Climbing Out of the Pit

Life is a series of peaks and valleys.  At any given time, you are either on the way up or on the way down.  I’m finding that the higher the mountaintops, the deeper the valleys.  In the mountaintop experiences, I’m close to God and everything is right in my world.  No problem seems insurmountable.  With God, all things are possible.  I am more than a conqueror.

When I start the descent into the valley, the feelings of loneliness and desolation began to come on me with greater and greater intensity.  Having surrendered all my props, the things of the world that used to fill me, I can find no comfort.  I know I should run to the Comforter, but I am too paralyzed to move.  I am in a trap of the enemy’s making, but I have walked into it willingly.  His lies pound me, stealing all peace, all hope.  There is a haze over my eyes that makes it hard to see truth, yet I know the truth is still there.

In only two weeks’ time, it felt like my relationship with God was gone.  I knew that wasn’t true, but I had no desire to go to my secret place to find Him.  I had trouble remembering what it felt like to be in His arms.  I had had a stomach bug that lasted a week, leaving me feeling weak and vulnerable.  Following this our dog Chelsea was lost, and Mark had hip surgery.  Time was frozen as everything normal in our lives stopped.  Family and friends rallied to find Chelsea, but to no avail.  Watching Mark diligently searching, even though on crutches, and seeing his grief, I sank deeper and deeper into a pit, not able to get out.  At these times nothing makes sense in my world.

Finally on Sunday morning, I took a faltering step toward Him, uttered a very simple prayer, and opened my favorite devotional, just to read a few words, climbing slowly on my knees to get back up.  Then as the worship began in the Sunday morning church service, there was an explosion in my spirit-He is there!  He have always been there.  I am the one that moved away.  I am coming back.  I hear Him say in my spirit, “It’s okay, child.  You can’t lose our relationship.  I’m only as far away as your weakest cry for help.  Be still now.  Be at rest.  There is only grace.”  Restored!  Not because of anything I’ve done, but because of who He is.

Lord, thank you for the pain in the depth of the valley, for not letting me escape into the world and its comforts, for making me face myself.  Thank you for allowing me to live in the black-and-white zone.  There is no neutral.  Jesus, I would rather dwell in the deepest pit and feel the pain of not being in your presence than to be satisfied in this world without you.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

Drawing_Desk

Going Home

IMG_0148.JPG (2)Emma Elyse is one today.  Her birth and my mother’s death occurred just days apart. When my daughter Shawn married Matt in September 2007, her dad had died just six weeks earlier.  I was so worried that my mother would pass away and that Shawn would go into labor at the same time.  I was sick thinking about the possibility that a death could cast a shadow on another joyous occasion. If a mother could order times and seasons, I would have done everything in my power to separate those two occasions.  But that right belongs to God alone.

Last week Mark and I traveled up to my hometown Blytheville for my niece’s high school graduation, exactly a year from the date of my mother’s passing, May 15.  I had not been back since her funeral and had not yet seen her headstone in place at the little cemetery in Manila, Arkansas.  At the time she passed away, she was suffering mentally and IMG_0454physically with Alzheimer’s, so it wasn’t hard to give her up and let her go to be with Jesus. I was so focused on getting back to Conway before Emma was born that I don’t think I shed a tear at the funeral!

However, on the trip up last week, traveling the familiar path home, memories came flooding back as we passed through the little towns where so many aunts and uncles lived, all gone now.  My thoughts didn’t focus on a very ill mother, but the healthy one who gave me life and did her best to take care of me in the midst of her own burdens and brokenness.  I was going to the home of my childhood, but my mother would never be there again.  The tears came.

We think we can leave our past behind, but it is always a part of us.  When I went off to college, I vowed never to return to my hometown to live, too many childhood and teenage wounds.  I wanted to get as far away as I could.  My scholarship allowed that to happen, so I went to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the other corner of the state. It is obvious that the Lord had planned another path for me, but He never wanted me to forget where I was from.  He wanted me to make peace with it. Now, finally, I see all the ways God protected me, keeping me innocent at a time in my life that I was very needy.  I clearly see and appreciate the sacrifices my mother made for my brother and me.

How can we have the capacity to feel joy and sorrow, happiness and pain, at the same time?  Why does God allow us to be stretched to both extremes?  Paul says in Hebrews 12:2 that “for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  He endured not only the excruciating pain of the cross, but the unimaginable sorrow of being separated from the Father.  Why?  For the joy set before him.  What was the joy?  We are, those who call upon Him as Savior.  He endured it all so we could be with Him through all eternity.  He endured it so we could be healed and have abundant life.

We feel joy and sorrow at the same time because we are made in the image of God.  It is Christ in me, the hope of glory. It is a gift.  If we can’t feel our pain, our brokenness, the depth of our sin, then how can we know our own need?  It is what drives us to seek Him. We are incomplete without Him.  We cannot know the joy and the fullness of life until we have tasted of the divine in our relationship with Jesus, that which we will one day partake of fully as meet Him face to face.

Tomorrow there is going to be a one-year-old birthday celebration for Miss Emma.  IMG_1039With the birth of every grandchild, my heart stretches and stretches to hold more love.  Isn’t that exactly like our God?  His love knows no limits.  He is love.  Jesus, I am overwhelmed by your goodness.  Thank you for the gift of life and all it contains.  Let us never become numb to the joys and the sorrows of this life, but let them wash over us and bring us closer to you. Holy Spirit, help us to not be afraid to feel, for you have truly created us to be like you and to know you in ways we can’t even fathom right now.  Incredible. You are amazing, Lord.

Happy birthday, sweet Emma!  Nana loves you.

 

Becoming Less

The decision has been made to move to Texas.  A lease has been signed on a rental, and we are in the process of getting our house ready to sell.  When we finished the paperwork last night, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach as reality hit.  This is actually going to happen.  The Lord has given us so much confirmation that we are to go that to not move would be disobedience.  Whether it’s for one year or ten years, we don’t know.  We are excited because we’re certain He is leading, but it won’t be easy.

The other morning I was led to John 3:30:  “He must become greater; I must become less.”  Of course, in this passage John the Baptist is talking about Jesus, but it applies to our lives as well.  As we continue walking with God, the Holy Spirit gradually conforms us to the image of His Son.  Sanctification is a process of dying to self, our fleshly nature, and becoming more like Christ.  In the natural, this is often a painful process, but in Christ it ultimately produces inexpressible joy.  Oswald Chambers speaks of this as attending our own white funeral“:

No one experiences complete sanctification without going through a white funeral-the burial of the old life. If there has never been this crucial moment of change through death, sanctification will never be more than an elusive dream. There must be a “white funeral,” a death with only one resurrection-a resurrection into the life of Jesus Christ. Nothing can defeat a life like this. It has oneness with God for only one purpose— to be a witness for Him. (My Utmost for His Highest, January 15.)

The Spirit showed me this principle also applies to us as parents.  I see my children with their own families established, adults now carrying adult responsibilities.  They don’t need me in the same way anymore, and those precious little ones are theirs.  I raised my children as well as I could, though certainly not perfectly.  And I loved every minute of it.  The fact that I am close to them and they welcome me into their lives is a mother’s reward.  But Mom isn’t in first place in their lives now, nor second place, maybe not even third.  And that is healthy, the way it should be.

To be called by the Lord to spend the rest of my life for His purposes is a gift.  I know that He is calling me unto himself, and I know that whatever God chooses to do through Mark and me will impact our family for Christ for generations.  God says in Exodus 20:6 that he will show love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.  Mark and I are called, with all our weaknesses and imperfections.  We are humbled and grateful.  We will be obedient.

So I cheer them on, my beautiful family.  I will pray for them, encourage and support them, and be a part of their lives forever.  There will be many, many visits and phone calls and face-time.  But I let go of my need to be connected in the same way as when they were children and teenagers.  I let go of needing them to need me, my fear that if I move I will somehow lose them.  And I praise God that He has given me a legacy in three wonderful children, an amazing daughter-in-law and sons-in-law, and five (so far) grandchildren.

Lord Jesus, you must always become greater in my life, and I must become less.  I welcome that.  But I also acknowledge that I have become less in the lives of my children, as it should be.  White funerals are painful, but they are necessary as we pass from one stage of life to another.  What has been cannot be recaptured.  What will be is in your hands.  I trust you, Lord, and I entrust my children to you, the Faithful One.  Thank you for the blessing of family, and thank you for this new adventure with my husband.  I know it will be wonderful and that you will work it for good.  In your precious name, amen..

 

The Beginning

My son and one of my daughters discovered what no child should have to find.  On the phone with them while driving on the interstate, I heard the crying, the confusion.  Surely this was a dream, a nightmare, not reality.

These are the thoughts that come as I remember:

Sleeping all together on the floor of the living room that first night, not willing to be separated from one another for a minute.

A slide show that tells the story of my family, the births of my children, the school activities, birthdays, Christmases, beach vacations, high school graduations–a treasure of precious memories.  A casket at the front of the church, my family sitting behind a black curtain to give privacy. 

A dear friend leading me through purchasing a headstone–researching prices, driving me to the monument company.  Sitting with God to choose the inscription, “I tell you the truth; today you will be with me in paradise.”

My son visiting the grave site for the first time since the funeral and then coming home and cutting a tendon in his hand by opening a jar that shattered.  Being with him through surgery and rehab.

A few weeks later one daughter escorted down the aisle by her brother at her wedding.  My stepping in to give her away.  Happiness and grief merged into one.

Another daughter showing up at my house with her child and a backpack, fleeing an abusive marriage.  Strongly taking charge like a mother bear to pursue legal action to protect her and my granddaughter.  Another dear friend shielding my family in her home, as we did not know what the repercussions would be.

Selling the home where we had been a family.  Moving out and going back for a clean-up.  One last look at the backyard, still seeing where the garden would always be, hearing the voices of my children playing somewhere in a memory.

Three years later, three marriages in one year, my son, my daughter, and me!

Finally being able to exhale.  But with the next year came my daughter-in-law’s horrific miscarriage at eleven-and-a-half weeks.  A few months later, my daughter’s devastating miscarriage at exactly the same stage.

But God restores.  Four beautiful, healthy babies have been born since then!

Taking care of my mother in the last year of her life as she was ravaged by Alzheimer’s.  The privilege of sitting with her through her last night.  The holy moment of witnessing her last breath, knowing she is now at peace in the presence of the Lord.

It will soon be seven years since the beginning of this story.  Seven is God’s number for completion.  With joy and thankfulness, I see my children established in happy marriages with beautiful children.  I am married to the man of my dreams, the one whom the Lord brought to me when I asked him to choose.  God is writing a new script for us, our own story.  It is no coincidence that at this seven-year mark, he is sending us to take possession of our land.

I am brought to my knees in tears when I think of the grace that has carried me through these years, awed and humbled by the presence and power of Christ in my life.  A friend recently asked me what I have learned from this journey.  I had only these three words:  “God is faithful.”  We were never alone.

http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=F9BEC1NU

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth.  Do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  Isaiah 43:19

 

Following In His Footsteps

What does it mean to be sent by Jesus?  Are all believers sent?  In John Chapter 20, Jesus appears to his disciples after his resurrection.  Twice he told them, “Peace be with you!”  And then he said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  But where was he sending them?  We know that they began preaching and witnessing in Jerusalem but were soon scattered to different regions because of persecution.

And what was he sending them to do?  In Matthew 28:19-20, known as the Great Commission, Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The question I was pondering about as I read John 20 this morning is “If the Father sent Jesus and Jesus sent his disciples, am I also sent, a believer in 2014?”  As I prayed the Spirit brought the following passage to mind that deeply touched my heart.  It is Romans 10:13-15.  “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?”  The answer clearly is “Yes, I am.”

Our mission field is the place to which God has called us.  It is the children God has entrusted to our care.  It is our workplaces, our circles of friends, our churches–yes, many sitting in church do not know Jesus.  It is the neighbor across the street.  It may be serving as a missionary in another country.  II Timothy 4:2 says we should be ready to preach the Word in season and out of season.  I love this quote from my NIV Essentials Study Bible: “How did Jesus deliver his urgent life-saving message to everyone in the world?  The answer is one sandal-shod footstep at a time, village by village, person by person.”

This means tuning up our spiritual ears by spending time in God’s presence and letting him fill us so we have something to give out.  It means listening to the Holy Spirit and speaking when he says to speak.  And it means being willing to go where he sends us.  Why does it seem so hard to do this?  I read long ago that “The fear of man is the love of self,” and that resonated with me.  We are so afraid of being exposed and rejected.  A pastor just last Sunday brought this idea to another level.  He said, “The fear of man is greater than the fear of death.”  Very thought-provoking.

We are back in Texas this month to do ministry and continue to seek God for direction about whether he is sending us here to live.  I’m sitting this morning in our little borrowed RV, looking out the back window at a field full of little tree saplings and several beautiful horses.  It’s a peaceful place to sit and reflect.  We must make time where we sit quietly with the Lord.  The most important thoughts we will ever have are thoughts about God.  Learning who he is and knowing his great love for us defines our very lives.  The enemy will do everything he can to keep God a Sunday-morning-only experience.

Please pray with me:  Jesus, it seems difficult to actually put into practice sharing with others about you.  Help us to open our hearts and drop our self-protection and see the world through your eyes, people made in your image that so desperately need you.  We commit our lives afresh to you today.  Help us to abide in you, for apart from you we can do nothing.  Open our eyes to see the world around us and make us willing to be sent wherever you would call us.  Jesus, we love you.  Amen.

The Upside Down Kingdom

In the kingdom of God, everything is upside down.  The least is the greatest (Luke 9:46-48).  The greatest in the kingdom is servant of all (Matthew 20:26).  Strength comes from weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).  Foolishness trumps wisdom (I Cor. 1:27-28).  Life comes from death (John 11:25).  Why is this so?  Everything of the flesh must be crucified and the life of Christ imparted into our spirit man.  Anything that remains of the flesh is pride, the hallmark of the enemy, who was cast out of heaven for this original sin.

Pride is deceptive.  We most often think of arrogance or boasting when we think of pride, but pride takes many different forms.  Pride says, “I’ve got this,” or “Everything depends on me.”  Pride also masquerades as low self-esteem and says, “I’m a failure.”  Pride is focus on self and says essentially, “I will be my own god.”  In John 8:28, Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be, and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.

Jesus was fully God but he submitted to the Father and humbled himself, even to death on the cross. (Philippians 2:8)  When he spoke his last words, “It is finished” and gave up his life, it was then that the enemy was defeated. First comes humility; then comes power.  Humility is utter dependence on Jesus Christ and his life imparted by the Holy Spirit.  Only then do we have the power to live in victory and freedom.

Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that I have come to set you free.  Stand firm, then, and don’t let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” This is the life verse the Lord gave me several years ago. God has continued to show me layer upon layer of how to apply this Word to my life. For instance, I know I’m living in slavery when I try to “work” to be good enough, trying to earn acceptance by others and my worth to God. I know I’m living in slavery when I try to protect myself for fear that I will be exposed as – what?  (Insert your greatest fear, or core lie, here.)  This is the subtlety of pride, thinking “I must take care of myself .”

Jesus paid the price for our sins with his blood so that we could be one with him and the Father and also other believers.  He prays this for us in John 17:20-21: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their (the disciples) message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  The God of the universe both created us and sent his Son to die for us so we could be one with him?  Incredible!  And that’s not all.

He calls us to live holy lives, set apart for him, but Jesus knew we could not do this in our own strength.  So he has given us the Holy Spirit, and by his power we are able to walk in the light as we submit to him.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”  (Luke 9:23-25, NLT)   By surrendering to him daily, we become free to become who we really are.

Let go, let go, let go!  When we hang on and try to control our lives, we miss living the lives the Lord has planned for us. Claim the words of Paul in Galatians 2:20 and declare them:  “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave Himself for me.”  Let the Spirit of God realign your thoughts to “kingdom-thinking.”  As the world loses its grip on you and the kingdom of God becomes your reality, your life will be turned upside down, and you will be part of the great adventure with the Lord Jesus!

Pray with me:  Father, you created me in your image as a unique individual to fulfill your purposes. I know apart from Jesus I can do nothing.  Help me to surrender to you daily so that I’m led by your Spirit. I want to see through your eyes, love with your heart, and not miss my life, living as you created me, to reflect your glory.  All praise and glory to you, my King! Amen.

(Next post in Season of Singleness coming soon as well as Refined Bible study!)

Searching For a New Fit

Sometimes life just doesn’t “fit” anymore.  Spring is coming, and we’ll be going to the back of our closets to pull out our warm weather apparel.  Some things we’ll look at with new eyes and wonder if we really wore that last year.  Some things will be too small or rarely — okay, never — too big.  I can get flustered with the whole process and think I need to reinvent my wardrobe, only to come back to the tried-and-true style that is me. Only then do I feel comfortable and able to move on to more important matters.

If all trials in our lives were as simple as wardrobe changes, we would have less turmoil, but there would also be less growth.  For when life changes come that thrust us into unknown territory, we have no choice but to begin the search for “who am I now?”  Some of you have known this truth through the death of a loved one, a devastating divorce, a job loss, a move to a new location where you don’t know a soul, or just becoming an empty-nester after years of homework, school programs, and ball practice to fill your calendar.  For me it happened when I became widowed after 31 years of marriage.  It happened suddenly, without warning, at the same time my youngest child was about to get married.

In my search to find out how to make life fit as a middle-age single woman, I made a lot of decisions quickly.  Within a month I started working again in my career as a free-lance court reporter.  I had retired only months earlier.  Advice was given not to move from my home for at least a year, but I had it sold and another house purchased in six months.  Working again plus all the details involved in buying and selling a house kept me very busy, which made the grief tolerable.  But the first night in my new house, sitting with unpacked boxes all around me, I didn’t feel peace.  It just felt strange.

It seemed to me that life was pretty much divided into singles and couples.  Even though I’d been half of a couple for a long time, I was now single.  Married friends still reached out to me, but now it’s one-on-one with the girls.  And frankly, the one time I did decide to attend a couples’ event, it just didn’t feel right.  My change in status screamed too loudly within me. The new rhythm of my life was now learning to navigate it alone.  The best advice I can give someone who finds themselves suddenly single is to to seek out some single friends as soon as possible.  The Lord gave me two such friends and a dear sister-in-law who also lost her husband.  They helped fill the gap immeasurably. .

Nine months after moving into my new house, I became restless again and decided I needed to move 30 miles to the city where I did most of my free-lance work.  I rented out my house to my son and had signed a lease on an apartment days after making the decision.  It was very exciting decorating my new apartment, even buying new furniture, and getting ready for the change that I was sure was what I needed.  But that night after I moved in, I sat all alone and wondered what in the world I had done.  Now my children weren’t even near me.  I felt lonely, so lonely.

I toughed it out for five months and then cried out to the Lord to please get me back home.  I didn’t know how it would happen with a twelve-month lease.  But He heard my cry and sent me someone to sublet my apartment, and home I went, right on top of my son who was still renting my house!  At that time he was a salesman and on the road quite a bit, so it wasn’t too inconvenient for him.

Though there were still many adjustments I had to learn to make during this season, the one constant in my life had always been God.  He knew I was shaken and that I would have to wander a bit, but He brought me back to the center of who I am, only not as I had known myself, but the one He was molding me to be after having passed through this fire.  And I just wanted to serve Him.

I had planned to write about my season of singleness, and I believe the Lord is saying “now.”  So this will be the first of several posts that I pray will help someone else whose life doesn’t fit anymore.  After coming home I started a Bible study with some friends based on the book of James, entitled “Refined by the Fire.”  It is written for anyone at any stage of life, but we opened it up for singles.  I wrote it, just the Holy Spirit and me, and will post it on my website for anyone who is interested.  It came from a heart that was desperately looking to God for everything good that He wanted to do in me through what I had been through.

Father God, I believe your Word, so when you say in James 1:2, to “consider it joy when we go through trials of various kinds,” I know it is truth.  Let my testimony speak to those who who are hurting right now.  You created us to be who we are regardless of the changes in our lives, and there is purpose for everything that you allow to touch us.  I want them to know that you will see them through if they look to you.  And not only do you bring us back to the core of who we are, but you bring us closer to who we ultimately will be someday, and that is conformed to the image of your Son.  And He is the perfect fit.  In the precious name of Jesus, amen.

Letting His Light Shine Through a Fragile Clay Pot

It’s a beautiful, spring-like day in Texas.  I had a wonderful long walk with my precious Chloe-dog and my praise music.  God directed my thoughts during my walk:  On my best day when everything is right in my world, there is still a place in my heart that is ever-seeking.  On a not-so-good day, it may expose itself as an offense or an emotion.  But most of the time, it is just an ache.  I know whose place that belongs to–it is my Lord’s.  Sometimes I actually have a desire to feel the ache because I know He is drawing me near.  He finally has me at a place where I’m not striving, wearing myself out to try to fill that place myself.

Gratitude is a wonderful thing, and a thankful heart should be exercised and expressed at all times.  But to have everything and still feel our need is a good thing.  Whether you are living in deprivation in a third-world country or a comfy life in the good ole USA makes no difference.  You can have everything or nothing that this world has to offer, but if you don’t have Christ, you are without hope.  He is the only One who can satisfy the human heart.  God created man this way.

Sitting in this little RV in the Texas countryside, Jesus is taking me on a journey inward.  I asked myself when I have been the closest, the most intimate with God.  Immediately the revelation came to me once again, for I had already been aware of this.  The darkest moment of my life, when my former husband died, was also my most intimate time with the Lord.  Why?  Because I had no ability to put up any defenses or rely on any “props” to substitute for God.

Paralyzed with grief, the Holy Spirit mercifully turned my thoughts to God and brought me a surreal comfort.  With zero self-awareness, completely surrendered to the Spirit, I was able to speak in front of a few hundred people at his funeral and honor him, bringing praise to God, and speaking defeat to the enemy.  I can’t capture into words what this was like.  It wasn’t really me speaking, just a surrendered vessel.  It was indeed holy ground.  I am so humbled by His grace that He would do this through me.

Flash forward to my wedding day with Mark, the happiest day of my life!  My daughter had commented that she had never seen me smile with my teeth showing in pictures before I met Mark.  I had a thing about that because of some dental problems when I was a child and teenager.  Oh, okay; I’ll tell you.  I had to wear a stainless steel cap on my front tooth until I was 16!  Great for a young girl’s self-esteem, huh?  But in my wedding pictures with Mark, I am grinning from ear to ear.

Once again, walking down the aisle in the quaint little wedding chapel, I was not aware of myself at all.  I was so full of joy.  We had written our own vows, and the Spirit enabled me to speak every personal word to Mark in front of about 50 guests, words that honored God and the wonderful man He had chosen for me.  I was stunned to see our pictures later with my beautiful smiles.  How I praise God!  He is there in our joys and our sorrows, just as He is there in everyday life, if we will only let Him show Himself.

In 2 Corinthians 4:6-7, Paul writes,  “For God who said, ‘Let the light shine in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.  We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.  That makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”  The Word says that God is the potter; we are the clay.  If we will only surrender to the Spirit each day, He will fashion us so that He is filling that empty place, that the world will see not “us,” but Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Oh, yes, Lord.  That’s what I want.  You know how fragile I am.  I can’t make it happen on my own.  But you have told me I am a little potted plant in this clay pot of flesh.  I need the nourishment of your Word and the water of the Spirit and the light of the Son to grow and flourish for you.  Let it be so.  I’ll welcome the ache every day if it will draw me closer to you so I can be fed.  And I humbly pray that someone out there who is seeking would know you, the one true God, because you chose to shine through me.  Amen.

Crossing Over

I see a bridge, a swinging bridge made of some kind of rope like you see in the old Tarzan movies.  It connects two cliffs.  I look at the distance to the other side, and I know I cannot safely cross it unless I throw off all extra weight.  So I stand on one cliff looking at the other side, paralyzed.  Jesus, what on earth are you asking me to do?  You’ve taken me so far; I trust you.  It’s myself that I don’t trust.  Home?  No problem.  Possessions?  No problem.  We’ve dealt with that for a while now, and I have surrendered.  But family……..well, that’s another story.

In my post “An Audience of One,” I saw myself on a stage surrounded by “props,” all the things that made me feel safe and acceptable.  These were by no means just physical things, but belief systems–my self-protection, the things I need to make myself okay.  Without my “props,” the world is a scary place.  But I know in my heart of hearts that life with my props is even more scary, because in relying on them I will miss the will of God for my life.  I will not find my true self, the one Jesus said I could find only by dying to myself.

I felt the Lord speaking to me as I studied Luke 14:15-23, The Parable of the Great Banquet. Jesus tells the story of a man who prepared a banquet and invited many guests. He then sent his servant out to tell those who had been invited to come, for everything was ready.  But they all began to make excuses.  One said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it.  Please excuse me.”  Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out.  Please excuse me.”  Still another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”

When the servant reported all this back to the master, he became angry and said, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”  After he had done so, there was still room.  So the master told his servant to go out on the roads and country lanes and bring still more.  And then said, “I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”

I see these excuses as being descriptive of some of the “props:” we have in our lives. The invited ones simply didn’t want to come.  They felt no need to come.  They were quite happy with their homes and jobs and significant others and had no interest in coming to the banquet.  They were so filled with the things of this world that they were not hungry for what Jesus had to offer.  But the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame had no such means in this world to be satisfied.  They knew their need and were happy to come.

That’s why Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3), said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  You are blessed when you know you need Jesus.  You can have many blessings of all kinds in this world that God has given you to enjoy, for He loves to give good gifts to His children.  But if they eclipse your need for Christ alone, then they have become idols.  Yes, even family.

So I stand at the bridge and I wonder if Jesus is going to ask me to cross it.  I long to serve him, but can’t it be from this side of the bridge?  My children and grandbabies are here.  Aren’t I supposed to be living out this stage of my life settling in and reaping the rewards of a rich family life?  Don’t they need me?  The gentle whisper of the Spirit speaks to me in my heart.  “Yes and no.  No, they don’t need you.  They need me.  But yes, they need the woman I created you to be. They won’t remember that you changed their diapers.  But if you seek hard after me, they will see me in you and remember a mom and grandmother who passed down a godly inheritance.”

I’m sitting in a little RV in another state, the first leg of our journey in obedience to the Lord to minister and to seek His will on whether he would have us relocate here.  Either way, He has brought us into new relationships and broadened the scope of the “land” that He has plainly given us as a calling.  And either way, He is asking us to “throw off everything,” especially the idolatry of self, of relying on anything besides Him for security, and to trust Him completely.  He may not ask me to cross this bridge. as far as moving away from home, but I know He is asking me to be willing.

Jesus, sometimes I feel like I’m too old or it’s too late in my life for such change.  But in December 2009, you told me you were doing “a new thing” in my life, and you gave me Isaiah 43:18-19 for the new year in 2010.  Shortly after that I met Mark, and a wonderful new chapter in my life began.  Father, I am living proof that you work all things for good to those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28).  Lord, I want to be willing.  Make me ready for whatever your perfect, holy will is for us.  Whether it’s crossing this particular bridge or a different one, I know in Christ it will be amazing.

What Is Your Temperature?

Have you ever had a case of the ‘blahs,” where you just couldn’t get excited about anything?  You go to your quiet place to spend time with the Lord, and then you realize an hour has passed, and you’re still conversing with Google. You have a question about something, and Google is so helpful.  It even tries to guess what your question is before you get it all typed out!  I had a few days like this earlier this month, feeling lethargic and dull.  But when I broke through the fog and began to read the Word in earnest, really listening to the Holy Spirit, the fog immediately lifted. The things in my life I had been growing complacent about were now riveting.

I Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”  The definition of “devour” is to destroy, consume, or waste.  The enemy will do anything to keep you from being in the presence of God.  If he can numb you out into indifference, he’s pleased because you will not live out the will of God.  I think one of the main ways he comes against us today is to tempt us to be wasteful–of our time, our resources, our very lives.  In this age of vast technology, it is too easy to be joined at the hip with an iPhone or iPad, to spend more time with Google or Facebook than with God.

The morning the fog lifted, I felt immediately led to Revelation 3 where Jesus sends a warning to the Church at Laodicea, one that is bone-chilling when I look at our culture today and also examine my own life.  He says in verses 15-16, “I know your works; you are neither cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

The definition of “lukewarm” is lacking conviction or enthusiasm, indifference.  If you think about it, it could be that the “lukewarm” do more damage to the cause of Christ than the “hot” or the “cold.”  The hot are passionate, on fire for the Lord.  The cold don’t profess to be Christians.  The lukewarm take the name of “Christian,” but do not show the world that belonging to Christ makes any difference in their lives.

When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before He was to be crucified, he asked Peter, James, and John to watch with Him.  Jesus went a little ways off to pray; then came back and found them sleeping.  And He said to Peter, “Could you not watch and pray with me one hour?  Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  Jesus went to pray a second time and a third time, and each time he returned, they were sleeping.  He actually had to wake them up just before Judas betrayed him and showed up with the Roman soldiers who would arrest him (Matthew 26:36-44).

And so it is today.  The enemy is advancing, and often we believers go on sleeping.  If we do not stay awake and alert, how will we be witnesses for Christ in this generation to which we have been appointed?  We must live our lives with intentionality.  Jesus said, “This is war, and there is no neutral ground.  If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy.  If you’re not helping, you’re making things worse.” (Matthew 12:30, MSG.)  Good heavens!  I don’t want to be one that makes things worse by living as a lukewarm Christian.  I am so convicted.

Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest (December 27) has this to say:  “Our battles are first won or lost in the secret places of our will in God’s presence, never in full view of the world……That is how surrendering to God begins.  Not often, but every once in a while, God brings us to a major turning point–a great crossroads in our life.  From that point on, we either go toward a more and more slow, lazy, and useless Christian life, or we become more and more on fire, giving our utmost for His highest—our best for His glory.”

I believe we come to these crossroads in our lives because God loves us so much and wants us to go deeper into intimacy with Him.  I can remember long ago when He gave me the picture of holding out His hand to pull me up to the next level.  All I had to do was say yes.  He is the one that does the work.  We will come to that point again and again, as He invites us to come up higher, until we are made perfect with Christ in eternity.  Each time will be a crisis of our will, to a greater or lesser degree, for we always have the choice to say no.

Lord Jesus, once again I am overwhelmed by your grace.  Although the enemy comes to tempt me to take my eyes off you, you also come and gently draw me back into your presence.  And when I turn back and look at you, truth and light fill me once more.  Lord, you know how weak I am in my flesh.  But you suffered and died to make it possible to live reconciled to God and in relationship with you forever.  And all I had to do was say yes.  Thank you for rescuing me out of the fog.  I pray that you will ignite the lukewarm places in my soul, that I would live the rest of my life on fire for you.  Amen.