Learning to Serve Humble Pie

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On my writer’s Facebook page I once compared myself to a cook and my writing pieces to simmering stews.  Stews that I taste and test, as I try to understand what should be added, or altered, in order to make each one… perfect.  Months have passed since I shared that.  And now my so called kitchen is full of writing pieces that have never been served up.  What each piece needs to make it just right is a mystery to me.  Imagine if this were physical food, and I had a family or group of friends to feed?  Imagine if I stopped putting meals on the table in my home, because I couldn’t get each dish to turn out just great.  That would be ridiculous.  And sad.  And that is where I have been.  I am sorry readers.  I have missed serving those of you who have pulled up to my corner of God’s table.

So now I am thinking…. wouldn’t it be better to serve something instead of nothing?  Does a dish need to be perfect in order to nourish or comfort?  Have I been prideful– afraid to give and serve with my weakness showing?

Today, I remember Jesus perfect sacrifice on the cross, and how it came through his vulnerability, humility and nakedness.  I remember how Jesus told the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  I think there is something for me to learn about serving weak and trusting God to show Himself strong.

I want to learn to serve this way, to dish up this humble pie, and give what I have to offer even if eggs shells are in the mix.  And I want to encourage you to do the same.  Let’s not aim for our own perfection, but trust God’s.  Let’s count on God to add what we lack– that missing ingredient, that special sauce, His amazing grace that redeems every dish, and day.

Dear Lord,  We are small.  And weak.  We often don’t know exactly what to say.  And we hardly ever know perfectly what to do.  But here we are.  We want to get out of our kitchens, and our homes, and ourselves, and serve others what you have given us to share.  We are not amazing.  But you are amazing.  You have reached out and rescued us.  Thank you.  Please rescue what we dish up and do today, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

The Most Beautiful Thing in the Room

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It’s a scene I won’t forget.  The party is winding down and I look across the table.  My dad and his 93 year old sister, my aunt, are sitting face to face and knee to knee.  My aunt’s eyes are shining and she is smiling.  She has never looked more beautiful as she listens to what my dad is telling her.  She is hanging on his every word.  I can’t hear much of the conversation, but I hear enough to understand what’s happening.  My dad is orienting her.  My aunt is forgetting a lot these days and he’s reminding her of things.  Things like their shared history and who they are to each other.  “I’m your younger brother” and “We used to….”  What strikes me is my dad’s kindness.  He’s done this for his sister before, yet he patiently does it again.  He’s fully present.  His efforts are wholehearted.  And most notably, his actions show that he doesn’t believe he’s missing out on “bigger” or “better” talks with others.  Beautiful.

The party ended.  And while there were many special moments that night, the one I can’t shake from my mind’s eye is that one I witnessed with my dad and my aunt.  I wonder why I keep coming back to it.  Then it hits me, and I know.  My dad is like Jesus.  And I am my aunt.  I get so easily disoriented, confused and agitated by things that happen in my world, unable to make sense of emotions and struggles inside my soul…  Then Jesus comes near.  And he patiently and kindly orients me.  He reminds me of our shared history.  Of who he is to me and who I am to him.  “I am the way” and “You are my child…”  He has the clarity I lack.  He speaks the truth I need.  And, the fact that Jesus could be involved in far more exciting discussions with much more interesting, influential and “on top of it” people, well… it melts me.  What other god acts like this?  Bends down and sits, face to face and knee to knee, with humanity?  Beautiful.

                 “Come… and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”

                                                                                            Matthew 11:28 NIV

 

Are You a Stone Mover?

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In John 11, Martha is standing with her sister Mary near the tomb where they recently buried their brother Lazarus.  They had sent word to Jesus when Lazarus was sick, but nothing happened.  Moments passed.  Days went by.  Grave clothes were gathered.  The funeral attended.  The case closed.  Lazarus is four days dead, in fact, he is decaying, when Jesus arrives on the scene.

Jesus stands among the mourners and is deeply moved.  He is troubled in spirit.  And he weeps.  Then, he surprises everyone.  He puts a hinge in the atmosphere.  A door handle on things.  “Take away the stone,” Jesus says.  He is referring to the stone that is sealing the entrance to Lazarus’s grave.

What?  The grievers wonder.  That’s crazy, they begin to think.  Martha speaks up, saying what’s on many minds.  “But Lord, by this time there is a strong odor.”  Or in other words, “But Lord, this will not be pleasant.”  But Lord, what’s the point?  But Lord, too much time has passed.  But Lord, we were just getting used to life as it has turned out.  But Lord… don’t get our hopes up.

Jesus replies, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”  There’s a collective silence.  A pause.  A possible shift in thinking.  The glory of God?  Did he say we would see the glory of God?  In this situation?  The hinge might be used.  The door handle reached for…

“So they took away the stone,” the Bible says.

And when they did, Jesus called through the opening they made, and did something miraculous.  He did what only he can do.  He commanded that dead thing, the dead man, to live.

Who stepped forward and moved that gravestone?  Who stepped back and said, “I’m not touching that thing, you do it”?  Why didn’t Jesus move the stone himself?  And would Jesus have done the miracle, had the people not obeyed?  I wonder about these things.  And I wonder what this story means for me.

I think it means that what I thought was over, might not be over.  I think it means I should be looking for hinges and door handles– listening for that strange and awkward (yet clear and unmistakable) command of God.  I think it means I should be ready to move a stone.  Because a miracle awaits.

What have you prayed about and grieved over?  What grave are you standing near?  Are you a stone mover?

Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”   The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped in strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”   John 11:43-44 NIV

 

A Big Lesson From a Little Horse

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Seabiscuit had none of the marks of a thoroughbred racehorse.  First of all he was small.  And though he was half the size of other colts he often ate twice as much.  He slept for huge chunks of the day.  And, he threw his foot out when he ran.  Seabiscuit was judged a failure and a disappointment.  “Get rid of him,” his original owner said.

Later in Seabiscuit’s life a remarkable thing happened.  Someone, who truly knew and loved horses, saw something in him.  They saw what he could be.  And they arranged for his purchase.  They took him home and guided him to become what he was born to be– a champion racehorse, and a national inspiration.  Seabiscuit became a symbol of hope to down and out Americans during the Great Depression.  Awesome timing, huh?  Divine destiny.

Do you lack the qualities necessary to be a winner in the eyes of this world?  Have you been labeled, the wrong size?  Too plain, or too slow?  Have you been judged lazy, low performing, or worse… a disappointment?

God sees you through different eyes, eyes of love.  He sees who you are meant to be.  And He has a plan.  In Christ, God has purchased you out of judgment, and into His care, where, He guides you to become the person he intended you to be.  A champion in something.  A hope giver to the washed up and weary.  Witness God’s awesome timing.  Accept your Divine destiny.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ.          1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV           

 

 

Sowing in Tears

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“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”   Psalm 126:5 NIV

What breaks your heart?  And brings you to tears?  It’s a deeply personal question, but I ask it because God’s word tells us that right there, right at that point of sorrow, there’s an amazing field of opportunity.  An opportunity to sow in tears, and reap joy.

So how do we go from heartbroken to happy harvest?  How do we plant, and grow, this rare and wonderful crop?  We start by understanding that tears alone produce nothing.  So, as much as we’d like to sit around with our tissue boxes, we can’t.  There must come a day when we get up from our bed of sorrow, walk into that field of opportunity, and take God at His word– turn our faces heavenward, and find out what God wants us to do in light of (or in spite of) what we’re going through.  Sowing in tears means just that, we can’t wait until we feel positively sunny before we start.  That’s key to farming a field of joy.  And, you can begin today.

What’s your pain?  Pour it out to the Lord.  And ask Him what to do.  Then, take His seed of instruction and sow it by acting on what He says.  Is God telling you to wait?  Then wait, don’t push.  Is God telling you to trust?  Then trust, don’t manipulate or strategize.  Is God telling you to go somewhere and do something?  Then go.  Do it.  Don’t wait for a prettier day.  Don’t wait until you are in a better mood.  Do what God says, no matter how strange, or impossible, it seems.

God’s kingdom is made up of many glorious fields planted in this way.  His mercy pours down like rain upon them.  His face shines radiantly on the people who work in them.  So take heart little farmer.  Take that step of faith.  And plow ahead.

Several years ago I quit my teaching job to write a novel.  I worked on a manuscript, took it to a writer’s conference and was told that no one would be interested in a story like mine.  I was heartbroken.  I came home and cried.  Now what, I wondered?  For days I sat around on a bed of tears.  Then I prayed and asked God what to do.  I started writing devotionals for the local paper and bible studies for a jail ministry and a Sunday school class.  I even wrote a few speeches for our church women’s events.  I did my best to sow seeds of God’s love and encouragement into the lives of the people around me.  I never dreamed I could be truly happy working in those little fields, but I was.  I gained some dear friends.  And reaped joy.  Joy I never would have known, if I hadn’t cried and sown.  Looking back now I see that God was teaching me something very important.  He was teaching me to love His story, more than my own.  And I do.

Don’t let your tears fall to the ground without a seed.  Weep if you must, but sow as you weep.  The harvest will come when the time is just right.  Don’t worry, you will reap joy.  It’s a promise.

        He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.    Psalm 126:6 NIV

Beware, There’s a Bully Out There

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Dear One, I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you, or at least remind you, that you have an enemy.  His name is Satan and the Bible tells us quite a bit about him.  He steals, he kills, he destroys.  I am not being overly dramatic, the Bible says that. (John 10:10)  Satan is always looking for something to ruin.

So how does Satan operate?  We see how he operates in the book of Genesis.  You remember the story of Eve.  Satan snuck into paradise and lured Eve into what?  A big cage?  I giant steel trap?  No.  A conversation.  Isn’t that interesting?  The enemy begins to talk, Eve listens, and soon she is doubting that God’s plan for her is that good.

Let me illustrate.  One day a man called me from a telephone company.  Our conversation started out simple enough, but it soon was clear that the man wanted me to switch from my current phone plan to his.  When I told him my husband took care of handling those things I hoped it would end the discussion.  It didn’t.  Instead it escalated.  “Can’t you make your own decisions?” he replied.  Quickly the man began to insinuate that I was in some sort of bondage, that just maybe my husband didn’t know what was best for me, wasn’t treating me right, or giving me enough freedom…  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.  My husband was saving me a big headache, and I knew it.  When I told the man on the phone his remark was out of line, he backed off and then hung up.  Now, I know the man on the phone was not Satan, his frustration got the best of him.  We all have days like that.  But I bring up the incident because it shows how our enemy approaches.

God has a plan for us.  The plan is good and all the guidelines have loving purposes.  But Satan gets on the line and starts whispering all kinds of things, things like “You’re just a captive under a system” or “What does God know about what’s best for you?”  Satan’s plan is to get us to believe that God is impersonal, uncaring, tightfisted, and out of touch.  He tries to sour a sweet thing.

Now, how can you protect yourself from an attack like this?

Here are a few ways.  First, read God’s word.  Know for yourself who God is.  What others say about him is not always the truth.

Second, spend more time with people who believe in and respect God, and less time with those who talk flippantly or rudely about him.

Third, when you find yourself doubting God or his goodness, talk to him about it instead of his enemy.  Eve could have easily gone to God and said, “Hey that snake said such and such, and that tree you said I shouldn’t partake of is looking pretty good right now…”  Talking to God like this is called praying.

Finally, invite God to help you with what you are facing today.  You will get to know him personally and a right view of him will form in your mind.  So when the enemy comes around slinging mud on God’s reputation, and trying to get you to switch from God’s plan to his, you will be able to say, and mean, “What you say is not true, and this conversation is over.”

Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in your faith.  1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV 

 

 

We Happy Prodigals

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One thing we learn from the story of the prodigal son is that an opportunity for real joy comes when we are broke.  Or broken.  When we’ve sinned or blown it in something it’s not over.  If… we remember and return to our Heavenly Father.

When the prodigal son sat down to that homecoming feast I don’t think he could have been happier.  Just imagine the new eyes that he had after all he’d been through, friendless and starving.  Imagine the new heart that was his as he pulled up to a table he’d once scorned and blew off.  Now it’s everyone else that’s ho humming their food, not him.  He’s enraptured.  Enraptured like Bob, in the movie What about Bob.  Declaring in wonder, “Is this hand shucked corn?!”

What has changed?  Him.  His heart.  His view.  He now knows what he’s got.  Do you?

His older brother is still in the barn.  He’s never hit bottom.  Never rebelled.  Never goofed up, messed up, wasted a day, or a year.  He’s never copped out, or chickened out, or walked away.  He has no idea what it’s like to feel… guilty.  Guilty of being a poor steward.  So he’ll never really see, or love, or be joyful about, all he’s got.

                                   And Jesus said, “He who has been forgiven little loves little…”    

When God Almighty runs at you and hugs the stuffing out of you in spite of who you’ve been, you just can never pout in God’s house again.  Because you’ve learned the Dorothy lesson.  You know, the one from the Wizard of Oz.  You’ve learned that….

There is just

No place

Like home.

 

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.  Psalm 84:4 NIV

  

“Not Yet”

Girl Reading A Book At School

I will never forget when my little niece Logan was going through her “not yet” phase.  No matter what we were doing “not yet” was a constant refrain.  One afternoon I was reading her a story and as I began to turn the page she shot her little hand down upon it.  “Not yet,” she said.  What was the problem I wondered?  I thought I had given her plenty of time to take in that part of the story and to look at the pictures.  What did she mean, “Not yet”?

It was many months later I found myself stuck.  And angry.  Not one to lose my temper I was literally clenching my fists in frustration over something I had hoped to accomplish more quickly.  I had worked and waited a long time and I was ready to cross the finish line on that thing.  I was on a walk thinking and praying when I remembered Logan and her “not yet” phase.  I thought about the day I read her that story, and about how she laid her little hand down on the page.  I was puzzling over the memory when I heard a whisper to my heart.

Slow down.  You’re rushing the story.”

What?”  I thought as I slowed my pace.  “What story?”  I asked almost out loud.

The story of your life,” came the reply.

I was bewildered.  And exasperated.  “Lord, how on earth can I possibly rush the story of my life?  I am the slowest person I know!  Don’t you see what I am trying to do?  I know this scene.  I’ve been stuck in it for months.  I am well acquainted with this page and I am more than ready to turn it.”

Gently, so gently, it was as if the Lord laid his hand down.  Laid it over my restless heart.  Laid it over the scene before me.  And with great kindness said, “Not yet.”

I felt myself calming.  And I felt God’s love for me even though I wished He had said something different.  I didn’t understand, but I wanted to trust.  I walked on.  I kept thinking.  And as I did I started getting the feeling that there was something very valuable on this particular page of my life, something… I just hadn’t seen yet.

I let go of my frustration.  And a new response began forming in me.  A response like this:

Lord, you are the author of my life.  If you say it’s not time to turn the page, it’s not time to turn the page.  I will look for what I have not yet seen.  I will find beauty in the unfolding.  I will cherish your hand upon my life.  And I will wait.  I will wait for the day when you say, “Okay.  Now.”

               I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5 NIV

 

 

The High Ways of God

Daisy Flower In The Desert

He…

Asks a man to build a boat in the middle of the desert.

Chooses an old, infertile couple to be the birth parents of a nation.

Saves a baby’s life by giving it to the enemy’s daughter.

Calls someone who stutters to be His speaker.

Uses a prostitute to protect religious men.

Tells a commander that he has too many warriors for battle.

Turns a whale’s belly into a prayer chapel.

Uses a boy with a sling shot to kill a giant enemy.

Picks a bunch of fishermen to deliver the most important message of all time.

Turns a place of execution into a doorway for new life.

 

                         “As the heavens are higher than the earth,

                          so are my ways higher than your ways and

                         my thoughts than your thoughts.”  — God  

 

A Door of Hope

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Would God ever lead you into a desert? Yes, but not without a promise. God was talking about his people Israel when he said:

“I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor (which means “trouble”) a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth.”  Hosea 2:14-15 NIV

Deserts are hard places. The days are extra hot and the nights extra cold. Needs are intensified. “I’m thirsty.” “Where are my friends?” “Am I on the right path?” “I feel confused.” “Is that real or is it a mirage?” If God has led you into the desert it will be tough, but according to the verse above you have four excellent promises.

First, God will speak tenderly to you. So, watch and listen for his tenderness.

Second, God will give you back something you have lost. And He will determine what it is. For Israel it was vineyards. Remember, fruit often comes from plowed up ground, a good seed, watering, and pruning. That means you need, an open heart, God’s word, daily prayer, and the willingness to let go of things that are weighing you down.

Third, God will turn your trouble into a door of hope. Doors lead somewhere, and I love the thought of a hopeful threshold to cross, don’t you? Watch for it.

Lastly, you are promised that you will sing like a child. Children don’t sing about cheap thrills or love gone bad, they sing about hopes fulfilled and dreams coming true. What have you been singing about? Do you need to change your tune?

God never leads his people into the desert to die. He leads them there to carry them through, to a promised place.