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Name Calling and Grave Leavers


Sometimes, I get this feeling that the Lord uses rain showers on Sunday morning to remind me of His sovereignty, to remind me that He has this amazing track record of doing His best work through inconveniences and adversities.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not My ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.
 “For as heaven is higher than earth,
so My ways are higher than your ways,
and My thoughts than your thoughts.
 For just as rain and snow fall from heaven
and do not return there
without saturating the earth
and making it germinate and sprout,
and providing seed to sow
and food to eat,
 so My word that comes from My mouth
will not return to Me empty,
but it will accomplish what I please
and will prosper in what I send it to do” – Isaiah 55:8-11 

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I wrote those thoughts on Sunday morning before heading out for yet another rainy day of worship.  The next morning, I found myself in John10.  It’s in this chapter that Jesus declares to be both the door to walk through and the shepherd to follow. His sheep will walk through this door and follow this shepherd because they will recognize the sound of their shepherd’s voice when He calls their name. It reminded me of the last portion of the verses I shared above.

so My word that comes from My mouth
will not return to Me empty,
but it will accomplish what I please
and will prosper in what I send it to do” (emphasis mine)

I love the reminders and assurances in these verses.  The words that He speaks have a purpose and that purpose will always prevail, always accomplish and thrive.

“For the word of the Lord is right,
and all his work is trustworthy.
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love.

 The heavens were made by the word of the Lord,
and all the stars, by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the water of the sea into a heap;
he puts the depths into storehouses.
 Let the whole earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
For he spoke, and it came into being;
he commanded, and it came into existence.” Psalm 33:4-9

As I sat here thinking about the power and purposefulness of His words, two more memories came to mind.  First, a post I wrote last year about Jesus calling out Mary Magdelene’s name the morning of the resurrection. It may not have been raining that day, but Mary’s heart was certainly swarming in a sea of cloudy despair. And, then, Jesus calls her by name.  Mary!

Here’s an excerpt:

Then Jesus responds “Mary!”

I’m trying to understand why this one word response from Jesus means so much to me. That single word response is overflowing with heart gushing love and anticipation.

In the middle of her pain, Jesus calls Mary out by name.  He doesn’t respond by saying “It’s me, don’t you recognize me?”

No, Jesus cuts right to the chase. He calls His child out by name and, instantly, Mary’s heart hears the truth and responds.

This scene actually reminds me of how Jesus tells us He is the Good Shepherd and we are His sheep. The shepherd calls his sheep by name and the sheep recognize His voice.

“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” John 10:3

He calls his own sheep by name…

Mary!

Can you hear it too?  There is so much love packed into this one word! I can almost see Mary standing there, full of despair, and then hearing her Savior’s voice calling her out by name.  And, if this were a scene in a movie, we would see a flashback scene of Mary’s journey with the Lord. We would see the moment she encountered Jesus for the first time, the moment her life went from captivity and torment to freedom and joy.  The moment this once demon-possessed lady knew, with complete certainty, who was King over her life and Lover of her soul.

The second thought that crossed my mind was these song lyrics.

“He called my name, and I ran out of that grave.” 

It’s interesting to think about how, on the day of resurrection, Jesus walked out of that grave and the first thing He did was call Mary out of her grave too.  The storm of uncertainty was over and she stood there, heart fully alive, basking in the sun.

Maybes, Mustard Seeds, Mountains

“Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:19-20

Maybes are the mustard seeds that move mountains.

Because you have so little faith... but truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as.

It’s about more faith not bigger faith.

We need more maybes
more perhaps
more moments of loosening our grip on what we’ve always believed to make room for what could be
more moments of looking beyond what we can only comprehend with our eyes

More faith not bigger faith

Because it’s not about the size of our faith but the size of the One who had the power to speak the tiny mustard seed into existence and breathe life into the tiny.

Like grains of salt or grains of sand. 

One tiny grain of salt won’t salt an entire meal.
One tiny grain of sand won’t make a whole ocean beach.
We need grain on grain.
Small piled on top of more small.

We need buckets spilling over with small.
We need grocery bag armloads of perhaps.
We need hearts bursting with maybes.

“if i’m not authentic, i’m dying inside”

“i’m authentic not because it’s in style, but because it’s part of my own healing. if i’m not authentic, i’m dying inside.”- Mike Foster

My mind keeps going back to this quote Mike Foster tweeted out a few days ago. I love it. The message resonates with my soul, especially the last part “if i’m not authentic, i’m dying inside.”  For the record, when I retyped his words this morning I was tempted to correct all his “i’m”s to “I’m” because the spelling/grammar nazi still living inside me was cringing, but then I resisted the urge. I thought it best to leave the quote in its authentic form. 😉

After allowing these words to roll around in my heart for a couple of days, I responded. “Gosh, this is so true. Spent a decade of my life decaying. Never again.”

I think this “fear” I have of never again wanting to feel like I’m slowly dying is a healthy fear.  Once life begins to take root again in those desolate/decaying places in your heart, you will do everything in your power to make sure you find ways to get those places all the water and sunshine necessary to insure they keep growing and thriving.

When you experience, firsthand, the power and the freedom of the light and the living water, you never ever want to go back to hiding away in the dark. The dark smothers you in shame and tries to convince you that it’s safer in the shadows. The light invites you to stretch out in a spacious place and breathe. That’s the beauty of grace.

Just one sweet taste of freedom… and you know this is the home your soul has been searching for all its life.

Rubble and Rooftops

What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight;
what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.~Matthew 10:27

I’ve been able to go for a couple of runs along the beach road this week while on vacation.  As I headed out the other morning, I turned on some music. All Because of Jesus started playing.  This song holds a special place in my heart. It was the song that was playing in my ears and accompanied me across the finish line when I completed my first 1/2 marathon in April 2011.  When it began playing again the other morning, I realized I was wearing the race shirt from that same run.

“And it’s all because of Jesus I’m alive
Yeah, it’s all because the blood of Jesus Christ
Covers me and raised this dead man’s life
And it’s all because of Jesus

Every sunrise sings Your praise
The universe cries out Your praise
I’m singing freedom all my days
Now that I’m alive”

Back in April 2011, I was coming up on a decade of sobriety, a decade of sweet surrender, a decade from when Jesus first breathed life back into my broken life, a decade of looking back in the rearview mirror and seeing the breadcrumbs of His beauty and His faithfulness. A decade…yet in many ways, it was still so fresh.

It’s been 7 years since that moment and I think about it again this morning praying that the miracle of how He resurrects us from the rubble never ceases to bring me to my knees in gratitude. I pray that a part of me will always feel compelled to shout it from the rooftops. I pray that the joy of His salvation is the first thought when I open my eyes in morning and the last thought that crosses through my brain as I drift off to sleep at night.  Bookends of praise to YOU LORD!

“They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!” Psalm 22: 31

“I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing to my God as long as I live.” Psalm 146:2

Sea of Surprises

We are spending this week down in Panama City, Florida. Growing up in Georgia, my husband visited this area a few times as a child. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean but this week, seeing the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico, was a first for me. The color of the water reminds me of the waters off the coast of the Dominican Republic and also the turquoise river water I remember seeing while we drove from Salzburg, Austria down to Venice, Italy while on a trip to Europe a few years ago.

I spent the first four years of my life in the Cape Canaveral area of Florida prior to our family moving to Arizona.  As a child, I remember how our family of five would make (a number of times) the crazy long drive on Interstate 10 from Arizona back to Florida during the summertime to enjoy the ocean and visit with old family friends. However, I don’t ever recall my dad slowing down long enough for us to take in any of the beauty along the Gulf. My dad was not a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of road tripper. On most family vacations, my two older brothers and I were just grateful our mom was there to remind our dad that we needed potty breaks every few hours.

Looking back, I’m sure we must have been pretty close to the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico as our station wagon sped by Pensacola and across the panhandle to reach our final destination, I just don’t recall us ever stopping to see any of it. Taking in its beauty for the very first time this week has been a delightful surprise.  Last night, as I reflected on coming across beauty that exceeds our expectations, I remembered my One Word for 2018: Surprise

I’m grateful that the beauty unwrapped in creation never seems to diminish in its ability to delight and surprise me.  Seas and seas of mercy…new…each and every morning.  


Perhaps it all Starts with Maybe

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he pulled me out of deep water.  He rescued me from my powerful enemy…”Psalm 18:16-17a

I think if I had to sum up what Easter means to me personally, that verse does a good job of extracting the words right from my heart.  As I’ve shared countless times in this space, several portions of Psalm 18 greatly encouraged me during a season in my life when I was trying to break free from an addiction (my powerful enemy) that had taken hold of me.

Most of my life I had known the story of Easter and even believed the story of Easter… but it truly didn’t become tangible and personal to me until that specific season in my life when I felt as if I was battling for my life.  It was during this season when I finally understood that I could not rescue myself.  The enemy’s grip was too tight and the pit I was in was too deep. I knew I needed to trust a power and a strength and a plan that was bigger than both me and my enemy.  And that power, that plan, was Jesus.

It had been the plan all along. I just didn’t truly understand the plan (nor was I willing to trust the plan) until the battle landed on my doorstep and hit me personally. That’s when I had this ah-ha moment in my journey where I said to the Lord.  Ok, I’ve tried it my way (and that hasn’t worked so well).  So, what’s the harm of me trying it Your way instead?  Maybe You are who You say You are. Maybe I can trust You with my whole heart.  Maybe You are bigger and stronger than everything that has been trying to destroy me. Maybe You can rescue me.  So, Lord, I guess you could say I’m putting all my (Easter) eggs in one basket and trusting You will do Your saving and redeeming work on this doubting, hurting heart of mine.  

And can I tell you what happened?  The old eggs in that basket began cracking open and new and vibrant life started to break through. It didn’t happen overnight.  It became this journey of learning to trust, learning to hold on through the dark, and learning through all of life’s disappointments and delays that healing and freedom wasn’t going to follow the “Eileen timeline.”

No… I’ve discovered that life in Christ is so much bigger and so much more beautiful than that.  

He grabs hold of your hand, pulls you out of deep water, rescues you….and that’s just the sweet beginning…the adventure goes on and on…

Falling Through Our Fears

“Fall toward me. You might just fall right through the ground you fear and discover heaven is underneath.” Paul Pastor

I read this quote last week in a devotional book called The Listening Day, Volume 2 by Paul Pastor. I love it.  As a recovering perfectionist, these words remind me of my own journey and how it was in those seasons of serious failing and falling down when I experienced the love of God in the most profound, personal, and life changing ways. It wasn’t the end…at least not the end I had imagined. Instead, it was the beginning; a beautiful chaotic beginning. Like author, Rick Lawerence so perfectly puts it, “Jesus will set off an earthquake in our soul if it will spring loose our prison door.” Falling down and losing control brought me to where I needed to be all along.

Falling through our fears and finding the kingdom of God.

I love that thought. Discovering this beauty can only be found after we hit the bottom of ourselves and then instead of the journey ending in hopelessness, we encounter and are brought to our knees by a love that we don’t deserve and could never earn.

What kind of love pursues even after we turn our backs and walk away? What kind of loves sees us at our lowest and our ugliest and still chases after us without giving the decision a second thought?  What kind of love sees the barriers we’ve put up and the lies we’ve believed and still battles with the same intensity for our hearts?

This morning I read the following quote in this great article Why Christian Theology Needs Former Atheists

“Not everyone becomes a Christian by going forward at an evangelistic altar call in a church or camp. God sometimes chases people down in very surprising ways.”-  John Woodbridge

I love that we have a Savior who refuses to take our initial “no” as the final answer.

This song has been playing on repeat in my heart all morning long.

“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine…

There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me”

 

 

The Seat Saving Savior

I have this routine every morning of pouring my cup of coffee, grabbing my Bible, and sitting in the same exact spot on the couch. (On a side note, I’m kind of like Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory when it comes to my spot on the couch.)

My dachshund-mix, Rooney, loves curling up right next to me. My other dog, Finley, truly doesn’t have a preference as to where he curls up on the couch. He’s just happy to have a place to call home. Occasionally, Rooney takes his time getting to the couch and Finley is the first one to plop himself down beside me…unaware that his decision is about to cause a disturbance in the force.  When Rooney shows up (he’s kind of like Sheldon Cooper too) he is never satisfied until he has claimed the prime spot right next to me. And, I always end up accommodating this desire too.  If you know dachshunds then you know it’s not really worth arguing with them. They’re a stubborn breed and their determination will eventually wear you down. So I gently push Finely down to the center of the couch to make room for “King” Rooney.

Yesterday, it happened again. Rooney showed up late and Finley took his spot.  As he stood at my feet waiting for me to fix the issue, these words came out of my mouth:

“You can’t be late to the party and expect to get the best seat in the house.”

As the words tumbled out of my mouth, I immediately recognized that our natural tendency as humans is to live with a first come first served attitude and with this belief that promptness gets praised while tardiness gets punished. It dawned on me again how totally opposite to Jesus’ nature and character this tendency is. Jesus’ way of loving people looks nothing like our first come first served or the early bird gets the worm attitudes. In His kingdom, the last will be first, the weak will be strong, the poor are rich, and the humble and the gentle are embraced.

We see it in the prodigal son story when the squandering son comes home and receives a loving welcome not a lecture about being late. You’re the honored guest. I never gave up hope that you’d show up. I was watching for you. Come, let’s celebrate!  I saved you a seat!

We see it as Jesus responds to the thief hanging next to him on the cross. The thief, a broken man with eyes that were finally willing to see Jesus for who he was and then humbly make a request of him:  Please, Jesus, remember me.  And Jesus responded,  of course I’ll remember you in paradise. You are the reason I left it in the first place!

I then thought about these words from a Sunday message from a few years ago.

“God is a missionary God…and God is on a mission to get his kids back.”

And what truly amazes me is the lengths a Holy God will go to rescue his kids. His grace, His forgiveness, His mercy shouts truth into our distracted and discouraged souls: You’re not too late. You haven’t run too far in the wrong direction. Come home, I’ve saved you a seat! 

 

 

 

Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Do we desire to know the truth even if truth looks nothing like we imagined it would or should look?

Do we desire to know the truth even if it makes us uncomfortable, even it doesn’t fit neatly into our paradigm or our own agendas?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this lately.

There’s a part of me that thinks I would have loved being a news journalist or a criminal investigator.  I like getting to the truth.  There’s something inside me that desires accuracy. I can work with truth. I can’t work with deception.  Truth, no matter how hard it might be to swallow sometimes, is at least, a sure foundation on which to begin.  But deception, no matter how attractive, is built on a shaky, uncertain foundation…which means that anything you pile on top of it is tainted.

I think this is one reason I love hearing the stories of skeptics or atheists who come to know and love Christ.  They don’t arrive at that decision to be a Christ follower, half-heartedly. They don’t stumble into it. They have done research (regardless of whether or not what they discover makes them uncomfortable or ends up prompting more questions instead of less). They have examined and studied all the evidence and have made a decision based upon the most accurate information they have. It’s certainly not an easy route. It requires humility and a heart that is willing to be broken or shaken to the core.  BUT, it is a productive and worthwhile route because the end result is a sure foundation on which to stand.

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.

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After writing these thoughts down yesterday morning, I noticed a couple of common threads woven throughout the rest of the day.  My coworker read the first few chapters of Hebrews 1 during a morning prayer time.  

“Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe[a] through him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. So he became superior to the angels, just as the name he inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (1-4)

A few portions resonated with me as I was still reflecting on the thoughts I jotted down earlier in morning about this deep desire to seek truth, to know truth and to live truth.  These verses in Hebrews reminded me that God made the universe through Jesus and that Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory.  I like how the verse says that He is the “exact expression of his nature”  It’s that phrase “exact expression” I love so much.  It reminds me of why I like getting to the truth of things.  When you know the truth about something then you know the “exact expression.” You can rest assured that there are no errors or falsities in that expression. I was curious to see how other translations worded that verse too.

the exact representation (NIV)
the express image of his person (KJV)
the exact imprint of his nature (ESV)
expressed the very character of God (NLT)

The “exact imprint” I like that!  It reminded me of how fingerprints can help investigators identify a suspect and help get to the truth of a matter.

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Then later in the day on Twitter I saw this quote that had been tweeted out by Lee Strobel

“Either we conform our desires to the truth or we conform the truth to our desires.” –Os Guinness

This made me smile because as I was writing earlier in the morning about this desire to know truth and how I love hearing about the journey of skeptics and atheists, I actually thought about Strobel’s journey of becoming a Christ follower… a former investigative journalist and a former atheist.  

I love the quote Strobel shared:  “Conforming our desires to the truth”  leads to a firm foundation.  “Conforming the truth to our desires” leads to a shaky, undependable foundation.”Conforming our desires to the truth” takes a ton of humility, courage, objectiveness. “Conforming the truth to our desires” will not stand the test of time. It results in deceiving ourselves as we attempt to create God into our own image instead of allowing “the exact expression” of God to shape us and our lives.

Plant Seeds of Significance

I finally watched the movie Wonder last night.  It was a good movie about a young boy born with a genetic issue that caused significant facial deformities. August “Auggie” must navigate the pains of being rejected, insulted, teased, bullied and ignored as he makes the transition from being homeschooled to attending middle school.  The story also gives the audience a glimpse into the lives of several of the other characters and we get to see the story through their perspectives as well.

The part of the story that seemed to resonate most with me was when Auggie’s older sister experienced rejection from her best friend. I ended up pausing the movie and sharing with my teenage son a time back in 9th grade when I had to navigate through a similar hurt.  It’s amazing how deep the pain of rejection can cut us.  It’s also amazing how pains like that can fill us with a drive and a passion to fight against and do what we can to minimize such pain for others.

Pains can reveal our passion and our purpose.

On the days when I’m tempted to make my life and my work about something else…I want to remember.

How did I make the people who crossed my path today…feel?

Did I cut them down or did I lift them up?

Did I make sure the people I met today felt seen, accepted, and included?

Did I make sure they left this place feeling assured that this was a safe place…that this was one place where they are welcome, where they belong, and where they are loved?

Did I leave another scar on their wounded soul or did I plant seeds of significance and beauty?