Questioning Our Condition

“What next?”

I don’t often start my mornings with such questions on my mind.  I often am startled awake before dawn and make a beeline for a programmed coffee pot stirring my senses with steaming hot goodness.  

My day starts with coffee and prayer.  I have a typical spot to settle as I seek the Lord by praising Him for who He is, what He has done, and what He has purposed for the day and coming days.  I often turn to praying for my family and for those He brings to my mind.  Praying for wisdom and confessing any known sin, often He will bring to my mind scripture that is filled with hope and promise.

Today was different.

It felt different.  Assuming it was because this isolation had been extended another 30 days, I found myself questioning what it was that I was supposed to do with the sobering knowledge that life was being put on hold, again.

Recognizing that while my situation was far from dire, it felt ominous.

The question was not, “Why, Lord, is this happening?”, but a question of “Why, Lord, does it feel so ominous?”  I fully believe that it’s okay to ask God those hard questions.  Looking inward, I ask,  “Am I trusting You to take away my fear?”  “Am I ignoring the truths that are planted in my heart?” and “Is my heart heavy for the right reasons?”  (Am I grieving for those facing eternity, the suffering, and the pain of separation–or am I just feeling sorry for myself?)

An Introspective Traveler

Stopping to consider the lessons I’ve learned from my opportunities to travel, my perspective on being an American has changed.  I came to realize that I thought was gratitude, was actually a form of pride.

Gratitude or pride?

I don’t think it was intentional, and at best it was subtle, but this sense of pride in my heritage was misplaced, and being in another country definitely changed how I saw myself and the world around me.
 
Our journey to Madagascar was long–this destination was the farthest we had ever traveled from home.  What was scheduled to be a 61+ hour trek turned into a 85+ hour journey.  It wasn’t my first trip outside the U.S., but I knew going into it that I would gain an even greater insight about this great big wonderful world that we live in.
 
The moment you enter an airport filled with travelers from all over the world, you get a glimpse of the diversity of these people from all parts of the globe.  Some that would never give you the time of day and others that don’t seem to know a stranger.  Some kind, some unhappy or even angry–others, apathetic.
 
I’ve always been a people watcher (to the point that my kids have called me on it!), and the more I see of the human spirit, the more I have come to believe that the outlook we have on life characteristically shaped by what what we believe.  More than physical, our spiritual and emotional connection to our Creator can place us on common ground with others no matter our physical location or position in life.
 
Madagascar was no different.  I have seen complete joy on the impoverished face of African children and worshiped wholeheartedly with faithful believers in a thatched roof church. Worshiping the same God on foreign soil, the heart connection of those who share the same love for the God of the Bible is strong.
 
People are PEOPLE.  It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you’ve been, how much you have or what you’ve accomplished. We are all a part of Gods beautiful creation, uniquely designed for His purpose–and what connects us more strongly than any physical similarity is a common thread:  belief in the Son of God who came to save us.
 
 
While I am thankful for my heritage, and understand how blessed I am to live in a country where I have democracy and freedoms that others only dream about, I recognize the danger of my heart becoming prideful.  Not a criticism intended solely for Americans, I have also seen the scowls of bitter old men, wealthy by the world’s standards, who refuse to be grateful for what they have.  Age is not a determining factor, to be sure, but the longevity of life does tend to bring either more of the bitterness or quite the opposite–a comfortable sweetness that stems from a life well-lived.

“Man, am I glad I was born in America!”

Traveling to a third-world country does remind me to be thankful that God allowed me the privilege of living in a free nation.  It is a gift. Nothing I have ever done earned me this right.  Nothing in me deserves it more than another, and so with such a privilege, I see great responsibility.  Speaking the truth in love is at the top of the list.

 

 
Instead of pride welling up inside of me, it should be humility bringing me to my knees.
 
Often the world sees Americans very differently than the picture we think we portray. Sometimes seen as wealthy and sometimes as selfish–and often only a distant benefactor.  In our compassion we can be quick to provide physical needs, but our actions might be misconstrued, and our motive only a bandaid for our conscience.  If we’re not careful, we will forget that the greatest need of our world is to know Jehovah Jireh–the One who provides so much more than temporary hope.
 
On our very first international mission trip to Poland, we were seen as celebrities.  More than once we were asked, “Why would you come to Poland?”  While the rest of the world might see a humanitarian effort, God wanted us to see it less from a human perspective and more from a eternal one.  This “trip” to teach conversational English was really a perfect opportunity to share the gospel. What a privilege to tell them that Jesus came for everyone, and that we were on mission to make sure that our students heard this truth from God’s Word.
 
Though I am a native-born American, I am first a representative of Christ. As a young adult I worked in the travel business, but could never really let myself dream of being a world-traveler myself.  I took great joy in sending others on great adventures and looked forward to hearing their stories.  When God opened the door for me to experience this great big world in a way that I could never have imagined, He gave me a perspective that will forever be changed.  My citizenship is in heaven–and as the old hymn says, “I am only passing through”.
 

Even though you and I are only temporary travelers on this earth, what we do for Christ and how we represent Him will last for eternity.

I truly want my life, my attitude, and even my countenance to reflect the thankfulness I have in my heart for a God who loves me and has been “faithful and true.”

Heavenly Sunlight

No matter how dark the night,

despite what the future may hold,

the voice that I hear whispers a tune..

right into my soul.

The music is all around us.  Can you hear it?

In the quiet I am surrounded by the sweet sound of birds outside my window.  Oblivious to the human condition these creatures continue their singing.  Do they sing because they are happy?  Are they calling out to awaken their loved ones?  Or are they singing because that’s just what they were created to do…

You and I were created for worship.  The world sings of passion and heartache, I sing and praise the One who has gifted me with life and peace and joy.

The song in my heart is a heavenly one.

This life is uncertain, to be sure, but there is always something–someone to be thankful for.   

When I worship the One who has given me the promise of His presence in every circumstance,

I am trusting Him to put a song in my heart and music in my soul.

Turn off the news.  Turn on the music.  Or just take a walk and listen.  You will hear it.  You will feel it.  And you will find it when you seek Him with all your heart. Put your focus on what is good and what is true.  (Philippians 4:8-9)

Storm clouds may gather,

the rain might fall,

the world might seem crazy, but OUR GOD is NOT.

He knows…

and because He lives, I will be singing in spite of it all:

Walking in sunlight, all of my journey,
over the mountains, through the deep vale;
Jesus has said, “I’ll never forsake thee,”
promise divine that never can fail.

Refrain:
Heavenly sunlight, heavenly sunlight,
flooding my soul with glory divine;
hallelujah, I am rejoicing,
singing His praises, Jesus is mine.

Shadows around me, shadows above me,
never conceal my Savior and Guide;
He is the light, in Him is no darkness;
ever I’m walking close to His side. [Refrain]

 In the bright sunlight, ever rejoicing,
pressing my way to mansions above;
singing His praises gladly I’m walking,
walking in sunlight, sunlight of love. [Refrain]

“Sing a new song to the Lord; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to Yahweh, praise His name; proclaim His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonderful works among all peoples.

For the Lord is great and is highly praised; He is feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.”  Psalm 96:1-6

The Beauty of a Letter

A dying art, the handwritten letter is slowly but surely being replaced by emails and texts. 

I confess, I just am as guilty of letting this age-old practice diminish in my own life; and yet, reading Paul’s letter to his young charge Timothy in my Bible, I am inspired to write a few of my own.  Reminded to be grateful for a handwritten account of his words, I am well aware that this was no ordinary letter, but one to be recorded and cherished because of the God who inspired it.

I am pretty sure my sweet mama has saved every card and letter she’s ever received.  In her 79 years, she has acquired quite a stash, and now that she has dementia they are something of a treasure.  She is the only one of seven siblings left, and pictures taken of her loved ones seem almost surreal; but the letters– and those cards written by the hand of her loved ones speak volumes into her heart.  Their love and sentiment bring laughter and stir up tears.  Even the sight of their unique penmanship is a tangible reminder of their presence.

Don’t you see?

On The Other Side Of Yes

Sometimes saying “yes” to God is the most difficult step we take in obedience.

Other times it comes easily, and our response is followed by a joy-filled freedom to step out in faith.

What do we do when saying yes is a struggle?  “No, Lord” is not an option–it’s a contradiction; and yet, if we are honest, saying yes can be downright difficult, because we know that the moment we #SAYYESTOGOD it will mean

          absolute,

                            complete

                                               surrender.

Full surrender steps out in faith, even when it’s unclear what it will look like.  Saying yes to God looks a whole lot like waving a white flag, doesn’t it?

And in a sense, it is.

When God asks me to be willing to say yes, He is asking for me to surrender my will to His.  If that is to be complete, it also means that I accept whatever happens on the other side of that yes, believing that it is all for His glory.  It’s even possible that being willing is only half the battle, and my yes could open the door to the next yes!  (Saying “yes” might not be just about what He wants to teach me, but what He might want to do in someone else.)

Surrender is so much more than giving up or giving in.  When i am willing to #sayyestoGod, I am freed from my own insecurities and fear.  He loves me.  He will take my brokenness and gracefully turn surrender into something that is good and true and right.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:10

What I Can Do Today

“All a man’s ways seem right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the motives.”  Proverbs 16:2

We plan.  We prepare.  We shoot our visionary arrows into the future and pray they land at least somewhere near the intended target.

But God.

He sees.  He knows where we have been and where we are going.  And surely He must throw His hands up in frustration when our focus is more on our destination than it is on the journey.

“Commit your activities to the Lord and your plans will be achieved.”  Proverbs 16:3

It is in our coming and going that our true character is revealed.  In the grand scheme of things, we are often far-sighted and if we aren’t careful–in danger of tripping over those small moments right in front of us.

I believe my husband has been given the gift of vision.  Not just being able to see things clearly with his eyes, but in his relationship with God, he is often given a vision for what the future might look like.  Not in a dream or written in the clouds–but a very real sense of what God could, or might do, if we walk in obedience to Him.

How does one proceed when he believes God for something that looks very different in reality?  What if, in our humanity, we start to wonder what God is doing?  What do we do when we don’t see the future clearly?

We walk in faith.  When we surrender our “yes” to God, we also surrender the outcome. Just as those men of old believed God for big things (read the New Testament book of Hebrews!), we choose to trust Him even when we can’t see the promised land.  Even when the road we are on is rocky or difficult.  Even when our world is shaken and we don’t understand–and even when others abandon us and we feel all alone.  Then what?

By faith, we just keep going.

What can I do today?  I can keep doing what I know is good and true and right.  I can continue to look to the Lord for direction and for wisdom, and I can choose to trust Him.

WISDOM:  Seeing things from God’s perspective

“A wise heart instructs its mouth and increases learning with its speech.”  Proverbs 16:23

Every circumstance is a learning experience.  There is always something God wants to teach us in the process.

Shoot those arrows!  Dreaming, planning, and preparing for the future are healthy habits–just be careful not to miss what is right in front of you. Today is an opportunity for growth.  Those giant redwood trees in the forest?  They didn’t reach the height of their glory overnight:

Redwoods:  Tallest Tree on Earth

Redwood trees can grow to 300 feet or more, compared to the tallest pine tree at 268 feet or the tallest tan oak at 162 feet — yet its root system is only 6-12 feet deep. Extending their roots more than 50 feet from the trunk and living in groves where their roots can intertwine, giving the redwoods strength to withstand powerful winds and floods.

Strong roots and consistent growth brought about the desired result–and it will do the same for us–not for our own glory, but for HIS.  Dig deep into God’s word.  Walk in obedience today–and press on, friend.  Look to God for His perspective on your current situation.  You are not alone. He will see you through.  Let your heart be intertwined with His, and today–on this day and on into the future, let your vision be only a reflection of His.

[For another perspective on Proverbs 16, you can read Day #16 of my 31 Days of Proverbs, HERE.]

**This post was shared on the Salt & Light Linkup Facebook page.

Turning the Corner on 2019: Surrendering 2020

Surrender.

It’s a word that sounds defeated. Discouraged. Beaten.

Surrender:

verb (used without object)

“to give oneself up, as into the power of another; submit or yield.”  [dictionary.com]
While the word may seem to carry a negative connotation, in the Christian life is a cumulative word that describes what happens when a person,
1.) recognizes who God is;
2.) sees themself as they truly are–a sinner in need of a Savior;
and 3.) makes a conscious choice to surrender their life to the One who came to save them.
Surrender doesn’t come easily for us.  We are taught from an early age to fight for “our rights”, to stand up for ourselves, to get “what we deserve”, and to never back down.
Only Jesus came to serve.
“On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”  Matthew 20:26-28
I know.  Sometimes you feel like you are the only one. If you’re like me, you get in a rut and you think, “sometimes I wish someone would take care of me for a change…”.

Merry Christmas!

“For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6

“…today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”  Luke 2:11

 

The Ultimate Christmas Wish

More than beautiful presents wrapped in paper and bows, the gift of Christmas begins with a baby in a manger, swaddled in cloth and sleeping in a manger bed.

The gift of Christmas came.

Heralded by angels,

He entered the world He created,

in a stall built for animals;

all of creation crying, “Hail the newborn king!”

as God Incarnate left His throne.

He came.

No Turning Back

My father turned 82 today.

Two years ago we found out that he was in Stage 4 kidney failure, and he quickly progressed to end-stage, requiring dialysis to survive.  While the damage done to his body cannot be reversed, being hooked up to a machine to rid his body of the toxins has prolonged his life.  Watching him go through this painful process, I have learned a few lessons on living–and on dying.

I. You can’t go back.  Although if you were to meet my mother today, you might think that you can.  She lives with dementia from a stroke she had two years ago, and her distant memory is much clearer than it has ever been, while her recent memories are lost.  Focusing on the past has brought her great sorrow.  While reminiscing can be a good thing, sometimes we allow the hard things to dominate our thoughts.  Hurt, loss, grief, fear, missed opportunities and regrets can cause us to dwell in a dark place.  While my mother cannot always control her thought process, I can.

I can choose to walk around in the dark or I can look for the the light.

The Chaos of Christmas

“…it’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

In many ways, Christmas in America begins the day after Thanksgiving.

We have barely put away the leftover turkey before our thoughts turn to shopping, Christmas trees and party planning. What should be a time of reflection and continued thanksgiving, turns to hurried accomplishments to be checked off a list.

While some people thrive in the bustling atmosphere of Christmas preparation, many feel overwhelmed and even frustrated by it.  We try not to go overboard, and yet in the pressure to find the perfect tree, the perfect gift, or to have a perfectly decorated home, we cave into the chaos.

“They carry out a plan, but not mine…”  Isaiah 30:1

I have been camping out in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, looking at the prophet’s perspective on the coming Messiah.  Knowing that this prophet’s message was fulfilled hundreds of years later in a cattle stall in Bethlehem, I search for a picture of what God intended to do.  God spoke to Isaiah and gave him a very distinct message for His people.  He warns of their coming doom if they fail to listen to His counsel; a reflection of our compassionate God, He wants them to see that the choice is theirs:  Follow God, seek Him and do His will or continue to live in bondage.

Out of fear, Israel was choosing to do the safe thing, rather than the right thing.

Ouch. Enslaved.  How often do I disobey God by cowering and succumbing to fear?

Dangerously Distracted

It only took one second.

One.

My toddler was fussing to get out of the cart, and because I was close to being finished with our little shopping trip, I caved in to the pressure of a 3 year old and let her get out.  Holding one little hand in mine while pushing the cart with the other is an exercise in balance and coordination.

I had one more stop for that one more thing, and I let go of her hand to scan a rack for my last item…

…and in one second, she was gone.

Simple Truth. Complex Faith.

I am the thorn in His crown.

The splinter in His thumb.

That tag that is constantly rubbing,

and the child that seems to always be whining.

And He loves me anyway.

I was talking to a young woman recently who had been processing the gospel message:

  • We have all sinned against a Holy God. [Romans 3:23)
  • The consequence of sin is death/separation from God. [Romans 6:23]
  • God loved the people He created so much that He came to earth to show us just how much by taking our place on the cross to pay the penalty for us . [Romans 5:8]
  • Salvation is possible for all who call out to Him in repentance and belief. [Romans 10:9-13]

This simple message becomes complex when we factor in all of our personal stories. Each one unique. Some more complicated that the others.

But His message is the same for us all:

“For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

My story is not the same as this young woman, and though she had heard the gospel many times and had been contemplating it for awhile, one particular point stood out in pastor’s sermon on this particular day.

What If I Let Go?

What if I let go?

Of my pride.

Of my sin.

Of my selfishness.

“How happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven.”

What if I let go?

Of fear,

of failure,

of the future.

“You are my hiding place, You protect me from trouble. You surround me with joyful shouts of deliverance.”

Answering the Hard Questions

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“If God is good, then why is there so much suffering in the world?”

Two very important questions that are often asked by those considering Christianity, these are some of life’s hardest questions.  Why would I want to tackle them?  Because many in our world are asking, and there is only one place to find the answer–the Bible.

Whether it is a family member that is suffering through a chronic disease or a senseless tragedy involving innocents, we are faced with a truth that the world struggles to digest:

Sin has consequences.

Stay with me.  I’m not saying that every person’s suffering is a result of their own sin, but rather, that God created this world and everything in it and it was good…

“God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. ” Genesis 1:31

…until sin entered.

Given a choice, the temptation that satan offered Adam and Eve was more than just the freedom to choose.   God had given them that.  More than the choice between good and evil, and more than a solitary sinful action, Satan knew that sin was the key that would unlock the door of separation from a holy God.

“Did God really say…”  Genesis 3

His tactic was, and always is, to lure us away from our Creator.  While using clever ways to distract us, he draws us as far away from what is good and true and right.  Which door we choose is only one of two:  the choice to obey God or to turn away from Him in disobedience.

So those hard questions?  Two of life’s hardest “Why?” questions to answer?  Why it seems so unfair when we see bad things happen to an innocent party, or when those who are trying to live a life that honors the Lord– and yet He still allows them to suffer?

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