A Short Thought on Hope

I always love to have something to look forward to.

For instance, I can get through a rough day with the kids or a busy time if I know we have a vacation coming up soon or something fun to do. I look ahead to that and it strengthens me today. I really think that's the key to life, in general, for us who are believers in Christ. We will experience difficulties of many kinds, but if we remember there's a day coming, when trouble will be no more, then it can strengthen us now.

Jesus said to His disciples, "I want you to be with Me where I am going." That's a very tender thing to say. "I'm leaving you now, but I really want you to come be with me where I'm going." It's almost as if He is saying, "I'm really going to miss you, friends, and I cannot wait to see you again!"

Over the last couple of years, that's become a precious thing to me. It really hit me as I was able to relate what Jesus said to a situation where a friend, who knew she would go to heaven soon, had to say goodbye to her family. I cannot fathom that, but I know there would be an intensity in saying, "I want you to be with me. Make sure you get there!" When I was able to make that connect it nearly did me in. How precious.

And that's the imperfect love of a human. Imagine the love of God.

Anyway, the point is that if we can look past our troubles and difficulties to see where we are going, and to see that someone is waiting for us expectantly, I think it might help us regain perspective and most of all, hope.

Nothing here in this life can overtake us and nothing will keep us from finally arriving Home.


The Riches of His No (revisited)

This is actually is re-run from almost three years ago. I was reminded of it this morning and it spoke to me in a deeper way today than it did even when I wrote it. Sometimes He seems to give me what I need before I need it. I love that.


The kids and I were in the car the other day and we were listening to "Forever Reign," from Hillsong Live. There's a line that says, "the riches of your love will always be enough..." Riley asked me what "the riches of His no," was...she had heard it wrong. I was thinking about that this morning because the song was on again on my way to the grocery store, and something hit me...the riches of His "no." Have you ever thought about that? That there are riches, things to be gained and won, when He says, "No," or when He seems slow to move to answer prayer or rescue us from situations that are uncomfortable, stressful or painful?

Listen to this:

"Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Genesis 50

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1
My natural tendency when I am in distress is to ask to be rescued, "God make it go away!" But often, He says , "Not yet." When those not yets come, then what?"Consider it pure joy." Say what? According to these verses, there are some good things that come from suffering and trials...perseverence, wisdom, patience, maturity, character, and even hope, of all things. Hope in the midst of hardship? Absolutely. Our hope is not in circumstances changing, but in the One who has the power to change them...or not change them. When you shift your focus off of feeling better, and shift it toward God, toward bringing Him glory in all things, you gain an eternal perspective. And that's where hope is...in the joy set before us, ahead of us, and that can give us joy now.

We are not completed works. We are in process...we haven't become, but are becoming. In order to become something beautiful, something pure and spotless, without mixture...24K...we have to go through the fire - the Refiner's fire. Don't serve your circumstances, make them serve you. What the enemy means for harm, God intends for good. Stay in the process and plunder the situation for its riches - take everything out with you that you can.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12


Cleaning Under the Rug

This is a follow up to my last post. I'm sure some of you disagreed with what I said. I'm okay with that. I'm processing through this and kind of thinking out loud here. So, feel free to comment.

I hope it's readily apparent that I am talking about the deeper hurts of life, not disagreements about paint color or someone cutting you off in traffic. Those things we should be able to let go quickly.

I'm talking about situations of abuse, neglect, abandonment, betrayal, adultery, etc. Most of us who are parents would never think of telling our children, "Hey, just get over it," when they come to us with a deep hurt, but I think sometimes we take the words of Jesus and use them that way. After all, He did say, "Forgive or you won't be forgiven." As parents we hug, hold them, let them cry, let them talk it out. Then, if we are wise, we will introduce Truth into the situation. I believe God, the Father, is much the same.

When people haven't felt free to express their hurt, and it is swept under the proverbial rug, it festers. It can become self-centeredness, bitterness, depression and/or chronic anger. If we want to be healthy people, if we want to live in the fullness of life Jesus offers us, we must deal with the stuff under the rug.

Right now I'm thinking of some more extreme examples. I've known several women through the years that became pregnant as teenagers. Parents quickly made the decision to take them to a clinic, with or without the agreement of the child, and "have it taken care of" quietly. Then it was never spoken of again. That's a heavy load to carry and to never be able to process it was very damaging. The same thing happens in situations of abuse. Because of deep shame it often goes unaddressed. That should not be. Obviously, not every situation is that extreme, but betrayal hurts on any level.

In thinking through this, I believe that admitting we feel betrayed, abandoned, cheated, neglected, ignored, unimportant, or the myriad of other possible emotions, opens the door for an exchange to happen. When we just say the things we have been stuffing (again, not to the offender - don't pick up the phone and unload on them) I think we make a way for God to take them from us, and replace them with the Truth - the Truth about us, the Truth about Him and even a new perspective of the one who hurt us.

I would categorize some of this under the admonition in the book of James to confess our sins one to another, that we may be healed. Bitterness and anger are our sinful responses to pain. We hurt ourselves and innocent people when we live with that in our hearts. In admitting to one another we feel these negative emotions we make a way to be healed. As I've said probably 500 times, there is power in confession.

The ultimate goal is not just to vent, but to receive Truth into our hearts and learn to trust God to take bad situations and turn them for our good. It's for us to be able to say, with Joseph, "What you meant for evil, God meant for good." He has the final word in our lives. Make the exchange.


When Your Rug Is Lumpy

I just listened to Sunday's teaching from Bethel. Danny Silk was teaching and toward the end he turned the platform over to another man whose name I don't know...so I can't give him credit. This is partly a summary of what he said and partly my thoughts about what he said. I thought he made some really good points, worth sharing. To the very black and white thinker, this may sound unbiblical, because we deal only in either/or. You either forgive or you don't. But think about it. {I actually said a lot more than this originally, but for some reason when I hit publish this is the only part that was saved. So, maybe this is all that needed saying.}

Have you ever forgiven someone for an offense and then days, months or years later, the feelings of hurt or anger return? We think, "I know I forgave that person, so why do the feelings keep coming up?"

Forgiveness that doesn't seem to last (and I say seem to, because forgiveness is an act of the will first, not a feeling. The presence of emotion doesn't equal unforgiveness) is often because you haven't fully processed your hurt and secured your identity in God...you don't believe that He can give back what was stolen from you. The following addresses the first part of that statement.

As Christians we often feel like we need to act super holy and, therefore, can't say what we really feel. But those feelings and thoughts are real and they're really in you. And God knows all of that is in there, anyway. If we aren't free to express and work through our feelings of pain, and even anger, then they will fester and turn to bitterness. Eventually hurt turns to anger because anger is less vulnerable. It feels more powerful. If it goes on long enough I think many of us become adept at bypassing hurt feelings altogether, and go straight to the anger response.

But, think about the things David said throughout the Psalms - the ills he wished on his enemies. We know him to be a man of honor, in that he didn't kill King Saul when he had the chance, though Saul was intent on killing David. Perhaps it was because David had already vented his anger, fear and hurt to God, that he was then able to walk in righteousness toward his enemy.

I think it was Kris Vallotton that gave the example that if someone runs over your foot with a car and you forgive them, the pain in your foot doesn't go away. It's the same way with pain in our soul.

I've known people that experienced very painful things and were NEVER allowed to speak of them. Families chose to behave as if nothing had ever happened. What do you imagine that does to a person's heart and identity? 

I think if we could give each other grace to say things that may not sound very "Christian," just long enough to get it out of our systems, then we could possibly find wholeness and restoration could come much quicker. Even if the broken relationship itself is never restored, we are free in our souls. These things don't need to be said to the offender, but to God, for sure, and possibly to a trusted friend or professional counselor.

We are still living this spirit-led life in our humanity. I believe that God is pleased with us when we choose to forgive, despite our feelings, and then continue to move in the direction of healing and wholeness and Christ-likeness. 

Sweeping things under the rug only leads to a lumpy rug. That stuff doesn't just go away.


I Will Help You

A couple of weeks ago, the kids and I were at home one evening and I had a lot to get done. It had been a busy few days - I needed to be out of the house a lot and so it looked like a bomb had gone off. In addition there was homework to be done, spelling words to practice, reading, dinner, etc. Christopher was going through a wake-up-at-5am phase so he was nearly fried by the end of the day. He was whining and all he wanted was for me to come sit by him.

I told the kids I had a lot to get done and couldn't sit down just yet. There were attitudes, the whining elevated, my nerves were shot and I was really overwhelmed. Dave was working late and Caeley was gone, so I had no backup. I repeated that I could not sit down because I had TOO MUCH TO DO!!

Then I heard the sweetest words anyone has spoken to me in a long time:

"I will help you."

It was my 5 year old. My child saw my plight and, not looking for anything in return, he offered help, in the sweetest voice I've ever heard. I put him to work picking up stray items of clothing and he gladly took them upstairs to the laundry room, separating them by color.

I've thought about it for two weeks because it touched me so deeply. I didn't realize how deep my need was to hear those words.

Sometimes when we are struggling and overwhelmed all we need and want is a simple offer of help. No analysis, no helpful pointers, no book recommendations, no correction, no keeping score of how many times this has happened...just an offer to get in the mess and help clean it up.

"I see you're struggling. I will help you," goes a long way.

It reminds me of the offer Jesus made:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

He says don't be burdened by the rules and expectations laid upon your shoulders. Stay close to me, ask me, and I will teach you how to live this life in a way that actually feels restful to your soul. There is rest available in all of the chaos of everyday life.

"I will help you."

I think I heard Jesus in my 5 year old.


You Did It For Me

There's a verse in the Psalms that says God is enthroned on, or inhabits, the praises of Israel. If you've ever experienced a tangible sense of God's presence and nearness in worship through singing and music, you know this to be true.

Having said that I think it would be wrong to assume that's the only way to know the presence of God, to see Christ. It seems that one verse has been used to exalt music as the way to be in the presence of God, in many parts of the church. However, there are other ways (I'm only focusing on one today). What we have come to call worship, both corporately and in solitude, is a relatively easy and comfortable way, but over the last couple of years I have come to believe that there's another highly underestimated way to encounter Him and He pretty much spelled it out:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40 NIV)

I'm usually not one to over-spiritualize things, and we could say this is just His way to make the point that we get credit for meeting needs as if we did it for Him...that He takes it personally when we do or don't. But I really believe there's more to it. 

We believe in an overcoming, resurrected and powerful savior. Absolutely. But He is also the suffering servant. He is familiar with pain - He identifies with it, submitted Himself to it and we never see Him turn away from it, the way we are so prone to do. 

He touched lepers. He looked into their faces.
He went near the wild, unpredictable demon-possessed men kept in chains.
He looked past the sin of the prostitute just long enough to see her heart.
He was found eating with the outcast. 
He wasn't afraid of the sick and afflicted. 

Oh, and He allowed Himself to be mocked, spit upon, stripped, beaten and hung on a cross. All in public view.

I'm just saying maybe we should guard against hiding ourselves away from "the World" and staying in our buildings trying to find God. If you are a follower of Christ, then you are His dwelling place. He doesn't make His home in a building made of stone any longer. He is with you wherever you go. I'm not saying we shouldn't meet together as the Church to worship and encourage one another, but we shouldn't limit our experience to that alone. While the sense of His presence does become more tangible to us, God doesn't only inhabit worship through song and prayer.

What if we can also encounter him when we look into the eyes of 

...The fatherless
...The orphan
...The widow
...The sick
...The handicapped
...The homeless
...The mentally afflicted
...The addicted
...The hungry and thirsty
...The foreigner
...The lonely
...The elderly

I have so many thoughts swirling in my mind about this that I cannot possibly squeeze into this one post. The main question I have right this minute is this:

What if, in some mysterious way, when we take the time to look into the eyes of these people, to serve them, to care about them, we are looking into the eyes of Christ? What if this is a really underestimated, but powerful, form of worship?

"Lord, when did we see YOU hungry and feed YOU, or thirsty and give YOU something to drink? When did we see YOU a stranger and invite YOU in, or needing clothes and clothe YOU? When did we see YOU sick or in prison and go to visit YOU?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for ME."


P31 in a Nutshell

A short observation of the "Proverbs 31 Woman":

1. Solomon had A LOT of wives, so I wonder if Proverbs 31 is simply a collage of qualities he has seen in all these women. And maybe even his mother.

2. She is wealthy and she seems to have a lot of freedom. She is buying land and isn't getting approval from anyone...she's not chatting about it with her husband. That would not fly in most households. 

3. She has servants. You can probably get a whole lot done when you've got live-in servants to do all manner of household duties, like cooking and babysitting. This is a big deal to note.

4. She is a shopper :) She is buying food from afar, a field, and expensive fabrics. She dresses her children and herself in only the very best. 

There are many other qualities listed that are admirable. She is a seamstress, she works hard, she sells her products to merchants, she helps the poor, she obviously loves her family and is a positive reflection on her husband. The reason I pulled out those three qualities (her money, her freedom and the way she dresses her family in only the best) is that it proves the point that not every woman can be her. Nor should any of us feel that way.

Proverbs 31 isn't prescriptive. It's not a rule book telling us we have to get up before daylight and go to bed late, sew all our own clothes and bedding, run a home business and be a knowledgeable teacher, in order to be a woman of value. It's a man honoring women and their hard work, to provide and care for their families. We will all do that in different ways and according to our means, abilities, strengths and personalities.

The one thing we can all be, though, is found here:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (Proverbs 31:30, 31 NIV)

If I can get that one down and, yet, never figure out what on earth to do with that pile of paper that's always on the corner of the kitchen counter, then I will be successful. If I am so busy caring for my family that I forget to go over spelling words two nights in a row before the test, but I fear the Lord, we will be okay. 

So, Fear the Lord and don't do nothing. That's Proverbs 31 in a nutshell.


Precious In the Sight of The Lord

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. 
(Psalm 116:15 NIV)

It was on this day, one year ago, that I got in the car to drive to Birmingham with Lori and her family. I had driven to Birmingham with Lori many times before to visit Summer while she was receiving treatments and then while she was in the hospital the last couple of months. 

This trip had a very different feel. No laughing or stopping for Doritos Locos tacos or Fruit and Maple oatmeal. 

This time we knew we were going to say goodbye. It was time for our sister, our friend, to go Home to her Daddy. I personally had never been in a situation like that and haven't really lost anyone I was very close to and lived life with. I had no idea what to expect, what to say or how I would react.

(I'm writing this in a public coffee shop. I find I'm having to stop after every sentence to look around and distract myself so I don't burst into tears)

When we got there, Summer was not awake, so I didn't get to speak to her directly. Though I wish I could have said goodbye, I trust that I said everything I needed to say in the months and weeks prior. Honestly that moment wasn't about me at all. She didn't have a need to hear from me. It was I who felt the need to make sure she knew certain things and that I loved her. 

Anyway, the next day and a half is a time I will treasure for the rest of my life. I can't fully grasp the mind of the Lord, but I feel like I tasted what it means for the death of His faithful servants to be precious.

Now, hold on...I'm not saying the fact that she left this world too soon was precious. No. That? Well...it sucks. Big time. 

What I mean is that I count that time spent as the highest privilege (outside of raising my own children) I've ever had. To have been able to sit and hold her hand, to sing (I'm sorry, Summer - I'm not a good singer), to pray, to be silent and just be present is so precious to me. I had made a promise to stay with her to the end of her journey. Whether the journey ended in physical healing or in her homegoing. It was mostly a statement of friendship and loyalty, but I was literally able to be there to the end. 

Charles Spurgeon said this about Psalm 116:15:

"The Lord watches over their dying beds, smooths their pillows, sustains their hearts, and receives their souls. Those who are redeemed with precious blood are so dear to God that even their deaths are precious to him." 

What a sweet image of a loving God, a loving Father, caring for His child. It's what I saw taking place in the room, literally, in people caring for her and wanting to be sure she was comfortable. Sheets were smoothed, pillows adjusted and feet rubbed. And it's what I felt in the peaceful and sweet atmosphere.

(I have now vacated the coffee shop to retreat to the safety of my car)

Y'all, I don't know how to explain the mixture of sadness and joy. It's a paradox. It's indescribable but I felt it. Those hours are so special to me that I almost don't want to let you into them. It's not like I was the only person there...there were many people present. But it's a sacred thing that Jeremy and her family let me into. I am deeply grateful to them for it. I want to protect it somehow. Is that weird? Probably.

When she finally left this world there was a flood of emotion and surprisingly much of it was joy. The grief came, believe me, and it hit like a brick wall. But right then it was a precious thing to know her incredible suffering had ended and she had safely arrived home, into the presence of a loving God.

She crossed the finish line.

And I was there. It's probably the closest I have ever felt to the Lord. You see, this isn't the kind of precious we use to talk about a little girl in a cute outfit. It's the kind that stands at attention, that holds its breath, that's fixated on someone so valued and so special and handles her with great care. It's not the death that's precious. It's the saint.

The last year has been a roller coaster of emotion and memory, but I hold to the thought of her with Him, interceding for us, even now, just like she did in life. 

And she is whole. And that is, indeed, precious.



This morning before I drove Caeley to school, I got out my iPad to select a playlist for the drive and decided to choose one called, "Summer." It's a list of songs I used to listen to as I prayed for Summer Kempfer...songs that encouraged my heart and reminded me of God's faithfulness. It's not a list I have selected very often over the last year.

As I listened and thought back about last year I was overcome with the truth that despite what happened, Summer was a warrior. I remembered a day near the end that Lori, Rhiannon and I sat beside her bed praying and reading scripture to her. That particular day my heart was on fire with the truth that even though her body was weak and failing, that she was, in truth, strong - stronger than she had ever been - on the inside. I wanted so badly to communicate that to her and to let her know how proud of her I was.

I couldn't remember what passage of scripture I read to her, but then I remembered that Lori made a Caring Bridge entry that night. Something told me that when I looked back I would see that it was this same day last year. And indeed it was. On October 18, 2012, Lori shared that we had just visited with Summer and she named the passage of scripture I had read (thanks, Lori :).

I'm really awkward with words and I didn't know if she could really comprehend what I was saying, but I read Psalm 18:30-36:

 As for God, His way is blameless; The word of the Lord is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. For who is God, but the Lord ? And who is a rock, except our God, The God who girds me with strength And makes my way blameless? He makes my feet like hinds' feet, And sets me upon my high places. He trains my hands for battle, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, And Your right hand upholds me; And Your gentleness makes me great. You enlarge my steps under me, And my feet have not slipped. (Psalms 18:30-36 NASB)

My feet have not slipped. I love that.

On the same day, one year later, my heart again was burning with the same message. It's really the message that has been written on my heart from walking through that entire experience. Though I walked it at a distance, as compared to Summer, and to the ones who were there day in and day out, I walked it in my own way, nonetheless. And the word that continues to echo in my heart is OVERCOME.

We hear the words, "spiritual warfare," a lot in church circles, or some of us do, anyway, and I'm not sure a lot of people even understand what that means. Understand something. Spiritual warfare is not simply trying to pray evil away and change our negative circumstances.

It is mostly about standing our ground. It's about standing firm in the day of evil, as Paul says in Ephesians 6. It's about shoring ourselves up for the evil, for the bad, sad, uncomfortable, circumstances that will inevitably come. It's about maintaining our testimony that God is real and He is good, no matter what. It's about never turning back. When you're going upstream and the current seeks to sweep you away, it's about having a stronghold that keeps your feet in place and holds you upright. It's about keeping our minds on things above and on things that are true, when arguments and thoughts that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God come. It's about knowing who we are in Christ, who God says we are in the face of persecution, accusations or misunderstandings.

This is a beautiful picture of Summer, from October 17, 2012, where we see her lifting her weak arms to worship her God. The song playing was "Place of Freedom":

Photo used with permission
There's a calm that covers me
When I kneel down at your feet
It's a place of healing
It's a place where I find freedom
There's a place my eyes can't see
Where my spirit longs to beIt's a place of healing
It's a place I live in freedom
I'm gonna lift my hands
til I can reach heaven
I'm gonna shout your name
til the walls come falling down,
I've come to worship, I've come to worship

This is the heart of the Summer I knew. I have absolutely been marked by this and I continue to be reminded when I find myself in difficult situations, that I am an overcomer, too.

And what I really wanted to share with you today, what's set me on fire this morning, is that in Christ, YOU are an overcomer. If you want to be. It's in you. Do you know that?

To the one going through cancer treatments, stand firm! Overcome! You can do it!

To the one facing major surgery, stand firm! Overcome! You can do it!

To the one in financial distress and uncertainty, stand firm! Overcome! You can do it!

To the one with a troubled marriage, stand firm! Overcome! You can do it!

To the lonely ones, stand firm! Overcome! You can do it!

We have a "great cloud of witnesses" who have gone before us, showing us what it looks like. We can do this y'all.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 NASB)



Thoughts on Weakness

Is weakness bad? 

If we accept that God created us with particular strengths, then we must also accept that He created us with some particular weaknesses, if only by virtue of the fact that he didn't strengthen those areas. Note, I'm not talking sin, here, but weaknesses.

Paul said he actually boasted in His weakness.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 he said, "He [God] has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

Another way to say this might be that our weakness is like an empty glass and His power is what "adds what is yet wanting in order to render a thing full" (quote from the lexicon for the Greek word for "perfected," on blueletterbible.org).

Our weakness allows Gods power to be manifest and shows that He is active, by working through us despite our weakness. To ever imply that weakness is sin or demonstrates lack of faith would be ridiculous. In fact it's what opens the doorway to use our faith. 

I don't think it means that our weaknesses will necessarily become strengths, either. We will never all be good at everything in this life. Never. There are people who seem like they can do it all, but what that means is their weaknesses are more "under the surface." They have them, no doubt, because we all do. We can't see what goes on behind the scenes or on the inside of a person. So, let's not compare ourselves to one another. 

It's all okay, though, because God will work in us and through us to make things happen, even if we never overcome our weaknesses in a visible way. He isn't limited by us except when we refuse to follow Him. 

 I'm not afraid to admit I'm the weakest of the weak in many areas. And I, too, will choose to boast in my weaknesses if that's what makes room for Him in me.



The Artist

I am a piece of rock
Marble to be exact
Freshly drawn up
Out of the dirt

The Artist stands back and waits

When the time is right
He blows across the surface
Wipes away the dirt
And sets to work

He sees inside of me
What He intends to bring forth 

The Artist chips me away
Carefully chisels 
(I do not like the chisel)
He removes what does not belong

The Artist steps back and waits

Again He approaches
Blows across the surface
Wipes away the dust
And sets to work

More chiseling
(I still do not like the chisel)
But I begin to see a glimpse
Of something taking shape,
Of what He's trying to bring forth

The Artist steps back and looks
And smiles
And waits

On and on it goes -
The chiseling, the blowing,
The wiping away of dirt and dust

He removes the bits of me
That do not belong

I thought some of those bits were rather nice.
What was wrong with that one over there? 
I feel exposed

And, the waiting
Why the long waiting?
Will it ever end?
What is He trying to bring forth?

But, the smiling -
That I like. It reassures.
He must see a glimpse now
Of what it is He intends to bring forth

Finally He steps back and looks 
Only a few minor adjustments remain 

The Artist now has a twinkle in His eye
He steps back and waits

When the time is right 
Carefully and lovingly
He sands away the final remains 
Of what does not belong

The artist steps back
And smiles
(I think I see a tear)

He calls for His friends
To come and see what has been wrought
From this piece of rock
Once rough and covered with dirt

It now stands in completion
In perfection

It's what He always intended to bring forth
It's what He saw inside all along:

I'm pure white marble, made in the image of His Son.

I am perfect.

I am clean.

I am amazed.

And it was worth the pain.

This is not my normal flow, y'all and I really can't even believe I'm putting this out there. I started writing this, mentally, yesterday morning. Interestingly, last night someone shared Isaiah 51:1, which I don't recall seeing before. I'm sure I've read it and glossed over it before, but given what I was "writing," it caught my attention. Though it's written to Israel, the entire chapter encouraged my heart, specifically.

Isaiah 51:1 says, "Listen to me, you who pursue godliness, who seek the Lord! Look at the rock from which you were chiseled, at the quarry from which you were dug!" (Isaiah 51:1 NET)


Signs and Wonders of a Different Kind

There's a verse in Revelation that gets quoted a lot in certain Christian circles. It goes like this:

"They overcame him [the devil, who is called, "the accuser of the brethren" here] by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony..."

I've heard it quoted often and it's generally used as a victory/battle cry kind of a thing. That's great. It's even true.

What really struck me a few years ago, however, was the second half of that particular verse, that usually is omitted, which adds:

"...and they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death."

Upon further reading I realized that the "overcomers" were dead, y'all. Wait a minute. The ones who overcame were killed. So, how did they overcome then? It really caused me to stop and think about my definition of what it means to overcome difficulties.

Many times we say someone overcame a situation when they came out victorious, according to our definition of victory. A person is wrongly accused of something and found innocent. Another person gets a cancer diagnosis and is either miraculously healed or cured through medicine. Nadal comes back from a serious injury to win the US Open. That is a big deal. All these people did, indeed, overcome.

But there's an overcoming of a different kind, and it's the kind Scripture is teaching us about here, and the kind it teaches us about most often, I believe. Jesus guaranteed us that we would have trouble in this world, but He said, "Fear not, for I have overcome the world."

He has already overcome the world by living a sinless life, laying that life down sacrificially and then picking it back up, making a spectacle of the accuser of the brethren. That's why Revelation says they overcame by the blood of the lamb. That was His part of the equation.

He does His part, but we still have our part to do. There are things under our control and for those we are responsible. Our part is to maintain our testimony that God is good, that we trust Him, that we love Him, that we belong to Him, to the point of death if necessary. Our part is to never give up and never turn our backs on the One who didn't turn His back on us.

I'm telling you it is a sign and a wonder when a follower of Christ stands firm under tribulation and trouble. When Chinese believers risk death to meet together because they have fallen so in love with God. When a former Muslim is tortured and burned and will not disown Jesus. That is overcoming.

Those are the more obvious examples, but I'd take it even further. I think that any time we continue to choose to persevere we overcome. Again, Jesus has done His part, but we must do ours.

Miraculous healings and divine interventions are signs and wonders. But I believe there are signs and wonders (so to speak) of a different kind, as well.

It is a sign and a wonder when a wife stays with a husband who has been unfaithful. Or when a couple keeps plowing through a difficult* marriage, because both sets of people believe God is trustworthy to meet all their needs. They are overcoming.

It is a sign and a wonder when a parent loses a child and still worships the Lord. It doesn't mean they don't ask questions and grieve, but the one that keeps saying, "nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day," is overcoming.

It is a sign and a wonder when you find yourself in confusing circumstances -when you've obeyed God and things are genuinely hard - and you keep following, obeying and trusting.

It is a sign and a wonder when a woman gets a cancer diagnosis that's not optimistic, and she never loses her faith. When she lifts her weak, feeble, hands in worship in a hospital bed, with tubes coming out from everywhere, she is holding fast to her testimony that God is good. And she makes a spectacle of the enemy of her soul who tries to bring discouragement and feelings of abandonment. She is overcoming cancer.

When we choose to press on, to never give up, to never turn our backs on God, who didn't turn His back on us, we are overcomers. Whatever that looks like. We all have things to overcome and situations along the way that challenge our faith and endurance.

But we must endure, we must never give up. The day will come that it will all seem like light and momentary suffering, as Paul said, though now it may seem like endless misery. Just know that He sees and He honors those who continue to trust Him and who accept that His ways are good.

Believer in Christ, it is in you to be an overcomer. You win.

*Notice I didn't say abusive, but, rather, difficult. Just to clarify.


I'm Coming For You, Wherever You Go

There are two main "faces" of God, that when I think on them or sing about them, bring me instantly to tears - two parts of His character that really stir my emotion.

One is His majesty - the imagery of the throne room in heaven with the sea of glass and the colors and the lightning and thunder and the promise that one day all things will be set to right. That moves me.

The other one is God as a good Father - His parenting of His people. For example, this from chapter 4 of the book of Hosea:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man— the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities. They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord. (Hosea 11:1-4, 7-11 NIV)

Do you see that? I think it's because I have children and I have held their arms while they learned to walk. I'm a very visual person and I can see huge, strong hands holding the chubby arms of a toddler, just trying to take the next step without falling flat. I have felt compassion on my children, even when they rebel against me. I don't enjoy discipline. And neither does the Lord. Sometimes it's necessary but His heart is always for us to turn back toward Him.

In the same way any good parent will pursue a child who is going astray, in the way that a loving mom or dad refuses to give up on a child that seems hopeless - in that same way God loves us. And more. If you get lost, overwhelmed, feel hopeless, confused, depressed, angry, make a huge mistake, etc, He will come for you. Of course our part is to turn (aka repent).

This song (below) has so ministered to my heart recently. If I've listened to it once I've listened a hundred times. Take a few minutes to really listen. My favorite line is this:

"Wrestling angels till dawn breaks through,
There's a blessing in the wound,
and you're running, you're running from it."

When we wrestle through our problems with the Lord, it can be painful, but there's a blessing in it if we don't run away. I love the way she repeats, "I'm coming for you. I'm coming for you, wherever you go." That's the determination of a parent, and it's but a reflection of the heart of God.

These are the lyrics in full (well, mostly):

There's a train leaving your heart tonight,
There's a silence inside your head 
and you're running, you're running from it. 
Down the tracks on a midnight line, 
There's a red moon in the sky 
and you're running, you're running from it. 
But I'm coming for you wherever you go. 
I'm coming for you, I'm coming for you,
Wherever you go.
Wrestling angels till dawn breaks through 
There's a blessing in the wound 
and you're running, you're running from it. 
When all your demons are at your door 
It's a soldier they're looking 
and you're running, you're running from it. 
But I'm coming for you wherever you go. 
I'm coming for you, I'm coming for you wherever you go.
Across the sea, 
the space between everything you think you know 
 the things you keep and bury deep 
underneath the melting snow 
 I'll follow.  
Fathers & mothers don't always come through 
But I'm never gonna stop following you 
Prophets and lovers don't always hold true 
But I'm never gonna stop falling for you 
So when your wine's all gone and your well runs dry, 
Open your hands and look into my eyes; all that you see here, 
You'll soon leave behind, so open your hands and look into my eyes.
I'm coming for you, I'm coming for you,
Wherever you go.