Curveballs

Wikipedia describes the expression “to throw a curveball” as:

“Introducing a significant deviation to a preceding concept.”

The Bible describes it as:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.”  ~ Isaiah 55:8

or

“The heart of man plans his way,
but  the LORD establishes his steps.” ~ Proverbs 16:9

Have you been thrown a curveball lately? How have you been challenged and/or blessed by it?

National Day of Prayer

On this day, I will pray…

Not for God to bless America, because He already has. Rather, I will pray we will become a nation that will bless others because of how He has blessed us.

Not for politicians I may think are the best to take office. Rather for the ones God has appointed according to His purposes. I will pray they will lead with integrity, preferring others and upholding the law.

Not for the state of California to resolve its dire financial mess. Rather that we would all {myself included} be better stewards of what we have, not be so greedy, give generously and live abundantly.

Not for education cuts to just be stopped… But for policy makers and school board members to look into the eyes of a child and realize what a critical part of their future and ours they play. I will pray for the teachers and staff that are passionate and dedicated, like the ones at Taper Avenue, to take heart and stand firm in these times and find their hope in the God who sees them.

Not for Gay Marriage to pass or not pass. But for families… all of them… to be transformed into the image of Christ and His Church as originally planned to bring greater transformation to society.

Not for peace in the middle east. Rather, I will pray for Peace in the hearts of men.

Not for our troops to stay safe, because safety is not what they signed up for. Rather, I will pray for them to be strong and courageous and to know Who the Lord God is, and that He is with them wherever they go.

Not for churches to be filled with people.  Rather I will pray for the Church to be filled with the Spirit so the people who walk through her doors will experience radical faith and authentic community.

Not for God to heal the land of America.  Rather that He will heal and bring restoration to all His creation.

Lastly, I will pray to my Father in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread and forgive our debts, and help us forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. I will thank Him forgiving me of all the wicked things in my heart and things I’ve done and pray that I can forgive anyone who has hurt me, my family, my community, my country… The one I came from and the one I belong to now.

Let Him be glorified… Not our nation.

How will you be praying?

Piercing Through My Soul

“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” ~ Luke 2:34-35

These words often cause me to wonder if she felt the first pang in heart as they were spoken over her… over her son.  The Son that would grow to become the Man who gave His life as a ransom for many. As she walked with him on the road to Golgotha, the piercing must have been slow and agonizing.  I wonder if for her it felt like yesterday that he was lying in a manger, surrounded by shepherds and angels singing “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”

Could she sense the glory?

Did this feel like peace?

Reading through the closing chapters of Matthew at the end of this Holy Week, I imagine what it must have been like to bear witness to it all.  As a mother, her heart must have been closest to His and the most broken for Him.  Yet when I think of His broken flesh, the blood pouring out, the suffering, the mocking, the humiliation, my own soul is pierced.

Pierced because of my sin.

It’s difficult to look at the images artists have created for centuries. The films, the paintings, the sculptures, the photographs. I often turn away because it’s sad.  It’s gross.  It’s difficult to take in.

It pierces my soul.

Today, as I reflect upon the cross and the Man who hung there in place of me, it is my sin that pierces my soul.

Every lashing, every scourging, every drop of spit and shame represents me and what I have done.  Yet in His great mercy He took it for me.  In His great love He suffered silently.  In His glory the darkness in my heart is revealed.

And when the words, “It is finished” flood my mind, I am filled with hope that covers my shame, I can sense the washing of dirt from my soul.  I am filled with love that cannot be described by my own words.

This is glory.

This is love.

Lists and Yokes

Last week in my discipleship group, one of my friends opened up about her ongoing struggle with Christianity and the issue of faith and works.  She struggles with the tension of being  saved by grace alone and lists of “to-do’s” that we often hear from the pulpit, in our Bible studies and conversations with other believers.

Lately, I’ve been chewing on the gospels and what Jesus actually says about being a disciple of Jesus.  The one thing our pastor has been saying lately that won’t leave my head is “disciples listen better than they see.”

This is so true because of a number of things.

1. If we listen well, then what we listen to {as opposed to what we simply hear} stays embedded in our minds, hearts and our souls.  We won’t easily forget what we’ve heard when the next thing hits our ears. We won’t despair to the depths that we could when the truth of what we know, defies what we see in front of us.

2. Disciples need to listen better than we see because  if we base everything on what we see, we forget that we rarely are able to see what God sees in the full picture.

3. We need to listen well otherwise, we will forget all that we know and the message become cloudy and overwhelming.  When we hear a command like “practice hospitality,” we begin to add it to or create a new list when the command should really just be an overflow from what we’ve heard in the beginning which is that

We are fully loved and fully welcomed into the Kingdom of God.

4. We have to listen better than we see because there is so much to wrap our minds and hearts around in the person, work, spirit and words of Christ  that if we only go by what we see, we might actually miss it.

5. Disciples listen better than they see because what they’ve heard is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself” and that we love “because He first loved us.”

Every list, every command should be filtered through these.

We live in a world of hurry. We want to get through what we are doing so we can move on to the next thing. It’s why we create lists so we don’t forget what we have to do and where we need to be.  The people of Israel created a golden calf when they couldn’t see God, we create lists when we can’t see Him.  We are used to instant gratification and if the Word and Spirit aren’t measurably changing us, then we panic.

We want a new list.

Or worse yet, we choose to quit.

God’s desire is not just to just change our behaviors but to transform us into His likeness. He speaks of transforming us through

perseverance

endurance

like a runner finishing a race well.

These things take time. And despite what our society tells us, time is on our side.

This thing is eternal.

Do you struggle with creating lists when it comes to following Jesus?  I do.

Beauty for Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to appreciate the heart of Lent as a time to

pause

remember

reflect and

return

To the way of Christ.  It is a season of preparing our hearts for the crucifixion of Christ. So when we say, “He is Risen,” it  has a meaning that makes the soul ache and the heart leap all in the same breath.  A time to consciously remember where we’ve come from and where we are going because of Christ.

Many will choose to “give something up” for Lent and the purpose being that when you crave that very thing, be it coffee, sugar, Facebook, or wine, your craving would throw you into a physical understanding of your neediness for Jesus and the power and satisfaction He offers which is greater than anything created by man.  Other important elements of Lent include a greater focus on forgiveness, hospitality {inviting the stranger in} and the giving of alms to the poor.  Some do this in direct tangible ways and yet thanks to the world-wide web, we have access to raise awareness, give and participate with the billions of poor, oppressed and defenseless in the world.  A world, still in desperate need of a Savior.

This morning I began a study through the passion week (the week of Jesus’ death) and was reminded that even as Jesus walked this earth as a human, he faced things and endured things that only God could do.  Think of the toughest person you know. The one you would refer to as a “survivor.” The friend who has endured so much and come up on top of great trials or obstacle sin life.  Yet Jesus’ perseverance was beyond the toughest persons ability. We put a lot of weight on being strong and capable and yet today serves as a reminder of our mere mortality.

We are only human.

Easily hurt.

Fragile.

On Ash Wednesday, let us pray that our sin will be to death so we can live abundantly through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

“For you were made from dust and to dust you shall return.” ~ Genesis 3:19.

Over the next 40 days, may your love for Christ deepen and gratitude for His unconditional love for you bear fruit in your hearts and lives.

Will you observe Lent?Beauty for Ashes

How so?

 

Other good posts on Lent:

Why Do Lent? by Ann Voskamp

Lent: Giving up coffee or my life? by Eugene Cho

The High Calling by Mark D. Roberts

 

Gratitude

I’m currently reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. In chapter 2, she writes:

Thanksgiving – giving thanks in everything – prepares the way that God might show us His fullest salvation in Christ. The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God – even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion – this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation  from bitter, anger, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him. At the Eucharist, Christ breaks His heart to heal ours – Christ, the complete accomplishment of our salvation.  And the miracle of eucharisteo never ends: thanksgiving is what precedes the miracle of that salvation being fully worked out in our lives. thanksgiving – giving thanks in everything – what prepares the way for salvation’s whole restoration.  Our salvation in Christ is real, yet the completeness of that salvation is not fully realized in a life until the life realizes the need to give thanks. In everything?”

It’s Friday and when I look back on the week, the things that stand out are the heart breaks.  A friend receiving hard-to-swallow news about her son.  A piercing challenge to humility that a loved one is facing.  A woman trying to shepherd her son, much less her own self through the reality of a husband abandoning her for someone else.  A young girl on the brink of making life-changing decisions.  The story of the McRae family struggling to accept every parent’s worst nightmare.  Two friends dealing with the suicides of people near them.  A close friend coming to terms with another month that she is not pregnant.

It’s easy to give thanks in life for that which is going well.

It’s easy to be thankful for a job that provides, but what about when that job pushes every button at our core?

It’s natural to give thanks for family that loves, but what about when family disappoints?

I’m thankful when I succeed, but can I give thanks for my failures?

I’m thankful for the health of my husband and children but when illness or imperfection threatens, can I fully embrace it as a vehicle for God to show me

Just

How

Glorious

He

is?

I’m thankful for the body of Christ, but I rarely give thanks when I encounter difficult people.

The heart of gratitude keeps the heart soft, pliable, and able to absorb that which Christ is pouring in.  The hard heart is unable to receive, unable to take in and unable to break off into pieces that can be offered to others.

Today, I want to receive everything with thanksgiving.

Every thought, every person, every conversation, every encounter, every challenge, every moment so I don’t miss any opportunity for my Salvation to restore me.

What will you give thanks for today?

 

One Word

For some reason this year, I’ve tried to stay away from creating a list of New Years resolutions.

Maybe it’s because of our church’s goal to go “deeper” rather than “wider,” or maybe it’s just that I’m tired. One thing that has been inspiring are the posts from some bloggers I love, encouraging others to focus on one word for 2011.

While preparing for Christmas, one Scripture popped out at me, a familiar one we’ve all heard before and it’s stayed with me since the middle of November.

“Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace to all men on whom His favor rests.” Luke 2:14

Peace.


To all men on whom His favor rests. This peace is some thing the Bible has promised that I have already received. As a believer, His favor rests on me. So this year, I will go forth in peace.

This year, like all years, holds a lot of unknowns.  But I’m choosing peace instead of anxiety. Choosing to trust God rather than worry. Easier said than done… it will require discipline. Being in the Word {for me and not others}, prayer in the tenuous moments, and maybe even some fasting.

What about you? Do you have a word you would like to focus on this year?

Not-So-Proud-Moments

This past weekend was the weekend of not-so-proud moments.

It started out with a plan, lots on the schedule but it was going to be manageable. A lot of things, but all good things.

A piano recital, a baseball tourney, two basketball practices, decorating the tree and church.

But I blew it on more than one occasion.

I had my first experience of losing self-control in the stands as a parent. After the game, I had to ask forgiveness from the moms for my inappropriate behavior and had to repent to Coach-Husband for my attitude in the stands. This was after he sent an email to all the parents (including me) about maintaining a positive attitude.

The kids seemed to manage the packed in day of Saturday really well… until Sunday morning. Then we had the kind of morning where I actually thought about calling in and saying I couldn’t come to church. My heart was not in the right place. I was the parent who didn’t handle things well in the morning and felt hypocritical going to church and worshiping God and offering to minister to others.

Yet we went along and as I prayed for Jesus to help me, I remembered something very important I had just read.

I am loved unconditionally and welcomed fully by Him.

By His grace, it is in these moments when I am at my ugliest, I can return to Him for joy, fullness of hope and restoration.  Because He forgives me, I can look my boys in the eye and tell them I’m sorry. Because I know I am deeply loved at my worst, I can go back and worship.

Approaching Christmas, I’m reminded at how amazing it is that Jesus came to save the lost. To reach out and raise up the wretched, most messed up people, just like me.

Thanks be to God.

Remember what the gospel says about us: we are more sinful and flawed than we ever dared believe but we are also more loved and welcomed than we ever dared hope. ~ Elyse Fitzpatrick, Counsel from the Cross

The Greatness of God in Relationships

The theme for our women’s retreat in January is the Great is Our God. We chose this theme this year because of our conviction that as humans, we often lose sight of just how great God is, how powerful the Gospel of Christ is and it’s significance to our daily lives. I often wonder how I would approach many situations in my life or the relationships I have if I viewed them through the lens God’s greatness.  Lately, I’ve been inspired by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson’s book, Counsel from the Cross. Today I came across this as it relates to how we relate to others:

“When our relationships are built around the truths of the gospel – the truth that we are walking in light even though we are still sinners in need of cleansing by his blood – we can be free from feelings of inferiority and the demanding spirit that is born of pride. We can pursue relationships without fear of being discovered as the sinners we are.  This kind of open relationship rests solely on the realities of the gospel.  We are more sinful than we ever dared believe, and so is everyone we know.  Because of this, we won’t be surprised by other’s sins.  They won’t expect us to be sinless either, so we don’t have to give in to self-condemnation and fear when they see us as we really are. We don’t have to hide or pretend anymore.

The gospel also tells us that we are loved and welcomed without any merit on our part, so we can love and welcome others whose merits we can’t see.  We can remember the circumstances under which we have been forgiven, and we can forgive in the same way.  We don’t deserve relationship with the Trinity, but it has been given to us.  We can seek out relationships with others because we know that we have been sought out by him and that he is carrying us all on his shoulders.”

Do you have a relationship in which you need to apply this truth to?

Cape Town

Two of my favorite writers/bloggers are in Cape Town, South Africa for the Third Lausanne Congress on Evangelism. If you are unfamiliar, the Lausanne Movement began in 1966 with Billy Graham and 1200 delegates from over 100 countries. The second congress was in 1974 (the year I was born…no correlation however), in the Swiss Alps with 2700 participants from 150 countries. This week, the third congress in Cape Town has over 4000 people in attendance from 197 countries.

The purpose of the gathering is to address and engage the issues facing the Church and missions today. The stories I’ve been reading  through Margaret Feinberg and Mary DeMuth are amazing. Stories of people who are:

Suffering

Contending

Giving their lives

to bring Jesus to people who live countries where Christ may not welcome.

Today, Margaret wrote this:

A young man shared some of the failures of the global church that captivated me.

He highlighted the following:

The failure to understand the world we live in and have a Christ-like response. This statement has countless implications, one of which is simply—because we don’t understand Islamic world, Muslims are feared and despised instead of recognized as people Christ died for.

Another is that we have failed to realize the twentieth century has ended. We have not realized that the twentieth century missions movement has ended with it. As a result, we continue to offer clichéd responses to people and situations. Evangelism is not a one-off event in which we give no second thought to what will happen to people.

As a result, we need to have the courage to ask the question every generation must ask:

“What does it mean to believe in a crucified God in this time in this generation?”

Only then can we thoughtfully and prayerfully determine how to respond.

It seems to me that bringing the truth, love, joy and hope of Christ to people in the 21st century is largely dependent on relationships. Almost any where you are, or any where you go, there is information available. Just today, I talked with a woman who knows her Bible cover to cover but is not getting any peace, hope or joy from her knowledge. Transformation no longer occurs solely through fact-finding, but rather through the authentic display of truth, the tangible acts of kindness and the astounding effects of mercy and justice.

Authenticity is more essential than it ever has been.

In church this weekend, I was convicted by my response to the world around me and my failure to understand it.

It’s easy to talk about other faiths without actually being willing to go to people of other faiths and have a genuine, authentic relationship with them. Especially when it’s just next door.

It’s easy to talk about “culture wars” without actually entering into the culture and understanding why it resonates with people.

We can jump into all kinds of rhetoric about homosexuality without actually entering into people’s sexual brokenness, listening to their story or walking with them.

I can join a pro-life rally, I’ve even prayed in front of abortion clinics, but have I been willing to sit with someone who has actually had one, showing them kindness and love that is absent of condemnation and help them heal? Have I been doing enough to care for the children of those who have chosen life yet their kids are bound up in a broken foster system?

As people in church stood up and proclaimed Christ’s victory for pulling them out of pits of oppression, blindness, poverty and captivity, I sat convicted that as a follower of Jesus, I have no right to cry, warn others, grieve or talk about an issue, unless I’m willing to walk with a person, enter their story and stay with them through the pain regardless of the outcome. The outcome belongs to the God of the Universe. Not me.

Clichéd responses to people and their situations not only marginalize people who need Jesus, but they also become a stumbling block for those who are trying to seek Him for who He is. I’m not sure, but I don’t think Jesus ever reprimanded or corrected anyone without loving them, listening to them and making it clear He understood them.

Well… except maybe the Pharisees.