Polarizing Words that I Find Beautiful

“But I will sing of Your strength and will joyfully proclaim Your faithful love in the morning. For You have been a stronghold for me, a refuge in my day of trouble.” Psalm 59:16

“Dear friend, you are acting faithfully in whatever you do for the brothers and sisters, especially when they are strangers.” 3 John 5

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:34-40

I shared the verses above because they come to mind most every time I hear a certain political ad on the radio as I drive into work in the morning. The part of the ad that always takes me to these verses in scripture is the part where the politician will list all the differences between him and his opponent. He plans on banning sanctuary cities…she is in favor of sanctuary cities.

Let me stop right here and say I’m not desiring this to be a political post. I know folks across our country have very different views on how to handle the illegal immigration issue in our country. What I did want to share was my heart’s knee jerk reaction every time I hear the words “sanctuary city”…and I have heard those two words quite a bit lately. When those two words stand alone…my heart goes some place beautiful.

I think of a place of refuge for a person going through hard times. I think of how Jesus is my hiding place. I think of running to The Rock that is higher than me. I think of resting in the shadow of His wings. I think of a place of safety. I think of a haven from the storm all around me. I think of the phrase “Harbor of Hospitality”, the slogan for the North Carolina town I lived in for 12 years.

It’s just strange how those two words have become so polarizing in our country. I know that in today’s political climate those words don’t represent sunshine and flowers…they are wrapped up in messy and complicated and heated arguments.  And yet, when I look at those two words… alone…they bring my heart comfort and joy. They take me back to a humbling time in my own life when I needed rescuing and was desperate for a safe place to rest my head. They take me back to the Harbor of Hospitality. I was taken in by strangers. I found a home, a place where I belonged and a place where I flourished.

National Coming Out Day- I See You, I Love You

Treating someone who is different than you with less respect, dignity, value, or worth is not the Jesus way; it’s the complete opposite of the Jesus way.

Remaining silent in the face of injustice because we just don’t want to complicate our own comfortable lives or (add another layer of complexity to an already complicated life) is not the Jesus way; it’s the complete opposite of the Jesus way.

Choosing to love someone who is different than you at a “safe distance” so that your tribe doesn’t “get the wrong idea” is not the Jesus way; it’s the complete opposite of the Jesus way.

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day and I just want to say to all my friends who are gay or on a journey trying to figure out who they are or where they fit, I see you and I love you. Jesus sees you and loves you too. We may not always agree on everything but, THANKFULLY, that’s NOT a requirement in order to love, respect, include, and embrace another human being. Jesus is our perfect example of this too. Differences didn’t stop him from radically loving others FIRST, befriending and forming relationships FIRST, treating folks with value and dignity FIRST.

Go and do likewise.

Decided to share this post again, because I want to remember how I got it wrong and never want to get it this wrong again. Love trumps fear…always.

“Fear, produced by a lack of understanding, is a choice. A lack of understanding could produce love instead. Jesus made this possible for us. We love because He first loved us.”

I was prompted to share this post a couple of years ago right after the Orlando nightclub murders. Judging At Arms Length

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace…

I am so thankful for all the accounts in scripture of Jesus confronting the arrogant, the bully, and the know-it-alls. I am thankful He models, perfectly, the response we should choose. It’s the extravagant outpouring of Truth resting firmly on a foundation of love and grace.  Without this firm foundation His words and actions would not have had the impact that they did.

Anytime I come across stone throwing (or anytime I’m tempted to pick up my own stone and hurl it) I tend to find my way back (as quickly as I can) to one of these accounts in Scripture of Jesus responding in love…showing us how it’s possible to disagree with someone and, yet, show them the same respect, dignity, grace, and love Jesus was modeling for us in Scripture and continues to model for us today through His Word and His Spirit. In these crazy times, where the stones seem to be flying non-stop, I desperately need this reminder daily.

As these thoughts were swirling around in my brain this morning, the lyrics to an old song my mom and I used to sing together at Christmastime came to mind. The song is called “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”.  It was an African American spiritual written in the 1930s and recorded, over the years, by many different artists.  My mom and I knew the Anne Murray version. Here’s the lyrics that came to mind this morning.

“You have told us how
We are trying
Master you have shown us how
Even when you were dying
Just seems like we can’t do right
Look how we treated you
But please Sir forgive us Lord
We didn’t know it was you”

Even when I was a little girl, I remember those lyrics having a profound impact on me. There was an ache in my soul that would rise to the surface as I sung those words. They are honest and raw and remind us just how challenging it is to love others well and correctly.

Today, when I need reminding of how to love well, here are three go to Scripture accounts I run back to…

  1. John 8 1:11 The lady caught in adultery:

Jesus reminds her accusers that none of their lives are blemish free. They may sin differently than the lady caught in the act…but each of them is still just as sinful. I love Scott Sauls reflections on this account “I do not condemn you. Now leave your life of sin. The order is everything. Reverse the order of these two sentences and we lose Christianity.”

2.  Mark 2:13-17 Jesus spending his free time with the tax collectors and sinners:

Loving others well means that we break the holy huddle and spend time with people who may act, speak, and look differently than us. Jesus invested in the lives of people who were labeled as outcasts. He didn’t keep his distance; he intentionally moved closer. He formed relationships with folks who couldn’t have been any more different than him.

3.  Luke 24:42 The thief on the cross:

“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Jesus responds to this man’s request without delay. He doesn’t need time to think about it. He doesn’t tell the man it would be unfair to let him in now since all his life was spent sinning and walking in the wrong direction. No.  He responds, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

What a beautiful message to close out His chapter of modeling love to us here on earth.  It’s a reminder that His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness is infinitely bigger than us:  a receptive and humble heart is the only thing He asks of us.

“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 Message

 

 

 

Keep Blowing Us Away, Lord

“Lord, help us be sensitive to Your spirit, help us to see with Your eyes, position us where You want us to be.”

This is the prayer I pray most every Sunday morning in Volunteer Headquarters.  For the past three years, one my jobs at church is to help lead our host team. On a side note, I find it slightly ironic that the Lord has brought me to a position of leadership within an organization. (Even though I know God has a crazy track record of taking highly unqualified people and inviting them into His story.)  I’ve taken the DISC Assessment Test and it might as well be named ISC in my case. I have very little “D”. I can definitely relate to the folks in the Bible who were somewhat baffled by God’s leadership choices.
David’s father was like…surely it’s not David, the baby of the family, he’s out singing to the sheep.
Moses was like…umm, who am I Lord?
Ananias was like…you want me to go see Saul…that guy who wants to arrest and kill us?

Even though I am still (and will always be) in learning mode when it comes to how to lead a team effectively, there is one lesson the Lord seems to teach me on a regular, ongoing basis: you all can’t do this without Me…or since we are in Georgia (and God meets us where we are) maybe it’s y’all can’t do this without Me, bless your hearts!  🙂

I am reminded, all the time, as I struggle through personal insecurities of not being a “good enough, smart enough” leader that when I acknowledge and confess my lack to an all sufficient God, something beautiful happens…every. single. time.

Eileen…you are not enough…but I AM.
Eileen…the team you lead is not enough…but I AM.

I’ve seen the Lord work and move in our midst despite our (my) lacks, our (my) gaps, and our (my) insufficiencies…and every time He does, He blows me away and reminds me that all He truly requires from us (me) is a willing and receptive Spirit.

The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit.
God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart. Psalm 51:17

Thank you, Lord.

Integrity Matters

“Surely You desire integrity in the inner self, and You teach me wisdom deep within.”  Psalm 51:6

Integrity seems to be the word on my heart today.  I read Psalm 51 this morning and it stuck out to me.  David wrote about it on many occasions. The Psalms, in general, talk quite a bit about the importance of living with integrity.

“The Lord judges the peoples; vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness and my integrity.” “Psalm 7:8

“May integrity and what is right watch over me, for I wait for You.” Psalm 25:21

“Vindicate me, Lord, because I have lived with integrity and have trusted in the Lord without wavering.” Psalm 26:1

“But I live with integrity; redeem me and be gracious to me.” Psalm 26:11

“You supported me because of my integrity and set me in Your presence forever. Psalm 41:12

For the Lord God is a sun and shield. The Lord gives grace and glory; He does not withhold the good from those who live with integrity.”Psalm 84:11

“I will pay attention to the way of integrity. When will You come to me? I will live with a heart of integrity in my house.” Psalm 101:2

“My eyes favor the faithful of the land so that they may sit down with me. The one who follows the way of integrity may serve me.” Psalm 101:6

If we compromise integrity, it will come back to bite us.

David knew this all too well. I know this all too well. During my running away days, I compromised integrity, one poor choice after another. Instead of trusting the Lord with all my questions and doubts about my future, I pursued a relationship with a man who also compromised integrity. After a decade of bad decisions, he ended up in prison and I ended up in a pit of my own making.  Looking back, I can see the pivotal moments along the path, little (BIG) moments where I turned right when I should have gone left, where I went forward when I should have turned around, when I remained silent when I should have spoken up.  I settled. I settled for my way, a way that was completely powered by fear. I traded in the wisdom and discernment He was offering me and chose to go it alone.

If we compromise integrity it will come back to bite us.

…and the bite mark it leaves behind is there to remind us:  integrity matters!

Mankind, He has told you what is good
and what it is the Lord requires of you:
to act justly,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah: 6:8

Wrestling, Thinking & Thanking

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the difference between judging versus holding a person accountable.  It seems to be a fine line, sometimes.  I think the difference  can be summed up in one question.  What is our motive?  Are we pointing out the “speck” in their eye disregarding the log in our own?  Do we point out the concerns from a place of humility or a place of “I am so much better than you” pride?  Is our desire to help the individual overcome and encourage them to choose healthier/wiser options? Does it stem from a deep and genuine concern over the potential consequences of someone’s poor choices/behavior?  These are the questions rolling around in my brain lately.

I think about things like a friend in an abusive relationship and we ask “Why are you still with him/her?  That’s not judging…that’s genuine concern for your friend’s safety and well being.

I think about pastors in recent news where a long history of sexual harassment has surfaced or infidelity has occurred and the congregation and church leadership question whether or not the pastor is fit to stay in his current role. Most don’t see this as judging (as long as it’s done with right motives). It’s holding the leader accountable.  We’d be appalled if the church leadership turned a blind eye (and didn’t address the issue) simply because the pastor knew how to preach a real good sermon on Sundays or had shared, over the years, really valuable/helpful truths on how to do life with Christ. Instead, we would hope the “fall” would lead the pastor to repent, acknowledge their need for help, seek forgiveness, and take time for healing and restoration. We would hope those making the decisions would not compartmentalize or rationalize away the poor conduct.

I think about how important it is to take responsibility for our own faith journeys and discover the “I am the way, the truth and the life” Savior for ourselves…personally.  No one can “come to Jesus” for us. No one can “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” for us.  I think about how influential my mom was to leading me to faith in Christ. As a young girl, she was my rock and I looked to her to understand the things of faith and to hold me accountable. However, I learned quickly how riding on the coattails of someone else’s faith and understanding will only carry you so far. At 18, when she passed away, I discovered I had no clue (and really no desire) to “stand firm in the faith” without her in my life. I had to learn (through mistakes, wrong turns and serious failures) how desperately the Savior she had was the Savior I needed too.  No one could be my unshakeable Rock accept for Him. This is an ongoing lesson I must continue to learn and relearn every day of my life.

I am thankful for accounts in scripture of people like Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who came to Jesus one night “working out his salvation with fear and trembling” not settling for what his peers and what authority figures were telling him he should believe. Instead, he sought out Jesus. He went looking for the truth.

I’m thankful we live in a nation where we have the freedom to question those in authority. I am thankful for the freedom to peacefully protest. I am thankful for those who fought and even died for our right to speak out and disagree.  There are places in this world where speaking out against or questioning the motives of authority figures could lead to imprisonment or even execution. 

I am thankful that we have a Savior who is sovereign over seasons where we are left thoroughly confused. I am thankful for examples like Joseph who could look at his brothers and say with no ill will “what you intended for harm God used it for good!”  I am thankful for the reminder that even Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was used to bring about ultimate victory. I need to remember His  sovereignty has the final say when the world around me seems to be spinning out of control.

 

 

 

My (Small) Leap Off the Good Ship Lollipop

If you know me at all, you know that my knee jerk reaction is to avoid conflict and arguments.  I’ve always been more of a “can’t we all just get along?” type person.  I don’t like discussions that turn into screaming matches, name calling, and foul language. And, If I discover that I’ve hurt someone’s feelings, I’ll typically cry and seek forgiveness for being an insensitive jerk.

On social media, I do my best to stay away from subjects that will provoke anger. I’ve deliberately avoided most conversations about politics because I know that my ability to change someone’s mind in a tweet or post is futile. However, behind the screen, I am much more animated and vocal. I am very thankful there is no hidden camera capturing my initial reaction to some of the things I read and see.  I will admit to you that I do a lot of shaking my head in disbelief and making disgusted faces at my computer screen and television. Usually, this happens with great frequency before I finally do what has always been more helpful in these situations. Pray.  “Lord, help understand…help me to respond in love and not hate or anger.”

I’m not sure what’s triggered it, specifically, but I’m beginning to feel this shift taking place inside of me. I’m tired of remaining completely quiet about things I see and read that break my heart.  I’m tired of being afraid that my words might rock my little boat…my little Good Ship Lollipop…where we all are “happy landing on a chocolate bar.”  (For any younger generation readers that’s a Shirley Temple reference.)

I’ve been told that when you reach your 40s you stop caring so much about what other people think of you. Next week I turn 46… maybe I can blame this subtle shift I’m experiencing on that.  Or, maybe I can blame it on being out on a run last week and hearing the song Brave by Sara Bareillis again. (I still love this song!)

“Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
Innocence, your history of silence
Won’t do you any good
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”

Here are the two comments I shared this week on social media in an effort to make sense of some of thoughts rolling around inside of my brain and heart.

When you ‘take the high road’ – it means doing the right thing even if it’s not easy. It also shows us that you are someone who is capable of putting aside differences and choosing humility, grace and respect. Personally, these qualities mean SO MUCH MORE to me than how someone votes. I want leaders who care about integrity, honesty, compassion and kindness. I could disagree (politically) all day long with a leader who possesses these qualities and, yet, at the end of the day I’d still be able to say “I don’t agree with you… but I don’t doubt for one moment that your intentions are good and trustworthy.” Saddened that character has been placed in the backseat or, worse, completely thrown out the window. -Originally posted on Facebook August 27

A help me understand question for evangelicals who continue to support/praise the President unwaveringly/unabashedly. What leadership qualities does he possess that model Jesus? Where have you seen the fruit of a transformed/Jesus following disciple? I’m truly curious. –Originally Posted on Twitter August 31

These posts greatly took me out of my comfort zone and it was a good place for me to be.  Both posts ended up teaching me things.
1. I can write and ask controversial things and not die.
2. There are other people out there wrestling with the same questions I’m wresting with.
3. People are capable of talking/disagreeing about hard subjects without yelling at each other or calling people names.

A Story About Love

I want to share a beautiful story with you because I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit and each time I do it makes my heart smile.

I was at the memorial service last week to celebrate the life of one of our church members, Larry, and to support his wife, Elaine. Elaine and Larry had been married close to 50 years and had been attending Rock Bridge long before I moved to Georgia. When I came on staff at our Dalton campus a little over three years ago, they were some of the first volunteers I met. Elaine and Larry would show up to greet every Sunday…even on the Sundays they weren’t “scheduled”.  For Elaine and Larry, serving others was/is simply a part of being the church.

One of my favorite things about the memorial service for Larry were all the stories that were shared by those who knew and loved Larry most. I so enjoyed hearing the different memories each family member shared with us. I was given a very tiny snapshot into a person’s life… long before I knew them.  I only witnessed the final chapter (three short years) of Larry’s life on earth.  At the point in his life that I knew Larry, dementia and frailness had already set in.

Elaine had her “four” sons at the memorial service.  Elaine and Larry only had two sons by birth.  Her other two sons had been “adopted” into the family years and years ago when her boys were growing up back in the 70s.  I actually knew one of her “adopted” sons, Terry. Terry  serves on our Coffee Team on Sunday mornings. However, it wasn’t until Larry’s memorial service that I learned how deep the bond was between Elaine and Larry’s family and Terry.  He was at their house regularly and would even join them on family outing or trips to and from soccer practice.

A few days following Larry’s memorial service I connected with Elaine again for a few minutes. She needed to pick up some flowers she had left at the church.  Again, I told Elaine how much I appreciated all the stories and fun memories her sons had shared.  I told her I loved learning of the bond between her family and Terry too.  Elaine again shared “Terry is part of our family; he is my son.”  She went on to say how back in those days it was still not a very common sight to see black and white families integrate.  And then I said,  “but you don’t look at the color of someone’s skin, do you Elaine?

“No” she answered. “Eileen, my mom and dad didn’t raise us that way.  They taught us right. They taught us how everyone is the same and should be loved the same.”

Elaine then went on and shared a story I will never forget.  If I am doing my math right this would have been back in the 1940s.  Elaine said when she was a little girl, her family had “help.”  It was common to have help in those days. Rosa and her family were their help. Elaine shared how every night her family and their help would sit down around the dinner table… together.  Elaine’s mom and dad would make a point of letting their kids know that there was no difference between their family and Rosa’s family.  “We are all the same” they would say.  Elaine even said when Rosa’s daughter became old enough to go to college she wanted to become a nurse but couldn’t afford to go off to school so Elaine’s mom and dad paid for her education.  When Rosa’s daughter graduated in Chicago a few years later, Elaine’s parents traveled to Chicago to attend the ceremony.

I’m not sure how to end this post other than to say that hearing this story filled my heart with so much joy.  I love being reminded that there are people who truly live out what is right and who choose to extravagantly love others regardless of what the world, the media, or society might currently be shouting at them.

 

…but I won’t hurt the same

“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

These are some of my favorite lyrics in a song. I guess I love the idea that the “pain” we feel in heaven will be this all knowing kind of pain.

It’s that kind of pain I suspect Jesus must have felt when He told His disciples He was going away, that this was for the best, that his leaving was out of love for them. Jesus fully knew the next chapter and I can imagine the heartache he must have felt over seeing his disciples wrestle with confusion and doubt.  Oh, My Child, you don’t understand…but one day you will!  

It’s also that kind of ache a soul feels when it encounters something so beautiful that there are no words to describe it. That kind of ache when faith and hope become sight. When Paul’s encouragement in Philippians become a reality. The pressing on and the straining towards has ceased. (Philippians 3) It’s the kind of joyful, weight of glory, ache of knowing…really knowing...it wasn’t in vain. Your mind recalls all those seasons of doubt, all those seasons of walking through the fuzziness and just holding on…listening for the voice in the desert calling out to you, reassuring you…  I am the way, the truth and the life….don’t give up…keep going.  

********

I shared this thought years ago, but it came to mind again this morning….

When my mom died, I remember sitting in Pizza Hut with one of my brothers and my dad after we left the hospital.  My dad insisted we grab a bite to eat since we hadn’t eaten all day. I can only recall one thing I said while sitting in the booth waiting for our pizza.

Dad, do you ever feel as if this life is just a dream and when we die it’s like we finally fully wake up?

I have no clue what my dad’s response was to me.  I just know that, at the time, that was the overriding thought sweeping over me.  This isn’t it.  Life, real life,  is so much bigger than this moment of pain.  

Even today, I sometimes get that feeling. Dreams don’t always make sense to us and portions of them often seem incomplete and fuzzy.  Life often leaves me scratching my head like a weird dream.  When I was younger, that lack of understanding used to scare me.  It used to have me running in fear.  But now it doesn’t.  Now it has me holding on tightly in faith.  I cling to what I know to be true.

We see and we taste just a fraction of the life God has planned for us.  One day, I will wake up fully.  One day, I will understand completely.

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We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Corinthians 13: 12-13 Message

 

When Pursuit Becomes an Idol

“Always desire our Healer more than the healing.
Always desire our Redeemer more than the redemption.
Always desire the Deliverer more than the delivery.

Always remember He alone is the Lord our God.” ~Ben Finger

I thought this was such a good reminder that in our pursuit of healthy, whole, and free that we don’t make the mistake of making the pursuit of healthy, whole and free (all good things) idols themselves. We can get so obsessed with the pursuit that we lose sight of the One we pursue.

We forget the one who lifts up our head (Psalm 3:3) in our quest for our head to be lifted.  We focus on the lifting and not the LIFTER. We forget that He is not only the bread giver…He is the bread. We forget that He not only supplies the air…HE is the air.

We forget to take delight in Him. (Psalm 37:4)

Reminded me of some words from a blog post earlier this year…

Jesus came and announced that He was “the way the truth and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through Him” John 14:6. He didn’t claim to be someone who simply pointed us in the right direction. Instead, he claimed to be THE direction, the path. He’s not just the compass holder, He’s the actual compass. He is not just a truth teller. He is truth. He is not just a life giver. He is life. He’s not just the bread giver. He is the bread.

I think of the Israelites and the manna in the desert. They fixated so much on the manna they lost sight of the One who promised He would be the supplier of all their daily needs.

“Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”
However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.” Exodus 16: 19-20

When we focus on, pursue, and hold onto those things that fall short of the giver of life Himself… the mission will end up being just as misdirected, maggot infested, and foul smelling. It won’t fully sustain. It won’t fully satisfy.

It won’t last. 

Who do I have in heaven but You?
And I desire nothing on earth but you. Psalm 73:25

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

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4