Thursday, December 31, 2015

Double minded/double mastered

Do you remember the scripture about serving two masters? Chances are yes if you spent any time at all in a church pew or children's sunday school. The Matthew six passage is a classic. It is one of those verses that you don't have to try very hard to memorize. It sticks without much effort.
As Jesus tells us in verse twenty four of chapter six, you can't serve two masters because you will hate the one and love the other. Then He goes on to say that you can't love God and money. Note that He doesn't say you can't have God and money simultaneously. He says love. A big, and noteworthy, distinction.
But money isn't my point here. This scripture speaks to another, less preached about, truth: the double life. 
Jesus makes it clear throughout scripture, not just in Matthew chapter six, that to follow Him requires a deliberate decision to leave every other way of life. We choose to either be a slave to Christ or a slave to unrighteousness (i.e. sin and satan). Just like an earthly slave can't have two masters neither can we have two spiritual rulers. We are either ruled by God or we are ruled by evil. 
Despite Jesus making this simple fact blatantly obvious and crystal clear there are plenty of people, even Christians, who want to "have their cake and eat it, too." It is popular to claim Christ as Lord and yet refuse to leave the servanthood of the flesh. "Of course Jesus is my Lord and Savior but that doesn't mean I have to change my lifestyle. He'll love me anyways!" Sure, He'll love you. But He demands more of us than our acknowledgment. He demands that we lay down our lives. If we are going to claim Him then He wants us committed to Him. If we are to be His we can't be serving ourselves and following our own desire-designed rulebook. 
This is where Matthew six comes back into play - we can't serve two masters. We will always love the one and hate the other. We can't follow two masters. When one goes one way and the other goes in the opposite direction we will be forced to choose one over the other. If we aren't following Christ we might as well be walking straight off the edge of a cliff.
Following anyone other than Christ never ends well. 
We can't serve two masters with our lives, our hearts or our devotion. We can't serve two masters with our principles. We can't be obedient to two masters (especially two diametrically opposed masters). We will always disappoint the one and indulge the other. 
So I must ask myself, "who will I serve?" Will I try to lead a double life, claiming Christ while refusing to serve Him?
God never forces servitude. It is always voluntary. It may not sound like a desirable life choose - being a slave - but don't jump to conclusions too quickly. Consider this: we are always slaves to something. Either to the evil one or to the Almighty one. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mine is flared muscles. What's yours?

If you think you are the only one in the world with a problem, think again. No one is immune to having some struggle or suffering that they wish just weren't so. For some people it is relationship centered. Children, husbands, wives, friends...they all can be the source of great joy or great heartache. And sometimes both in rapid succession. Other people struggle with financial turmoil. A house payment that is too high, a job that pays too little and more collection calls than a man would care to count. Still others carry the weight of failure, the agony of defeat and the sorrow of unrealized dreams. And then others, like me, suffer from something physical. Cancer. Lung disease. Arthritis. Legs that don't work. An illusive diagnosis to a debilitating condition.
Or flared muscles.
Everyone has something. No one's life is pain free. Oh sure, we've all looked over the fence at our neighbors lawn or into the lives of Facebook friends and thought, "If only I had that life! If only I had their life of ease instead of my life of pain!" Be careful what you wish for, dear Facebook stalker. Because what looks like all butterflies and roses is really just a life with a different set of problems.
We can try to wish away our trouble. We can try to run from trials. We can try to trade our problems for a different set. But no matter how far and fast we run we will never escape pain. The discomfort we face in this life is part and parcel of being human and living in a fallen world.
You may be thinking to yourself that this sounds like a whole bunch of bad news. Gloom and doom with no happy ending. But the post isn't over. The story isn't done. Because God has a plan and a purpose for our pain and it doesn't include being relieved from it or swapping it out for a different model.
Our pains - your pain, my pain, your "my life is perfect, just look at my smiley pictures" friend on Facebook's pain - is our own specially designed source of joy, signed, sealed and delivered by God on high. Yes, that's right friend. God loves you so much that He gave you a pain to remember Him by so that you will never forget to rejoice.
....He gave you that disobedient son to remind you that you were a rebellious child, separated from God by your sin but that Jesus came and rescued you and reunited you to your Father!...God gave you that little, tiny bank account as a daily reminder that you can and should depend alone on God who is your Provider and Sustainer. You can count on God to know what you need and to see you through even the bleakest of financial seasons....God gave you that disease as a constant reminder that your body and flesh will fail but that won't be the end because you have an eternity to look forward to in Heaven. You have a God who cares so much for you that He has prepared a place for you where your body will be perfect, where doctors won't need to poke you with needles and blood cell counts won't count for anything....
...And God gave you that flared muscle to remind you with each tug and pull that paralyzes you from taking another step forward there is a pull greater than any force this world will ever know - it is the pull of God on your heart. He loves you. He desires to be with you. And He is pulling you towards Himself for now and forever more. He is pulling you in to depend on Him, rely on Him and rejoice in Him. Every step you take forward in physical discomfort you have a moment-by-moment reminder that you are united with Christ in His suffering and will one day be reunited with Him in His eternal glory.
We can rejoice. We can praise God. And we can remember to do so because we each have that persistent pain as a daily, constant reminder.
Don't ask God to take away your pain. Don't covet your friend's particular set of painful circumstances or physical maladies. Don't kid yourself into thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of someone's fence. It isn't. What they have may be different. Their pain may come in a different package, wrapped in a different bow. But that's not because it is less aggravating or somehow better. It was just designed specifically for them. And your pain is designed specifically for you. So rest in it and thank God for it. Because He made it especially for you, with your name on it and God's hand upon it.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

One step at a time

Every morning she walks out of her cluttered apartment and painstakingly makes her way to the elevator. Three stories down she emerges, ready for her trek across the street, through the parking lot and into the public library. The walk is less than a city block but it will take her nearly fifteen minutes. Each step is labored, slow and stilted. She wobbles and wavers. But she makes the journey.
Her name is Teresa and she is my elderly, frail neighbor with missing teeth and a bandaged leg. She lives alone on the top floor of my apartment building. I've never seen her welcome a visitor or get in a car. Her days consist of her home, the library and the one single street in between.
For Teresa that journey across the street is a physical feat. She could just sit at home and avoid the labored walk across the road in the sweltering ninety degree heat. Or she could get a motorized scooter to take her to the library and maybe even a bit further to explore the buzzing downtown shops and restaurants. Even a cane would help assist her in staying upright without swaying back and forth, making the onlooker sick with worry that the next gust of wind will blow her little frame right over! But Teresa doesn't rely on any of those aids. She goes about her days on her own, making small steps towards her intended destination.
Watching Teresa I can't help but see a little bit of her in all of us. Our spiritual walk with God is a lot like her walk to the library. It is slow. It is labored. Sometimes it looks terribly wobbly and precarious. We have to make that walk in all kinds of conditions - unbearable heat, a winter's blizzard. Yet, if we fix our eyes on our destination and go forward with determination, we can overcome every obstacle.
The journey won't necessarily be easy. In fact, we shouldn't even be surprised by all the hurtles we'll have to climb over, difficulties we will face and obstructions that will be placed in our way. 1 Peter 4:12 says, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." When we struggle and suffer and our every step is painful and slow, we shouldn't be surprised. We have been given fair warning. While walking with Christ we can expect fiery ordeals and trying times. But we can rejoice in them because what we are experiencing is a taste of what Christ endured. We are sharing in His suffering and one day we will share in His glory.
As we labor along our road of life we need not look too far ahead. Teresa doesn't. She just looks across the road, to the library, to her very next destination. If she can make it there she can rest. She'll worry about the strength needed to return when the time comes, but for now she has one mission: make it across the road.
I could use a bit more of Teresa's spirit, attitude and outlook. I don't need to see the whole year ahead or even the whole day ahead. I just need to take the next step. God will see me through the rest. But if I can make the next step, no matter how painful and difficult it may be, He will provide me with the strength and endurance needed for the rest of the journey.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Love thy rain

Sitting on my couch surrounded by comfy pillows, soft light and an apple cider scented candle, I hear  the beating of the rain against the side of my apartment building, making gigantic puddles outside in the street below my window. Few sounds rival the bliss of an evening rain with the door wide open to let in the fresh, clean air. The rain does the spirit good. It brings with it refreshment and calm.
Now send me a rainstorm on a Saturday morning when I am hoping to get in a run or a visit to the outdoor farmer's market and my view of rain takes a dramatic turn. I want rain when I want it (while I'm warm and snuggled up at home) and not when I don't want it (while I'm enjoying time outdoors). This is the rain paradox. It is a love-hate relationship.
But the rain is a necessity and it does the earth good. It contributes to the vital hydrologic cycle. This basic earth system contributes to so much of what I take for granted. Every fish that swims relies on the rain to maintain their aquatic habitat. Plants need it to grow and thrive. We need it to for drinking water and our very survival. The rain seeps into the earth, maintaining the health of the soil and life itself! Oh, how different would our world be without the rain! It would be lifeless. It would be dry. There would many more parched throats. And many fish with useless fins.
This must be why God gave us rain - he knew we'd need it. In Isaiah 30:23 it says, "He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful." I may not always appreciate the timing of the rain or the way it makes me look like a wet dog when I get caught in its onslaught, but it is a necessity of life. Without the rain my world would look so drastically different; less vibrant and lifeless.  Without rain I wouldn't enjoy the soothing sounds as it lulls me to sleep.  And I would never, ever see a rainbow. I need the rain. The earth needs the rain. This world needs the rain.
When God made the rain He knew He was creating something that wouldn't always be welcomed with open arms. He knew that rain would come and disrupt picnics and proms. He knew that rain would get our clothes all wet and make our hair look like we just stepped out of the shower on our way to a job interview. But He made the rain anyway because He has a plan bigger than our hair, our picnics and our proms. He has a plan that includes rain. All kinds of rain. Rain that comes in the form of precipitation and rain that comes in the form of trials and tribulations. He's created them all with a purpose that is for the long term survival of our very being - body, heart and soul.
Sometimes rain comes in the form of an unwanted circumstance. Like the falling of big fat water droplets, we get pounded by something terribly trying and troublesome. It can be an illness. It can be a break up. It can be the loss of a job or the loss of a friend or perhaps simply a set of lost keys. These troublesome circumstance come upon us like rain on our wedding day (think Alanis Morissette). If only the rain could have come on a different day!
But just like the rain that falls from the sky, our rainy days of trials have purpose. They are necessary. They provide us with the testing we need to increase our faith. Without some rain there is little growth in the spiritual life. Without the pouring down of God's good precipitation we wither up and die like a plant parched for water. We need to be drenched with difficulties if we want to see our faith increase, grow and thrive.
Today I was thrilled to see the rain outside my window. It was a welcome change to the days on end of ninety degree heat with high humidity and sticky air. But when I encounter rainy circumstance in my day can I say that I always have the same upbeat, positive, welcoming response?
The emotional rains that call into question my faith and reliance on God lay before me a choice I alone can make: rejoice and dance in the rain...or lament that I can't go out and have a picnic.
I alone can make the decision to put on my rain boots and do some puddle jumping. It is my choice to embrace the rain no matter how hard it falls or how many days on end those dark storm clouds linger overhead. I am compelled to learn to love the rain because it is the rain that has made me who I am and who God intends me to be. I will wither up and die without the rain that God sends my way. So instead of cursing the rain and pulling a blanket over my head in an attempt to escape it, I'm going to go out and dance, sing and jump around. I am going to learn to love the rain.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A little step forward

You may not always get the next ten steps all plotted out for you, laid out in a nice little row with color-coded arrows. More often than not the steps come one at a time and the arrows aren't bright and flashy. And you want to know what I'm finding out about those arrows? They are enough. Taking just one step in the right direction is enough. We don't need to leap. We don't need to run. We don't need to cover lots of ground in little time. We just need to take each obedient step forward that God shows us, as He shows, when HE wants to show us. I know as well as anyone that His time table will not look like ours. We might take one step and wait quite some time before we see the next arrow. Sometimes we wait longer than we need to because we are looking for a series of red, flashing arrows when all the while a little one painted in black and white is right in front of us all the while. It might not have been what we were anticipating, expecting or hoping for but it is what God has given us. So take the step, even if it is just one. Go on God's timing, at His pace, in His direction. He will bless that obedience. Your faithfulness and trust will not return void. Your obedience will never be for nothing. God has a plan and a purpose for every step of obedience He has for us to take. So take it. Own it. Love it. Embrace it. This is a step made for you, plotted out for you, specifically designed for your foot to land on. Don't miss the blessing in the smallest steps. Because God hasn't overlooked you. On the contrary, He has so detailed out your every moment that He even crafted little steps. What is your next step going to be? Get excited. Because I know it is going to be good.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Where I came from

I've heard countless celebrities say, "I never forget where I came from." Mind you, they say this as they sit in their four million dollar mansion on the side of a hill in LA with huge glass windows looking out over the Hollywood sign. The sentiment is good but it feels awfully jaded coming from the lap of luxury. With my sour view of such a claim it is ironic that today that very sentence kept coming to my mind.
From my seat in a casual cafe, far from the Hollywood Hills, I, too, began to reflect on where I came from. And I don't just mean just my home city, state and zip code. I don't even mean my childhood home or the smell of freshly baked cookies that used to emanate through our house in the fall. I don't mean the high school I graduated from or my family's business that shaped my understanding of hard work and dedication. When I say, "where I came from," I mean where I really came from, where I was known before I was born and where I will one day return: my heavenly home.
In this life, on this earth, I don't know what will become of me. Maybe I will wake up one day and find that I am famous (that's a long shot - and a shot I'm not even sure I'd enjoy). Or maybe I'll wake up one day and find that I'm a housewife with three kids and a minivan (a shot I can see being much more agreeable to my sensibilities and desires). Or maybe my future will look a lot like my present, characterized by an ongoing tug-of-war between health and sickness, vitality and weakness. I don't know where precisely I'm going in this life but I know where I came from and I know that one day that is where I will return.
What comes next in my life may be blissful or it may challenge my faith and tax my spirit. Either way, I can rest in the knowledge of where I came from. The place I came from is perfect. God in His love created me and designed me in His image. He laid out for me a path to journey through this life, a mystery that is being unfolded daily. He knew there would be challenges and struggles, but He put encouragement and encouragers along my path. It all began at the place I came from, long before I was even a blip on a sonogram machine or a baby in a cradle. God knew who I would be and He planned for me in advance.
Now I am here on His journey. This path isn't mine. It is His. It is a path that is lived out on earth but is leading back to Heaven, circling back to my first and forever home. Knowing where I came from makes all the difference in how I live. I can walk along this path knowing that it is set out for me and that I am safe and secure even when I feel anxious and vulnerable. My feet are secure because my future is locked in, it is written in God's book of life.
Because I know where I came from I can live with the joy of knowing, ultimately, where I'm going. I may not know what tomorrow will bring. I may not know what my earthly future holds but I know where I'm going to end. I know that I'm going back to the perfect home that I came from. I have a bed there and a room that's all mine. I can live with joy and anticipation because I'm headed home, back where I belong.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Writing a masterpiece

The best stories written aren't the ones written by man. Even the greatest novelists borrow from real life. And who is the author of real life? Certainly not man, for what man can keep himself from a car accident, disease or death of a loved one? Reality is authored and directed by God. There are a million and one circumstances outside of man's control but none that are outside of God's. He writes the script of our lives and orchestrates its unfolding in His perfect timing. What we watch play out in our lives is His imagination at work, His creative genius.
I know what you're thinking, "My life is not the result of any genius! It is a chaotic mess!" Or so it looks from your perspective. How many movies have played out on the big screen in which the characters make us believe they are hopeless two thirds through the film? How many novels are plagued with a tragedy, trial or dilemma that makes us wonder, "how will this ever end well?" Those novelists and screenwriters didn't come up with their plots by their own sheer brain power. They borrowed from real life and the Author of it. They watched friends overcome struggles, family members succeed in the face of every difficulty and thought to themselves, "That would make a great movie!" Art imitates life. Authors imitate God. It is not the other way around.
At this very moment your life may look like the middle of a dramatic movie. The plot is thickening, every obstacle is in your way, the enemy is advancing - your ending isn't looking good. But just think back to how all of those dramatic movies ended. A big break leads to a successful career. A chance encounter with a stranger leads to love. The unexpected opens a door to a happily ever after.
God can bring about your happy ending but it will be in His time, on His terms. He will write you a blockbuster of a screenplay for a life but you have to be willing to play your role, even when its tragic. He'll write you a best selling novel of a life but you have to keep reading even when your character is getting beaten down by disappointments and struggles. Keep reading. Keep acting out your role as an obedient, surrendered follower of Christ. Keep on the path that leads to life and peace and joy, not because you are in it for the blessing but because God is worthy of your every breath and every step. When we give Him our all, He gives us an amazing story to live for His glory. He has written you a book with your name on it. Today you are living out one of its pages, living out one of its scenes. Remember that as long as you have life and breath the book isn't over. The climax may not arrive anytime soon! Your open door, unexpected opportunity or chance encounter might be pages or chapters ahead. You won't know unless you keep reading, keep walking with Christ, keep living for God. Trust me, He has written you a masterpiece and the ending is going to surprise you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Scripture Pictured

Check out ScripturePictured, my new business putting scripture on display through photography! You can find the pictures on etsy at

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Never, never, never....never give up

There is a quote that goes something like this, "Never, never, never give up." A little bit of digging (read: Googling) pulled up the name Winston Churchill, the famed Prime Minister of Britian during World War II. Churchill is credited with coining the term, "iron curtain" and keeping Britan from falling into the hands of the Nazis. His 1941 quote urging his listeners to never give up came from his own personal experience. Those words weren't just for the boys at Harrow School, they were for Churchill himself.
As those words were being uttered in October of 1941 Europe was falling. Hitler was taking more land, more territories and more countries. In the month of October alone he overpowered the two largest cities in Ukraine, putting him closer than ever to Moscow. By the end of the year he would have conquered more cities and taken control of the entire German army. Europe was in desperate trouble.
In 1941 the outlook for a victory over the Nazis looked bleak. Hitler was the one making the advances and gaining ground. The Nazi army was getting stronger, larger and more emboldened with each city they conquered. Meanwhile Churchill was doing all he could to keep Britain united in spirit and purpose. He made rousing speeches to boost the morale of Britain. He was the unifying force behind the Allied Forces of United States, Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.
For all of his optimism and will, Churchill was in real danger of defeat in 1941 when he spoke about never giving up. But that wasn't a first for Churchill. Before he even made it to military school as a teenager his future looked doomed. He failed the entrance exam...twice. With the help of a tutor he made it through on his third try.
After his military service he became a war corespondent for a newspaper - a career that almost ended his life. In hostile South Africa he was captured and thrown into a prison camp which he escaped by scaling a wall. But he had no plan. By the grace of God he found a British coal miner who helped him flee by hiding him for a few days before sending him on a coal train back to safety.
He soon entered into his political career in parliament where he would make another gigantic mistake that could have been his ruination. He planned an attack during WWI on the Ottoman Empire. To make a very long story short, it was an utter disaster. Many military members were killed, battleships sank and ground was lost. But Churchill persevered.
By 1941 Churchill had seen his share of defeat. Yet he had also seen how defeat wasn't the end of the story. A lost battle wasn't necessarily a lost war. A failed test score didn't have to be the final number on the books. Churchill had first-hand experience in second chances, redemption and victory.
The famous quote, "never, never, never give up" becomes all the more encouraging and inspiring when set in its context. If Churchill could still believe in determination and tenacity in the face of Nazi Germany, what should ever stop any one of us from staying the course with persistence and unstoppable tenacity?
Well, thankfully, we know how the story of World War II ends. You and I are here as a testimony to the defeat of Hitler. He didn't succeed. By the providence of God, the Nazis lost the war for this world. Their conquest fell as Hitler hid in a bunker. Churchill's words rang victorious as good conquered evil.

In the spirit of Churchill I am claiming his words as my own as I embrace his message of never giving up. On July 30 I will be receiving stem cell therapy to treat my MS. Churchill unified countries and bolstered nations as his act of fortitude and hope. This, stem cells, are my act of never giving up. I've tried so many different techniques and therapies in an attempt to overcome my foe, or at least manage its onslaught. But MS has not let up. Like Nazi Germany in 1941, MS has made further advancements and attacks on my body. Flare ups that were once relapsing now seem to be a permanent fixture in my every day existence. But I'm not giving up.
For the past few days I have been repeating Winston Churchill's quote in my mind. I've been writing about it and pondering it on my walks. As nervous and apprehensive as I am about this upcoming procedure, I am determined to keep up the good fight. I won't let MS steal my joy or stripe me of hope for the future. I've been knocked down more times than I can count but I'm not out. No, I'm very much still in the ring, throwing punches and fighting for dear life. The next step in my fight is to try something drastic. This procedure has worked wonders in the bodies of MS sufferers by taking tissue from the person's own body and extracting the healing benefits of stem cells so that they can be released back into the blood stream where they can get to work on repairing damage. There are no guarantees in this therapy, but there is hope. And as the saying goes, "Where there is hope, there is life." (Thank you, Anne Frank - another inspiration figure worthy of an entire post.)
Churchill must have known when he spoke those words that the deck was stacked against him. That fact was pretty much undeniable. But he had a hope that couldn't be extinguished even when bullets were killing his men and armies were threatening his country's security. His hope sprang eternal.
And so does mine because my hope is not in my body or even my health but it is in God. I believe that He has a plan for my life and I have faith in the promise of a hopeful future. God has not abandoned me or left me to suffer in anguish. He has given me a spirit of tenacity and never-ending hope. A thousand times things can fail or go wrong in my body and yet God's grace and mercy still remains on me. When my muscles spasm and pain radiates up my leg I have the solid rock of God that I am standing upon. I will never give up because God is still at work. His plan is underway. He simply isn't done with me yet.
So onto stem cells. Onto more hope for the future. Onto the adventure God has for this next step in my life. Onto never, never, never giving up.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


On the Forth of July this year tragedy struck on the Ohio River.
The evening started out in a traditional, celebratory fashion. Nine family and friends headed out on their pontoon boat into the familiar waters of the Ohio River to watch the Independence Day fireworks show. But they never did get to see the sky light up in a dazzling light display. The excitement, and horror, of their night came before a single a single firecracker was lit.
The nine companions were enjoying the river and the beautiful July fourth evening when a rushing current slammed into their boat, sending it into the side of a barge. Amazingly, three children were able to grab onto the barge and even pull one of the adults from the wreckage but the remaining five were no where to be seen.
Rescue crews rushed to the scene in an effort to find and save the missing. It didn't take long for those hopes to be dashed. Two lifeless bodies were pulled from the wreckage while the other three were no where to be found. Yesterday a third body was discovered.
The tragedy that befell that family is beyond words. On an evening anticipated to be relaxing and carefree, their lives were turned upside down. With the whipping of a wave and crashing of a current that little boat, swaying calmly on the placid waters, was dealt a deadly blow. Without an anchor to keep the boat firmly secured and stayed, it didn't stand a chance against the brute force of the waters ferocity.
In all stories, even those that end in tragic death, there seems to always be a lesson for life and how to live it. As I read about the way in which this family was torn apart, so unassumingly and out-of-the-blue, I was reminded at just how sudden trials often appear in our lives. One day we are floating along in our little personal water-craft of a body and soul and then bam! A wave hits us and threatens to send us into a barge-sized catastrophe.
The only way to keep our boat upright and out of harms way is to have an anchor. And there is only one anchor that is guaranteed to withstand every storm - every current, wave, gust of wind and bolt of lightening. Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Hebrews 6:19 says that, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." The fact of the sea and of life is that storms will come. That is a guarantee. But not every boat on the waters will capsize when the rains, winds and waves persist. Some boats, some souls, will withstand the onslaught because they have anchors firmly planted in God.
As long as our anchor has found its footing in the Lord we don't need to fear what trials might suddenly appear in our lives. We know that no matter how desperate our situation might appear, our mainstay is unshakable. We may feel swayed and we may get wet, but we will be secure when we fasten ourselves to Christ and never let go.
For the surviving family members of the Ohio River pontoon boat accident my prayer is that they have an anchor for their souls keeping and staying them in this trial. This storm is bound to cause grief and pain but it does not need to cause their hope to sink or their faith to drown in the "whys" and "ifs" of this life. They can choose to hold onto the promises of God and the eternal life that is to come where heartache and mourning will be put to rest in the arms of the everlasting God. This life is but a breath, but it is a breath that we can take peacefully knowing that the anchor we have in Christ will carry us on, through the storm and into the glory of God's perfect Kingdom.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Independence Day, Christian

Happy Independence Day, America! Today is the day barbecuers get to nearly burn down their decks because they are free to do so. Pool goers can scream till their lungs give out, because they are free to do so. Huge, noisy, bombastic fireworks are set off in mind-blowing numbers because, as a country, we are free to do so. We are free to eat too many nitrate-filled hot dogs. Free to throw entirely wasteful water balloons. We are even free to hand small children seemingly innocent sparklers that reach dangerous skin-melting temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees. 
We are free to do all of these (and more) silly, stupid and sometimes just plain ridiculous activities because on July 4, 1776 fifty six brave men signed their names, and in turn their lives, to the cause of making an entire people free from tyranny and the rule of a government.
There is no doubt that this day in history is significant and important, not a day to be taken for granted. The freedoms we enjoy in this country are traced back to this day and the decisive decision made to stand up and fight for those freedoms. But the meaning of July forth goes beyond the border of this country, the fifty six men who signed their names to the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights that would soon follow. As John Quincy Adams famously said, "… Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birth-day of the Saviour? That it forms a leading event in the progress of the gospel dispensation? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the corner stone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity, and  gave to the world the first irrevocable pledge of the fulfilment of the prophecies, announced directly from Heaven at the birth of the Saviour and predicted by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets six hundred years before?" 
The importance of a country's freedom, any country, any people, is only a glimmer of the magnitude of the freedom bought and paid for by Christ. Celebrating our country's independence is just a speck of a picture of the independence we enjoy in Christ no matter where we live or what rights we have according to a government or a constitution. Without Christ, without true freedom, July Forth would just be another day in the summer sun. 
But thanks be to God that we have the truest of freedoms. We have freedom from the tyranny of sin and the bondage of slavery that binds us to our lust, greed and selfishness. Jesus wrote the ultimate declaration with His blood shed on the cross. He purchased our right to be free with His very life. 
"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Galatians 5:13) We are not made free for the sake of doing our own thing - to be silly, stupid and sinful. Christ didn't pay the ultimate price for our lives so that we could make a royal hash of things just like the Founding Fathers didn't fight for a country only to see it elect a ruthless government that would put them in heavy taxation and stifling bondage once again. They signed their names and drafted the Constitution to give their best human effort to maintaining freedom for the people of America.
Christ bought our freedom and it is a freedom that can never be lost because it is not based in human regulation or the law of man. Freedom in Christ is eternal and heavenly, it is not of this world just as God is not of this world. Because of Christ we are free to live holy, blameless and upright lives, righteous in the sight of God. We are not slaves to sin. We are not at the mercy of our every thought, desire and half-baked idea. Christ has set us free from our foolishness and released us into the glory of eternal salvation. 
On this Independence Day those of us in this country have countless reasons to be thankful but two stand out to me and are the cornerstone of my praise today. One is for the freedom to serve God, praise Him and say His name in the public square. Christians all around the world don't know that privilege and would be elated to have the right to express their faith openly. Some still do proclaim publicly the name of Christ and pay the ultimate price for their bold witness. 
Secondly, but really first and foremost in importance, I am thanking God that I am eternally and forever free. I was once wrapped in the chains of my sin and shame. I was unable to break free from the guilt of my rebellion and the destructive path I was walking. But Jesus came and set me free. He signed the ultimate Declaration with His body on the Cross of Calvary. Because Jesus lived, died and rose again I am truly free. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015


Back in the days of Genesis, Noah exited his ark after a forty day flood to see a remarkable sign in the sky: a rainbow. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet were painted in the sky as a promise to Noah, to you and I, that God would never again destroy the earth in that way again. As is apparent by the existence of the earth, God has been true to His word.
Color is a common theme throughout the Bible. Blue is named over fifty times, often associated with royalty and riches. Crimson is usually referencing sin. Moses was instructed to use scarlet and purple in the construction of the tabernacle and its detailed adornments. As is true with all things created by God, colors were not created by accident. They each have meaning and a message.
Sadly, the holy beauty of color has been distorted by Godless men. The rainbow, a beautiful symbol of a covenant made by God and kept by God, has been turned into a symbol of man's corruption of love and marriage. Parades fly rainbow colored flags celebrating homosexual relations and love for the same gender - far from the original meaning and symbolism associated with the rainbow painted in the sky for Noah. The rainbow flag waved by man has come to mean nature, healing, spirit, sex and harmony. Seven colors originally associated with God's grace, mercy and love have been twisted to mean whatever man can think up. But one color remains separate, untouched and uncorrupted by man.
The color white stands pure and holy in a world that has lost sight of God, pushed Him out of their lives and completely rebelled against His commands. But the redemption and sanctification of white still pierces through the sin. God is still alive, showering His children with mercy just like He did for Noah and his family.
In Revelations white is used a number of times pointing towards the promise of Jesus' return. Our Lord and Savior is coming back and He's coming with power, strength and glory. For all the attempts of this world to shut-up the Almighty God, He will not be silenced. At the appointed time He will come again.
The date of Jesus' return is not for you or I to know. God has purposely kept the hour of His coming a secret, a mystery to every man. But He has given us the promise of His return and the color white as a reminder that the Savior of the world is set to make a grand re-entrance to claim His own and set right all that has gone wrong.
When you and I look at the rainbow, the messages we receive will undoubtedly be mixed thanks to a culture that embraces sin and mocks God. But we have a color that won't be in that rainbow; a color that outshines the brightest, boldest of flags. We have white. We have eternal salvation. We have a King in Heaven who is watching over us, protecting us and preparing to come again. We have a Prince of Peace and He's coming in robes of pure white.

Friday, June 26, 2015

King of Kings

The past two days have been sad ones for America. The Supreme Court has handed down two major rulings confirming the overwhelming suspicion that many Christians have had about the direction of our country. This nation founded on Christian principles has completely abandoned the truth and authority of God. The very bedrock of our country's establishment has been crushed by the heavy weight of evil and corruption. Sin has entered in and launched an all out assault on all things Godly, Biblical and Christian.
With the ruling of the healthcare law the nation was handed a blow to freedom. The government just grabbed more of our independence, forcing individuals to pay for abortions and medical intervention that they don't believe in nor want to take part in. But now, with this ruling, we answer to the state - a state that is attempting with every law to take the place of God in the lives of individuals.
And then today marriage was formally, legally ripped apart. This day has been building and few court watchers believed the ruling would go any other way, but the reality of the verdict has made it all too real. The God ordained covenant between a man and woman joined together by God for the purpose of honoring Him, procreating and protecting one another, was trampled. The institution of marriage has officially been hijacked by man and turned into a human experiment as disposable as a lease agreement. But marriage has nothing to do with the laws of man. It was created by God, ordained by God and established by God. Marriage isn't a route to tax cuts or a convenience for housing arrangements. Marriage is God's design for the continuation of mankind. Man and woman are to become one to be fruitful and multiple. Men are to love their wives like Christ loves the church, protecting them as the physically weaker of the partnership. And women have the role of being supportive, submissive counterparts to their husbands. Marriage isn't a human invention that can be tweaked by nine robed sinners. Marriage is God's and, even in light of today's ruling, is still God's.
Christians have been dealt a serious blow by the verdicts of the past two days but none of this is to surprise or concern us. What we stand for, the Bible and the truth of Jesus Christ, is not of this world. This world is one of sin but those who are born of the Spirit have died to sin and are aliens in this world. Jesus said in John 17:14 says, "I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world." Truth has been attacked ever since Eve took a bite of the apple because truth threatens Satan and Satan doesn't sit back and relax when threatened. He fights back. And today he was in full-on battle mode. 
The dissolving of Christian principles hasn't happened overnight in America, it happened slowly and steadily. The rationalizing of sin has turned into the celebrating and legalizing of sin. And still there are those of us who cry out, "Abba! Father!" 
To those who weep with me for the future of our country and the lost souls of its citizens I encourage you to take heart; don't despair. God is not done yet. 
"And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." (Revelations 12:11). This is not the hour for us to back down or give up our beliefs under the pressure of an ever demoralized culture. This is the hour we were made for. Stand up, put on the full armor of God and be strong in His might. Do not fear or shrink back. Speak the truth of the Gospel with love and authority because our land is perishing and hearts are in desperate need of redemption, rebirth and restoration. 
The world will hate to hear the truth but, despite the laws on the record books or the opinions of politicians, truth will reign. God will stand at the end of this age as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. SCOTUS may have a say in the agenda of this land and this nation but those nine lawyers have nothing on God. In the end God will show His mighty rule and He will forever reign. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Falling on faith

There are two ways to fall. One is to fall in failure or, two, to fall on faith.
The first type of fall is accidental and, unless done as part of a theater act, unintentional. No one walks hoping to trip, stumble or somehow end up face flat on the ground. Any sane and rational walker hopes to complete the exercise on two feet and without bumps, bruises or scraped knees. On the walk of life we are all hoping for the same accident-free outcome. We want to make it through college without falling behind; to the alter without falling on our wedding dress or, worse, falling out of love with the man at the end of the aisle. We all want to walk through the ups and downs of relationship woes without falling apart. Parents want to raise their children without having them fall off the straight and narrow path. Falls create pain and pain is never to be desired. So we all try our hardest to avoid the fate of the fallen. 
Yet, many - most - of us will at some point (if not many points) fall. Some people will lose their job, others will lose their children. Marriages will end in divorce and friendships will dissolve in hurt feelings. Sickness will strike and death will separate. The falls of life are too numerous to number. Seemingly out of nowhere, a rock of a circumstance is in our path, tripping up our plans and dreams, sending us cascading downward with nothing to break out fall. 
What if I told you that you could avoid this accidental, traumatic type of fall altogether? It seems almost too good to be true, doesn't it? Well, before you get your hopes up let me clarify a few things. Full disclosure: I am not promising that by eliminating the fall in failure your life will be free of the painful situations and unpleasant circumstances. What I am about to propose will not guarantee your happiness. Marriages will not become immune to arguments and divorce. Children will not suddenly become angelic creatures who never talk back and always take out the trash (without being asked). Nor am I guaranteeing that your job will be "fire proof" or your body "illness proof." What I can guarantee is this, what I am going to propose will transform your attitude and heart towards the very act of falling and whatever stimulus or situation that came about and tripped you up. 
To escape the fall in failure you must learn to willingly and purposefully fall on faith. Embracing this kind of fall means getting down low before anything can knock us to that humble position. You and I are meant to fall but not because we've been kicked, pushed or tripped. We are meant to fall willingly as an act of surrender and obedience before the throne of God. 
Paul, a man well acquainted with struggles and suffering, practiced the art of falling on faith. In Ephesians 3:14 he wrote, "for this reason I fall on my knees before the Father." Paul was speaking of purposely falling. Ending up on the ground, on his knees, was Paul's act of obedience. Nothing caught him off guard that sent him to the ground. He chose that position because in that position he was fully relying on faith to be his strength. He was fully dependent on God when he was at his lowest, even his physical lowest. 
When life throws us a curve ball or sticks its foot out and causes us to trip we do have something to hold onto, something to break our fall: our knees. Even while we are mid free-fall we can decide to make that fall on purpose and that fall one that will land on faith. Sometimes the things that knock us down will come so unannounced that we are indeed mid fall before we realize something has hit us. No matter how last minute the decision, we can choose to land in a position of surrender and obedience that is only possible through an unwavering faith in God. 
For those of us who see the fall before we even stumble, choose to go down gracefully and humbly before God. Fall on purpose. It may seem like a weak and cowardly move but falling on faith is none of the above. To fall on faith is to trust wholeheartedly in the strength, omnipotence and will of God. 
Our strength is never found in trying to stay upright when life serves us a blow or throws a rock in our path. Fighting to stand in the face of such an onslaught will only make our fall more painful. But if we choose to take the fall our knees our spirit will be grateful. The impact won't hurt so much. We will still end up on the ground but it will be a restful position, one where we are cradled, not scrapped, left worse for the wear. 
Today we can choose how we will fall. Falling on faith won't make our lives immune to pain and sorrow but it will unite our heart and soul with our Great Comforter who will carry us through our trials. Learn to love the humble position of being on one's knees because it is there you will find that God will shower you with His strength, love and mercy. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Alone in my Principles

"Oh, there he goes off to his room to write that hit song, 'Alone in my Principles.'"
I can't help but crack up every time Lenny says that line in my all time favorite movie, That Thing You Do. Despite the fact that I've watched the movie upwards of fifty times, that short one-liner never fails to hit my funny bone. It's comical relief is due in part to the impeccable timing and perfect vocal inflection - the hallmark of all humorous one-liners. Lenny, Steve Zahn in real life, has the technique down to a science.
It's been quite some time since I've watched That Thing You Do but I can hear that line in my head as if it were just replayed on my TV a moment ago. I can see Jimmy storming out of the hotel restaurant, presumably up to his room where a new hit single is about to be born. As I watch the scene play out in my mind I am struck not by the comedy or humor of the events taking place but the honesty of the principle. "Alone in my Principles." It isn't necessarily the catchiest of song titles, but it is often reality for anyone who holds firm in their beliefs. The person that won't renounce their convictions or compromise their standards often finds themselves very much alone.
Alone isn't one of those words that conjures up warm and fuzzy feelings. Unless, that is, you are a Mom of five who is getting "alone time" on a Saturday afternoon at the spa. But take that same Mom and turn her "alone time" into a stand for moral principles and Biblical truth. That kind of "alone" doesn't sound like a relaxing day at the spa.
Being alone in our stance for Christ should never surprises us. The day we signed up to be a soldier in the Lord's army, proclaiming Christ and committing our lives to His service, we signed on to a life of standing alone. The ways of the world are not in line with the principles and teachings of the Bible. The world rejected Jesus to the point of nailing Him to a cross. He stood very, very alone. He stood so alone in His principles that He died for the sins of the world at the hands of a mocking crowd. It simply doesn't get any more alone than that.
Before Jesus was crucified He told His disciples and anyone else who would chose to follow Him, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." (John 15:18). Although in this world we will often find ourselves standing alone we are never truly alone. When we stand apart for Christ we stand with Christ. We have company in our principles and a faithful friend to support us when the world abandons us. We can stand firm knowing that our feet are planted in the unfailing, everlasting truth of God. Standing alone in the world is actually standing right with Christ.
This world and all of its sin and corruption will one day pass away but the Word of the Lord will last forever. Even on days when it feels like you are utterly alone, remember that Jesus is with you. The stance you are taking for truth today will undoubtedly separate you from the wayward world we live in but it will, at the same time, unite you with the eternal Kingdom to come. We are living not for the fleeting pleasures of this world or the sinful ways of wayward living but the glory of Heaven that will never pass away.
Dear Reader, don't be ashamed or afraid to stand alone in your principles. Go off into your bedroom and write a song about it if that helps to calm your anxiety and strengthen your spirit. Go to the Good Lord's Book and find encouragement for the narrow, deserted path you are walking. Cry out to the Lord who has all the power in His hand to carry you through the droughts of lonely days and solitary seasons. In Christ alone you will find that you are never actually alone. The world around you may cause you to feel like an outcast or, worse yet, it might press up against you with hostility and enmity. As you stand alone hold fast to the principles of the Bible, the salvation of Jesus Christ and the eternal glory of the Almighty God.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


No matter who you are, what side of town you were born on or who your Mom is, there is one common experience you and I and the rest of humanity share: waiting. Everyone at some point in their life will have to wait for something. Maybe it is as uneventful as waiting for a train or maybe it is as life-threatening as waiting for a kidney transplant. Be it a wait of trivial importance or a wait of great significance, waiting will strike us all. The challenge of waiting is universal.
Waiting is a common theme in scripture. The Bible was written by men who were well acquainted with waiting and the issue is repeatedly addressed. A favorite and often quoted verse on the subject is Psalm 27:14. "Wait on the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord." As encouraging as those words may be, they are also a bit perplexing. How does one wait on the Lord? The command is given but where are the step-by-step instruction?
Throughout the Bible there is scripture, commands and testimonies that teach us how to wait. In fact, the whole Bible is one big textbook on waiting. From Abraham to Paul, God has been teaching men and women how to wait and documenting it all the while. Pondering the lives of these waiting men and the scriptures given to us in order to guide our waiting, I whittled down the act of waiting into four words. There are a variety of words I could have chosen but in the spirit of sermonizing I picked words to suit the acronym "w-a-i-t."
So, without further ado, a simplification of how to wait.

W....worship. There is no shortage of scripture that tells the believer to worship. The word "praise" is used nearly 300 times in the Bible. Add in worship, rejoice, exalt and glorify and what you have is an entire book HIGHLY suggesting one action: worship God alone. The Bible doesn't say, "worship when you get your blessing" or "worship on Sundays." It says to worship. Psalm 100:2 says, "Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." There are no stipulations or exceptions on that command. You and I, if we are in Christ and sons and daughters of God, must worship. So, while we wait, let's worship. The time of waiting is actually a perfect time to worship. Not only does it redirect our attentions away from the challenge of waiting but it gives us a new perspective on the very act of waiting. If you decide to be a worshiper in the midst of being a waiter, you might find that you aren't so concerned about the wait after all.

A...anticipate. James wrote, "Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near." (5:7-8). James used a familiar analogy to convey a fundamental principal of waiting on the Lord: wait with anticipation. The farmer waits on his crop, knowing that through the rains and the storms a harvest is being nurtured. During our times of waiting, through our own life storms, something is being nurtured and cultivated in us and in our lives. We have the promise of the good things to come because God said, "I know the plans I have for you...plans for hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11). As we wait on the Lord those promises are being worked out. Like the farmer and his crop, you and I have to wait before the promises of God are fulfilled in our lives. But, just like that farmer, we can wait with great anticipation at the great harvest that will spring forth at the perfect, God-ordained time. 

I....inspire. As Paul was in prison he did a lot of waiting. Prison back in New Testament times had that in common with prison today. There is a lot of time to wait. Paul was waiting to see if he would be released, would live or die, or would ever see his fellow Christian brothers and sisters again. He didn't know. He was waiting to see what God had for his future. Paul didn't let the act of waiting cause him to be a downer or a complainer. Instead, he took the challenge of waiting and turned it into a lesson of inspiration for his fellow believers. In his letters he wrote words of continual encouragement. He used his story of suffering and waiting as a way to inspire others to wait on the Lord. In Philippians 3:20 he wrote, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ..." The act of waiting in Paul's life inspired others to wait on the Lord with patience and hope. It is amazing how those same words are still inspiring fellow believers today?

T....testify. A command as prevalent in the Bible as worshiping is testifying to the greatness of God and the salvation found in Jesus Christ. While we are waiting we can be sharing that testimony. Our conversation can be focused on our plight and challenge of waiting or those same interactions can be used to testify to the glory of God and the new life bought by the blood of Jesus Christ. "This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." (1 John 5:11). Every child of God has a universal story to share, and it is bigger and far more important than our story of waiting. We have the story of redemption, salvation, justification and rebirth! Even while we are waiting that can be the story we tell. Our message of Jesus Christ's gift of salvation will be much more impactful and genuine coming from a life that is patiently waiting in faith. Our unshakable faith in the midst of waiting can be our greatest testimony to the lost who are searching for the One true eternal, everlasting hope.

The act of waiting doesn't have to be time wasted. Waiting is a God-given gift that can be used to bring glory and honor to God. He has a purpose for your waiting. Do you trust that? If you do then live out your days of waiting the way God teaches us in the scripture. Worship Him. Anticipate the goodness He has in store. Inspire fellow believers as you wait. And testify to the greatness of the one you are waiting on.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ambush Makeover

Kathie Lee and Hoda are geniuses. Well, maybe not Kathie Lee and Hoda but someone working on their team deserves the accolade for the creation of "Ambush Makeover." Once a week a special segment runs featuring two fans devoid of fashion from the on-street audience. The fans (always women) are plucked from the crowd and swept away and into the hands of celebrity stylists and designers. In the matter of hours these women go from wearing Mom jeans, no make up and glaring roots to being ready for the runway.
Near the end of the morning show the segment begins with what occurred earlier that morning, the ambush. The crowd is scanned and two women are chosen. There is always much squealing involved. Family members and friends in attendance are interviewed. "Why does you Mom deserve this makeover?" Of course, every Mom is the most selfless, generous Mom on the planet and deserves star treatment. It is a perpetual Mother's Day on Ambush Makeover.
From there the camera shoots back to the woman being swept away into a sea of hair shears, coloring foils, mascara and vanishing line creams.
Finally, we come back to the present moment, the moment of truth. The family is blindfolded. A big full length mirror is in position. The designers are seated, prepared to give an account of the makeover specifics. Then, the women enters.
Could that possibly be the same women pulled from the audience? I nearly always ask myself. The transformation is remarkable. No plastic surgery; no new nose; no liposuction. The woman is essentially the same as before, only now she is fulfilling her full potential.
This idea of ambush makeover is unique to NBC's morning show and certainly an ingenious segment for entertainment value but a transformational ambush is actually an age old practice. Ambush makeovers predate morning TV or TV at all. God has been in the business of performing ambush makeovers for as long as man has walked this earth. Just go back to the book of Acts and Saul on the road to Damascus. Talk about an ambush! He was just walking along, minding his own sinful business when, boom! An ambush.
When Saul came out for his big reveal he was no longer Saul and he was no longer a persecutor. His transformation made Ambush Makeover look like child's play. To the outside world Paul looked the same - no new nose or change of facial structure. But the man inside was completely new. God got hold of him and made him into the shining figure of the man Saul was meant to be.
Right now you may be wearing mom jeans or you may be wearing a five hundred dollar pair of designer slacks, either way a makeover may be in order. God is scanning His kingdom in search of the next man or woman He is going to pluck from the crowd and transform. He looks with His eyes on the soul of man, as 1 Samuel 16:7 says, "The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." He is looking for heart's that need to be made over into the image of Christ. 
God's work of transformation can be done in an instant if the ambushed soul is willing to submit to the hand of the Master. On NBC's Ambush Makeover the women willingly allow hair stylists to pick their new hair color, cut and style. They leave the choice and application of makeup to the professionals and turn to designers and stylists for clothing choices and accessory pairing. Every decision is out of the hands of the ambushed. They are a surrendered canvas in the hands of the stylish, creative professionals who are eager to work their magic! 
God is eager, ready and willing to do a marvelous work on you and me by way of transformation. He has the best wardrobe to choose from and He wants to dress you and me in the garments of His love, grace and mercy. 
Will you allow yourself to be ambushed? God will never force your hand. It is a matter of your will. But He will ask. Just like those women in the crowd are approached with a microphone and a camera crew, God will come before you with an offer. "Will you give up total control to be totally transformed?" 
An ambush makeover can be yours if you will willingly say, "yes."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In the dark

1 Peter 5:10
"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."

When the lights go cold, hold tight. It is in your darkest hour that your greatest testimony is being written. To the suffering, struggling and hurting the pitch black - blacker than the blackest of nights - is frightening. Vision is rendered useless. We grope for a railing to hold onto, bumping into walls with every step. Our movement is slow, labored and sometimes even paralyzed.
It is in these moments of utter darkness that God does His most awe-inspiring work. He paints the most beautiful canvases in the dark. He sculpts display-worthy pottery when there is not even a glimmer of light.
You and I, in the midst of our deepest struggles and longest trials, are that canvas, that piece of pottery, in the hands of the Great Artist who works best in the dark. The completed work of art isn't completed yet but in that darkness the work is most certainly underway. If we will remain patient, faithful and hopeful we will see the Master's masterpiece on full display when all is said and done, when the lights come back on.
Could it be that God has turned out the lights so that we are forced to trust Him? Could it be that darkness has descended so that the work God is doing can be left a mystery, a surprise to be revealed once a transformation has been completed?
Our testimony is being written on that canvas in the midst of our struggle. The story that will bring the most glory to God is the story written on a weak, broken, and weary canvas that has been under construction in the dark. That is where God is busy with His brushes and His chisels creating something remarkable out of something ordinary, or, worse, something tragic.
Today, if you are in the dark hold on tightly to the Creator who is at work in your life transforming you into a masterpiece. His plan is to make you a testimony, bringing glory to His name. When you are complete your life will show the world the greatness of God and the perfect plan He brings to fulfillment in the dark.

Don't give up

"DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP" is a flag favorite in my hometown of Erie, PA. You'll see the blue flag with those words in all capitals flown outside of businesses, homes and plastered on the back of pick-up trucks. It is a quotable favorite all around America but it holds a special place in the Erieites heart because it was here, during the Battle of Lake Erie, where that battle cry was first expressed.
There is much debate over who said it first and who should get the glory for this famous line. In reality Captain Lawrence said it first but he didn't imprint it on a flag. Perry liked the saying so much he wanted to fly it high for all of his men to claim and all of his enemies to fear. He wasn't going to let his fleet go down. They weren't going to give up the ship. Not if Perry had anything to do with it.
Lawrence himself died giving up the ship. Those were his last words so he never had the chance to see how they played out in the heat of battle. They didn't go over well. His men did indeed give up the ship.
But not Perry. Perry fought hard at the Battle of Lake Erie and now the flag with his favorite phrase flies as a testimony to his victory on the monument dedicated to his leadership.
On this Memorial Day that flag conveys a special meaning. It flies all year long but most days I don't think on it and really meditate on its meaning. Perry fought for nearly a year to win the territory I now call home. He refused to give up his ships and let Britain send him into retreat. Perry saw the mistakes of Lawrence and didn't repeat them. He remained steadfast and tirelessly fought to win.
I'll never be in the navy. Well, never say never...but I can be quite certain in proclaiming that a naval future isn't in my cards. That doesn't mean that I don't have a ship to protect and keep afloat. That flag could be flown on the roof of my house, on the hood of my car or right out of my back pocket. The body I live in is my own personal vessel that I am fighting for, refusing to give up.
All of us are in the fight of our lives. Our enemy is just as real as the British were on the waters of Lake Erie. Satan is trying to take us down and force up to give up our ship. But, just like Perry, we can fly a flag of resolve and determination that refuses to give into the enemy. We have everything to fight for - this life and the eternal life to come.
The battle we face is not against the circumstances of our lives or a ship full of weapons and angry opponents. Ephesians 6:12 warns us, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."
Our enemy is dead set on our defeat but God is more powerful than our enemy and He has given us His Holy Spirit as the ultimate flag of triumph. When we put on the full armor of God and go to battle under the leadership of the Mighty Lord we are destined for victory. Satan doesn't stand a chance. He will sink like the British. But to see the victory through to the end we must stand firm in the Lord and decide not to give up the ship. Perry's victory didn't come overnight and ours might not either. This is a battle, not a scrimmage. This is war, not a game.
Beloved, if you are in this for the long haul, determined to see God get the glory for the victory in your life then fly your flag with faith, trust and hope because the battle is already won. God has defeated the enemy and when we remain faithful in the fight we will see how His strategy is perfect and His tactics are always just right. All He is asking of you is, "don't give up the ship."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Strength in the silence

Have you ever asked yourself, "If I had to choose to lose one physical capability, what would it be?" Would you opt to give up the ability to walk or talk? Would you choose blindness or deafness? Every option sounds terrible from the perspective of someone with full physical capabilities. The thought of becoming physically impaired just sounds like pure suffering.
In my mind I've grappled with this question, trying to decide which faculty I would give up if I were forced to pick one. After weighing the positives and negatives of every scenario I've always come to the same conclusion. Indecision. I can't imagine life without walking, talking, hearing and seeing. How could my life be full without those fundamental functions? How could I be happy, content and fulfilled if I couldn't hear or see? And not talk!? The thought alone is depressing.
It's been quite some time since I've thought on living without a basic physical function but today the question was brought to my mind once again as I greeted a smiling woman waiting in line at the food pantry.
Immediately I started out with a, "Good morning! How are you today?" She didn't respond. The woman just looked at me and then looked at the man behind her who quickly informed me that my guest was deaf and mute. He then gave the woman a little pat on the back and pointed towards me, indicating that she should follow me. My task at hand was now to make her feel comfortable and taken care of in spite of not being able to communicate. I love a challenge and this interaction certainly provided one.
As we made our way down the row of food offerings I picked up each can, box and bag, held it before the woman with the label clearly displayed and made a motion indicating that I was going to put it in her bag. She quickly picked up on my tactic. If she wanted the item she nodded yes. If she didn't want the item she nodded dramatically in the opposite direction. When we reached offerings that provided her with a choice between two options I held up both, one in each hand and moved my hands up and down to signify "one or the other." The woman caught on quickly to this communication technique, too. She pointed to her desired option and I put it in the bag.
Throughout our stroll down the row of food my guest's spirit was vibrant, gracious and grateful. She exuded a spirit of thankfulness without ever speaking a word. She smiled brightly, the kind of smile characterized by a genuine sparkle in the eyes. There was a calm and peace that poured out of her very presence. She didn't need to be able to talk to me or even hear me to connect. She did it by way of her upbeat attitude and friendly face.
As I watched this woman, whose name I couldn't ask and she couldn't say, walk out the door I chose my answer to that hypothetical question that has remained unsettled in my mind for years. I'd pick what that woman had. I'd choose to be mute and deaf but filled with compassion, joy and gratitude. What that woman showed me in a few short silent minutes laid to rest a question that I didn't even know I was struggling to answer. Can a life of purpose be lived in the face of limitations and barriers? The answer is yes.
I'm not the first to ask this question and struggle for an answer. Moses wondered, too and God answered. "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what to say." (Exodus 4:11-12). Despite the reassurance of God Moses didn't want to be sent out with his lack of eloquence and insufficient abilities. But God's word was as true then as it was in 2 Corinthians and as it is today. "My power is made perfect in weakness."
Sometimes God chooses to use physically weak vessels to display His mighty strength. Being mute, blind, deaf or paralyzed certainly appears to be a weakness from our human perspective but what God sees in our inabilities in His overwhelming abilities. 
Today my guest at the food pantry had two major weaknesses but she had super strength through the love of Christ. God used her lack of speech to put on display the beauty of His spirit. She spoke silently and shined brilliantly the light of God that is brightest when it is on display in weakness. 
Weakness is not always easy. There are challenges and obstacles that come in being weak but there is overcoming strength when we release our weakness into the hands of God and allow Him to use it for His glory. He can show His grace and mercy when we give Him our inabilities, disabilities and limitations. We can boost in our weakness because when we are weak then He, our mighty God, is strong.

Friday, May 8, 2015

In a field full of dandelions

April showers bring May flowers...and May dandelions. As a child I believed that dandelions were just a part of the flower family. Like most kids I made bouquets of dandelions for my Mom believing that I was delivering her a thoughtful gift of nature's bounty, not a handful of my yard's pesky nemesis.
Once I grew up I learned the sneaky truth about those yellow-headed "flowers." They aren't flowers at all. They are weeds that ChemLawn has made a killing off of killing. Dandelions weren't sent to earth as free bouquets. If that were the case a whole lot of women could save some serious money on their wedding arrangements. They could simply stop by a big, open field on the way to the ceremony and save the florist fee. But, alas, dandelions aren't flowers. They are weeds.
Today as I drove along a hilly road with wide open fields and rolling landscapes I came across an expanse of open land covered with dandelions. The lush green grass beneath was barely visible. The yellow dots were in abundance, shining in the bright sun. Those dandelions were breathtakingly beautiful. It made me want to pull over and take a picture and then lay on that blanket of delicate petals. The field looked so inviting, as if it were saying, "It's spring! Come and enjoy!"
That quick moment in my car gazing upon the dandelions passed before I could make the decision to pull to the side of the road and stay a little bit longer. But the moment in my mind didn't pass. I drove on picturing those dandelions, brightened by their beauty.
How could a pesky lawn invader bring so much joy? How could they be so beautiful?
In life and in flowers it is tempting to think we know what is best. We know what life circumstances will make us happy and what flowers are appropriate for every occasion. Gerber daisies are happy flowers. Roses are reserved for love. In life we want health that will make us happy. We want love that will make us complete.  We think we know what is best. In our feeble, limited minds we have defined the good and the bad and anything that doesn't fit our mold is deemed undesirable.
But just look at the dandelion. Something considered a weed is actually something beautiful. And, might I add, not just beautiful but healing and therapeutic, too! Did you know that dandelions are used to heal the liver, stomach and even cancer? Yes, that's right. Dandelions have been known to rid the body of cancer. And botanists want to call it a weed. That, my friend, is some powerful yellow floret.
As with nearly everything in life and even in weeds, there is a lesson to be learned. What we believe is best is not the only best and sometimes it isn't even the very best. God often uses the things that appear pesky, troublesome, trying or downright weed-like to bring about His purposes. He may use the plight of singleness to grow an individual spiritually. He may use a trial of sickness to increase our awareness and reliance on Him.
The dandelion is proof that what we want isn't always what we need want what we need isn't always necessarily what we want. God works in mysterious and amazing ways, even using the weeds of life to bring about healing and wholeness. Thank God for His dandelions, both those in a big abandoned field and those in the depths of your heart because they aren't pesky and they aren't a weed, they are a precious gift and quite possible the very thing you need most.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hope in the face of hopelessness

Hopelessness is an unsustainable state of being. The depression and melancholy spirit associated with an absence of hope can't go on forever. It always passes, one way or another.
There are two ways to relieve hopelessness. One way is tragic and the other is inspiring. Hopelessness can be remedied via exiting the hopeless circumstance and situation. This is a real option for, on average, over 40,000 people a year. The despair associated with hopelessness takes over and the only way out that can be seen is the way that leads to death. Some take their lives in hopes of getting to the perfection of heaven. Others take their life with no thought of eternity. They act purely on the here and now, with no regard to what might comes next.
The thought of hopelessness leading to suicide is depressing, even for those who are full of hope. There are no words deep enough and strong enough to describe that kind of despair. Sadness just doesn't do it justice.
For the hopeless there is another way out. Ending life isn't the only option for ending hopelessness. The second option is one of mounting up on the wings of eagles. It is the decision to name and claim renewed hope.
Maybe that sounds too simple or just plain silly. Naming hope and claiming it won't change the current circumstances or relieve whatever pain and suffering has caused the hopelessness in the first place. Physical ailments could very well still persist in the face of naming and claiming hope. Loss, trials and heartache might still persist even after hope has been renamed and reclaimed.

Choosing hope isn't a magic trick to deliver us from our circumstances. Choosing hope is the gateway to bring us through our circumstances.

In my relatively short life (just a quarter of a century) I've had many reasons to lose hope. I've seen more doctors than I can count in an attempt to bring relief to my ailing body. Still my troubles persist. I've been in relationships that have become broken and failed all-together. And today I'm still single. I've experienced the loss of friendships and the loss of dreams. I've experienced physical pain and unexplainable suffering in the pit of my stomach.
Yet, in the midst of my hopelessness I've learned something about myself. I can't help but hope. Every time I fall into a pit of despair something inside of me starts to scream, "Get out!" Every time I start to feel sorry for myself and want to just lay down and give up a voice inside of me says, "Arise, keep going." There is a whisper speaking to my heart and it is speaking words of hope.
I'll be honest and admit that I don't always listen to that little voice when it first starts to speak. Sometimes that voice has to get mighty loud before I pay attention and heed its directive. But in the end the voice always gets through. I can't stay in the pit forever. I can't lay on my bed in a mess of tears and self-pity forever. I have to arise. I have to dig out. I have to have hope.

It is in the midst of hopelessness that I need to be reminded more than ever of the true meaning of hope. It is what Romans 8:24-25 says," For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." 
Hope is not my circumstances. Hope is the eternal glory God has promised. Hope is the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. My hope is found not in what I am experiencing in the here and now but the grace I have received by way of the blood of my perfect Savior. It is because of the sacrifice of Jesus that I can hope in the face of hopelessness and rejoice in the midst of despair. I can choose hope because Jesus died and rose again. I can rise above my suffering, pain and tribulation because the Holy Spirit is living and dwelling inside of me, mounting me up on the wings of eagles and taking me to heights that soar above the earthly ailments that plague me. 
"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness." When I want to lose hope I can choose to lay down and give up for good. But not even Jesus laid down for good after being nailed to a cross and crucified despite being perfect and blameless. No, Jesus rose again and by His power, grace and mercy I will arise, too. I will arise above my hopelessness and in His perfect time I will arise to eternal glory with Him where I will forever praise the God who sustained me on this earth and gave me strength to overcome. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

You are welcome here

"I didn't bring a bag. It is my first time here. I didn't know...I-I forgot my bag." The woman's voice spoke at a racing clip, shaking from nervousness and apprehension.
I quickly reassured her that it was absolutely fine that she didn't have a bag. We had plenty of plastic bags at the food pantry and I'd be happy to get her some.
"I'll bring my bag with me next time."
"Even if you don't we'll be happy to provide a bag for you."
A calm seemed to come over my new guest. "I'll be happy to take whatever you have to offer."
For the rest of my time with my new guest I was repeatedly thanked for each item with a spirit of genuine gratefulness. She was thankful for the two boxes of noodles and surprised that she was able to choose her own bread from a variety of options fresh off the Giant Eagle donation truck. When we reached the last table I handed her a box of pancake mix and she gave me a heartfelt thanks. "Thank you so much. I'm new to this and...thank you."
Nothing out-of-the ordinary had been discussed in that woman's short time at the pantry. We didn't talk about her struggles, dreams, or even faith in Jesus Christ. All we did was fill some plastic bags with cans, boxes, fresh fruits and vegetables. But that was all that woman needed. The woman who entered the pantry anxious and filled with nerves left with a renewed calm and peace that was evident on her face. She didn't need me to provide a mini-sermon, she just needed to be accepted.
Isn't that what we are all longing for deep down inside? We are all yearning to be taken in and loved just as we are. When we come to Christ we often come with the same worries that my new friend at the food pantry held in her heart this morning. She came without a bag to hold her food; we come to Christ with more sin than we can carry and we wonder, "Will He take me in this way? Will He love me even though I have a dark past and a troubled present?" Yes, He will take us in. Just as easily I gave that woman a few plastic bags, God will take away our sins and forgive us. It is no trouble for Him, He is happy to relieve us of our guilt and shame when we willingly come before Him seeking repentance, forgiveness and a new way forward.
John 6:37 quotes Jesus as saying, "All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." Receiving what Jesus has to offer - grace, mercy and new life - is as simple as coming to Him. He won't turn us away because we are too old, too lost or too broken. If we come He will always take us in and begin His redemptive work in our lives.
The transformation that God has in mind for each one of His wayward sheep begins when we walk through the door and into His presence. Just like a first-timer at the food pantry the gift can't be received until the person makes the decision to come into the building. Once they are inside they will find that they didn't need to come prepared to be served. They don't even need to know how the system works. They will learn. All that person needs to do is show up and they will be provided food to eat.
Entering God's presence we are offered the greatest food of all, the bread of life. It is free to all who seek to partake because the debt has been paid and the door is open. We simply must take the first step as a newcomer and cross that threshold. When we do we will enter into the presence of God and be accepted, taken in and loved on by our Heavenly Father and Provider who never turns a single one of His beloved children away.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What is in a name?

Shakespeare famously penned the words, "What is in a name?" His question wasn't looking for an answer but if it were I would argue that there is a magnitude of importance in a name.
Just ask Teresa. I met Teresa at the food pantry on a sub-zero, frigid Erie, PA morning in January. The streets were coated in ice and the turnout at the food pantry was a reflection of the brutal weather conditions. Not even the hungry were venturing out to receive free food. The streets were treacherous and the wind was whipping. Walking even just a few blocks could put even the hardiest of souls at risk for frostbite.
Despite the terrible conditions some tough spirited men and women made their way to the food pantry. I was heartbroken to see some people shivering in flimsy jackets and threadbare gloves. There was pain on the faces of so many that came through the line that day. The winter took its toll not just on the body but on the soul, too. Every time the door to the food pantry opened, letting in a blast of frigid air, I was reminded that out in those conditions at that very moment someone was treading on foot through the bitter cold to reach the pantry. My entire morning was spent in a silent prayer for protection for the homeless and destitute just trying to survive this winter.
There was despair hanging over the food pantry like a gray storm cloud. That is until a woman in a black fuzzy hat and huge puffy coat made her way to the front of the line. I looked up to take her number and was greeted with a beaming smile and bright eyes. "Good morning, sweetheart!" she said. Her voice was full of joy and her spirit was one of praise and thanksgiving. She was a light shining in the dark, a warm breeze on that freezing cold morning.
That is how I came to know Teresa. For the rest of her time at the food pantry Teresa and I talked about her grandsons, both of whom she is raising. She told me about how they love "Cheese-Its" and are ravenous snackers. By the time we had completed our circle around the food pantry Teresa felt like an old friend. I waved goodbye as she ventured back out into the frozen Erie streets.
The following week the temperatures were up and so was the line at the food pantry. I was busy all morning taking visitors through the line and restocking cans and boxes. As I was kneeling on the floor replacing rolls of toilet paper I heard a familiar voice. It was Teresa. A smile came to my face as I looked up and waved saying, "Good morning, Teresa!"
"She remembered my name!" Teresa said in a stunned yet excited voice.
"Of course I did!"
"I can't believe she remembered my name."
Our exchange that morning was just that brief but in that moment I learned the answer to the question, "What is in a name?"

In a name is value. A name says, "You are special." A name conveys worth. When someone calls out your name it is a reminder that you are one-of-a-kind. You are known. You are precious. You have significance.
I haven't remembered every person's name at the food pantry. There are some I am embarrassed to say I have forgotten but there is One who never forgets a name. Our Heavenly Father knows each one of us by our unique and special name. We are precious and valuable to Him, so much so that He knows us by name and calls us by name. Our name is so special and significant to God that when we come to know Him He writes it in His Book of Life.
Isaiah 43:1 tells us just how special each and every name is on the lips of God. "Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.'"
Our name reminds us to whom we belong. God. Our Abba, Father who longs to be with us in eternity and loves us conditionally is calling us to Himself, calling each of us by name. Do you hear Him? 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Number 31

The line at the food pantry had been endless all morning long. By two o'clock over four hundred families would be represented in that sea of people bearing beat up reusable grocery bags and noisy metal carts. I had been moving as quickly as I could all morning to try and get the line down but the people kept coming and the line kept growing.
"Number 31?" I called out, looking for the next in line to receive the food pantry's daily offering of boxed foods, canned goods and almost over-ripe fruit. At the front of the line stood a frail woman, hunched over and stiff, the crown of her head facing me with a mess of unkempt silvery white hair. She stepped away from the crowd and toward me handing over her disc bearing the number "31" on top. This is how order is kept in the food pantry line. Each person is given a disc when they check-in. The discs start at 1 and go to 100, then the numbers begin again at 1. By 10:00 we had already been through our first 100. With so many faces streaming through the doors I was becoming numb and robotic until I reached forward to take disc number 31. Suddenly I was met with a stench that pierced my nose. My next in line, number 31, wreaked of clothes that hadn't been washed in weeks and hair that hadn't been touched by hot water or shampoo for just as long. The stench of the homeless is not an unfamiliar scent in the food pantry but this was more severe and intense than anything I had ever encountered before. I immediately held my breath in an attempt to cut off the odor and, hopefully, disguise any facial expression that would have given away the assault on my nostrils. 
I gave myself a quick pep talk as number 31 and I walked over to the canned foods. "Don't let on that she stinks!" I told myself. Slowly my food pantry guest and I walked down the line of food offerings. Every step was laborious. The woman's movement was arthritic and she appeared to be in great discomfort. As we moved down the line she started to move at an even slower pace but I didn't really notice. I was so focused on keeping my nose pointed in the other direction that I didn't realize how much she was suffering.
Finally she spoke up. "Can you take this bag for me?" she asked. Humiliated, I realized the great anguish in this woman's face. She was crippled to begin with and the bags loaded with heavy cans and cumbersome boxes were causing her more pain. I quickly lifted the bags off her frail arms and apologized for failing to do so earlier. Of course I couldn't tell her why I had been so negligent. I couldn't tell her that her odor was so off-putting that I wanted to be as far away from her as possible. Inside I felt horrible. In a lame attempt to make myself more comfortable I had allowed this poor woman to be more uncomfortable.
Number 31 and I made our way to the end of the food pantry offerings. She was winded from the short stroll (and unnecessary carrying of heavy bags).
"How are you getting your groceries home?" I asked.
"My car... I have a car. It's just a few spaces down the road." She told me.
"Let me carry them out for you."
I couldn't undo my selfishness and thoughtlessness of just a few minutes ago but I could try to redeem myself and show this woman that she was special, cared for and valued. She accepted my offer and the two of us walked toward the door. As we were walking over the threshold, about to take the single step down onto the pavement she looked up at me. She was practically in tears and her voice choked on her words. "I had such a terrible day yesterday and'm not doing much better."
"I think you're doing great." I told her. I didn't know what else to say. I didn't know what was causing her body such distress but I just knew that something was physically ailing her. I couldn't make it better but I could encourage her that she was an over-comer. 
The woman looked up and gave me a faint smile. Somehow in that moment number 31 didn't stink any longer. The odor that had struck me so forcibly was gone. All I saw and smelled was a sweet child of God, precious and loved.
We made it to the car and I placed her bags inside. She gave me a heartfelt, genuine "thank you" and that was it. She got in her car; I went back to the food pantry and we both went on with our days. I wish I would have asked for her name or introduced myself but in that brief encounter the thought didn't even cross my mind. I went from being consumed with a smell to being overwhelmingly convicted by my lack of consideration.

As I made my way through the line with more visitors to the food pantry I realized the magnitude of what had happened with number 31. In that brief encounter God revealed to me a priceless truth of His character. God - perfect, spotless and smelling of sweet roses - looks upon you and me and loves us dearly. Even when we wreaked of sin and were clothed in filthy rags of rebellion, God loved us. You and I are valuable to God and He cherishes us. Each one of us is of precious value to Him. God doesn't look at us and see a terrible sinner or our past transgressions. He looks at us and sees who we are in Christ - redeemed, saved, made new, reborn.
Before we ever loved God, He loved us. It is that truth written in 1 John 4:19 that makes it possible for me to stand in the presence of number 31 and not smell her unwashed clothes. It is because God loved me first that I can love others. God loved me before I acknowledged Him, knew Him and repented of my sin against Him. God loved me so much that He gave up His Son's life to save me. Why? Because I am precious in His sight and so is His beloved number 31.