Manna for the Marathon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last month, I attended the Re-Group conference in Atlanta. It’s a conference designed to help equip and improve group culture, community and connection in churches. One of my favorite quotes from that time of learning came during the main session when Andy Stanley shared how people will often meet him and tell him that they visited his church one Sunday. When this happens, he wants to correct them and say: “No, you didn’t, you came to one of our worship services and heard a message; the church is what happens in and through small groups the rest of the week.”

I thought about this conference again after revisiting some words I wrote last year.

*******

I am the bread of life. These words in scripture have taken on a deeper meaning since I’ve started looking more actively for God’s hand working in me, around me, and through me. His desire is to sustain us every step of the way. It was never His design that we simply meet with Him exclusively on a Sunday morning, or for 15 minutes every day during the week, or 30 seconds before eating our evening meal when we bow our head for a quick prayer of thanks.

“We worship a God transcendent and immanent, other and intimate, high and lifted up yet closer than our own breath.”- Drew Dyck

I am the bread of life. Can you imagine becoming stronger or healthier if we only “ate” on Sunday morning or 15 minutes first thing in the morning? I tend to see the daily bread God says is available to us more like those refueling stations along a marathon route rather than a once a day visit to an all you can eat buffet. Ever notice how after eating a big meal you feel certain you won’t be hungry again until next Tuesday? But then, three hours later, you find yourself making a turkey sandwich and grabbing some chips out of the cupboard. This is why God’s daily bread is more beneficial to us when we remember to nibble on His provisions as we journey along. Every new day there is fresh manna along our path. Yet we need actively engaged eyes and a willing heart to recognize this manna and pick these provisions up.

God longs to nourish us and fill us up as we move further up the path, so we move forward with hearts and minds willing to receive.

*******

After rereading these words and thinking about the comment that Andy Stanley made, I had this thought.

Community is not sustainable at an all-you-can-eat-once-a-week buffet. Community is sustained at the watering stations along the running route. That’s where we will find some much-needed provisions. Could you imagine running a marathon without watering and refueling stations?  So why do we some times think we can get through this marathon called life without these pit stops?

We need places as we journey along where we receive nourishment and encouragement from others. We need folks in our lives who see us limping and are willing to help tend to our blisters.

Refueling stations:  We need them for ourselves AND we need to be this place for others. This is where we will find provisions. This is where we will receive manna for the marathon!

Hmm…maybe we should change the name of small groups to refueling stations?? 😉

 

Georgia Graceflakes

Adorable girl catching snowflakes with her tongueDeposit Photos

Ever have one of those nights where it felt as if you dreamed one dream after another? Yesterday morning, when I woke up, that’s how it felt…a marathon night of dreaming. Yet the only dream I could fully remember was this one:

I stood in my living room and happened to glance out the window.  From the slots in the blinds I could see snow falling. I went outside and the world was a winter wonderland. It was beautiful!  I stood there in disbelief and amazement.  I said to myself…but it’s May 22…in Georgia. How does it snow in Georgia in May?!?

The next thought that came to mind in my dream was this verse in Isaiah:

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18

And then, of course, the next thought I had… Wow, Lord, I need to write about this…this is incredible! 🙂

***************

When I woke up the next morning, as I waited for the coffee machine to finish brewing, I checked the messages on my phone. I had been tagged in a Facebook post by friend who was sharing how he was going to be getting baptized today to celebrate his new life in Christ.  And then it hit me…it’s May 22…it’s baptism Sunday at church today!  

I then thought about the surprising and totally unexpected snow in my dream and the verse that came to mind as I stood there admiring it.  “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

That’s what baptism symbolizes– a cleansing, a clean slate, a journey from death to life…an external expression of life and faith in Christ that shouts…I once was condemned but now I’m redeemed!

As I was typing this post the words “surprised to be loved” came to mind.  I knew they were from a verse in one of the Psalms in the Message translation so I decided to find it and read it again.

But me he caught—reached all the way
    from sky to sea; he pulled me out
Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,
    the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down,
    but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
    I stood there saved—surprised to be loved! ~Psalm 18: 16-19

“Surprised to be loved”  personally, that’s life in Christ for me.  It’s like looking at snow in May in Georgia. It’s incredible and it’s hard to believe unless you are standing there and feeling those graceflakes falling on your face.

From Crazy to the Cross

A year or so ago CS Lewis and Dallas Willard both decided to follow me on Twitter on the exact same day. Here’s what I wrote about that experience:

“When Dallas Willard and CS Lewis both decide to follow you on Twitter on the same day. First, you enthusiastically follow them back. Then, you quickly dismiss the fact that both of those men aren’t really living on earth right now and for the briefest of moments you live in that fun place where they really truly did just follow you on twitter.”

Well, yesterday, CS Lewis asked folks to share if they have a “life verse” and, if they do, why this verse is important to them.  So, of course, when CS Lewis wants to know what my life verse is, I’m going to share it with him. 😉 

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Heb 10:23- Because hope, it means everything.”

************

Yesterday was also the four-year anniversary of my dad’s stroke. In an instant, my dad lost his ability to walk. He lost his ability to get out of bed or to use the bathroom all by himself. He lost his independence and became completely dependent on a caretaker.

It’s been a rough journey for my dad. He’s never been able to reach a place of acceptance or peace so when he started to lose his mind last year it was actually somewhat of a bittersweet gift to us, his kids.  He no longer chronically aches (like he once did) to go home. He no longer plots and schemes to break out of his “prison.” He no longer gets angry with us for not letting him go back to his house.

But, on the flip side, he can no longer remember that he and I talked on the phone yesterday. He can no longer remember I came home to visit him in the Spring.  He can no longer remember (consistently) that my mom (his wife) died 25 years ago. He mentions how people have come to visit him (people who haven’t been alive in years). He can no longer remember how to use a phone and insists that his phone is not his phone.

Nowadays, I must call or text his caretaker, Frances, to see how he is doing. Yesterday when I spoke to her she shared with me that when my dad woke up that morning he told her that he had died.

**********

A few weeks ago, I called Frances as I was driving home from work and she told me that my dad had been talking with God all day long.  As soon as she said this, my heart was filled with hope. My dad never talks to God.

After we hung up the phone I began to pray. Lord, nothing is impossible for You. I hope my dad was talking to you and I hope you were talking to him. No one is so far gone (not physically, not spiritually, not mentally) that God is unable to reach them.

“I once was lost, but now I’m found.
Was blind, but now I see.”

Could it be, Lord, in our lost minds, we are truly found?  Maybe the route to redemption is that ridiculous. Because Jesus has a track record of showing up right in the middle of crazy, right in the middle of impossible, right in the middle of our hopeless looking circumstances. He enters our chaos and invites us to calm. He enters our pain and covers us in peace.  In our gaping lacks we discover overflowing love

Speak to us, Lord.  Meet us in the crazy and offer us the cross.

And I will say it again and claim it again today:  “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”

New-Life
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come up from this ground at all?
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You
~Gungor “Beautiful Things”

There’s an Army Rising Up

Bridge at Shinsen-en Sacred Spring Garden

A short blog post popped up in my Facebook feed this morning, words I originally wrote and shared four years ago in a post titled, Cave or Castle? Makes No Difference to God.

“So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there. Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men.”
1 Samuel 22: 1-2

I read these couple of verses this morning and the first thought that popped into my mind was:

Isn’t that just like God?

David was on the run from Saul. He was hiding out in a cave. And yet, God still placed him in a position to lead 400 men!

So often, we are looking for ideal environments before we serve.
This has to be right.
That has to be right.
But David was in a cave.

What a great reminder that God can and will use us anywhere and anytime. What we might perceive as an inconvenience, He perceives as an opportunity.

*********

Last night was our Membership Connect dinner at church. The words above reminded me of one the stories our pastor shared with the folks in attendance.  It was the story of how, years ago, (and prior to being a church pastor) he had a conversation with a man who had decided not to come to church one Easter because he didn’t have nice enough clothes to wear. This encounter was a pivotal moment in our pastor’s heart and one of the reasons you won’t find a dress code at our church. Dress codes create barriers and our desire is to build bridges for folks from all walks of life to walk over.

One of the beautiful reminders (and one that hits me on a regular basis) I had after last night’s dinner was that all walks of life is not simply a nice pretty concept or slogan at our church…it’s real, it’s lived out. Last night, I saw a full spectrum of lives walking through the auditorium doors. Whether rich, poor, old, young…folks arrived to become members and to learn more about ways to serve and get connected.

So often, we are looking for ideal environments before we serve.
This has to be right.
That has to be right.
But David was in a cave.

I read those words again this morning and immediately thought about the homeless couple at last night’s dinner. They have been regular attenders for a while and last night they showed up to take their next step in connection.Their current situation is far from ideal and yet this didn’t deter them. This couple, I’m certain, could write down a number of reasons why this isn’t right and that isn’t right.  But guess what? They serve a LORD who isn’t hindered by circumstances. They serve a LORD who isn’t deterred by lack of money or limited resources. They serve a LORD who will and can use anyone, anytime…all that’s needed is a heart that says “yes”.

The words from Break Every Chain began playing on repeat in my heart as I typed this post this morning.  “There’s an army rising up. There’s an army rising up, to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain.” 

Rise up, Lord. Meet us where we are today.

The Sheep and the Sign

sheep

As my family and I drove up I-24 in Chattanooga over the weekend, I saw a billboard I had never noticed before.  It was an advertisement for the Chattanooga Zoo. The message on the sign caught my attention:

“Get real.
Get close.
Get connected.”

I immediately thought, that’s an accurate definition of living in relationship with Christ and in community with others.

Of all the places to be reminded of this truth…and I see it while riding down the interstate on a billboard advertisement for the local zoo.

On a side note, the more I thought about this sign the more amused I became. It made me think of the random black and white billboards I would see along the highway I used to travel down everyday while living in North Carolina. They would be messages from “God”

“Don’t make me come down there.” ~ GOD

“Well, you asked for a sign.”  ~ GOD

Get real with Christ: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.” James 4: 10-11 Amazing things happen when we choose to become vulnerable before our Creator. Real is the gateway to transformation. Real begins the process of healing and redemption. Real gives God permission to come into our hearts and our lives, to clean house and rearrange the furniture.

Get real with others:  The sign also made me think of a portion of our church’s mission statement:

“Our mission is to glorify God by connecting people from all walks of life to life in Christ…We come as we are; we believe everyone matters to God and, therefore, matters to us…”.

When we are real with the folks around us, it’s like a nod of the head to others. Real encourages, inspires, and cultivates more real. Real lets others know that they have permission to be real too…the atmosphere is safe.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:9 

Get Close to Christ: My first thought was this verse, “Come near to God and He will come near to you” – James 4:8 I also thought how Christ models closeness so well.  He came to earth, made himself nothing. He chose to get close to us, to walk in our shoes and to walk along side his creation.  And then, when His time had come, he makes a point to tell His disciples that He won’t leave them alone.  In fact, he shares with them that it’s actually good for him to go away (in body) because His going away paves the way for the ever-present Holy Spirit. This guide would always be available to direct, to teach, to convict, to offer us peace…a faithful friend…as close as the air we breathe.

Get Close to others: I thought about the verse in Hebrews 10. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Close requires intentionality.  It’s a choice we have to make everyday…to be willing to be inconvenienced and to invest in those around us…and Jesus is our example to follow.  (Philippians 2: 1-11) 

Get Connected with Christ: I thought about a verse I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately in John 15. “I am the vine; you are the branches.” This is where we must choose to abide. This is where we must make our home.  This is where the Spirit living inside us will receive its strength and its wisdom.  

Get Connected with others: We were designed to live connected. Even the way the Trinity, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is set up and functions reveals this truth to us. We need each other.  I love this reminder in Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

A lesson on a zoo sign?

Well, Lord, I guess you were talking to one of your sheep. 🙂 

Beyond the Old Winter Coats

new life

You know what I felt compelled to do the other day?

I opened my Bible up to the notes sections and wrote down two songs I’d like to be played at my memorial service…songs and words and ideas I want the loved ones in my life to remember and cling to as they remember me. A third song came to mind as I started writing this post. “Lord I Need You”  by Matt Maher.

And, then, I stopped writing for a few minutes, listened to that beautiful song again and cried.

I also stopped writing for a few minutes because I struggled with how I was going share the words on my heart this morning.  I know the death subject makes some folks uncomfortable.  I know there are people who would just prefer not to think about it. I know some people who have probably even stopped reading this post because of the topic. I also know people who might even consider me a Debbie Downer if I were to bring the subject of death up in a conversation.  But that’s not how I feel about death.

Death is the one thing we all have in common. Why don’t we openly talk about it more?  I’ve wondered this for years and years now. It’s one of those uncomfortable topics we need to be willing to think about.

I remember, decades ago, when I was in my first semester of nursing school (back when I considered taking the nursing career path)  listening to one nursing teacher talk about death.  She said that young folks, like most of us in the class, have this invincible mentality. She said that it’s hard for people “our age” to understand the concept of death. As I listened to her talk, I found myself getting angry with her on the inside.

Listen lady, my mom died three months ago, she’s gone.  I think I “get” death.  I think I completely understand that my days on this earth are numbered. 

I know the teacher was making a valid point, it just hit way too close to home that morning.

It’s interesting to me, when I look back on that season in my life, even though I “got” death how I then proceeded to spend a whole decade running in the wrong direction after my mom’s death.

Pain will prompt you to do some crazy things sometimes.

One of my favorite parts of Scripture to read can be found in the Book of John. I find myself revisiting this book over and over.  Personally, there is something so beautiful about Jesus telling us that He is the Bread of Life.  This morning, as I read through chapter 6 again, a familiar thought crossed my mind: This whole section is too crazy not to be true.  Maybe that’s why I love it so much. It’s the crazy stuff like this in the Bible that actually deepens my faith.  It’s what I like to call a you can’t make this stuff up section in the Bible.  I read these passages and my heart simply knows that the words Jesus is speaking are the Truth.  I guess this is part of the Holy Spirit’s job in our life, isn’t it; to make sense of the nonsensical.

This morning I spent some time reading John 6 in the Message version again. I love this:

Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me.

“This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.” John 6: 35-40

This is why I don’t mind talking about death. This is why I feel compelled to live with one eye fixed on eternity. Death, in relationship with Christ, is not the end, it’s a new beginning. Ultimately, it’s not an exit door, it’s an entry way.

It’s the foyer to forever. 🙂

PS:  I thought about that well-known wardrobe in the C.S. Lewis classic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I want to be like Lucy who had the faith and the curiosity to look for, reach out, and take hold of the beauty that lies beyond the old winter coats.

When Light Arrives on Time

sea

“When evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. Darkness had already set in, but Jesus had not yet come to them. Then a high wind arose, and the sea began to churn.  After they had rowed about three or four miles,they saw Jesus walking on the sea. He was coming near the boat, and they were afraid.”  But He said to them, “It is I.Don’t be afraid!”  Then they were willing to take Him on board, and at once the boat was at the shore where they were heading.” John 6: 16-21

It was on this thought my heart lingered this morning:

“Darkness had already set in, but Jesus had not yet come to them.”

How many of us can relate to those seasons in life when the darkness is all around us and we wonder if Jesus lost his copy of the itinerary?

Umm, Jesus, where are you?  It’s getting dark.

So, we continue along on our journey, we take the next step, uncertain as to when Jesus is going to arrive on the scene.

Sometimes Jesus allows the darkness to show up in our lives in order to soften our hearts, stretch our faith, and open our eyes to who we desperately need in the boat with us.

It was the absence of light, the chaotic seas, and losing sight of the shore when the disciples were reminded again of who and what they needed most in their lives. It was this vulnerable state combined with a Savior who spoke timely truth that calmed their fears and prompted the disciples to invite Jesus into their situation.

Today if you feel as if the darkness has already set in but Jesus has not yet come…consider this…maybe He’s not late. Maybe He’s right on time. Maybe He’s standing right there next to your rocking world just waiting for the invitation to climb in the boat.

Known Before We Know

beach

To be known before we know

I’ve been thinking more about this ever since reading these words over the weekend in Eugene Peterson’s book Run with the Horses: “The fundamental mistake is to begin with ourselves and not God.”

In this section, Peterson is talking about how God knew Jeremiah before Jeremiah knew him. When we make this the starting point in all our thoughts about God, it changes everything. As Peterson points out, we mistakenly think and live as if “God is an object about which we have questions.” Page 39

“But that is not the reality of our lives with God. Long before we ever got around to asking questions about God, God had been questioning us. Long before we got interested in the subject of God, God subjected us to the most intensive and searching knowledge. Before it ever crossed our minds that God might be important, God singled us out as important. Before we were formed in the womb, God knew us. We are known before we know. This realization has a practical result: no longer do we run here and there, panicked and anxious, searching for the answers to life. Our lives are not puzzles to be figured out. Rather, we come to God, who knows us and reveals to us the truth of our lives. The fundamental mistake is to begin with ourselves and not God. God is the center from which all life develops. If we use our ego as the center from which to plot the geometry of our lives, we will live eccentrically.” Run with the Horses, Page 39

This idea has made me rethink the way I have often seen life as a jigsaw puzzle, where I am trying to make sense of all the different pieces of my life, where I’m trying to figure out where everything fits together. This jigsaw puzzle perspective puts the emphasis on me, instead of God.  What Peterson so beautifully points out, all the answers we are searching for are found in Christ, in communion with the One who has always known us. It is in relationship with our Creator that our eyes are opened to the truth. Yet, how often do we tend to forget this? How often do we make the mistake of running around and anxiously searching rather than coming to and abiding in? 

I don’t know about you, but I need this reminder all the time, the reminder to begin with Him…not me, not my circumstances, not my feelings…Him.  Everything is revealed within relationship with the Giver of our life. He’s the giver, we are the receivers…but receivers can’t receive when they attempt to live independently or separated from the Giver.

You know what’s refreshing about this way of life and this relationship when we actually choose to receive it…to live and breathe and move from this place?

It doesn’t require us to do anything. It’s simply an invitation to come and receive.

“For in Him we live and move and exist…” Acts 17:28

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  Matthew 11: 28-30

Flash Floods and Finish Lines

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-little-girl-backpack-standing-mountain-top-day-time-image45156926I didn’t think I was going to write a “thinking about and missing my mom” post this Mother’s Day. Then, this morning, I was scrolling through Facebook and a friend had shared a reunion video. Her mom was about to run her first half-marathon and my friend (an avid runner) decided to secretly fly clear across the country and show up to run the race with her mom.

The video shows my friend running up on her mom during her final pre-race training run. As I watched the joy and delight come over her mom upon seeing her daughter standing there next to her, a sudden rush of emotion suddenly came over me.  It seemed to come out of no where…like flash floods and rising waters during the monsoon season I can still remember from my Arizona childhood.

The dam broke and the tears fell.

I cried because of the beauty.
I cried because of the love.
I cried because of a question that flashed across my brain. Would I have been that kind of daughter, Lord…one who would fly across the country to surprise her mom?
I cried because, yes Lord, “hope IS a beautiful thing, maybe the best of things” and just like Andy Dufresne (of course it’s another Shawshank Redemption reference), I know that no good thing ever dies.
I cried because even through the tears, and the missing, and the subtle ache that never ever goes away, I am certain at the end of this race, a joyful reunion awaits. My running partner will be  waiting for me  at the finish line.  Both my mom and my Savior have made me that promise.

“When I get to Heaven I’ll understand the pain
And I’ll hurt for those who have not come yet
But I won’t hurt the same”  ~Steve Moakler, Holiday at Sea

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,” – Hebrews 6:19

 

Showing up for Class

circle

The first sentence of the devotional I read this morning: “The word disciple means ‘learner,’ so a disciple of Jesus is a learner of Jesus.”

The devotional went on to say that this is a continual process of absorbing and practicing the teachings of Jesus. Learning and knowing and understanding is a life long journey of choosing to be a student. As we learn and as we wrestle, we grow. Yet, we never reach a time where we graduate and stop attending classes or meeting with our teacher.

From the moment we wake until the moment we sleep again, we are in the classroom where Professor Jesus comes alongside us to help each student make sense of all the material.  And, as we learn, we are given opportunities to encourage others to become learners and to sign up for this life long adventure of learning.

That’s the thought I had this morning, after reading the following words in Luke 24:13-15

“Now that same day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. Together they were discussing everything that had taken place.  And while they were discussing and arguing, Jesus Himself came near and began to walk along with them.”

A couple of ideas stood out to me after reading this passage.

The students were in the “classroom”…together.  They were discussing and arguing over the class work…together. And as they wrestled and questioned, guess who shows up to help them understand the material?  The teacher!   I love how this translation puts it, “And while they were discussing and arguing, Jesus Himself came near and began to walk along with them.”

I loved this reminder today: the Teacher, Himself promises to be in the classroom with us. When we make a commitment to show up for class, our teacher will be there to journey with us through all the challenging questions.   

Today, I want to show up for class.  I want to learn from the teacher.  No matter how confusing or how many questions arise, I want to remember that all the answers I am seeking are found in the classroom and near the Teacher.

“The 11 disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain, where Jesus had directed them, When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember,I am with you always to the end of the age.”  Matt 28: 16-20