Tuesday, June 12, 2018

When the storms come....

This is from June 2013:

So last weekend, we had some severe weather in our area. Severe enough that some places were without power for several days. My family and my parents spent 45 minutes huddled in a basement storage area with the dog. The boys were fine, but my eight year old daughter was a mess. She hates storms. She always has. I know how she feels. I spent much of my life terrified of  tornadoes.

After the bad stuff was past and just the rain remained I stood with my daughter in the garage watching what was left. The lightning was frequent. The wind, while not damaging, was still strong. The thunder was loud, and the rain came in sheets. My eight year old looks up at me and says, “Mom, why is God so mad at us?” My heart froze. This is how it looks to her. God is angry, and she is trying to make sense of why. Essentially, she was asking why God is willing to frighten her so.

I really think this is the view the world has of my God. He sits on his throne passing out calamity here and there to drive us crazy, to punish us, to bend us to his will and desire. And…He enjoys it! This is not the nature of my God. Does God judge? Yes. Is God Sovereign? Oh Yes, and I am so thankful for it!!!

I recall the story of Lazarus from John 11. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha were good friends of Christ. When Lazarus fell ill, the sisters quickly sent word to Jesus to let him know. They knew that he could heal the sick. They had seen him do it. But Jesus did not. He waited two more days past the arrival of the news before heading to see the sisters. By this time, Lazarus was four days dead. Upon Christ’s arrival, Jesus spoke with both sisters. Both sisters knew that if Christ would have just come in time, he could have healed their brother and Lazarus would still be there. Jesus asks to go to the tomb, and there, Jesus wept. 

He cried.

Jesus knew what he was going to do. He knew in just a few moments he would raise Lazarus from the dead. The weeping and mourning of the sisters and the gathered family and friends would soon turn to shouts of joy, and all would bring glory to God. 

But there in that moment, Jesus cried. 

Many speculate as to why he cried. Maybe because of the futility of death. Maybe because of their lack of faith. Maybe because of sin and its consequences. Maybe just because He feels with us. He knows the storm is coming on the horizon. He knows we have to go through it. He knows the lesson we will learn. And…He cries.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

On Running...or not!

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us,  keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.  Hebrews 12:1-2

Quite a few summers ago,  I decided to do the couch to 5k program.  I thought it would be nice if Sweet Pea and I ran together. It seemed like it would be great bonding time for us.  And it was....when we were walking.   The running part is not easy. But by the 3rd week her little legs grew tired during the runs.  They weren't long time wise, but they were a lot for her.

During one particular run, we were jogging a long and the next thing I know Sweet Pea is sprawled on the ground. See, we live across the street from a church parking lot and that makes a easy if not monotonous track.  Right in the middle of that track is a median of sorts...an island if you will with a couple of trees and a sitting area.  It is surrounded by a 6 inch concrete curb.  Sweet Pea had tripped on the curb.  As I sat with her and her skinned knees and little tears running down her face.   I asked, "What happened?"    I just closed my eyes was her reply.  She just closed her eyes.  And, when she did she missed the danger that she knew was there.

See the preacher of Hebrews tells us we are running a race...and a long race.  While we are running there are things in our path that are put there to entangle and ensnare us.  Weights and Sin.  The weights are not necessarily bad things, but they are things that distract us and just slow us down.  The sin is well sin, and any sin will cause delay in the race.  These weights and sins tempt us, and next thing we know, we are flat on our face injured and crying.  Sometimes these traps are sneaky.  They blindside us.  Other times we know they are there and just look away for a moment.

So what happens when we do find ourselves flat on our face.....LOOK UP! Jesus will be right there where we left him waiting to help us along.  He will wipe our tears, bandage our wounds and restore our relationship...so we can run again.

So,  keep your eyes on Jesus.   He is the author and the perfecter of our faith.   He started the work in us and he will be faithful to complete it.   No matter what trips us up only the way!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Weathering Storms...

Thoughts on the Vine...and some storms that passed last summer - 

Living in the Midwest comes with it share of weather.  We can start a day with beautiful skies and temperatures near 80 degrees, and by evening, snow can be falling with freezing temperatures.  Although we do not live in Tornado Alley, the random twister is not a stranger to us.  

This year has been mild on the tornado front, but we have had our share of severe thunderstorms.  Recently, one such storm blew through our neighborhood.  The skies grew dark, the wind picked up, and soon lightning was streaking through the sky, and thunder was rattling the house.  The dog was barking. The cats were scurrying.  The lights were flickering.  It dumped a few inches of rain, spat out some hail, and moved east, like storms do. 

Overall, we were not hurt by the storm.  I had removed the logical things that tend to cause damage. The flag was put away, and the hanging pots were taken down to catch some of the rain. In the end there were a few more leaves on the ground and in the pool, but no trees on the house and no shingles blew off.  I thought nothing of it. 

Until a few days later....

We live across the street from a church with beautiful grounds.  We often use their parking lot as a walking track.   One of the trees in at this church did not make it through the storm as well as ours.  One bough was bent and broken and beginning to die.  The leaves hung limply on the branch and were withering.  

Then a month later this....

The branch was no longer dying.  It was dead.  Honestly, There is not much hope for this particular branch.  The only thing that remains is for it to be cut off.  

What happened?  This branch was severed from the trunk.  The life giving sap that runs from the ground to the trunk to the branch and then to the leaves and fruit just could not make the trip. The break was too great.  The storm was too hard, too severe.

My life is like this.  Storms come.  Storms always come. They come fast and without warning.   All of a sudden I am holding on to dear life, just trying to survive.  The wind of circumstances is blowing all around me.  The hail of worries is bombarding my mind.  The lighting of  hurts and failures is crashing.  And thundering doubt is clanging like cymbals with every thought.  

And sometimes....I break.
The pressures of the storm seem too much, and I pull away from my life giving root.  
I begin to wither.
My growth is stunted. 
Part of me shrivels, grows frail, and begins to die.

See, I am learning about John 15.  Verses 5-8 to be exact.

 “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.  If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.

Jesus tells me he is the true vine.  He is the sap that gives me life.  I am a branch....just a branch.  Just like that branch on the tree across the street cannot grow on its own.  Neither can I. I have to stay in the vine. When storms come, when life gets hard, it is easy to pull away from the vine.   I tend to want to be alone. I neglect the Scriptures. I neglect prayer.   I withdraw within myself sometimes trying to ignore the storm.  Other times, just trying to get by.  Most times trying to fix things on my own. But that "fixing things" on my own...isn't a fix.   

When the storms come...that's when I need to dig deep into the Word...when I need to cry out to Christ in prayer.  He is the Vine.   He gives life.   The storm won't break what is drawing life from Him. 

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Who do you hear?

Our oldest has played basketball for a few years, but this year we have all 3 playing on 3 different teams at 2 different schools.  Simply put, life is hectic over here right now. And, basketball is confusing to these hockey loving parents.  We know the simple rules, but the fouls, the motions for the fouls, the many stoppages in play.  I am constantly asking the Man, "what does that mean?" and he replies with, "I have no idea."

Last week, the middle child was in a tournament hosted by a local school.   The gym was traditional, highly polished hard wood floor, red brick walls, very high vaulted wood ceiling.  Nothing in this gym absorbed sound, so between the cheering parents, pounding basketball, and yelling coaches.  It was loud - crazy loud.

On Wednesday night, our game was the last of the night, so we were there in time to see much of the game before ours.  The first thing we noticed was the coach on one of the teams was loud.  He was constantly yelling at his team.  I realize all coaches do this.  He was just doing his job.  But what made him stand out to us was that we could not understand a word he was saying.  Was he speaking another language?  No.  I really think that it was just the combination of his voice and the acoustics in the room. By about 15 minutes of watching the game, we were rooting for this coach's opposing team just because of his loud, annoying voice.

I was thinking about that this week, and you know...as obnoxious as we found the coach's voice.  He had a whole team of  players that he was instructing.  A group of girls who was committed to listening to his voice and doing what he said to the best of their ability.  It didn't matter if we couldn't understand a word.  We were not part of his team.  It was not our job to understand.  It was his team's job.  Then, there is just the loudness of the room.  That team had to know his voice and be able to hear it over all the rest of the din.  Oh and don't forget the random parents and spectators shouting out all different commands.  "Put your hands up!"  "Look at number 22!"  "No fouls!"  "Rebound!" "Box Out. Box Out!" Let's not forget the squeaking shoes, pounding feet, and bouncing ball and  whistling refs. The sounds in that gym were deafening.  The girls on that team had to tune out all of the other shouts, instructions and noises, listen for their coach, trust his judgement, and obey his instructions.

I was reminded of this during our Bible study lessons this week.  We spent this week studying about Jesus being the Door and the Good Shepherd.  In both passages containing this I am statement, Christ mentions his sheep hearing his voice. 

John 10:3-4 3 The doorkeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.


John 10:27-28 My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand.

See, Christ is continually calling to us.  He is calling us to obedience, to His will, to love, to repentance, but ultimately, He calls us to abundant life.  The life we were meant for - full life.  But, just like that basketball court, other voices are calling too - pride, fear, selfish desires.  Voices that lead to death.  Those deadly voices come with our sinful nature.  They are ingrained in us form the moment of our conception.   We are Christ's sheep, and we know his voice.  We do not have to listen to the crowd or the deceiver.  We know Him by his voice!

Listen closely Dear Sheep!  Christ is calling!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

His Hands are Never Broken!

There are a few things we do every year with the start of Advent...no matter how busy we are.  The tree goes up, the Nativity is set out, and the Advent wreath and candles are placed.  

This year we added a sofa table to our living room decor, and that is where we put the Nativity.  Right there in the middle of our living space.  Isn't that where Jesus belongs?  In the middle of life?  

Unfortunately,  right in the middle of our living space, life gets messy and broken. See, we have cats...and cats play and fight and chase and run. Inevitably ...there were casualties.  Over the course of the last 4 weeks of advent, one wise man was decapitated.  Another wiseman lost his hand and his gift.  Joseph sacrificed his fingers causing him to randomly drop his staff.  Mary lost one of her hands, but Jesus...Baby Jesus lost both of his...

So I have spent the last few weeks thinking about Jesus's hands....

I can't help but think about those tiny baby hands reaching up and touching his mother's face as he nursed.  

Or how he may have gestured as he taught the teachers at the temple in Luke 2.  

I wonder if John the Baptist grabbed his hand to help him into the water to be baptized.  

I thought of all the people he healed.  So many times the Word says he was moved with compassion, and, then, he reached out and touched them.  

What about when Peter saw him walking on the water and asked to go to him.  How Peter got out of the boat and walked to Jesus, but as he did he saw the wind and the waves and began to fall into the water.  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and rescued him.  Matthew 14

How in Luke 18 people were bringing their babies to him so he could touch them and bless them. The disciples tried to stop him, but Jesus wouldn't let them.  He wanted to bless those babies.  

How in Luke 8 a woman that had been bleeding for 12 years touched him and was made whole.  Then, later that same day, He reached out his hand and a little girl was brought back from the dead.  

How his hands broke the bread with his disciples on the night that he was betrayed.  How those hands sealed a New Covenant as he prepared to fulfill the Old.  How he prayed in the Garden later that night and took his hand and healed the severed ear of the guard that was there to arrest him.  Luke 22

How those hand were nailed to a cross for the punishment of MY sin...not his sin...because he had no sin...

What about when three days later those hands came back to life.  And he showed himself to Mary and all of the disciples except Thomas. But soon after, Thomas took those hands in his own, placed his fingers into the scars left in them from the nails, and believed that Jesus was truly alive again.  John 20

And He is...Alive Again!!!

See the Baby Jesus in my Nativity set has hands that are broken, but the Jesus in my heart, his hands are mighty!  They save. They rescue. They heal.  The very best place for Jesus really is in the middle of my biggest messes!

 The Lord's hand is not to short to save.  Isaiah 59:1

Merry Christmas!
The Savior is born!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Be the Broken Cookie...

My Mom did not make cookies very often, but when she did it was a big deal -  a very big deal with a very big amount of cookie.   One batch of Mom's cookies made 7 dozen, so doubling the batch meant 14 dozen cookies.  That's 168 cookies.  Her philosophy was a good one.   I mean, if you are going to make cookies,  make as many as you can. Two batches is not much more work than one, and then you can eat cookies for days and days.  And,  well, they're cookies.  Can you get much better than chocolate chip cookies or oatmeal cookies. (No raisins, please.  Raisins ruin everything.) Can you really have too many cookies?

But there was one step my Mom added, that would you not find in the cookbook.  Most chocolate chip cookie recipes state to drop the dough by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  This was not acceptable to her.   So we would grab the dough by the teaspoonful, roll it into a ball in our hands and bake them this way. The result was perfectly round cookies.  PERFECTLY round.  But, you know not every cookie can be perfect. So, inevitably, one would be broken.  Another one would flip over while removing it from the pan to cool and get smushy.   Maybe another would be touched with the potholder when taking them out of the oven and be all lopsided. Sometimes, a whole sheet would be just a bit overcooked.   Now, those damaged cookies were the ones my brothers' and I were allowed to eat first. So, the more cookies that were less than perfect,  more damaged, meant more treats for us on cookie day.  I mean, the damaged ones tasted the same as the perfect ones. They just were not as pretty so we got rid of them first.  The pretty and perfect cookies were the only cookies sent to neighbors, or to class parties, or to whatever event we might happen to be making them for. 

There is a ton I could say here. About perfection.  About rejection. But today, I want to talk about being broken.

See,  I am a messed up cookie trying to be a perfect one.  I have lived the majority of my life trying to present a pretty and perfect self to the world.  I strive to look great put together. I want to have a perfect home, have perfect kids, and live the perfect life.  But deep down, I know I am living a lie. I am not perfect.  I do not have it all together. I live in fear.  I feel insecure.  I feel inadequate and insufficient. I make mistakes. I mess up.  I fail, and I sin.  I am just a broken cookie try to present an unbroken life.  And, as any baker can tell you, you may able to frost over a broken cake to hide the break, but there is no fixing a broken cookie.

The amazing thing is....God is not surprised about my broken and messed up places.  And even more amazing...those broken places and messed up areas He wants to use for His glory.  Did you see all the I statements?  I really am all of those things.  But Jesus is more!  I am not perfect or sinless or without mistakes, but Jesus is.  I do not have it all together, but Jesus is directing my steps and is making all things work together for good.  I am afraid, but the Bible tells us that He has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and sound judgement.  I feel insecure, but my place is secure in Christ. I am a co heir with him, and I am firmly held with in the Father's hand.  I feel insufficient, but He says His grace is sufficient. When I feel inadequate, He says my adequacy comes only from Him.

I am reminded of the woman in Mark 14:3.  Do you remember the story?  See Jesus was at Simon the Leper's house reclining at a table when this unnamed woman comes to him with an alabaster jar of pure oil of nard.  An expensive jar of fragrant oil believed to be worth about one year's wages. She brings in this jar, breaks it open and anoints Jesus's head with the oil inside.   She had to break the jar for the fragrance and the oil to be released. Did you get that?  The jar had to be......broken.  We could even say that until the jar was broken, the oil was useless.  

I am learning that I need not be afraid to be broken.  I don't need to fear my mistakes. And, most importantly, I need to let others see the mess.  Jesus is not looking for a beautiful alabaster jar to sit on a shelf. He is looking for a broken mess, that is bathed in His grace. Then, the sweet fragrance of a transformed life is released into this lost world.

You know as well as I do, broken cookies taste just as good as perfect ones.  And now,  I think they may taste even better. Because I know Jesus can use a broken life much more than he can use  a perfect one.  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A picture of Unforgiveness....and Letting it go...

I am not and never will be a gardener.  The joke here at my house is that plants quake in their roots when I am around.  I can understand why my family and the plants feel that way.  Honestly, I kill them.  

So when our azalea bush in the front yard started dying several years ago, I didn't worry much about it.  It was just the same old cycle repeating itself.  The first couple years we lived here, it bloomed magnificently in the spring like an azalea should.  But, like most plants I am in contact with, it changed. The leaves turned dark.  The foliage grew thin.  The gorgeous and abundant flowers from the first few years were replaced by only leaves.  

Interestingly, my plant was being suffocated by a sly Virginia Creeper. Over the years, this creeper had planted itself right in the middle of my azalea, and slowly inched its way over much of the healthy plant....suffocating it....stifling its beauty ....crushing its leaves....killing it. 

 In the end, my bush was pitiful, misshapen, and pathetic.  The very beauty that it was meant to share was gone. 

Unforgiveness is just like that Creeper.  It takes root in our hearts and grows.  It invades every part of us.  Soon our lives are out of step with the Lord's will.  The hurt we are holding onto does not go away. It just gets worse.   It poisons our perceptions.   It consumes us. It leaves us stunted in our growth and misshapen.  

Don't forget that creepers creep.  The intruder didn't stay just in my bush...it was crawling up the house and had trails along the ground looking for more things to invade. Unforgiveness, too, spills over to other people and relationships.  The longer we hold onto it, the more damage we do.  

So.....I pulled out the creeper.  I cut, and yanked, and removed as much of it as I could find. The creeper had grown up around azalea like a prison.  It had choked out its beauty for so long and, now, it was finally free to bloom and thrive as before.

Yes....this is my actual bush.

Just like the azalea could not get rid of the creeper on its own, we cannot forgive on our own. We must take our offenses, our hurts, our injustices to the only one that can heal them...Jesus Christ. His word tells us in Isaiah 61 that he has come bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Do you hear that?  He has come to heal the hurts....release the prisoner...comfort the mourning....to give a crown for our ashes...and joy for our sadness...and clothes of praise for our despair.  

He can give you the strength and the power to let go of the unforgiveness and get out of your prison and bloom just like you were meant to be.  

It's not easy.  It's hard... In some cases it may be the most difficult thing we do....but it is worth it. 

Oh and another thing...creepers come back.....

Taken the same day as the previous picture.

There will be times when that hurt returns, when something is said that brings all the feelings back.  That's when we must run back to Jesus.  Give it to him again and let him heal us ....again.  

Looks like I have some yard work to do.  That creeper will not leave on its own.  

*Our Bible study is working through Joseph:  A journey to forgiveness by Melissa Spoelstra.  These thoughts came after week 2.

When the storms come....

This is from June 2013: So last weekend, we had some severe weather in our area. Severe enough that some places were without po...