Power Clothed in Weakness

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

I heard those words at the church the other night.  Our pastor was reading a verse in Revelation “Then I saw the One like a slaughtered lamb standing between the throne…” (5:6)

I love this reminder.

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.

“Death, where is your victory?

Death, where is your sting?
Now the sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ!” 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 

“Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27

Fly Home

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It’s been two weeks since my dad passed away. Last night, my phone rang and I was surprised when the name “Frances” showed up on caller I.D. Frances was my dad’s caretaker for 3 years. She and I hadn’t spoken since the night before my dad’s passing. When my dad died she called my brother who lives in Arizona who then contacted me.

Frances apologized for not calling me sooner. Shortly after my dad’s passing she went home for 10 days to Mexico to visit her family.

She thanked me for the flowers I had sent her. I. told her, again, how much I appreciated her and how thankful I was for all her help and kindness over the years.

She then went on to share how during the last few hours of my dad’s life she had music playing on the CD player in his room. She played the Michael Buble CD I gave him a few Christmases ago. She played other music too. When my dad took his last breath at 4am, “I’ll Fly Away” was playing in the background.

After we ended our conversation, I listened to that beautiful song again and focused on the lyrics.

What a fitting way to end this chapter. The day before he died I shared this post with you all point him home.

No more prison. No more shackles.

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die, Hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die, Hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

Oh, how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, oh glory
I’ll fly away in the morning
When I die, Hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

 

Delight and Direction

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“Your decrees are my delight and my counselors.” Psalm 119:24

I paused to reflect on this particular verse recently.  I was intrigued by how the Psalmist described what the Lord’s decrees mean to him.  In other translations the words statutes or testimonies are used instead of decree.

So the Lord’s law, the evidence, the proof, the orders, the commands are delightful to the Psalmist and offer him direction and guidance.

Delight and Direction

As I thought more about this, I was reminded that it requires a certain posture of heart for delight and direction to co-exist.

Think about it.  How often is delight not our first reaction when we receive counsel, correction or constructive criticism? How often is delight not our first response when instructions challenge our initial way of doing or seeing something?

But here the Psalmist says: Lord, I take delight in Your instructions. 

In order to receive delight from counsel, our hearts need to be open, receptive, and teachable.

In order to receive delight from counsel, we need to be able to acknowledge that perhaps there is a better path to walk down… perhaps there is a better way to move forward.

In order to receive delight from counsel, our hearts must continually surrender their tendency to deceive us.

I think about the warning in Jeremiah. “The heart is more deceitful than anything else,
and incurable—who can understand it?”

Lord, keep us teachable today. As we come to You, help us to lay down our tendency to see and respond through eyes of pride and stubbornness.  Instead, soften our hearts so we are receptive to Your Word and Your Way.  

Waves and Elephants

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Forrest Gump: When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go, you know, I went.

Woman on Park Bench: And so, you just ran?

Forrest Gump: Yeah.

I thought about this conversation from the movie, Forrest Gump, this morning as I was thinking about my dad and about loss. I thought about how different I am today compared to the me when I lost my mom. Today, I have more life under my belt. I’m not saying I’m more “prepared” but life and living certainly changes things. Also, it’s not my first time journeying through death valley…so there is a familiarness to it all.

Yet, the one thing that seems to be the same this time around are the waves. 25 years ago, when my mom died, I didn’t know about the waves. This time around, I do. Maybe that’s why I feel a little more “prepared.”

Today, I know how those waves sometimes come out of nowhere. I know how they can knock you down and take the wind out you even on a seemingly calm, sunny day.

Last night a friend at church asked me how I was doing as I passed him. I answered honestly. “I’m doing great!”  And I was, yesterday was a good day. The sea was calm. A minute later, as I walked by again, this same friend looked at me and said. “But how are you? Are you okay?”

I smiled and told him another truth.  “It’s been a rough week. It comes in waves. But I’m doing okay. Thank you for asking.”

Here’s what I know now that I didn’t know then.

Today I know…waves will come… and sometimes all you can do is hold on and ride them out. I think this is why I thought of the Forrest Gump scene above. When a wave hits, you find yourself doing what you have to do to survive. You listen to what your body needs, pray and then … keep moving forward, keep running up the road.

Today I know…the pain of grief never goes away completely (this side of eternity). You never “get over it.”  I also know that pretending to get over it and moving on only delays the healing and recovery.

Today I know…I don’t have to stop talking about loved ones after they die. When my mom died there were times when folks would avoid the conversation…thinking if they didn’t bring it up, it was, somehow, the polite or loving thing to do.  Years ago, I took this to mean that I shouldn’t talk about or bring it up anymore either. I thought since others avoided the topic, then I should too.  I know differently today.  So I will talk about it and bring it up as often as need be.

Grief doesn’t heal when you sweep it under a rug.  It took me a decade to learn that the first time around.

Today, let’s not pretend (and I’m guilty of doing this too because sometimes it’s the easier more convenient route) that the grief elephant has left the room when you converse with a friend who is journeying through a valley. That elephant?  It’s there. It’s always there.

Today, I ‘m thankful for friends who ask the tough questions.

 

 

 

The Enabler

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“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.

“For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.”

These beautiful verses remind us how to put one foot in front of another. 

We remember that it’s God and God alone doing the work…both in us and through us. We’re simply the willing vessel.

We remember that He is the one giving us the strength, the knowledge, the wisdom, the discernment, the desire, and the joy. It is not up to us to create it or sustain it.

I read these verses and I realize, once again, that the heavy yoke living pattern we often fall into is truly a choice.

As Eugene Peterson expresses so well in the Message translation,  Jesus invites us to join Him in a different living pattern  “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

“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)

I Stand With Them

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Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68

I thought about this response from Peter this morning. Jesus had just asked the remaining disciples whether they wanted to leave him too.  So many folks had turned and walked away…His words too hard/too uncomfortable to digest.

I look in the rearview mirror of my life sometimes and find myself, during painful or hard-to-understand seasons, answering the same way.

“Lord, if I left You, where would I go?”  

I’ve tasted life on my own.

I’ve tried to navigate the tough roads with all the uncertain twists, turns and bumps all by myself.  And, I don’t like the dark and lonely places I ended up.

I’ve also tasted life with You– leading, guiding, counseling, consoling, loving, protecting.

I’ve experienced, first hand, what it means to be rescued from a pit of despair. I know what it looks like to have chains of captivity snapped by Your incredible love and mercy.  I remember how it felt to take that first breath of freedom and to walk in the wide open spaces of Your grace.

So I stand with Peter today…asking “Lord, if I left You, where would I go?”

I kneel at my Savior’s feet with the prostitute and wash His feet with grateful tears. (Luke 7)

I grab hands with the Samaritan woman at the well, run back to town and proclaim- “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! (John 4)

I sit with David by streams of living water, giving pep talks to my soul “Why so downcast?  Put your hope in the Lord and praise Him!” (Psalm 42)

Thank You For Journeying With Me…

grief

These are some words I shared on Facebook yesterday morning:

Many of you know that my dad had a massive stroke 4 years ago. His suffering from a deteriorating body and mind ended this morning. After hearing the update yesterday afternoon that he was going down hill quickly a strange thing happened, I KNEW he was going to die today…on my birthday. At that same moment, I recalled a story that I ALWAYS recall around my birthday. It’s a story my mom shared with me about her dirty feet when she went into labor and an act of love between a husband and his wife. I’m not sad that my dad passed On my birthday. I actually think it’s fitting. Because now when I think of this date, I also think of THIS story of my mom AND my dad. Beauty mixed with pain. I love you dad.

After writing this, and as the day went on, waves of emotion would hit me and I would cry. While sitting on my porch swing, during one of these waves, I jotted down the following words:

Today I grieve, not because my dad passed away on my birthday (or even because he passed away) but because “picture perfect” families, relationships, situations and circumstances don’t exist…not yet anyway.  Hebrew 10:23

Yesterday, I found myself grieving for what never was and for what never can be this side of heaven.

I thought about my mom and her death 25 years ago.  That journey was a huge lesson of learning that life is about letting go and learning how to live expectantly without expectation.  This is where you learn to hold onto the hope but don’t allow circumstances of life to dictate or control that hope. Expectant, hope-filled living can exist regardless of circumstances.  I had to learn and remember to live this way every time I returned home after my mom’s death. Home was never the same, yet I learned that I didn’t want this change to dictate whether or not the trip home was considered a good visit or a bad visit.  It just was… so uncover the joy, find the beauty and keep one eye on eternity. 

My dad will be cremated. My mom was cremated too.  But unlike my mom, there will be no memorial service for my dad, there will be no coming together.  My dad, in many ways, was a loner. Despite being a salesman most of his life, he kept to himself. As far as my brothers and I know, he only had one set of friends who lived locally. (And what wonderful friends they are too!)  His other friends have either already passed away, are in poor health or are scattered all across the country. I did speak to two of his life long friends on the phone yesterday. What a blessing that was.

My dad was unable to care for himself after his stroke and had to live with his caretaker– a situation he resented all the way up until his mind deteriorated to the point where he didn’t know how to be resentful anymore.  But four years of “semi-isolation” living is not a situation conducive to making new friends…especially for a loner like my dad.

Yesterday, I found myself grieving the fact that I can count my dad’s immediate family on one hand. Okay…maybe one and half hands.  There have never been uncles and aunts and cousins.  Grandparents are long gone too.  Yesterday, I grieved the fact that I’ve never had the “picture perfect” looking Facebook family…uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparent and great grandparents.  There’s me, my two brothers and our kids.  That’s it.

Today, as I continue to grieve, I am so thankful for all the “surrogate” family members and precious friends the Lord has brought and continues to bring into my life.  You know who you are.

If I could, I would gather you all together today for a family photo.  I love you.  Thank you for journeying with me.

“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.” Hebrew 6:18-20 Message

point him home

home

“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.”-From Crazy to the Cross

******

I went back and reread the above post yesterday. I wrote it back in May after a conversation I had with my dad’s caretaker.

Yesterday I received a call from my oldest brother. My dad has experienced another significant decline in his health. These next few days will most likely tell us whether this is a temporary dip or if this is a significant turning point leading us closer to his passing.

I also spoke to my dad’s caretaker, Frances. She reiterated what my brother had told me and what the hospice nurse had said during her visit. Frances also shared with me a conversation she had with my dad at 3:30am that morning.

Dad: I want to go home.
Frances: You mean to Sierra Vista? (This is where his house is and where he has wanted to go back to ever since his stroke 4 years ago.)
Dad: No, I want to go home.

This morning I thought again of words I shared with you all a couple of weeks ago about why I’m passionate about passing the baton of faith to my son:

Because one day a trial or a pain will come along and knock the wind out of him, and when that happens, I want him to know where home is. Point Home

*******

My prayer for my dad today (and everyday) is this:  Lord, overwhelm him with Your presence.  You are infinitely bigger than a deteriorating mind and body.  Speak to him, Lord. Wrap you arms around him and give him your love and your peace.  Help him to recognize and know that You are his home.

“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” – Ephesians 3: 17-19

Of Mice and Ministry

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Yesterday, I started to jot down all the ways I felt the Lord has been stretching me and growing me over the last 15 months working in ministry.

Things I’ve learned (and continue to learn):

I’m more stubborn than I thought I was.

I’m more selfish than I thought I was.

I’m more prideful than I thought I was.

I’m more impatient than I thought I was (okay, maybe not, I’ve always struggled with this one).

I’m less loving and less compassionate than I thought I was.

I don’t point these shortcomings out to beat myself up. I don’t believe that it why I was compelled to think about and list the areas where I tend to fall short over and over.

Working in ministry is opening my eyes. And, personally, it’s been a wild ride with lots of learning curves, with plenty of (sometimes uncomfortable) opportunities to stretch, grow, and learn.

This morning, I had this thought pop into my brain as I thought about the “hopeless looking” list I shared above.

Lord, You won’t illuminate or spotlight a flaw, a sin or a shortcoming in my life without also offering me a solution.

And then, I thought about the “mouse hole to safety.”

You might remember this reference if you have followed this blog long enough. It refers to a light bulb moment I had about 15 years ago during a tug of war match with the Lord. He wanted me to surrender an addiction to alcohol and I was resistant. In the midst of that struggle, I read this verse about temptation and the light clicked on. I finally understood.

“…But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”   1 Corinthians 10:13

Here’s what I wrote a few years back:

This was the part of the verse that hit me the hardest that morning.  God was reassuring me that my situation was not hopeless. I was not on a dead-end street. It was not too late. I was not trapped. That morning, after reading those verses, I took out my journal and sketched a picture of a house. The house didn’t have any doors or any windows and I was trapped inside.  At that moment, the Truth sunk in and I knew what those verses were promising me: Even though sometimes there doesn’t appear to be any way out, there always is:  God always provides a way out.  I just needed to commit to taking a closer look. And when I did, I discovered this tiny little hole in the wall.  In my journal, I named it “the mouse-hole to safety.”

*******

You won’t illuminate or spotlight a flaw, a sin or a shortcoming in my life without also offering me a solution. You always provide a way out. This is why I don’t think I can simply look at my list above and think. “Well, that’s just who I am.”   Once we commit to following Christ, the Lord takes us on a journey of learning and growing.  He peels the onion. He shines His light. He shows us areas (in us and in our lives) where we might struggle at allowing Him to fully reign.

But here’s the beauty we can find tucked away in that truth:

Jesus came to be the bridge.  Jesus came to clean house. Jesus came to show us the way home.  Jesus came to rescue us and show us the way out.

He is the way out.

And this is why I can look at my list above and be filled with hope instead of despair.

Thank you, Lord, for your patience and your grace. Thank you for shining spotlights… because when You do…You always have a better way in mind. And, yes, sometimes it’s more like a mouse hole and it takes some intentional seeking on our part in order to find it. 

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

Anyone, Everyone, Listening, Learning

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This morning I poured my morning cup of coffee and pulled up into the John 6 parking space again for a few minutes.  Why do I love these verses so much?

In John 6,  Jesus begins explaining to the crowds following after him that he is the bread of life.  I find these verses to be some of the most hope-filled verses in the entire Bible. And this is why: Look at the words I placed in bold from this portion of chapter 6.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them  (vs 35)

No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry (vs 35)

No one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again (vs 35)

Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out (vs 37)

This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me (vs 39)

For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day (vs 40)

Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to Me—  (vs 45)

I assure you: Anyone who believes has eternal life (vs 47)

This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that anyone may eat of it and not die (vs 50)

If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever (vs 51)

*******

For anyone who has ever felt worn out, not good enough, rejected, or excluded…this is a beautiful promise.

When you come to Me, when you believe in Me, I will satisfy you.

I will never turn My back.

I will never loosen My grip.

Anyone.

Everyone.

Listening.

Learning.