Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hope is what we crave.

The contemporary Christian band "For King and Country" has a new song playing on the airwaves called, "Hope is What We Crave."  It's a great song, with a simple melodic chorus packed in truth.  I think our ability to successfully cope through the ups and downs in life is dependent on this.


Isn't this what we all crave?

A glimmer of light that a storm will pass, that a season of drought will end, that good will come out of our bad?  That there is more to this life than what our eyes can see?  That what we are doing matters.  And counts.  And is making a difference.  That our efforts aren't in vain.


It's the charge that keeps us going.  Keeps us climbing. Propels us forward. To persevere.  Even when the odds are against us.  Or our track record, our past experiences, and our current realities beg to differ. We crave this kind of Hope.

In any given week we will have many arrows of discouragement aimed in our direction.  They come in all shapes and sizes, and through many means.  Words.  People.  Experience.  Mishap.  Disappointment.  Unmet expectation.  Failure.  Setback.

Some days, some seasons, it may feel as if we are spinning our wheels but not moving forward.  Despite the effort, the momentum never builds.  The change isn't evident.  We may find ourselves continuously working, putting forth effort, prayer after prayer, sweat & tears, yet do not see the desired results we are striving after.  We crave Hope.  We need evidence that what we are doing matters, and will make a difference.

About a year ago, a close friend sent me a link to an Andy Stanley podcast.  The sermon was about the Old Testament biblical character of Nehemiah.  Prior to this, I had independently completed a Bible study by Kelly Minter on Nehemiah.  The theme of the message I am sharing today does not originate from me, but what I learned from these teachers has stayed with me and has impacted me since.  It's often become my "go to" when faced with times of discouragement.  So, I will share with you today what I took from it, in hopes that it will encourage you too.

Nehemiah was a man called by God to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem after they had been destroyed.  It seemed like an impossible task, and he was opposed by many, even Jewish nobles and prophets of his time.  Despite verbal assaults, physical threats, discouragement, abuses of power, and economic distress, Nehemiah stayed focused and devoted to this work.  We are reminded to look to Nehemiah as an example and to not be so easily drawn from the work that God has put in our hearts to do.

When the arrows of discouragement and fear were coming in from all angles, Nehemiah did not lose his focus.  He continued to rebuild that wall.  In the midst of all the discouragement and distraction, he stated, "I am carrying on a great work and I cannot come down" (Nehemiah 6:3).  Nehemiah did not come off of his wall.  People and circumstance attempted to make him waver, lose focus, and give up, but he stayed committed to his work.  He chose obedience over fear and discouragement.

"I am carrying on a great work and I cannot come down" (Nehemiah 6:3).

This has become my "go to" verse.  We all have our own wall.  It may not be an actual city wall. It probably looks a lot different in our individual lives.  Some of our walls may be more in shambles than others.  But we all have one.  Our wall may be the rebuilding of our finances, our faith, our career, our health, our home, our marriage, our relationships with others, our church.  Or the great task of training up our children (which happens to be my own personal wall).

The good news is, the broken walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt.  They didn't stay in shambles.  The work was completed.  And Nehemiah 6:16 states, "When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God."  The same is the case for us.  When we are faced with the difficult, or the impossible, and we triumph over it, others will look at our stories and realize that it was the work of God in and around us.  That God stands behind what we do, even the "impossible" and that which is strongly opposed.  He gets all the glory.  And the more "impossible" a situation, the greater His glory is revealed.

So, stay committed to the work you are doing, in the wall you are building.  Tell the enemy that you are doing a good work and that you will not come down.  When evidence around you is telling you it is all for loss, go to God's Word and find encouragement in what He says.

For He says He makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).  He says He can turn our mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11).  He says He will deliver us from our troubles (Psalm 34:19).  He says, when we seek Him first He will take care of all other things (Matthew 6:33).  He says He will meet all of our needs (Philippians 4:19).  He says He can work all things out for our good (Romans 8:28).  He says that if any of us lacks knowledge, ask Him for it and He will give it to us generously without finding fault (James 1:5).  He says train up a child in the way they should go and when they grow old they will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6).  He says nothing is too hard for Him (Jeremiah 32:27).  He says do not grow weary in doing good for at the proper time you will reap a harvest (Galatians 6:9). He says we can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13).

Choose to walk by faith and not by sight.  Let His Word trump your feelings and your experience.  I promise there you will find the Hope that you crave.  And it will be just enough to keep you on your wall.

Friday, November 8, 2013

this is amazing grace

music has a way of ministering to my spirit, reaching and dancing upon places of my heart most in need of it.  take a moment to let these lyrics settle into yours.  they'll lace melody into your thoughts and your day, and give you another reason to rejoice in it.  this is amazing grace.

the Only name

hope you enjoy this song as much as i have these past few weeks.
a sure mood lifter.

"This is the day the Lord has made.  We will rejoice and be glad in it!"
~Psalm 118:24

there will be One name.  Jesus.  be glad today!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

be a grace giver

I was shopping at Target today...made a return, picked up a couple of things.  I was alone, the perfect time to grab those items I don't want my little ones to see.  Like Christmas pj's.  Ya know the ones that magically show up on your doorstep every Christmas Eve hand-delivered by Santa's sneaky elves?  At least this happens in our home each year.  Does it happen in yours too?

The cashier ringing me up at Target wasn't all that pleasant with me.  A couple of the items I was trying to buy did not have tags on them.  This frustrated her.  Each time she scanned an item, she heaped it carelessly into a pile.  Normally, cashiers bag your items immediately after they've scanned them.  Kills two birds with one stone,  I'd think.  But today, my items stacked up into a big lump before her and were thrown into two bags at the end of my order.  Usually, a "goodbye" or "have a nice day" brings closure to a shopping experience.  But not today.  I paused for a minute before leaving because I wasn't sure my order had been completed.  It wasn't until I saw my two bags on the counter with the receipt stuffed on the top, and the cashier mindlessly checking out the person behind me that I realized my turn was over.  So I picked up my bags and left.

It was rainy outside, and I was glad that I had decided to run back into the house this morning to change into my rain boots.  I was quietly wishing I would've sent my girl to school in hers.  (Maybe they'll have indoor recess and her new "faux" UGGs won't be ruined.)  I loaded my bags into the back of the car and began to paw through them to find the Christmas pj's.  I wanted to separate them from the rest of my items so that I could sneak them into the house unnoticed.

What I did notice is that one of the items I had paid for was missing.  Actually, two items.  I searched through my two bags once again, carefully refolded the wadded up clothes inside, moved my smooshed bananas from the bottom of the bag up to the top, looked at the receipt to make sure I had indeed paid for the items missing, and walked back into the store to inquire.

The same cashier who rang me up seemed annoyed with me when I told her what had happened.  We had to go through every item on my receipt.  And as she did, she thumbed through my bags, yanking my carefully folded garments back out, and wadding them back up on the counter.  There was no evidence of my items being left in the store.  I am certain they were given to the lady who checked out after me.  So, I had to go back through the store to pick up the same items and present them to the cashier to make sure the barcodes matched before I left. I was compliant.

Moments after I pulled out of the Target parking lot, I heard a loud, blaring, long and overextended honking of horn behind me.  You know the kind that drags on and has heavy oomph and emphasis to it?  Yep, that kind.  Not the polite little "beep-beep." Although I was mindful of the slick roads, and cautious that there was a large enough gap between me and the oncoming car before pulling out into traffic, this angry driver must not have thought so.  It seemed that blaring horn was never going to stop.  Boy, was he telling me!  I wasn't trying to offend anyone, and I really thought I was being careful and considerate.  I'm still not sure what I did wrong, but the message was clear that this person thought I was at fault, and he wanted to let me know how much that offended him.  Despite the darkness of the sky, the day was still young.  Too early to let others get to me, so I dusted it off.

As I started to drive home, I thought of that Target cashier once more and felt prompted to pray for her. I have no idea what is going on in her life right now.  I have no idea what thoughts are consuming and preoccupying her mind, causing her to be unfriendly toward me.  I don't take it personally.  There are so many things we don't know about one another's lives.  We are all broken, in one way or another.  And no one goes without struggle as we journey through this life.

I know I've talked a lot on the subject of grace lately, but it certainly seems there is quite a lack of it in this world.  People get too easily offended with one another.  Too easily angered.  We are quick to lash out and retaliate every time we feel wronged, slighted, or inconvenienced.  We think about ourselves, how things make us feel,  and rarely take time to picture ourselves walking in someone else's shoes.  We don't give others the benefit of the doubt, and often choose to assume the worst.

I know that when I am struggling with something, I am more apt to get easily angered and offended.  When I am "stuck" in my own junk, I tend to lack that grace that Jesus calls us to offer to others.  I also lack clear perspective and it becomes more difficult to "bear all things."  So, it had me thinking.  The people I come across who may (in small or large doses) offend or disappoint me, might actually be the ones struggling the most.  They are probably the ones who need our prayers the most too.  And that beautiful gift of grace may be just what they need to lighten their burdensome load.

I wonder what this world would look like if we actually started doing this....If we could start dusting off our offenses, extend a bit more grace, and pray for one another?  As I found myself praying, I noticed that the ways I have been offended had begun to pale.  And my heart was softened toward the people who had offended me.  This isn't the first time this has happened.  God has worked wonders in my wounded heart when I've committed to pray for those who have hurt me.

Prayer is most certainly the remedy for all offenses.  Jesus instructs us to pray for those who hurt and offend us.  To love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  While this might very well be for their benefit, it is for ours too.  It unlocks and breaks loose those chains of unforgiveness, bitterness and strife.  It softens us and makes us capable of reflecting Him better to this world.  It frees us.  It gives us a fresh lens to see the world and others.  And with it comes His peace.  While there have been some rockiness to our roads lately, that's one thing that hasn't left me.  His Peace.  That indescribable, unsurpassing Peace.  It makes all things more bearable.

I think a popular song of 1965 had it all right:  "What the world needs now is LOVE sweet LOVE."  It's not just for others, it's for us too.  Extend grace to those around you...even the unlikeable and the unloveable.  We are called to do this.

The rain, smooshed bananas, and horn honking haven't dampened my spirit today.  Despite some of the obstacles before me, my heart has been full and grateful.  Join me today, determined to be a grace giver to a world in need of a heaping dose of it.  And watch your burden be lifted as His Peace settles upon you.

"Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, 
and slow to become angry."
James 1:19

"But I tell you, love your enemies 
and pray for those who persecute you."
Matthew 5:44

Saturday, November 2, 2013

beauty in the small

There are few things we never do in our household.  Running out of milk for my littlest is one of them. For it would surely ruin her world.

While the kids were at church last night I ran up to the local grocery store to grab this necessity.  I was in and out in record time (it's amazing how quickly one may run errands without little ones in tow.)  As I loaded my bags into the back of my car, I met the sweetest most innocent young man working hard and proudly collecting grocery carts that had been scattered about the parking lot.

To my surprise, he approached me with his cartload and engaged me in conversation.  It all began by him simply asking me who I'd be routing for in today's big football game between Michigan and Michigan State.  From there, we moved on to talk about bone spurs, his late Grandpa, Aunt, and cousins... club feet, surgeries, Detroit, prayer, and the purpose he's found in life to carry on his Grandpa's legacy by "making people smile."

The air was crisp and cool with late fall breeze, and the evening darkness was upon us...but in his presence I found a simple warmth and light that took away the autumn's chill, and made me forget that winter was peeking around the corner.

Too often in life, I am on the go, in a hurry, running places, and running late.  There are times I hardly have time for a conversation with my own, let alone a complete stranger.  But despite the slight shiver of cold, and the social awkwardness in the dialogue exchanged, I couldn't think of spending those moments anywhere else than in the Kroger parking lot listening to this young man share his heart and his affection for the Wolverines and his beloved Grandpa.

There are many shades of beauty to behold.  It can be found anywhere when we open up our eyes to her wonder.  Last night, I just stumbled upon it at the local grocery store, in the fearfully and wonderfully-made person of "Mike." just so happened that I left with a smile.  Job well done Mike.  Your Grandpa would be proud.

Beauty can be found in the small and unsuspecting.  Where has it graced you today?

"All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all."
~Cecil Frances Alexander

"I praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful; I know that full well."
~Psalm 139:14

Friday, November 1, 2013 be or not to be?

Whether blatant or subtle, purposeful or unknowing, deserved or unwarranted, that sharp blade on the dagger of rejection still cuts deep and stings.  That same glistening blade may be disguised in a shiny smile, but all the same, the reflection in it sends the message that something is wrong with you, you are flawed, unwanted, unlikeable, have messed up one too many times, or just plain don't measure up.  Or perhaps this is the case for someone you love.  Which makes the pain drive even deeper.  For when you hold someone close to your heart, especially your own flesh and blood, their rejection becomes your own.

Rejection in this world, it's a given.  And it can become an unruly fan in your heart if you let it...causing seeds of bitterness, doubt, insecurity, questioned worth, and defeat to take root.  Wiping your holy confidence right off of the playbook.  But rejection from the Maker of this world, not a chance.  In Him, we find an opposing stance.  For True love bears all things, and keeps no record of wrongs.  He pursues and chases.  He chooses us for His team and equips us with strength to be victors.  And He cheers us on, champions us, and delights in us despite our imperfect record.

In our flesh, we fail in our ability to love this way, and fall short of it daily.  I know I do.  But, I find comfort in the One who never fails.  Our Heavenly Father understands this cruel and brutal ache, as His own Son was rejected in His hometown and by those who knew Him well. And best.  His neighbors.  Friends.  Family.  (“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown..." Luke 4:24)  And just as we may hurt when rejection knocks on the doorstep of our heart (or the hearts of our children and the ones we love and know best), it pains Him too.  I'm thankful we have a Savior who is not unfamiliar to this.

Sometimes it feels that in the scoreboard of life others are just waiting to mark another tally of wrong and penalty to your side.  That no matter how many right plays you make, or good you do, the things remembered and counted are the instances and moves in which you fumbled and fell short of a field goal.  A sure lose.

I have a hard time reconciling the fact that when it comes to receiving grace, we are often at the front of the line, palms cupped, open-faced,  eagerly asking for a second helping.  Yet when it comes to extending grace to others, even believers, we stingily white-knuckle it and deem the person unworthy of even a crumb.  Perhaps it's a form of self-preservation, but I don't think we are called to love this way.  And this saddens me, because I've been on both the giving and receiving end of this.  In our own strength, we are powerless to love, forgive, and offer grace as He does.  But a believer knows we aren't called to walk in our own strength, but to tap into His.  And in Him, there is always room for second helpings.  70 X 7 helpings.

In my disheartedness, as I took this poisonous thought of rejection to the Lord, a great truth occurred to me, took my eyes off of the pressing hurt, and allowed me to rise above it with a heart of gratitude.  I'm going to fall short again.  I will fail others.  My kids will too.  I expect this.  And I'm also OK with this.  I'm not aiming for perfection, but I'm honestly striving daily to keep my eyes on the One who Is perfection.  And as long as I continue on that long road of obedience, there is grace enough for all the stumbling.

I also know that no matter how much good I am able to do in this lifetime, it would never be enough.  No amount of good could ever cover over all of the "wrongs" that we can't make "right" ourselves.  But grace does.  And it comes in the form of nail-pierced hands spread about a cross.  It makes right everything, and everyone, through forgiveness, salvation, and His wondrous story of redemption.  And proof of the empty tomb and resurrected life offers us Hope for a lifetime. For eternity.  My heart shouts in thankfulness for this gift.  And I was surprised to find that a thankful heart can blur and put distance between our hurts and struggles.  Chases them right into yesterday.  So I rest in this.

That beautiful, undeserving, undeniable graces comes and covers.  It dulls the rejection of others, suturing up those bleeds of the heart.  His throne is a place of acceptance and approachability to come as you are.  And when your ugly imperfections and unfavored tally marks on the scoreboard seem to be under a scrutinizing JumboScreen by others, He looks upon you and is enthralled by your beauty (Psalm 45:11).  For He sees us with eyes of intention and potential.  Clothed in His jersey of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).  A sure win.

John 6:37
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” 

Romans 15:7
“Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” 

Philippians 2:3
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves."

Colossians 3:12-14
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."

I Corinthians 13:4-7
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." be or not to be? I guess it all depends on what side of the field you are choosing to stand.  Today, I choose His.