Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Movement

Now and again there is a personal question that just seems impossible to answer, whether it is because the question is too emotionally charged, too complex or you just really don't know! Recently I have been asked frequently how I am doing with my recent move. As simple as that question seems, I have had the hardest time answering! Movement is complicated. Movement by its own nature is unresolved. And... I am still in movement.

The beautiful thing about movement led by God is that it is an act of trust, and trust always draws us closer to Him. Moving from California to small-town Arkansas is a challenge to say the least. There is a letting go of many beautiful and meaningful things and people. But as I am moving into this place of obedience, listening and dependence that movement necessarily brings, I am sensing a deeper, wider well of the Spirit's wisdom and pull.  There is a serenity as I gaze into that well in the midst of the movement, and there is an awareness that God is doing things that I do not yet know.  He has purposes I did not know I needed. And for that, I am so thankful.

As difficult as movement is, it is a gift, but only if we ride on the wings of the Spirit.

"Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary." Isaiah 40:31

As we wait on Him, we move in His strength. As we hope in Him, and gaze into that deep well of majesty and wisdom, He sends us up with wings like eagles and moves us along in ways we would never have imagined. The waiting, hoping, looking deeply is a discipline in stillness and love and must be an intentional part of the movement. It is easy to move so quickly and "efficiently" that we miss His voice and openness along the way. God is opening up new depths to us all the time, and seasons of movement offer an invitation to see Him and know Him in new ways. Let us not miss that, because it is the most beautiful thing in the world...

So, in answer to your question... I don't know! But I am enjoying His companionship along the way.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Falling Forward

I saw someone from my past today. Someone who, when I look at them, I see my failure. Maybe it's different for others, but for me, failure has always been a four letter word. As I look back on my life I realize that for the longest time the majority of my decisions were motivated at least in part to reduce the chances of failure or, at least, the chances that others would see it. Eventually though, my humanity caught up with me, and there came a time in my life where not only did I fail, but I was brought very very low. My failure turned into a season in which all my attempts at overcoming my weakness and sinfulness resulted in continued brokenness. God did redeem this time and brought amazing growth, grace and intimacy with him as a result. However, the reverberations of this failure continue to sound in my heart and life. The process has been beautiful and painful. I am intrigued by it.

I was listening to a book on leadership recently, and the author was addressing the topic of failure. I listened intently, gravitated towards a truth that changed my attitude towards my own failures. It should be simple. Something I should have known years ago, but I did not. The truth was this: Failure is a prerequisite to leadership. If you wish to succeed and lead others you must first fail, not once, but over and over again. This author argues that if we are not failing, it means we are not doing anything worthwhile. Failure is the stepping stone to success and is to be expected for anyone who wants to do anything significant. He says that not only should we tolerate failure, but that failure should be embraced as a means of learning and growth.

I guess intellectually I would have said, "sure, of course failure is normal and leads to our growth," but that is not what my heart and life said. To have a positive attitude towards failure was a foreign concept to me. Rather, in the midst of failure, and for years after, I condemned myself and others for the brokenness. Even as I write this I can hear someone say, "You're just condoning sin to make yourself feel better!" No... I know sin is serious and that its effects are disastrous. I live it every day. But what a difference it has made in my heart to know that my goal is not the absence of failure, but to know that when failure comes, the goal is to fail well by embracing it and using it as an opportunity to learn. Failure does not mean I am despicable. It means I am human. It means I am loved. It means the Father is doing two things: He is covering me with the righteousness of  Christ, and He is using my failure to bring about something AMAZING!

I am still waiting to see the fullness of the beauty God is bringing out of that aforementioned season of failure. The pain I experienced and caused still pains me, but now I know that God is bringing something beautiful out of it. Rather than running from it, I can embrace the failure and ask, "God, what can I learn from this and what can you do through it?" His grace does not just cover my shame. It gives me a righteousness, power and blessed future that extends into eternity. All of my failures will be caught up into that future as a beautiful part of his redemptive story, not a single hour misplaced or lost, but everything made whole.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mercy, mercy

Luke 6:27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." 


Growing up, I heard a lot of teaching about the gift of Mercy defined as "being able to sense the feelings in the room" or "charitable work such as helping the poor and sick" or "having compassion for people who are hurting." I think we see a little bit of all of that in Scripture's examples of mercy, but really, that picture of mercy is much easier than the mercy I see in Scripture. As far as I can tell, mercy in Scripture is rarely just a feeling but is almost always accompanied by an action that demonstrates mercy to someone who would be otherwise condemned.


I was at a prayer meeting last night and felt God saying he was going to deepen my power to show mercy to those who had hurt me and to bring healing to people who are hurting. I thought, "Cool! I really need more mercy, and I love healing people!" Well, this morning, God made it clear that being given the gift of Mercy is not just warm fuzzy feelings. It is being given the power to show mercy to people, in action and heart, who I would otherwise condemn. I had these grand visions of myself showing mercy to and embracing sinners when everyone else was judging them... their defender... their advocate... their restorer... And then God said, "Ok, now go show mercy, in that same way, to the people who have hurt YOU. Today." Oy... That vision doesn't seem so grand now... This isn't an abstract concept of feeling sorry for people I barely know who are in a mess but have done me no harm. No. Mercy exists for those who have harmed us and who could never undo the harm.


The passage above is a description of what mercy is like. Doing good to those who hurt you. Treating your enemies as friends. Withholding judgment and condemnation and being generous instead. All throughout the Bible we are told of God's mercy on us. The heart of mercy is showing goodness, acceptance and forgiveness to those who could never repay us back and who deserve to be condemned. In Mt 18 in the parable of the merciful master we see mercy portrayed as the master forgiving a debt that he knows will never be repayed. The servant says, "just give me time! I'll repay it!" But the master knows this is impossible so he erases the debt instead, like what God has done for us. Titus 3:5 reminds us that "he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." Mercy is never deserved. It is given because the person receiving it lacks something, and it does what they cannot do. When Jesus healed the sick, the people would say, "Jesus, have mercy on me!" They did not say, "I am a good person. You are obligated to heal me now." No, they asked for mercy. Essentially they were saying, "I have nothing, no means for healing, no other hope. You are my only hope, and I do not deserve it. I am asking for your mercy. Please help me or I am lost!" Jesus always responded to a cry for mercy with a touch of healing, forgiveness of sins, restoration and acceptance. Not once did he respond with judgment, condemnation or rejection.  He brought them in.   

So what does this mean for us? It means that when someone harms us in a way that can never be repaired, taken back, or repaid, we show mercy. We acknowledge that the person who harmed us does not deserve mercy, just as we don't, and it is because of this that they need our mercy all the more. It means we give to that person what they could never earn and remove their condemnation. Even more, just like in Titus 3:5, it means bringing healing and renewal where before there was brokenness and need. 

This morning for me it meant treating a person (or persons) as if they had never sinned. The way God treats me... It meant embracing that person again, a generous conversation, the removal of condemnation in my eyes and the giving of acceptance and protection once again. Giving healing. 

Mercy is not easy, and sometimes it hurts. Jesus suffered an excruciating death in order to show mercy to us, to treat us as if we had never sinned. And he suffered to show mercy to the person who harmed us too... Far from being unjust, mercy is a reminder that whatever that person did to us has been paid for by Jesus, that he received the punishment for it already, so that now we are free to show mercy instead. Mercy is not easy, and sometimes it hurts... but it always brings healing, and the reward is amazing: the same in return.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." 


Friday, September 6, 2013

A Little Like Flying

"Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
'My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God'?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.... 
But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:27,28,31

I was sitting the other day marveling at why I don't need to be worried about my future. One by one I was listing all the things that God knows and sees. He knows what my retirement will be like. He knows who I will or won't marry. He knows what ministry I will be doing in two years. He knows my heart, how I feel, what I think about and care about. He knows the hearts of the people around me. He knows what my next job will be. He knows everything that will happen tomorrow. He knows whether or not I will make it home safely today. And not only does he know all these things, but he cares about me! "So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows." Mt.10:31 

When I forget this amazing truth I begin to worry about what will happen and to stress over decisions I make. I unintentionally start believing and acting as if my way were "hidden from the Lord" or as if I were "disregarded by my God." But it is not, and I am not... He knows, he cares, and he is always at work. This is what gives me the ability to wait. When all my decisions and plans seem foggy, I can sit contentedly waiting and trusting, or I can walk or run, even without direction, because I know that though I cannot see through the fog, the one who created my path AND the fog sees far beyond the road I'm on. He sees me at the finish line, with him, walking me home. He knows where my feet will land. So... whereas waiting is usually very frustrating to me, right now I'm quite enjoying the newness of each moment spent just trusting God for my next step as my foot meets the ground. Real trust actually makes the waiting fun. It's very freeing! A little like flying...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Whisper

There's a hummingbird outside my window. It is like a whisper of God to my soul. Years ago, another hummingbird created in me a longing for its lightness and freedom, as it flitted about, wings beating 1500 times/minute, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. Its body is a machine of power, speed and beauty, and yet, as I watched it, it seemed as light and easy as a dandelion in the wind. That day I prayed that God would make me as joyful and light as that little bird.

Today, a word was spoken to me. A wounded bird, with a broken wing, longing to fly, work and be strong, but unable to move. "Your healing will come," the word said, "but for now, rest."

For several months now, my hummingbird has visited me almost every morning as I pray and read scripture by my ceiling to floor windows, overlooking the skyscapers of San Diego. Where on earth this hummingbird came from I could not say. But he comes, feeding on the nectars of a pine tree in between my building and the apartments next to mine. I thank God he found it because he speaks to me of rest, joy and life. A reminder from God that my healing will come. That the joy I long for is in His hands.

Life... It makes me think of Elijah, the great prophet who called down fire from heaven and wowed the nations with the power of God... and then ran like a frightened child from an angry queen. (1 Kings 19) What happens in the life of a prophet, or leader, that changes that confidence in the greatness and goodness of God, to a fear and depression that cripples one's ability to even listen to the same God? There could be a million answers, but look at God's response to Elijah: "Rest." Even as he runs away, God does not rebuke him, but heals him through provision, rest and whispers. Elijah sleeps, in the middle of nowhere, exhausted. An angel touches him and brings him food. Elijah sleeps again, and again the angel touches him and gives him food saying, "the journey is too much for you." Elijah regains his strength physically but continues to run, straight to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. Again, God descends, not with words of condemnation or telling him to go back, but with a question: What are you doing here? Twice he asks Elijah this question, accepting Elijah's condition while drawing him close and inviting him to think about his heart. "What are you afraid of...? Think about it... Look at me," He says. Elijah is depressed, discouraged... the words of the angel ring true in his soul... "the journey is too much for you." And God sees his soul. Twice God invites him to speak, and then listens. Just listens. Wow... God listened. And then he healed. Before confronting Elijah's doubt, speaking truth, or giving a command, God invites Elijah into his presence, saying, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Elijah doesn't need a Bible lesson or a rebuke, a command or a promise even. He needs an encounter with a loving God! He has seen God's power. Now he needs God's whisper to his soul.  A place of healing in God's presence.

God knows... He knows we are tired. He knows that, like Elijah, sometimes the pain and fear of this world suck out the life and joy from our souls and all we want to do is literally curl up under a bush and die. Sometimes He responds by setting us back on our feet and rebuking our doubt like he did to Peter. But sometimes... he lets us sleep. And He touches us, feeds us, listens to us and whispers. Those whispers are life. They are God Himself holding your soul, saying, "You are not alone. I am real, I am here, and I am for you. I am not just for your ministry, I am for you." God knows when it is time to rest, and He will be there with you. It is ok to rest. Where is the mountain where you hear the whisper? Maybe it's time to go there for a while, until God passes by and gives you life again.

God eventually did send Elijah back, but He also saw what Elijah needed. He did not send him back alone, but gave him a partner. Actually He gave him a whole team of helpers, along with a vision of new hope for what God had done and would do that Elijah could not see before. Many would say that Elijah's flight was weak, faithless and would be seen as shameful in our ministry culture today. Still, nowhere in the account do we see a hint of condemnation or anger from God. All we see is nearness, mercy, rest and restoration. There are times in our lives when all we need is rest as God touches our souls as we sleep and whispers his love and hope into our ears. This is my rest, and I am so thankful that I have a God who knows my weakness and my need and meets me right there, with a hummingbird in my window and whispers in my soul.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joy in Suffering - The decision to trust

Real trust only happens when the relationship is challenged.

A couple of years ago I remember praying for God to teach me to have joy in suffering. (See this post from 2010. Though I don't have this mastered by any means, I have begun to taste what that can be like. And what I am discovering is that joy comes through trust.

I have an amazing friend who has suffered in life in ways I can't even imagine. When I met her she was depressed, hopeless, anxious, on the verge of divorce, destructive to herself and her family. Through many long conversations and God-arranged circumstances, she came to trust Jesus as her hope, love and salvation. In one of those conversations she was seeking my advice because she was afraid her husband was having an affair. He had been unfaithful in the past and she was racked by constant worry that he was doing it again. She was thinking of scheme after scheme to catch him in the act and saying that she just could not trust him. In a moment of clarity I said, "Well, it's a choice. You have to choose to trust him. Otherwise you will always be controlled by your anxiety and fear. You will never fully know. You just have to choose to trust." And an amazing thing happened... She decided to trust! That was the beginning of healing in her marriage. She was soon able to trust God himself with her life and for his goodness, and I saw a new joy begin to fill her marriage and life.

I have seen the same effect in my own life. The times I am most depressed, most anxious and devoid of joy or contentment are the times I do not trust God and others. But the times I have experienced joy and peace even in the midst of suffering have been because of my trust in the character or God and in my relationship with him.

"Cast your anxieties on him, for he cares for you..." 1 Peter 5:7

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, our Lord." Phil. 4:6-7

I've heard many sermons on the passages above that emphasize action. These are the things you need to do: Give your burdens to God ("and leave them there"), pray, ask God for help, give thanks, etc. But, honestly, these actions rarely help me... unless they are motivated from a place of trust. Think about it. I can't really give my concerns to God fully and let go, unless I trust that he knows what to do, will do it, and that he will do something good with it. Praying and asking won't help unless, again, I trust that he hears me, cares and is working things for my good and for the good of others. I can't really be thankful in the midst of suffering unless I trust that he is bigger than I can imagine, cares for me and has a good plan. What I really need is to trust. Not just to trust in an abstract God, but to trust in my relationship with him. That he really knows me, really cares and is big enough to do what is needed and good. I can't trust unless I know that I am fully accepted by him as I am, weaknesses, failures and all.

I know this through Jesus.

"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Rom. 8:32 Through Jesus, God proves that he cares and does not just stop at the cross but continues to care for me through His Spirit in me. Through the cross I know that my sin has been crucified with Christ and that I have risen in the righteousness of Christ so that I am fully accepted, forgiven and given a place in God's plan and family. I am his child. This is how I trust him. And this is what brings me joy in the middle of pain, because I can let go and rejoice in the amazing care and relationship and unity I have with God. Because this relationship is not due to my own goodness or actions, I can rest that it does not depend on my goodness or actions. I am weak, and that is ok. I am His, and that is enough.

Psalm 37 is a beautiful reminder of joy and peace that comes through making God our refuge and trust. Basically, it says, don't worry about all the crap going on around you. God is the inheritance and joy of those who trust and rest in him.

1Do not fret because of evildoers,
  Be not envious toward wrongdoers.

2For they will wither quickly like the grass
  And fade like the green herb.

3Trust in the LORD and do good;
  Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.

4Delight yourself in the LORD;
  And He will give you the desires of your heart.

5Commit your way to the LORD,
  Trust also in Him, and He will do it.

6He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
  And your judgment as the noonday.

7Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him;
  Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
  Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.

8Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
  Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.

9For evildoers will be cut off,
  But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land.


The interesting thing about all this is that if true joy comes out of trust, there is an increased opportunity for joy in the times where trust is required the most: in the times of suffering, when nothing makes sense and the world seems to be falling apart. It is in these times that we really learn what it means to "put our trust" in God, actively, making that decision to trust even when we cannot see, like my friend. It is in these times that we will find that the decision to trust God's character and our relationship with him will bring a deeper joy and peace than we could ever imagine, because it is the joy of knowing and walking with God. God revels in receiving our trust, opening wide his arms and pulling us in, just like a faithful husband who is overjoyed to receive the trust of a wife who had long doubted his love. There is nothing quite so joyful as when someone trusts our love. God experiences that same joy when we place our trust and hope in him.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Christian Judgment and Purity


Acts 10 - Peter and Cornelius

9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

I LOVE this story. I have always seen this story as an account affirming God's heart for redeeming people from every ethnicity and his acceptance of anyone who comes to him in faith. Only recently, however, have I begun to see this story as an affirmation of my identity and acceptance as well. I struggle with my identity as a woman in a world in which church leaders are 99% men, where women are told they can minister but not lead, where I may have an opinion but not a decision for the church. I've struggled to understand why God would say that a man reflects the glory of God while a woman reflects the glory of man. That really seems to be the short end of the stick... I don't want to reflect a man's glory because he is only a man! I want to reflect God's glory! That's what I was created for... and that is the only thing that will satisfy my soul. So, anyway, I have issues, including some anger, bitterness and a continual need to prove myself in ministry so that I will have the same position before God and the church as a man does. Of course, I don't usually consciously think of it that way, but that's what happens. I don't claim to have it all figured out, but here is how God has been speaking to my heart recently...

I won't go too indepth with the historical background of the text in Acts 10, but I'll just mention how God is challenging the cultural and legalistic traditions through which Peter interprets his world. Some of these traditions were given through scripture to Israel, while some of them were built up through additional interpretations and working out of original scriptures, many times in ways that were inconsistent with God's heart and intent. In this vision, God is challenging Peter's presuppositions and is saying, "I have the ultimate say-so in your interpretation of the world. My heart and desires come before your comfort, pride and interpretations." Peter's response to God's command to eat was born out of a woundedness to his pride. "No, Lord! I have remained clean my whole life because I only eat what is clean!" Peter, though he walked with Jesus himself and received the gospel, is still holding on to a false sense of security and holiness that comes through his own efforts and obedience to the law. God shatters his world! He says, "What I have made clean..." including you... Wow! He immediately confronts Peter's pride, and reminds him that Jesus is the one who purifies and declares clean, not Peter, not food, not the law. Further, God was showing Peter that he has the power to purify anything. Something is clean only because of God's work, and he alone has the authority to call something clean or unclean. All of our judgments must be subject to his own. God is saying that once he has made something clean, we have no right to allow any minute attitude of superiority, favoritism or separation. What God has made clean should be received with all humility as being cleansed by the same blood and power as I.

The story goes on to show Peter at the house of Cornelius, where he immediately puts God's revelation into practice. When he arrives at the house, Cornelius kneels before him in reverence, and Peter says, "Stand up. I am only a man myself." While previously Peter would look upon a Gentile as unclean, unworthy to receive the presence of a Jew in his home, he now recognizes that he is merely a man, the same in nature and value as Cornelius, and that no privilege or superiority should be practiced by God's people. Though Peter was a leader, with God's authority and call on his life, he has no special value above Cornelius, an "unclean" Gentile. They are both just men, bowing before God. When Cornelius tells about how God has spoken to him, Peter's understanding of the vision comes to fullness. "I now understand how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right." Not only is Peter not to show favoritism, but God does not either. When Cornelius and his family receive the Spirit as they believe in Jesus, Peter is fully convinced. They have received the Spirt "just like us." Peter is now to regard every believer as purified by the Holy God and should regard no one as unclean. There should be no difference.

So, what does this have to do with my angst over men and women in the church? I don't claim that this stretches so far as to say that there should be no differences between the roles of women and men in the church or in marriage. That's a whole other conversation. What this passage has done for me is to rebuke my tendency to declare myself unclean or to let others somehow to declare me as less as well. In a nutshell, any time I begin to feel the bitterness, guilt or shame around being a woman minister, I hear the words, "Do not call anything impure what I have made clean." Because Jesus has made me clean... Ahhhhh... You have made me clean... There is no difference in worth; both men and women are both just humans, kneeling before God, resting in his mercy to forgive our sins and be purified by the blood of Jesus. This is our only hope and the only reason ANY of us can come before him and stand without shame or fear. No authority or position or ministry comes from my own merits, nor that of anyone else, male or female. This comes only from God's grace and mercy in taking a broken vesel and saying, "You are clean. I choose you." Praise God... I am yours... I am fully accepted and redeemed because you have made me new. You have made me free. "Stand up. I too am only a man..."