Lent Day 39: “What else can I do?”

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I have just finished the remarkable true life story of Chinese-born Christian Pastor Liu Zhenying or “Brother Yun” as he is more widely known. It’s a story of a life totally surrendered and dedicated to lifting up Jesus no matter what the cost, and the cost was great. It was prison time, it was torture, and days without food, years without his family. But even more than that, it was a story of victory and joy and how God is still very much a God of miracles as displayed by many events in the book.

As I walked back into work after my break, my soul felt buoyant, lighter somehow.  I was remembering a special time in my life when I was a new believer and faith was very simple. I was 14 and I knew my parents couldn’t afford the refrigerator they needed so I told Mom I thought she should tithe her money and we would pray for a new fridge at the same time. She ended up finding one like new for $25.00. I can still see it if I close my eyes, it was big and it was beige and it was a humming miracle.

That refrigerator lasted for years.

There are so many other things to put our trust in here in our modern society. Everything we need is at our fingertips, but when you have great need there is little option but to trust God for your needs. The one thing that impressed me most about Brother Yun was that even under extreme duress and pain, he forgave those even while they were beating him. And he had what I call the “what else can I do” attitude. He was always looking for another opportunity to help those in need, even though his own needs were insurmountable.

Most of us are not under such extreme circumstances and most of us, at least those of us here in America have pretty much all we need and much more. But when we give God our open heart, He will always find plenty of ways we can bless the others around us. 

I’ll use my best friend as an example as I do so many times in this blog. She has one of those “what else can I do” hearts. Always looking to make things better for others. Yesterday, she came home from working and doing errands and I knew she was exhausted. She has been trying to recover from an illness for a month. Even so, she knew that our Canadian neighbors would soon be home and she wanted to do something for them. She went out and trimmed their trees, swept the walk, and drug all their patio furniture out so they could relax in their patio as soon as they got home.

She amazes me.

Now as we come to the 39th day in the desert with Jesus, He is hungry…….and tired……. and at the end of His strength. Satan comes at the very worst time. (Doesn’t he always?) But Jesus is thinking of you and me. And He doesn’t cave in. The angels come to minister to Him. And then He lifts His eyes to the Heavens and asks His Father.

“What else can I do?”

Lent Day 24: The Wall of Waiting

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Lamentations 3:25   The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

We all seem to be waiting on something, and as the world moves faster we just seem to wait for more things. Waiting isn’t all bad. I tend to think of waiting as a wall to get over, something to be done with so I can get where I want to be. Sometimes things flow along smoothly and even the waiting seems effortless. Then there are times the waiting seems agonizing. As I grow older, God has taught me the beauty in the waiting.

Instead of a wall to get over, I think of it as a wall to sit next to and take in the view. This Lenten writing has taught me a think or two about waiting. There are different kinds of waiting for one thing. At first I was waiting with certain expectation that the words would come, and they did.  Waiting with expectation doesn’t seem nearly as painful.

Then like a brick wall, in the middle of this process I lost the sense of expectation. I groped around to find it, then I stopped trying to find it altogether. I wandered. And I guess that might be a little of what Jesus went through in the desert. But that’s the time when you find a quiet shady place to rest and surrender it up all over again. That’s why there are times when we are expressly commanded to wait. And instead of trying to scramble over the wall and figure things out on our own, we sit down, look around and enjoy the view.

Tomorrow I will go and see my niece who is beside herself with expectation that “Aunt Nori” is coming. Waiting for her is a painful and agonizing process. It’s hard for special needs kids, though she is getting much better; even so, she’s still on pins and needles. It’s not that we do anything extreme like go to theme parks. She doesn’t care nearly as much about that as just spending time with me doing the little things she loves to do because she loves me. She loves it because I enter her world.

And that my friends is what God wants from us too. He wants to enter our world and loves it when we enter His.

Because He loves us. Happy Waiting!

Isaiah 40:31   but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 30:18   Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

Day #18: In the desert with Jesus: Traveling

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Right now, I am sitting in an office center at the Clarion Hotel in San Angelo Texas. There is a party going on, I think it may be a “Quinceanera” in the ballroom. All I hear is the “thump, thump, thump” of the base and Beyoncé’s voice saying “If you liked it then you should a put a ring on it……….” The day of traveling was like the movie, “Planes, trains and automobiles.” We had to run from Terminal 8 to Terminal 92 (no joke) at the Denver airport. We had to spend a little extra time with TSA with E’s Dad’s remains though the checkpoint. Then when we got to Midland/Odessa the luggage was already off the carousel. There was another guy on the same flight and they sent his bags to some other town. We went back to ticketing/check-in and handed over our baggage claim ticket to the smiling lady behind the counter and then she disappeared behind the double doors. We held our breath and said a prayer. Both bags were there. Thank you Jesus!

Then, when we got into our rental car we noticed there was a crack across the entire windshield. So back I went. We got another car and headed down the road. Around 100 miles east to San Angelo to take Elaine’s Dad’s ashes to his final resting place here on earth, the place he loved. A mission of love and a promise……his only request. So tomorrow we will take him there and say another goodbye.

Tonight the three cousins shared stories and I listened and laughed along with them, and somehow, it all fits. This mission we are on fits with this journey of Lent. Sometimes its good to go back to your roots, the place you grew up and had your first memories. And sometimes it’s fun to come along while others revisit old times, old memories, old stories.

The stories are what hold us all together after all. I am thinking that Jesus was probably doing some reflecting about His own growing up years during those 40 days in the desert. It touches me that Jesus went back to where His own cousin John the Baptist preached after he was thrown in prison. I wonder if he was thinking about growing up, and cousins, and family and his hometown.

I didn’t have much quiet time today, we were on the move from 5 AM until just about an hour ago. Tonight, I will reflect on today’s events and be thankful I have clothes.

And the beat goes on in the ballroom. They have switched to Spanish music now.

Blessings from the road……………San Angelo, Texas tonight.

Fact: San Angelo was once the biggest producer of wool in the world. (In case you were wondering why the sheep picture)

Lent Day #16: “Thou shalt nots” in an age of Grace

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By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ I appeal to all of you my friends…………

to agree in what you say

 so that there will be no divisions among you.

Be completely united,

with only one thought

and one purpose.

1 Corinthians 1:10 

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 If one part of the body suffers,

all the other parts suffer with it;

if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness.

All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it. 

Is it really possible for the Church to be totally unified?  I believe so, because God doesn’t ask us to do things that aren’t possible.  When Jesus prayed, He prayed for this one thing more than any other, that the church would be unified and united in love. I believe He still is. But as important as love is,  love alone is not enough. According to the Beatles, it’s all we need. According to the Bible, love means obedience too. Jesus says: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

Just the love without the obedience or Holiness and you just have a big commune.

Everyone does whatever they think is right in their own eyes and lives happily ever after.

There were lots of those in the 1960’s and 1970’s. They didn’t last.

My words are few today and I struggled with them. In this age of Grace we have been immersed in for over 2000 years, we don’t always like “Thou shalt nots.” But I do believe they are necessary. Just like the “Shalts” are.

I think the best thing the Church can do, expecially during this season of Lent, is pray for one another. And one day, we can be sure……God will bring about this promise if not here, then in Heaven.

Let’s get a head start.

Lent Day #11: Putting my heart through the wash cycle

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I head out to my car, again for some quiet time. And today I really have nothing, nada, no idea what “word manna” will come down if any. All I have is my inner assurance that something will. I have never done anything like this. It’s like a Holy experiment because I have determined that I will not write anything just for the sake of ticking one more post off the list, but to be silent until I receive something from the Holy Spirit. And like the manna that fell like snow for the Israelites in the desert, words can’t be left over. And neither can they be written ahead.

I open the sunroof and the sound of birdsong drifts in. A mockingbird is singing his heart out from a nearby Mesquite tree and clouds are blowing in. A change is in the air. The wind in the trees somehow mimics the sounds of ocean waves. Imagine that, here in the desert! God brings me the ocean even here. He loves to give us little surprises to see if we will notice.

Slowly I scroll through the Bloglists on Facebook until I get to one that leads further in to this site: www.21martyrs.com and I hear Jesus words and they stop me in my tracks and then it hits me. This is my message for today:

Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that.” Luke 12:4
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!

“Surely not these atrocious acts, Lord.” Then I remembered how Saul looked in approval on as Stephen was stoned to death, before the Lord called him and he was renamed Paul. Ever since I have seen those 21 paraded out before the world, I have felt a searing hate for those with the knives. After all, I am an American patriot. We go after our enemies don’t we? Yes, part of me would love to see them wiped off the face of the earth. And yet.

Don’t I call myself a disciple of Jesus? A follower of the Way?

To forgive the unforgivable, that’s what Jesus did. Even while He was still hanging on the cross. And He calls us to do the same, impossible as it may seem. One thing I do know, everyone who dies for the sake of the Gospel and for Jesus will never die in vain. I believe God is calling us to pray, more now than ever before.

And I believe that these horrific acts that continue to color the ground red will lead to Heaven’s gates swinging open to others that may never have entered in otherwise.

As I sat there in my car listening to the trees that sounded like waves, I felt like my heart was being washed clean. I felt convicted. I felt the tide of hate in me recede just a little bit. I still hate what those people did, and God does too. But Jesus had to go to the cross because of my sin too, not just theirs. For there is no “little sin” or “big sin” in God’s eyes. It’s all the same.

And I know the only way I can possibly hope to forgive the unforgivable is to do it with His power and not my own. And by believing that anyone can be redeemed.

Because I was.

Let’s all pray. Join me over the next 40 days. For further reading please check out what Ann Voskamp has to say below.

http://www.aholyexperience.com/2015/02/the-call-for-the-next-40-days-to-the-nations-people-of-the-cross/

 

 

Lent Day #6: Living with Loss

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Part of being human is actively living each and every day with a certain amount of loss. We carry it about like an anchor. It’s like paddling around in a boat that we know is leaking, taking on more water, more loss with each passing day. We look at that picture and it hurts to see the smile, we only feel the pang of passing years too many. More water, more loss.

We get so used to it we don’t realize just how much we are taking on until it gets to the alarming level and now it’s chilly and covering our legs.

It’s crucial now to do something.

At first glance it seems there are only two choices, we either bail faster or give up to despair. There is a third and best answer and that is to find the repair kit to fix the leak. God is the repair kit. Not only can He fix the leak that enables us to stay afloat, He can also repair the damage that was caused by the taking on excess water. He can take our pile of losses.

We don’t have to let our bad choices, past regrets, missed opportunities and the loss of so many people we held dear completely overwhelm us. Satan loves nothing better than to taunt us with all that. To get us to focus on how badly we screwed up, and how there is nothing we can ever do to fix it. To get us to dwell on everything we don’t have instead of everything we do have……right here and right now.

During this Lenten season, try to be still and listen to what God wants to say to you.  Let Him quiet your fears. The loss has happened and it will continue to happen, but the Holy Spirit can fill that sorrow flooding your heart and tearing down your soul.

And each day we live, He is actively working toward our healing. The culmination of which will be complete perfection when at last we stand before Him. Jesus lived His whole life in the shadow of the cross, yet He didn’t waste a single moment dwelling on it.

He loved, he laughed, he healed. He knew the end of the story. And it was the happiest ending this world has ever seen or will ever see. And we can be part of it!

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19

Wandering, Lent Day 2

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“But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4

I have a feeling Satan didn’t waste any time trying to tear Jesus down on His way out into the desert. I can imagine him doing just what he does to us. Using our own humanity against us. Reminding Jesus of all that He lost, all that He left behind, all that He still had to suffer.

Can’t you just hear him?

I can’t believe you actually went for this crazy plan……..these people aren’t worth dying for…….God wouldn’t care you know, if you turned just one of these tiny little stones into bread.

He tries to defeat us in our minds first. Then he goes for our physical needs. Our humanity. What’s your weakness today? Right now. Mine was insomnia and worry last night. I stared at the ceiling fan going around and around and looked at the clock which taunted me. I was feeling fearful about the future and sorrow crept in. Tears came in the dark.

I started with the 23rd Psalm which is the one thing I always fall back on when I can’t sleep:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”……and then I stopped. Do I really believe that? Do I actually believe that God is all that I need in every single circumstance, no matter what? It’s easy to believe that when everything is going smooth. When everyone I care about is okay. But is my faith real enough to believe that even though I can’t fix people and situations I can still feel peaceful because God is in control and loves them even more than I do?

The gentle purr of the cat resting on my shoulder lulled me. I thought of Jesus in the desert. I believe that He was thinking of us during those 40 days and for us, He didn’t give in.

And right now today, He is interceding for us still. He has been through His desert so we wouldn’t have to. But so many times we put ourselves there anyway don’t we?  

Jesus focused not on what He didn’t have during those 40 days, but what He did have. And I can see HIm stopping to rest in the shade, tired and weary and seeing these little flowers and thanking God for His perfect plan.

Because all He could see was the victory at the other end. All He could see was me.

At every moment you have to decide to trust the voice that says, “I love you. I knot you together in your Mother’s womb.” (Ps. 139:13); “Stop wandering around. Instead, come home and trust that God will bring you what you need,” “For as long as you can remember, you have been a pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity. But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you;” “The root choice is to trust at all times that God is with you and will give you what you most need.” Henry Nouwen

Can I get a witness?

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Devotional: “Hold my hand in childlike trust, and the way before you will open up step by step.” Sarah Young, “Jesus Calling.”

This morning prayer time was something of a miracle. Well, they all are really, but some more than others. Sometimes I just go out there and sit. I know He is there, He just doesn’t make Himself known. It still amazes me how I can come out here with all my junk, all my worries and fears and He reveals Himself to me. And for just a little awhile, it’s just Him and me. I recognize Him and I feel a little bit like Mary Magdalene in the garden…….as she gasps, “Rabboni!”

Or John as he turns to Peter and says, “It is the Lord!” And there’s Jesus on the shore stoking a campfire asking if they’ve caught any fish. And sitting there in prayer, it feels a little bit like Easter.

There is something Holy in being present when dawn colors the sky. Being a witness to it is beholding His Glory here on earth. As if to second that, from the rooftop a mourning dove coos. That doesn’t always happen but today it did.

I am learning that even things like despair have a purpose, God never wastes anything. For in it, there is no denying that those sparks of joy are coming directly from You Lord.

It was a good prayer time today, well they all are really.

And after months of not attending church, of having my own church where and when I can have it, I need to hear the words……I need to hear the songs.

“As for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all Your deeds.” Psalm 73:28

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It’s a “God Thing”

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The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  (1 Corinthians 1:18)

This beautiful cross you see above comes with a story. It’s one I have great pleasure in sharing because it is a perfect illustration of how the Holy Spirit brings strangers together and makes them friends. The maker of this very special cross happened across my blog one day and something I said struck a chord because he wrote a beautiful comment of encouragement which blessed me tremendously. It was one of those “God Things.”

Time and time again I marvel at how the Holy Spirit uses people and circumstances to give us just the encouragement we need at just the right time. It’s happened over and over again and it surprises me, even though I should know better by now. Now I will tell you a little story about how this particular cross came to me. It’s another “God Thing.”

I had expressed an interest in these handmade crosses made by Mark McCullough via his Etsy website which you can find here. Then, right around Christmas time, I get a surprise email saying that one of these crosses was going to be shipped to me as a gift! In the accompanying message he asked if he could share the why and how of the story. I was like, “Hello…..of course you can!” He described how he wanted the crosses to go to three individuals for specific reasons. One of whom was me. Here are his words:

You told me in our first email exchange that you sometimes wondered if you shouldn’t just leave the blogging to others, which is something that I think would be a terrible loss for our world.  I wanted you to have a cross, something like a combination of potential inspiration and an expression of my gratitude.  I know that a cross that comes to live with you will find a way to reach out into the world—that’s what I want for all of my crosses, that wherever they go, they touch someone, somehow, and carry the message forward.

So I knew who I wanted the crosses to go to, but I told everyone that it would be a random drawing, and I felt that I had to honor that. I also decided that I was willing to make more crosses if I needed to, to ensure that these three people each got one.

I wrote all the names on little pieces of paper, folded each one up, and dropped them into a gift bag that was sitting next to my desk.  I wouldn’t say that I actually prayed–more like just a “Okay God, here we go” statement.  I shook it up and pulled out a name.  It was Friend #2, whose father is ill.  I drew a second name—you.  I drew the third name, and it was Friend #1.  It would seem that God approved of my choices!  I sat here at my desk for a long while just marveling at the way it had worked out.

After I read his note, it was my turn to marvel. Here is a man working in his workshop miles away, using his talent and creativity for God’s glory and to bless others, and here is me at my computer hammering out words, all because we can’t stop the flow of gratitude that the message of the Cross brings. It’s all about God’s grace and how it flows through each and every one of our lives, and through each other via the Holy Spirit.

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The pictures don’t do it justice, friends. But each time I look at it, I will think of the hands that fashioned it just the way He fashioned all of us. And how wood from all over the world was lovingly joined together to make one perfect whole. Just the way He longs to redeem not just part of the world, but the whole wide world. The cross is the bridge that unifies all people into one Holy family.

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This little cross giveaway became a much bigger thing for me that I ever imagined it would. I figured that a few friends would say, “Sure, I’ve got a place on the wall. Why not?” I thought the whole thing would be lighthearted—just good fun on Christmas. Mark McCullough (The Cross Maker)

It was a “God Thing” and I am humbly grateful.

Imperfect Miracles

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Due to a shortage of headcount in my area, I found myself working on December 25th for the first time in my life. I have to confess, it just felt wrong to be there. And add to that, the area itself was a disaster. The lady I was relieving looked like she had been through a war and at the end of the 12 hours, I felt the same. But enough about me. Having to work on Christmas Day is by no means a hardship, but there was something about driving there on a nearly deserted freeway put me in mind of some people who are struggling this Christmas season.

One by one and then collectively they found their way into my prayers. I prayed that the Lord would give them strength and peace in the midst of everything. I thought of my Mom’s friend whose adult son is extremely ill. She can’t get to see him because she is recovering from a bad fall. She also takes care of her husband who has a bad back and Parkinson’s among other things.

I think of Elaine, who spent part of her Christmas at the Carehome giving her Mom over the counter meds for her flu since the staff can’t do it. Her Mom didn’t know it was Christmas and she kept asking who the robe belonged to, the one she had just unwrapped. What can prepare you for that kind of heartache?

I guess I was thinking about us all. About how the world was when the angels met the Shepherd’s there out in the fields. How when they met those Angels they were so Holy and beautiful they had them shaking in their boots. The world hasn’t really changed a whole lot since then.Not human nature anyway. I thought about how Jesus came to fix a broken world and us along with it. That is, inasmuch as we let Him. 

I thought about this little snowflake and how it almost makes me want to cry. Just the perfect beauty of it. I see where it looks like it’s starting to melt away. And how sometimes we feel like we are melting away too. Like that little snowflake, we are all imperfect, perfect miracles.

Jesus came to this earth so He could seek us out and make us into a miracle that will last for all eternity, but we can’t do it without Him. Nothing we go through down here on earth is ever overlooked or wasted. Even now, He is using everything we go through down here to make us into perfection fit for Heaven. God is never satisfied to leave us how He found us.

All of us are broken and will remain so until He says, “Rise up and walk into your new life with me.” We are all blind until He sticks His mud covered fingers into our eyes and says,”Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.”

Jesus was born for the broken, the lost, the left behind. He came for this reason, “To seek and save that which was lost.”

I love the story of how He went back to find the leper He had healed. Even now, He is seeking you my friends. He came into this world to find you. To find His lost lambs. Today, He wants to be with you in your heartache and bring you comfort.

‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:20

Christmas might be over, but Christ never is. That right there, gives me hope and reason to rejoice in the coming year.

 

Image: Creative Commons. Attribution-NoDerivs License