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Who’s Calling Shotgun?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding

One of the words that leaped off the page in my quiet time this morning.

Understanding

I did a little research this morning and discovered that, at least in my translation (HCSB), the word understanding is mentioned 31 times in the book of Proverbs.  That comes to 31 times in 31 chapters. That’s worth pausing and meditating on, I think.

Another thought I had this morning was how understanding is different than figuring something out.

Many times (and maybe even most of the time) we arrive at places of spiritual understanding without ever figuring something out. I know that one of the most transformative and healing seasons of my own life had nothing to do with figuring something out and everything to do with understanding.

Being able to understand without figuring out all the answers or having every single why question answered, has brought incredible amounts of peace and freedom to my life.

When we surrender to a power greater than ourselves, when we commit to trusting in Him with all our heart then we stop relying on our own finite understanding (Pr 3:5). And when we do, there’s this all-knowing guide that goes before us filling in that gap between our human tendency to want everything figured out and fixed and us abiding in a place where He pours into our hearts something much more needed, much more lasting, and much more valuable…

understanding

There’s beauty and breathing room found on this path. There’s rest for a worn out traveler and peace for a mind held captive by the exhausting cycle of doing rather than receiving.

 

 

From Woozy to Wonderful

The hardest thing you may ever do is tell someone your real story. It may also be the most important thing you ever do.” -Sue Markovitch

I came across this quote a few years back.  This morning when I saw it again it triggered some thoughts that were on my mind as I drifted off to sleep last night.  I need to remember that vulnerability is not easy. Taking the mask off and letting people get close to our ugly is hard. I forget this sometimes. I forget how snug and safe that mask can start to feel. We grow accustomed to it and the mere thought of tossing it aside can make us a little woozy.

Yet, when we do finally remove it, we discover that woozy isn’t the feeling that endures. God has this incredible way of turning even the woozy into something wonderful.  And once we get a taste of wonderful we pursue it and crave it. We never want to settle for the restricting walls of a mask ever again.

The beauty of mask free living.

Recently, I had a couple of opportunities to share the story about my recycling bin again. Some of you might remember this story. It’s incredible the lengths we will go to hide our mess. This story, was an early taste I had with mask free living. Here’s an excerpt.

I love being able to put my head down on my pillow at night, close my eyes, and rest in peace.  And this isn’t because I’ve done things perfectly.  This isn’t because I haven’t failed or made mistakes.

No, it’s the exact opposite.  It’s admitting every day that I’m not perfect and in need of grace. I will fail.  But, I refuse to live my life trying to hide my flaws.  That’s not free.

Fear wants us to believe that hiding causes less pain and injury.  But fear is a liar.  Nothing will eat at you and destroy quicker than secrets and silence.  Nothing.

“The hardest thing you may ever do is tell someone your real story. It may also be the most important thing you ever do.”

I can’t say it better than that.

Hiding hinders healing.

If we truly desire healing and freedom the mask must come off.  Yank it off, face the woozy, and step into wonderful.

Filled to Pour

Yesterday I got home from work and had one of those happy and full feelings. I shared the following thoughts in a post on Facebook.

What a busy day filled with lots of great conversations, connections, and coffee. 
Happy and filled up.

When I woke this morning the filling theme continued. I read this verse in my devotional.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12-13

The word fulfill was the word that caused me to pause and reflect. The Lord will achieve, bring to completion, and follow through on His promises. It’s Him doing the work in us and through us as we submit to Him and the path He has planned for us. 

And then, a blog post from three years ago showed up in my Facebook memories for today. The name of the post?  FILL You can read the short post here

It was a writing prompt exercise centered around the word fill. I shared about a recent trip to Venice, Italy and the reminder of how some things in this world promise to fill us but leave us feeling terribly empty instead.  I also shared about a time when His joy swept over me and fully filled me up.

I ended that post with these words:

I don’t recall how we filled our day at the beach…but I do recall what filled me: JOY

Later that same evening I shared with a room full of recovering alcoholics what an incredible feeling it was to be able to laugh again without the assistance of a drug.

I felt alive for the first time in years.

I felt free.

I felt.  

And for the last 12 1/2 years, I’ve had countless more days just like that beach day.

My redeemer, my restorer, my restarter, my reFILLer.

He promises to satisfy.  It’s an irreplaceable gift.

And, yes, it’s even better than a glass of wine in Venice.

*******

“Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in you.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of your wings
until danger passes.
I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
 He reaches down from heaven and saves me.” ~Psalm 57: 1-3

That’s worth repeating isn’t it?

RE-Fill your heart this morning with this reminder, and then RE-FILL it again tomorrow too…

I call to God Most High, to God who fufills his purpose for me. He reaches down from heaven and saves me.

“You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only”
~All Sons & Daughters

Presence in Absence

“When I meet people who say that their most profound encounters with God are in nature. I sometimes laugh. Nature is not just a lovely sunset; it is dull fog, sleet, bitter muck. It is not just the waterfall; it is the drought. It is not just the green flourishing; it is the brown and red death, the white sickness, the black of mold and decay.

I laugh not because their sentiment is untrue. Because it is true. The desert, like all places is the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. Presence in absence. And though he may cast you there, he will fling himself alongside you, rough as sackcloth, gray as ashes, and good. He does that so that in emptiness, like so many before us (like Jesus himself), we might find fullness; in the absence, presence; in the scarcity, abundance; in the fasting, a feast spread in the presence of our enemies.” The Face of the Deep, Paul Pastor (Pages 180-181)

I’ve been savoring the words in this book for several weeks now.  I love the reminder of how the Spirit gives eyes to see beauty everywhere even (or perhaps especially) the desert places.

This chapter reminded me of some words from Rick McKinley I came across several years ago.

“Perhaps a desert place is not a desert place at all but a place where God is meeting me in his love.”

Nothing has the ability to satisfy us like His presence and once we invite this love in, then even desert places become sacred places of beauty and holiness.

Presence in absence  

Does the idea that there is something in nothing fill you with hope and joy like it does me?

His existence and His here-ness in our lives is greater than any perceived lack. It brings something into the nothing.

And that something is a filling, an overfilling and a feasting of a love that is not only intimately present in our now but is simultaneously bigger than our now too.

AND

If His existence and His here-ness is greater than any perceived lack then we never journey the road alone, the dry cracking desert road is just as full of Him as the rain soaked valley of plenty.

If His existence and His here-ness is greater than any perceived lack then His always stretched out arms will be our guide and our comforter through each and every struggle that we may face.

If His existence and His here-ness is greater than any perceived lack then this always burning Light can pierce through the darkest or most hopeless looking night.

When we recognize him in the nothing, we begin to realize we have everything.

******

“I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13

“With a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm; for his loving kindness endures forever” Psalm 136:16

“That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.”  John 1:5

New Rivers

“On the shoreline we’re waiting & waiting for that same old sea to part, meanwhile God’s out paving a new way, creating rivers in the desert.” Melissa Moore

I love the reminder in this quote of how we think God has a particular path planned for our lives but then we discover He’s creating an entirely different path, a better path, one we never even considered or thought possible.

Through desert paths, our senses are heightened; we embrace the goodness and the gift of the river.

We recognize our need for satisfying, thirst quenching life.

Lord lead us to this river.

“The poor and the needy seek water, but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
I will answer them.
I am the Lord, the God of Israel. I will not abandon them.
 I will open rivers on the barren heights,
and springs in the middle of the plains.
I will turn the desert into a pool
and dry land into springs.” Isaiah 41: 18-18

Somersaults and the Sea of Glory

“But the glory is that, in one sense, we await the one who is already here.”~ Paul Pastor

I read those words last night before going to bed and, afterwards, I had a hard time turning my brain off. I read those words and my heart did a few joy-filled somersaults.

But the glory is…we await the one who is already here.

I’ve attempted, many times, in this space, to express how the glory of the Lord hits my heart. I don’t seem to ever be able to find words to do it justice. I explained it once before like this:

“It’s one of those page dancing words in Scripture. It’s too big to be restrained. It’s too big to sit unnoticed. Glory is alive and my heart knows it!”

I loved reading Paul Pastor’s words last night.  I loved going to bed having them play on repeat as my heart slowly settled down after the calisthenic workout and I finally drifted off to sleep.

We await the one who is already here.

I’ve been trying to think of some familiar joy to compare that to.

What is it like to await something that is already in our midst?  

I thought about the Christmas season and the gifts that accumulate under the tree as the big day draws nearer and nearer.  I’ve often reflected how, personally, following Christ, and the joy He fills us with when we do, is much like waiting for Christmas morning and waking up to Christmas morning over and over, and often, both at the same time.

It’s this ongoing cycle of waiting for and waking up to the nowness and reality of it over and over.

Embrace this. Don’t ever let it go. 

We await the one who is already here. 

This hope is alive and well. The wrapping paper, in one sense, has already been torn open and the gift is already there waiting for us to receive!

******

Last night, before going to bed, I read 2 Corinthians 3 again. It’s long and I wanted to put it in context but I italicized the portion that resonated most with me last night.

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, recognized and read by everyone.  It is clear that you are Christ’s letter, produced by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God—not on stone tablets but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.

 We have this kind of confidence toward God through Christ. It is not that we are competent in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our competence is from God.He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit produces life.

Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to look directly at Moses’ face because of the glory from his face—a fading glory— how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?  For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness overflows with even more glory.  In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious now by comparison because of the glory that surpasses it.  For if what was fading away was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious.

Therefore, having such a hope, we use great boldness.  We are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites could not stare at the the end of what was fading away, but their minds were closed.For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside only in Christ. Even to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts,  but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

********

The veil has been removed, lifted, and set aside by Christ.  And, in it’s place, the Spirit of the Lord, freedom, and glory upon more glory!

“But the glory is…we await the one who is already here.”

Bring Forward the Highlights

I took this picture a couple of years ago while my family and I were taking in some sights while walking around Vancouver, Canada. One of the reasons the scene initially captured my attention was because the man sitting in a wheelchair immediately made me think of my dad.

I kind of wonder what the man in this picture was thinking about. Was he happy? Was he sad? Was he content? Was he worried?

When the photo popped up in my Facebook memories this morning, the same thing happened, memories of my dad and the stroke which confined him to a wheelchair for 4 years came to mind.

I then thought about an article I read yesterday, an interview with Joni Eareckson Tada. Tomorrow, July 30, marks the 50th anniversary of Joni being in a wheelchair after suffering a diving accident that rendered her a quadriplegic. I’ve always been inspired by Joni’s faith, perseverance and hope.

One my favorite parts of the interview is when she says this:

“Just the other day I was reading 1 Peter 5:10 [ESV], where Peter says, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace … will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Honestly, I’m amazed that the last 50 years feel like only “a little while.” Maybe God does that when we finally do love Jesus more, when we finally do follow him more closely. Maybe he erases all the horror, all the despair, all the depression of the past when we learn how to trust God. He pushes into the background all the terrible times of anguish, and he brings forward the highlights—the moments of hope, peace, and growth. As I look back over 50 years, I just see God at work. That’s pretty exciting.”

“I just see God at work. That’s pretty exciting.”

I love that. She is not focused on what she has not been able to do in 50 years. She is not focused on what has been “taken away”. She is not focused on the pain. In fact, Joni doesn’t seem to be focused on herself at all.  Instead, her eyes and heart are focused on a God who has never walked away and whose Hand is continually working in and through her situation. 

For Joni, learning to love and follow Jesus more closely has dimmed the bad and highlighted the good.

She doesn’t see loss, she sees love.

She doesn’t see limitations, she sees life.

Lord, give us eyes to just see You at work. Satisfy our hearts and fill us with the joy that comes from watching You work.

Desert Roads and Promised Lands

 

Last night, a friend’s post prompted me to listen to the song “Hungry” again.  It reminded me of some words I wrote a few years ago. I had quoted the lyrics in a book I was writing. I’ve never finished the book. The project began to go in a direction I wasn’t expecting and I wasn’t sure how to proceed.  Sharing a portion of it in this space today:

 

 “Hungry I come to You

For I know You satisfy

I am empty

But I know your love does not run dry

So I wait for you

So I wait for you

I’m falling on my knees

Offering all of me

Jesus, you’re all this heart is living for”

**********

I was driving a stretch of highway in Texas when I got the call on my cell phone. Texas is a big state. And if you have never driven through the entire state, a little word of caution when you do, it takes about six months to cross this portion of land by car, It’s much like the Israelites never ending trek through the desert. (Just kidding…don’t hate me, Texas.) Anyway, I was somewhere in the middle of this big state when I clicked the “end call” button on my phone and the dam broke…again. The tears rolled down my face…again. It wasn’t the first time the chapter I was currently living would contain bouts of uncontrollable crying nor would it be the last time either.

It was April and I was traveling from Arizona to North Carolina to find a place to live and to begin my new job. The caller was an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was the same agent who had called me a few months earlier to inform me they had been watching my soon to be ex husband’s activities for over a year now. Apparently, they even warned him to stop but the illegal activities continued. When I filed for separation (and then eventually divorce) I was aware things were bad but I had no idea how bad. I never thought it would escalate to the point where the FBI would be calling me, asking me questions, and letting me know they had plans to prosecute. This call was to inform me that my husband was in custody. He would be going to federal prison.

That day, as I traveled down a seemingly never ending stretch of desert highway in Texas, I received news I never thought would be a part of my journey. I know everyone, at some point in their lives, must travel through bleak and hopelessly barren lands. Sometimes, and quite often, it’s because of the poor choices we have made along the way and the wrong turns we have taken. Those trips will leave us feeling helplessly lost. Other times, like the Israelites, it’s because God is leading us to some place better.

My desert journey was a result of disobedience but, as I would discover, despite my stubborn and wandering fear filled heart, this desert place wasn’t where my story needed to end. God was beckoning me onward, to follow Him through the desert, and into the unknown land stretched out ahead. Although I couldn’t see it yet, I was heading to a spot my heart was desperately aching to find, a spacious place. I was heading toward the Promised Land.

The Story Could Have Ended Here

I was reading a portion of Mark 9 this morning, the story of the demon possessed son and the father who came to Jesus and the disciples in search of healing for him.  I’ve always been able to relate to the father in this passage when he quickly acknowledges that he battles unbelief.

“Immediately, the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe!” Help my unbelief.”  (vs 24)

However, this morning, my heart was drawn to the verse shortly after this.

“…The boy became like a corpse, so that many said, “He’s dead.”  But Jesus, taking him by the hand, raised him,and he stood up.” (vs 26b, 27)

A young boy’s life had just been healed, he was finally set free.  And, at first, he looks anything but healed.  He looks like a corpse. From all outward appearances death seems to have won. But then, we read the next two words.

But Jesus

It’s crazy how two words can fill a heart with so much hope and joy. I think I could have read these verses this morning and been fine had verse 27 just ended with those two words.

But Jesus

It’s almost as if I don’t need to even read the rest of the story. My heart knows the beautiful ending.

But Jesus

This morning these verses reminded me of that moment in my own story when His hand reached down, raised my dead life up and planted my feet in a spacious place.

And ever since that day, all I really need to remember and know and hold onto are those two words.

But Jesus

When He arrives on the scene and enters our stories, victory will follow… no matter how hopeless or bleak or dead our circumstances might look.

But Jesus

“Oh praise the One
Who paid my debt
and raised this life
up from the dead.”