Under His Wings You Will Find Refuge

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4. This is one of my favorite metaphors in the Bible. I am reminded of this verse each day when I drink tea from my favorite cup covered in hand drawn feathers and when I write this verse each week on my calendar as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

The metaphor of God protecting and caring for his people in the shelter of his wings is first used in Deuteronomy 32:10-11. “In desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.”

We see this image again when Boaz is speaking to Ruth in Ruth 2:12. “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” Again we see the allusion to birds which cover their young with their wings, and in doing so keep them warm, comfortable, sheltered and protected.

David uses the metaphor of God’s wings several times in the Psalms. He asks for the protective outreach of God’s power from his enemies in Psalm 17:8. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings." This bring to mind birds who often cover their young ones with their wings to save them from birds of prey.

In Psalm 36:7 David says, “How precious is your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Think of this as a word picture of a hen that gathers her chicks under her wings and protects them in time of danger. It expresses both the paternal affection of God to his people as well as his protection of them.

Psalm 57:1 was written by David when he fled from Saul in the cave. “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”

David writes in Psalm 61:4, “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.”

In Psalm 63:7 David rejoices, “For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy." He knew that under the protecting power of God he was safe and, therefore, had reason to rejoice. Think of the chirping of chicks happy, safe, warm and secure under the wing of the mother hen.

And finally, in Luke 13:34, Jesus himself brings up the wing metaphor on the Tuesday of Passion week. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”

Precious Father – Thank you for the opportunity to study your word. Thank you for timeless metaphors that help us to understand you better. May we take refuge in the shelter of your wings Lord. Amen.

God's Justice Will Prevail

Writing this blog today feels like a huge weight sitting on my chest. The weight of a hard topic and the burning desire to offer hope to a hurting world. The responsibility to do it well, to represent God’s word accurately, is completely overwhelming me right now.

Because I feel so passionately about this I am just going to state what I believe and share the supporting verses afterwards. Our God is a just and powerful God. Victorious in all circumstances. Evil may appear to win for the moment. But Satan was already defeated on the cross when Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead. God is the final judge who decides who spends eternity in heaven and who spends eternity in hell.

Psalm 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and truth go before you.” This means righteousness and justice are the firm basis on which God is immovably fixed. It is not only that God is a just God but that he is justice itself.

If the average man lives to be 80, it is a drop in the bucket to the eternal timeline of our souls. Looking at today’s headlines it might appear that evil is winning or that evil people are going unpunished. Looking through God’s Word we know that is simply not true. Those feelings . . . that belief . . . is just another ploy of Satan as the great deceiver to keep us feeling defeated and discouraged.

Unrepentant crime of every stripe and color does not go unpunished in God’s economy. Sometimes we are given the gift of God’s justice carried out swiftly here on earth. But sometimes – often times – it seems we must trust in an unseen God to make it right in the end.

2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” All of us will one day stand before God and be held responsible for the actions we took and the choices we made while on earth. The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge (Psalm 50:6).

Romans 12:19-21 tells us: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. This is a comforting truth to someone who has been deeply hurt by someone else’s sin. I wish I could stop at verse 19 because the next part of this passage seems impossible in our human weakness.

 Verse 20 - On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Certainly not something we can do in our own power out of our own hurt. However, Luke 1:37 tells us nothing is impossible with God.

And finally, in verse 21, the passage concludes with “Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good.” We have a choice. To live victorious through the power of a righteous, just and almighty God or live defeated by the schemes, plots and deceptions of Satan. Which will you choose today and in the days to come?

 

Iron Sharpens Iron

Genuine honesty among friends can be difficult, yet, it is what we most need. We fear putting our relationship at risk, upsetting our friend, adding to the problem, or being seen as judgmental. Too often we take the easy way out because it is easier to just not “go there.” Which in the long run will only make the situation worse and the friendship more distant.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” What does this look like played out among friends? And what is our role in speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to the people around us?

There is a mutual benefit in the rubbing of two iron blades together. As the knives are sharpened, they become more efficient in their task to slice and to cut.  A knife that has been sharpened will also shine more brightly since all the dullness has been removed from its surface. A dull blade still works - but much less effectively.

We were created for relationship with Christ and with other Christ-followers. Gill’s Exposition of the Bible says it this way, “Christians sharpen each other’s graces, or stir up each other to the exercise of them, and the gifts which are bestowed on them, and to love and to good works.”

I am an encourager by nature. When someone is hurting I want to fix it or at least help them to dry their tears and feel better about the situation and about themselves. I will make every effort to make someone I love feel better. We all need encouragers in our life, but we also need those who know us well enough to speak hard truths into our lives.

There are times when I should have spoken up with a different thought than that of the friend group gathered together. Times when I needed to say hard things with love and hope that a friend could receive them. Times, most especially, when I needed to seek God earnestly in prayer, to know if and what to say or if I should just remain silent.

Too often fear kept me silent (see reasons in paragraph 1). And I guess you could say a lack of courage. I know I use this verse a lot in my writing, but I find it to be a total game changer. God did not give me a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). The opposite of fear and timidity is courage and boldness which we need to use to speak the truth in love.

Precious Father – Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. (Hebrews 10:24-25). May we seek your will to know when to speak the truth in love and may we be iron that sharpens iron to the people around us. Amen.

God is Faithful

To state the obvious – things are tough right now for many people in many ways. The reality is -everybody’s got stuff. We live in a broken world with broken people who are either hurting someone else or being hurt much of the time. And when bad things inevitably happen - we have a choice – to lean in to God or to pull away from God.

I have done both. Of the two – leaning into God has always been the better choice. God created us for relationship with him. Not just for the joy-filled “Thank you Jesus” days but for the weeping on your knees, “Help me Jesus” days, as well.

The answers we seek, the patience we need, and the comfort we crave are waiting for us within the pages of God’s Word. I want to encourage you to open your Bible and before reading pray Psalm 40:8 and Psalm 25:5. “I desire to do your will, O my God; help me to place your law within my heart. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”

We need to pause and look back at God’s faithfulness in our past when we cannot see or when we doubt his faithfulness in our current circumstances. God is faithful. He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). Look back at answered prayers. Ask God to call to mind the times he answered just as you asked as well as the times that he answered with what he knew you actually needed.

Partly it becomes a matter of trust. Do we believe that God’s Word is true? Verses like Romans 8:28 which says, “God works all things together for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” The hard part is realizing we do not have all the pieces and cannot see how our current circumstances play into God’s bigger plan. It is finally realizing that it is not all about us, but it is about God’s greater purpose over time.

Romans 8:28 was first brought to my attention during a very difficult time in my life when I desired a very specific outcome. I grabbed hold of that verse with both hands believing that the outcome I was earnestly seeking was good, and right, and just and that he would surely agree and work it for his good. When that did not happen, it made me question everything I thought I knew and believed about God.

They say hindsight is 20/20. Looking back now - from a safer distance - I can see that I am the person I am today because of the difficult circumstances I have faced and because of a faithful God who has never left me nor forsaken me.

If you are hurting and exhausted right now - take heart. God is faithful. He can take your anger and your tears. Grab hold of him with both hands and no matter how tough it gets – never let go.

Precious Father – Thank you that because of your great love, we are not consumed. Thank you that your compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lord, you are my portion. Help me to wait on you (Lamentations 3:22-24). Amen.

Living an Intentional Life

I did not blog last week because I was in the middle of reaching my goal to visit all 50 states before I turn 50. Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire were my last 3 before my birthday in March. It felt amazing to reach that goal and it was fun to share it with the people I met along the way who asked why I was visiting their state.

People had lots of questions. Most wanted to know when I set the goal and how long I had been working on it. I was somewhere around 40 when I realized I had been to 30 some odd states. If I was intentional, I realized I could visit the remaining states over the next 10 years.

Which brings me to my new favorite buzzword “intentionality.” Apparently, the college our daughters attend use this word a lot as in “build intentional community” or “show intentionality in the choice of a study abroad program.”

This word resonates with me. My live can too often move too fast and be too full to make intentional/deliberate decisions. Swept away by a packed schedule and too many demands on my time, resources and energy I sometimes land at Point B when I meant to land squarely at Point A.

The life I want to lead cannot happen without intentionality. Starting each day in God’s word means getting up earlier and finding a place to read and journal each morning. Losing weight means attending Weight Watchers meetings once a week and counting my points. Getting physically fit means walking around the lake when I would rather be sitting. Building relationships means setting time aside each week for actual phone conversations and the occasional face-to-face time.

Since God created us “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). And since our time on earth is finite and known only to God. And since we need to make the most of the time we are given. We need to live a life that is intentional.

Intentional in our relationship with God. In Matthew 22:37-38 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” God created us for relationship with him. And as with any relationship it takes time and energy to grow. Time spent daily in his Word. Time in community fellowship with other Christians on a weekly basis. Time in talking to and listening to God.

Intentional in our relationship with others. In verse 39 of Matthew 22 it goes on to say - And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Jesus himself modeled the importance of friendships while on earth. He had a tight inner circle (Peter, James and John), closer friends (12 disciples, Mary, Martha & Lazarus), and an outer circle (Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, Roman Centurion).

And intentional in seeking and following God’s will for our lives. Jeremiah 29:13 tells us that we will find God when we seek him with all our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18 tells us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

In what areas are you already being intentional? And in what areas do you need to be more intentional? The next thing I am going to be intentional about? Doing 50 new things in my 50th year that I have never done before!

Precious Father – Thank you for each day that you grant us. May we use it build relationship with you and with the people around us. Amen.

We Are Here "For Such a Time as This"

Headlines scream, hearts harden, people die. Another day dawns and it is more of the same. What used to be shocking is starting to seem more commonplace. We barely take in one disaster (caused by Mother Nature or by man) before another one pushes it off the front page. Overwhelmed, we too often turn away or sink into a pit of despair searching out every morbid and graphic detail that emerges.

Looking at all that is going on around us the only balm, the only center, that makes any sense at all is Jesus. In the midst of chaos - we need to find our calm in Christ. In the midst of feeling helpless – we need to plug into the power, love and self-discipline that is ours through the Holy Spirit. In the mist of hopelessness - we need to find our hope in the creator of the universe, the one true God.

In the midst of feeling like one person cannot make a difference - we need to remember that we were placed on the earth “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) God placed Esther, an orphan and a commoner, in the king’s household at just the right time to save the entire Jewish race.

God brought me out of a debilitating addiction to pornography when women most needed to hear the truth about the damage books and films like 50 Shades of Grey bring to women, families, and marriages.

You are not here by mistake. I am not here by mistake and neither are the people around us. We are here for a reason and we have a job to do. It is time – past time - to rise up and be the hands and feet of Christ that this world so desperately needs. Time to step out of “too busy” into a life of purpose and direction that benefits others and not just ourselves. Time to use the spiritual gifts God gave us to serve a hurting church and a hurting world. It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

And as trite as it sounds it is definitely time to be part of the solution and not the problem. Time to get off of Facebook and into our communities building real relationships face to face. Time to volunteer our time and resources to help us others who are less fortunate than ourselves. Time to see serving others as an opportunity instead of an inconvenience.

Time to seek God earnestly with all that is within us. With humility, with a contrite heart, on our knees. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

If you are not sure what your talents and spiritual gifts are – find out. There are lots of books, online surveys, and resources available to do this. If you do not know where you can volunteer to help others – find out. Ask other people or do online research to find organizations who strive to offer solutions to the many problems our world faces today.

What are we waiting for? Our time on this earth is finite. God placed us on this earth for “such a time as this.” Let’s make it count!

Precious Father – We come to you today with hearts broken by the pain and evil that seems rampant in our world. Please help us to be your hands and feet to a hurting world. Thank you for the talents and spiritual gifts you have given us. May we use them for your glory and for your kingdom. Amen.

When Evil Becomes Visible

I went to bed last night with an anxious and confused heart and woke up feeling defeated. Defeated over all the hurt, and pain, and evil that is rampant in our world. Discouraged and frightened by the harm that one human being can deliberately do to another. Wanting justice in so many situations when none seems forthcoming.

If my hope were not in God I could become stuck right here. Part of the problem instead of the solution. Hopeless instead of hopeful. Living in defeat instead of victory. Seeing only bad in others instead of the good. Growing bitter instead of growing better. Living in fear instead of stepping out in courage.

When bad things happen, when evil becomes visible, when our hearts seize and our stomachs roll we can get stuck repeatedly asking “why?” Part of not just surviving but thriving in the hard stuff means changing the question. I think the more important questions that we need to ask are “what can God teach me through this?” Or “what does God want me to learn in this hard thing?” And “how can I use this experience to help others?”

To land in the muck of all these negative feelings I made a lot of mistakes over a short period of time. My first mistake was in going to bed without spending time in prayer giving all of my concerns over to God. The stuff happening around me is big. Big enough that I should have put a pillow on the floor beside my bed and prayed on my knees until I could truly give all my concerns over to the Almighty God.

My second mistake was in not seeking comfort in the promises of God’s Word. Not last night before I went to bed and not first thing this morning which is how I usually start my day. This brings me to my third (and most embarrassing) mistake – starting my day on Facebook reading a whole bunch of fearful, judgmental, uninformed comments surrounding one of the situations that has disturbed me deeply.

So in a world where truth is up for grabs and Fakebook is considered more reliable than the evening news here are some eternal truths to grab hold of with both hands and never let go:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world! – John 16:33

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35, 37-39

Precious Father – In a world that is unstable may we find our stability in you. In a time that needs to see a visible God at work may we be your hands and feet. When we feel that all is hopeless may we find our hope in you. And when we feel frightened help us to remember that you did not give us a spirit of timidity but of power, love and self-discipline. Amen.

Faith, Hope & Love

In my daily Bible Study I am working my way through Paul’s letter to various churches in the New Testament. One of my favorite things about these letters is the way that he opens them and the way that he closes them. In his greetings to and descriptions of various people I am convicted with the desire for God to manifest these traits in me as well.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 is one such example - “We always thank God for you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In breaking these verses down what does it mean when our work is produced by faith? James 2:17 tells us that faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Conversely, then, we need to strive for a living and vibrant faith that produces action. Action that helps others, rights wrongs, and allows us to work as the hands and feet of Jesus in a hurting world.

2 Thessalonians 1:11 shares the hope that our God may count us worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of ours and every act prompted by our faith.

What would it look like if our labor was also prompted by love? The three words faith, hope and love are used together throughout the New Testament. The most recognized verse is probably 1 Corinthians 13:13 – “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

It is because of God’s love for us that he sent his Son. It because of the Son’s love for us that he was willing to die on the cross. It is because of our love for God that we need to be prompted to labor/action. Love needs to be the foundation beneath every move we make and action we take.

And finally, what would endurance look like if it were inspired by our hope in our Lord Jesus Christ? Hope is not wishful thinking based on our needs and desires but an unshakeable confidence in Jesus and eternal life.

Titus 1:2 describes, “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.” When our hope is in God and the promise of eternal life we are able to endure much more than if our hope is in someone or something else.

Precious Father, help us to draw near to you with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. Help us to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. Thank you that you who promised are faithful. Lord, may we spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Amen (Hebrews 10:22-24)

Hitting the Reset Button

Imagine with me that the arrival of fall brings an opportunity to hit the reset button. Gather your courage and reach out and push it. What are you choosing to reset in your life? A challenging relationship, some unhealthy choices, a habitual sin, a difficult circumstance? Or perhaps something more along the lines of the hours you sleep, the schedule you keep and the food you eat.

Sometimes we have the privilege of resetting by choice. Yesterday I chose to start counting my Weight Watchers points, hydrating and walking around the block. And sometimes the choice to reset is not ours but happens anyway. Last Monday I had gall bladder surgery which automatically reset my entire week.

And sometimes we are just stuck and feel completely unable to hit or even find the reset button. The path leading to “stuck” looks like something different for you than it does for me. But for some of us it looks like an inability to let go of past sin.

Logically, if we have a saving relationship with Christ, we know that we are forgiven when we ask. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sons, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

But emotionally we can get stranded in the guilt and shame. Rehearsing and dwelling on past sins over and over and over again. Getting stuck in the past instead of moving forward. This was an area I struggled with for a lot of years. I knew in my head that I was truly forgiven for poor choices in my past but my emotions were a different matter.

God in his graciousness led me to Paul’s writing in Philippians 2:13b-14 when I was young in years and young in the faith. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

This is where study notes in our Bible can come in handy. Forgetting in this verse does not mean losing all memory of our sinful past but leaving it behind us knowing that it is done with and settled once and for all because we have confessed our sin and been forgiven.

God supplies the resources we need to press on toward the goal of relationship with Christ and eternal life. When you hit the reset button this fall I hope part of starting again for you includes time in God’s Word on a daily basis, forgiving yourself for past mistakes, and being in community with other believers.

Precious Father – Thank you that you are the God of second chances. Thank you for creating us to be in relationship with you. May we have the courage this fall to hit the reset button on areas of our life that need improvement. And may we seek your will and follow your lead as we strive to make it happen. Amen.

A Prayer For Our Students

We dropped both our girls at college over the weekend. So. Very. Hard. One will be a freshman, the other a junior. As part of the parent orientation for families with incoming freshmen the college where they attend does a Service of Blessing & Dedication on the last night for the parents. Powerful. Needed. So comforting.

Regardless of what age or what school your child is attending, I thought it was a great Prayer of Commitment to pray over our children as they head to school this fall so I have included it below.

We are your children.

We praise you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life.

We praise you for body, soul and mind, but above all for your never-ending love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.

We praise you for rescuing us, claiming us as your own, filling us with your Holy Spirit. You empower us to live a life worthy of our calling.

We thank you for the children you have entrusted to us.

They have been your gifts to our families, our community, and this school.

We have cherished them, nurtured them, and learned from them.

Now we commit them to you as they begin their studies.

Hold them close to yourself, sustain them with joy and strength for their work, and use their gifts for the common good.

May they hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest your Word.

May they come to know themselves – their nature, gifts and callings, for Christ and His Kingdom.

Teach them Lord, to see that the whole world is the theater of your Glory.

Teach them Lord, to shun what is evil and to cling to what is good.

Teach them Lord, whether in word or deed, to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

We humbly pray you will so guide and govern them by your Spirit that in all the cares and occupations of study and life at (name of school), they may not forget you, but always remember to walk with you; through Jesus Christ, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever.

Amen.

Stretching the Umbilical Cord

What changes will your family face as you head into fall? The end of maternity leave, a toddler starting preschool, a child starting all-day kindergarten? Or perhaps a tween heading to middle school, a teenager heading to high school, a young adult heading to college? Or maybe, like us, it might be the last of your children leaving home with the impending empty nest looming largely right in front of you?

When our first daughter left for college 2 years ago I began to read books on the subject as I am prone to do when I face any life change. Many of these books discussed things like “letting go” or “breaking the ties that bind.” Concepts, that frankly, made me uncomfortable and only increased the pain, anxiety – and yes grief – that I was feeling at the time.

A concept that felt much more comfortable and has worked for our family was that of stretching the umbilical cord. It made us, as parents, feel better. And verbalizing it to the one who was leaving home definitely made them feel better.

In practical ways, this meant regular communication with our college freshman. Not just texts but regular phone calls and a scheduled, once-a-week facetime as a family. It meant sending a card every Tuesday with words of encouragement and a Bible verse. It takes all of 10 minutes but makes such a difference to the one checking their mailbox each week – never underestimate the power of the written word to a loved one!

Stretching the umbilical cord also means giving them the freedom to make their own decisions – good and bad. Giving them the opportunity to fail. Swallowing the tears when they choose to spend breaks somewhere that does not include you. Biting your tongue when they make choices you do not agree with. Encouraging independence in every way - including financially. Standing firm in the choice not to call or email the school, professors or administrators. Letting your student set their own appointments, buy their own books, schedule their own classes, figure out how to get home over break (you get the idea).

There is a ceramic plaque on my kitchen counter that personifies the idea of stretching the umbilical cord to me. On the top it says FAMILY. Across the bottom are the words ROOTS*WINGS. Down one side it says A STURDY BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE. Down the opposite side it says A STRONG LINK TO THE PAST. The graphic is a tree reaching upward and its roots reaching down and twining through words like: love, home, blessing, refuge, support, hugs, mercy, guide, treasure, grace, sanctuary, mistakes, forgiveness, encourage, trust, tears, and laughter.

Thank God for the laughter. Last night I came home from work to a stressed out and frustrated daughter who is leaving for college tomorrow and needed to calm down in order to get a good night’s sleep. I suggested a walk which took us 4 blocks south to a neighborhood park where we jumped on the swings in the dark. She is 20 now, this daughter of mine, a woman in her own right who, thank you Jesus, still wants to spend time with me.  Seeking my love, my encouragement, my wisdom, my hugs and yes, shared laughter as we soared into a perfect summer night on a swing set built for 2. The umbilical cord has stretched, as it should, but it has not broken.

Precious Father – Thank you for the gift of family. Please give us, as parents, wisdom and discernment as our children take the next step whether to preschool or to college. Help us to trust you with their past, their present and their future Lord. Amen.

We Are the Sum of Our Parts

We are the sum of our parts. Our family of origin, our childhood experiences, the schools we attended, the friends we made. Shaped by our choices and the choices of others. So many choices - single or married, faithful or unfaithful, children or childless. Affected strongly by the lives around us and sometimes, even more strongly, by the deaths. We are expanded by the good and struggle against being refined by the bad.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.“ What does trouble look like for you today? And more importantly, what are you doing with the trouble that has found you (or that you went out and found - as was the case with my pornography addiction)?

When trouble came in the form of my porn addiction I did not handle it well. I allowed the secret, the shame, and the guilt to trap me in an endless cycle of addiction and isolation. I did not talk to a trusted friend or seek professional help. I did not confess to my husband or ask him for forgiveness and accountability. I did, however, allow the addiction to taint my relationship with everyone around me. I did believe the lie that a porn addict was who I was and would always be. I did build a wall brick by brick, sin by sin between me and God.

With distance, what I have come to realize is that the addiction – it is not who I am it is just a part of who I am. Taking the analogy that my life is a book – it is just one chapter.  Or if my life is a puzzle that is being pieced together day by day, year by year, experience by experience – it is only one piece. OK, maybe 10 pieces of a 1000-piece puzzle - but you get the idea.

Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I love the wording of this verse. It does not say we hope, or we wonder, or we think but instead it says we KNOW. And not in some things but in ALL things which I take as a very literal all. There is nothing that God cannot work for his good.

It takes courage to share our troubles with the people around us. But it is by standing in the truth that we are set free for God to do his very best work in us and through us. Shining light on the dark places and telling the truth allows the healing to begin. It allows us the privilege of coming alongside someone else down the road who experiences similar troubles. It allows us to be set free from the tangled web of guilt and shame that entrap us. It allows God to work good from bad things.

Precious Father – Thank you that we are the sum of our parts. That we are a story still being written. Give us the courage to turn the page and face whatever the next chapter may bring. May we find rest and peace in your word, your promises and your presence Lord. Amen.

Trusting God With a Loved One

My youngest daughter leaves for college tomorrow.  In the midst of so much emotion, God brought to mind a blog I wrote last September that I wanted to share again.

Think of these 5 reminders as your five fingers slowly uncurling from your tightly closed fist as you open up your hand and truly trust God to take care of your loved one. Not just a child but a spouse, friend, relative – anyone you love and are holding tightly.

THUMB - God knew this person before they were born. Psalm 139:13 says, “You formed my inward parts; You wove me together in my mother’s womb.” He knew them before we did and He will spend eternity with them after they die. John 3:15 tells us that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.

INDEX FINGER - God knows them more intimately than we do. Matthew 10:30 tells us he has numbered every hair on their head. Isaiah 49:12 tells us that He has inscribed them in the palm of his hand.

MIDDLE FINGER - God knows the pain of a parent. He sacrificed his only son for you, for me, and for our loved ones. John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.

RING FINGER - God has plans for our loved one. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

PINKY – Nothing escapes God’s notice. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." Proverbs 5:21 tells us the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He watches all his paths. And Proverbs 15:3 confirms that the eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good."

A final thought as we work to release our loved ones into God’s capable hands and choose peace over fear. We need to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, as we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5). The King James version of this verse says we need to "cast down imaginations." And finally, we need to let the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7). 

Precious Father – Forgive us when we struggle to open our fist and entrust our loved one to you. Help us to remember that you knew them before they were born, that you know them more intimately than we do and that you know the pain of a parent. Thank you that you have plans for our loved one and that nothing escapes your notice. Amen.

He is the God of ALL Comfort

My God carries many titles and is described in many different ways throughout scripture. Although He is unchanging, at different times and in different situations, I have needed to focus on a more specific role/characteristic of God to meet my needs. Right now - I really need him to be the God of all comfort – for myself and for people who are hurting around me for a variety of reasons.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the GOD OF ALL COMFORT, WHO COMFORTS US IN ALL OUR TROUBLES, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

I have shared this verse before in relation to my pornography addiction. God brought me through it and called me to testify about it. In doing so God took something that Satan intended for evil and used it for good. When I was wracked with guilt for harming myself, my marriage and my family God forgave me and comforted me. This in turn has allowed me to comfort others who struggle with similar temptations.

When I ask why bad things happen to good people I boil it down to the fact that we live in a fallen world and evil is real. God created us for relationship with Him but he gave us the free will to choose. Tragically, too many people today are not choosing God and allow evil to enter their life and their actions.

Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” It does not say “if I walk” but “even though I walk.” God is with us in the tough, in the ugly and in the evil actions of others that harm us. His rod and his staff WILL comfort us if we allow it.

Going with the shepherd analogy used earlier in Psalm 23 a rod is a tool of authority used by shepherds for protecting, rescuing, counting, and guiding sheep. The staff was an instrument created to support the shepherd and keep him upright over uneven ground. Who does not need protected, rescued, guided and supported by the God of the universe? And yes, and most especially at times, comforted by that same God.

Psalm 147:3 tells us He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds. What has broken your heart today? What wounds need bound? He IS the God of all comfort. Climb up into your Abba Father’s lap and let Him comfort you. In many painful circumstances, He is the only one who can.

He is the God who created you in his image (Genesis 1:27), who knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), who tells you that you are fearfully & wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), who skillfully designed you (Psalm 139:15), who engraved you on the palm of his hand (Isaiah 49:13), and has numbered ever hair on your head (Matthew 10:30). He is a God – the only one, true God - whose thoughts of you are more in number than the sand (Psalm 139:18).  He is present in the tough stuff and he will never leave you nor forsake you.

And please . . . never forget . . . that he is also the God of ALL comfort.

Precious Father, we come to you as people who are weary and burdened. Please give us rest. Be the God of all comfort for us today Lord and in the days to come. Amen.

In This World We Will Have Trouble . . .

I could not find any words last week to write a blog. All of my words had been used up in tough verbal conversations with others and in jumbled mental conversations in my head. I had nothing left to give. This was a first for me after 93 blog posts. When I woke up that morning I struggled to type some words on the screen but they just would not come. All that appeared on the screen was the endlessly blinking (and annoying) cursor.

A blog and a ministry called “Living the Life Transparent” is an interesting thing. It forces me to constantly balance on a very thin wall. On one side of the wall is my life and the challenge to be transparent with my personal struggles, my personal relationship with God and my personal journey through life.

On the other side are other people’s lives. These are the people that I know and love and are very dear to me. The people I do life with. The ones who when they hurt I hurt. The family & friends whose stories and struggles affect me deeply but whose stories are not mine to tell.

I am sure we have all had the experience where life is flowing along smoothly and then BAM - a sudden death, a discovered addiction, a broken relationship, an unexpected job loss, a health crisis.  These things can so easily knock us off course and yank our eyes off Jesus. Even though Jesus himself tells us in John 16:33 that in this world we will have trouble, we are still shocked when trouble comes in its many different shapes and sizes.

One of the hardest things for me to do when life is hard or unfair is to change the question. I get caught in a repeating cycle of asking God “Why?” Which He may or may not choose to answer this side of heaven. Instead I need to be asking God “What do you want to teach me (or what do you want me to learn) in this situation?” I believe that in God’s economy nothing is wasted if we have a teachable spirit and let him use our experiences for His glory.

I do not know what hard or unfair thing(s) you are facing today. Chances are you are heading into a rough patch, currently in a tough place, or recovering from a hard thing right now.

When things are tough we need to look to God’s word for hope. Romans 8:33 tells us that in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:38-39 says that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. John 16:33 tells us to take heart because God has overcome the world.

Precious Father – Thank you that you hem us in, behind and before, and that you have laid your hand upon us. (Psalm 139:5). We long to feel your presence Lord.  Please give us a teachable spirit. Whatever trouble we face today we know that you go ahead of us, that you will be with us and that you will not fail or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:8). We do not understand your plan Lord but we choose to trust in you.  Help our unbelief. Amen

When Saying Goodbye is Hard

Goodbyes are not really my thing. Particularly when they are separating me for a period of time from someone I love. They seem to get harder as I get older. Harder as I leave my aging parents a state away. Harder as I prepare to leave two daughters at a college two states away. Harder as one daughter digs in Israel and the other prepares for a two-week backpacking trip before her freshmen year of college.

There was a time in my teens, 20s, and 30s when I said goodbye with a quick kiss, hug and wave. No tears were shed and I did not linger because I had already left that place and those people in my head and had moved on to what was coming next. I was in such a hurry all the time that I often missed being present in the current moment.

At 49 that is no longer the way I say goodbye to a loved one. Now I feel the weight of time and try, unsuccessfully, to slow it down. To stretch it out. To make every 24 hours feel as if it were really 48. I linger over long hugs and need to say, “I love you,” more than once. And I am rarely able to stop the tears when parting from a loved one thanks to menopause.

The Bible does not have a lot to say about saying goodbye. We read about people saying it – David to Jonathon, Naomi to Orpah, Paul to Timothy – but we do not really get much of a back story. Scripture does, however, give us a lot of benedictions (a short blessing with which to end time spent together).

Consider praying one of these verses over a loved one as you go your separate ways:

Numbers 6:24-26 – May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

2 Corinthians 13:14 – May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 – Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you.

2 Peter 3:18 – May you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be both power and glory both now and forever. Amen.

I aIso find the following ideas can make it easier for you to say goodbye to those you hold near and dear. Set a date for the next time you will see each other. Schedule a time for regular FaceTime or Skype conversations. Put pen to paper the old-fashioned way – it really does help bridge the distance. Text or email photos on a regular basis – visuals can make the miles melt. And finally trust that God loves our loved ones more than we can possibly imagine.

Precious Father – thank you for our loved ones. Please help us to be present each time we are together. Strengthen us when we are apart. And help us to rest easy knowing that you have written our loved ones on the palm of your hand, numbered the hair on their heads and knew them before they were even born. Amen.

When Gratitude Makes it Enough

I was browsing a gift shop recently with a friend and saw this sign: GRATITUDE TURNS WHAT YOU HAVE INTO ENOUGH. The quote was not attributed to anyone. It just hung there, cut out of metal, showing the wood of the wall through the cut-out letters. It stopped me in my tracks with a sudden punch right to my gut.

Logically/mentally I know that gratitude is important. Actually, I think it is more than important. I would even go so far as to say it is critical to our well-being and to our relationship with God and others. But emotionally it has been something I struggled with during different seasons of my life. And honestly – I am in one of those seasons right now.

I have everything to be thankful for - and yet -  I am not always thankful. I am embarrassed and somewhat ashamed to admit this. I was not planning to write about this today but I guess God had other plans than the topic I had picked (writing on a couple of verses we are praying over our daughter this week).

Let me state, for the record, that I know I have many, many, many things to be thankful for – a God who loves me, a Savior who died for me, a good marriage, healthy children, a roof over my head, gainful employment, good friends & loving family around me. We have cars that run, air conditioning when it is hot & heat when it is cold, medical care when needed, and the income to buy what we need. The list could (and should) go on and on (every single day of my life).

I can lose my “attitude of gratitude” when I get too focused on what I do not have instead of what I do. I lose it when I am too busy or I do not get what I want or we have an unexpected financial setback or . . .or . . . or . . . What causes you to lose your “attitude of gratitude?”

Before Oprah and gratitude journals and Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts there was the Bible telling us repeatedly to give thanks. Not just to give thanks but who to direct our thanks to. Psalm 106:1, Psalm 107:1. Psalm 118:1, Psalm 118:29, Psalm 136:1 and 1 Chronicles 16:34 all say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever . . .”

When I drill it down gratitude is about my relationship with God as the great provider. James 1:7 tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . .”

Precious Father – Please forgive me for my discontent. Help me to give thanks to you Lord, with all my heart and tell of all your wonderful deeds (Psalm 9:1).  May I follow your will for my life by making a choice to give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Amen.

Praying God's Word

Many years ago, when my girls were quite young and in the church nursery, I did Beth Moore’s Bible Study Living Free: Learning to Pray God’s Word. I would credit it as one of the most important extra-biblical books I have read in my journey as a Christian. It shaped my view of God, his Word and myself profoundly.  It made a lasting impact that has shaped how I pray and how I communicate with my daughters and the people around me.

Our oldest headed to Israel for a 6-week archaeological dig recently. Six cards went to Israel tucked in her suitcase. One for each week that she is gone. Each note contained encouragement, love and most importantly a scripture for that week that God had given me to pray for her. So strongly do I believe in the power of prayer and praying God’s word that I activated her personal prayer team and put it on the church prayer chain as well.

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in all self-righteousness. Hebrews 4:12 says that God’s Word is alive and active, sharper than a two-edged sword. There is power in praying God’s Word!

Praying God’s Word is modeled by the early church in Acts 4 where they pray back to God the very words that he had given them. If we are alert while we read our Bible we will how many actual prayers are included throughout the Old & New Testaments. Praying scripture will help us to make it more about God and his will, and less about us and our wants.

Personally, it has helped me to memorize his Word, see his will more clearly and rest easy knowing that my prayers line up more closer with what God wants because I am praying his Word. It has also given me a new understanding of the people of the Bible (King David & the Psalms) and brought me to a better understanding of God and his character.

Psalm 145:18 tells us the Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 1 John 5:14 says - This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. The Bible is truth and it shares God’s will with us. So, when we pray scripture it lines us up with God’s truth and his will.

For example, the verse we are praying this week for our oldest daughter is Proverbs 3:5-6. To translate this into a prayer for you or someone you love it may look something like this: Lord, please help ____ to trust in you with all their heart and lean not on their own understanding. In all their ways may they acknowledge you so that you will make their paths straight. Amen.

To Our Graduated Senior

You graduated on Saturday. And it still feels kind of surreal. I think was a bittersweet experience for all of us. It felt like it would never get here. During the tough times it was a moving target on the horizon that we thought we would never catch. Graduation was years in the future . . . then months . . . then weeks . . . then suddenly over.

You worked hard to the very end of your senior year. Never letting up, never giving it less than your absolute best. It was hard to watch you work so hard when we wanted more of your time and less stress and more fun for you. But you were right and we were wrong. (I know - a rare admission from your parents who may not say it again - so enjoy it now.)

When you did your final evals and received your final grades you were flying a mile off the ground. Your elation and the incredible smile on your face will linger with your parents for a very long time. We are so proud of you for knowing what you needed to do, doing it, and reaching your goal.

You were overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who attended your grad party. Humbled by their kind words both verbal and written. You were poised and gracious as you greeted and spent time with each guest. Whether 2 or 82 years old you gave each of them a hug and your undivided attention. You have a rare gift for being fully present in the moment. For making everyone around you feel better just by being near you.

As you head in to the in between time over the next few months continue to strive to be present in the moment. This will be hard because you will find yourself looking back with yearning to the known and familiar. And you will look ahead with some fear and trepidation to an unfamiliar future.

Whatever the future holds never forget that your life is built on a rock-solid faith in God and a family who loves you, believes in you and will always be there for you. Remember that first and foremost you are a child of God. Strive to find your identity in Christ and not in friends, grades, or activities.

College will bring new people, ideas and beliefs into your path at a rapid pace. Always hold them up to the illuminating light of God and his Word. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5–6).

There is more to say but for now I will close with 2 Timothy 1:7. For God did not give you a spirit of timidity but of power, love and self-discipline. Go boldly forward my precious child. Knowing that God goes before you and that our love and prayers will follow you wherever you go.

 

 

 

When God Makes Mosaics

A mosaic, by definition, is a picture or pattern produced by arranging together small colored pieces of stone, tile or glass. My oldest daughter and I have spent many hours over the last several days creating a piece of artwork in our back yard using this technique.

We have no experience but figured it couldn’t be too hard. After watching several you-tube videos and with the help of some amazing people at an area mosaic store we are half-way done. As we work through the process I keep drawing analogies in my head between the mosaic process and how God works in our lives.

With a mosaic, you take tiles or plates, break them and then put them together again to create something new. Oftentimes, as humans, it is when we are broken that God is most able to transform us.  Ephesians 4:22-24 says, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self . . . to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

To create an outdoor mosaic in a four-season climate you need a really strong adhesive (the type that requires wearing gloves and having good ventilation) to secure it to a base. Consider God as the base and scripture as the adhesive for a life well lived.

To get everything to fit you use a tool called a tile cutter to shape the pieces in a way that will be most useful for the mosaic. John, chapter 15, talks of a similar process where God as the gardener cuts off every branch in us that bears no fruit and prunes every fruit-bearing branch to create even more fruit. This is an often painful but necessary part of putting on our new selves.

In creating the mosaic, we found that we would get too focused on the sharp edges and the pieces that did not fit. In our frustration, we would lose sight of the pieces that did fit and the pattern that was emerging. By stopping and stepping back we could more clearly see what we had done, where we were currently at, and where we were heading. Many times, it is in the stepping back that we begin to see the pattern as well as God’s hand at work.

A mosaic is made up of bits and pieces, of different sizes and shapes, of different colors and textures. All of which come together to make something new . . . and something beautiful. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God will make everything beautiful in its time. Not just some things - not just my things or your things or the neighbor’s things or the co-worker’s things but EVERYthing.

I want to leave you with a challenge. A challenge to let God take all your bits and pieces and create something new. A challenge to adhere yourself so strongly to God and his word that when the sharp edges come and bits get broken that you will allow God to take the pieces and make all things new and beautiful in his time.