Thursday, January 8, 2015

A High, Impassible Wall

In the stunning city of Namur, Belgium stands a Roman Citadel.  Carved into the side of a mountain it spirals upward, grand and beautiful...and menacing when you consider the battles that were fought in and around it.  The walls are huge, tall and thick and covered in moss and vines that have softened the imposing structure.  It is now a playground for families, a scenic place for a picnic, a stop for history enthusiasts, and a thing of beauty in it's architecture that evolved over hundreds of years. 

Belgium, Namur, Roman, Citadel, High, Impassible, Wall


We were told that the Citadel is filled with tunnels, most now blocked or impassible.  It is an intricate maze running through the mountain, so intricate that the Romans built all their citadels with the same pattern of tunnels so the soldiers would be able to find their way around when they were moved to a new post.

No one in their right mind would venture in without knowing the way out.

Namur, Belgium, Roman, Citadel, Mountain, Autumn,

A few days ago my youngest daughter celebrated her 8th birthday.  The evening before, I checked my phone and noticed that I had a Timehop notification.  If you don't know what that is (I'm sure my mom and mother-in-law would appreciate an explanation!) it is an app that pulls up what you posted on Facebook on this day 1, 2, 3 or however many years ago.  It often gives me warm fuzzies as I look at photos of my babes when they were little or see what was "big news" in my life when I had toddlers.

On this day 5 years ago, I had posted the following:

"Tonight we have our first home study visit.  Here we go!"

What I didn't know at the time, and just realized this week, is the timing of that visit.

You see, my daughter's birthday was assigned by the courts.  She was born in a mud hut in a remote village of Wolaita, Ethiopia.  They don't have calendars, they live by seasons.  The day she was relinquished became her legal birthday.

The day after we started our home study.

For our sovereign God, He was already at work.

Before my little girl lost everything, He had already prompted the hearts of her forever family to pursue her. Never, not even for a moment, was He surprised or shaken by what was happening to this precious 3 year old girl.  Never, not even for a moment, was she alone or unloved.

Before her grief began, her Heavenly Father had put into place a rescue plan.

He always does.

So, because of this truth, I know...
    that my dear friend who is facing the death of her husband, her God-given covering who loved her so well, never, not even for a moment is she alone.
   that God is not surprised or shaken by the job layoff that has my brother reeling and on his knees in desperate prayer.
   that the woman who lost her daughter and her husband within two weeks of each other, she is covered by the One who sees the beginning and the end all at the same time and promises us that in the end it will all be worth it.
   that the family whose son refuses to accept their love, whose early suffering has caused him to withhold trust and affection, serves a loving Father who knows the key to his heart...and theirs.

God is good.

His rescue plan was in place before this trauma entered their lives.

We can trust Him when sorrows come because He bore them on the cross.

The sorrows have been conquered.  They do not get the last word.  God is the ultimate designer of the Citadel, knowing every nook and cranny and always knowing the way out.

Our Light of the world surely lights our way.  Our Father who fashioned us from dust, he KNOWS we are dust and he holds us together when everything around us is falling apart.  This world is not our home and we can trust that, through the dark tunnels and mazes of life, He is leading us onward and out into the sunlight...into the SON who is the LIGHT.

That High, Impassible Wall?  It is only impassible if you are alone, without a guide who knows the way through the tunnels hidden within.

I pray that, if you are reading this, you realize who that guide is.  It is Jesus.  Take his hand.

He will lead you.







Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Secret that Changes Everything {Don't keep it to yourself!}

Five children means many, many gifts under our tree.  Add to that their enthusiasm for shopping for one another and we easily end up with twenty-five more gifts to stash find a place for after the Christmas season is over!  Not only do I not want my kids to totally focus on receiving gifts, I also want what they do receive to be special and meaningful.
So this year I totally stole an idea I saw somewhere on the internet.  They drew names.

Yeah, I know.  BAH, Humbug.

After the announcement that they were drawing names this year, as their faces fell in disappointment, I threw in the twist.

"Now you cannot tell whose name you drew...and when you open your gift you have to try to guess who gave it to you!"

That changed everything.

I mean, what kid does not love a secret?

The game was on, and the shopping trips were so fun and sweet.  Each child got a special outing with Mom to buy for their chosen sibling.  The thought that went into their gifts warmed my heart.

candy cane, gingerbread, love, heart, Christmas

Despite all the bickering that can overtake our household, they really do love each other.

(As if to make my point, as I typed the sentence above one child came down to tattle on another for coming into their room without being invited.  Excuse me while I have another sip of coffee.)

Anywho...

As I have thought about why the mood change with the addition of secrecy to the Christmas drawing, I have noticed several things that I believe the Lord is using to teach me more about Him and about Christmas.

First of all, their determination to figure out who got whose name.  I mean, y'all, it has been so funny. Some just blatantly ask who got their name, and I remind them it is a secret.  One child, my ever-inquisitive oldest daughter, used Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction and guessed every single one.  She is too smart for her own good, but at least she is keeping her knowledge to herself.

The secrecy makes the gift so much more appealing.

Think back to that night, two thousand years ago, when sweet Mary carried the most wonderful secret of all inside her womb.  Imagine those first moments when she held her son, the Son of God, wet and red and wailing in her arms and looked in awe at her husband.  Imagine Joseph and Mary in the quiet of the stable, Joseph's strong body sheltering Mary from the elements, staring in awe at the newborn baby Jesus.

Then there were the shepherds, just minding their own business when the night sky lit up with countless angels proclaiming the Promise.  Has it ever struck you that no one else in all of Bethlehem saw what the shepherds saw?  This glorious show was just for them.  They were told the secret.  They alone were told to go and unwrap the gift God had sent just for them.  And they went.

And the Magi?  Following the Star, knowing it led somewhere, to someone who would turn out to be the most important human being to ever live.  The gift was theirs, if only they were willing to go.  And they went.

Now what if God had done it differently?  What if He had opened up the sky and made a grand announcement to all the world that "Today I am coming down.  I am going to become a man and live a perfect life and die for you, K?  Get ready and I'll be there in 3...2...1..."

It's just not the same, is it?  There is something about a secret.  There is something about knowing you are being given privileged information, knowledge of something wonderful that is just for you, a gift hand-picked by someone who knows you best because it is exactly what you needed, a gift that you carefully unwrap because something precious is inside.

As the redeemed of the Lord, we are the privileged ones.  Hand-picked for us, the Son of God, the greatest Gift, is ours.  But what do we all do when given a gift?  Do we hide it and tell no one about it?

No.  Of course not.  We pass it around.  We share it.  We tell our friends about it.  We celebrate and cherish the giver and the love that went into the selection of that gift.

Yes, friends, that is our calling this Christmas.  The world is so dark.  It seems that the news gets worse every day.  The labor pains are terrifyingly close together and we, the light of the world, have been given a gift.  We have been given the Light.

And here is the best news of all:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  (John 1:5)

If even the rocks must cry out in praise, how much more should we, the redeemed,  refuse to be silenced in a world that so desperately needs the Light of Christ?  We have been made privy to the most beautiful secret that really isn't a secret at all.  We are called to shine the light into the darkness because darkness cannot overcome light.  

Light always wins.

Merry Christmas.


candle, light, Christmas, Jesus, light of the world, shine, advent, cradle to cross




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Simplified.

The last few days did not go as I had planned.
A bug invaded our home and 4 out of our 7 family members were down for the count.
Including me.

No one felt like doing anything.  At all.  So we didn't.
Thanksgiving leftovers sat uneaten, unappetizing to sick tummies.  Fevers refused to break and bodies ached with a virus that lingered too long.
I took advantage of energy when I had it and determined to decorate this house for Christmas, and do it right.  Box after box came down and I, the Christmas decorations hoarder, laughed at last year's version of myself who left this year's version a note in a plastic storage bag full of ornaments:

"Do not put out all those Alpine trees," I wrote to me.
"You will regret it."

In other words, keep it simple, stupid.

So I did.

Simple.

Ribbon...yards and yards of it...stayed put in it's storage tins because after I draped silver and gold beads around our tree I looked at my 9 year old for advice:  "Should I put the ribbon around, too?"

She bounded up the stairs and tilted her head just-so.  With a kiss of her fingertips akin to Leonardo da Vinci she declared the tree perfect.

Perfect and simple.

Just like Him.


advent, candle, light, Jesus, christmas, flu, sick, simple, 1000 gifts

Light of the world, stepping down into darkness.  Jesus becoming one of us, one cell, one zygote, one embryo, one fetus, one newborn baby, yet all along never less than our one perfect Savior.  In the simplicity of a stable he came, surrounded by animals and dung and the smell of hay.  
Yet we dress it up so.  
We dress it up until it is no longer recognizable and the world steals the JOY and wraps it in glitter with a giant price tag deciding whether or not our purchases have been hefty enough to support Wall Street's habit.

But that night, there was just one Light.  One gift.  One cry.  

So tonight, on this first beautiful night of Advent, we with the feverish children gathered round and lit one candle.  We read the Song of the Stars and sang Hark the Herald Angels and the one who is all teen and tries to appear unemotional, he closed his eyes as he sang and I heard his voice crack as it bridged child and adulthood.  Another closed his eyes and worshipped, volunteering to pray from the depths of his sweet heart at the end.  Little girls sang clear and strong and the oldest managed through fits of painful coughing to join. Despite the distractions we managed to light the one candle and set our minds forward, realizing it is time to look for Him again.  

It is time to stop and breathe deep the scent of Frankincense and Myrrh, gifts fit only for a King.
It is time to put down the shopping list and look for the Gift that makes all others look like rubbish, the Gift that is eternal and worthy of anything we lay at His feet.
It is time to read ancient words penned by prophets, fulfilled to perfection by the One who keeps His promises.  Every single one of His promises.
It is time to sing old songs, tell true stories, and huddle close on cold nights with hot tea and a bag of cough drops on the nightstand...
because that uninvited guest?  
The virus that knocked us nearly to a standstill?  
In this season that had become altogether too busy it may have been exactly what the Great Physician had ordered after all.  

I don't know how you plan to celebrate Advent, but I encourage you to do it.  Take the time, even if it was not a part of your growing-up experience (it certainly was not mine).  You will treasure these days, these brief, unhurried moments where the faces of your most precious ones are illuminated by candlelight as you read and sing of the coming of Christ.  Yes, by all means, keep it simple.  




Thursday, October 16, 2014

Because I need this reassurance and you might, too.

We were driving to the airport after a quick weekend getaway. Dallas was riddled with fear and the fear was spreading, stretching spider-like arms in a web across the nation. Isis was beheading children, crucifying teenagers.  Pastors imprisoned for sharing the love of Jesus.  The world in which we are now raising our kids had become a scary, dark place.  Much darker than we could have ever imagined 20 years ago when our journey together was just beginning.  

We had spoken these words with a shake of our head many times:  "The world is falling apart."  In ignorance I have believed these words.  I have looked at what has become of my country and wondered how...why...


His phone rang and it was his mom...my faithful, always connected mother-in-law.  She was listening to the radio.  She had a quote from Anne Graham Lotz, who happens to be the daughter of Billy Graham. Mrs. Lotz was on a Christian radio show and discussing the events that are dominating today's headlines.  My mother-in-law shared the following quote:


"The world is not falling apart. The world is falling in place according to God's plan."


Suddenly my perspective began to shift.  Yes.  Of course.  Anyone who has read the book of Revelation or any of the New Testament for that matter can recognize what is happening.


The atrocities taking place in our country?  They did not take God off-guard.  He not only saw what was coming, he is the sovereign One, fitting all the puzzle pieces together as He prepares His Bride for the return of the One Whom our Soul Loves. 


Jesus.


My friends, all will soon be set right.

Every drop of martyred blood will be counted.  
Every life cut short will be avenged.  
Every child ripped into pieces and sucked out of its mother's womb will be tucked safely into the arms of the Lamb of God.  

Nothing is wasted.  


I don't know the day or the hour of my Lord's return, but I can tell you it is closer than ever.  The pieces are falling together.  The tapestry is being woven and, I believe, nearly complete.  The headlines scream and demand that we fear and five sets of eyes look at me wide and I remind them, God is in control.  We can trust Him.  We are safe, even when the world is not.  Whatever we suffer, whatever we lose, it will be worth it all.  Heaven...Jesus...will be worth it all.


I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.  Though the world says we are crazy and narrow-minded I know, I KNOW, in Whom I believe and I am thoroughly convinced that He is able to guard until the very last day what He has entrusted to me.  My husband, my children, my parents, my friends...we are all in the palm of His mighty hand and we can choose to live in faith instead of fear.  I can choose to give my worries over to my Father and stop trying so hard to fix what is broken in my own strength.  I can choose to BE, to let Him get all the glory, because if He is behind whatever He has called me to do then NOTHING can stop it.  Nothing.


Scripture references:  Rom. 1:16, 2 Tim. 1:12, Acts 5:39

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

This is Life.

I grew up afraid of God.

He was a big, old man on a throne with a list of sins in his hand.  He watched me, eyes narrowed, displeasure clouding his white face, as I sinned.

"There she goes."

Check.

"Yep, I knew she would fail there."

Check.

"Wow.  I hoped she would do better than that.  Sigh."

Check.

I filled up His clipboard quickly and, by the time I turned 17, pretty much figured I'd be lucky to slip through the pearly gates.  Maybe, compared to others, I would be deemed "good enough."

I heard the message of Grace for the first time when I was 21.  At least, that was when it made it from my ears to my heart.  Like a drowning man I reached up from the murky waters of failure and sin and grabbed hold of Jesus' outstretched hand.  He changed my circle of friends, He changed the music to which I drove to work each day, and He changed my relationship with the man who would become my husband.  For another 21 years I would grow and learn and see Him work, yet still in the back of my mind was always a niggling fear.

Oh, I knew I was saved.  But I also knew my failures.   The times I ignored God.  The times I grieved the Holy Spirit.  The times when I took for granted the blessings in my life and wasted precious time that should have been spent with Him.  The times I yelled at my kids or ignored the email asking for volunteers because I had nothing to give.  I knew, and I knew that God knew.  I feared that Judgement Day would find me cowering before a disappointed God who would play back the film of my life, highlighting the failures and disobedience.  With a heavy sigh He would let me in, but only because He had to keep His promise for I surely would not deserve to be there.  Grace got me into Heaven by the skin of my teeth.  Grace did not, however, cover up my inability to walk consistently with God.

I have been a Christian for many years now.  I have taught my kids as much as I could that Jesus loves them. But still I struggled, when their sin nature reared its ugly head, to trust the security of their salvation.  How many of us are guilty of telling our kids, "You don't want to make God sad."

What a terrible lie.

I have held Grace at arms' length and fought for my salvation.

What a waste.

The past few months I have been besieged by the book of Romans from every side.  Our pastor has dissected it, I have worked on Bob Warren's study, and my husband (seeing my struggle) has encouraged me to dive deeper into the Word of God.  It's on the radio, on my Iphone.  It is everywhere, and it has changed me deeply.

Suddenly I am surrounded by Grace...the inescapable, ridiculous grace of a fiercely loving God.  Read Romans.  Chapter 5 says we have peace with God through Jesus.

Peace!

While we were weak...while we were in the depths of ungodliness...HE DIED FOR US.

Peace is not conditional, it is positional.  It is knowing who I am in Jesus.  It is realizing that, when I fail, He still looks at me with eyes of love.  He is kind and soft-hearted toward me in all of my weakness because the punishment has already been dealt.  His Son took it all and I am FREE.

Why does this matter?  Wouldn't this make me feel like I have license to sin?  Well, Romans 5:20 tells me that is not the case.  Why?  Because, according to Romans 6, when I know who I am in Christ I am brought up to a new level of expectation.  Consider this:

Understanding grace means that I no longer try to become who I know I should be but do not believe I am. 

It means I realize who I am because Christ lives in me and I live up to WHO I AM.

Who God says I am.

When I believe what God says about me in Christ, I live up to the high expectation of being a child of the King.  A beloved child who happily represents the Kingdom because I know I did NOTHING to get here.  I could never pay the fee to obtain citizenship, but the Lover of my Soul paid it in full and I will spend the rest of my life loving Him and showing the world what life is like when Jesus rescues you from the pit.  Yes, I will fail.  I will forget and have to be reminded of who I am and Whose I am, but He will still look upon me with tender eyes because HE LOVES ME.  Every act of obedience is a treasure stored in Heaven that cannot be taken away.  He knows I am dust and handles me with incredible patience.  My failures have earthly consequences, but my eternity is solid.  HE LOVES ME.

Oh, how He loves me!

And this love pours freely, to me and to my family.  I can trust that the same God who holds me safe and works in my life to make me more like Jesus is doing the exact same thing in the lives of my children.  I can rest and let Him be God because I am a terrible substitute.  I can love with abandon and not qualify who gets to hear about Jesus based on my earthly perception of worthiness.  I can look at the world around me, the lost and dying who feel like God could never forgive them...never love them... and say, "You are worthy to hear the Good News because He made you and He loves you.  You don't have to clean up first.  If you surrender to Jesus He will change you from the inside.  He will make you want what He wants and lift you out of the pit of sin onto the Rock."

If I truly understand the love of Jesus, then I can actually love LIKE Jesus.  I can step back and let Him do His job.  I can be useful in the Kingdom because the life of Christ fills me and overflows into the lives of those around me.  I have nothing to offer on my own, but because of Jesus I have everything to offer.  This, my friends is a game-changer.

Grace = Freedom.

Jesus did not die to bind us to a set of Pharisaical rules.  He died to set us free.  We are free to obey out of love and not out of fear.  We are free to try and we are free to fail.

Studying Romans has been eye-opening for me.  Like my husband said, it is the key that opens up the rest of the Bible.  Social media has fallen by the wayside because, Y'ALL, we have the WORD of GOD at our fingertips and why the heck was I wasting my time finding out what my friends had for dinner when there is this TREASURE on my desk that holds the key to true life and joy?  Suddenly I realize how little I knew after 21 years of walking with Jesus.  I really didn't believe I could figure out a lot of this stuff (even with the help of the Spirit) but thought there were just some passages I would just never understand.  WHAT A LIE.  God is revealing Himself to me in a way that I have never before experienced.  With the aid of my Keyword Study Bible and Vine's Bible Dictionary I have begun to dig deep and I am addicted.  This.  This is awesome.  This is life.

I'm giddy with excitement.

Now I'm off to dive back into the Word while my kids nap.  :)











Monday, August 25, 2014

A Great Loss

They say that when someone loves on your kids, you as a parent are guaranteed to love that person in return.  Nothing warms my heart toward another like knowing they have poured into the lives of one of my children.  One of those people was a precious saint by the name of Bob Warren.

Bob changed the trajectory of countless lives, teaching what life looks like when you really live it for Christ. My two oldest kids were blessed to learn from him the past two summers and now...we are sad.  He was a Bible scholar in every sense of the word with a thick Kentucky accent.  He loved the quest for truth more than just about any teacher I have heard.  He taught our kids each summer...taught way above their heads, knowing that as they returned to camp each year their understanding would grow deeper and deeper.

In the words of my son..."When Bob talks it is like God is speaking through him directly to me."

So imagine our sadness and shock when we learned that Bob went home to Jesus today.  I have never been so sad about the passing of a man that I had never met.  Bob was special.  The presence of Christ in him was powerful.  There are many, many citizens in Heaven because they were led to Jesus by Bob Warren.

I never got to thank Bob in person, so tonight I am trusting Jesus to tell him for me.  Thank you, Bob, for the impact you have had on my family.  From your daily influence on my husband as he drives to work each day with your CD's playing to the way you allowed God to use you in the lives of teens and college students so deeply that they can point to a week with you as one of the formative moments of their lives...God has blessed many because of you.  May we never forget the lessons we have learned.  May we hold on to the Truth of Jesus, of grace and redemption and our incredible Father who holds us forever safe in the palm of His hand.  You have given freely the treasures of God's Kingdom.  My husband, my son, and my daughter are all stronger because of you.  And me?  I'm in the middle of your study on Romans, continually shocked at how little I knew and at the incredible riches of God's love for me.  Even from eternity you will continue to change lives because your teaching lives on.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And, Lord?  So many of us are having a hard time with this one.  Will you raise up a leader to continue what you started with Bob Warren? This mama really wants that for all the kids who were looking forward to BASIC Training next summer.  Hearts are broken tonight.  The grief weighs heavy.

Thank you, Lord, for Bob Warren.

*For more information about the ministry of Bob Warren, and to order study materials (which are worth their weight in GOLD) go to lifeonthehill.org.    You will be so glad you did.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Drawing close to a Dangerous God

There is the pregnant silence before a storm rolls in.  The trees wait expectantly and the brown sparrow chirps a warning...or maybe it is a herald.

August heat folds back onto itself as the cool front pushes in.  Trees sway and I feel small.  Very, very small.
The thunder booms in the distance.

I can smell the rain.

In the presence of power we are reminded of our weakness.  We are dependent for our very breath.

At any moment lightning could strike.  I could be taken out of this life in a split second.  But still I sit here in this rocking chair, watching the dark clouds take over the sky.  I shiver as the temperature drops drastically, yet I stay.

I want to watch the first drops drip from the leaves.  I want to see the branches burdenened with the weight of water.  I want to watch the rain fall horizontally, bullied by the winds.  I am safe under the cover of my porch.  Sort of.

Perceived safety is enough to keep me out here.

My daughter hums as she finishes her math lesson.  She despises math, but somehow, out here, waiting for the rain, she hates it just a little less.  She chatters between problems, her pencil pausing.  I cherish this moment of peace.

The wind blows harder now, the treetops swaying to and fro in a beautiful, majestic dance.

The smell of rain grows stronger.  It is so close.

I can feel the tension in the air, like the sky is going to burst open at any second.  My daughter notices that it has become so dark that the street lights have come on.

rain, danger, lightning, thunder, God, safe, dangerous, storm

The wind picks up and the thunder booms loudly. In this mundane moment, sitting on my front porch, I am keenly aware of God's pleasure.  He sings over us with the winds and the thunder and His love causes my spirit to swell.  He is safe and He is good and I can stay out here.  He is fierce and He is strong and He is majestic in power, but He is safe.  It is not my perception, it is reality.  He is wild and joy.  He is life and fullness and oh, how I love Him right now.

My daughter jumps up, victorious.  "Done!"  She dashes indoors to put her math problems into the computer and I jump as a crack of thunder rolls from west to east.  Lightning flashes and in the same instant a deafening peal of thunder nearly knocks me out of the chair.

That was very, very close.

Here it comes.  Dead branches drop and loose leaves flutter to the ground.

God is dangerous.  How can I feel this warm in the presence of a God who could take me out in one instant?

Here comes the rain now.  It is a torrent.  It is loud and the street is instantly running with rivers of murky water that will soon run clear.  I feel the mist blowing in on the porch and marvel at the relief felt in the air. At last the dam has broken and the cleansing has come.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  (Rom. 5: 1-2)