the one who lifts up my head

The weight of oppression
the weight of glory

Both cause us to bend low
Both bring us to our knees

one from overwhelming burdens
one from overwhelming beauty

one negative and unwanted
one positive and desired

one shadows of unending sorrow
one rays of redeeming love

one full of weakness
one full of power, clothed in weakness

one a dead end
one an open road

freedom stretching far beyond what eyes can see

 

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 2 Corinthians 4:17

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10

Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,

that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory!  Psalm 24:9-10

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. Psalm 3:3

like the rusting leaves of autumn

This morning my quiet time reading took me to the throne room of heaven and to this verse in Revelation “Then I saw the One like a slaughtered lamb standing between the throne…” (5:6)

I read this and my heart followed the breadcrumbs appearing along the path. I thought about the strange beauty tucked away in this scene.  Our pastor described it so well in a Sunday message last year.

“Power is the slaughtered Lamb…power clothed in weakness.”

After that message, I wrote about that power and that victory.

In the throne room of heaven we see a slaughtered lamb…it’s the symbol of power and victory.

It can only be through the eyes of faith that an image such as this can bring joy and hope to a heart.  In heaven…the home of perfection…stands a bloody lamb.

It can only be through eyes of faith that we look at this image…awestruck…basking in the…beauty.  

Beauty?  How can that be? 

How can one look at such a sight and perceive beauty?  This incredible ability of our great God to take all that is “ugly”… all the pain in this world and all the suffering in our lives and redeem it fascinates and humbles me whenever I pause to think about it.

Pain, suffering and death is ugly…there is no denying this. 

Yet..somehow…when I think of this slaughtered lamb standing in the throne room of heaven I am filled with hope and joy…and life. 

Why?  Because… through Christ… death loses its sting.

“We’ll cast our crowns before Him like the rusting leaves of autumn now every chain lies broken…”  Those words are from a Rend Collective song called Finally Free. It’s actually my favorite verse in the entire song.

Our crowns are like rusting dying leaves. Can you see those crowns in your mind?

Autumn is one of those times in our lives when we gaze upon the beauty found in… death.

Think about that. Creation, all around us, is dying yet what our eyes perceive is the breath taking beauty in it all.

We even wait expectantly for it to arrive on the scene. We marvel at the bursting colors and watch the transformation from life to death. It brings joy to our hearts as we walk down the road and see those rusting/crunchy leaves dancing in the gentle breeze along the path. We celebrate the slowly changing colors and, like any beautiful season, we hate to see it come to an end.

And the good news we find in Christ is the beauty doesn’t end.  Death is just the beginning. There is more life, more breathtaking colors to come. We cast our crowns before Him like the rusting leaves of autumn now every chain lies broken.

They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,

    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.” Rev 4: 10b-11

*******

Had to stop writing this morning and take my son to school. As we pulled out of the driveway, I heard these words on the car radio:

“I see the world in light
I see the world in wonder
I see the world in life
Bursting in living colour
I see the world Your way
And I’m walking in the light”

“We are perishing for lack of wonder, not for lack of wonders.” –G.K. Chesterton

Walmart Dreams and Worship

I had this dream last night that Walmart had this new shopping service where you could stand anywhere in their store and just concentrate on the next item you needed from your shopping list and they could teletransport you to that next item. I was shopping with my son and told him that this was the next best thing to their online/free pick up shopping.  One moment you’re standing in aisle 7 retrieving your Life cereal…the next moment, the toothpaste aisle.  Brilliant! 

When I woke up this morning a heaviness hit me and I really didn’t want to get out of bed. I’m typically a morning person but for the last few days my heart seems to have forgotten this.  Honestly, instantly finding my normal morning joy has been a struggle lately. I think it’s a combination of things: natural disasters, anniversaries of loss and disrupted routines all have contributed to my lack of morning motivation.

And then, like the Lord has done countless times in my life, He faithfully guided me directly to the messages and reminders my heart needed to hear again. This morning it was this devotional and this old blog post bringing me back home.

From The Enabler, originally shared Sept 12, 2016:

“So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” Philippians 2: 12-13

I read these verses from the Apostle Paul this morning and a few thoughts came to mind.

First:  I thought about this single verse in one of my favorite Gungor songs Please Be My Strength.

“I can not create it and I can not sustain it.  It’s Your love that’s keeping me.”

Second:  What a great reminder for those times when we’re  “just not feeling it.” Because let’s be honest. There are plenty of times in life when we don’t feel it. When we’re too tired, when we’re painfully aware that we’re not enough, when our focus has wandered away onto everything but the ONE thing we need to remain focused on.

And then this one from my devotional reading today “There is a Cloud, Day 7”:  

“One of the greatest purposes of our worship is re-orientation. As we go about our day and fulfill our earthly duties, it’s easy to overlook our heavenly ones. Since the moment sin entered creation, our natural bend hasn’t been upward; it’s been inward. And as a natural result, we tend to fix our eyes not on where our help comes from, but on where our problems come from.

Worship has the power to change that. It can take your eyes off the petty and, within a matter of minutes, change your perspective and provide a window through which to see God’s ability, God’s power, and God’s provision.

That’s why when we use our voices in worship to declare God’s promises and ascribe to Him His glory — we’re not performing, we’re practicing. It’s an intentional effort to make our lives about more than ourselves.

Jesus, the Holy Lamb of God, was slain not so we could live a life based on our preferences, but so we could live a life built upon His promises.

Whatever you might be going through right now, remember the power of your worship. Allow it to shift your perspective and remind you that there is only one who belongs on the throne — and it isn’t us.”

*****

I then thought about my teletransportation dream last night.  Worship and praise have the power to move our minds and hearts to a different location.  Worship can take us from a pitty party to a praise party in a matter of moments.  Worship is the tranport window. To steal Paul’s words from Romans 12. Worship helps “transform us by the renewing of our minds.”

And, I have to say, that’s an even sweeter deal than instantly being able to move from the cereal aisle to the toothpaste aisle in Walmart.

September Scar Gazing

“Last night I was thinking how one date on a calendar can hold both memories of pain and loss and also memories of joy and new chapters.  Beauty mixed with pain.  It’s a concept and a part of life I seem to never get tired of thinking about.”  – June 2016

Three months after writing those words my dad passed away on the same day as my birthday. Last year, when I realized it was going to play out like that, I wasn’t sad. I didn’t see it as a date that would forever be scarred…at least not in a bad way. I know it may sound strange to some but I actually took it more as a reassuring embrace from my Savior. My heart knows with incredible certainty that Jesus doesn’t waste any pain in our lives and in our stories.

I saw the timing of my dad’s death more as an act of love. My dad was free from the shackles of bedridden-ness the same day on the calendar that he and my mom watched me come into this world. They had three kids so this was probably one of the three most joyful days in their lives. (This is me speaking as a parent.) 🙂

If there is a scar in this story, it’s the scar of grace and mercy. It’s my Savior showing me the wounds in His hands again and saying to me… I can redeem anything. I can make it beautiful. Keep holding onto that!

I live each day, expectantly, knowing that this is how He operates. It fills me with awe and every moment, good or bad, becomes an opportunity to ask. Ok Lord …do it again…point me to Your scars.  

I was guided to those words from June 2016 again this morning. In the same post,  I also shared the account of Jesus feeding the 5000. The part I love most about that story is the part about the leftovers.  John’s account puts it this way:

“When they were full, He told His disciples, “Collect the leftovers so that nothing is wasted.” John 6:12

I think the reminder that Jesus doesn’t waste anything is as cool as the miracle we read about just a few sentences earlier detailing the feeding of so many people with just 5 loaves and 2 fish.

You waste nothing, Lord.  Do it again!

And now, God, do it again—
    bring rains to our drought-stricken lives
So those who planted their crops in despair
    will shout hurrahs at the harvest,
So those who went off with heavy hearts
    will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.  Ps 126: 4-6 Message

 

Beauty is the Hero

I will be celebrating my 45th birthday this week. The one year anniversary of my dad’s death falls on this exact same date on the calendar.  Recently, as I remembered the passing of both my parents, I thought a little about how different the grief journey has been this time around.

I would never say that grief and the loss of loved ones ever gets easier but I would say the “process” becomes familiar. There’s a strange sense of deja vu with the loss of my dad. I know about the waves.

I know about the highs and lows a heart will need to journey through in order to adapt to new normals. I know about the “something good happened, I’m filled with joy but there’s something missing” feeling. I know about navigating through that feeling and realizing my heart is reaching for the phone again but the people I want to talk to the most aren’t available.

My heart has been on this path before. I retrace the steps.

Beauty.  I’ve been pondering this again. It’s the only thing that I have found (or maybe it found me) over the past 26 years that has helped me make any sort of sense out of the senselessness of loss.

Beauty has never left me alone or abandoned me.  In fact, Beauty is the hero who has swooped in over and over again, lifting me up, carrying me, comforting me, teaching me, reminding me…Keep your eyes on ME.

Beauty doesn’t sit back and watch our pain. Beauty enters the mess, takes us by the hand, and walks the road with us.  Beauty rescues us. Beauty guides us home. Beauty gives us the map again…each and every time our hearts misplace it.

debuts and finales

hellos and goodbyes

sunrises and sunsets

first breaths and lasts

heart breaks and heart swells

through the dark

rays of light

through the pain

glimpses of glory

in every season

beauty rescues

strange and inconceivable for some

a lifeline of unbreakable hope for others

 

“We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:18-20 Message

 

 

Desires and Destinations

Desire and the leanings of our heart’s affection is the root of strength.

Desire is the root that drives our actions, reactions, and movements.

Self-control can only carry us so far.

I was thinking about weeds that pop up in a garden. Self-control is like pulling them out but not getting them out at the root when you pull them up. It works for awhile, the weeds are not visible but the roots haven’t been addressed so we’ve only managed to temporarily control them. Our garden might even appear to be well put together and “weedless” because the issue is buried beneath the surface.

We all know the problem with this method of weed extraction. Over time, the weed will eventually grow up through the dirt again because the driving force, the root, hasn’t been addressed.

Be willing to surrender unhealthy roots and allow Him to replace them with healthy ones. This is the most important step when addressing issues that crop up in our lives.

When He replaces unhealthy desires with healthy ones, guess what grows up through the floor of our souls?  Life, beautiful life!

Easier said than done sometimes isn’t it? As the saying goes old habits (roots) die hard.

But if desire drives our actions than it makes sense to focus on making sure our root desires will reap the results we are hoping for. But how do we change desires?

I can only speak from personal experience but the beginning of significant life change for me started when I brought my unhealthy desires out into the open and honestly expressed them to the Lord. I acknowledged to the Lord that my root desires were not leading me to the results I was desperately searching for. I needed His help.  I needed Him to change my desires.

Take delight in the Lord,
and He will give you your heart’s desires. Psalm 37:4

God will give us the desires of our heart but since God is good and God is love he will only shower down and fill us with desires that are consistent with his character and his nature. This is why the key to the Lord giving us our heart’s desire first comes down to “taking delight in Him.” When we make getting to know Him our priority, a shift begins to happen down at our roots.

What He desires for us

He desires for us is to know the truth because that truth will set us free.

He desires to give us a peace so big that the magnitude of that peace will bring us to our knees in surrender and worship…not out of obligation but out of sheer gratitude.

He desires for us to know the Father…because it’s in the knowing that we understand everything else.

He desires for us to have not just life but life abundant.

He desires to give us unending joy.

He desires to satisfy our thirst …an endless spring that never runs dry.

********

Lord, my every desire is known to You; my sighing is not hidden from You. Psalm 38:9

He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry for help and saves them. Psalm 145:19

One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment. Proverbs 18:1

For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. Philippians 2:13

But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.” 4:14

…And the redeemed of the Lord will return
and come to Zion with singing,
crowned with unending joy.
Joy and gladness will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee. Isaiah 35:10

As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8: 30-32

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

Because of the Great I AM…You are

“I don’t listen to what the world might say. Because I know God gives each of us purpose and meaning and strength beyond our limits. Carry on, friends, and BE the work of art you already are.” ~  Laura Robb

I love these words of encouragement a writer friend of mine shared the other day on Facebook.  They went along with a picture of herself wearing a new shirt with the words “Work of Art” printed on the front.

About the shirt she said, “I had to buy one. It doesn’t matter if my hands are sideways and my legs need the support of braces. It doesn’t matter if we have visible limits or things we think we can’t do. I am a work of art. You are a work of ART.”

Laura was born with Arthrogryposis, a physical disability.  She shares her journey living beyond limits on her blog www.lauracrobb.com. Laura encourages others to live beyond their limits too. I suggest you check out her words of wisdom.

One of the many reasons Laura’s words stuck with me the other day was because they prompted me to remember my One Word again for this year, treasure.

I then thought about how our identities are an unfading, unchanging treasure when we see ourselves correctly and when we view who we are through the correct lens, through the lens of the ultimate Artist.

The ultimate Artist, who sculpted us and molded each of us together. He did this not like a factory spitting out cookie cutter designed humans instead each creation is unique with differing strengths, gifts, talents, purposes, and passions.

Lately, I’ve been trying to remind my teenage son of this truth as often as possible.

Like the unchanging nature of our Creator, the preciousness and value of who you are never changes.

Because of the Great I AM…you are.  (Exodus 3:14)

It’s easy for us to forget that people don’t have the ability to give or take away from the treasure of our identity.  You are.

It’s easy to forget that a person’s approval or disapproval doesn’t diminish our value one bit and need not (should not) dictate our level of joy.  You are.

It’s easy to forget that a person’s acceptance or lack of acceptance of us doesn’t alter the constancy and the stability of this truth: You are a work of ART. You are.

 

Live and move and breathe from that truth today. 

 

Entering the Mess

“The danger for most of us is not that we’ll become bad people who don’t care about things that matter. No the danger is that we’ll become good people who don’t do anything that matters! Within you lies a person who desires to love. God’s Spirit is pulling you and inviting you to become more of that person. The Spirit never guilts you, shames you, or bullies you to become loving. He compels you!”  ~Tim Mannin, Doing Things That Matter (YouVersion devotional)

The words above went well with what’s been swirling around in my heart lately. The devotion also shared the Parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus illustrated so well that everyone is our neighbor.

Jesus showed us in this story how sometimes those who looked put together, those who society deemed acceptable, good, and respectable were the ones who avoided the opportunity to show compassion.

A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion.

Learning from the Samaritan

Love does not evade the mess. Love doesn’t cross the street to avoid different, uncomfortable and inconvenient.

No. Love moves toward the mess. Love takes the time to engage the different, the uncomfortable and the inconvenient. Love looks beyond appearances

But sometimes, it’s easier to cross the street on the other side, isn’t it?

Life is easier when we choose to avoid “the different than us” and the people or situations that threaten to disturb our idea of comfortable and familiar.

But, over and over, that’s not the examples Jesus gives us. He engaged the adulterer at the well. He invited the tax collector to follow him. He enjoyed meals with sinners. He welcomed the touch from a sinful woman who poured out her tears and treasured oil onto His feet. And, yes, even in His darkest hour on the cross, He let one such “different” man know that he would be with Him paradise.

Love is our armor.  It’s the clothing we are called to put on. And when we do, it compels us to move toward the mess, the different, the inconvenient and the uncomfortable.

Just like Jesus did for us.

He crossed the street and moved into our neighborhood. He healed our wounds and restored us back to health.

“The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.”  John 1:14 Message

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23: 25-26

“You judge by human standards. I judge no one.  And if I do judge, My judgment is true, because I am not alone, but I and the Father who sent Me judge together. John 8: 15-16

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

“Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.” Romans 13:10 Message

“For you are all sons of light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or the darkness.  So then, we must not sleep, like the rest, but we must stay awake and be serious. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, we must be serious and put the armor of faith and love on our chests, and put on a helmet of the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” 1 Thess 5-11

“For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ. ” Galatians 1:10

***Just a song I heard earlier this week and wanted to share

Healing on the Horizon

To what lengths am I willing to go for healing?

Am I ready to chase after it with as much desperation as a drunk intent on getting to her next fix?

Remember the focus?

You would lie and steal and deceive and betray just for another sip…and then another…and another…

no obstacles…just stubborn insane determination.

Healing must be pursued like this.

Do you want it and crave it as much as your next breath?

This is life or death…

which do you choose?

This is freedom or bondage…

which do you choose?

Do you run towards it with stubborn insane determination?

No obstacles will stand in your way.

He is mighty to save.

He will pave a path through your sea.

Believe it, live it, and receive it…it’s already yours

Do you see it on the horizon?

Squint if you must…but see it. 

The promised land

it waits for your arrival.

Run

 

 

Who’s Calling Shotgun?

“Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. ” James 1: 19-20 Message

One of the reasons I love flipping over and reading the Message translation every so often is because it will sometimes prompt me to see a familiar verse with fresh eyes.

When I read these words in James 1 this morning I acknowledged an ongoing struggle of mine. Sometimes I don’t let anger “straggle along in the rear” sometimes anger hitches a ride with my tongue and they fight over who is going to ride shot gun.

Here’s a post I wrote just last year.  I reread it again this morning because I need the reminder often.  The onion peeling process continues.   An interesting side note: Earlier this week I discovered and blogged about how the word understanding is mentioned 30 times in 31 chapters in the Book of Proverbs. Guess what else is mentioned 30 times?

“Take the cotton out of your ears and stick it in your mouth.”

This funny yet helpful advice has crossed my mind a number of times in the last few months. The first time I heard someone say it, I was sitting in a narrow downstairs room in a Baptist church at one of my first AA meetings. I think the room must have been, at one time, a storage closet converted into a meeting room. As I think back on this now, it was kind of appropriate to be having recovery meetings in a storage closet. You come across and uncover a lot of junk in storage closets.

There’s wisdom in that funny advice above.  And, nowadays, whenever it comes to mind, this verse from James 1:19 is quick to follow:

“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger…” HCSB

Over the years, I’ve often said that I think Jesus seems to take us on an onion peeling journey. And this be quick to listen slow to speak layer appears to be the layer we have hit. In case you’re like me and need the more direct approach. I am learning, over and over, that in most situations in my life I need to shut up and listen…first.  This comes before explaining, justifying, complaining or defending. This verse in James doesn’t say not to speak…but to be slow to speak. I tend to have a problem with the slow part.

This morning I counted how many times the word listen came up in the Book of Proverbs: 30 times.  30 times in just 31 chapters.  I’m thinking it must be important.

Dear, Lord, keep peeling the onion. I may not be sitting in a storage closet…but I know there is still junk in this heart that needs to be cleaned out and replaced by Your words, Your love, and Your compassion. 

“a wise man will listen and increase his learning,
and a discerning man will obtain guidance.” ~ Proverbs 1:5

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.