SOME CONDITIONS MAY APPLY

Do you ever read the small print? I don’t, and I started to question the wisdom of my nonchalance recently. Probably the area I’m the least cautious is in downloading apps and songs. Do I agree? Well, sure I do! I mean it’s not like I’m agreeing to donate a kidney to the 821st person I’m a match for.

No, really. I’m not agreeing to anything like that am I? Let me find my reading glasses!

signhereI’m not overly worried about what I’m agreeing to, but I’ve learned that I need to pay closer attention to what my expectations are.

Not too long ago, my family decided to go out for half-price apps. I was thrilled that we’d be able to enjoy a treat that would not otherwise be affordable. For once, momma didn’t have to say ‘No.’

Some of you are probably way ahead of me!

Sure enough, not all apps were half-price. And momma ended up paying a lot more than she’d expected.

The Holy Spirit reminded me of this while I was considering what God’s word says about prayer. Mark 11:24 tells us, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Now that sounds like a winning opportunity! Unfortunately, it’s not really how it works, is it? There is literally a limit to how many people can have the same job or the same spouse.

So what’s the catch? Because I know a few people who have been praying hard for the same thing for a couple of decades. They’ve prayed fervently and with unshakable confidence that God will provide, only to feel disappointment and heartache.

The book of John actually has quite a few verses in which Jesus promises his disciples that whatever they asked for in his name would be given so that the Father would be glorified. A sort of letter of righteous reference or holy hall pass. All we need to do is say the magic words – “in Jesus’ name” – and we’re good, right?

appetizersBut I kept thinking about those half-price apps that weren’t half-price after all. Perhaps the way to get what we want is to make sure it’s on “the list.” I knew a guy who couldn’t understand why God didn’t bless him by winning the lottery. Afterall, God knew how he’d use it. (Which is probably the precise reason he never won!)

The point is that in God’s kingdom, many of the things we pray for are so very far off God’s radar. It’s not that he doesn’t love us or want to bless us, because I believe he takes great joy in seeing our smile! And I’ve been blessed by tiny things that happen very quickly but are also very intimate. Something that makes me smile because I know it was from my Father. He thought about me.

Actually, I think prayer has more to do with God’s thoughts being higher than our thoughts, his ways being higher than our ways. Face it, God has a few more years of experience than we do, and he has a much better view of the horizon. Quite frankly, he’s probably a little more concerned about the spiritual battle that’s claiming souls than he is about who wins the Super Bowl. (Just sayin’.)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been praying that I can see others the way God sees them – including myself. I’m praying that I can love others with the love, grace and mercy with which God loves them – and me. I’m pretty sure those are good things to want from my Father. And if I can see others the way God does, I suspect I’ll have a better idea of what’s on “the list.”

Found my reading glasses! And now I’m hungry.

 

MAYBE HE’S JUST MOVING THE PIECES

I like quotes and images that can make a philosophy or personal paradigm incredibly succinct. This photo is one such image. Melissa Groo captured this amazing photo. I don’t know her, but if you do please let her know how profoundly this single photo has changed me.

ideous mother duck

When I saw it on Facebook, there was a comment attached: look closely.

This was important because all I saw was a hideous…something. I couldn’t imagine what this ugly thing was. It was something you would expect to see on the front of The National Inquirer, and I suspected it was photo-shopped. But I continued to look closely to see what the “punchline”was. I didn’t get it!

It wasn’t until I read through the comments that I realized it was a mother keeping her babies safely under her wings.

How adorable is that?! I thought about the amazing love, security and care that comes so instinctively to an animal. It was so touching. Then one reader made a connection to Psalm 91, so I checked it out. It begins:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

he will
Art.com “He Will” Framed Art Print by Bob Henley

 

I had one of those rare moments when my head and my heart were on the same page. This really doesn’t happen very often. I’ve spent most of my life feeling a great divide between what my head knows and what my heart feels – especially when it came to my perception of myself. And all too often, my feelings are very good at convincing my head that it was so very, very mistaken.

 

But not that day.

I finished reading Psalm 91:

Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

And I heard a still, small voice speak to the very core of my spirit: That’s how I love you. 

I have been thinking about this photo for a solid week now. I’ve also been thinking about the way I label the experiences I have in life – you know, this is good, this is bad. And my thoughts kept going back to this photo. I had to reconcile God’s love for me vs. my nearly constant anxiety over how things would work out (aka What am I going to do?!) I knew that my anxiety didn’t leave room for faith in my heavenly Father, but I just didn’t “get” it.

hemaytellyou know because he has a better yesI had been deciding what was “good” and what was “bad” according to my idea of what was good or bad. (I’ll be honest. My track record for good decisions isn’t very good.)

I was like the friends of of the man who’d won a great deal of money. Everyone told him how fortunate he was.

With that money, he bought one of the fastest sports cars available. As he was navigating this sweet ride around a mountain, he miscalculated a turn and crashed his car and suffered more than a few broken bones. His friends went to see him, took one look at the body cast and told him how unfortunate it was that he’d wrecked his car and now had a long hospital stay ahead of him.

Not long after he was hospitalized, his friends called to share the news that there had been a horrible tornado go through his hometown. If he’d been at home when it happened, he most certainly would have been among those who died. How fortunate for him that he’d been in the hospital at the time.

justmovingthepiecesWhat could happen if I trusted that my Father loves me, protects me and has a good plan for my life? What could happen if I gave up assigning labels to everything that happens based on whether its pleasant or unpleasant for me? What could happen if I stopped trying to figure out what God’s doing in my life and simply relax while he moves the pieces round – with his vision, his omniscience, his resources, his infinite timeline?

All too often, those moments in which I’ve thrown up my hands and cried, “I give up!” I’ve heard that same still, small voice respond, “It’s about time.” It’s not condemning or condescending or irritated. It’s gracious and patient. And so very loving.

God’s got me covered, but I’m sure it would be easier for both of us if I would just stop squirming.

 

 

MUSHROOMS AND OTHER THINGS I DON’T LIKE

I have a couple of things that I need to confess:

  • I ignore any recipe that requires mushrooms.
  • When I don’t like the first few pages of a book, I simply won’t read it.
  • I don’t care how sick I am, I will not take Alka Seltzer if it goes in a glass of water.
  • I take a pass on any devotionals that even hint at something I really don’t want to do. (You know the ones, right?)

im not arguingFor the most part, this list is pretty harmless, right?

Right?

Recently, I heard a story that is all too common today. Apparently, a passenger on a flight didn’t care to be seated next to a fat person, a fact she made abundantly clear to anyone near her. She had a belief paradigm in which fat people on a plane didn’t fit.

I came across another story along the same lines. (They’re not hard to find, folks!) This was a pretty transparent, well-articulated letter that highlighted the shame felt by most people who have ever been singled out and treated as “less than”.

It broke my heart. Not because it was written by an obese person or the fact that I understood all too well what it felt like to believe you were literally taking up more space than you should. It broke my heart because the treatment of the writer was both unkind and unnecessary.

As a person who likes to share every thought that pops into my head – and a few that take the express lane past the Does That Really Need to be Said? pit stop – I know how satisfying it can be to say whatever you think and how very hard it can be to hold your tongue. Just as every single teacher I had from Kindergarten through high school.

In fact, just last night, I was in a pretty foul mood after work, and my husband and daughter heard all about it when I got home.  When I decided it was time to stop ranting, some anger still sputtered out, much like the coffee machine does after it dispenses coffee. I grumbled, “I need to calm down. I want to write about kindness!” (I know! Right?)

they'd all be right
I’ve had this on my fridge for a long time! Guess which one is me.

Most of that post was ditched this morning when I began to consider that maybe what we don’t do is as important as what we do.

God is all about balance. Christ demonstrated that. Every time he healed someone, it was every bit as much about asking the religious leaders why He shouldn’t heal someone as the fact that someone’s mind and body should be restored. I have no doubt that some of them were what their culture would call ‘undeserving.’

If there’d been a show of hands for who in the crowd of 5,000 men (plus their wives and children) should be healed, “those people” wouldn’t have been healed. Jonah had a really hard time offering God’s compassion to “those people” in Ninevah. Today, we have a hard time offering God’s compassion to “those people” in our lives, don’t we?

And doesn’t it seem like there are a lot of “those people” in our lives? Our coworkers, the government, the customers at the grocery store, the drivers on the highway, the people we are connected to through social media…They’re everywhere, and they get on our last nerve!

What gives any of them the right to be treated kindly? To be shown compassion? To be forgiven?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Except God’s grace. The same grace that we are afforded. And before you think, “Well, I know I’m not perfect, but…”, think about all the times you’ve seen yourself get ugly about someone else. Yes, some times it is a righteous anger. But more often than not, it’s more about feeling justified.

We want what we want! We’ve grew up with the conveniences of refrigeration and automobiles – just two of the things that gave our families free time. Then we got fast food, and we got what we wanted right now. And then Burger King told us that we could have it our way. Today, social media allows us to create our very own truth bubble by subscribing to what we believe and blocking anything that doesn’t agree with our truth.

We are able to communicate with millions of people around the world and to access a ridiculous amounts of information, which we can customize to our liking. But instead of creating a sense of community with a variety of cultures by identifying the things we have in common, I think it creates a very egocentric mindset. If there’s something that doesn’t fit into our customized truth, we reject it. That doesn’t make us bad, though.

However, I suspect – and I could be wrong – that this customization lays the foundation for creating the culture of offense we have today. When I think my thoughts are better founded and my comforts are more important than someone else’s or my rights are superior to someone else’s, I can simply take offense. I become self-righteous. I begin to pick and choose who I will love, tolerate, affirm and forgive. That means that there are some of “those people” who won’t show up on my radar – because I eliminate them. It’s not something new, but now we’re able to dislike and disagree with people whom our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents didn’t have access to.

So what does this have to do with recipes with mushrooms and books? I’ll tell you tomorrow. Feel free to type your guess in the comments below!

 

YOU HAVE AMAZING THINGS TO DO!

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

~Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

I’ve always liked that passage. At the very least, it’s encouraging. At the very most, it’s permission.

I know it sounds strange that grown, mature adults would need permission, doesn’t it? But consider what the opposite of permission looks like? I’ll show you.

Picture this: A college freshman is at a car dealership, narrowing down her choices first by price range, then by the only thing a college freshman would think was important – the cuteness factor. The only choices left are an adorable little sunshine-yellow sports car or an imposing Chrysler Newport. The budding relationship between girl and auto was rudely interrupted by her mother.

“We’re big people. We need a big car.” said the woman who’d never owned or driven a car in her life. Or been a college freshman!

Apparently, Lesson 1 in Auto Shopping 101 was: Make sure everyone can shove their big butts into it.

That was a very (very) long time ago, but I don’t think I’ve made a single decision since then that didn’t account for the size of my body. To this day, I am uncomfortable anywhere small-ish. I’ve often defined myself and limited my ambitions by my size.

We all have at least a bit of that in us.  It may not be your size. It might be your height, you academic aptitude, finances, your gender, the color of your skin.

I’ve participated in workshops where the speaker asks, “If money was no object and success was guaranteed, what would you do with your life?” And the thing is that I still see myself trying to squeeze into a cute little sports car. I just can’t imagine myself without limits.

I want to share something with you, and I don’t share this to get a pat on the back. It’s just to show the disconnect in my perception of myself.

god is already workingI’ve always loved words and spelling came easy to me. When I was in Grades 6 through 8, I competed in spelling bees and did fairly well.

When I was in the 8th Grade, I accidentally discovered that in spite my absolute fear of speaking in front of an audience, I had a real aptitude for it. Who knew? I spent my high school years in competitive speech and debate. I earned the highest level of recognition the National Forensic League offered at that time, lettered in Forensics and competed at the state level three years in four events.

When my first daughter was born, I had the opportunity to go back to school. Instead of returning to college, I opted for the Vo-Tech in town. That’s where I served as the president for our local chapter of Business Professionals of America, the state Vice President and the national Secretary-Treasurer. (Did you spot the trend? Yes, I’d peaked at the local level.)

The night of the ceremonies, I placed 1st in one of my events, 2nd in the other and became the second member from Kansas to be elected to a national office. (It. was. awesome!) I had given my campaign speech in front of an audience of almost 4,000 people. I was the only candidate hadn’t use note cards or the podium. My instructor was later mortified when I told her I’d gone in front of my peers with nothing more than a sketchy outline of a speech in my head.

Ten years ago, Chicken Soup for the Soul bought the only story I’d ever written with the intent of being published. This year, my second. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to get my very own book published. I’d love to be able to turn the broken pieces of my life into a stained glass vision of God’s grace, his favor, and his power. It would be a shame to waste all that trauma and drama, don’t you think? Do I expect myself to get such a book published? Can a fat girl squeeze her butt into a cute little yellow sports car? I have no idea, because I never tried it. I bought the Newport that day. I didn’t even test drive the smaller car.

There are three take-away’s from this.

  • I really don’t know how to say ‘No.’
  • I settle for a big car too often.
  • God has a plan for me whether I’m on board or not.

blown gods planDuring those years, I didn’t even acknowledge God. At the age of 12, I’d accepted Christ as my savior, collected my get-out-of-hell-free card, and went around doing my own thing.

Just remember that God’s going to do what God wants to do. And while he waits for us to surrender ourselves, he keeps busy.

So many of us, though, are the man Jesus met at the healing pool who had been crippled for many years.

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked him.

The beggar never said “Yes.” Jesus healed him anyway because he had compassion. But the beggar had come to identify himself as broken, needy, helpless and dependent. He had no concept of what he would do if money were no object and success was guaranteed.

He simply wasn’t that guy. (You know…that guy.)

God has used so many of his children who couldn’t see themselves the way God saw them. Moses argued that he wasn’t good with words. Abraham and Sarah reminded God that they were beyond fertile years. Jonah? Well, Jonah had his own issues.

How did their stories end? Very simply, God got his way.

disney impossibleWe seldom grasp how the kingdom of God works. God’s all about doing the impossible, using resources that we don’t have access to. He’s about  and what’s on the other side of the wall.

We are his creations, and by limiting ourselves, our potential, and we’re limiting God.

Our lives aren’t about what we can do. They’re about what God can do with us. When God speaks, things happen!

Think about the beggar by the pool. When he was healed, he was suddenly able to walk, to get a job that used his particular talents, to become a valuable part of his community, to meet a woman who would love him and raise children with him.

Or he might have hung out at the market, doing nothing more than telling everyone why he can’t work because he used to be a cripple.

We don’t know what he did, but what a waste it would have been to not do something with the potential that Christ loosed in him with a touch and a word!

Isaiah 55:11 tells us “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

child

This is the same word that created the impossibly intricate detail of our bodies. The way it heals itself, the way blood flows through it, the way it regenerates itself – they’re all on autopilot because God set them in motion with a word.

This is the same word that called this planet into being – all on auto pilot.

This is the same word that called you by name and created you in your mother’s womb, imprinting his purpose in your spirit.

People say children don’t come with an instruction manual. Actually, they do. God has a copy of it, but he doesn’t let us read it because he has seen what happens when we have brilliant ideas and try to help him. Crayon marks, highlighted sentences and corrections in red ink everywhere!

So the big question is this: If money was no object and success was guaranteed, what would you do with your life? Are you willing to at least test drive a cute little yellow sports car?

Go ahead! What are you waiting for?

 

 

WINTER OF MY DISCONTENT

watercolor snowmanAh, winter! Mugs of hot cocoa, long walks along snow-kissed streets. And snowflakes! Winter’s butterflies. Did you know that we are like snowflakes? Yes, each one of us unique. And, like snowflakes, alone we can do little but together we can do so much.

Like create avalanches.

When I wrote about the value, nay beauty, of seasons, I was apparently only really appreciating Fall. A close second would be spring, with Summer and Winter coming in last in a close tie.

Fall is the season I enjoy most. But right now there’s winter. Still.

Sure the first snowfall is beautiful, but eventually the pure, untouched blanket of snow get scarred with the soles of boots, tire tracks, and shovels. Snowmen melt, but not until they look like dirty vagrants stalking our neighborhoods. Sometimes the snow doesn’t have a chance to melt before another snow comes along and then you just have a lot of snow. Ice and freezing temperatures become hazards. There is no color and everything looks dead. The streets narrow, you have a hard time fitting you and your winter coat behind the steering wheel, the cold forces you indoors, and it never seems to end.

winter bucket listAt times like this, it’s hard to remember that nature has a way of using winter. Nature has a plan for winter. So do merchants.

I don’t.

And lists like this one? They eventually give way to more practical things like paying the bills and buying a car to replace the one I wrecked when I spun out on ICE!

Don’t get me wrong! I hate summer as much as I do winter, so I’m a equal opportunity season bigot. I just prefer seasons that have color and allow for some movement. I like seasons that appear to be doing something, and winter doesn’t appear to be doing anything.

And I wonder when this season will end. Where I live, the snow is actually melting away without being replenished on a steady basis. You’d think that would warm my stone-cold heart, right? Not so much, because what is there when the snow melts but layers of dead leaves that we weren’t able to get raked up before the snow came to stay this year; the same leaves that will be there to deal with in the spring.

When I wonder when the frustrations in my life will end, I see the unfinished work that’s still there to do and see the constancy of things in my life that seem to accumulate exponentially – the bills, the aches and pains, the debt, the house repairs – and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Like my yard, I could remove a layer of snow, but there’s still a blanket of leaves beneath it. And beneath that blanket is an uneven yard that will grow crabgrass because it hasn’t been properly cared for.

joy in the morningBut God has a promise.

But I feel as though I’ve been waiting a lifetime to see the incomparable joy that He promises. And it seems like just when I think things are going to improve, something else sets me back.

I know that God has a purpose in our pain and that He never promised that we’d see His joy during the time we inhabit our bodies on Earth. I even realize that when the next blessing comes along, I will sheepishly admit that God is faithful – always.

Still, it would be nice to have more than one thing be counted joy at the same time. Too often, I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of negotiation and compromise, getting one thing only to have something taken away – everything kept in balance so that I can be neither “ahead” or “behind.”

347d9a1bbc9d1d09543b4f8d1a5cd490I’m also aware that if I measure my joy by how many operable cars I have or how many bills I can pay off, then I’m using the wrong measuring stick and assuming that God doesn’t care for me when He really does.

Still, it would be nice to just relax in a soft over-sized chair with some warm socks, a fire, a hot cup of cocoa and a good book as it sit by a window and watch the snow gently fall.

For a while, anyway.

Perhaps it will be in that quiet that I will hear whispered, “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

WHAT IS TRUTH?

img_4770This morning, I  turned on my phone and found this amazing photo. I love the colors and the way the light seems to emanate from its center! And the best part was the caption: In the heart of Maui’s forest. (Or something like that. Honestly, I absolutely cannot remember where I found it now and can’t confirm it’s full title and cannot remember what app it was in. If it’s yours, let me know and I will make amends. Really!)

After taking in its beauty and appreciating the fact that this photo was taken somewhere exotic, I thought, with some disappointment, that it was very likely Photoshopped.

Not to worry! When I was in school, I learned about a little something called “suspension of disbelief.” This allowed me to accept that this may not be an authentic representation of the sun burning through a tree in the heart of a forest in Maui.

Furthermore, I realized that the photo could have been of the sun burning through a tree in a field in Idaho, and I couldn’t prove otherwise. And that was fine with me because I enjoyed the photo so much that I was willing to accept that I’d been misinformed. After all, a photo of a tree in Idaho wasn’t much to get excited about, and who would really expect that such a wonder could be found in Idaho anyway.

So what it came down to was this: I had a picture that I liked and truly could enjoy it independent of it’s actual setting. And there was absolutely no harm in that. If I show it to people, they’ll get the same story you just got. I don’t really know and I don’t really care; I like it anyway.

But where does that suspension of disbelief stop being not only appropriate, but also irresponsible and unacceptable? I thought back a few months to a photo I saw on Twitter of a child crying behind a fence, apparently another victim of the current administration. The caption below it referred to a specific event. One reader shared her indignation over the situation, probably securing it as a truth that she would share at the water cooler at work the next day. The next reader, however, pointed out that the caption to the photo was incorrect. The photo actually was from a similar event under a Democratic administration.

Personally, if I were as educated about politics as I probably should be, and if I wanted to debate the issue (which I don’t!), this would be a significant determination to make. Very simply, it doesn’t matter enough to me to go to Snopes and verify it. (That is, if Snopes can still be trusted to be accurate.) What I found interesting, though, was the next reader’s comment to the naysayer: “It doesn’t matter.”

It didn’t matter to that reader that the photo and caption didn’t go together. He was so  incensed by the current administration that he was willing to accept and support this post as true – in spite of facts that proved it was false. Nor did he seem inclined to offer anything to confirm his position. Suspension of disbelieve was apparently effective for him in political matters, as well.

I think this is where suspension of disbelief needs to reach its limit.

We have an unbelievable amount of information available to us in a moment! Want to prove that Mary Ann and the professor were not mentioned in the original theme song for Gilligan’s Island? Just go to your phone while you wait for your appetizers at Applebee’s. (By the way, they weren’t.)

When I was in school, the access to information was limited and it took a weekend at the library to just get your sources for a paper. But at least there seemed to be some agreement in our sources. It made high school debate far easier than I imagine it would be today. Today, competitive debate must be a frustrating matter of validating the authenticity of a source and its authority on a matter as much as actually convincing the judge that your point is valid.

We can no longer accept that something is true just because it’s been written or said. Nor can we accept that the source is valid and qualified. Imagine Kim Kardashian telling everyone on Twitter that eating too much yogurt was bad for your health. Now, if she wanted to convince everyone of the advantages and disadvantages of bubble butts and having children with a rap star, I’d be willing to listen – if I were interested.

I believe we have a great burden to be discerning about the information we accept as truth and at least determine the value we give it. We also have a responsibility when we choose to share this information as truth. Are you sharing a pretty photo with honest disqualification or are you sharing a photo with an incorrect caption of crying children with everyone you know and suggesting that the current administration is just like the government who designed and carried out a massive genocide?

The Twitter commentator was wrong. It does matter.

1df3c18682ea9f107605b56d7bd2b703At the trial of Christ, Pilate said, “What is truth?” To a child of God, truth becomes infinitely more important. Suspend your disbelief to enjoy a pretty picture or enjoy a science fiction movie. Choose to believe unqualified and unsubstantiated political facts if you want. But for the Christian, truth is clear and non-negotiable. It cannot be bent or compromised.

And this is a scary place to be. Religion is rife with misunderstanding, poor translations, socially misused quotes. We’ve grown up hearing that money is the root of all evil, which is ironic because Jesus talked about money quite a bit in the New Testament, advising us to be wise in the use of money and means to prosperity – enough so that some preachers have made a lot of money selling books on how to claim your own prosperity in the name of Jesus. In fact, the Word tells us in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” The bottom line: Money is fine. Making money is fine. Using money is fine. Just be careful about how you feel about having money.

right and almost rightChrist was was very clear about truth. In John 14:6  Jesus declared,“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The way is narrow, the price of entry was high but paid in full by Christ. And entry is difficult: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25 NIV. And, no, this doesn’t negate the point I made about money earlier. It’s simply that someone will not enter the kingdom of God with wealth – unless he believes that Christ is who he says he is – the Son of God. And God has a lot to say about what we meditate on, how we’re to live and what we should believe.

In keeping with the topic of ambiguity, I offer this:

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Ironically, there’s a great deal of debate as to who said this. It’s up to us to be discerning. Do the research, check your sources, question everything if necessary.

And if you want to enjoy a picture whether or not it’s altered and if you want to embrace a political opinion regardless of documentation, go ahead! That’s on you. Just be cautious when it comes to the things you believe and embrace when it comes to the kingdom of God because the truth matters.

 

 

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?

It’s Christmas time, and like most people, I’ve been reflecting on the birth of Christ. As I look at the nativity sets sprinkled around town, my thoughts go to the girl on the donkey with the round belly.

fc1dc23cda80252b3976a8067df956beCan you picture it? Mary is full-term and ready to deliver. She and Joseph get into town only to find that there are no vacancies. She’s ridden on the back of a donkey for over 90 miles. Her baby is kicking inside her. Contractions have taken her breath a few times. And her water may have broken while Joseph was trying to find a place to stay.

This was probably the most physically and emotionally draining thing she’d ever done in her short life. Son of God or not, Mary was not exempt from labor pains. Mary still had to puuuuush to get the King of Kings into the world. His divinity did nothing to make this delivery any easier than her future deliveries. (And little did Mary know it, but a little boy was going to stop by and play on a drum for the baby; most likely right after she got Jesus to sleep.)

Delivering Immanuel was probably a great relief to this girl.

The night Christ was born, God reached down to relieve the rest of the world as well.

“Let me get that for you,” He said. Although it didn’t come in a thunderous voice from Heaven; it came as a healthy cry Christ would let out as He filled His human lungs with air for the first time. With the birth of Jesus, God offered to relieve all of humanity from the weight of sin and he offered to take the weight of our yoke and bear it Himself in return for His yoke, which is light.

The wait was over. God was with us.

This is the place where I usually stop. The pregnancy is over! God did the miraculous. In a few days, Christmas will be finished and 2018 will come to an end.

But this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning! The beginning of the end.

battle is not yours

Jesus didn’t come to us so our kids could wear sheep and shepherd costumes for Christmas pageants. His birth was the beginning of the endgame in the spiritual battle against Satan.

The baby Mary held in her arms was the revelation of God Himself.

He would be our High Priest, who would sympathize with all the weaknesses of our humanity.

He would be our Intercessor and our Deliverer.

He would be the only perfect sacrifice God could accept.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17, NIV)

We can’t look upon the baby king without seeing His sacrifice on the cross.

5e70aa695fcff25dbb8ce06c3b6cf1241 John 3:8 tells us, “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

Satan didn’t underestimate the significance of Christ’s birth. He didn’t see a tiny, vulnerable baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. He saw the fulfillment of countless prophesies. He recognized the divinity of Christ and the fruition of God’s infallible word. Satan and his legion can be regarded in many ways, but they weren’t stupid. They’d had free rein for a long time, but their time was up and they knew better than anyone what came next. Jesus’s first cry that night was a battle cry.

Do you hear what I hear?

And Then What?

A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew pictures. Occasionally, she would walk around the room to see each child’s work.

“What are you drawing?” she asked one little girl who was working diligently at her desk.

The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.”

The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”

The little girl replied, “They will in a minute.”

God must think we’re kind of funny when we try to identify Him or his plans. Or figure out what the platypus is.

I remember several years ago that someone contemplated the vastness of the universe. Imagine, they pondered, that we live in a solar system that we barely know anything about. That solar system is part of a galaxy. In fact, it’s one of several galaxies. And the universe is all of the galaxies. So…you’d think that somewhere out – at the end of all of that – is…a wall. Right?

The question, then, is…What’s on the other side of the wall?

The “other side of the wall” is the stuff that I think God is all about. We have those things we can examine and may some day be able to identify, label, and categorize. But what about the stuff on the “other side of the wall”?

People had ideas of what Messiah would sound like, look like, act like.

Do you think they expected their deliverer to be raised in the home of a carpenter – or in the home of a soldier or politician?

Do you think they expected him to “slum it” with lepers, Samaritans and tax collectors – or with society’s elite?

Do you think they expected him to actually encourage his brothers and sisters to walk the extra mile for the army that oppressed them – or to overturn that same government, to begin an insurrection? 

Do you think they expected him to go to his crucifixion without a hearing or a single protest – or to defend himself and finally rise up to make his stand?

Do you think they expected him to come back to life after three days in the grave?

Now, that is the stuff God’s about! That mind-blowing, are-you-serious, how-is-that-even-possible stuff is absolutely what God is all about. 

The Hebrews knew the stories of God’s miracles and deliverance – the exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, Sarah’s conception of Issac, crazy Noah and his ark, David’s unlikely defeat of Goliath. But even then, they were determined to fit God into a man-designed box. Just like we do today, they considered very human, very limited ways that Messiah would – or could – come to them.

But Messiah didn’t come in a box. He came in a womb.

baby jesus.jpg
“Immanuel…God With Us”

Now, that’s outside the box! But outside the box is exactly what we need because we’re not fighting a war that’s “inside the box.” The war is not about the possession of land or resources.

The battle is for our souls, for eternity.

lion reflected in sword

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

And the battle?

But as it is written: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)

Like nothing we’ve seen before or can possibly imagine with our five senses and limited imaginations.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. 

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

But how unbelievable is it that God would come to us as a baby – vulnerable and dependent, yet so very embraceable.

God came down to be embraced. (And if that’s not love, I don’t know what is.)

So what has God got planned for us? When he makes a way where there seems to be no way, what will it look like? If it’s like nothing we’ve seen before, if it’s a new thing, it’s going to make the platypus appear logical and mundane. It will have colors and scents that we can’t imagine because we’ve never seen them or smelled them! It will be the stuff on the other side of the cosmic wall, and it will take our breath away and feel like home at the same time.

And I have a feeling that God is looking forward to seeing the look on our face when we see it.

I Can’t Do This!

My daughter brought home a doll that would be her “daughter” for the next three nights and two days. Her name was August. Things didn’t go well for either Maggie or August. Or for Maggie’s cat, Mickey. The poor guy was beside himself with worry whenever baby August cried, which was often enough.

Around two hours into her Child Development assignment, Maggie had lost some of the tenacity that makes her so amazing. She didn’t know what to do with the crying doll. She couldn’t figure it out and she couldn’t fix it. (To her credit, I should disclose right now that the baby hadn’t been programmed correctly.)

“I can’t do this!” she cried.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried those same words or something that sounds like them. I’m a grown woman who’s gone through a whole lot more than three hours of intermittent crying from a baby. I don’t say that to minimize Maggie’s anxiety but to say that – like most of us – I can completely empathize with her.

I remembered the fearless little toddler who had once wobbled and fallen her way to successful walking. This was the same girl who tested a single stair step one day and conquered the other 12 within two days like a boss. My heart broke for her, and I was a bit surprised. This girl is pretty fierce, yet she was buckling under the pressure to “fix” her baby.

My first instinct was to take the baby from her to make it better. That’s what a parent does, right?

ce0b26eb3b3971ff9ee63aa296fc3780Our Heavenly Father feels the same way towards His children as we feel toward our children. He wants so badly for us to let Him make things better for ourselves.

That’s why He invites us to cast all our cares on Him.

That’s why He sent His one and only Son to pay for our sins and secure a permanent home with Him.

That’s why there are so many verses in the Bible telling us to not be afraid.

That’s why He reminds us again and again that He will go before us to make a way where there seems to be no way. He knows the number of hairs on our head and every desire of our heart.

That’s why he keeps pouring out grace and forgiveness every single time we need it.

God doesn’t expect us to handle everything alone. Max Lucado illustrated puts it this way:

“When a father leads his four-year-old son down a crowded street, he takes him by the hand and says, ‘Hold on to me.’ He doesn’t say, ‘Memorize the map’ or ‘Take your chances dodging the traffic’ or ‘Let’s see if you can find your way home.’ The good father gives the child one responsibility: ‘Hold on to my hand.’God does the same with us.”

I3ec4b43543db428aef9763cbff0c0ecbn fact our weakness serves at least three valuable purposes:

God is a loving father, but we must recognize that the gospel is about His kingdom, His plans, His glory. God holds our hand and doesn’t abandon us; but He does so because He has a divine and perfect plan that has already been spoken into existence. It can not and will not fail – even if we might.

Does that mean that we’re merely simple-minded sheep? No. We’re valuable, beloved sheep. We’re the kind of sheep who are cared for, searched for, comforted and guided by the most loving Shepherd we could ever hope for. He knows each and every one of our needs and is never surprised by circumstances. But if we managed everything ourselves, having no need of Him, the glory would be ours, gained through our own strength and wisdom.

In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom drew this powerful portrait of a caring father:

“Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam-when do I give you your ticket?”
I sniffed a few times, considering this.
“Why, just before we get on the train.”
“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie.”

So the next time you find yourself crying, “I can’t do this!” remember that you are not alone. Our Father already has the map and the ticket for our journey! Just trust Him to get you there safely. And try to relax and enjoy the trip!

father and child hand

AND STILL I RISE

Getting up can be a much bigger deal than we think, really. Essentially, the physical act of getting up is a matter of defying gravity, isn’t it? When I think of it that way, it seems like a really big deal! We seldom think of it, though, because we do it all day long – we rise from bed, from a chair, from the floor. Toddlers are forever getting back up!

So when do we become conscious of the mechanics of getting up, of rising?

When it gets hard and takes more strength than we think we have – in the way Andra Day sings about in “I’ll Rise Up.”

Age, long hours and illness can make it a physical challenge to get back up. Anxiety, depression, high expectations, loss, and disappointment can make it an emotional challenge.img_4464

But sometimes there is something especially inspirational and profound in getting back up again. Our lives aren’t always as dramatic as a boxer’s, where a win is dependent upon getting up after being knocked down for the count while “Eye of the Tiger” plays in the background, but rising can be just as challenging and every bit as vital. And equally powerful

Our story may not be as beautifully worded as Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, but it’s inspiritational just the same. After all, it’s our story!

As I’ve mentioned before, I belong to two different Facebook groups – one for survivors of aortic dissections, which I joined after surviving my own ascending aortic dissection, and one for survivors of CPTSD/PTSD. I’ve been fascinated by how much they overlap. Those in the group dealing with health issues are also dealing with some serious emotional challenges,  and those in the group dealing with emotional issues are also dealing with their share of health issues. What they seem to share most is a sense being alone and feeling quite weary.

So many members of these two groups feel like no one really “gets” their struggle, and they are aware that their recovery, their moving forward, is in fact an individual effort. Others can sympathize, empathize, encourage and support, but the journey of getting back up is ultimately their own.

Still, I know those feelings aren’t unique to these groups. I don’t think any of us have gotten through life without getting knocked down a time or two. Some of us come from a long line of people who have been knocked down and have fought hard to rise up. Some of us have gone through seasons of challenge in spite of every privilege and benefit the world has afforded us. Difficulty is no respecter of wealth, beauty, education, age, gender or ethnicity.

The apostle Peter knew a bit about difficulties, and yet he passed on this promise:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  1 Peter 5:10-11

How could he be so certain of God’s grace? Because he’d experienced it. Jesus still loved him and called him after Peter denied knowing him. Jesus pulled him from the roaring waves the moment Peter cried out for help.

Peter is telling us that, yes, we will suffer. But! By the grace of God, we can rise up…again and again and again.LBG2015Thrill-of-hope-01.jpg

But even before that, Jesus had been born Emmanuel, God with us. That was God’s descent. And how glorious His rising was! In His descent, the weary – like you and me – were given hope. In his rising, we were redeemed. It is by His grace and the strength it affords us that we can always rise again. God has plans for you, fighter. You may be down, but don’t you dare stay down!

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