Monday, July 30, 2012

The Stretch

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
He will never let
the righteous be shaken. -Psalm 55:22

My apartment is right next to a lake with a walking trail circling its two-mile circumference.  Nearly every day, I take my toy poodle and we traipse around it.  We're very blessed to live here.

Even though she's a little tyke at barely five pounds with tiny legs, my Lottie usually makes it most of the way around on her own.  However, there's one part - one stretch overlooking the lake right by the parking lot - where she absolutely refuses to walk.  Every single time, right before we approach the hill to get to the stretch, she stops and sits down.  It never fails.  She will not walk across that stretch for anything.

Now, when that happens, I have three choices:  I can leave her there (um, not going to happen); I can drag her (that would be dog abuse); or, I can pick her up and carry her across.  I know from experience that she'll walk once we get to the other side.

Tonight, as I carried her across the stretch, it made me think about how so very often we're like this with God.

So many seasons in our lives are like these long, scary stretches.  It's really just a part of the trail, but we don't want to walk across them.  We want to sit down, plant our butts on the ground, and be stubborn.

And then God has three choices:  He can leave us there (um, not going to happen); He can drag us (but He won't); or, He can pick us up and carry us across.

I'm Lottie's owner.  I'm her protector, her guardian, her mama.  I'm not going to abandon her or abuse her.  I'm going to carry her.

How much more does God do that for us?

I've been told I should be more firm with Lottie, that I should make her walk, that she's not the boss, but I am.  Maybe that's true.  Maybe I need to be more stern and forcible with her.  But in that moment, every time, when I'm given the choice to leave her, drag her, or carry her - I know which one I'm going to choose.

Sometimes we reach those long, scary stretches and we need God to carry us.  Praise Him that He doesn't even think twice about it.  Suddenly, just like that - we're in His loving, protective, comforting arms.

"It's okay, my dear child - I'll get you there," our Daddy assures us.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It Is Well

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. -1 Corinthians 15:53-58

Last night, someone whom I dearly love very suddenly lost someone whom he dearly loved.

It is in times like these when I wish I had more answers.

I would do anything I had to do if I could take away his grief.  Really, anything.  But I can't. 

I've never felt so helpless.  All I can really say is I'm so sorry.  I can't do anything else.

But God.

God is still God.  He is still all loving, all knowing, the Comforter, the Healer, the Beginning and the End.  He is the I AM.  He is the Creator, the Author and Finisher of our faith.  

God is Daddy.  He wants us to climb up into His lap and let Him put His loving arms around us and wipe the tears from our eyes and whisper, "It's going to be okay.  I love you.  You are my precious child."

I don't have the answers.  I don't know why we get sick.  I don't know why everything suddenly changes. I don't know why bad things happen and diagnoses are given and then nothing seems to make sense.

But what I do know is this:  God is love.  Three simple words - God is love.  That's it.

And what is love?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. -1 Corinthians 13:4-8

God is not judge, jury, and executioner.  He does not sit on His throne ruling that we're sick based on our sins or shortcomings or lack of faith.  God hates illness, disease, and suffering just as much as we do.  He wants us to live in the full abundance of His love, His blessings, His forgiveness, and His grace.  The Lord's prayer says "on Earth as it is in Heaven."  Is there any sickness in Heaven? 


So until we get there, we just have to keep looking to God for grace in our time of need.

Sickness is not a divine punishment, and death is not the end.

It is well.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Show Up or Shut Up

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. -James 2:17

It was a Saturday in early December of last year, and I had a choice to make.

I could get dressed up, do the ridiculous wiggling-into-pantyhose-dance, slip into a sweater-dress, brush my teeth, do my makeup, curl my hair, get in my car, and drive well nigh on 45 minutes, in the rain, no less, to a place I'd never been before to support someone I cared about but who I wasn't sure cared about me. Or I could stay home with my dog, who I know cares about me, and watch TV in my pajamas.

Guess which one I wanted to do?

I thought about it all day. I was decided, I was undecided. I told the person I was coming, and then I wasn't, and then that I might. I left it up in the air, because I didn't know just how much, when it came right down to it, I'd be willing to give.

The time drew near for me to get ready. So I got ready, just in case I decided to go.

I walked my dog, just in case.

I put on my dress and my pantyhose and my makeup, just in case.

I looked up directions, just in case.

But then, minutes from when I needed to leave, I sat forlornly on the couch thinking, “I really don't want to go. What's in it for me? Will this person even care? Probably not.”

As if on cue (because, of course, it was His cue), God answered simply, “Show up or shut up.”

As usual, I'm ashamed to say, it took conviction from God to make me get it.

So many times, we want our lives to move forward but we're not willing to show up to make that happen. We want it to just happen on its own, even if we're not conscious of it. I told God I was willing to do whatever it took, but when it came right down to it, He had to speak to me to get me off the couch! I'm learning that life (and by life, I mean God) doesn't work by wishing. He wants to know that we're going to take that step. He wants to know we're committed. He's not going to hand us something when He doesn't know what we're going to do with it.

He wants me to stop saying “This should be!” and start saying “What can I do to make this happen?”

Stop saying, “This should change!” and start saying “I'm going to work to change this.”

Stop saying, “That's a great idea!” and start saying, “Here's the next step to that idea.”

Because if I'm not can I expect anyone else to be willing? How can I expect others to be giving when I'm stingy? Gracious when I'm angry? Forgiving when I'm hard-hearted? Committed when I'm waffly? Sacrificial when I'm selfish?

How can I expect more from others than what I'm willing to give myself?

More than that - how can I ask God to take His 99 steps if I'm not willing to take my one?

I stood up, strapped on my heels, picked up my purse, kissed my poodle goodbye, and left. I drove white-knuckled through the rain. I showed up that night, only slightly worse for wear, and I'll never forget how surprised the person I was there to support was a result.

If you ask me right now, I'm not sure how much of a difference it made. I'd like to think my going was significant, that my presence showed the person support and encouragement and respect and that I can be counted on. But I don't know if any of that is true. I'm not sure how much it mattered, and maybe I'll never know.

But what I do know is that I showed up. I did what I knew I had to do, if I'm being honest, to live with myself. I did everything I could do – what I knew God wanted me to do. Because, as I replied back to God that night, well, Heaven knows I'm not going to shut up.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The List

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. -Hebrews 4:16

You might not know this about me, but I am a list-maker.  

I wasn't always one, but as I've gotten older, I've found list-making to be the best way to keep track of important things like time and money.  I used to go to the grocery store without a list, buy random things, and then get home without a full set of ingredients for anything.  Before I had a full time job, I would meander through my days without structure and end up settling down at 9pm to get done what I should have been doing all day long.

Now, though, I make lists for practically everything.  Lists of things to buy at the store, things that need to be done, people I need to reach out to - the list, ironically, goes on and on.  I plan my days off by listing what needs to be cleaned and errands that need to be run.  I manage my life by keeping a constant list in my head.

The past few weeks have been challenging ones for me.  Without going into detail, since the detail isn't really important, let's just say that my world has flipped on its axis a bit and everything is heightened, confusing, and unknown.  In the natural, at least, that's the way it appears.

God has been speaking to me a lot, though, especially in the past week or so.  Even when I don't even realize I'm praying, I'm praying.  He's spoken through everything possible - people, places, events, circumstances, road signs, and by literally stopping me mid-kerfluffled-mind-rant during church.  He's spoken audibly. He's lobbed cosmic cream pies at my face one right after the other.  And everything that He has been speaking to me has seemed just totally impossible.  My general response to what He's been saying has been, "Uh huh - I'll believe it when I see it."

Hypocrite much?  Anyway...

This past week, I've heard from two very different yet very strong, spiritual ladies about lists.  Twice, now, I listened to a woman I admired and trusted in faith tell me that during a similar time in her life, she put pen to paper and made a list of what she was believing for from God.  Both women said it felt a little silly, a little frivolous, but that they were believing for what God spoke to them and for the longings and desires He had put in their hearts.  And that, miraculously, every single thing on those lists came true.

After last night, when the second woman told me her story about her list, I couldn't get this idea off my mind. I'm a list-maker.  I make lists for literally everything else.  And so, this afternoon, I picked up my little notebook that I carry around everywhere, turned on a song that I've been listening to on repeat for six weeks now, clicked my purple pen and began to write.

First, I wrote at the top everything God had spoken to me.  And then under it, I made a list of what I wanted, what the deepest desires of my heart are, based on what He said.

Now, I'm a miracle-believing Christian.  Mark 10:27 is my life verse.  I have seen and witnessed miracles of every kind and I will be the first to tell you to believe for what God has spoken to you.  But writing these things down felt like the craziest, silliest, most frivolous, and most pie-in-the-sky fairy-dust thing I have ever done in my life.  (And oh, I've done some crazy stuff - just ask my mother!)

I'm ashamed to say it, but it just seems so ridiculous.  Writing all these things down feels like I'm a five year old making a list of what she'll do when she grows up to be a princess who lives on a cloud at the end of a rainbow with pixies.

And yet, here it is.

Earlier this week, I shared with my pastor some of the things God had spoken to me and that I was hesitant to believe it.  He looked at me and said, "Don't you believe God can do that?"

Well.  Um.  I didn't really have an answer.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” -Mark 10:27

It's right there.  I guess I don't really have a choice.  Which, to be honest, is actually kind of great.

I made my list.  Now it's up to God to begin checking things off.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Just Decide To

I've been watching Aaron Sorkin's brilliant new show "The Newsroom" and loving it.  (PS, it's a  2012 version of "Sports Night," but I digress.)  The show centers around Will McAvoy, news anchor, and MacKenzie McHale, his former love and now his executive producer.  Will and MacKenzie have it, that connection, that kismet, that spark.  They're partners.  They're a team. What they can do together is a hundred thousand times more than what they can do separately, and they both know it.  

Will is reluctant, at first, to work with MacKenzie - mainly because he's scared.  He wants to be liked by his audience.  He's worried about ratings.  He doesn't want to change or do things the way he knows MacKenzie expects him to do them.  He's analytical and prescriptive and basically he's let fear back him into a corner - the corner of being non-committal.  He's brilliant and charismatic and deep - he has what it takes  - but for years he's let fear keep him from really doing what he's meant to do.

MacKenzie is, well, pretty much fearless.  She jumps in with both feet and she believes in what she's doing with all she has.  She doesn't care about ratings or being unpopular. She wears her heart on her sleeve, often to her own embarrassment.  She gives people the benefit of the doubt - her team, the audience, everyone.  Most importantly, she gives Will the benefit of the doubt.  She sees what he's afraid to see in himself.  She believes in him and what he - what they, together - can do. She's fierce, and she won't give up on him.

They are being called to a higher order in the news show they create.  They want to do better.  They want to educate, inform, enlighten, and really to do what they do the best they can.

But they can't do it without each other.

At the end of the pilot episode, the president of the station shares a bourbon with Will.  He talks about a time when they did the news well.  How?  "We just decided to," he says.

Will almost doesn't.  He plays around.  He has silly arbitrations written into MacKenzie's contract to give him  a sense of control.  In the second episode, he goes behind her back and writes content into the show he knows she wouldn't approve.  After that show, MacKenzie confronts him and says one decisive line, "Are you in or are you out?"

I firmly believe God has a purpose, a calling, a specific plan for each of our lives.  I'll believe that as long as I live.  I've read theories and articles and Biblical interpretations that God doesn't really care what we do as long as we're serving Him, but try as I might, I can't buy it.  The God I know, by Heaven, knows what it is He wants me to be doing.  He's not shy about telling me, either.  He created me, He put in me what's in me, and He's put the people and opportunities in my life for a reason.  Sorry, but we're not all just wandering around in each other's paths by accident here, folks.

And guess what?  He's done the same for you.  He has a plan for you.  He has a purpose for you, things He wants you to do for His kingdom, ways in which He has gifted and equipped and enabled you to do His will.  People He's put in your path to work with and beside to make those things happen.  Will to your MacKenzie.  MacKenzie to your Will.

He's calling you to something higher than what you've been doing up until now.  He's calling you to do better.  He's calling you to use what He's given you for ministry.  Make no mistake - He definitely is!  It might not be easy.  Dare I say it, it might even be difficult or seem impossible.  It'll take you breaking out of your comfort zone, whatever that means for you.  If you're impulsive, it'll take patience.  If you're scrupulous and analytical, it'll take faith.  It'll take courage to step out, strength to be vulnerable, and - dare I say this, too - commitment to what God is putting in front of you.  You can't serve God halfway and expect it to work in any way.

MacKenzie asked Will, "Are you in or are you out?" and then left him alone to think about it.  A few hours later, he called her and simply said, "I'm in."

Just decide to.  

Because ultimately, as another line from "The Newsroom" says, "It's going to come down, as it always does, to who shows up."

Then I heard the Lord asking, "Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?" I said, "Here I am. Send me." -Isaiah 6:8

Monday, July 09, 2012

Under My Umbrella

"If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." -Jesus, Matthew 21:22

I gave the children's sermon in church this week.  It was all about faith - the idea that when we pray, we need to actually believe that God not only can but will do what we ask.  The illustration I gave to the children was the idea of praying for rain in the middle of a drought, as we are here in North Carolina, but then not carrying an umbrella around in expectation of the rain.  If we pray for rain, why aren't we preparing for it?

I was about halfway through studying the children's sermon on Saturday evening when I realized I was going to be preaching directly to myself.

How often do I pray for rain and then don't even carry my umbrella?

How often do I pray for a miracle but then I don't live with the expectation that God is going to do it?

I've often heard that old quote, "Expect nothing and you won't be disappointed" - and I hate it!  It's totally the opposite of faith.  The Bible says that God responds to our faith.  In fact, our lack of faith limits the power of God.  In the Gospel reading we read this week, Jesus is back in His home town, ready to preach and teach and heal, but no one believed He could perform miracles.  So He didn't.  "He could not do any miracles there [...] And He was amazed at their lack of faith." -Mark 6:5-6

It's when we actually believe that God can and will do it that miracles happen.  When Jesus performed miracles and healed people, what did He so often say?  "Your faith has made you well." (Mark 5:34, Luke 18:42).  Not "Oh, I felt like healing someone today, and lucky you, you're it!" or "Well, I guess I have nothing better to do, so here's some of God's power - enjoy!"  

Their faith brought about God's action.  Because of their belief, God responded in kind.

This evening, ironically, the sky threatened rain.  Even so, determined to get some exercise, I dragged my toy poodle around the two-mile hiking trail circling the lake where we live.  I usually have a walking buddy, but tonight I didn't, so God became my walking buddy. While we walked, I prayed.  My prayer came on gradually - so gradually that at first I wasn't even conscious of it - but three-quarters of the way around the lake, I was actually praying aloud.  (The people who heard me as they ran past either thought I was crazy or had a really small Bluetooth headset!)  In that moment, I prayed for a miracle.  I didn't beg, I didn't plead, I didn't cajole, I didn't say "if You feel like it, Lord."  No, I prayed.  I boldly approached the throne of grace, stood on the confidence of the name of Jesus granted to me in the Bible, and asked for a miracle because I believe it is God's will and I know what I am asking for is going to bring God an incredible amount of glory.

Now, I'm going to be living in expectation.  I asked for rain, so you'd better believe I'm going to be carrying my umbrella.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Not Just A Snuggly Genie

I was reading Bianca Olthoff's very inspirational blog the other day when I ran across a pearl of wisdom she had written about dating and marriage - to sum up, it went this way:  "The way a person loves God will be how he or she will love you."

I started really thinking about that...and it's made me sit back and take a long, hard look at my relationship with God.

I thought about how I interact with God in relation to how I approach my other relationships.  Some of the questions that came into my mind were:

-Do I set aside purposeful, dedicated time to spend with God, investing in being with just Him on a regular (as in, not just when I feel like it) basis?

-Do I seek out His heart?  Do I strive to learn what pleases Him, what He desires from me, and what I can do to serve Him better?

-Do I listen - really listen - to what He is trying to tell me about what He wants from and for me?

-Do I tell others with enthusiasm and adoration how much I love Him and how happy I am that He is my God?

Let's just say I was not comfortable nor happy with how I felt about the answers to these questions.

Lately, if I'm being honest, I've been treating God as little more than a Snuggie with magical powers.  Someone who can simultaneously hold me and stroke my hair while making everything all better.  A genie with a big lap and a James Earl Jones voice who has no qualms whatsoever about telling me how much He loves me.  Score!

Which...that's great.  God is that.  But He is so much more, too.

God wants more from me than just running to Him with my broken toy in a grubby outstretched hand to be fixed.  I'm not a toddler in the faith anymore.  He wants a relationship with me - a mutual, give and take, invested, reciprocal, adult relationship.  Except - score times infinity! - this is a relationship with the God who created me, loves me unconditionally, sent His Son to die for me, forgives all my sins, and knows every hair on my head and every step I should take to walk out His perfect plan for my life.

But in this relationship, I'm the one who needs to step up to the plate.

I need to learn how to listen to Him rather than just telling Him what needs fixing.  I need to spend time in worship rather than wailing.  I need to put the work that I so wilfully, selflessly, and persistently put into my other relationships into the Most Important One of all.

Good news is, the thing about me that anyone who knows me will tell you is that I will work at relationships.  When I invest in someone, by Heaven, I go all in.  I will clamp on with pit-bull faith and there is no shaking me.  That's because I learned from The Best.  Even with all of my taking Him for granted, my Abba, Daddy, Creator, and Lord is always here to be my Healer, my Guide, my Snuggie, and my Savior.  

And I'm taking myself to task to be better at reciprocating His investment in me from now on.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." -Deuteronomy 6:5