Tuesday, February 19, 2013

the bold and the beautiful

i never feel more ugly than when i am caught up in myself.  and i never feel more beautiful than when i am caught up in Him.

too often i've found myself tangled up in the words and actions of others, rather than being attached to the Words and Works of Him.  binding myself to the opinions and approval of those around and loosening myself from who God says I am. my fickle heart.

in Him is where life and living truly exists.  while He never changes, He keeps changing me.  this work not yet complete.  i give in to it.

when left to my own, my flesh spreads wide and dominates like disease.  but when keeping in step with the Spirit, His fullness overpowers and spreads wide victory over the battlefields that try to conquer within. and without.  i raise my white flag.

LORD, be bigger in my life than my greatest fears, failures, insecurities, difficulties, hurts and circumstances.  Be bold and beautiful in my heart, with grace-wave lapping over the rough and hard edges. until the smoothness of Your love polishes me up. pure and clean.

Wonder-work within and all around me.  i see glimpses daily.  a fresh display of holyworks that lights up the sky of my heart and leaves me breathless and shouting awe indescribable.  in color and strength i had never seen before, but only conjured up in dreams.  You are the dream giver.  making reality of them in our souls.  where none compares.

it's all too exhilarating to know that with each day that i live and draw breath, there will always be more of You to consume and discover.  breathe into me and make me come alive minute by minute, day by day, year by year, word by word, chapter by chapter until my already written life story is completely published and revealed.  all for Your glory. in every area i try to take over as author, edit over my error, blindness, and selfish, stubborn will.

You are the fount of living waters that never runs dry...but courses through like a river's current spilling in and out of us, refreshing all, and nourishing life of passion and purpose.  and oh is there life to be lived.  and fullness of it.  regardless of circumstance or journey, abundance waits to break loose around every cliff and corner.

desperation for You is my heart's desire.  show me more of Your glory.  lately, i find myself gasping and inhaling You in with a ravenous appetite, and You deliver.   You cook up a fine meal.  feeding and exhaling what's most fulfilling.  i feast on You and Your 5 star Word like a delicacy to be savored. chewing fast and meticulously every morsel of this God-breathed scripture and swallowing it down hard with the waters of Your truth.  with no reservation. and no shame in my gluttony.  anxious to digest and be satiated.  fatten me with more of You.  i want each and every holy and perfect crumb.

my bold and beautiful God, shape me into Your image, so that I may reflect You to a world that needs You as desperately as I.  never am I more confident and comfortable in my own skin than when my identity takes on Yours.

"My zeal for God and His work burns hot within me."
Psalm 69:9

"Your message burns in my heart and bones, and I cannot keep silent."
Jeremiah 20:9

"Those who look to Him are radiant; 
their faces are never covered with shame."
Psalm 34:5

today while eating lunch, i looked down at the table runner my mom had made for me a couple of years ago out of vintage valentine fabric.  one of the valentine's printed on the fabric read:

just take a teeny weeny bite of me, to help your appetite
then chew and chew and chew and chew
you’ll see how close I stick to you

isn't this just the way God works too?  each bite of Him and His word that we sink our teeth into, chew, and digest, becomes a part of us...sticking to us.  His bold and His beautiful.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

the gracious receiver

We've all heard the cliche, "It's better to give than to receive."  This is true.  It's also easier to give than to receive.  Over the past couple of years I have been learning how to be a gracious receiver.  At times, this has been a painfully difficult thing to do.  It's not easy to ask for help.  It's not any easier to receive it.  We squirm in discomfort and avoid it for as long as we can.  It can be humbling.  And embarrassing.  Awkward and uncomfortable.  It's admitting we have a need.  Or many of them.  And in a self-sufficient, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," "you're in charge of your own destiny" type of world we live in, it is pride-stripping as well.  Naked and vulnerable pride-stripping.  It can hurt the ego and pull shenanigans on your emotions.  There's the guilt and the self-condemnation.  The insecurity and the inadequacy.  The feared judgment. The indebtedness.  It requires bright red grace.  I'm trying.

You wrestle with the inability to look someone in the eye and find adequate words that go beyond just "thank you."  What your eyes and your heart long to convey, but can't seem to spell out.  A heartfelt hug that seems inefficient and lacking.  And how you long to express so much more.  How does one let another know the depths of such felt gratitude?  Too many times I feel it plastered all over my heart shouting out in bright reds, but words can only whisper it in subtle pale and smeared pasty pink. Thank you.

I'm not going to lie.  I cannot wait till the season in life comes where we can be on the other end of this.  Where we can be the ones blessing, and not just being blessed.  I long for those days.  I often dream about all the ways we can give and help others.  I'm certain that some day God will place us in a position to do so.  One day.  He will.

I understand that this season of gracious receiving will only better prepare us to have greater hearts of compassion for those in need.  So that in return we can be the gracious and generous givers.  When you experience lacking or find yourself in need, it builds compassion in you and a desire to help others.  Even if you had that desire before, you gain considerable depth.  You understand.  You've walked a similar walk.  You can't help but to help.  You want to bless back. You become more keenly aware of others in need and look for possibilities to meet those needs.  Instead of stumbling upon someone in need, you begin to scan and seek them out.  Your eyes gain perception and your vision expands beyond yourself, extending to the needs of those around you.  And you yearn to fulfill.  To give. While you can't do everything you'd like, you set out to use the gifts, abilities, and resources He's given you in the moment.  For they can still be used to benefit another, and will be good enough for the ones He chooses to place within your path.  I'm still learning.

During one of our last sessions of Stephen Ministry training a few weeks ago, we covered a section in one of our required reading assignments called, "The Grace to Receive."   If you are anything like me, and have experienced a long season of need, sit back and open your heart up wide for the following words.  They just might challenge your perspective.  Kenneth C. Haugk writes:

"Strange that Christians should find it difficult to be gracious receivers when we confess that our entire lives- physical and spiritual- are gifts of God's Spirit.  And although the Bible stresses giving, it also gives us examples of receiving."

"Christ showed us how to be gracious receivers when He allowed the sinful woman to anoint Him.  In fact, I think Jesus rather enjoyed receiving this gift.  He had forgiven the woman, and she wished to demonstrate her faith and gratitude.  Jesus and the woman shared an act of community that would not have been possible had He refused her ministrations."

"The Apostle Paul had a similar give-and-take relationship with the people of Philippi (Philippians 4: 10-20).  Paul gave to them; they gave to him: they both received from each other.  Paul highly valued self-sufficiency, but he could graciously receive gifts when in need.  Both giving and receiving were important to Paul and he participated comfortably in both."

"It is a general psychological and theological TRUTH that individuals have difficulty giving to others unless they have first received.  Scripture emphasizes this most clearly.  The first letter of John (1 John 4:7-21) stresses that we are able to love others only because we have first received love from Jesus Christ.  In 2 Corinthians 1:4 Paul tells us that we are able to comfort and help others only because Jesus has first comforted us."

"When Christians, then, give love and concern to others, they are sharing the love of Christ active within them.  And when we receive gifts of love from our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are in a real sense also receiving Christ."

Did you catch that?  This last statement stopped me in my tracks.  I never want to deny receiving Christ or anything He has to offer.  Refusing help or closing the door of opportunity to graciously receive is, in a way, rejecting Christ.  He uses His body of believers to be His hands and feet.  When we refuse them, in a sense, we refuse Him.

The author further explains, "The parable of the last judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 instructs us to feed people, give them something to drink, welcome strangers, clothe people, take care of sick persons, and visit prisoners.  And, Jesus takes time to emphasize, when we do this we are not only helping other people, we are also ministering to Jesus Christ Himself.  ("Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to Me.") So Christ is present in both the giver and the receiver, in both the act of giving and the act of receiving."

This shed new insight on the act and attitude of being a gracious receiver.  I'm so thankful that we were given a perfect example in Jesus Christ.  The story of the sinful woman who spilled tears and perfume on the feet of Jesus is one of the most touching stories in the Bible.  It tenders my heart and moves me.  Over and over again.  For I am just as sinful and in need of forgiveness as this woman ever was.  And I found the same Hope as she: Jesus.  Our perfect example of graciously giving and graciously receiving.

"When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating dinner at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them."
Luke 7:37-38

This woman was an outcast.  Unwanted and unwelcome.  A party crasher.  Scorned and rejected.  Inwardly broken and wounded.  But humbly, she put these things aside, sought out Jesus, and gave her everything to Him.  Lavished love upon Him the only way she knew how.  Poured it out as a fragrant offering of humility, gratitude, worship and adoration.  They say the alabaster jar of perfume she emptied onto His feet was most likely worth a year's salary...it probably represented all she was worth.  And she willingly and unabashedly gave it to Him knowing that what she was receiving in return had no comparable worth.  Blood red forgiveness.  Stark white salvation.  Perfect peace.  And pure Jesus.

You'd be shocked to hear of the ways God has moved in the hearts of others to provide for the needs of our family.  Too many examples to give.  Some too humbling to even share.  My heart screams inaudible gratitude.  If tears could spell words, I'd have a book written.  I want to be like this woman who gave and loved much.  Graciously receiving all Christ has for me.  Even when it comes through others that act as His hands and feet.  And in return, I hope to give all that I'm worth.  This life spilled out and lived for Him.  And to Him.  In the shouting and song of thanksgiving.  And grace bright red.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

my cup runneth over

The first chapter in James is one of my favorite passages in the Bible.  We dove into this book during one of my previous Bible studies (Beth Moore's: Mercy Triumphs).  It also happened to occur at a time in life when we felt blown away by trial and hardship.  My son had been diagnosed with a chronic illness and had been in three different hospitals over the course of three weeks.  Life as we knew it was severely altered as we found ourselves adjusting to a new way of living.  I suddenly became a homeschooling mom of three trying to find balance, manage my son's health, and adjust to a new way of life in more ways than one, and with very limited resources.  Financially and circumstantially we were at our worst, and life seemed to be unraveling quickly.  We were left to do nothing but hold onto our faith as a thread of hope, and learn to trust God in all our weakness and lacking.

"Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so you may become mature and complete, not lacking anything."
James 1:2-4

I had many moments where I was able to do this.  I could see the hand of God over and in and through our circumstances and I counted that as joy.  But those moments of joy didn't seem to "stick" as I went about my days and months and the hardship continued.  Yet, I was left no other choice but to persevere through it.  Some days, it was all I could do to just survive through a day without melting down into a puddle of doubt and discouragement.  I longed for the joy to move permanently into my heart and not just act as a guest coming and going at its own leisure.  I wanted to experience the joy in the midst of my circumstances and not just in hindsight view.

Even though our trials and difficult circumstances still exist today, the testing of my faith has built up spiritual muscle that is allowing me to view my life from a divinely different lens.  A perspective that is able to distinguish and value the gifts that are being gained from our low positioning.  And I wouldn't exchange this positioning for any "best earthly outcome," for the gifts are far richer and lasting from this posture.

"The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position..."
James 1:9

In the past I could look at this passage and only wonder and fantasize how this could really be true.  I now understand this verse to my core.  I've found that in our seasons of need we are given a blessed opportunity to see God moving and working in more recognizable ways than we would see in our plenty.  It's in our helplessness that He becomes more visible.  And isn't that what we all inwardly and deeply desire more than anything?  To see Him.  And to know Him.  More than we already do now?

The testing of our faith, the hardships, the suffering, and the trials, all give us an opportunity to have a front row seat to God's Big Show.  And what a display He makes when you are closest to the stage and part of His act.  With perseverance, it slowly becomes reality that your trials indeed make you mature and complete, not lacking anything.  For in Him, you find your everything.

My heart is so full.  I've been riding on a God-high for some time now.  Each day a new gracefall rains down on my heart.  Living waters.  Fountains found in Him.  Spirit alive and afresh.  Active and moving.  I may be "lacking" in an earthly sense, but I feel rich in spirit.  Perseverance leads to spiritual richness, which leads to hope, which leads to deepened belief.  It's a direct effect, and there is no way around it at times.  And when you believe God and His promises, and finally begin to take Him at His word, your trials appear to diminish as He becomes center-stage in your life.  And applause in Him drowns out the cry of worry and despair in you.

On a minuscule level, I got a taste of this today.  My husband has been away on a well-needed and deserved guys weekend up north.  The kids and I had a packed weekend with other weekend-widowed women and their kids.  There were the usual moments of stress found in taking on the tasks of single-parenthood for these past few days, but nothing unmanageable.  Even those moments were wrapped up in fun and activity and fellowship.  This morning on my way to church, I was feeling a bit of pride that I had successfully bathed and gotten all three kids and I ready and out the door with even a few minutes to spare.  I had time to get gas, but was going to have to forego my "plain black coffee with a splash of skim milk" Sunday Starbucks splurge.  While caffeine has a divine place in my life, it was nothing to lose heart over.

On the expressway my car urgently dinged and a light flashed on my dashboard indicating my tire pressure was low.  I was not even to the exit ramp when I heard the rumbling and felt the wobbling of flat tire to pavement, trying to flatten my spirit.  I managed to maneuver the car into crawling mode off the exit ramp and onto the main street (easy access to be rescued!) I was about to call a friend at church to see if she could come bail us out in our moment of distress, when a car immediately pulled up beside me and asked if we needed help.  I proceeded to call my friend, who wasn't available, while the car offering help pulled up in front of me on the shoulder of the road.  A nicely dressed man got out of his car and came over to the driver's side of mine.  He asked if I had a spare tire and offered to put it on for me.  By the way he was dressed, I assumed he was on his way to church and told him that I didn't want to make him and his family late if that was where they were heading.  He said they had just come from church and were off to run some errands.  Left with no other choice, I humbly and gratefully accepted.

While embarrassingly rummaging through the mountain of "stuff" that piled high in the back end of our car covering the spare tire compartment, the man told me that his wife thought I looked familiar.  She told him to ask me if I knew someone that she knew.  Turns out, I did.  It was her best friend of 15 years and a friend of mine who had gone to our church and was actually in our Home Group before her and her family moved away.  What a small world...(or rather, a Big God.)

Moments later, a police officer rolled up behind us and asked if we needed assistance.  He stayed there with us and chatted while the man worked off my deflated tire and proceeded to put on my rubber doughnut replacement.  Turns out, the police officer used to attend our church before moving to the north side.  In addition, the police officer's wife was the preschool teacher of the man's daughter.  We were all strangely connected in some way.  Coincidence? I think not.  The officer stayed with us the whole time.  He gave me a business card and offered for me to call the station and have him dispatched if I wanted him to follow me home or had any trouble along the way.  I felt thankful and well-taken care of.  Under the umbrella of His care.

I sat there on the side of the road counting this little mishap all as joy.  It totally put me in an even better mood than the one I was in when I walked out my door 30 minutes prior.  I marveled on the roadside and thanked God for this opportunity.  It gave me the chance to witness His hand moving in even these humble circumstances.  What the devil intended for harm this morning, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20).  It only boosted me up closer to Him, and better prepared me to walk into church with evidences of Him written all over my heart and my circumstance.  Belief strengthened yet again.  Joy in the midst...what I had been craving.

Trials, even the speed-bumps and flat tires of life, are perfect opportunities to drive us to God.  Through each one that comes my way, I'm learning to search Him out in the midst.  And the more I search, the more of Him I find (Jeremiah 29:13).  He's wonder-working everywhere if we just take on the eyes to see.

Testing leads to perseverance.  The Greek word for testing is "peirazo," which means, "to make proof of."  Our trials make proof of our God.  The Greek word for perseverance is "hupomone."  This means, "to abide under, to bear up under burden, remaining under."  When we faithfully persevere, we choose to trustfully remain under Him.  Our steadfast and staying power.

And as if I didn't need any more reason to count this all as joy, I walked into church 15 minutes late to find a coffee station set up and a full carafe calling out my name.

It's in the big, and the little, we are given the chance to "count it all as joy."

Today, my cup runneth over...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Let Him reign in your rain

Another message I recently listened to spoke of the storms in life. It was mentioned that every time that waves, storms, or rain are brought up in scripture, it is in the context of God's activity.  In which He acts, shows up, and shows Himself.  In which He calls upon His people or they call upon Him.  That He uses these things as an opportunity to speak.

Let's take a look at an example in scripture:

"Then He got up into the boat and His disciples followed Him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke Him, saying, 'Lord, save us!  We're going to drown!'  He replied, 'You of little faith, why are you so afraid?'  Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, 'What kind of man is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey Him!'"
Matthew 8:23-27

In this passage, it is important to note that Jesus speaks to His followers first before He speaks to the waves or the storm.  It made me think, how often do we beg God to speak to the waves and storms in our lives first, and skim over what He may be trying to show or say to us in the midst of them?  We plead with Him to calm our storms and take them away.  In this posture of desperation, our perspective becomes fixed on the storm. The sharp bolts of lightening and letdown of rain can temporarily blind our vision.  And the thunder and downpour can drown out the sound of His voice.  Causing us to feel helpless, fearful, and alone...and sometimes, of little faith.

Even Jesus' disciples did this.  Their focus on the storm caused them to beg Jesus in desperation.  They wanted Jesus to save them from the storm and take action, but didn't ask to see what Jesus would have them do in the storm, and didn't seek His voice beforehand.  And how did Jesus respond?  By questioning their lack of faith and asking why they should be so afraid.  I have been no different than these men.  God has shed a lot of light on my own lack of faith and focus.  Looking back at my prayer journals over the past couple of years, there are countless prayers in which I am begging God to rescue us and pleading for Him to calm our storm.  My focus became fixed on His saving and deliverance...and I left little room for Him to do His best work in me.

You've heard the familiar saying, "God sometimes calms the storm, and other times calms the child in the storm."  I'm beginning to believe that the only way we can experience this calm and for it to be lasting, is if we ask Him first to speak to us...and then position ourselves to hear what He has to say.  I believe there is purpose in everything.  That even the storms and afflictions we face in this earthly life are allowed and may act as an opportunity for God to speak to us and show Himself.  I want to be in a position to hear from Him first before asking Him to speak to my storms and calm the waves of my life.

Recently, I've been doing just this.  My prayers have changed from ones that beg for rescue, to ones that ask, "LORD, what is it You are trying to teach me in this storm?  How do You want to transform my heart and my mind?  Where do you want me to change? And what are You asking of me in the midst of all of this?"  I've asked Him to lift any blinders that hinder me from seeing Him, hearing Him, and from walking in His will.  And with that, while the storm still persists, He's done a wonderful thing...He's calmed the child in me.

God has all power to rebuke the waves and the storms in our lives.  And it's right for us to ask Him to do so.  But perhaps before we ask Him to rebuke our storm, we should be asking Him if there is anything He is trying to say to us in the midst of it.  There is so much He has been teaching me.  Too much to even be able to articulate into words in this limited space and time...yet He fills me with a passion and urgency to share what I can.  I'm beginning to catch a glimpse of the rainbow that is peering through the clouds on the horizon of our storm.  A reminder that He always keeps His promises.  That He is our "very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1)  That He is always with us, and will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). That He will take care of all of our needs (Philippians 4:19).  And that indeed, He is for us (Romans 8:31). Even in our storms and seasons of rain.

While this has been my most painful season in life, it is one that is beginning to be filled with the most clarity and purposefulness.  I struggled through long seasons of insecurity and uncertainty and feel I have finally been firmly planted on stable ground, filled with confidence in Him and more aware of my purpose here.  He is my sure foundation.

"He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure."
Isaiah 33:6

I read that in the Bible, "God is often described granting rain to faithful followers, or withholding rain from the disobedient." And that rain represents "blessings and allows crops to flourish." (rain means blessing)

"Therefore the showers have been withheld, and no spring rains have fallen."
Jeremiah 3:3 
(God's response to an adulterous Israel and Judah)

"I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill.  I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessings."
Ezekiel 34:26 
(An example of the LORD caring for His flock, His people)

There are still areas of lacking in my life, yet He is pouring out spiritual richness in the midst of my storm.  This is a downpour I could joyfully drown in.  A shower of blessing.  An undeserving gracefall.  A marvelous reignfall. I pray that the fire within me stays ablaze.  My prayers have shifted from cries of, "Save us LORD! We are going to drown!" to trust-filled shouts of, "LORD,  If this is where I will flourish best in You, with passion, dependence, love and zeal to fervently pant and pace after You with beautiful breathlessness, than keep me here.  I don't want a way out.  Fill me with faith, and have Your way. "  

I don't believe He will keep us here.  I do believe wholeheartedly that this long season of rain and storm will someday pass.  That full crop and harvest will bloom in abundance.  In His own time and in His own way.  

After Jesus rebuked the storm, it says that His disciples were amazed.  The NKJ version of Matthew 8:27 reads, "So the men marveled, saying, 'Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?'"   

I am already marveling at the ways He has showed up and shown Himself in my storm.  I can only imagine all the more marvel that will happen as His glory is brilliantly revealed once it clears.  There is marvel to be found in Him always.

But I believe it'll be even sweeter
and more radiant
if you let Him reign in your rain.
Oh, the wonder to behold.