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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bragging Rights

Hundreds of thousands of wooden pylons constructed from a type of wood that resists water decay support one of the most famous landmark cities in the world, Venice, Italy.  St. Mark’s Square, The Bridge of Sighs, gondolas and their navigators, the Grand Canal remind us of this unique European treasure.

One of the most famous icons of Venice is one many may not know originated there.

            The mask.

            When we come to Christ, we are invited to take off our mask.  But do we exchange the mask that the world gave us for another mask – the one that says we have to have it all together as a Christian?

I whispered into the darkness from a college bunk bed at the age of 20 and asked this God Who Was There to make Himself at home in my broken heart and soul.  A couple of short years later, I decided to forego my major and go on staff with a Christian parachurch organization when I graduated from college. While going through summer staff training, I shared with others at the dinner table about how I came to know Christ, the pain of growing up with an artistically-gifted and beautiful mother who was sometimes mentally ill and the quicksand of emotions our family dealt with, often closing myself behind doors of performance-based expectations.

A teacher interrupted me.
"I wouldn't share that with too many people. That might be too much information."  Confusion pulled my soul in opposite directions - self-protected or God-protected?  How could I help others if I was not vulnerable in trusting God with the past?

            In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul writes this profound verse:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me."

Read it  out loud (I promise, it will only seem strange once.  There is nothing better than speaking the Word wherever we are)!  Do you hear the truth?  When we glory in our weaknesses, Christ’s power rests on us.  Let me say that again.  Christ’s power rests on us.  Strangely and sadly, our culture perverts the truth by telling us that power comes through hiding our shortcomings.  Culture twists this thing called power and goes even further to tell us we must exalt our strengths and play on other’s weaknesses.

I don’t know about you, but boasting happily about the weak parts of my character or my life is not a natural thing.  I’ve often played a kind of Christian game with God, myself, and others.  I imagine I’ve appeared pretty foolish to not only God but also to a great number of people.  The more we try to hide our flaws, the more we reveal them.

Paul never details his weakness for us.  Instead, he's the Paul we know and love and He exalts Christ alone.  We don't always need to share all the messy details.  We should pray for discernment. But we can draw attention upward by being an example of God's grace to the imperfect.

Do you send out a Christmas letter?  Have you ever gotten the one that was basically a brag sheet (we could call it a glory sheet as well) and gushed something like this?  "And my 5 year old Susie got her PhD in Molecular Biology from MIT.  Johnny got a 4.0 and a full-ride scholarship to 1000 universities." (I may or may not have sent one similar.)  The best Christmas letter we ever received? From a family that listed things like how many pairs of underwear their dachshund ran off with and how many dinners were burned.  Do you know why we loved it?  Because they shared from the imperfect of that place called home and made us laugh in the process.  We could relate.  Whew...mask OFF.  Paul relates that kind of Christmas letter with us.

Breaking the strongholds and chains of our past can only happen when Christ's power rests on us,  literally in the Greek, His power "tabernacles over us."  CHRIST is over us.  Because CHRIST IS THE TABERNACLE.  The second half of that verse is almost like a double affirmative.

Do you see?

"Christ's power, Christ on me."

Christ's power, Christ on YOU. 

What chains bind you?  Do you hear them breaking as His holy self covers you?

God broke the chains of my mask. The more that I know and love this God in Three, this God with a personality, the more I trust Him.  And the more I trust Him, the more I know He covers me.  As He covers me, I can reach out to others from the protection of His covering.

Untie the ribbons that hold your mask on.

And glory, sister.  Glory.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Be Present


Do I comprehend how a simple act ripples like a finger dipped in water?  How it disturbs the inertia and sets the physical into motion?  HE created it to be that way, you know.  Just as water can't remain still when gravity pulls out or down or a hand interrupts the shower from a spout, our obedience intervenes the oblivion of fear.

God asks me not to be caught in the lying web of the "have to."  God asks me to resist the tyranny of the virtual and be present.  Because this

Becomes this

and this

becomes this


And the sun comes up and the sun goes down and you can't stop time.  You can't. stop. time.
Hands held tight round the dinner table.  Laughter so hard our kids snort milk.  Green beans hidden in napkins.  Yellow school bus and waving hands. 

Brave kindergarten smiles.
Brave college smiles.
Tears and toasts and weddings.
The echo of Michael and Maile's love
begins the song of another generation.

Can we ever turn the hands of the clock back?  

"A person's days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed." Job 14:5

YES, Lord, to being present.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Pause Button

In the middle of the movie, my husband reached over and took the remote, which was laying on the other side of me.

"I'm going to go get a snack, be right back!" he said and with one swift move of his thumb, he hit the pause button.

There on the screen was the actress in a cinematic frame of no movement with her mouth hanging open.

Yup, a few years ago, I felt like that actress.  A life with no movement and my mouth open in disbelief.

God had asked me to pause. While the rest of my friends surged forward in ministry, bearing fruit and accomplishing great works for Him, He asked me to screech to a halt.  And my brakes were smoking.

"Are you sure, LORD?  You want me to get out of this leadership position?  Do you know how embarrassing this will be?  What will people think?  Will they think I can't do it?  Will the naysayers nod their heads and say to themselves, 'I knew this would happen.'  And, LORD, how can I do nothing for You?"

The more I argued with God in our internal conversations, the more difficult and exhausting the ministry became.  Ignoring the Holy Spirit is one thing ; wrestling with Him is quite another.  I resigned from the leadership position and pulled out of teaching the Bible study I had committed to a couple of months previously.

Sometimes God asks us to do the reverse of what we think He should ask.  Sometimes, in our short-sighted humanity, He asks us to do nothing.

But nothing is always something with God.

One of my favorite Psalms is the 84th.  The sons of Korah wrote this beautiful song.  The Korahite Levites were men who were chosen to be the doorkeepers at the tents of their leaders.  They also stood at the posts of the tent that hosted the very Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of Christ to come.  They were not invited into the tent, but instructed to stand steadfastly outside of it.  Under Moses, these keepers became discontent and revolted.  God not only fired them from their positions, but He also swallowed them up.  Literally.  King David, however, in a move of redemption and restoration, brought them back.  As their jobs evolved through generations, the Korahites became known for standing at the doorposts and singing praises to to God. They not only sang them, but wrote and arranged them as well.

Now I don't know about you, but if the Lord had asked me to stand outside our church and do nothing else except sing praises to God without asking me to serve in the church, my hurt feelings and pride could have tempted me to said, "Not me.  I was meant for something more.  I am outta here."

Listen to what the sons of Korah had to say about God's calling on their tribe.  In verse 10 of Psalm 84, they wrote this:

"Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.  I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked."

In verse 3, they penned this word painting of their hearts, "Even the sparrow has found a home and the swallow a nest for herself, a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my God and my King."

To be fixed to the entrance of an altar or tent was to dwell in one of the safest places, a place that backed up to a stronghold of spiritual and physical defense, a place where they waited for the very presence of the Lord Himself.  Servants who purposely cleaved to the doorpost waited there to become a permanent part of the household, having their ears pierced with an awl...wanting to serve that Master for a lifetime.  

The courts were a bustling place of readiness and activity, the threshold a place of waiting and listening.     What started out as a place of duty evolved into a place of praise as they were filled to overflowing with joy in obedience to the King, composing poetry at the doorposts for the generations to come.  

God's nothing is always something.

What God knew in his all-seeing wisdom was that I needed to rest next to His heart, to listen, to soak in all of Him in His beauty and glory to prepare for what was to come.  With my family, I climbed through riesling vineyards turning golden in the September sun, hiked mountain-reflecting lakes, and listened to to His stillness.  

God taught me again that This One Thing - waiting for His presence with the perfume of gladness - surpassed dwelling in the tents of a discontented and striving heart.  

A few short months after God had asked me to pause, my husband and I found ourselves moved to a different ministry that would probably have burned us out, had we not lived in His rest, learning more about His sweetness and character.

O God, may we ask to dwell all our days in your house, to behold Your beauty and to meditate in Your temple, especially when we're asked to pause for a season.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

When Yes to God Means No

"Be on guard.  Stand firm in the faith.  Be courageous.  Be strong.  And do everything in love."  I Corinthians 16:13-14

Kicking and screaming in 2007.  Like a disobedient and overwhelmed toddler drama queen, that's how my heart responded to the circumstances I found myself in.  And no choice.  No way out.  Really God?  I mean, hadn't He given me enough in the past year?  A husband deployed to Iraq for a year, a senior in high school applying to colleges, a daughter getting married in the summer, a junior higher with a bad case of mono and a cancerous lesion on her shoulder needing surgery?  And now I was supposed to move to Germany?  Leave two daughters and aging parents an ocean away?  We were to ship our car and household goods, saunter back and forth across the entire country for the wedding, drop our daughter off at the college dorm curb and move to Europe.  All within 2 weeks.  I felt abandoned.  I didn't know how to physically do it, much less emotionally readjust to a husband who had spent the last year in a war zone and say goodbye to two daughters at once.  I wrung my heart out to God, "Why have you abandoned me?"

The next Sunday, I took my angry heart to our military chapel with our two youngest daughters.  Another well-meaning military wife had just encouraged me, "Oh, you'll love Germany!"  I didn't want to hear it again.  Not one more time. How could they understand?  And why was I attending a place of worship?  I sat during the singing, arms folded tightly.  Don't. talk. to. me.  The  chaplain took his place in front of the congregation.  What he said next I'll never forget.

"I had a sermon all prepared, and last night, God told me to change it.  There's someone or maybe several people in here who feel like God has abandoned them.  And so, today, my message for you is: God has not abandoned you."

I'd like to say that after that glimpse- into- eternity encounter, my heart changed completely.  It didn't.  Yet this God of grace took the screaming toddler inside of me and held me close.  He did not condemn. He held my hand across the country and back, at the wedding, and on the dorm curb.  He took it again as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean.  I learned that saying yes to God means saying no to me.

I have met many women who live out extraordinary circumstances in what may appear to some as mundane existence.   Some reside in small, Midwest towns where they were born and will probably live out the rest of their lives.  Some don't know where to call home because the military has moved them so much. Others press on in ministry, whether it be in rural churches or urban soup kitchens. Women who have turned their palms up and said, "Yes, God!" with bowed hearts to the Creator, even though they may not understand His ways.  Women who may never be well-known by the world's definition of fame, but by exemplifying strong faith inspire others to follow Christ with abandon.

The beautiful, energetic Army wife whose second son was born with Downs Syndrome.  She and her husband named him William for William the Conqueror.  And he conquers milestones.  His optimistic, hilarious mother handles her life with grace, humor and thanksgiving.  She said "no" to self-pity. Yes, God.

The mother of 4 naturally born children and one adopted who was given an opportunity to adopt 4 more from one family.  She and her husband brought these 3 girls and 1 boy into their hearts and home.  9 children.  And then she quit her full-time job to love them through their past into a hopeful future, because God nudged her to trust Him with finances.  She said "no" to fear. Yes, God.

The 80 year old senior who can't make it to church very often anymore because her husband is chair-bound.  She loves visitors, because she cares for her groom, sitting with him for hours and ministering to his needs.  She's been taking care of him since 1969.  44 years.  She lives out the covenant of marriage vows that she took so many years ago in sacrificing love.  She said "no" to self.  Yes, God.

The church planter's wife with a passion for Jesus and His Word who wonders every day, "Who will you put in my path to introduce Jesus to? When will You establish this church?"  She homeschools 3 kids, clings to God's promises with her husband, stands firm and shows courage.  She said "no" to wavering faith. Yes, God.

The great-grandmother whose 3 children, 7 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren still live within 50 miles of where she was born.  She and her retired farmer husband keep the house and land that his parents owned.  She still works part-time as a pastoral care coordinator in the church she has been a member for 59 years, participates in the women's ministries, and passes on her humble heart and joyful faith to the generations in her family.  She said "no" to discontentment.  Yes, God.

A young teenage girl over 2000 years ago who met an angel and was told she would bear Emmanuel, Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Literally, breath.  God chose her because she was an ordinary girl-woman whom He knew would say yes.  She said "no" to needing all the immediate answers.  Yes, God.

Ordinary women.  Extraordinary faith.  What can we learn from those that God has called to say no to say YES to Him?  Palms up!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Just Another Running Toilet

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” Genesis 16:13 (NLT)

"Have a great time on your date!  Michael and I will have fun this morning,"  I reassured my middle daughter and her husband as they snuck out the back door.  My 2 year-old grandson Michael played with his car garage in the front room, talking happily to himself and his zoom-zooms.  As soon as Emily and Clark left, college sophomore daughter, Molly, set herself to doing dishes in the kitchen.

Then I noticed it. AGAIN.  The sound of running water coming from the bathroom.  I walked into the bathroom, determined to find the source.  Ah, coming from the toilet.  So, like any normal person, I hoisted the lid from the back of the commode to jiggle the little chain thing.  (Excuse my lack of toilet terminology knowledge.)  Except there was no little chain thing.  Only a small white tube to run water  into the return pipe.

That white tube was decidedly out of place.  It whipped up, rising above the toilet like an uncoiling snake, knowing no shame.  This was not a trickle of water.  This was a torrent.  Out of control, the little monster spun around and soaked my face, my hair, my clothes.  In a mili-second, I was standing in at least an inch of water on the floor of the bathroom.  I tried to shut off the water at the base of the toilet.  The valve. Would. Not. Budge.  I confess, I prayed not.  I screamed.
Unbeknownst to me, my nineteen-year-old was happily plugged in to her iPhone.  She didn't hear a thing.
     "MOLLY!! HELP!!"  No response.
Okay, I said to myself, put the tube in the return pipe and replace the lid on the back of the toilet.  Right. Water squirted out from under the lid, continuing to pour onto the floor.  That's when I saw the clip.  The tube had a microscopic white clip on its side.  Clip attached.  Annoying sound stopped.   Situation under control.  A woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do.  It took all the towels they owned to mop up the bathroom.

Just another running toilet.

"You need to go in the prayer room!"  My bright-eyed roommate's passion spilled into her voice.  Even though she carried her sweetly round belly, pregnant for the fourth time, mother of 3 boys, her energy caught me.

"Prayer room?  Where is it?"

Two days before visiting my daughter, I had arrived at the Proverbs 31 She Speaks conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, ready for a surprise encounter from God, wanting direction for where I was to journey next in my semi empty-nest life.  I felt too unsure and too under-equipped, in mourning from life changes over the past 2 years. But I prayed.  Others were praying with me.  "God, speak."

Fending off the sleepiness from getting up at 3 am that morning to catch a plane from Iowa to North Carolina, I took the elevator down to the first floor of the hotel where the prayer room was located.  The door stood ajar, and the room was empty.  God's presence beckoned as I walked in.  The Presence.

"Our names have all been prayed over.  Your name is next to a Name of God that the staff felt we needed to know.  You should look for it," my roommate had encouraged me.

Arranged on tables around the room were sheets of paper with the names of God and over 750 women's names placed next to them.  My name.  There.  Written on God's heart next to El Roi, the God Who Sees.  El Roi, a God so watchful that He cares even when the smallest sparrow falls to the ground. A Fatherly God who is always near in the desolate places, helping us find a path through troubles, working out His plans for our future.  

El Roi, the Name of God that had been placed before me over and over the past 2 years.  I cried.  Tears of relief, tears of joy, tears because this God touches each one of us personally.  No, He doesn't just touch.  He lifts, He provides, He restores, He heals.  He knows.

He knows every sleepless night you cradle your baby, every tear shed for an aging parent who can't remember your name, every fear from the doctor's diagnosis, every scar from feeling ignored in this life.  He sees the seemingly mundane, too.

Not just another running toilet.  Not just another tired toddler or challenging teenager.  Nor just another misunderstanding with your man or oatmeal that overcooked and stuck so hard to the pan that it took two days to clean.  He sees.  Like Haggai questioned, have you truly seen the One who sees you?  Ask Him to reveal Himself to you.  Ask Him to speak.   He promises that He will find you.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Women of Grace

She took refuge among the trees, feeling an unnatural rush of adrenaline and her heart pounding for the first time.  She had never felt this emotion of fear or what it did to her body.  Did she wonder what was wrong with her?  Why did the lush green canopy overhead suffocate and the brilliant colors of the flowers underneath suddenly bother her? She couldn’t do it.  She couldn’t face Him.  But He knew, of course.  He knew where they were and asked anyway.  Thankfully, He asked her husband first.

“Where are you?”
“I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked ; so I hid,” her husband’s voice sounded different from the one she knew.
“Who told you you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”  It felt like an accusation.
Then her husband did the unthinkable.  He blamed her for his actions.  “The woman you put me here with.  It was her fault.”   She could think of no better answer than to blame the serpent.  Didn’t that gorgeous creature deceive her? And then the Lord God whom she used to walk in the garden with cursed them.  Cursed them and threw them out.   Wait, was there hope?  Woven into the terror of being thrown out of their home, was there hope?

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and he will strike his heel.”  Genesis 3:15

Eve treasured every word.  Some day, another life that came through her would crush the serpent that had deceived her in the garden, the place she had known the most intimate life offered to humanity, and redeem creation.   Some day, another woman would come.

“Woman, behold your son,” Jesus spoke to his mother.  She had known His presence from the time he had been in the womb.  She had given birth to him and now she would not leave him in death.  Her sister and Mary of Magdala stood with her at the cross.  And John.  Dear John whom Jesus loved.  “Behold your mother,” the words came in agonizing breaths.  The end was near.  The beginning was near.  His mother would be cared for.   Everything was finished. 
Woman.  In the Greek,  gunai.
Only two places in Scripture is the word woman used so definitively without  “the” or “a” in front of it- in Genesis, when God refers to Eve, and in the New Testament, when Jesus addresses His mother at the wedding in Cana and from the cross (see Genesis 2:23; John 2:4; John 19:27).   Although it was not unusual for a man to use the word gune when addressing a woman, it was unusual that Jesus referred to Mary as gunai.   The English equivalent of gune and gunai sounds harsh, but in the Greek, it was an expression of gentleness.  Gunai was a deliberate referral to the fulfillment of the first prophecy of Jesus’ coming in Genesis 3:15. 

Jesus Christ wants us to be women.  He created you to be woman.   When we embrace all that Christ can do in us through the fullness of Christ that dwells in us through the Holy Spirit, we grow up.   We grow into women of grace.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Soaking Up the Son

"Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith..." Colossians 2:6-7

Some people are afraid of swimming under water.  Not me.  Ever since I was a little girl, swimming under water became an otherworld experience to me.  Muffled, quiet, just me and that underwater world.  I used to pretend that I was looking for treasure or that I was invisible to all around me.  I could hold my breath a long time in that ethereal place.

Morning has now become my other world, especially in the summer.  The sounds of the earth coming alive as the sun reaches its rays above the horizon - the morning doves cooing, the soothing of the occasional cricket rubbing his clicking legs together, the breeze in the top of the trees - these are all sounds of God speaking.  Light and warmth join together to gloriously meet the day. I love to rise early and soak up every minute of summer.

Winter is not my friend.  I struggled through the last seemingly endless Iowa winter that brought the last snowfall on May 6.  Darkness brings low feelings, sluggishness, and having to bundle up in layers becomes a burden.  In the deep of winter, the sun seems to barely skim the horizon for 7 hours and the clouds hover for days on end.  Ah, but the summer brings daylight from 5 am to 10 pm, flowers spill over every patio and sidewalk, and the air is sometimes so balmly that we do not need air conditioning.  I absorb every minute to help me thrive better in the winter months.

The Word of God, the Bible, soaks into us like the beauty of summer.  When we read, study, and memorize the Scriptures in the Old and New Testament, we are rooting and establishing ourselves, saving up for those days when hardship and trial seem endless, when the only light is a skim across the horizon.  We need different levels of study, too.  Daily reading the Bible and praying is a wonderful discipline.  But deeper study of the Word and fellowship with other believers in a small group is essential to establish your faith in a different way.

God didn't intend us to enter into a relationship with Him in order for us to live it without Him.  Studying the Bible, its original language, the cultural significances, brings that relationship alive, because the Word of God itself is living.  God always has a purpose for it in our lives, and that purpose never returns empty.

If you aren't already in a Bible study, I encourage you to seek one out.  Reading, discussing, studying with others will continue to build you up and establish you in your faith.  And when "winter" comes, you'll have the Son to light your soul and keep you warm.