in whom exists all knowledge, wisdom, and power - who is full of grace and truth - mercy and unfailing love. He will direct. He will provide.
I started my studies seeking knowledge, which I hoped would grow into wisdom that would eventually bear fruit. But for a very long time I labored under the unspoken burden of becoming a "master". A responsibility that - thankfully - I was never meant to carry. I know many people who labor under a similar burden. I'll name it "enough".
Do questions like these frequently assault your mind: "Am I enough? Do I do enough? Am I ready? Do I belong? Am I wanted/needed? Do I have a purpose for my life?"
Answer key: You are. You do. You are. You do. You are. You do.
You see, if you want to be "real", if you want to intentionally participate in the wonder of all you've been created for... it's all about being.
"Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)
It's about being who He made you to be, doing what He's made you to do, trusting He will lead you, He's surrounded you with other bees who are becoming, we definitely need you (Judi and I will attest to that), and your purpose - although done in infinitely creative ways - is simply this: LOVE.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Walk in love. Let your faith be worked out in love. Love.
When we believe, really believe, we are God's BeLOVED. Then we can live to Be LOVE.
And that is "enough". Believe me, you don't need a master's degree. You don't need a platform, fans, or a following. You can survive a stroke and daily fight to take the next step in life. You don't need wealth or health or fame. You only need a neighbor beside you and God within you.
This is your mission: BeLOVED and Be LOVE.
This, as they say, is the "bees knees" - an excellent life, a life of highest quality! One that attracts and pollinates and produces and abundant harvest. One modeled after the Master. One I witness in Judi through her joyous pursuit of Jesus. A life we hope to inspire others to pursue as well - simple and sweet.
Just over the the tops of the lanky jack pine, over the red barn with the slightly oxidized steel roof, emerged the glimmer of a new day. My two border collies and the handsome golden retriever from next door playfully trotted through the meadow. The rays of the morning sun shot right through their long feathers, giving them the appearance of angels.
"I want that," I thought. To be free in the Son, with His light shining right through me so that the me that people see reflects His glory. Gives them a glimpse of heaven.
The last lumps of heaped up snow finally, and I do hope finally, have saturated the earth. The first blades of bold greenness announce a new season has arrived. After 7-months of northern Michigan, even the rocks are crying out!
My soul too. I need a new season. I need the sun. The Son.
Some seasons in life sneak up and attack us with such force that we curl up, inside of ourselves. We hibernate. We shelter ourselves from further assault on the outside, so that the wounds on the inside can heal. This rest from the world can be a gift for a season. But if we hide there longer than the appointed time; it can morph from darkness to a type of death sentence.
While I seem to be quite accomplished at seeing how to help others and what can be fixed in most areas of life, I'm pretty helpless and blind to myself. Isn't this common? While we can meet the needs of an army of family and friends, co-workers and clients, don't many of us struggle with naming a single need of our own? With asking? With receiving? While we can identify others who have issues; we often don't see our own. It's easier to stay blind. Deny. Numb.
I numb out in books. Books feel safe. Christian books; safer still. I deny my needs, and my issues, and instead imagine that it's all about knowing and growing in God and wanting to help others. All the while swatting at that nuisance, "physician, heal thyself," with a tennis racquet.
A week before Easter I found myself surprisingly engrossed in a completely new and different kind of book. "What If It's True," by bestselling novelist, Charles Martin. It's out of my norm, but I thought maybe it could be a catchy, completely new kind of Bible study. It's a "storyteller's journey with Jesus," and begins with blood dripping off the dying, mangled body of a crucified Christ.
Eyes instantly opened. Riveted on a pierced Savior.
Like sun rays penetrating through thick clouds of deep gray condensation, truth started shooting right through my partly cloudy theology. Martin's words were wounding, pruning, and preparing to heal. "What do you turn to when you want to be made to feel the way you want to feel? What in your life do you hold closer to your chest than Jesus? What are you not trusting Him with? Will you lay down your "Isaac" and pick up your cross? I'm not asking you to want to. I'm asking you to choose to."
Shaken. Slayed. Exposed.
I'd been turning once again to the most cunning of personal self-deceptions. I want life to turn out the way I want it to turn out. I don't like what I'm going through. I've been hurt. I've been used. I've been cheated. It's not fair. I want it to be fair. I've worked hard. I've sacrificed more. I've done everything I know to do. Why instead of walking in the light has it grown so dark? Why instead of growing and reaping has it seemed like dying slow?
Spoiler alert : Chapter 7: "The Toughest Thing You and I Will Ever Do" may be one of the toughest things you and I will ever read. Let me encourage you to pick it up. Read it. Don't run from it. I didn't. It's the reason why I'm writing this morning... as a Free Woman.
Do you want to be free? Do you want the Son shining through you, radiating His grace and goodness to the world around you, and giving glory to God? Let me ask you in short what Martin so skillfully pens out. Have you accepted the grace and goodness of Christ through His life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins? Yes? Good! So very good!
That's one side of the cross. That's the "Good Friday" side. But there's another side.
Martin tosses a proverbial coin in the air, "If life for the unbeliever on that side of the cross is, "Lord, please forgive me," then life for the believer on this side begins with, "Lord, I forgive ____________." You fill in the blank."
Not convinced? Let's line up with Scripture: "And Jesus answered them saying... Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions." (Mark 11:25-26) And "... forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us..." (Matt 6:12)
Good Friday: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Lk 23:34)
Post Resurrection: "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you." Then He breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone's sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." (Jn 20: 21-23)
"Forgiveness is the signature piece, the anchor, of a walk with Jesus. Forgiveness is love with legs." These few final words from Martin are just too good to replace with my own: "Forgiveness is the bedrock of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And here's the truth about the resurrection. The resurrection does not guarantee you a life free from hardship and suffering. The resurrection guarantees you the power to die Jesus' death and live Jesus' life."
Here's the truth about unforgiveness: it is the anchor of anger, the root of bitterness, the seed of self-pity, the judge over jealousy, the enemy of everything that is holy. Unforgiveness is the soil of the self. It's our genetic predisposition to our forefather - Adam. And unless it is eradicated from our souls, there will be less love and less light and more and ever expanding darkness.
But when we walk in the light as He is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7).
Blood. Cleansing. Payment and forgiveness for sin. All sin.
Yesterday, on the way to the Good Friday service, on the side of the road were two dead deer. This always hurts my heart. Normally I look away. But I couldn't help noticing a striking difference. The first one had been clipped. The second, clobbered. The first laid neatly on his side, face turned away, appearing as if sleeping. The second was unrecognizable. Its flesh shredded, clumps of it in the road, body lying in a pool of coagulating blood. His head had spun off the spine and was unnaturally cocked upward.
I'm not sure why this made me think of Jesus. It just did. I wondered if when we consider our sin, the sins we take to Jesus for forgiveness, if we envision the clean version of Jesus neatly laid upon a cross, loin cloth covering, speckled with a few drops of crimson paint. But when we weigh the weight of the sins of others, we somehow see the mutilated, shredded, unrecognizable Jesus?
The inspired authors of the biblical account of the crucifixion struggled with inadequate human language to describe the infinitely inconceivable soul-suffering Jesus endured. The best they could come up with for our human understanding was to portray the story in flesh terms, in a physical description that we might somehow be able to relate to.
But the physical, says Scripture, is a light and momentary affliction, which is preparing an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison (2 Cor 4:17-18). And, for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross (Heb 12:2). Let that shoot through your beliefs about forgiveness, shoot through your heart hardened from self-protection, shoot through your excuses for not surrendering it and placing it in the only scarred hands sovereign enough to handle it.
The cross stands, like a stake in the ground, marking off two territories: the kingdom of this world (an eye for an eye) and the Kingdom of God (the righteous for the unrighteous). The power that towers between the crosses of your life and my life, which are momentary afflictions, and the joy - an incomparable measure of glory ahead - is found only in Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Think on this a bit. Could it be the mighty power of Christ's resurrection that Paul longs to experience is forgiveness? On one side we receive. On the other, through Christ, we are able to give. Could it be that in this way we suffer with Him, sharing in His death, so that we will truly experience His life?
I want to know. I want to experience resurrection even now - even if it means getting on my knees in the hell only my soul knows, digging up those buried bones of harbored hurts... and believing Jesus' words, "It is finished." Tetelestai. Complete. Paid in full. Girl, let go; I've got it. I've got you. You are mine and, when you choose me, nothing can separate us.
This Easter Eve, between the two sides of the cross, is a fitting time to consider the agony and the weight of any unforgiveness we've been allowing to overshadow us. Consider the cost you've paid by letting it live rent-free in your dungeon. Has it done you any good? Or has its bitter root choked out your joy - your light?
When we forgive - get this - we are proclaiming a power that is only possible by the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus' forgiveness toward us, enables us - through Him - to forgive others (and ourselves). And the inner darkness that has clouded our thinking, good judgment, and generous grace toward others begins to dissipate and a new day dawns.
The glory of Jesus' light breaks through the darkness. The chains come off, prison doors fling open, and a fresh breeze beckons us into unmerited freedom! Why? Why does He do this - again and again and again, for as many times as we believe Him for forgiveness?
So we can know the glory of God, seen only in the face of Jesus Christ. And, because, now we have THIS light shining in our hearts, cloaked in clay-ish, fragile flesh, to make it clear that the Son's light shooting straight through our broken places is evidence, hard-core proof, that the great power that produces forgiveness, is not of ourselves, but from God.*
I think this Easter, it's time to that little light SHINE!!
(*my paraphrasing 2 Cor 4:6-7)
"I have loved you," says the Lord. (Malachi 1:2)
Before the sun set on 700 years of deafening silence, the book of Malachi offers us a brief glimmer of the Sun of Righteousness. It is a pinhole-in-cardboard glance into the tender heart of the Father just before the eclipse. The Old Testament concludes with God's final words directed to His chosen people - His treasured possession - who had become too casual, too self-serving in their worship of a Holy God. The similarity to today's worship world makes me tremble.
I realize a serious discussion of anything disagreeable these days in our culture of hyperbole is about as popular as leprosy. Even so, I believe there are those who sense something lacking in our worship. We sense there is vastly more. I offer here not so much a critique as a concern. Not an aimless rant about personal preferences, but a humble attempt to know what pleases and displeases God. I hope to enlighten and re-enlist your soul in the most significant mission imaginable, to move you and me to become more active worshipers.
My perspective of love and life was sadly formed – in part – on Disney and Dynasty. Feeding my young, impressionable mind on fairy tales, soap operas, and thriller novels (I read everything Stephen King before I could drive) made for a very skewed, pre-Christian assessment of the world. As a result, I lived in nearly constant fear and with a deep desire to be rescued.
That was until one Easter eve. My parents gathered my siblings and I together for a joyful occasion, around individual tins of Jiffy-Pop, to view the 80’s version of The Passion. As Jesus was thrust back upon Pilate and the crowds shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify HIM!!!” every fiber of my being boiled with white-hot intensity. Tears burned my face and I could barely bleat out my questions to two unnerved parents, “Why weren’t the people protecting and defending Jesus? Couldn’t they see He was innocent? What about everything He had done for them? How could they forget?!?!”
Through anger and anguish, my inflamed eyes glimpsed the most frightening fact of my life; I was a crucifier – a sinner, separated from and hostile to God. Yet, at the same time, my broken heart embraced this humble Hero of epic proportions who loved me, and proved it with His actions.
That evening I worshiped.
Dallas Willard said, "Jesus Christ stands for love, as no one else ever has, and pays the price for it. His crucifixion is the all-time high-water mark of love on earth."1 "While we were helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly." (Rom 5:6)
God has revealed His love to us in many ways, but most significantly through His Son: "The Son radiates God's own glory and expresses the very character of God, and He sustains everything by the mighty power of His command. When He cleansed us from our sins, He sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in Heaven." (Heb 1:1-3)
Jesus sat down, indicating, "It is finished." Among other things, we no longer have to worship Him with rigid rules and bloody bodied animals, nor with fear of Holy Fire scorching us to death for our foolishness. Thank GOD! But does that mean anything goes? Does that mean we can do whatever we want and call it worship? Does it mean He no longer has any standard?
I think it means, He first loved us and our love – for Him and others – is to be measured by the standard He set (Jn 13:34, 15:13, 1 Jn 3:16 – to name just a few). God intends for the reflection and direction of our lives to correspond in quality and nature to His life. I don’t know any other way for this to be done apart from living our lives rooted in His Word and branching out into His world.
John Piper expands more eloquently, “Letting the words of Jesus abide in us means letting Jesus himself abide in us. It means we welcome Jesus into our lives and make room for Him to live, not as a silent guest with no opinions or commands, but as an authoritative guest whose words and priorities and principles and promises matter more to us than anything else. But He also does not intend for our thinking about His words to replace relationship with Him through His words. Jesus is alive and as we take His words into our minds and hearts we are spiritually meeting with Him. And this, like nothing else, will change us into the kind of people who love what He loves.”2
I wish we made more time for reflection. Then, standing as still as glasstop lake, the simple truth of this statement: We reflect what we worship (Psalm 115) would help us to more accurately see who we are becoming – who or what we are worshiping.
Malachi, whose name means "my messenger," captured the Lord's weariness with worthless worship. "Oh that someone would close the doors of my Temple, so that these useless sacrifices could not be offered! You dishonor my name with your actions. You say, 'It is too hard to serve the Lord,' and you turn up your noses at my commands," says the Lord of Heaven's Armies. "A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your Father and master, where are the honor and respect that I deserve?"
Does your heart, like mine, reel with weakness? Our Lord is love sick, longing for those who will honor His name, by following His commands and emulating His character. Here He's making the point: His standard for worship is to the measure that our love is reciprocated - demonstrated through our actions, especially to those who are obscure and overlooked – without a hope in the world (Jn 13:35 and Is 29:13). In forty-seven of the fifty-five verses penned in Malachi, God pours His heart out for a people to honor Him with their giving, living, and loving.
Is anyone listening?
Last night I wandered around a large grocery store for four random items – one, it seemed, from each corner. Only a few weeks prior, I had made a dreadful blunder that necessitated shopping on Super Bowl Sunday. As one who enjoys shopping just a little less than the flu, the over-crowded store of aggressive fans made me nauseous. But last night, Valentine's evening, was the complete opposite - eerily empty. Only a few solo shoppers pushing carts of frozen food, clearance cupcakes, and hard liqueur.
My winter heart warmed with His whisper, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (Hos 6:6, Matt 9:13).
Then I wondered, what if worship is supposed to be like Super Bowl and Valentine's combined? Can you imagine... countless thousands of Jesus’ fans whooping and hollering, weeping and honoring, the Hero of Heaven – loving one another really and actually with the very love of God, and then storming His world with a victory song to seek the lost and cheer the lonely and loveless?!?
What if worship was less about an overwhelming, never ending, false-belief that we need to be continually rescued (for if anyone is in Christ he/she is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) and more about us being His ambassadors (vs. 20)? What if we were more caught up in who He is, what He's done, and what He promises to do that we could actually live Romans 12:1? "My brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your lives to God because of all He's done for you, let them be a living and holy sacrifice - the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him."
Those who have never heard of the Father who did not spare His only Son, the Son who willingly gave His life for the unrighteous, and the Spirit who never leaves us may never know about Him if we continue to live as damsels in distress. God commands us – He expects us – to worship with our lips and our lives. His gift to us is our gift to others. It is how we reflect His wonder and grace to those who wander the world without hope.
Years ago the phrase by Steven Covey, "Love is a verb," sent a shock wave through a culture craving a new paradigm. Love is a verb. Worship is also a verb - an action, a response, a whole-life commitment. Worship is our love reflected back to God. But what humbles me most is that we love because He first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).
Love originates in a person, Jesus – “the Sun of Righteousness who will rise with healing in His wings, and we will go free, leaping with joy!” (Mal 4:2). Jesus’ love is a love of action – giving, guarding, and guiding. His love in us is meant to be lived out, personally, through our lives. And this, I believe, is the meaning and mission of worship that God deems worthy:
"Love one another as I have loved you." (John 13:34)
I could end with '7-Steps to Worthy Worship,' but I feel the need to rely on the Holy Spirit to do His work in your heart, like He's been doing in mine. I know He will guide you into all Truth if you would get alone with Him. Get into His Word - His heart. Reflect. Repent. Relate. Rejoice. Reciprocate.
1 - Willard, Dallas - Renovation of the Heart
2 - Piper, John - When I Don't Desire God
"With such a vast sea of articles, quotes, blogs, and YouTube videos - a thousand voices vying for 30 seconds or 30 minutes of life's repository of time - why write? Why add to the noise, the clutter, the distraction? Why - when you have nagging, unanswered questions yourself - why would you attempt to speak faith into the life of others? Who do you think you are?" taunts my Enemy. He seeks not explanation, but to intimidate and germinate seeds of doubt and fear.
What voices of discouragement are nagging and dragging your thought-life through the mud? Has your path been one marked by seemingly insurmountable resistance? Have temptations or threats from your opponents caused you to loosen your grip, losing sight of the glory of the gospel? How can you hold on when hope has decreased and daily pressures increase?
A summer ago, my faith began a descent into unknown depths. Reeling from the unexpected loss of loved ones, diverted dreams, tectonic mid-life hormones, and academic fatigue, I stared at my life's landscape and despaired of yet another valley. The hope-rope once securely tied to my waist was not longer belayed. Frayed beyond function, it had to be discarded. Spilled and spent, I didn't know if I could go on. I didn't know that I wanted to go on.
Maybe this brings to mind a time in your life when what you faced seemed far greater than the faith you possessed? Or perhaps it pierces your present? Consciously we know that hope includes patient expectation on our part. But subconsciously we resist the very experiences that will expand, realign, and secure our faith to the unwavering reality and truths of God.
Always in the past, through craggy ups and downs and despite great pressure, I persevered - striving for the summit. But now it felt like I was no longer anchored to my once-secure point. After pursuing God's voice, calling from the mountaintop, I no longer could hear. Bone-chilling fog rolled in, and no longer could I see. I didn't know the way to go. Without vision, I was perishing. And so alone.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord asking,
'Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?'
And I said, "Here I am, Lord, send me."
Tears stung. Drawn from the Book of Isaiah 6:8, this was one of my first clear impressions of the Lord speaking directly to my young heart. The promise professed so confidently and boldly in youthful - but untested - zeal, has now been exposed to hard labor and deep loss. But 40 years later, by the grace of God, I still fight to faithfully embody these words of worship.
Like Isaiah, I have glimpsed the glory of the Lord. I have experienced His deliverance from sin and heard His purposeful calling. I've been blessed to share His burden for His people who: "keep listening, but do not understand, keep looking, but do not see, turning not to the Lord to be healed." (par Isaiah 6:10). Yet for all my determination, "Send me, Lord," has been an impossible vow to fulfill.
Then this truth of Scripture illuminated my mind, "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ... standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Be not afraid of your opponents, this will be a clear sign of their destruction, but of your salvation, which is from God." (Phil 1:27-28)
I am reminded of Nehemiah who faced immense pressure, an impossible task, and taunting opponents tempting him to turn back. How his love for the Lord and his heart, broken for his people, would not let him quit. Day by day, he and the people stood side-by-side to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem so they could make her, once again, a place of One-God worship.
Though pressure prevailed from his enemies, Nehemiah persisted. He found hope in humility, "But now, my God, strengthen my hands." (Neh 6:9) Nehemiah knew: no work, no wall; no wall, no worship. But he also knew his strength came from the Lord. Though he offered his hands, he resolutely committed the work to God.
What work are you facing the temptation to turn from? Is it building a life - or a ministry - on God's blueprint? Or maybe, it's tearing down one built on your own? Maybe it's overlooking an offense or forging forgiveness? Is it waiting on the Lord? Bearing the burden of illness? Loving the unlovely? Serving in secret? Accepting the past? Embracing the unknown? Or just being patient in your - or with someone else's - process?
Nehemiah offered his life, but he committed the completion of the work to God. Have I been doing that? Have you? Or have we been overlooking this marvelous facet found in the glory of the gospel? Have we believed for so long and been diligent in doctrine, but yet deceived? Have we drifted into thinking our own strength is required to fulfill the promise?
This time of great pressure, has reminded me that whether I am on a mountaintop or in a valley - building walls or surrounded by rubble - my manner of life must be worthy of the gospel. That is: dependent on the finished work of Christ. No only believing in the gospel, but living the gospel. This is done by standing and striving with other believers in faith, and being not afraid - but believing the strength, salvation, and glory are the Lord's.
I write to you, still in the valley, but now I am able to thank the Lord for this season of rest from laborious striving in my own strength. For reminding me, "It has been granted to you on Christ's behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for him." (Phil 1:29) For reawakening me to the wonder of His gospel, that not only saves from sin, but also from slavery to self-generated ideas and identity.
I don't think it's unusual or out of the ordinary that we sometimes imagine things about God, the church, or the Christian life that are super-heroic, but supra-biblical. They offer excitement, appeal, and a form of the truth, but they lack substance. They won't hold up to the real pressures of life, because often the outcome is designed and dependent upon us.
Peter profoundly experienced this after he and the other disciples had a scuffle about their position and importance in the future plans of Jesus (Lk 22:24-30). Jesus' response gives us some insight into the purpose of pressure: "Simon, Simon - Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Lk 22:31-32)
Faith falters in the furnace of affliction, when that faith is generated in the imagination of man. But when our faith is found in God, it forms the foundation of true joy.
Later in 1 Peter 4:12-13, Peter - our biblical poster-child for, "No pressure, no diamond" - explains, "Dear friends, don't be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes to test you - as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when His glory is revealed."
Trials, tests, ordeals, and valleys are all part of the purification - the proving of our faith. That our faith and our joy may be found in the person of Christ, the work of Christ, and the purposes of Christ - not in our self-made identities and ideas of spiritual success.
While the voice of the Enemy may tempt and taunt you with words that wound and cut to the core. Cling to Jesus. Remember, Jesus is the Diamond who has undergone every temptation to man and not failed, but prevailed. So you can believe with confidence, that as we are in Him, and He in us - He will strengthen our hands and our hearts. He will complete the good work He's begun in us! (Phil 1:6)
I'm fairly certain the first flakes of snow were laughing as they landed on my lashes. The breeze off Long Lake was biting my hands. I steadied the camera just in time to capture the reflection of autumn's leaves as they softly fell to sleep for a season.
Seasons always arrest my attention. They capture me speeding through my days, avoiding the red dot-black arrow, "You Are Here," of life. It's a frustrating question. But one, that if progress is to be made, we must ask. Where is "here"? Inquiring minds want to know, because "here" happens to be an integral part of knowing who "you are".
Knowing "You Are Here" helps us to assess who we are, where we are, and provides a clue of where we are heading. When times are good, current coordinates must be calculated in order to stay the course or chart new adventures. Or when there are those terrifying times, when you feel lost - adrift upon an aimless, endless ocean you cry, "How did I get HERE?!?"
Have you ever scanned the horizon for a sign of safe harbor, but your Strong Tower was hidden from sight? I can't think of anything more frightening than the thought of being cut off from God. "Cut off from God?" you rightly question. "That's not possible!" And I would have judiciously agreed ... until I experienced it for myself.
"Your iniquities have SEPARATED YOU FROM GOD and your sins have HIDDEN HIS FACE FROM YOU so that He will not hear." (Is 59:2)
This is a word not to unbelievers but to God's children. A word I've recently had to take to heart and let bring me to my knees. No, God does not leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5), but when we have trouble seeing Him, believing He is there, this compass points to a decisive divergence seldom spoken of by seasoned believers... that we can believe in God and be going in the wrong direction. That we still need seasons of assessing where we are, being honest before the Lord and asking Him to expose the motives of our hearts, and confessing and repenting where we have been wrong.
I hate being wrong. I hate thinking I've been right, and have had a right to maintain and defend my position, only to find out there was a bigger picture of which I was assuming the outcome - usually most pleasing to myself. I was not considering the biblical principal that the path of most resistance is often where God produces great glory. Let's first look at the perfect picture:
"While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God's Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way God qualified him as the perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. (Heb 5:7-9)
Now let's be honest with ourselves. Regardless of how long we've known and loved Jesus or how much we've done in His name; we still struggle to obey (Luke 6:46). We still fall short. We still sin. But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us from our sins. (1 Jn 1:8-9) Let this arrest your attention: "If we... He is..." I want us to catch the not so covert contingency and acknowledge the fact of our responsibility.
If you're a fairness fighter like me, I wonder if you would agree that we have an uncanny ability to gradually drift into an abyss when we think we are always right? We can be convinced that knowledge and duty and a morally clean record somehow outweigh the ungoverned (and - to be fair - sometimes unconscious) tendency to be the determiner of a specific destination. We have taken the helm from God and are navigating on our own sense of "good and evil". Is it any wonder as we wander that our spirits soon hang heavy with frustration and resentment?
In Isaiah 58 there is a conclusive line drawn between true and false worship. God's people are going through the motions of worship thinking they are doing right, but they are going determinedly and disastrously in the wrong direction. Instead of their lives humbly reflecting God in His goodness, they are living in a way that has made them right in their own eyes.
God's gaze penetrates into the human heart. The reality is, right living (following the rules) in the wrong way (for power, position, promotion or some personally predetermined outcome) will result in pride. Pride has two razor-sharp edges. It not only separates us from God, but flips us in direct opposition (Js 4:6) to Him and His way of humble love. This is why Isaiah 59:2 says, we lose sight of His face and our prayers fall on deaf ears.
God graciously gives His people guidelines and guarantees that if they obey, "Salvation will come like the dawn, your wounds will quickly heal, your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. "Yes, I am here," He will quickly reply." (Is 58:8-9)
What could be more comforting? The Lord has you covered - your future, your past, your forward, and your back. And when you call on Him, He not only hears, He quickly replies. God hears the prayers of those who "reverence" or trust in Him. Are you here? Or have you been trusting too much in yourself?
Have you lost sight of God and His goodness? Do you wonder whether your pleading prayers are being heard? Where are you? What more do you need to get your attention today? What will stop you in your tracks of trying to control the outcomes... and let God be God?
I know seasons we wish we didn't have to endure come, but I also know firsthand that it's no use clinging to something God no longer has for us. Like magnificent messengers, let's listen to the lesson of the leaves: let go when it's time. Surrender. Fall into the arms of the Father. You are His. And there's no better place to be than here.
For behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away (Song of Solomon 2:11-13).
Lord, through all generations you have been our home!
Before the mountains were born,
before you gave birth to the earth -
from beginning to end, you are God!
Seventy years are given to us,
some even live to eighty,
but even the best years
are filled with pain and trouble;
soon they disappear and
we will fly away!
Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Satisfy us each morning with
your unfailing love,
so we may sing for JOY
to the end of our lives.
(Psalm 90: 1-2,10,12,14)
Forty-eight years have been given to me, so far. The first thought on my birthday mind this morning was, "Thank YOU, God!" Then like a silent picture show, scene by scene and name by name the people who have been my life-shapers came to mind.
My parents - oh how you've loved and guided this determined first-born. You've encouraged my love of cats and dogs, sea and sand, and all things outdoors, and respected my introversion, introspection, and need for quiet reflection. You've understood well the gaping chasm where my personality dwells between big ideas and big fears, and yet you have challenged my courage and helped me form a foundation of faith.
My husband, you couldn't have known all you were in for when you first said, "I do." But I'm sure glad you did! You've been my champion, my lead sled-dog, and the wings where I find both shelter and a higher perspective. Your melodies shake and stir my melancholy and often resuscitate my weary soul. Thank you for your patience, listening to my processing and day-dreaming about redeeming everything I see, you mean so much to me. Thank you also for sharing your two, tow-head boys, who are now both growing, godly men - which brings me great joy!
I love my, and Andy's, siblings, spouses, and their offsprings. The picture above was taken just a week ago, at Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes with my rambunctious, youngest niece. She loves "dirt and rocks" like me, and she said, that makes us twins.
I think about my aunts and uncles, cousins, the Kiwi girls, so many friends from West Side and Grace Spring churches. Co-workers and co-laborers in the kingdom. Teachers and authors. Pastors and worshipers. Some who have flown away to their eternal home, and some from whom I still have much to learn.
I think about Cindy, Michele, Colleen, Jenny, Hillary, Inga, and Ingi Thor, some of my dearest, long-time friends who have shared life's highest adventures and with whom I've walked some dark valleys. Faithful friends.
Sandy, Sara, Sherry, Debbie, Michelle, Miranda, Shelby, Kim... I'm so glad we didn't hesitate, but dug our hands into the soil of life and planted seeds, which only needed one-year to take root, but will produce a lifetime of fruit. Many more could be added to this list, you know who you are.
For new and old neighbors. For new and seasoned sisters who have opened their hearts and lives to me. I love that you have shared your story, your heartbreak, your hopes, your questions... and as we struggle to solve life's riddles, I'm all the wiser because we walk it out together. We may try, but we know we will never mine the depths of life's Majestic Mystery, but when we ponder the brevity of life... our hearts find their rest and their nest in the Lord, who is our Home wherever we go.
"The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume." -- Prov 27:9
"A friend loves at all times." -- Prov 17:7
"Share one another's burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ." -- Gal 6:2
"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." -- Prov 27:17
"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as signs of God's grace." -- 1 Peter 4:10
There are so many of you that I would like to name personally, you know who you are, each and all of you have been a gift to me. And I thank God, the giver of all good gifts for YOU!
"You are a royal priesthood... God's very own possession... so that you can show others the goodness of God, who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light." 1 Pet 2:9
When I lived in Iceland, I jumped at the opportunity to climb some majestic mountains. I still recall standing breathless, imbibing the wonder of a world beyond my comprehension. A summit powerfully reminds me how small I really am. How insignificant my existence seems in the overarching theme of humanity. What am I but dust... yet I must never forget... I am made in the image of God the creator, saved from myself by His one and only Son, and empowered by His Spirit for the purpose of displaying His glory.
I find this personal relationship with God, confirmed in the grand redemption theme of the Bible, to be the most thrilling fact of life. And this is why I treasure the gift of preaching. My pastor works diligently to bridge the gap that no mountain ever could between earth and eternity. He is anointed and appointed to proclaim God’s truths to those who will hear. But the glory of the Gospel can't be limited to just the Sunday service, so what about those who never cross the threshold to hear the Word of God preached?
This is where Scripture helps me to realize it's not only my pastor's responsibility to share the Gospel. I also have a personal responsibility to explore the foundations of Christian faith and the vastness of God's love while becoming a true image-bearer. To do so means keeping the compass of my heart aligned with God's grace.
For by grace we have been saved, and here’s what is so stunning, Ephesians 2:6-7 says, “For God raised us from the dead along with Christ, seating us with Him in the heavenly realms... so God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of His grace toward us.” As we live in awe and gratitude for His grace, we become God’s COMPASS for others who wouldn't even know where to begin this journey.
The Apostle Paul says in Romans 10:13-15 (par) everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But they cannot call on Him unless they believe in Him. And they cannot believe unless someone is sent to tell them. He is saying, while there is equal opportunity offered; it still must be delivered.
We, as God’s compasses – His messengers, are sent into the world to preach the Gospel with our lives. Our living testimonies are meant to draw others into His marvelous light. We are often uniquely positioned as an arrow to point someone in need to the Sunday gathering of fellow sojourners around God's Word for worship. And, while we may never fully comprehend the mystery, our message may reach one who wouldn't hear of such heavenly horizons anywhere else.
Always remember, while we may seem small and insignificant in our own eyes, His grace is perfected in our weakness. It pleased Him who created the mountains and galaxies to choose the very dust of earth to reflect His glory.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home and builds her nest
and raises her young at a place near your altar,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God!
What JOY for those who can live in your house,
always singing your praises!” -- Ps 84: 1-4
The Psalms are deeply loved because they reflect realities, giving rich, emotional expression to that which is common to our experience as children of God. The psalmists often share of some desperate need of deliverance, of being awestruck and then celebrating the goodness of God. And they also illustrate for us a way of life that can carry us through on the wings of praise too.
Last spring I had just such an experience. I was engaged in one of those Bible studies that swiftly shatter false notions.
The question was asked, “What do you think God sees… when He sees you?”
Let me ask this question of you, before you go on. Think about it but not too long or too hard. What is the first word, image, or thing that comes to your mind? My startling discovery was that the God from whom nothing is hidden, who knows the secrets of my heart, and before whom I can stand completely exposed and emptied of any image management sees… a scared, little bird.
This is a far cry from the fond memory my parents share of how their baby girl would wake before the sun came up - and well before they wanted to get up - and like a little songbird I would sing the day into existence. I don’t exactly know when or why that changed for me, but when I examine my heart... worry often outweighs worship and genuine joy is elusive. I so desperately want that to be different.
I know I’m not alone. Many of us struggle with our own smallness and overwhelming expectations and circumstances of life we find our loved ones and ourselves in. Then there is also tremendous grief and loss, which needs a deeper treatment of the Scriptures than what I'm addressing in this blog.
My question to take in hand today is: how are we to ascend on wings of joy when the rigors life gets us down? Psalm 84 shows us that there is a way. The message we find here is that the greatest joy in life is found in the presence of our Lord and God; dwelling in a place near His altar results in active faith, inner courage, and joyful dependence.
The psalmist says he would give anything for it. “Better is ONE day in your presence, than a thousand elsewhere (vs 10).” God’s nearness and personal proximity mean everything to him – and can also to us – not only when things are going well, but also especially when we are feeling displaced, weak, and hopeless.
Another probing question for us is, do we hear these words and cling to them as life lessons or do we dismiss them simply as pretty poetry? Do we take them, as we should, as the very words and wisdom of the Spirit of God? These words were written through the life-ink of a soul - just like ours - who has at last recognized the enormous value of his smallness is how it magnifies the greatness of God!
Let’s look at three treasures to be obtained in the presence of God:
When I meditate on the first four verses of this Psalm, it occurs to me how disordered my life can quickly become. I flit and flutter around here and there, consciously trying to do everything as “unto the Lord,” but unconsciously end up trying to do everything and be everything to everyone. I vacillate between trying to appear calm in the face of the storm, but deep inside feeling small and wanting just to find rest. “How lovely is your dwelling place… I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter your presence – your rest.” (v 1-2, par)
Just today, as I showered, the flickering lights hinted, the predicted typhoon-ish storm was passing through. To my surprise, when I drew back the curtain one dog was about to dive into the shower with me and the other was wildly – albeit unsuccessfully – attempting to hide behind the stool. When I stepped out and into the room, they both instantly calmed. Even though the storm still swirled, and the whites in their eyes confirmed the fear was still present, in my presence they were able to rest. In their simple doggy way they seem to know, no matter what comes; I will always take care of them. I am their safe-place.
God promises rest and joy for those who trust Him, but sadly, some fail to experience it. (Heb 4:1-9). The rest God has prepared for us is not only regarding an eternal destination, but it is also meant to be a present application. However, in both cases, it can only be obtained by faith. Not faith in our own sufficiency or in an anxiety-free or adversity-free life, but faith in another life: the life and work of Jesus.
Did you happen to notice where the fragile birds establish their nest? At a place near the “altar” of God. Now, this phrase in a New Testament sense must mean something different than the blazing, flame-filled area around the altar of sacrifice alluded to by the psalmist. A dried nest, not to mention a living bird, could not dwell safely in such a place.
The psalmist, prophetically conveying timeless truth, gives us this most glorious secret: when we live in view of the “altar”, which means when we live with a constant awareness of how the sacrifice and the Good News of Jesus Christ has forever transformed life – we need not ever be afraid. For here, at a place near the altar, is where we can “abide in the shelter of the Most High. For He alone is our refuge, a place of safety. He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” (Psalm 91)
“Do you see the great lesson here? The Christian life is a life of day-by-day, hour-by-hour trust in the promises of God to help us and guide us and take care of us and forgive us and bring us into a future of holiness and joy that will satisfy our hearts infinitely more than if we put our trust in ourselves or in the promises of this world. And that day-by-day, hour-by-hour trust in God's promises is not automatic. It is the result of daily diligence.” – John Piper
Such diligence is founded on present, active faith fixed upon God Himself. Not on your finances or your retirement account. Not in your health or your strength. Not on perfection or performance. Not on your husband or on your child and not even on church, or good works, or on being a good person - these are some of the good things that can deepen our relationship with Him, but when they become our central focus – more often than not – they draw our attention away from Him.
Little bird, let me speak tenderly from personal experience, putting faith in our own works (even the work of 'pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps') is a constant and dangerous temptation. Putting faith in your own abilities or anything or anyone other than God creates anxiety. Anxiety is an indication that faith must supply a trust deficit – a fear that God will not or cannot take care of us. For Jesus clearly says, “Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Matt 10: 29-31)
The opposite of fear is not self-courage; it is faith – which is courage anchored in the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Many of us unknowingly place our faith in our perceived ability to control external circumstances. Scripture says, “You will keep her in perfect peace, the one whose mind is fixed on You, because she trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3)
Why do we falsely live as though the outcome we desire is solely dependent upon us? We who overthink frequently know that chronic worry will eventually sweep us away into the depths of unbelief, distancing us from the very peace we seek. "But I've been anxious all my life," you say. Or "I can't seem to get my mind out of this rut." This is where you CAN do something, and that is replace worry with the Word of Truth.
The Apostle Paul, who continually fixed his mind on Christ even though he had more than a lion’s share of uncontrollable circumstances, says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Think on things that are true, honorable, right, lovely and praiseworthy…tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we could possibly understand!” (Phil 4: 4-9 par)
Ahhh, but there is more…
“Keep putting this into practice and always be FULL of JOY in the LORD!”
Which brings us to the third treasure: praise offered to God has a soothing effect and the ability to produce the most profound joy! The sparrow not only finds peace and rest in the Shelter of the Almighty, but she also desires to raise her chicks here. To the next generation, not only her own chicks, she shares this secret: great joy can be found within community, in view of Jesus, singing His praises! Yes, He, who sits enthroned above the world and cares for every solitary sparrow, also inhabits the praise of His little birds. (Ps 22:3)
I pray you can you begin to grasp the marvelous mystery unfolding here. When we choose to “live” in God’s presence, feeding on His promises, experiencing His all-surpassing peace, praising Him with our whole being … He inhabits, “lives in,” that praise! And while it is reciprocal, sister - do not think it is equal. For our teacup of joy overflows and is filled over and over again as we are filled with the continual fountain of His joy! (Jn 16:9-12)
What we come to experience is:
“What joy?” (question mark) becomes: “What JOY!” (exclamation point)!
I don’t deny there are troubling times, while we are still in the midst of a trial or turbulent storm, that we must offer a “sacrifice of praise”. It is a sacrifice precisely because it costs us something at the altar. Surrender the outcome in the faith of Abraham and receive the wise words of Oswald Chambers, “God does not give us overcoming life – He give us life as we overcome.” The very stresses and strains - and even the sacrifices - of life build the wing-strength needed to fly. If there is no strain – there can be no soaring.
The Bible references God’s saving and strength-renewing power as being “carried on wings like eagles.” (Ex 19:4, Is 40:31) There is all the difference in the world between the false notion that you - a little bird - must soar yourself above life’s adversities. Compared to the joy and freedom found as you discover you are being delivered and restored through them! Yet this is precisely how the small sparrow can bring great glory to God.
What JOY for those whose strength comes from the Lord!
What JOY is found when little birds, in faith and trust, are carried on wings like eagles!
"So let us not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we do not give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone - especially those in the family of faith." Gal 6: 9-10
I relished the opportunity to have a couple hours to myself one evening last week. Life, once again, was spinning out of my (perceived) control and I was distancing myself from my emotions - trying to keep the agony from awakening. It seemed, if I allowed the dam to break and let loose the torrential waters of all that was happening... surely I would be overtaken. But if I could just let the sorrow sleep, the loss lie low, then soon this season too shall pass and I would come forth wiser for the wear and tear.
My neighbor, the farmer, atop his green and yellow Deere was plowing, preparing the soil to sow. As much as I wanted to finish the final pages of "Seeking the Face of God," by the masterful Martyn Lloyd Jones... my thoughts kept pulling me to the window and the upturned field. The golden arches of the sun's last strength fizzled, but the diligent farmer continued his work from dusk until dark.
God is always at work. He is upturning the soil of hearts hardened by sin - perpetually present in the world and in the self. He is always cultivating opportunities for our character to reproduce the fruit of His Spirit, because the seed of Christ has been sown in hearts that are His. Scripture says, if anyone is in Christ, we are a new creation and the old seed has passed away and the new seed of the Spirit has been planted (2 Cor 5:17 para).
Another field just down the dirt road already has symmetrical rows of sweet corn, straining through the soil. Only 3 or 4 tender inches have emerged but just enough to reveal what they will become - 10-foot tall sturdy stalks that will produce a hefty harvest.
The seed is a miracle. A kernel of powerful potential. Maybe your understanding, experience, or knowledge can comprehend its mystery better than I can - but I don't need to understand it really - I just love to marvel at it and reflect, in my introspective way, on how it teaches us principles of the heart of God, the law of Christ, which is love.
For the past year, several women have been sowing love-seeds into my life. Meals, laughter, learning together, serving, sharing and bearing burdens, opening homes and hearts, and revealing Christ within. None of them would think that they had done anything miraculous; it would seem so seedling small. Yet little did any of us know that the upturned soil of my recent relocation provided just the right conditions for those seeds to take root and begin to grow a grander, more relational faith walk.
I fear, like many of us, that the crushing circumstances of life will harden my heart. I fear that when I have been reduced to the smallest kernel of self that I will not have what it takes to continue. But this is the opposite of what we learn from Jesus. As He approached His imminent death He said, "Unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But it's death will produce many new kernels - a plentiful harvest of new lives." (John 12:24)
This verse is clearly about a loving Savior who humbled Himself and became man and died the death we deserved to reveal the relational nature of His Father. He who "didn't want heaven without us, so Jesus you brought Heaven down"1. But the principle is for us too. You see, we reap relationships when we also - like Jesus - sow love. While we give something of ourselves away, the return can be so rich!
We should not get tired of doing good to others; we should be inspired! We will reap relationships when we sow love. When we bear one another's burdens, we are spreading the seed of Christ's sacrificial, actual, practical - roll your sleeves up and sink your elbows in - love. This is how the Holy Spirit produces in us His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22). What is important, proclaims the great Apostle Paul, is faith expressing itself in love (Gal 5:6).
In a world conditioned to withhold ourselves out of fear, how brilliantly the faith of these women - expressed through their love - has shown. This takes theology right off the black and white page and births it into full color! It is true, I love - and desire that everyone would love - theology. But the old adage, no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care, comes to mind.
In closing, here are a few treasures of Scripture that can help our faith stay rooted in love:
We read in Jeremiah 4:3, “Break up your fallow ground …” Understand that the difficulties and trials in life are often ways that the Lord is using to break the hardness that has crept into our hearts. Maybe that hardness is the result of unforgiveness or bitterness? Maybe it is that we have become too comfortable with ways and a walk that are out of step with the Spirit? I read recently that we often pray for God to change our circumstances, but maybe He has allowed our circumstances to change us.
In Psalm 126:6 we read, “They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return for the harvest." We are to sow the seed of the Word of God and the love of God first into our own hearts and then also into our relationships. Farmers know there are seasons. And there are seasons for us as well. Times of weeping provide the opportunity to sow seeds of faith - that God will bring good to pass out of what now does not seem good. Often the JOY we reap after the summer days of sunshine is a result of faith seeds sown in a season of despair.
Hosea 10:12 reveals God's words, as He says, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness; and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord that He may come and shower righteousness on you.” Did you catch that? As we plant our feeble seeds of right living and right loving, the return on our investment is a SHOWER of His righteousness! And again, we see that after the hardness has been plowed, a harvest of love is yielded!
These principles are so profound for our relationships. I can't express it any more clearly; we reap relationships when we sow love. And these relationships are then the seeds sown back into a world without a hope and in desperate need of our Savior. See the root of relationship is God, Himself. We don't just have or experience relationships as a means to an end, but to reflect the relational, incarnational, love of God - His righteousness - back into the world!
God is the root. Relationships with God and others are both the seed and the subsequent tree. And love is the fruit. They are all connected. This is why we will reap what we sow... so go, and simply sow in love! There is much to be harvested!
I would like to just take this moment to thank the wonderful women of gracespring Bible Church in Richland, Michigan for this past year. I had no idea when we moved here last summer that I would only have a season with you (Debbie, Tammy, Kim, Sandy, Sara, Michelle, Miranda, Shelby, Sherry, Reina, Mikayla, Amy, Alanna, Robbi, Lori, Karen, Erin, Jaci, Julie, Stephanie, Ashley and many more). You see, the Lord didn't let me go to my book about seeking His face, because as I reflected on the farmer and the field that evening, I realized that I saw His face in YOU! Your willingness to throw your arms wide open, share your lives with me, and sow love into my fallowed heart has revealed the love Christ more fully than anything else I've ever experienced. In returning to Traverse City, know that I carry the seeds you have sown, and anticipate God will bless the harvest in all His Church. May our labor of love have eternal impact!
I also want to express my deep gratitude to Alongside, a restoration ministry for pastors and missionaries, for allowing me to come alongside and learn from their love for God, His global Church, and eternal kingdom. I have never had such meaningful work and such fertile soil to sow my seeds of love. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to catch a glimpse into how far, wide, and deep is the love of God.
1 Lyrics from the Song, Wonderful Name, by Hillsong
Gethsemane and Golgotha teach us that Jesus’ perfection and passion release God’s power but in different forms. The garden of Gethsemane echoes the haunting cries of the Suffering Servant, “Lord, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” We can hardly imagine a more desperate, desolate prayer. We know of no other – not one – who perfectly loved the Father and lived without sin. And yet the plea of the Son does not deter the Father from His sovereign purposes.
Several horrendous hours later, Golgotha’s hills and highest heavens hear the Savior gasp, “Father, forgive them.” As His body is broken and blood poured out for the sin of mankind, the veil in the temple – representing man’s separation from a holy God – is torn from top to bottom. Access to the Most Holy Place has been purchased for those who will look on Christ, believe – and so choose to follow Him, and be saved.
The power of God is released in Gethsemane by impartation of inner strength to accomplish God’s will. Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” But on Golgotha, God’s power was released on behalf of Jesus into the external circumstances of man to purchase the forgiveness of sin, redemption from death, and reconciliation with the Father. God’s power provided everything Jesus needed to accomplish the greatest triumph the world will ever know.
God’s power was exhibited in different forms in the garden and on the hill, but for the same purpose: that His perfect will, will be done. And there comes a point in the Christian life where what’s true of Christ will also be true of us, because Christ lives in us. Christ is not only our payment but also our pattern.
There's an old song, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, by William Cowper that puts it far better (and in fewer words) than I ever could... the essence that God's sovereign will is so unfathomable, interrelated, and so full of unimaginable grace that we only... need... to... trust. (Click on the song title and it will take you to YouTube - Jeremy Riddle - modern version.)
We often want to experience power in prayer to remove some burden or to secure something we desire. But we feel so achingly powerless, so weak, so contorted around our own will - even for good things. And still we pray. We believe. We look to Him who defies all expectations and explanations - who works in mysterious ways.
One of those mysteries is that God works in and through His children. To be sure, the prayer is ours, but the power is always His! God is always looking for someone to stand in the gap through prayer so His saving power may be released. That someone is Jesus, who stands at the right hand of the Father in glory and lives in us through the power of the Holy Spirit!
I recently attended a funeral where the popular and stunningly beautiful song, now a hit movie, "I Can Only Imagine," was sang through raw throats and burning eyes. It passionately and poetically conveys the believer's desperate longing to see Jesus face to face and be surrounded by His glory. But, I almost couldn't contain myself, I wanted to jump up on my chair and shout, "You don't have to ONLY imagine! You don't have to wait until you get to glory! You can walk with Him and talk with Him and be in His presence now, because our Savior lives!!!"
This Easter, look again to Jesus and His saving sacrifice, God’s greatest power displayed. But don't look at a corpse on a cross. Your Savior lives!!! He is alive. He lives to make intercession for us. That means you can ask anything you want in His holy name, knowing your prayers are not dependent on your passion or perfection, but His, and believe that His power dwells in you to accomplish God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
“God Moves in a Mysterious Way”
by William Cowper
God moves in a mysterious way,
his wonders to perform;
he plants his footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines,
of never-failing skill;
he fashions up his bright designs,
and works his sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
the clouds that you much dread,
are big with mercy and
will break in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence,
he hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding every hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
and he will make it plain.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
the clouds that you much dread,
are big with mercy and
will break in blessings on your head.