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Archive for April, 2010

Follow Me

(My devotions this morning were from John 21:15-25 which you can read here.)

“Follow me.”

It was one of the first things Jesus had said to Peter and it was one of that last.  It is both an invitation and a command.

In the beginning the response would have been out of simple obedience, perhaps a curiosity and not really knowing what all the invitation would mean…

But that was before.  Before three years of dusty roads, hard teachings, people healed, demons scattering.  Before spending day in and day out with God in the flesh.  Now Peter had seen his mother-in-law healed, had been a leader among followers, had walked on water, had gotten rebuked, had seen & confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the very Son of God and had denied this Son, his friend and master… for now was after Jesus had been arrested, beaten, crucified, buried and resurrected.

Things were different now. “Do you really love me?” Jesus had asked him moments before.  “Others will lead you where you don’t want to go…” Jesus had spoken, hinting at the martyrdom Peter would face.

Now the road was known. The truth of God’s redemption plan. The commitment to be made.  The sacrifice required. The hope attained.

And Jesus said, “Follow Me.”

And Peter did.

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“Peace be with you.”

Jesus says it (or similar variations) several times throughout the gospels. Most of the time it’s when the disciples are frightened out of their minds…

…which is where I first encountered it today when reading John 20:19-23.  Just like Luke also records, after his resurrection when the disciples were freaking out and hiding out (and terribly confused, disoriented & frightened), Jesus came into their midst and says “Peace…”

But here is what caught my attention.  Jesus says “Peace be with you” twice in the passage.

The first time they were frightened.  The second they were rejoicing.

What?

They recognized him, saw his wounds and were rejoicing that the Lord had risen when he again says, “Peace…”

Only this time it was followed by a call.  “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”

Could it be that the peace of Jesus does more than calm our fears?  Could it be that peace is also given to us as a precursor to our call – to enable it even?

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believe…

In John 20:1-10 it says (speaking of John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”) that John “saw and believed.”  Peter and John had been told of an empty tomb and so they went to check it out.  Peter went into the emptiness and looked around.  But John saw and believed.

In verse 9 John admits that they didn’t really fully understand from the scriptures that Jesus had to rise again.

So what did John believe?  He believed something.

Something that should have been wasn’t and something wasn’t that should have been.

Could he feel it in his bones that same kind of mixed-up, upside-down in-breaking Kingdom-ness that Jesus was always teaching and doing and revealing?  Was there something deep down inside of him that said “I don’t know exactly what’s going on here – but I know it’s Jesus!”  John hadn’t yet seen Jesus, but he saw evidence of Jesus moving…

John saw the empty tomb and folded linens and believed.

Thomas had to see Jesus Himself for himself in order to believe.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe” (see v.29)

Lord, O that we would believe simply at Your Word and also at the evidence of Your movement and also in the reality of Your Presence.

I believe!  Help my unbelief!

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“God has a wonderful plan for your life!”

Have you ever had someone tell you that?  Have you ever said it yourself?  In what context?

That phrase came up today in Sunday School.  We’re talking about evangelism and how so many use that as a way to introduce the gospel.  (The series we’re doing, on the other hand, focuses on the call to righteousness, the reality of Hell and the need for salvation.)  On the video they asked us if we would say “God has a wonderful plan for your life” if speaking to a group of people we knew would experience a violent death within the next 24 hours.  That phrasing doesn’t work well for that situation, so why then would we think it’s what the gospel is all about?

But the thing is, we hear and say that line frequently.  When talking about the gospel, when talking about suffering or trial and in new phases of life.  Case in point: graduation.

For years it has been a pet peeve of mine how every May thousands of products suddenly show up on the market containing Jeremiah 29:11.  “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future.”

It’s over-used.  It’s out of context.  And it’s become trite.

Now, am I saying that God doesn’t have wonderful plans?  No.  Am I saying God wants to bring us harm?  Absolutely not!  Am saying that God doesn’t give us hope or a future?  By no means!

But what I am saying is that in context these things look very different than how we tend to understand this verse.  We think of wonderful plans in terms of good education and good career and being well-paid and married and having good kids and a healthy body.  We tend to think “not to harm you” means nothing bad will ever happen to us.  Our hope tends to be centered on those “wonderful plans” and our future is limited to the here and now.

Go read Jeremiah 29.  Read the whole chapter.

Verse 11 was part of a letter written to the exiles in Babylon.  They had been captured by the enemy and their country (and their temple) was falling apart.  They were there because the nation was being punished.  And it wasn’t about to end any time soon.  70 years was the time set for their punishment.  70 years of exile.  There were “prophets” giving people a “health and wealth” gospel of sorts – that God would rise up in just a year or two and destroy their enemies and bring them all back and everything would be good and rosey again.  And in the midst of this comes verse 11.

God’s plans weren’t given for an individual, but for a nation.  The hope and future wasn’t immediate, but 70+ years out (and some of them would be dead before they saw it)!  And “not to harm” didn’t mean no suffering or shame, it meant that He wasn’t going to totally destroy them but that their punishment was for their good… so that they would call on and seek their God again.

God does have a wonderful plan for His people.  And it hinges on that unbelievable, incomprehensible moment when Jesus died for our sins so that we could be saved from Hell and have a relationship with Him!  And it includes bringing as many to Himself as will have it.  And it concludes (or does it then begin again) with making all wrongs right and making all things new – a future, eternal, hope!

And I will dare to say that God even has a wonderful plan for my life and for yours – and by that I mean full of wonder.  Wonder that God loves us and forgives us.  Wonder that we can go through beatings and stoning and shipwrecks like Paul and still live on to spread the Good News!  Wonder that we can be transformed into new creations.  Wonder that we have the courage to stand up for Him and face death like martyrs, past and present, have all over the world.  Wonder that in our sufferings He is with us, even when we cannot see Him.  Wonders.  Lots of wonders….

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A decade ago I read a book for my teaching class in college.  In it the author explained how one time he had made the comment that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” to which a tall West Texan had replied, “you’re wrong, son.  You can feed him salt.”

That has forever stuck with me.  I thought about it last week in Sunday School.  Before class started we were discussing our current book/curriculum (on evangelism) and how some people (who don’t believe in or follow Jesus) seem to have their lives so together that they don’t seem receptive to the message we are trying to tell them.  And I mentioned how too often we feel the pull to create a false need so that we can provide the answer.  Like we will dig around their lives for some bad aspect or look for bad news so we can share the “good news.”

And that metaphor of feeding salt to horses came to mind.  And I shuddered.  For to me, the metaphor was beautiful and wise.  And the thought of trying to create  a need in someone’s life so my “good news” can fill it is ugly and dishonest.  It did not sit well with me…

So today in Sunday School we were watching the video part of this next lesson.  And the guys were talking about how we wrongly focus on trying to share the good news by telling others how God has a wonderful plan for their lives and that if they say a prayer to receive Jesus they will be at peace and find contentment and be happier than they can imagine.  They pointed out how this doesn’t work because many people already feel at peace or content or happy.  Then they brought up that same metaphor I’d heard long before by suggesting we can “salt the oats” in order to get the horse to drink.

Oh, no! I thought. They’re not going there are they?  After the weeks they spent pounding into us that the “health and wealth” gospel is not the true Good News and that we tend to go about evangelism all wrong, I got a bit confused and concerned.

But they weren’t talking about happiness for salt, they were talking about righteousness!  See, it is true that knowing Jesus will bring us peace and joy and that in Jesus we can find contentment.  But it is also true that Jesus promised us trouble in this world and that those who really follow after Him not only frequently face similar struggles (losing jobs, getting sick, being hurt by others), we also can expect ridicule, persecution and even death for our beliefs!  So in addition to a true, deep peace (one that often doesn’t make sense) and a true, deep joy (that encompasses even suffering) we need to also remember that Jesus brings His presence and His righteousness and His justice to our lives and saves us from Hell and eternal separation from God!

And that’s when it really hit me.  Righteousness is salt.  Happiness is sugar.  Sugar will dehydrate the body and create a thirst, but pure water doesn’t seem to quench that.  It almost takes a sugar-water (kool-aid, fruit juices, soda, etc) to do that, but they then create more thirst and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Salt, on the other hand, can be quenched by water.  Salt is distinctive and, if nothing else, highlights the need for water.  It brings it to the fore and makes it obvious.  If we are trying to get people to see and understand the Good News, we need to be showing them the salt of righteousness and not the sugar of happiness!

Aren’t we as Christians, after all, supposed to be the salt of the earth?  But if the salt loses its saltiness – what good is it?

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My intention was to do the whole “road to Emmaus” passage today for my Lectio Divina. But I got stopped at verse 16….

See, it’s the Sunday Jesus rose from the dead. And these ladies came running back to the Eleven and other of Jesus’ followers who were together talking wild about empty tombs and angelic messages – and the disciples didn’t believe them. It was too much. So Cleopas and another guy take off for a 7-mile walk to the village of Emmaus. And while they’re going (and talking about all this), Jesus comes and joins them. Which is when we come to verse 16:
“But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”
Why?
That verse and that question stopped me in my tracks. Why didn’t they recognize Jesus? Was it their own disbelief or hardness of heart or simply the tears in their eyes? Maybe. But something about the wording here (and I’m in the NASB for any who care to know) makes it sound as if something other than themselves prevented recognition – something divine perhaps.
So why?
What happened on that road that would have been different had they recognized immediately that it was Jesus. I know the women clung to Him when they recognized Him. Did Jesus, perhaps, want these guys to hear what He had to say rather than clinging to Him or asking a hundred million questions of their own?
If you don’t know, the rest of the passage describes how Jesus opened up God’s Word to them by explaining stuff about Himself that was found in the Torah and Prophets and the like. And then they invited Him for dinner and when Jesus broke the bread they realized it was Him! They remarked how their hearts had been “burning within” as He walked with them and explained the truths to them…
So is it possible they wouldn’t have been receptive of His teaching and simply walking with them and being present with them if they had recognized Him right away?
And then my thoughts took another turn. You have to understand that I’ve been praying for a good many people lately and some of those people have had prayers answered in glorious ways. But others not so much. In fact, the greatest contrast came yesterday. One friend received almost miraculous, wonderful news from a doctor and the other friend received very bad news from a doctor (and is now facing the possibility of losing a spouse). Both went to the same college as I and both graduated the year after I. Both live in the same town. And I’ve been praying for both situations for about two months or so.
So that’s where my thoughts went. Because I began to wonder about why or how we today would be prevented from recognizing Jesus. When is God hard to see? Well, usually in those desert times, those “dark nights of the soul” and also, often, during times suffering. Times when the questions are deep valleys and the darkness is thick and tangible and it’s simply difficult to see God or what He’s up to.
And maybe, just maybe, it is at these times (and remember that those disciples would have been in a dark time of confusion and loss and questions and mourning) when Jesus comes up along beside us and walks with us. And maybe we can’t always recognize Him right away… And maybe He uses that to show us things…
And yet, if we would take notice of it, our hearts would be burning within because of the presence of the Lord – because our spirits know that He is indeed with us even when our eyes cannot perceive it. And so when we reach our destination and our eyes are once again able to recognize Jesus, we will also be able to look back and realize that He was indeed there all along. Walking with us and helping us to see the road even when we couldn’t see Him.
Thank you, Lord, for walking with us and for revealing Your Word and Your truths to us even on our darkest roads when we cannot recognize Your face. Help us to sense the burning within and know that You are present even though we cannot see You with our eyes.

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“And they remembered His words…” (Luke 24:8)

The scriptures recounting the resurrection events contain lots of questions. Some from the women like, “who will move the stone?” and “where have you taken him?”
But most of the questions seem to come from the angels (and even Jesus himself): “Who are you looking for? Why are you crying? Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Or, in other words, “What are you doing here? Don’t you remember what Jesus said?”
They say hindsight is 20/20. But sometimes it needs pointed out for us before we can see it.
“Don’t you remember? Jesus said he’s be arrested, crucified and that He would rise again!” (v. 7, paraphrased)
“And they remembered His words.”
O Lord, help me to remember Your words. The Truth you’ve spoken into my life throughout the years so far…. Truth from the scripture itself as well as from the songs, words of others and that “still small voice” (Your Holy Spirit) within which have pointed back to those scriptures! Help me to remember. And to not go among the dead in search of the living…

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You have to understand that I’m really not the kind of person to ask for specific signs. And though I see connections “everywhere” I don’t flippantly put a whole bunch of stock into it – making mountains out of mole hills.

I remember well the story of the man who decided he would do God’s will as pointed out to him in the Bible and his method was to close his eyes, let the Bible fall open and put his finger down and simply read and do that verse. Of course, the first verse he got was “and Judas went out and hung himself.” The second was “Go and do likewise.” and the third was “what Thou doest, doest quickly.” Oops.
But every once in awhile through prayer and/or through His people, God brings connections and thoughts and events in to my mind and heart that truly are His way of speaking to me (or sometimes, kinda like today, of providing a way for me to speak to Him)!
I was leaving work and heading for a meeting and I wanted to pray about it and wanted to have God’s thoughts in my head. And by that I mean that I intentionally chose a playlist on my iPhone which I call “Truth Songs” and which contains songs that clearly speak God’s truth (or even have touched me indirectly – though just as clearly – with God’s truth). And as I went I began to make the songs themselves prayers…
And most of you know that I have been struggling with being at a crossroads (see previous posting). I’ve also been praying for some friends of mine and this morning a specific song came to mind when praying for them – so when that song came on as I was driving, it wasn’t a huge surprise. So I sang along, praying for them at first and then realizing the song was applicable to me currently as well. So I sang:
“It’s time for healing time to move on, It’s time to fix what’s been broken too long;
Time to make right what has been wrong, It’s time to find my way to where I belong”
(…where do I belong, God? Which way shall I go from this crossroads…)
“There’s a wave that’s crashing over me, And all I can do is surrender”
(…help me to surrender to you, God...)
“Whatever You’re doing inside of me, It feels like chaos but somehow there’s peace;
It’s hard to surrender to what I can’t see, but I’m giving in to something Heavenly.
Time for a milestone, Time to begin again;”
(…shall I set up a marker this time as I begin again from this crossroads?…)
“Reevaluate who I really am
Am I doing everything to follow Your will Or just climbing aimlessly over these hills?”
(…have I been wandering aimlessly instead of holding onto You and fighting when you want me to?…)
“So show me what it is You want from me, I give everything I surrender”
(…show me, Lord, and help me to surrender… I need You… )
“Whatever You’re doing inside of me, It feels like chaos but now I can see:
This is something bigger than me, Larger than life,”
(… Larger than Life, Lord? Did the song really just say that? Oh, God, you’re the best!...)
“something Heavenly, Something Heavenly
It’s time to face up, Clean this old house, Time to breathe in and let everything out”
An aside: It might be important here to note that “Larger than Life” was one of the mime pieces we did on the ECMT 2008. Which was one of the most clear times that I heard God speak and knew that I was doing exactly what He had called me to do at that time. And in light of my current crossroads dilemma, it actually made me laugh. Because that time, as with pretty much every other time I have felt distinctly that I was doing what God wanted of me, it had something to do with mime and/or teaching! Not to mention that during that missions trip this “Whatever You’re Doing” song had sort of been my theme…
And that, “I need you” was a recurring and my last thought as the song ended and the next one began. And what was the next song, you may ask? None other than “I need You” by Jars of Clay…
“Strangely out of place, There’s a light filling this room, Where none would follow before
I can’t deny it burns me up inside, I fan the flames to melt Away my pride”
(… and here is where I remind everyone that pride is something God’s been dealing with me as of late…)
“Do I want shelter from the rain, Or the rain to wash me way?”
(…and here is where I mention that it was raining as I drove…)
“I need you, I need you, I need you, I need you,
I need you, I need you, You’re all I’m living for!
I might sound like a fool But I think I felt you moving Closer to me
Face to the ground, To hide the fatal cut, I fight the weight, I feel you lift me up
You are the shelter from the rain, And the rain to wash me away!”
During this song images were also brought to mind of that dream I had some 8 years ago – of a river of fire and being purified by God. Too long to fully explain here, but the whole burning of my pride and oxymoron of God being both shelter from the rain and the rain that washes brought up that dream and it’s initial and continued impact on my life. In wanting God to clean, transform and use me…
And to top it all off, back during “Whatever You’re Doing” with all the mime connections it had crossed my mind that it would be funny if BarlowGirl’s “Never Alone” came on. Mostly because that is a song that God has used to speak to me before – about trusting Him and having and trusting my future husband (and the possibility of my dream of having a husband willing to mime with me – including to that song as I see it in my head… so guess what the next song was?
Yup.
“Never Alone.”
God is good! And I want nothing more than to surrender to His will and take the road He has chosen… which keeps being confirmed in various little ways…

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“They came to the tomb when the sun had risen.” (Mark 16:2)

Hearers of this passage (in English) would have a hint at what was coming – the sun had risen and the Son had risen!
I found it weird that this (very English) thought would be the one to stick out to me during my lectio divina this morning. For while we here currently in America have been accustomed to thinking about the “Son-rise” and “Son-shine” and “Son-light” as a play on words in reference to Jesus, Mark’s original readers and hearers would have made no such connection (sun and son are not homophones in Greek).
At least they wouldn’t have directly…
… there is, after all, another passage in scripture about a sun rising with which they could have (would have?) been familiar. A verse out of Malachi. A prophecy.
“The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.”
The sun had risen.
The Son had risen.
Praise God!

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At a crossroads…

I wonder if I am lost? This territory seems vaguely familiar. As though I’ve been here before. This path, these trees. Are those faded footprints up ahead? They look just like mine!

They are mine.
I have been here before.
I remember this place.
Standing at a crossroads. Just a little path in the woods that diverges into a few.
Much less poetic than Frost’s….
But here I am. Again.
*sigh*
How did I get back here? I think I know, actually. I got a glimpse the other day of a friend living out a dream. A dream remarkably similar to mine. The one I’m not living out.
Now don’t get me wrong, here. I don’t really think I’m jealous or envious. I am not angry or bitter towards this person (or the dozens I’ve come across prior). In fact, I am exceedingly happy for the blessings that have come! And it’s not that I want what this person has, per se, for my own dream is different. Though similar. And so the question went through my head how all these friends and acquaintances of mine could be “living the dream” (in quotes because it hasn’t been a quick or easy road for any of them and they’re not even ‘out of the woods’ yet). But when will it be my turn?
And at that I realized I was back at this all too familiar place.
This crossroads.
So I began to ponder a bit. Had I taken the wrong road last time? Had I chosen the wrong road and so God, in his mercy, had curved it around so that I would end up here with a chance to choose the right road this time? That thought process holds some credence considering it’s pretty much the same road I have always chosen (when I’ve sat and considered my choices) and somehow I still end up coming back to the same place at the crossroads…
So throughout the past few days I’ve spent some time thinking and praying about this. Asking God if I made the right choice and how I ended up here again…
And then another possibility occurred to me. What if I had, indeed, chosen the right road. What if I had every time? And what if each time I started down that road I somehow got distracted or weary or simply wandered off that path? Perhaps there were rocks in the way, or steep hills or thistles and thorns? My health issues reared their ugly heads. My inability to control my time caused me problems. My own doubts and fears caused me to question and then mistake what was the path and what was not…
Or maybe I saw another path, an off-shoot with similar terrain and pretty flowers and a bit of a more gentle slope or sod that was easier on the feet? And I thought it was still the right path. So I volunteered for good things (rather than the best things). I spent my time on good projects (but not the best projects).
Or maybe I simply stopped paying attention to where I was going?
And so that off-shoot, again by the grace of God, brought me back here. To this crossroads. This place of choice.
When I did the “Beginning Again” book in January one of the dreams I realized I had to let go of was going to Innovo (mime college) full time. (Or even, at this point anyhow, having a full time job or doing mime/teaching full time.)
But as I had thought and prayed about it, I knew that I wasn’t to give up mime and this “creative arts consultant” stuff totally. After all, throughout the past 15 or so years whenever God has spoken most clearly and provided most thoroughly (financially, with strength, energy, health, creatively and in other ways) it has been in relation to mime and “arts theology” stuff. I had come to a point where I was willing (though a struggle it would still be) to give it all up if God had asked. But He hadn’t asked.
Which is why I have always chosen the path most directly ahead. That exciting, inviting path of which I’ve long dreamed, though it is also a difficult, narrow, steep, rocky path.
I realized by the end of 2007 that I had gotten distracted with too many things that were similar but not directly on the path. So I tried to refocus. But by the time 2009 rolled around I knew I hadn’t done as good of a job as I had hoped to in that area. And with my devotions and the like at the beginning of this year I came to the same conclusion.
I think I get distracted and off the path for two main reasons:
1. I have so many similar (yet tangential) thoughts and ideas that are good and wonderful and things I would love to do! Getting more involved at church (in not directly related areas) and more writing projects or design ideas or other ways of helping… I have this bad habit of wanting to learn and do it all! But I can’t. And when so many things pluck at my heartstrings, it is so hard to choose and focus on what is God’s best.
2. That, and I second guess myself. A lot. And I’m not sure if that leads to or comes from this lack of “fighting for” my dream – but I’ve come to realize that I haven’t fought for this dream, this path, very much at all. Am I scared to fail? Do I feel inadequate? Like it’s too far, too hard? Is it those doubts and questions? Or am I simply too tired (too tired from doing too many other things)? Why won’t I fight?
So here I stand.
At the crossroads.
How did I end up here? Was I on the wrong road or did I simply wander off the right one?
Shall I take the road I’ve taken before, and strive to fight for it this time?
Or should I take the other one this time around?
God, grant me the serenity to let go of the dreams you would have me release, the courage and strength to fight for the ones you would have me hold onto and the wisdom to know the difference!
(In case you’re wondering which path I took out of the crossroads, you can find it here.)

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