Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Inertia of the Soul

So the boys and I are studying science and inevitably my youngest asks me to explain inertia--like that's just something that I should know without needing to google it. If there's one thing I've learned teaching the boys it's that I'll never have all the answers to their questions, but google will. And naturally, I google it because any explanation I give will be sketchy at best. Inertia is the resistance of any object to a change in its state of motion. As I sat there--flanked by two dusty-haired boys --discussing with them how if something is still, it wants to stay that way. Take a rock for example--it doesn't really want to move. It's kind of lazy. In the same way though, when that rock gets pushed down a hill, it doesn't want to stop either. Motivation for change is apparently rather hard to come by in the world of inanimate objects. Then again, perhaps inertia is not exclusive. Perhaps mankind too suffers from a form of inertia--inertia of the soul. Look how long it took humans to recognize slavery as an abuse of our fellow man? I'm not talking slaves that came from Africa here to the United States. We didn't write that book--slavery was around since the earliest of civilizations. There were Spartan slaves and Chinese slaves, there were slaves in Rome and frankly, there are still slaves to this day. Thousands of years and we can't seem to quit moving in that direction. Inertia. Consider the heart of Pharaoh--a man whom Egyptians considered a god. Surely he could change his mind and free the Israelite people. Yet he was steadily moving towards massive pyramids and he needed those Israelites to make bricks. It didn't matter what plague hammered his country, he was moving in the direction of bricks. That my friends, is inertia personified. So I am holding this concept of inertia in my heart, mulling over it, and I can't help but consider how I may be affected by it. I'm a task oriented person, so there's that--don't interrupt me when I'm in the middle of washing the dishes or I may need to take a pill. But I'm talking deeper than epidermal personality type stuff. I'm talking about the organs of my soul--the core of who I am. Do I resist the prodding of the Holy Spirit without even realizing that I'm doing it? Do I insist on mobility when He's whispering Stop, Sarah? What areas are there in my life where I've become completely still and yet God wishes me to move? What areas are there in my life where determined not to stop, I've run for so long while God longs for me to be still? My eldest son has this thing with being teachable. Though tender and generally very amiable and compliant, when it comes to doing something differently from how he has already started to do it, be ready. You'll encounter resistance. Take lay-ups for example. I saw he was struggling with making them consistently. So, like any other mother would do, I got a DVD on the fundamentals of layups and watched the entire thing. Then, I went outside and tried my hand at the new set of skills. And presto! Momma's making lay-ups in her thirties! Then I walked Nate through the process, step by step. He understood, but felt like he was doing just fine the other way. After all, his real problem wasn't his fundamentals, it was that he was doing them on a gravel driveway. Well, that's the way he saw it anyway. He took one or two shots and then just went right back to what he was doing before. I'll spare you the two weeks of teaching details, but eventually with lots more help from dad and some real encouragement, he figured out he wasn't listening to us. And he realized that as soon as he actually stopped and listened to what we were saying and then changed his state of motion, he could hit those shots. Now he's still got some inertia going on, but it's in the right direction and he's making lay-ups in the process. I don't think inertia itself is the problem, I think the problem we encounter is when we find ourselves going one way and God's heart for our lives is another. Consider Jonah--he headed the opposite direction from Nineveh because he did not want to be where God sent him. Sometimes it's as simple as sharing the love of Christ with our neighbor by bringing them some muffins, but our favorite cooking show is on and who wants to leave during Rachel Ray? Sometimes it's an addiction we can't even admit out in the open and we've stayed in the direction of that addiction for so long. We are the wrong way. And how that must break the heart of our Father. Not because we are not doing what we were created to do, but because we are not experiencing the joy of being who He created us to be. I find it encouraging to consider the definition of inertia. I think we naturally resist change. The devil we know is better than the one we don't. We'd rather keep eating ice cream by the bucketfuls and get fat than we would change that behavior and get onto the treadmill. The treadmill is hard, it's difficult and it's foreign to our muscle memory. We'd rather keep spending out of control than stop spending and start dealing with our debt. We tell ourselves we'll make changes next week, next month, next year. Those are the natural tendencies or the proclivities of a man's heart. We tend toward negative inertia. So, we're not alone. Adam and Eve kind of had the same thing going on. It's an ancient dilemma. Newton's first law of motion says that every object will continue in that state of motion unless acted on by an outside force. I like that. I really like that. In fact, I think this is where it really gets good. This is what I just absolutely love about God. He gets that we are very, very human and He does not leave us in that state of motion. He makes a way. He always has. Pharaoh changed his mind about the Israelites when God softened his heart. If you are like me and can readily identify some areas where you have become inert, then perhaps you'll join me in asking God to change the course of your life. Invite Him to soften the determination of your heart and provide the gentle force necessary to alter its course. We bring Him glory when we are yielding to His directions. We bring Him glory when we are surrendered to His course for our lives. Alternatively I am considering the ramifications of one right step. Then another. And another. Before long we have momentum built up--the whole thirty days to develop a new habit could in fact be true when you factor in the idea of inertia. What would the my world be like if I took just one or two areas and said I'm going to take one small step for thirty days in a row? Because once that momentum starts, I'm going to resist a reversal of my new motion. Only days away from a New Year, isn't it a perfect time to open our hands and release the reins? Isn't today, when we are celebrating the season of His birth, a great time to take hold of the peace He sent Jesus to bring into our lives? If we are holding tightly to our present state of motion we are not free to hold tightly to joy, to peace, to hope--the things that Christ came to give. I don't write to discourage. If you live the rest of your life in a muddy rut your Heavenly Father will love you no less. What we do doesn't make God love us more, but when we yield to His ways, the quality of our life drastically improves. Pray with me: Lord, thank you for the spiritual truths that lie in nature, in science. Thank you for the joy and peace you came to give. Please give me eyes to see where I am resisting a change and give me a heart that is soft in your hands. Replace my heart of stone, Father, with your heart. Overcome me that I might bring you glory and that I may fully enjoy the life you have given me. Amen. Read with me: Psalm 95 Luke 22:42 Colossians 1:9-14

Thursday, October 8, 2009

When Dawn is Delayed

I awoke yesterday, and the trees were a thousand fingers stretching from the hands of the hills, their fingernails painted yellow,red, and orange. Mostly they are dogwoods--red like sunburned salmon--whose leaves are dyed to declare the glory and existence of their Creator. Today though, I awoke and the sun had not yet climbed above the hills, the dogwoods and sourwoods slept silent, and the sheet of night still covered them. Not normally very cogniscent at pre-dawn hours, I was surprised to find myself considering the stark difference of my two mornings. One, like a rooster crowing or a trumpet announcing the greatness of our God, had captivated my heart with the vivid reminder that God must exist,that creation could in no way have just happened. The other was a dark and silent morning where the only light came from switches I turned on. Where on this second morning was God? Naturally my heart considered the two extremes--the mountain top experience when the hills are alive with the music of their Creator and the black hour before dawn when the absence of light somehow causes one to ask where is their maker? We're all so different,our lives so varied, that it is hard to say what will be darkness for each of us. Something as insignificant as a burnt souffle or as magnificent as the loss of our spouse can both bring a darkness of soul upon us. Yesterday my eldest son, Nathan was working on a difficult assignment for school. Off to a good start, his instructions were clear and he seemed to understand fully what his work held for him. I had gone downstairs to begin lunch preparation while he finished up. When I called for lunchtime he didn't respond. I poured the boys' milk, and still, he did not come. I called a second time. When finally he crested the stairs, I knew he had met a darkness of the soul. The assignment had been overwhelming to him. Normally a diligent, persevering student, I was surpsied to see his eyes swollen and face polka dotted with pink splotches. He had been crying. "You're going to be mad at me. I didn't get it done at all," he gurgled out between sobs. And I thought, No. No. I'll not be mad. I'll hold and comfort you, and then we'll tackle that assignment because I know you can do it. But first you must know you aren't alone. Though I was just downstairs--still present and ready to help--somehow he had assumed he was entirely on his own, and he felt helpless. That, my friends, is a darkness of the soul. We come to that point don't we? As Christians? We do. Just this week I've talked with four beautiful women whom I love, all of whom are walking through the pre-dawn hours of life. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Children wandering far from home. Overwhelming circumstances. Struggling with feelings of inadequacy for the demands of their lives, these beautiful, incredibly talented women are walking through the dark. And though they may not have faces puffed from sobbing, their hearts are swollen with grief. I wonder if they, like my son, feel as though they've been abandoned to a task far too hard when in fact their Creator is near. When Nate felt entirely alone, I was only feet away. In the same way, when we feel completely abandoned, our Savior has never left, never forsaken. We are not alone when darkness lingers. We are not. I sat with Nathan--held him in my arms and read to him from Galatians 6. Reminding him of Paul's encouragement to the people of Galatia to not grow weary in well-doing, I told him that in life there will be lots of assignments that are hard, that in those moments we can give in to our own fears and feelings of inadequacy, or we can persevere. Then I took him to Romans where Paul reminds us of something so important. While we feel unable to meet the task at hand, Jesus is praying for us. "Nate, while you were upstairs crying and feeling completely unable to do this assignment, your Savior was literally sitting beside God pleading for you. He reminded God that you are His child, that you need help. He's still praying now. He never stops." I couldn't help but think how we adults need to hear those words sometimes. Romans 8 begins with some of the most potent encouragement in all of scripture, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." When Nate came down those stairs he was already condemning himself; he certainly didn't need my condemnation. He was convinced I would be furious with him for not finishing the task, when in fact I was filled with compassion for him and reminded that he is just a child. And aren't we just the same sometimes? We condemn ourselves when Jesus has already paid the price for our sins. There is no longer any condemnation no matter how much we feel like failures. We need to know our Father is no longer slinging the gavel declaring our guilt. His compassion for us as His children is new every single morning. Paul goes on to address what is happening in the spiritual world when we are in the dark. "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword... ...No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:26-36, 37-39) Spiritually speaking sometimes we wake up only to discover the lights have gone out. In those moments we need to know that we are not alone; we are not condemned to struggle through the apparent blackness of our lives. Our Savior lives to intercede for us, to plead before the Father on our behalf. Though we may not see the tangible evidence of His presence--the splendor of the autumn leaves alight with the rise of the sun--He remains near. Ever present. The ironic thing is that Nathan had everything he needed to complete that assignment. It wasn't that I had not equipped him practically. His problem was that he doubted himself and what I had already taught him. He panicked. We're reading Pilgrim's Progress right now and at one point in the story Christian,the main character, finds himself locked in the recesses of Doubting Castle. Despair has begun to overtake him when he remembers he has been given a key called Promise. Promise will unlock any room in the Castle of Doubt. He had the key all along and failed to use it because he had forgotten about Promise. We too have the promises of God to open the doors of doubt. Among my favorite is, "His divine power has given us everything we need pertaining to life and godliness." (II Peter 1:3) There is nothing we will face for which we have not been given everything we need to pass through it. Remembering the promise keys of God's Word is so critical to walking through the valleys where the shadows have darkened the skies of our lives. Christian, weary from a rugged and dangerous mountain climb, also finds himself before a castle where he wishes to rest. He sees it in the distance and longs for some peace and a place to lay his battle-worn body. But in the path there are two great lions and he is fearful that they will overtake him. I've thought long about those lions. There's a passage in Proverbs that says the sluggard will not attempt a task because there are "lions in the street." (Pr. 26:13) Just as he is ready to run for his life a voice stops him and says, "Do not fear the lions! They are chained. They are there to turn back those who have no faith. Stay in the middle of the path, and you will not be harmed." Christian made his way past the lions and though their roars echoed through the valley, they could not harm him. Darkness is on a leash. Our Father holds that leash, and there will come a day when darkness will no longer cloud our view. Until that day we walk not by what we see, but by the promises of God's Word. After hugs, comfort, reminders of truth, prayer and a little lunch--food never hurts a situation--Nathan finished his assignment with surprising haste. It wasn't simple. He was stretched, but he finished. I wouldn't give him something he couldn't do. Your Father won't do that to you either. If perhaps you've awoken to a dark time in life, it's my prayer that you'll continue in the truth that your Savior is praying for you, that the Holy Spirit is interceding on your behalf, your Father has leashed the darkness, and you are not alone as you pass from black of despair to dawn. And if you are awakening to a time in your life when the sun has revealed the splendor of your King then I pray you will record those images into the recesses of your heart so that when darkness comes you will have them to remind you that your Father exists, your Savior prays and your Holy Spirit intercedes. Pray with Me: Jesus, thank you for sitting beside my Father reminding Him of my needs. Thank you for intervening on my behalf over and over and over. Thank you for your Promises God. Remind me, Holy Spirit of those promises when my heart wants to doubt. Teach me to walk in darkness as though it were light because Your word says that even the darkness is not dark to you, Father. In the name of my Savior and intercessor, Jesus, Amen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What Time Is It?

He was two when he began to ask with incessant persistence, "Momma what time is it?" By three we had taught him how to decipher the numbers on a digital clock face and not much more than three and a half years had passed before he could read the face of any time telling device with mastery. My eldest son was desperate to know exactly what time it was and precisely what we would be doing at that exact time. Affectionately I refer to him as my palm pilot and still six years later he can tell you to the minute when the Georgia Bulldogs will play their next game and what exact hour and minute he awoke on any given day. To him, life is a series of appointments and he doesn't want to miss a single one. Never one to linger longer than the next appointment will allow, he watches the clock like my chocolate lab watches my hand when a treat hangs in the balance. Just last week I had scheduled a necessary doctor's visit--one I had of course put off longer than I should. On Tuesday I panicked. It was 11:30 and I thought surely I had missed my appointment which was at 10:30. The boys and I were snuggled on the couch pouring over some incredible book about civilizations thousands of years past this calendar day. "Nathan," I instinctively yelped. "My appointment. I missed it." How in the world could I have done something so reckless? The appointment I had procrastinated in making I had now completely missed. The boxing gloves were on and I was pummeling myself in the face and over the head. Why can't I keep my appointments and responsibilities straight? Why am I not a better multi-tasker? Naturally and calmly he grabbed the calendar from a stack of papers and on closer examination we realized I had two more days. The appointment was Thursday. I made it to the appointment. See I tend to be the polar opposite of my son the digital agenda book in human form. I tend to multiple book myself and then wonder why I'm late for everything. And the truth be told if I only book one thing, well, I'm still probably going to be late. I rarely arrive early and I rarely leave early once I've arrived. There are self-help books written for people like me. I've read a few. The next book I plan to read is called, "Balancing Life, Arriving on Time, Looking Great, Eating Great, Being Great, Staying in Shape, Eating Healthy, Saving Your Family Money, Having Girl Time, Having Date Nights, Having Mommy-Son Time, Having God Time, You Too Can Achieve The Balanced Life." But I can't find it in the library search engine. I'll just say from the get-go here that I've met people who are pretty close to qualified to write a book like that. I have. But they are few and they are far between, and I've never looked deeply inside their lives to comment on how it's really going for them while they juggle ten thousand plates. I don't know if any of their plates have come crashing down in a thousands shreds of ironstone about their wrestless feet. It may in fact be very well with their soul. But I think it's pretty safe to say that the vast majority of us may instead find ourselves wondering how in the world do I achieve balance in a world where the demands are incredibly overwhelming and loud? Ecclesiastes 3 says, "For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth." This past summer while watching as my little men splashed in the county's L-shaped concrete pool my mother said she'd heard a novel message about balance in the Christian life. I wish I could offer credit here to the guy with the new idea, but I don't think she told me his name. And if she did share it with me it is entirely possible that I cursed and spit it out before letting it sink into the long-term memory of my little brain because what busy mother of two boys and wife and sister and daughter and well, you know what I mean, what person wants to hear more about balance? The whole Proverbs 31 evangelicalistic notion that women can do and be everything for everyone can be wearisome to those of us who are natural Martha's as it is. Frankly, there are times when those messages leave us utterly defeated in a heap before our heavenly Father confessing our inadequacies and failures to Him once again. (Hey, I didn't really curse, guys...that was a joke.) "Rhythms," my mom informed me "are what the Christian life is all about. Not balance." Now, I was listening. This was something new to me. As a homeschooling mom, I'd been pondering the idea of the natural rhythm of our family--learning the rhythm, dancing the rhythm, but I'd never consider it's application outside of that arena. She mentioned the passage in Ecclesiastes 3: "For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth." She talked about how this man said that the idea of achieving perfect balance wasn't even biblical. Where in the Bible did Jesus exercise balance on earth? He preached to exhaustion and then recuperated in mountainside prayer retreats. He preached until long after the noon hour when the crowd was famished and then, he fed them 'til they were stuffed and there were baskets of food left over. He didn't politely instruct the marketeers defiling the temple that he'd like them to please leave quietly through the left side exit. He turned their money-changing tables upside down and kicked them out on their little hinies. He called stinking dead people from tombs and raised them to new life and He prayed not a little while, but all night at times. Then, he praised Mary for sitting on her duff the entire time He visited saying she chose the more excellent way. Balance? Is it possible that balance is another legalistic man-made attempt at trying to attain perfection and even dare I say it, rightness before God and man when in fact what we are reaching for is unattainable by those of us limited by a human body? (That's all of us.) I'm just asking. Could balance be Satan's newest serpent slithering about the fruit trees of our lives saying, "Are you sure you can't have it all?" And I'm asking because I have to tell you that I've run on the treadmill of the Christian life for many years and I'm watching others run on it now. The problem with running on treadmills is that you don't really get anywhere and if you quit running, you end out moving rapidly backwards until you fall. I'm not into treadmill spirituality. Not anymore. In Christian circles the treadmill runners are often praised for their endurance and commitment, but if they dare stop moving their entire life comes crashing down. I don't know if that's the right idea. I really don't. And I have to wonder what the heart of God is feeling when He gazes at His beautiful creations in heaps before His feet feeling defeated and like failures. Surely He is grieved. So going back to that small verse in Ecclesiastes penned by the inspiration of God, apparently there's an appointment for everything in our lives. And if there's one thing I have learned it's that you when you double-book yourself, you end out missing one appointment or the other. So, is it possible that God's intention for mankind was to dance the rhythm of life--at times fast, at times slow making one appointment at a time? An appointment for healing, an appointment for planting an appointment for uprooting? Was it perhaps God's intention that we live in the freedom of ceasing the juggling act and instead picking up one plate at a time--two if our hands will hold them and that's all? What would it look like if Christians everywhere quit running the treadmill of balance and instead said without apology, "I'm a mother and wife for the next several years so if you want to make it into my palm pilot you'll need to get in line and be ready for a wait because it's going to be a while before I can get to you too." What if Father's said, "I'm a daddy and a husband and so if you want me you'll have to line up behind my wife and kids." Ministries would end. But then maybe we wouldn't need the ministries because we would be making the appointments God already set for us. The face of churches would change. The face of neighborhoods would too though. Because when have you ever looked at a person panting their last breaths on a treadmill and thought that's exactly where I want to be? That's no great advertisement for following the way of Jesus. But when a neighbor sees a family in the backyard throwing the football together, laughing and enjoying their appointment to be a family, well, that is something utterly enticing, now isn't it? Listen. I'm not saying I've gotten anything figured out. I'm just asking the question--is balance biblical? And I don't want pat, pre-fab unthought out answers. This is an invitation to climb out of the "this is what a Christian looks like" box and allow God to speak. Let's just ask Him together, shall we, and see where we land? Pray with me: Lord, show us your heart. Show me what exactly it is that you desire for my life and the lives of those around me. Show us Lord, the appointments for which we were created and empower us to walk away from ideas that are not contained in your heart. Amen.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Are You Striving?

The school year and a full season of family getting together, apples bobbed and birthday songs sung, curriculum and gardens,--they've all left me with little time for recording here the words God speaks to my heart. And today is as full as all the rest so I'll only tell you briefly the outline of a melody I pray God is setting to music within me. The book of Zephaniah is a short one--short enough for me to read each day for a while now. And a beloved sister in Christ shared a verse recently in her own blog that turned me onto the book. ( There's this third verse in the second chapter that gives me pause when I pass through. "Seek the Lord's favor, all you humble people of the land who have obeyed his commands! Strive to do what is right! Strive to be humble! Maybe you will be protected on the day of the Lord's angry judgment." And I can't help but wonder how many of us are committing our lives to seeking God's favor. I can't help but ask how many of us are waking up each day insisting it is a fresh start and that today, on this new day, we will strive to do the right thing. Today we will strive for humility and pray for God's protection. I can't help but consider how many of my greatest efforts include striving and seeking after God. And I can't help but picture Jesus, hands pierced, side scarred at the right side of God uttering prayers so intense, so full of pleadings and grief saying, "Father, Father let them cease. It was already finished so long ago. I paid for this already, Father. I ended the striving. God, open their eyes that they might see the truth. Father, was my death in vain? Father, was the suffering in vain that they would walk still as uncertain, unloved people seeking the favor that was already bought with my life? God make them see." So often when we read old testament passages we take them to mean we too should follow their advice. In context though, they are generally the reality of the Israelites and if we continue on we will discover as is the case in Zephaniah, that God knew all along humanity would never attain his favor, would never measure up. We will discover that He had a plan to restore all mankind to himself that didn't include human effort. Towards the end of Zephaniah God starts talking about the bigger picture when he tells the Israelites that "they will find safety in the Lord's presence...they will graze peacefully like sheep and lie down; no one will terrify them." What a beautiful picture of peace--a sheep who grazes to fullness and lays himself down on a bed of sweet swaying grass! Sheep don't strive, they don't stress, they don't attempt and work. They eat, and they rest. Do I? Is that my life's chief purpose when I rise? To drink in the goodness and sweetness of my Father and to rest in His capable, powerful, loving, perfect character would appear to be all that He ever intended for me. Let me just say, Satan may not know you, but apparently he knows me well. He is very clear on one point with me--I tend to like to buy the striving material and ignore the resting stuff. I tend to love to work, to do, to aim for, to seek after and that is his golden ticket with me. It goes a little something like this: Sarah, why aren't you teaching Sunday School? Sarah, shouldn't you volunteer for the nursery? Sarah, shouldn't you make a cake for the ministry staff and drop it off at the church office? Sarah, shouldn't you pray longer? Sarah, why aren't you getting up even earlier--reading more scripture? Let me just be clear on this: acts birthed from guilt or obligation have not found their origin in a loving, living relationship with our Savior. It's as though he's literally saying, Sarah, God doesn't love you because He created you, He loves you when you do the right things. And that, my friends is a lie from the very pits of hell. He LOVES us because we are his fearfully and wonderfully made creation. He loves us because He invented LOVE, because to not love us would mean He was no longer God because GOD IS LOVE. We have His eternal favor because Jesus said one evening in a garden of surrender, "If it's possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not my will but thine be done." And then only hours later while breathing his last He said, "It is finished." In those moments the curtain in a temple that signified the holiness and righteousness of God and the pathetic attempts at reaching and appeasing Him, was literally shredded in half forever removing the barrier between us and our Father. Long ago, it was finished. Why in the world would we continue then, to bring modern day sheep and lamb and doves as offerings to a God who is no longer waiting in the holy of holies, but is literally walking beside us as we carry our ridiculous cages filled with atonement offerings to present before Him. He's not waiting at the alter for our efforts. He's just not there. He's not hungry for the aroma of burnt lamb, his nostrils are full of the fragrance of His Son and that is all he smells when we stand before Him clothed in the garments of our Savior. Zephaniah goes on to say, "Shout for joy, Daughter Zion! Shout out, Israel! Be happy and boast with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment against you; he has turned back your enemy. Israel's king, The LORD, is in your midst! You no longer need to fear disaster." To live as a sheep involves some serious release--release of our preconceived ideas of religion, of Christianity, of God. It also involves some letting go of our own personal pride--we'll never be good enough. We need to just decide that now. Never. We'll always come up short. So, we might as well stop trying. Here's the beauty though--a life that has ceased to try is free to be the new creation it already is in Christ. Yesterday the boys and I were bouncing on the trampoline. Up and down we bounced and bounced never really getting anywhere, just bouncing. Eventually I bounced myself into complete exhaustion and I lay down on that big stretchy black circle. I looked up and the leaves were floating in the sky, their green backs saturated with the sun. I thought what would it be like to hang from the branch with my only job being to take in The Son? There's something to be said for exhaustion--it forces us to lay down and look up. Pray with me: Lord, you already earned our favor before God. I'm so sorry for trying to continue to get what you already paid for. Show me where I'm striving and teach me to cease. Teach me to graze and rest in who you are. Let the rest be an overflow of that grazing and resting. Amen. Read with me: Romans 5:18-21 II Corinthians 5:17

Monday, August 10, 2009

Openning Wide

We had a guest pastor at church yesterday--a sovereignly appointed end to the summer for our congregation and for me personally. God impressed on our spirits to offer Bible Camp for free this year to all children who register. Normally the cost had been around $100 per camper. This year we decided at God's direct leading to make it $0. I'm not going to pretend that I was confident in this economy of the outcome. I knew the kids would come--and come they did--each week was full. But where would the money come from. Immediately I pursued state and federal funding and aid. Hours on hours on hours I spent pursuing this help. Wanting to do my part I filled out stacks of paperwork higher than my desk itself and even went to a ridiculously lengthy training session in hopes of obtaining help with food costs. And it fell through. We estimated we'd need around $30,000 and we were depending on an already depleted congregation and well, God. Here's the first passage the pastor preached from yesterday. "I am the Lord, your God, the one who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it." Psalm 81:10 I AM. The first two words are enough to give me pause--I AM the WAY. I AM the TRUTH. I AM the LIFE. I AM the FUNDING. I AM the God who is ABLE. I AM the Lord, YOUR GOD. I'm your God--not the state government, I AM Jehovah Jireh. As soon as the funding fell through I realized that my entire efforts had been futile and yet perhaps God had wanted to show me something. This camp was His heart, His plan, His purpose and He didn't need my help or the state's help to give it to children for free. God is so much bigger than what we see or understand. It's as though He were saying, "Sarah, I asked you guys to offer this camp for free and I intend to help you do that. I am able. I want to do this to show my glory. To show my power. To show my strength and so that you and all that congregation may know that THERE IS A GOD AT THE HOUSE OF PRAYER." The last sentence of that passage--Open your mouth wide and I will fill it!--is so powerful. I remember when Nate was a baby and I would make airplane noises and swirl the baby spoon filled with mooshed chicken and rice at perilous heights in an effort to get him to open his mouth. I wanted to just rationalize with him; to tell him it was good for him, that he should just eat it. But somehow the airplane routine seemed more effective than my effort to convince him of the nutritional value of that gooey conglomeration. Sometimes I think we stand before God, hands clasped over our mouths, eyes squinted and lips pursed insisting we'll not open our mouths no matter what He's offering. And what a tragedy that is because His very word insists His plans are for our good. (Jer. 29:11) I remember when I was little I had a dentist who used to have this pair of pliers. They may have been a dental tool, but I'm convinced they were seriously a pair of yellow handled pliers he picked up at the hardware store for kids like me who couldn't keep their mouth open wide enough. Every time I saw him he'd pull those ridiculous things out of his drawer and there I'd sit like a 57 Chevy with my hood propped open. When God says open your mouth, we need to go to the garage and get out the biggest pair of pliers we can find--because He will fill to overflowing that which is open and waiting for filling. So I sat and listened to this pastor as he expounded on the passage and all I could think is that we are a congregation who has had our mouths filled this summer by a God who not only provided for the cost of camp but left us with a ten thousand dollar surplus! Ten thousand dollars! One thousand dollars for every child who came to know Christ at camp this summer. It was as though he left baskets full of money overflowing to represent the eternal value of each of the children who came to know Him for the first time. "I WILL fill it." Truly we have been filled. And then I ask myself, where am I still clasping my hand over my mouth like a young child? In what areas in my life am I still saying, "No way, God. I'm not about to trust you there." And I look forward to the autumn, the start of a new school year, of new disciplines, new projects and plans and I say, with arms open and mouth wide, "Lord, You are my God. You are the one who has been faithful in the past--Fill my life with your plans and your will and your desires and your purposes. Fill me, Lord." Amen. Read with me: Psalm 81 Jeremiah 32:17,26

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Patches of Earth

I have these two lovely hydrangeas with beautiful puffs of lilac blue blossoms on which the butterflies dance and I have a pot of lily of the valley all of which are awaiting a garden patch shaded from the burning rays of the Georgia sun. My problem is I don't have a shade garden prepared for them. The sunny patches have been prepared--their soil turned, the weeds removed. But the shaded areas are so overgrown with wild plants, saw briers, and rocks that I can't even turn the soil let alone place a plant and watch it grow. Two gardens, one prepared and the other not ready. The book of Titus offers a great deal of comparisons between the healthy soul and the unhealthy--the spirit who has heeded healthy, sound teaching and the one who has not yet absorbed truth into their inner being. Here are two lists--as you read, will you as I am, ask God to reveal which of these things may be growing in the garden of your soul. Just take a moment before you read these to genuinely invite the Holy Spirit to show you how these words of truth might relate to your own life. He is faithful to honor those kinds of requests. First List Slave of God Apostle of Jesus Christ chosen ones sons in the common faith blameless faithful children not arrogant not prone to anger not a drunkard not violent not greedy for gain hospitable devoted to what is good sensible upright devout self-controlled hold firmly to the faithful message of truth give exhortation in healthy teaching correct those who speak against truth healthy in the faith not pay attention to myths or people who reject the truth communicating behavior that goes with sound teaching temperate dignified self-controlled sound in faith in love in endurance behavior that is holy not slandering not slaves to excessive drinking teaching what is good love husbands love children self-controlled pure fulfilling duties at home kind being subject to husbands self-controlled examples of good works in every way in teaching shows integrity dignity sound message subject to masters not talking back not pilfering showing all good faith bring credit to teaching of God in everything rejecting godless ways and worldly desires live self-controlled upright godly subject to rulers and authorities obedient ready for every good work not slander anyone peaceable gentle showing courtesy to all people heirs with expectation of eternal life insist on truth intent on engaging in good works engage in good works meet pressing needs Second List chargeable with dissipation chargeable with rebellion arrogant prone to anger drunkard violent greedy for gain rebellious idle talker deceiver misleading people teach for dishonest gain reject the truth listen to myths minds and consciences are corrupted profess to know God, but deeds deny him detestable disobedient unfit for any good deed godless ways worldly desires lawless slander foolish disobedient misled enslaved to various passions enslaved to various desires spending life on evil and envy hateful hating one another involved in foolish controversies quarrels fights about the law divisive twisted by sin conscious of their twisted nature unfruitful The things on these lists are not necessarily going to describe all of us. In fact most of us will probably discover there are some things from both lists in our lives--we're works in progress--straining toward what is ahead. But so often we accept status quo. We assume that if there is some good fruit, it's good enough. If we are relatively moral and decent than we are miles ahead of the other people in the world. And the thing is--that's not why Jesus died. "He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good." (Titus 2:14) Truly His. Are you? Am I? Am I identifiable as a daughter of Jesus Christ? Or do I "profess to know God but with my deeds, I deny him..." (Titus 1:16) No matter where we find ourselves today I want to end reminding us all that "It is God who works in your both to will and to do His good pleasure." (Phillipians 2:13) It's so tempting to think we need to get out to our gardens and start pulling weeds and tossing rocks. But my squash plants have not once used their tendrils to pull the crab grass that insists on sprouting beside them. They've patiently waited for me to pull them. Likewise my friends if you are reading this post, God is already at work in the garden of you spirit--all you need to do is allow Him to work and respond in agreement. We are the branches, not the gardeners. Pray with me: Father help us to yield to your revealing truth. Help us to see who we are and agree with you. Help us not to strive but to surrender to Your hand at work in our lives. May we be truly yours. Amen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Every Garden Communicates

I just got back from a weekend trip to Maine where I walked the misty gardens of the Mount Battie Inn. In a place where the sea's haze is too lazy to leave early and so social it lingers long past the morning's dew, the gardens are lush and green. The plants tell their story--they're the variety that know how to thrive when the sun is overpowered by fog and moisture and still offer blossoms plump and delicate. The gardens there spoke clearly of their purpose--to offer pleasure and peace to the Inn's guests and to stretch across the hill like a Sunday napper on an ample hammock. They communicated well. Titus 2:1 says, "But as for you, communicate the behavior that goes with sound teaching." This passage is largely pointing to our words--the things that come from our mouths should reflect sound teaching. Too though, the NET translation of the Bible takes the Greek phrasing a step farther and uses the word behavior here indicating that our actions are part of our communication. So our word and deed will either speak soundly or they will not, but they will speak. If the gardens at the Mount Battie had been overrun in weeds they would not have spoken peace and respit to the travelers whose feet padded their pathways. They would not have said someone has taken care to tend to us and we are here to display beauty in a world overrun with chaos. Had their stems and stalks been strangled by unpulled weeds left to grow and spread at will I would not have even desired to walk through them. But they were not. They were healthy and their blossoms were free to flourish despite a rainy spring and wet summer. It's the same with our lives--if we don't pull the weeds by the root our lives will not communicate the behavior that goes with sound teaching. What then is the measure of a weed? First and foremost, it is anything that does not line up with sound teaching. Anything. I'm tempted then to offer you a list of things that would be classified as weeds. I'm even more tempted to share with you the weeds God showed me in my own life this weekend--some of which I had grown very fond. But since we're all blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit and He has the power to speak truth into our hearts, for today let's just ask Him to cause His light to shine on the weeds that are perhaps sprouting next to true plants in our lives. Will you pause with me to ask Him to reveal those things before we dig further? Pray with me: Spirit of truth would you shine on the weeds in my life--make them evident to me that I would allow you to remove them. I desire to be a garden that communicates sound teaching--Help me to yield to your gentle hand. Amen.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pulling Weeds--Fleshing it out over the Summer

II Timothy 1:7 "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power of love and of sound mind." Nineteen relatively short and simple words and I suspect that if I eat them, they will change my life. Today I began to slice the two words which in Greek are actually one--sound mind. Some translations say self-discipline and others self-control. Actually, this exact Greek word is only used this one time in the entire Bible. Once. So this spirit which God has given us is apparently somewhat unique in that no other time is the same word used for any other purpose. Here's what I really like about this word. If you are into believing that God doesn't make mistakes and that every phrase of the Bible in it's original languages is specifically chosen and inspired by God, which I am in the habit of believing, then you'll like this too. The Greek word here is a noun. It's not a verb, adjective or adverb. It's a noun. Okay, grammar review--nouns are persons, places or things. Verbs denote action. Adjectives describe. Nouns can be acted upon, but they do not act themselves. Simply put, a noun just is. If a dog is a dog, then a dog is a dog. The dog cannot make itself a cat. If a car is a car, then a car is a car and it cannot make itself a boat. So, while there are other instances in the New Testament where variations of this same Greek word are used as verbs, adverbs and adjectives, this is the only time where it is used as a noun. What's the big deal? God has given us a spirit of sound mind. Period. He didn't give us a "sound mind spirit" which would be using an adjective to describe our a red spirit or a green spirit. The author could have said, God has given us a sober spirit using the adjective variation of the same greek word. But he did not. And he did not use an adverb saying that the spirit can behave soundly or soberly. He also did not say that the spirit is the verb. Dogs can sit, they can run, they can play, they can sleep--all actions. But the fact that they are a dog does not change. That's the thing about our spirit given to us by God at salvation--it is SOUND. That does not change. It's a noun. It's a thing. It's a fact--we have a sound mind. We have a sober mind. We have a self-disciplined mind. That fact is not in question according to God's Word. And man oh man, do I need to KNOW that. What we believe about ourselves, our minds, our spirits, our entire inner being will directly affect every single facet of our lives. I'm afraid some of us don't believe we have a sound mind. I'm afraid some of us have bought into the mentality that our foundations are poor and therefore we need to fix them when in fact, if we are in Christ, we are a new creation and our foundation is built on the rock of ages. If there are problems in our lives they are not foundational. According to God's word--the foundation is SOUND. So I'm getting into the garden of my soul this summer and I'm pulling some weeds. God started me here because for a moment or two I've begun to question whether the garden was any good at all. When you start to get overtaken by weeds you feel pretty quickly that you are the weed when in fact that is not true at all--we are fearfully and wonderfully made and at the moment we chose to become a follower of Christ we were also given a spirit of soundness. My stalks and leaves and even fruit may be choked out by any manner of weed, but I am still a creation of God chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. And so are you, my friends. So are you. So don't pull yourself from the garden. Identify who you are and then let's get to the weeds. There's more here--but for today, let's look at the garden of our soul with the peace that comes from knowing that the soundness, the saneness, the quality of our spirit is not in question according to the Words of our great God. Amen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pulling Weeds

I planted a garden this spring--48 small square feet of carefully planned and arranged seeds in a pattern fashioned for pest deterring and optimal growth. We've been enjoying spinach and baby lettuce salads with scallions and radish in fresh basil vinaigrette--I'm salivating at the thought of the goose neck squash, zucchini and cucumbers who will span the surface of my plate by week's end. Worth every ounce of effort I am reaping the rewards of some genuine work and planning earlier in the spring. We were afraid we'd never get the garden in this year--it was the worst possible time. In the middle of finishing building our house, moving in, moving out, winding down our school year, testing and, well, you get the picture. But I knew if I didn't do it then, we wouldn't yield fruit later. (It's never a good time to do spiritual gardening--always other things will scream out for us to take care of them first) Then there were the weeds--no surprise in a standard row garden, but since we had brought in all the soil and created raised beds, I hadn't anticipated the level of weeds that popped through the soil before our precious seeds had a chance to grow. The problem with the weeds was that with each tiny green leaf that seemed to be in the very spot I planted a seed there came confusion--was it oregano or some other horrible impersonator? Was that a carrot leaf popping up or had they all washed away in the heavy rains? I didn't know how to verify the identity of many of my veggies in their infant stages. I ended up tasting almost every single green item that began to grow in an attempt to see if it was good. (Reminds me of the passage, "Taste and see that the Lord is good..." A good rule of thumb--if it isn't good in your life, it probably isn't from God.) Finally there were the failed seeds--the ones that seemed so promising and looked so lovely on the package--and then failed to produce. Their squares of soil remained empty for several weeks before I knew for certain they were duds and I should replant. (If we leave empty patches in our spirit and fail to replant healthy things from the word of God, I can promise you weeds will happily plant themselves in those spots. There is no portion of our soul in which the Word of God doesn't need to be planted.) Everybody does garden analogies, and I don't want to bore you. What I do want to say is simply this. As I've been doing some gardening outside, I can't help but see the same pictures others have seen and written about so beautifully. Spiritually speaking, right now, I'm pulling some weeds. They're larger than I'd like and unfortunately, their root systems have spread into many portions of my life. Where there are the roots of weeds the fruit of the Spirit are limited. Joy and peace are stunted where strife and criticism have taken root. Gentleness is stifled where anger has been given full vent to grow. I don't want to give you a misleading picture--I'm not headed for the loony bin...yet :-) The other day I drove up to my mom's house and she's got this large bank where we ripped out all manner of weed and wild plants a couple years back. Since then she'd done a great job of keeping it cleaned up, covered in wood chips and planted in annuals. There's no place for a weed on that picturesque bank and yet when I pulled into her laneway there stood a four foot tall wild flower...aka, weed. How in the world had that weed taken root on her bank? How had it gotten so big? Well, that's probably a more accurate picture in my life. A few rather large weeds seem to be flourishing and God knows I don't want them to flower and go to seed. Have you ever seen a plant that flowers and goes to seed? Think dandelion! Those seeds flitter and float and flank themselves about every possible area of domesticated beauty and choke out what is supposed to flourish leaving spotty yards and blossomless flowers. So, this summer I'm going to do some weed pulling. I've never been one to put on a perfect face and act as though I have it all together so, I'll bare my soul through the journey as I get time to share. For now, let me offer this passage: "For God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control (sound mind, self discipline)." II Tim. 1:7 God gave us a Spirit of self control and sound mind--we do not have to live in a garden of the enemies' weeds. We can claim power, we can claim love and we can claim self-control. Today, I claim self-control and ask you to join me in my gardening venture. Perhaps you can identify a few weeds now that they've gotten large enough to differentiate. Is that righteous anger or is that rage that has erupted in your spirit? Is that constructive advice or a spirit of criticism flourishing over there in that relationship? Is that freedom in Christ or gluttony? Is that gossip or truth sharing? Is that materialism or simply enjoying the blessings God has given? Is that complete and utter selfishness or is that just 'me time'? Only you can answer these kind of questions for yourselves, but as for me, I'm going to start naming weeds in my life and I invite you to join me as I watch the weeds wilt. Here's to reclaiming the gardens of our souls.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Ballad of Peachtree Street

Peachtree Street with her tall trees skirted in emerald ivy, strings itself through Atlanta's downtown as if she were a secret kept only for those parched and weary of concrete and glass buildings. I walked her way last week and knew I was amidst the sacred, the preserved part of a city whose towers no longer remember their roots. And as I ambled past cafes and patios polka dotted with black bistro sets I marveled in the culture, the variety, the vastness, the couture of God's creation. Then I saw them--spaced apart like park benches--they lay here and there, unnoticed. A part of the landscape to the buzzing administrative assistants, the graphic designers and marketing researches, they went unnoticed and unregarded. Homeless. Without a place to go, without money to get there, without purpose, they dozed at noon while others hurried past to grab a bite to eat before returning to the business hub. Broken lives wasted--this is the ballad of the homeless man on Peachtree Street. When Jesus had fed the masses--a miracle to all who witnessed this act--he made a statement that always penetrates my spirit. "Gather up the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing is wasted." (John 6:12) Of course he's talking about bread and fish here, but to me it says so much more. When I think of those men and women, hair long, faces brown with weather and lives void of purpose, I can't help but think when were they broken? Once they were whole and somewhere along the way things happened and they were left discarded as useless, no longer worth picking up and taking home. And then I consider the lives of those who I know and love. I think of the broken pieces of a life torn by abortion, the remnants of a life torn by death. I recall the shreds remaining when marriages end and children and wives are left to sift through the rubble. I'm nauseous at the reality of alcoholism and drug addictions that leave in their wake only debris, debris and more debris. Broken pieces. And there are moments when I want to shake my fist and swear and ask, why? Why? WHY? I want to shout out, "This isn't fair." And Jesus says, "Gather up the broken that nothing is wasted." Nothing is wasted. I have not lived out the greatest heartaches. I'm certain there are those that measure far deeper than my own, but of those that I have seen there is one thing I am certain: God does not waste our pain. He does not discard our grief. He does not cast off our hurt or our confusion or our sorrow. He gathers with hands that are skilled and gentle healers. He binds. He knits together. He multiplies. He soothes. He redeems. He renews. He brings a light into the darkest recesses of our pain and causes life to emerge from the places that have suffocated our spirits and left us for dead. Our God never leaves those places. He does not. I know when His Spirit passes the path of Peachtree Street He calls out to those sunken frames that huddle on sidewalk and corner, "You are mine and you have purpose. You have value and you have My Love." And when His Spirit passes the deep places of our own hearts He sings the song of restoration, "I heal the brokenhearted and bandage their wounds." (Psalm 147:3) Pray with Me: Father, You are the binder of the broken and the healer of the hurting. You are the restorer. Will you take the pieces, Lord, that I see before me and restore life to them. Return to them your original purpose that they would again have use in a world where hope seems an intangible theory. You are the God of hope. You are hope, Lord. I believe you will restore and I ask that you would grant me faith and patience as I wait to see your plan unfold. Amen. Read with me: Isaiah 61 Psalm 147

Monday, May 18, 2009

Song of the Whip-Poor-Will

It's a relentless call--that of the whip-poor-will--a lullaby that blankets the dusk as she fades into night. I've known her song since I was old enough to remember she was a bird whose face wouldn't be seen in the daytime. And I've loved her. Who wouldn't? Her voice almost speaks into the darkness insisting that her lover join her on some distant tree's limb. Her call continues long past other nighttime voices repeating the same words over and over and over again. She won't quit her song until it has accomplished it's goal. From the jam-froth pink bedroom of the cabin my father crafted to the bayou-mist of the bedroom my mother let me paint and then finally the slumbering hues of these walls where I now lay down my head, I have always heard a whip-poor-will's call. Just last week it was some time after 3 in the morning and still she sang. I had cracked the window to hear her more clearly and let her song shush my heart back to sleep when God whispered, "That's how I pursue you, Sarah." And just like that I saw Him differently that I had before. I imagined His own words to me, "Sarah, I love you. I love you. I love you. " Over and over and over again. They never stop. He never stops. His love never fails. It's like a cliche and because it is like a cliche our ears get to the point where they don't hear the words anymore. Growing up in a Christian family I heard those words my entire life. When that's the case, their meaning becomes diluted with the passing of time until one day the fact that God's love never fails, never ends doesn't alter our outlook on life. We no longer see life through His love, we see His love as a faded childhood photo somewhere on a distant wall. And yet He calls still. Again and again. In speaking of the restoration of Israel, Jeremiah 31:3 holds one of my favorite passages in scripture. "In a far-off land the Lord will manifest himself to them. He will say to them, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love. That is why I have continued to be faithful to you." It didn't matter what the Israelites had done--how many times they sold out to the nearest bidder--God's love for them continued. He pursued them across deserts, He called them across seas, He sang to them when they were in distant lands and He loved them no matter where they were. The beauty of His song is that it is for all mankind--He sings for you and He sings for me. He sings for our children and for our families. He sings for those who do not hear and for those who choose not to hear. He sings for those who will not listen and He'll never quit; never. And I can't help but think of the times in my own life when His call has gone unanswered. How many times have His words floated beyond my heart and scattered amidst the debris of my life while I chose instead to cling to worldly wisdom, to whatever was clear and right in front of me. How many times have I chosen to accept the things that are seen instead of believing in His love? And I can't help but think of the people in my life now who I wish could hear His song. I want to grip their hearts and pry them open making room for this tender love song, and yet I cannot. You know people like that too. You have children for whom you've prayed and prayed. You have Fathers and grandmothers and sisters for whom you've interceded, and yet they do not hear. May I just say to you He still sings--even in places far off. When our voices have grown hoarse with our own attempts to share the truth, His has only grown stronger. Sometimes I think Christians get so caught up in the newest book or theology or new approaches to having church that we drown out our Father's song. We make so much of our own noise that we can't even hear His call let alone those we love and want to reach. There are the great theologians and the lofty thinkers, but I resolve to remain a simple follower--a follower of my Savior's song. As long as I hear His song, I know I am near Him, following Him, in the right place. I know I am home. May our own response to His song be so vivid that those around want to join in the chorus. The whip-poor-will sang long that night. I lost my wakefulness while still she sang. Our heavenly Father's pursuit continues too. May we have ears to hear. Pray with me: Father, thank you for your pursuit of my heart. Thank you that you call to me long into the nightimes in my life. Thank you that you sing when I listen and you sing when I join in and you sing when I hold my hands over my ears in stubborn rebellion. Forgive me for ignoring you. Teach me to believe that your love is greater than the sum of my life and that somehow in relaxing into your unfailing love, I will find rest. Amen. Read with me: I Cor. 13 Psalm 89

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Missing His Face

It's not new news--we undertook a little project last April. We decided to build our own house as opposed to having one built or buying one already finished. Those of you who know us well are probably keenly aware of this endeavor since many of you assisted along the way. The reason we wanted to build was because we've lived in houses built by other people 's hands for other people's needs before. We've renovated those homes to make them fit into our lives; we've suffered through closets big enough for mice and toilets that never felt like flushing when guests came over. We've coated pepto-bismol colored walls with more palatable hues and we've attempted to infuse character and charm into standard issue pre-fab boring designs more than once. So this time, we designed the entire thing; we put ourselves into every single two by four and nail in this home. There is no room untouched by our choices and vision. There is not a closet or a cupboard or a corner that we did not think through and choose exactly the way it would look and what function it would serve. None. Nada. In fact the more we got into building the more we wanted to infuse into every shred of the home our personality, our mark, our plan. And in the end, it's like we are omnipresent in this home. We're everywhere. And here's the interesting part, if you know us--really know Jeff and Sarah--you see us in every detail of the home. But if you don't know us well, you'd walk through this house and completely miss our faces and our hearts in the bead board, the antiqued cabinets, the vintage pieces, the wooden counters. You'd walk right through and completely miss us. Here's what gets me--I think it's really easy for me to do that with God--entirely miss His face and heart in my life. There's a passage in Jeremiah 23 that reminds me of this: "Do you people think that I am some local deity and not the transcendent God?" the Lord asks..."Do you not know that I am everywhere?" the Lord asks." The transcendent God. Isn't that beautiful? When the morning's first rays of light transcend into a room it almost glows--it's not invasive light, it's a light that speaks gently, "I am here. Do you not know that I am everywhere? " When the darkness of life seems to hide the light of God can't you just hear your Father asking you that question? He is here. Now. While you read this blog, He is speaking into your heart, "Don't miss me. Don't miss my face. I'm with you. I'm in the circumstances you face. I'm in the predicaments you are in. I'm in the faces of your children and I'm in your job. I'm in your schooling and I'm in your friendships. I'm in your marriage. I will never leave. Never." But so often we don't see Him because we don't know, I mean really know Him or worse, we've forgotten what the face of God is like. When we lose the man we married to a disease that took him far too young we struggle to find the face of God in the ripping apart of our heart. When the child we raised begins to make destructive decisions the heart of our Father becomes a haze of disappointment and disillusionment as our offspring walk a path we'd never have chosen. And He weeps. Our heavenly Father weeps for us, that we could see Him amidst pain, amidst loss. And He whispers to our spirits, "You can't see me because I'm holding you in my arms. I'm not in front of you, I'm beneath you, carrying you. I'm not somewhere in the distance; I am here gripping you with my everlasting love." Acts 17:28 says, "for in him we live and move about and exist..." Our very lives are in Him. The great moments --when marriages are formed and babies sing their first cry, when homes are finished and jobs are gotten and promotions are given, when our children obey and spring surrenders her first blossoms--they're all the splendor of our Father on display. And the times when we trudge through the long dark valleys too are held in the palm of His eternal hand. Psalms promises He is a very present help in times of trouble. Very present. Near. This is our God. Do you see His face? Do you sense His presence even when you can't see His face? If our lives are houses and God is the designer, the decorater, the builder, the Creator then may we make it our goal to look for His face, to discover His heart in every detail. May we not walk through one single moment and miss Him. Open the eyes of our Heart, Lord. Open the eyes of our heart. Pray with me: Father, I know you are here, but help me to see You. Help me to believe that it is you that carries me, it is You that enables me, it is You that remains when all else fades away. May I never rob You of honor when good enters my life and may I never deny You your glory when I am sustained in troubled times. Thank you for your omnipresence in the marrow of my life. Amen. Read with me: Isaiah 55:6 Psalm 139

Friday, March 13, 2009

Saving Grace My Journey Back to Weight Watchers

Dear Friends, I'd love to tell you that it was I who crafted this poignant, raw and hilariously honest piece, but in fact this is the writing of my Aunt Anne. With her permission I am posting this because I know there are many who will find this of huge encouragement. In my adult years I have discovered my Aunt to be one of the wittiest, most genuine people I've ever met. I know you too will fall in love with her after reading this. Please if you have friends who would find this inspirational, will you send them the link? Two weeks ago the young nurse practitioner at my office handed me a glossy catalog of cookie dough.The inevitable fund raiser for her son's day care center. I have always managed to pass on these handouts. This time the idea of my own personal three pound bucket of frozen glistening chocolate chip cookie dough was more than I could resist. My ears buzzed with the whir of out of control negative stinking thinking as I handed her my fifteen dollars and placed my order. I joked to all my coworkers in the heart center that I was getting it with a spoon. It seemed to me a splendid idea. In the following days as I waited for delivery I dreamed about it. I imagined how much fun it would be. Just me, my bucket of dough and my ever faithful companion, my dog Angie. I figured she would want in on some of the action or at least a ring side seat.As the days went by the dreams began to erode my otherwise normal daily routine of racking up CDOP's (complete days on program for you non WW'ers), journaling, and walking Angie. It did seem a bit pointless after all to be CDOP when any fool with an ounce of wits knew the bucket was coming and all would be lost. I stopped counting, journaling fell into a limited scrawl of daily events and foods consumed and then withered away entirely. My meals and snacks were still made of the healthy, simply filling foods that WW expounds on when they aren't trying to sell me 1 point snack cakes. I'd smirk at the luncheon size plates in the cupboard and reach past them for a big old dinner plate and load it up with my simply filling foods and eat them until I was stuffed. That buzzing in my ears got louder and I knew I was headed for a serious breakdown. When my mind stops talking in complete sentences and starts to just whir and thrum and hum like a funnel cloud I am really on the skids. My sweet bucket- ridden dreams of cookie dough began to be interrupted with thoughts of a crisis. What was I going to do with three pounds of dough? My very supportive husband is diabetic. I knew he would help shovel with a spoon, but he has his limits and then there is that issue of his health. My freezer is too small to refreeze he dough - it would have to sit on a shelf in the refrigerator next to yesterday's brown rice and tomorrow's limp romaine. I spent the night before last awake. The arrival date was fast approaching and I was having second thoughts. I needed help. I prayed. God why do I have these temptations? I walked the floor late at night and ate two bowls of cheerios. It struck me that I could give it away to the needy. My mother always wanted me to give to the needy. The needy lived in little wooden shacks down the hill from us when we were growing up. She liked to point them out to my brothers and me when we went to the grain store. They were wedged up against the train tracks that my Dad travelled on his way into Boston to work at Zorigan's Studio everyday. Good Deeds. As three am approached I wondered where I could take my bucket here in Florida. I could bake cookies and hand them out to the homeless who wander the waterfront in Sarasota. But they would smell so good baking and I knew if I opened the lid even once I would be doomed. That just wouldn't work. I could send them to Angelina and Brad - they are skinny and don't have problems with buckets of dough. Maybe they could take them to Africa and do some more Good Deeds for George Clooney to grin over.It was an exhausting night, but by morning I'd had a brain storm. I would give the unopened unseen bucket away to a nurse at work. She has a free day care center at her church. They could have the bucket of dough. I even resolved that since this is the last week to go to WW and sign back up without paying all your missed meetings fees that I would rush to a meeting right after work. It was a relief to tell my friend she could have the whole enchilada when it came in. I promptly went off by myself and ate some freshly made cookies that another earnest coworker had made. I needed some consoling. I was still full from the cereal so what the heck, let's have some of these peanut butter cookies with the cute little fork marks criss-crossed on their tops. Soon enough I would be at a meeting and signing my life away. Oh my dangerous mind. The long work day wore on and I ran into every available food item with an open mouth and an out stretched greedy hand.Now my dear husband knew I'd had a sleepless night. He called during the afternoon to say he'd take me out to dinner. That was very nice, but I told him I was determined to go and sign up at WW first and then we could go and eat. He picked me up just before 6pm and off we drove. Angie grinning in the backseat is always ready for a road trip with food involved. Well, we went right out of the office parking lot and WW was to the left. Oh, the fickle finger of fate I thought. He has forgotten my meeting... well never mind... no harm will come... I'll just go to dinner and then go sign up at the meeting tomorrow night. Oh see how easy it is to redirect my best intentions. I had prayed over this. Help was on the way. I had done my Good Deed and given the bucket away unseen. It would just be a small delay and I was so full from my day of indulgence that I would just get a bowl of soup at our local diner. Angie thumped her tail from the back seat and grinned out the window in perfect agreement with me.I really was full so it was just my luck that they had nine bean and ham soup on the menu. They make a new soup everyday. Nine beans that would qualify as a simply filling meal. It wouldn't have much ham in it. My husband tucked into his salad and I had the first bite of creamy smokey soup. You know how sometimes ham will have just that little plastic bit of dark brown rind on the edge? Well my bite of ham had that and I didn't care for it so I delicately removed the little tidbit from my mouth and spooned up my second bite of creamy beans and broth. Mindless now that I was eating, the third bite came on autopilot to my mouth. With my peripheral vision I noticed another bit of that glossy brown rind on my spoon and took another look at my spoon before closing my lips around it. Now you may remember I mentioned I had prayed to God for help. Well have you ever wondered what is God really thinking? Why did he make all manner of creatures to share our planet? What possible use does a horseshoe crab still have. I mean they are ancient and they just seem to wash up on beaches, tentacles and feet flapping uselessly into the air. Why are they still here? Why did God make so many bugs and things that slither around and frighten us? What kind of a mind dreams these things up and to what end? You just never know. Until you look a second time at your spoonful of nine bean and ham soup and there on the brim are two long delicate antennae waving at me from the stewed body of a gleaming brown cockroach. Suddenly you stop eating, spoon in mid- air and the riddles of God's precious world become crystal clear to you. There is Saving Grace. It is bigger than Good Deeds. It is God working in the details to answer a late night prayer. A Florida cockroach has been kept crawling on this good earth, the spitting image of a horseshoe crab, it crawls and does what roaches do. It gets into places you don't want. With that you stop your orgy of overeating and come face to face with the dose of reality you were so blindly seeking for two long weeks. There it is, you have the ability to stop and put the spoon down. So simple. Just stop and put the spoon onto the table. I got up and went out to the car for a heart to heart with my dog Angie. My husband sorted out what was left of our bill and tipped the poor waitress. My prayer was answered. I got help. Tonight I did go to my meeting and sign up. I sat in the back and thought about how lucky I am to get another chance. WW has given me all the tools I need. From my prayer I got some extra Grace. A little more time to make this work. Anne Pierce

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sailing into the storm (part 4)

"I am a man who has experienced affliction..." Lamentations 3:1 It had been seven years since his lips and mine had met for the first time in front of a couple hundred witnesses--our wedding day. Some people call it the seven year itch, but when you are right in the middle of it with toddling baby boys nipping at your ankles while you stare into each other's eyes and confess that you don't really know if you want to be married anymore, it feels very different from an itch. Neither of us had changed really, but somehow everything was different. As we sat their disappointed, disillusioned and tired, so tired of trying, we both knew we had run aground. I think the passengers aboard the sinking ship with Paul knew those feelings well when Paul tells them to keep up their courage because God told him he would make it out alive. Paul ended his encouragement with a sentence that has refreshed itself in mind day after day since I first read it. "Therefore keep up your courage, men for I have faith in God that it will be just as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island." These sailors had foolishly ignored Paul's good advice and now they find themselves suffocating under the dark swells of a storm, literally driven across first the Mediterranean and now the Adriatic Sea. Paul says to them, 'Look you screwed up big time. But hold onto your courage because my God, the one true God is delivering me to Caesar and you get to arrive with me, but...But! We're going to experience some turbulence along the way. We have to run aground." Paul was well qualified to write the words "And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28) God always moves and works in our lives, but most of the time He does not remove the natural consequences of our decisions. That is critical because if we miss it we will end up disappointed with God and wondering why He didn't move amidst our storm. Those sailors chose to sail on the open sea late in the season and they bore the result of that risky decision. Run aground they did. Literally. They were caught probably on what would have been a sandbar in some cross currents. In the end the stern of their ship was splintered by the waves like fire logs by an ax. This is so significant to me because God told them they'd make it to shore and yet they watched helplessly as their ship--the only mode they had for getting to the shore--was pummeled by wave after wave like a wrecking ball to a high rise. I have watched as the vehicles I planned to use to get to shore were torn apart more than once in my life. Have you? A mom who planned to spend her children's lives running and playing with them is plagued with chronic illness. A marriage we thought was the happily ever after story ends in divorce and with it a family once involved in church no longer feels worthy to darken the door. A precious person I know was blindsided when her husband lost their family business. Another watched as their million dollar investment portfolio dropped like an arctic barometer in a matter of days after Enron. Another couldn't have a biological child. Another had five and each one walked away from God. And yet another sat in horror as her husband revealed his pornography and prostitute addiction. Real people. Real human lives that I know and love. Run aground. Their lives literally beaten to tiny pieces. And you tell me God is good? We say He works everything out for our good,but when you are in the middle of the wreckage it does not feel good. When we are left with fragments of the lives we build, it is then we have a choice to believe as Paul did that "it will be just as we have been told." (Acts 27:25) It is in the moment when the sterns have been broken and darkness chants "all hope is gone" that we decide whether we will believe the promises of God are true and real. You know how those sailors made it to land? It's incredible to me. Some of them just swam. Those who were strong enough and able, swam to land. The others followed either on planks for pieces from the ship. That's it. No incarnate Jesus walking on water to carry them to shore, no big flapping fish offering it's fins to bring them ashore. Just some pieces of broken boards and their own arms and legs. So often we miss God because we don't give Him credit for the strength He has given us--the ability to swim in an ocean of doubt and fear, for example. And I wonder if any of them stopped and praised Him for the splintered wreckage of that ship. So often I have everything figured out for God, the mode, the means and the method of getting me to shore. But more often than not, God takes those preconceived ideas of Himself and explodes them into a thousand fragments. His ways are just plain higher. It's so beautiful to me that God didn't remove the consequence of their choice, but from that wreckage he gave them just enough to float to shore. Just enough. When Jeff and I looked into each other's eyes that day we knew we had a decision to make--would we trust God and obey His plan or give into the storm? We chose God. And he literally gave us just enough. Just enough to make a choice to get some counselling. That was all. I remember driving to our first counselling session, lips pressed firmly together in relative silence thinking to myself, 'the fact that we are in this car driving in the direction of this counselor is a miracle because I do not want to be here and neither does he.' But we were and that was just enough. Six months later it was just enough to start falling in love again. There was never a moment when we trusted Him that He didn't provide that plank of hope--just enough to bring us to shore. And now we are a testimony not to the strength of our marriage, but to the strength of our God. There are seasons in our lives when we've just run aground. Ships were meant for water just as we were meant for hope. If you've run aground I pray you can hear my heart. Hold on. Your Father will not let you drown amidst the circumstances of your life. He will NOT. You have to know that as long as there is a God (and that's forever) you have hope. He does not abandon. He does not quit. He does not give up. He does not leave you in the consequences of your choices. He carries you through them, gives you just enough strength to stay afloat until you are safely to shore. That is the God whom I love, and that, my friends is the God who loves you. Do you believe it will be to you "just as He said?" Pray with me: Jesus, the God of hope--You came to earth to show that You will supply our greatest need for relationship with You. For that, I praise and thank you. When our lives are aground teach us to trust You. Teach us to swim with expectant hearts knowing that when our strength fails You are stronger still. Teach us that all life is in you and that our lives do not consist of the wreckage of the physical but in the peace of knowing who You are. Help us to see that we don't need a ship to get to shore--teach us to release all the 'ships' in our lives to you. Show us the planks, God. Help us to embrace the ways YOU want to work in our lives and the lives of those we love and to surrender all our preconceived ideas into Your capable hands. Help us to hold on, Father. Amen. Read with me: Lamentations 3 (especially 22-24, 55-58)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sailing into the Storm (part 3)

I'm way too much of a perfectionist to live without regret. I've always admired people who without hesitation insist they have walked through the past to the present with no regrets. You may be one of them--the kind of person who looks at every mistake as an opportunity to learn and embraces them for what they are. Now don't misunderstand me, I do learn from my mistakes and I believe readily that God is sovereign amidst every misstep in my life. But I'm not going to lie to you--there are a thousand things I'd do differently if ever given a do-over card. It's interesting though because in God's economy there is a perfect way to live, albeit rather narrow, but perfect nonetheless. And yet "there is none righteous, no not one." (Rom. 3:10) No man's soul has ever slipped into eternity without first having missed the mark of God in some way. And God holds us to that standard which is why He can say about a good man or woman--maybe Mother Theresa, "Even you fall short." (Rom. 3:23) But though He holds us to that standard, He also miraculously and completely releases us from every shortcoming. I'm not talking about a license to do whatever we want, (Rom. 6:1) but I am talking about a God who somehow demands complete holiness and yet forgives and repairs every failure and poor decision we will ever make. Just yesterday I read a quip on a local country church: God doesn't measure us using the curve; He uses the cross. Somehow amidst our mess ups in life the miracle of grace is allowed to bloom like the first crocus of spring budding in a bed of winter snow. When Paul stood up to encourage the sailors, prisoners, soldiers and captain on a ship whose end was certain destruction, he knew the reason they were in this mess was a result of poor choices. Certainly they regretted ignoring Paul's sound advice with everything in them. After all, Paul had warned them that setting out to sea was dangerous and he knew that pushing forward into the Autumn Mediterranean would result in loss of life. They hadn't listened. Sound advice was given to them and for reasons unknown to us, they left Paul's advice in the wake of the ship as they set sail. How many times have I been given sound advice, been warned about a decision and pushed on because the current of my own agenda was stronger than that of the counsel I received? My guess is those men on that ship wanted to deliver those prisoners as quickly as possible. Perhaps the centurion responsible for Paul had a wife waiting back home for him with a belly full and ready to deliver his first child. Maybe the owner of the ship would receive some additional remuneration for seeing to it that every prisoner arrived by spring. Perhaps they genuinely believed it was the best thing to do despite what Paul had told them. Now Paul says something that I think is worth pausing to take in. Paul reveals some of his humanity here. I can't get over his inability to resist saying, "I told you so." Here we have a man who is responsible for spreading the message of Jesus all over the New Testament landscape and the guy who penned the very words we commit to memory from book after book of our scripture. When he stands up to a slew of desperate and depressed men I can't help but notice that he couldn't resist reminding them of the advice he gave. "Men, you should have listened to me and not put out to sea from Crete, thus avoiding this damage and loss." (Acts 27:21) He just had to say I told you so. Did it really matter that he had given them advice and they hadn't listened? I only point this out because I think it's important that we see our heroes of the faith in their humanity. They, just like us are mere humans following Jesus. Just knowing that Paul, the man who was confident enough in other passages to tell people to emulate him, live like he lived, had the occasional human tendency gives me a little hope. Let's go on. He says to these men who have gone beyond looking into the horizon with worry and fear to a resignation that their lives are on a slow-motion journey to the bottom of the ocean's floor, "And now I advise you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only the ship will be lost. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve came to me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar, and God has graciously granted you the safety of all who are sailing with you.' Therefore keep up your courage, men for I have faith in God that it will be just as I have been told." (Acts 27: 24) I think it's worth mentioning that these men worshipped gods like Zeus, god of thunder and lightning and Poseidon, god of the sea. Can you imagine worshipping gods like this your entire life and finding yourself collapsed on the deck of a ship, water sloshing around your wet ankles resigned to the belief that those gods must not care enough for you to calm the storm and quiet the sea? Surely they prayed to their gods, begged them for mercy. Remember when Elijah had the contest with the prophets of Baal and they called out to Baal for an entire day pleading with him to light their sacrifice? "They invoked the name of Ball from morning until noon, saying, "Baal, answer us." But there was no sound and no answer...Throughout the afternoon they were in an ecstatic frenzy, but there was no sound, no answer, and no response." (I Kings 18:26,29) It is no wonder these men literally gave up hope--they would have pleaded and begged their gods to intervene only to discover their cries for help fell like the waves around them into a sea of unanswered and misguided prayers. Their gods were silent. Silent. My heart has always broken for these men and I have to marvel at how similar I am to them. How often do I put my hope in my husband's job only to find it disappoint? When he loses his job we discover who the true God is. How often do I put my hope in that of a friend only to discover they cannot fulfill my needs? When they don't have time for us anymore we discover who the true God is. How often do we put our hope in our savings account or our retirement funds? When the stock markets falls like anchor of a ship we discover the true God. How often do we put our hope in great men and women of the faith? When they fail in some human way we discover they are not the true God. How often do we place hope in education or in doctors? When our children aren't getting well, we know the true God again. And here's one I constantly have to catch myself on--how often do I put my hope for our children in the way we are raising them? If we do everything right, surely they'll turn out okay. Wrong. Just ask the mother or father who prayed daily, raised them well, loved them well, taught them about God and then watched their child walk away. There are no guarantees. None. My children have free will and that truth forces me to confront the reality that only God can truly grip their hearts. Though most followers of Jesus would say they are monotheistic--worshipping only the one true God, I have to wonder if God himself wouldn't say, "You have become like the Israelites worshipping the gods of the world around you." Usually we don't realize we have formed idols from worldly ideas until we count on them and their complete silence break out hearts when we've cried out. It's then we realize we were crying out the name of our idols and not the name of our Father who loves us desperately. The other thing I love about this passage is this: these sailors made a grave error in judgment and God still moved in their situation. Paul looks them square in the face and says, 'you messed up but there will be no loss of life because the God that I worship? He wasn't silent. He sent an angel to speak to me last night and told me that He still had a plan. His plan is for me to go before Caesar and nothing, not even this storm will stop Him from accomplishing His purpose.' God will not allow any other God to get His glory--He always shows up. Always. He always shows himself strong. Always. Because his love does not depend on our perfection. And though these people made a significant mistake, He still reigned. His purposes for Paul's life would still be carried out. Period. This is such an incredible truth--God is sovereign even when we screw up. He knows we are human and He allows us to be exactly that, but that is the exact definition of mercy. He sees our needs and meets them. He doesn't change us so that we have no needs--that He's reserved for eternity--but He meets them over and over and over again. His grace says, 'Behold I love you with an everlasting love,' and His mercy says, 'And I see you messed up, but I knew you would and I have charted the purpose of your life with this in mind. I'll not be thwarted. I'll reign amidst the chaos.' This is our God--the one true God. So would I change some of my decisions in the past? Do I regret them? Sure I do. I've been tossed by the storms of poor choices and I'd have far preferred avoid those storms, but has God proven Himself faithful and worked each of those poor choices out for my ultimate good in the end? Absolutely. Without question He has never left me disappointed, never left me in the muck of my humanity. He has a strong right arm and He has never withheld His hand from me. Never. Paul had hope because when he gazed into the black of the storm He saw the light of the face of Jesus and remembered His words, "I'll never leave you. I'll never forsake you." Oh that we could know those words in the deepest marrow of our bones, the very fiber of our hearts when we stand hopeless amidst the storms that rip our spirits apart. I'll close with words Paul wrote to the Roman church, "Now may the god of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13) Do you believe in the God of hope? Pray with me: Father, God who is literally hope, teach us amidst the storm to believe in who you are. Your word says you are the God who is hope. Your word says hope does not disappoint us. Lord, teach us to anchor ourselves so deeply in your character that when storms come we see that though they rage around us they do not change our position in You. Spirit of God may your fruit of hope overflow from the branches of our lives. In Jesus name, amen. Read with me: I Kings 18 Romans 8:6