It Takes Faith

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“My troubles turned out all for the best; they forced me to learn from your textbook.” Psalm 119:71

I read this verse this morning and was reminded of a conversation I had earlier in the week at lunch. I mentioned to my lunch date how I had made many wrong turns before arriving on the path God wanted me to be on.

I still marvel at the fact that God finds a way to use the bad to teach us dependency on Him. He not only uses our stubborn detours but He also uses those painful seasons, the ones completely out of our control, to remind us and to teach us that we are in a constant state of dependency.

As I thought more about this cycle of redemption, I was reminded of how hard it is to see this lesson when you happen to be walking through the middle of hell. When the “why” questions threaten to become louder than God’s “trust Me I’ve got you” invitation, faith must work double duty in our hearts and in our minds. It must become a conscious and deliberate decision to trust and surrender over and over and over.

It takes faith to come back to the God you think has failed you…to come back and be still long enough to listen.

It takes faith to trust and to put your day-to-day life in the care of invisible hands.

It takes faith to open a Book that is thousands of years old and believe there are promises and truths tucked away in it that still apply perfectly to your current situation.

It takes faith.

And yet, when you witness God take your mustard seed of faith and run with it…there is no denying.

Sometimes, there are days, I wonder if I will ever stop relating so much to the father who told Jesus…”I do believe. Help my disbelief!” Mark 9:24

And then I remember, it’s in that moment, when Jesus does His best work!

Show off today, Jesus, and give us eyes to see it.

Beautiful Grace

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A picture I took several years ago while in the Dominican Republic…I came across it this morning as I looked for a picture for this post. I love how beautiful this little girl is…despite (or maybe BECAUSE of) the smudged face, wrinkled dress, and dirty feet.

 

“This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.” Ephesians 3:7-8 (Message)

I read these words from the Apostle Paul this morning and immediately thought of a group of kids waiting to be picked to play on a team.

It warms my heart to think that God looks at that lineup and then calls out to the scrawniest kid, “You, my child, are exactly what I’m looking for. I choose you.”

This is what’s so extraordinary (and beautiful) about grace. There is no skill we can bring with us to “tryouts” which will make us “more” qualified in God’s eyes.

He doesn’t need our list of talents and achievements. He simply wants us, just as we are.

I love how  grace doesn’t ask us or require us to prepare first.

We don’t have to first “get our act together.” We don’t have to look a certain way or play a certain part.

Grace looks for the no makeup, sweatpants-wearing, haven’t combed our hair yet version of us and enthusiastically shouts…”Perfect!

On Duty Through the Darkness

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“By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.” Psalm 42:8

We can do nothing to earn His love. All we can do is rest in Him.

This reminder came to mind as I thought about the countless songs I’ve heard playing on repeat in the middle of the night. I’ve written numerous posts about these songs. To me, these little snippets are reminders that even while sleeping, God watches over me, He loves on me, He reminds me of His nearness…and I’m not doing anything.

He’s the watchman who is always on duty, always at His post.

I think of the account in Scripture when Jesus is praying in Gethsemane and the disciples couldn’t even stay awake and keep watch for one hour.  One hour.  (Matthew 26:40)  His number one fans, the ones who walked with Him, did life with Him, watched Him perform miracle after miracle,  couldn’t even successfully stand watch for one hour.

You know what this tells me?

I need Jesus standing guard over my life every second of every day. We think we have the strength to do it ourselves…but we don’t.

Thank you, Lord, for Your constant presence.

Thank you for Your song.

Thank you for being bigger than the night. 

 

no more tears

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Last night when I got home from work I mentioned to my family that I might be turning into a weepy, cry at the drop of a hat, middle-aged woman.

“Oh no” was my husband’s reply.

“You do cry a lot” was my son’s reply.

Neither asked me to expand on my comment…I think they were too afraid I might start crying. 😉

A couple of weeks ago, I cried while watching the new animated kid’s movie Inside Out and last week I cried when my son and I watched McFarland USA, a “feel good” story about how a group of disadvantaged kids became state championship runners.

Note to self:  Feel good movies will always make me feel like crying…but in a good way.

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Yesterday, I shared on Facebook that it was the anniversary of my mom’s death. It’s been 24 years. I shared the precious moment of being by her side the hours before she died. Over the years, that memory has become a gift. It has, thankfully, provided more hope and comfort to me than sorrow.  I love how God does that, how He can take a past pain and use it to bring us reassurance as we journey on. His ways of transforming and redeeming our grief into something beautiful will never ever grow old to me.

I’ve shared this with you before, but I tend to become emotional when I hear about someone losing a parent.  There’s a part of me that aches tremendously for the family who must walk down that road. I know there’s no escaping this pain. I know there comes a time when we all go through it.  Yesterday, I was brought to tears when I read an email message about a family at my church whose mom was in their final hours here on earth.  I don’t know the family. I’ve never even met the family and yet when I read the news, that subtle, underlying ache of loss we carry with us for the rest of our days was triggered and the tears came out.

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On the drive home from work I told the Lord that I am looking forward to the day when death is no longer a part of life. I cling to the fact that on that day…our Healer will make good on His promise.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.” Rev 21:4

When Three Strikes DOESN’T Mean You’re Out

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“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you,Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  Luke 22: 31-32

This week’s message at church centered around the account of Peter’s greatest failure, his not once, but three times denial of Christ. (On a side note, aren’t you glad that following Christ doesn’t have the same “three strikes and you’re out” rule as baseball?)

As I reread my notes and these verses this morning,  I was reminded, again, that God, and the faith we cling to, is victorious over our sins and our failures.  I love how the prayer Jesus prays for Peter reflects this Truth…

“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back…”

Did you notice that?  Jesus is not hung up on the failure. Instead, He focuses His attention on the solution to the problem…our faith in a Savior whose power and strength is infinitely bigger than any wrong turn we might take in this life.

I love Jesus’ comment…”and when you have turned back...”

Yes, failures and sins will throw us off course.
Yes, our propensity to let pride rule our hearts and guide our steps might lead us some place we never thought we would end up.
Yes, fear can temporarily paralyze us or prompt us to hide from the Truth…but, when we turn back, we will discover that the One we put our faith in hasn’t gone away.
He is still where we left Him…sitting on His throne, patiently waiting for our return.

“and when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  I love how Jesus ends that.  “strengthen your brothers.”  He doesn’t tell Peter that all is lost or that he will have failed one too many times. He doesn’t tell Peter that he should spend the rest of his days living with a chain of guilt or shame wrapped around his neck.  No,  Jesus reassures him and us that once we return to His light…even our greatest failure can be redeemed and useable for His glory!

Today, what if we journeyed through our day living (really living) as if we truly believe this…with all our heart?

Nothing is wasted. Beauty from ashes.

One Pharisee and One AA Meeting

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Last night, as I was sitting in church and listening to the message, the pastor read something that immediately took me back.  We were looking at the parable  Jesus shared about the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple.  There is a vast difference between how the two men approach God.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else:  “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray,one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous,adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’  I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Luke 18: 9-14

Here’s the part that took me back: “God, I thank You that I’m not like other people.”

I remembered sitting in my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and listening to people share. I listened to men and women who had been in and out of jail for DWIs.  I listened to men and women who had lost their jobs, their families and their friends because their desire to have a relationship with booze was stronger than their desire to have a relationship with anything else.

I listened and I silently judged each person who shared.  I’m not like them. I’m not that bad. I’ve never gotten a DWI (never mind that I’d gotten behind the wheel countless times while intoxicated…was even pulled over once…but I was able to “fool” the cop.)  I had never let my drinking get so out of control that my employer, friends, and family didn’t want anything to do with me anymore. (No, over time, I had predominantly become a closet drunk. I drank and got drunk every single day of my life. However, I did it behind closed doors so that I could keep up appearances.)

I walked out of my first AA meeting feeling confident that that place was not where I belonged.

It took a couple more months before I found myself sitting in my second AA meeting.  During the time in between, the Lord worked on my heart and opened my eyes to Truth.  I’m paraphrasing here, but these are the words I heard from God one morning in late November…

Eileen, you are one of them. Get your butt to AA. Do whatever it takes to get this out of your life. I will be your strength…but you need to admit your need.

So what does this story have to do with a Pharisee and a tax collector?  Well, at the beginning of my journey in recovery, I might as well have walked into my first AA meeting wearing a t-shirt with the words Pharisee printed across my chest. I was puffed up and certain that I was better than other people with drinking addictions. It wasn’t until God worked on my heart that I was finally able to also see my desperate need for God’s grace and mercy.  Sitting on my couch that morning in late November of 2001, I knew that I needed Him as much as I needed oxygen for my next breath.

Are you struggling with something in your life that seems to be holding you captive?

The best thing you can do is to ask God to change your heart so that it is more like the tax collector.  Ask Him to open your eyes so that you can see your need.  I’ve come to believe that one of the most beautiful prayers we can ever lift up to God is…”Lord, change my heart. Make your desires my desires too.”  I’ve seen how God can take a Pharisee heart and turn into a Tax Collector heart over and over.  Trust Him with all the pieces of your heart and watch Him do something beautiful!

My One and Only Job Today

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Lately, I’ve been reminded that I want to be remembered more for what I stand for and who I stand with rather than what I stand against.

I know it sounds way too simplistic and I know it’s become a funny cliché to some…but I really really really do want to live my life with a WWJD (What Would Jesus DO?) mentality.

Life is a classroom and He is the teacher.

Here are some words from Scott Sauls that resonate deeply with me:

What matters more to us—that we successfully put others in their place, or that we are known to love well? That we win culture wars with carefully constructed arguments and political power plays, or that we win hearts with humility, truth, and love? God have mercy on us if we do not love well because all that matters to us is being right and winning arguments…Truth and love must go together.

I want to love well. I have a long way to go. But, I am convinced that loving others well…trumps winning disputes.

I’ve read and heard several instances over the last few days of how Jesus taught his disciples the importance of loving others well.  Jesus not only talked about loving well…he lived it!  Loving well must become our knee jerk (first) response when we are confronted with conflicts or belief systems that differ from our own.

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When they returned from getting food, the disciples were shocked to see Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman at the well.  Why?  Because it went against what they had ever known. She was a Samaritan…AND she was a she. Two big strikes against her at the time. But what was Jesus first response?  To engage her in conversation. The other day I wrote this post about how relationships begin when we choose to scoot down to the other side of the bleacher.  In this account, I think Jesus made the choice to scoot down the bleacher.  (John 4)  And, because of that choice to love…He won her heart and countless others.  (John 4:39)

Folks,  it’s not up to me to convict someone.  It’s not my job to be someone’s police man.  I have one task. And, I hope it’s the legacy I will leave behind…the WWJD legacy:  To Love Well.

I want to be willing to move down the bleacher and start a conversation.  I want to show compassion when I don’t understand. I want to love others the way Jesus loved the Samaritan woman. He set aside all preconceived notions of “appropriateness” and simply chose to acknowledge her and engage with her.

Love others well. This is my one and only job today.

Seized Beauty and Cracked-Open Hearts

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Yesterday I took my dogs to the vet to update the few vaccinations they needed.  In the process, I was reminded of how quickly we can learn pieces of another person’s story.  In a short amount of time I learned when my vet was born, when her mom was born, when her mother died and the cause of her mom’s death.  In the same amount of time, she also learned this about me. And, yes, we also conversed about the typical things you discuss while in the vet’s office…those furry friends you have in tow.

This exchange reminded me that even though I may not know someone, hearing a piece of their story “humanizes” them.  So often, all it takes is hearing one detail and your heart immediately cracks open.  The “stranger” no longer feels like a total stranger to you.

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A week or so ago my family and I went to see the local soccer team play.  As we took our seats, my son bumped into a boy that he had met for the first time the day before at soccer camp.  Within five minutes this new friend had scooted himself over next to Sean and they ended up watching the entire 90 minute match together. I listened to them share their likes and dislikes with one another.  I listened as they shared pieces of their story.  I listened as they swapped cell phone numbers.

I love how effortlessly kids connect. Part of me thinks they’re better at it than most adults. They seize moments much better than grown ups.  In contrast, other than a head nod, a quiet hello, and a few swapped smiles, never once did I scoot down to the other side of the bleacher to talk to this young boy’s parents.

I wonder what beauty slipped by unnoticed by not doing this?

Maybe none. Maybe the exchange would have simply been a polite, superficial, “it sure is hot out here tonight” kind of conversation.

Or, maybe…this unseized moment contained pieces of stories that crack open hearts.

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Today, I’m challenging us to embrace the awkwardness and the inconveniences that often come with getting to know strangers that cross our paths.  Maybe it’s as simple as scooting down to the other end of the bleachers.

When the Answer Turns Out to Be Right in Front of You

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Sometimes God’s answer ends up being right in front of you and it’s just not time for you to see that answer yet.

This is the thought that’s crossed my mind several times this week while driving up one strip of road in Dalton, GA. Two years ago, my family and I picked up our life in North Carolina and headed down to my husband’s home state of Georgia.  During that season, I watched God open and close many doors along the way. It was a season filled with so many unknowns. But, I  watched as God took the puzzle pieces of our life and rearrange them to where He wanted them all to fit.

For the first couple of months of that new chapter we were essentially “homeless.”  My husband’s brother invited us to live with him until we could find a place to live.  Every few days I would make the trip into town and pick up our forwarded mail at the post office. Before leaving the parking lot, I would sit in my car and look through what we had received.

We didn’t have a home. Our mail didn’t have a home. And, yet, I knew we were exactly where God wanted us to be.

Sometimes God’s answer ends up being right in front of you and it’s just not time for you to see that answer yet. 

Two weeks ago I started working at my church part-time.  The church campus is just two blocks up from this particular post-office.  As I’ve commuted to and from the office this week, I can’t help but think back on that season of sitting in my car and being completely clueless to the fact that one of the puzzle pieces God had in mind was essentially right in front of my face…it just wasn’t time for the piece to be placed on the table yet.

I’m not sure if things like this excite anyone else…but they do me.  I love knowing that two years ago God saw how the picture was going play out.  I love how He orchestrates even the tiniest details of our day to bring us to where we need to be.  I will never get tired of catching glimpses of how God is continually moving and working in our lives.

“Remain suspicious that God is up to something good.”   Margaret Feinberg

I read this quote for the first time earlier this year during a Bible study I was doing with some other ladies at my church.  It popped into my brain again yesterday as I drove by the post office. That quote accurately describes how I was feeling so many times as I sat in the post office parking lot two years ago.  There was a peace inside of me and a feeling of anticipation at the beginning of that new chapter.  I had no idea what details would be waiting up ahead, but there was this part of me that was so excited to find out.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but sometimes following Christ reminds me of being a kid at Christmastime. Every day, when we open our eyes, there are gifts from Him waiting for us under the tree.  And, I don’t want to overlook a single one!  Sometimes, I feel like I’m five years old again trying hard not to burst from anticipation and hope.

Thank you, Father, for taking your little girl by the hand and promising to never ever let go.

In This World…

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Three things slowly came to mind this morning after awakening to the news of a gunman coming into a Charleston, SC church during an evening prayer meeting on Wednesday night. He viciously and senselessly took the lives of nine people.

As always, my heart immediately started to hurt for the family and friends of these victims who are now left trying to make sense of such unimaginable hate and evil. I thought about the post I wrote a couple of months ago after the senseless attack at Garissa University in Kenya. I prayed for God to overwhelm the hurting with His presence. I prayed that the One and only Redeemer of our lives would continue to do what He’s always done best…redeem this, Lord…redeem even this.

The next thought that came to mind were those hours prior to Christ going to die on the cross when He reminded His disciples of two important Truths. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I then thought of the verses in Romans where Paul assures the church that nothing…nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. This morning, I took some time to reread the assurance we have that no matter what evil tries to take away…what Christ offers us is more.  

“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”

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When evil like this happens, I’m often quick to cry out…where were you God?  But then, at the same time, I think of the promises above and I know that God is still on His throne.

Jesus came to this earth to redeem the unimaginable. Jesus came so that, ultimately, death would have no sting. in the end, sin and evil do not prevail.  (1 Corinthians 15:55)

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”  1 Cor 15:58