Living with Hope

1 Peter 1:6-9 NLT “So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while.  These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him, you trust him; and even now you are happy with a glorious, inexpressible joy. Your reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.”

These can be hard words to read when we are in the midst of a painful trial that seems to have no end in sight. Sometimes the trial blindsides us and we reel with feeling overwhelmed, unprepared and totally out of control. Maybe this trial was caused by the result of someone else’s choices and we didn’t see it coming. Other times, the trial is born out of our own poor choices and we are left stumbling through consequences that our own actions brought to our doorstep. We have all been there at least once in our lives. It hurts, we are confused and we desperately want Jesus to take it all away. It becomes easy to feel helpless and to want to throw our hands up and say, “forget it, what’s the use, God?”, especially when the trial we are going through is one that God wants to use to change us and move us away from destructive patterns and steer us in a new and healthy direction. Remember, that feeling helpless is NOT the same as being helpless. With God, we are never truly helpless. He is always close to us. We are not without hope because our God is the source of all hope. He never leaves us to face our trials alone.

The authors of the Life Recovery Bible (NLT) offer these words that bring comfort to the pain and weariness that the trials of life bring us. “The refiner would heat the gold in the fire in order to separate the worthless and impure dross from the precious and beautiful gold. The dross would be skimmed off until the refiner could see his image in the liquid gold. God uses the fiery trials and tribulations in our lives to purify and beautify our faith so that one day he will see clearly his image in us. This truth offers great comfort to those of us who struggle to make sense of a past marked by suffering. We can be confident that God will separate something priceless from the dross of our experiences.”

Imagine God looking down on us as he skims off the gunk and begins to see HIS image in us; something priceless. Oh, that I could see something priceless from the mess of my life experiences! I hope it makes you smile, that the God of the universe, Creator of galaxies, is so invested and in love with us, that he takes all the time necessary, with infinite patience, to allow us to feel the heat of trials, so that he can one day bring forth, for the world to see, the radiant beauty of our life testimonies; so that we can be a beacon of hope, salvation and love to a world full of his children who are hurting and need to hear a word of hope and see a life redeemed.

1 Peter 1: 3-5 NLT “Now we live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation, because you are trusting him. It will be revealed on the last day for all to see.”

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Just some truth…

Good morning friends, old and new! As I sit and drink my lovely coffee this morning in my quiet house, listening to snoring dogs and calling birds, some thoughts are hovering on my mind and heart. As I settle them in and begin to absorb and ponder them, I know that these truths are definitely a reminder for me; but I also wonder, if maybe, you need to hear this, too.

God loves you. He made you, He knows everything about you and loves all of it. Every single inch. Your weaknesses and struggles are not driving Him away from you. He is there always, as close as your next breath. Go ahead, inhale. You are seen and known; you have God’s undivided attention. You have tremendous value and purpose. You are here for a reason; you are not a mistake or a random happening. There is a path carefully laid out for you. It for you and no one else. The heart of the Father knew exactly what He was doing when you were created to walk that path and make a difference to those in your sphere. You are needed. Do you know that there are conversations happening, in heaven, about you? You are always on His mind, engraved on His hands and His heart.

Those places in your heart that hurt; the place in your soul that has been so wounded, has not gone unnoticed by God. He saw, He knows and He grieves. If you give it to Him, He will take it and redeem it; He wants to do that for you. Don’t you know that is why He came? For you! He can restore and transform those places that seem too lost, too broken, too ugly. Those places will become places of beauty in His hands. The secret hurt isn’t hidden from Him. He knows all about any anger and hatred; injustice, bitterness and resentments; failures and victories and joyful A-ha moments. He was and is there for every single moment. You are not alone.

He looks on you with eyes of love, compassion, joy and mercy. You are His child. Talk to Him. He loves to hear our voices; like melodies and harmonies in His ears. To our ears, the song may sound dreadfully out of tune, but the sound of your voice, my voice, is like incense to our Father. It is a thing of beauty when we speak to Him and He responds; deep calls to deep; Spirit speaking to spirit. It is a holy communion, because even when we do not have the words to speak, His Spirit is there and He knows. He hears. He understands. No big words, wild gestures, loud voices are needed with your Father. He is there in the silence when there are just no human words. Sometimes just speaking His name is enough.

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Autumn

We lover’s of Autumn have a sixth sense about us; a knowing when that first revelation of summer’s end has arrived.

It is felt on the skin in that barely discernable nip and twinge of air, charged with the slightest of chills; awareness that the atmosphere has changed just a smidge.

Autumn’s scent is unique and mischievous. Earthy and deep; wise, pungent and bold in the way brown leaf tips, restless trees and fading flowers bend and drop to the Earth, daring the one watching to stop them; to impede the ancient progress of a slow, yet lovely descent into quiet and rest.

That spritely spurt of wind, which tosses and dances fallen leaves and finished flowers round and round, is delightful. What is it about piling up crispy, browned leaves and then dashing them about; flinging them from orderly piles into random and untamed flurries of color? A new beginning; a tossing and mixing up of the old, lazy routine into something new; a plan to disrupt the status quo and wait patiently through the Winter, as that plan takes on form and substance. Somehow the chaos of it is lovely and energizing; part of the ritual. It is one more wild streak before the settling and simmering of Autumn moves on to the mystery and silent brooding of Winter.

The discerning observer will witness Nature’s response to the shift from the indolent, dog days of summer to Autumn’s call to let go; the song of quiet purpose and intention, as Mother Earth whispers it’s time to fold in, cozy up and allow rest to perform its miracles and the deep, sweet slumber of Winter to wait in the wings.

There is something inspiring and invigorating in this call to purposeful letting go; an anticipation. Is it the definitive color changes and that unmatched fall scent in the air that feels like a new beginning? Is it the crisp sensation of fall air as one breathes it in?

Welcome Autumn! Come and show off your colors and dare us to think about the dead or dying places that we need to let fall; not with sadness or fear; but with an anticipation that a season of silent regrouping, where new life starts to bud,  will soon break free with the coming of Spring.  It’s coming and it will be glorious!

What-if…

We have been taught not to dwell on the “what-ifs” in life. That phrase has been given a bad rap, denoting negativism, unhealthy dwelling and rehashing of past regrets, mistakes, wrong choices and wrong roads traveled. I think every human alive can picture something in their past that caused them regret; saying “Wow, what-if I hadn’t…” If the what-if mentality is used to berate ourselves, dredge up old wounds and rehash unhappy parts of our past, I tend to agree we shouldn’t dwell there; unless we turn that statement into a positive and encouraging motivator for ourselves, as a chance to step out in faith and be a little risky. I don’t know that life was meant to be lived safe.

We all have dreams buried inside us. Sometimes those dreams are vague, ethereal ideas; a knowing in our soul that is our essence. It’s that feeling we get when we know we were made for this very thing we dream about. Instead of listing all the reasons why it will never work, you could never really do it, someone else could do it better, how about saying to yourself, “What-if I can do this and I am really good at it?” Hmm…what might happen? “What-if I step out in faith and take the first step and simply try?” “What if my soul sings with joy because I am finally allowing myself to do what God created ME to do?” “What-if there is someone out there who really needs me to step out and try?”

You might step out and you might not do it right the first time. You might get it wrong and have to re-start and re-think. There is not a thing wrong with that! But, what-if you did do it right? What-if just trying, brought you baby steps of success? What-if one day you look back, and instead of regretting that you never tried and lived in fear, you felt peace, freedom and so much satisfaction, because you are truly living out the special and unique spot God created just for you? I think that will be such a very sweet spot indeed!

So, what-if today, you decided to go for it, whatever that looks like for you? What might happen? The possibilities are exciting, exhilarating and endless! Courage and bravery, friends! You’ve got this, whatever “this” looks like for you!

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26

Beauty

Middle school. What is the first  word that pops into your mind when you hear the words middle school? Awkward , the fear of being different, of not having a “place”. Much of my thought life in middle school was taken up with concern over where I belonged. Who would talk to me today? Would my friends still be my friends? Was I pretty enough for a certain crowd to speak to me and acknowledge me? Maybe it all boiled down to wondering if I was enough?

As I lead my group of 8th grade girls once a week, I see this painful struggle. The desire to be loved and enough, just as they are; to be liked, sought out, pretty, hip and cool.  This struggle is just as real for young men, as they struggle to find their place in the world. It is  real for all of us.

At our middle school group last week, we talked about beauty; specifically inner beauty. So much is hurled at us about our outward appearance; our size, shape, eye color, hair color, skin tone, you name it; someone, somewhere has decided what is and isn’t ok. W ewant to measure up to what culture has defined as beauty and I think it is terribly flawed and destructive.

Think for a moment about something that is uniquely you. Something that is a different, that might stand out. Is it your laugh, smile, eye or hair color? Do you have a unique sense of style or quirky sense of humor? Do you realize this unique part of you is a gift from God that sets you apart as special? You are His creation. Can you look at your uniqueness and begin to love it?

Read Psalm 139:13-18 and allow it into your mind and receive it in your heart.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me.”

God took such time and attention to detail to personally create you. Your shape, size, sound of your voice, color of your hair and skin were all planned out as He carefully invested time and poured His breath and love into the person that you are. He is crazy about His design! Ephesians 2:10 says “for we are all God’s masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

More important to God, I think, is our inner beauty. I define inner beauty as the characteristics of Jesus; such as, gentleness, kindness, inclusivity, confidence, compassion, mercy, humility, forgiving, full of love and kindness.  These traits have the power to draw people to you, because they see Jesus shining through the vessel of your physical body. We all have a God sized space in our souls that longs to be known, loved and accepted. Only God can fill that void in our lives. The more we look like Jesus on the inside, the more beautiful we become on the outside.

Take a few minutes to think about the traits of inner beauty that you have been gifted. Are you patient and laid back or are you a confident, type A go-getter? Are you kind and merciful? Are you a dreamer or a realist? Are you a leader with a dynamic personality? Are you humble and gentle? Do you have compassion for those less fortunate? Are you an encourager? All these qualities are gifts given to you by a loving God who knows all of your strengths and  weaknesses. He doesn’t look on you with eyes of disappointment, frustration or annoyance. He created all of you and intimately knows your thoughts, struggles, fears; your areas of strength and weakness. In your weakness He is strong and He uses those areas to draw you closer to Him.

If you struggle to see yourself as a lovely, precious, beautiful creation on the inside and outside, I challenge you (this is for me too!) to ask God to be your mirror. Ask Him to reflect back to you, all the beauty and loveliness He sees when He looks at you. When He sees you, His unique and valuable creation, He sees all the potential He placed in you. He sees the time and effort He personally put in to creating you for very specific purposes. There is only one you and you are definitely enough. You are a gift, from our Creator, to the world and I pray you see yourself that way.

What would happen when you look in the mirror this week, if you refused to allow negative thoughts and words any space in your mind? What if you refuted every negative word, thought, or description of yourself that you harbor in your soul, with positive words and thoughts; you could only call out encouragement and goodness, as you protected your heart from caustic and castigating words?  Imagine what God is seeing in you and receive in your heart and soul, that what He sees, He is so incredibly proud of and so in deeply in love with. You are enough.

Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is with you, His power gives you victory. The Lord will take delight in you, and in His love He will give you new life. He will sing and be joyful over you.”  

Come Away

I’m up early.

A restless, unsettled day, led to a similar night of sleep.

Rest is elusive, thoughts scattered.

Warm, earthy, steamy coffee warms my hands;  my eyes glaze over; mind swirling.

Through the open kitchen window, the morning air carries the faint scent of jasmine and cool earth.

The house is warm, but the fragrant air is inviting and full of promise; electric.

It beckons.

A friendly breeze, a puff of soft air, calls to me from the musical notes of the wind chimes,

“Come out.”

I go out.

My favorite bench is canopied by the looming butterfly bush; it’s purple, fragrant blooms toss and wave; encouraging me to come.

I do.

The cold marble of my bench, as I sit, is in stark contrast to the warmth of my hands around the child-painted coffee cup I carry with me. “I love Mommy” it proudly shouts, from its brightly painted surface. That brings a smile.

Also some tears.

I don’t feel so loveable of late.  Irritable. Tired. Frustrated, not loveable. Chaotic, possibly.

Looking at the flowers in the planter tubs next to my bench, I see chaos; at first.

Upon closer inspection, I notice that the random way in which I planted these lovelies, is actually quite beautiful.  Patterns emerge amidst the seemingly random design.

There is order here in the planter, despite the chaos and it is so lovely! Yes! Yes, it is.

Do goodness and beauty and happiness have to be meticulously ordered, spaced and arranged to be ok and acceptable?  Do I have to understand it?

This revelation makes me smile and breathe deeply. Inhale life.

The rising sun glitters its reflection at me on the feathery water of the stone bird bath. Winking and spunky, I want to laugh with it, at the possibilities of the new day.

I feel my back and shoulders relax; everything isn’t wiry and tense, ready for flight. Calm. Peace.  Is that joy?

Again the breeze; it caresses the back of my neck with cool, kind fingers; barely a whisper against my ear.

What was that?  I close my eyes, try to still my mind and just be.

I hear it now. You are speaking, but no words are spoken.

The peaceful scent of jasmine and butterfly bush blooms tell me all is well.

The stable, steady, ancient scent of dirt reminds me that new life is all around; rebirth is waiting daily for me to acknowledge it.

The breeze whispers that I’m never alone.  You will never leave me. I remember; I know.

I see in the riotous, chaotic colors and placement of the flowers, that You have patterned and woven my life together in a tapestry that may appear to be a random intersection of lines and curves; hills and dales; yet is actually something far more beautiful and ordered and perfected than I can imagine.

You see the entire picture of me and You call it lovely; You call me lovely. I am enough because of You.

You have dried my tears; they are captured in the bottle that holds all of them. In place of frustration, I notice acceptance has taken root. Not a resigned, sighing acceptance, but an acceptance of the unique journey I am on with all of the ups and downs that I know will come.

My place in Your arms as chosen, loved, accepted and redeemed is reconfirmed on my little marble bench. I am enough. I just needed to come away with You for a spell. You remind me I’m Yours and all will be well.

It really is ok to rest…

Mark 6:31 (NIV) Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

When I read this verse this morning, it jumped off the page and invited a deeper look; more than just a cursory glance. On the surface, it seems like a benign verse; one that can be read at face value and left at that. However, after giving this verse some thought, I beg to differ!

Jesus and the disciples had little, if any leisure time during His time of ministry; teaching and healing the people. The crowds never seemed to let up. People were so anxious to be near Jesus, to listen to His revolutionary teaching that set them free, released them from bondage, fear and legalism. They heard that He had the power to physically and spiritually heal them, so they came in droves with their ill and hurting friends and family, with those suffering from demonic harassment and chains, for a chance to see Him, touch Him, be healed by Him.

Jesus and his disciples rarely had  “opportunity for private meditation and prayer, nor of spiritual converse together; nor even so much as to eat a meal’s meat for the refreshment of nature.” (1)

Being fully God and fully man, Jesus knew and felt the physical and mental exhaustion of always being “on” and the deep fatigue of being surrounded by the hurting, needy and lost.  He also knew his disciples needed respite from ministering along side Him. So Jesus retired from His work. He was diligent to remove Himself and the disciples for periods of rest, refreshment and spiritual and physical re-filling, so that they could then return encouraged and strengthened for the next task set before them. He gave Himself and the disciples permission to stop and take a breather; to eat, to get themselves away from noise, hurry and the urgency of humanity knocking at the door of their hearts.

As I thought about this verse, I felt Jesus whispering to me and my worn out heart to “come with Him” by myself “to a quiet place and get some rest.” My days may not be filled with healing the sick and enemy-harassed in my world,  or with traveling roads that are literally dusty and parch the mouth, or teaching on hillsides in the hot sun, but He knows what my days are filled up with: relationships that are chaotic,  full of misunderstandings and unmet expectations; disappointment; dreams long held in my heart, that seem so far from being realized; illnesses and injuries that I cannot control or fix; past regrets that try daily to haunt my peace; friends and family going through heart wrenching trials that physically hurt me as I see the struggle; daily annoyances and offenses that threaten to become bigger than they need to be; and the list goes on. Life on planet Earth and the human condition!

I absolutely love that Jesus gets this! He understands the physical and mental exhaustion of taking care of everyone else around me. The things I take on that are not really mine to take, that I struggle and wrestle with until I have nothing left. He loves me enough to give me permission to get away, rest, get some refreshments for my mind, spirit and body and then, with the full armor of God strapped on me, get back in there and move forward, into all the goodness, abundance, joy and excitement He has planned out; filled up and able to minister to those He places in my path for such a time as this.

Is He calling you to go off with Him for a spell; to rest, refresh and soothe your mind, spirit and body? It really is ok to rest…

(1) John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible