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.