Month: April 2014

Sailing Through the Storm

Matthew and I have been in full time ministry together for a long time. We’ve had some stellar experiences serving the church, and some less than stellar ones. If the church is made up of fallible people, and it is, you can imagine some of the shenanigans that can go on. This is nothing new. People of faith have longstanding reputations for bad behavior. It’s part of our charm.

I recall a particularly challenging period about six or seven years ago. It seemed as if things were never going to smooth out in the church we were serving. Controversy followed controversy, and in a fit of desperation, I emailed a spiritual and ministry mentor of ours and asked the question,“How do you continue to do this?” His answer is one I will never forget, and it changed my perspective on life’s storms.

He said, “When the storms of life come, and they do, I raise my sail and ride it out. I am always eager to see where I’ll end up, and I trust God in that. It’s always an adventure.”

Seeing life’s storms as adventure takes some practice. When the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee, and a storm came up quickly, (Matthew 8:23-27) they were sure their boat was going to capsize and that they would all perish. They did not see the storm as an adventure. They panicked. There was one small detail, though, that should have made all the difference. Jesus was in that boat with them. He was riding out the same storm they were… and he was asleep! I’d like to think if I was in a boat in the middle of a storm, and Jesus was with me in the boat, that I wouldn’t panic. I’d like to think that, wouldn’t you?

It’s easy to say things like, “God is in control” when life is smooth sailing. It’s an entirely different thing to say it in the middle of life’s storms. It’s much easier to lose all control and freak out then. In all likelihood, I will be facing a storm soon. I can see it on the horizon, which is a bit of an advantage, really. Most storms hit us like the one that hit the disciples that day on the sea. Unexpectedly and completely out of nowhere. Either way, when storms come, we have a choice to make. We can freak out and go into full on panic mode, or we can raise the sail and ride it out, realizing that Jesus is in the boat with us.

Our faith is truly tested during these times, and we find out just how strong it actually is. Do we really trust him, or are we giving him lip service? If you’ve trusted Jesus for a while, take a look back. Has he ever let you down? You’ve had some hard days, but you made it through, right? I’m going with a yes on that one. After all, you are here reading this blog piece. The disciples had a history with Jesus, too. That’s why Jesus didn’t understand their panic over the storm. It’s like he wanted to know, “What’s the deal? Have you met me?”

I’ve decided to pass on panic this time. It doesn’t serve us well anyway. It leads to bad hair days and even worse, poor choices. I’m unpacking my sail, I’m shaking it out, and beginning to figure out how to hoist it for the biggest gain. I’m going to keep my head. I’m going to look back and remember all the storms we’ve already sailed together, Jesus and I, and I’m going to enjoy this ride. I can’t wait to see where we end up! Bring on the adventure!

Vacationing with the Bakers, Walkers, and Hunters: Which beach visitor are you?

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I notice things sometimes. Not all the time, mind you, but sometimes. I’ve noticed whenever I am vacationing at the beach that you can pretty much divide people into three categories. You have the Bakers, the Walkers, and the Hunters. Each coast loving clan has characteristics particular to their group.

Take the Bakers. My husband is a Baker. Bakers come to the beach to marinate. They set up their nests early and settle in for the better part of the day. I should probably pause to make a public service announcement about melanoma about now, but let’s not bring down the fun level here. Instead we’ll focus on all that vitamin D they’re producing. In addition to marinating, Bakers bring along plenty of reading material to break up their napping. Bakers close their eyes behind mirrored sunglasses and will the cares of their lives away with every breeze that blows by. It is those quiet moments of solitude that refresh them.

Now the Walkers are different animals. They, too, set up nests, but it doesn’t take long before they say something like, “I think I’ll go for a walk on the beach.” And off they go. And walk they do. Briskly and with purpose. The Walkers like to talk about how far they walked and how good the sand felt on their feet. The Walkers enjoy justifying all the poor eating choices they’ve made on vacation with all the beach walking they are doing. The Walkers feel the pressure of their lives being released with every step they take along the shoreline. The farther they walk the better, emotionally, they feel. Many of life’s problems are solved on their walks.

The Hunters. The Hunters are my clan. The Hunters want to make nests, and they say they are going for beach walks, but in reality, they are neither Bakers, nor Walkers. Hunters are collectors, observers. A Hunter can go to the shoreline with the full intent of walking its length, or at least a great part of it, only it find themselves pausing to look, stooping to pick up, and choosing to keep that which can only be found on the beach. They make slow progress down the beach. Their intentions are good, but they are distracted. Their hands end up full of treasures they just cannot leave behind. Shells, coral, driftwood, and sea glass are all irresistible to a Hunter. As they search the shore for keepsakes, the cares of this world float away on the waves that lap at their heels.

Whether you call yourself a Baker, Walker, or Hunter, a trip to the beach can help anyone gain perspective. Looking out upon the vastness of the ocean or night sky, watching the precise timing of the tides, feeling the infinite grains of sand squish between your toes can cause any stressed vacationer to remember there is something greater at work in this world than what might be going down in theirs. Standing on a beach is one of the best places I know to connect with God and capture his mightiness, whether you’re a Baker, a Walker, or like me, a Hunter.
“Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name…” Jeremiah 31:35

Value the Broken

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Matthew and I are blessed to celebrate our anniversary this week in Mexico. It’s a place we have come to love over the last twelve or thirteen years. It was Matthew’s parents who first introduced us to the beautiful scenery, tropical climate, and wonderful people. It is through their generosity that we can come back and visit again and again. Every time we come back, I learn more deeply about servanthood as time and again these selfless people live a life we are all called to as believers.

I have always been a beach comber. These trips to the Mexican beaches allow me to get lost in the hunt. I love to search what the ocean spits back up on the land. It’s like she vomits back up that which she no longer wants. Or maybe she is throwing things up there to give me clues about herself.

Okay. Enough emesis references….

There are shells, pieces of drift wood and coral. Things that truly appear other worldly. They are snippets of the life beneath the surface of the sea. A life I cannot know. Time stands still as I search the sand for treasures. The cares of my world begin to slip away as I turn over, pick up, and examine things from a place I will never go.

There are very few shells that make it to be spit up onto the beach completely intact. The surf has been too hard on most, and they are broken, or chipped. It is but a lucky few who make it to the shore in pristine condition. I used to search only for those few, discarding the ones who were not so lucky. But then, one day a few trips back, I realized that there is still value in the chipped, in the broken. They have a much deeper, more poignant story to tell me. They still have value.

God talks to me about these things as I get lost in the hunt. As I let go of the hectic nature of my life and the distractions that pull my attentions away from him, he joins me there where the water meets the sand. As I pick up a broken shell, and turn it over in my hand, I think of the journey it took to get there. I am tempted to throw it back where I found it, and God speaks to my heart, and reminds me of people that are thrown away just as easily. Damaged people. Broken people. People deemed no longer worthy of our time or energy because of the journey they have taken.

But God sees their value. He knows their power to contribute. He knows where he can still take them, in spite of their brokenness. He can do for them, what I cannot do for the broken and chipped treasures I find. He can redeem them. He can restore them. We need to see their potential. We need to see them the way God sees them. We are so quick to throw stones at their hurting places, when we should offer the balm that will sooth and heal. It wasn’t so long ago that we needed that balm, but our memory gets fuzzy on that part sometimes.

Choosing the pristine is easy. Lifting up the broken takes effort. Yet, as believers, it is what we are called to do. We are the church, and we are the hope of the world.

The Language of Lies

Lies, lies, lies. All lies, all the time. The main truth surrounding Satan is that he is all lies, all the time. It’s what he does best. He speaks the language of lies. Every idea that comes from his mouth is couched in a lie. He is not called the deceiver for no good reason. Deception is his specialty. He cannot manipulate the physical world in which we live. No, but he can, and he does, manipulate mankind through deception. The first words he ever spoke audibly on the planet were a lie. Eve was just the first in a long, very long, line of people to be duped by the lies of the enemy. He, or his minions, have hoodwinked you, and they have hoodwinked me.

The challenge for the believer is to recognize a lie from the enemy when we hear it. Learning to discount his attacks takes practice. Most often those attacks come from those voices we hear in our own heads. It’s okay to admit you hear them. I hear them, too, sometimes. At times, they are so loud it’s hard to hear anything else. They want to bring up your past mistakes. Your hidden fears and buried failures. Feelings of inadequacy or inferiority creep into our consciousness and seek to paralyze us. He wants us to doubt what we know to be true of God. He’s good at what does, but we can arm ourselves, and the first thing we must do is learn what he sounds like.

Satan wants to stall progress. He wants to stifle growth and spiritual maturity. If he can fill your mind full of failure, inadequacy, doubt, and guilt, then maybe, just maybe he can stop your forward motion for the Kingdom. If he can throw darts at your self-esteem, he can keep you still, unable to take that next step towards Jesus. The less you look like Jesus, the better off Satan is.

Learning to recognize the voice of the enemy is almost as important as learning to recognize the voice of God. Learning when to expect his attacks helps you to mount your offensive and get the drop on him. Back in January, I accepted a leadership position in my church. I knew the attacks were on their way. I knew he would try to make me feel inadequate for the job. I was certain he would make me think of the times I have failed as a leader. I was ready for him, and he arrived right on schedule. I saw him coming from quite a ways off. I did what every good soldier would have done. I fell back on my training. I also called in reinforcements. Together, we fought him with the Scriptures. Instead of stopping me in my tracks, he was the one stalled. He’s a scrappy fellow, though, and he does not give up easily. It’s been a tough few months. He has hurled lots of distractions my way, but I am learning more about my enemy and how to defend myself from his attacks, from his lies.

Currently, I have a friend who is far from God. She knows of him, knows a lot about him, but cannot seems to break through the lies of the enemy to allow God to embrace her like a loving father embraces a precious daughter. The lies are so entrenched; it is hard for the truth to find a path inside. I’ve tried. I hurl truth at those lies, and see but the faintest of dents in the armor of lies encasing her. I see the split second desire on her face to believe the truth, a brief brightness at the possibility that what I say just might be true… And then, just as quickly, the darkness of doubt closes the gap again.

Once again, I am going to fall back on my training. My friend needs a chink in her armor. In fact, she needs the whole of it to fall away so that the light of the truth of Jesus can come in and wash away all the doubt, hurt, brokenness, confusion, and lies. Right now she is learning to speak the enemy’s language of lies. It protects her from truth. She slips into it as easily as not because it is the language she hears most in her head. She has learned it well, and it helps to hold that armor surrounding her steadfast. Yet here’s what I know to be true. I know that the same Holy Spirit power that raised Jesus from the dead, is alive in all those who believe in Jesus. I am praying with that very Spirit that what stands in the way of truth in my friend’s life will fall away, like scales of a broken armor, to the ground.

How about you? Do you recognize the voice of the enemy when it comes? Or are you like my friend, and continue to fall prey to it? Are you in this battle, or are you just cowering in fear of the next attack? Learn to stand strong. Learn how to fend off attacks from the enemy. Jesus came so that we might have victory.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” Eph. 1:18-20

Resurrection Sunday

There are many reasons to love Easter. Easter comes at a most beautiful time of the year. It follows a desolate time of year where many suffer from seasonal depression and hopelessness. In a matter of a few days, winter is no more and spring has come. It’s truly magnificent. For the Christian, the celebration of Easter involves a time of reflection and a time to recognize the journey Jesus took to become our sacrificial Lamb. If it were not for this special time of year, we might continue in our platitudes and never slow down enough and force ourselves to think of the reality of His great sacrifice on our behalf.

Many will pause for Easter, and use it as a time to celebrate with egg hunts and one mutantly large bunny. It will be nothing more than a time for a family gathering. My oldest son can’t seem to tolerate the name, “Easter” any longer. For him, the word represents nothing that has to do with Jesus and his suffering and death conquering on our behalf. There is some debate as to the origin of the word, Easter. Some claim it has pagan origins, while others claim its basis in Christendom. I told my son he could quite correctly begin calling the day, Resurrection Sunday, if he wanted to.

That whole discussion piqued the interest of my daughter who, recently listening to a series by Andy Stanley on her daily commutes to school, popped up with, “And did you know that Jesus never referred to people as Christians? That’s what Andy Stanley says. He says Jesus called us disciples. That Christianity can mean many different things, none of which have much to do with following Jesus. “

All true, Andy. Thank you for sharing.

So here’s the deal. If we want to be very clear about this day we all celebrate, it can come down to semantics. As disciples of Jesus, we emulate Him. We die daily to the things we want, to the way we want our lives to go, in favor of His way. We take up our crosses. We bear the burden of what being a follower of Jesus entails. We are disciples, Christ followers. The Bible may not be clear on what a Christian is, but its pretty darn clear about what a disciple of Jesus is to look like. As disciples of Jesus, we celebrate Resurrection Sunday tomorrow and we clap, shout, jump up and down if necessary to let Him know how thrilled we are that He saved us. We can have Easter without the eggs, the mutant bunny, and without family lunches after church, but we cannot, would not, have Resurrection Sunday without Jesus.

Had He not left the safety and pleasure of heaven, to be born into a world of moral decay, lived a sinless life worthy of a perfect sacrificial lamb, taught us how to be disciples, suffered horrendous and unspeakable pain, watching as His Father turned his back upon Him, died and then with the power of the Holy Spirit, be raised from the dead, there would be no celebration of anything related to this day. No Jesus? No eggs or bunnies.

I love the talks I have with my kids about these things. It tells me they are thinking these things through for themselves and coming up with good conclusions, all on their own. So as followers of Christ, disciples of Jesus, we will celebrate Resurrection Sunday tomorrow. It is our hope; it is our rescue. And here’s some truth from my pastor. Jesus doesn’t want you to celebrate Easter; He wants you to experience it. It is freedom, the only real freedom you can ever have.

Image Bearers

When I was a little girl, my grandmother owned and operated a beauty shop in Oneonta, Alabama. It was called, “Glamour Beauty Shop”. I loved to go to her shop and spin around in the chairs and play with her rollers and brushes. Ladies would come in and out of the shop, and if they knew my grandmother, almost without fail, would ask of me, “Is that Jean’s daughter?” They would be referring to my aunt. My grandmother would say, “Oh no, that’s Tommy’s girl.” And they would say, “Well, she looks like her aunt!”

I didn’t get it. I knew my aunt. I didn’t look anything like her. She was old. At the time, she was younger than I am now. Shame on my little self!

In time, I took the remarks in stride, and went on about my business of chair spinning. When your grandmother owns the store you can do what you want to do.

One day, after a long day at the shop, I went home with my grandmother to her house and she called me into her bedroom. She was holding a little school picture. She handed it to me, and asked me who I thought was in the picture. I took the picture and looked at it. I was looking at a picture of me. Only it wasn’t me, exactly. The hairstyle was different than mine, and I didn’t own a pink shirt with a Peter Pan collar. It was a picture of my aunt at my age.

Finally, I fully understood why all those ladies at the shop had thought I was my aunt’s daughter. I did look just like her! In all honesty, it was more than a little disturbing.

All those women could clearly see my aunt in my face because I bore her image. I looked like her. So much so, that they assumed I had to belong to her.

We are image bearers of God. In Genesis, when God creates man, he does so in His own image. In Colossians, Paul refers to Christ followers in Colossians 3:9-10 as image bearers of Christ.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

As I have grown older, I don’t look as much like my aunt as I once did. Her image has faded from my face. As followers of Christ, we bear his image, and we are to be constantly striving for that image to grow stronger, and for that image to become clearer to those around us. As human beings, everyone is an image bearer of God. As believers in Christ, we are to bear testimony to what he has done for us and in us. We are to reflect the savior.

We may not be the only Bible someone ever reads, but we might very well be the first one they read. Let us show his love, demonstrate his grace, and extend his mercy. May it never come as a surprise that they see Jesus when they look at us. May we act in such a way that it comes as no surprise that we belong to him.

Opportunity or Distraction?

Today, Christians observe Palm Sunday. On this day, we remember that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and was hailed King of the Jews. There was much fanfare and palm waving. It was a party. Hallelujah’s flowed like liquid chocolate in a fountain at a wedding reception. Palm Sunday marked the beginning of Holy Week, and it would be the last really good day Jesus would experience on this earth. Things went down hill pretty quickly for him as the week progressed.

But on his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, on what we now call Palm Sunday, there was no question in anyone’s mind who he was. There was no question in Jesus’ mind either. He had begun his final journey to save mankind. He knew he was this world’s only hope.

There was a time before Palm Sunday when the enemy tried to distract Jesus from his mission. You can’t really blame Satan. He had to try, didn’t he? If he could distract Jesus from his sole purpose for coming to earth, he would finally be victorious.

The Bible says, in Matthew chapter four, that the Spirit of God led Jesus to this date with the devil. It was a test he had to pass. Actually, it was three tests. The devil tried three times to distract Jesus from his ultimate purpose. Fortunately for us, Jesus stayed the course and refused to turn to the left or the right. Thankfully, he knew how to fight the enemy with the Scriptures, and easily defeated his adversary.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between opportunity and distraction. The enemy offered Jesus the opportunity to change his path; to save himself, but Jesus refused to be swayed. He knew the “wonderful” things the enemy was offering were merely distractions.

I wish it were always so easy for us. Distractions can often be dressed up as opportunity, and many times it is hard to tell the difference. We feel we are on the path the Lord has laid out for us, and along comes opportunity knocking. Opportunity is a positive word. We aren’t supposed to pass up opportunity. But what if that opportunity is really a distraction merely disguised as opportunity?

As a mom, I try hard to help my kids follow their passions, their path. They were created for a purpose. They have a calling. Parents know their kids better than their kids know themselves. Your parents are the only people who tightly hold memories of you before you do. I can remember my children’s first birthday parties. My kids only know what they have seen in pictures of that event. I know what their temperament was early on. I saw their leanings and the things that made their eyes light up as youngsters.

I hope to be able to help them navigate the distractions that will inevitably come their way. My daughter is an artist. Her talent completely blows me away. I can draw, but this talent she has did not come from me. No, this talent she has comes from a much holier place. Her dad and I are careful to guard against distractions that come. Laura has decided to hold off on dating for now. (Her dad is especially happy about that.) She’s sixteen and has never had a boyfriend. She’s had opportunity to have one, but clearly saw it as a distraction. She is focused. She knows who she is and she knows what she is about.

It’s not always that clearly marked out. Sometimes parents even have a hard time discerning opportunity from distraction for themselves, much less for their kids. So what’s a parent to do? The best thing a parent can do to help their kids discern opportunity from distraction is by teaching their kids to follow the Lord first. That’s what Jesus did in the wilderness when he faced his enemy. Jesus fell back on what he knew. He knew God’s word. He knew how to follow the Father. Distractions take us away from the Father. Opportunity takes us closer to him.

So your kid has a chance to chase after something new. Or maybe you do. Is it distraction or opportunity? Let’s say it’s you, and it’s a new job opportunity… it means more money or influence, but it also means you must travel away from your family quite a bit. It will put your family at potential risk. Suddenly, opportunity looks like distraction.

Avoiding distraction requires that we know who we are and that we know Who’s we are. That takes some time investment on our part, but knowing that is completely available to all who follow after Jesus. He set the example, we are just followers.