Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What is the answer?

These last two years has been marked with loss for our family.  On the surface, the obvious ones are the loss of my aunt two years ago, followed by the loss of my mom, her only sibling, four months later.  And just 4 days ago, my father-in-law left this earth for his home in heaven.  In the time between these deaths, my little circle of friends and I have been surrounded by many other losses.  Not to a physical death necessarily (though that has happened).  There has been a death of a dream.  A mom’s persistent cancer.  Unmet expectations.  Dementia. We grieve bad choices our kids make, our hearts ache for something more than the mundane that seems to be our lives, we get consumed by fear because of current events.  What is our response?  How do we handle all that life throws our way? Just yesterday another friend shared devastating news that left me breathless and weeping.  Life is just not fair. It seems to be a grand idea to move to Montana and hide in a cabin alone, untouched by the cares of this world. Wrap up my little broken heart and keep it from experiencing loss or pain, and hide it under my pillow.  That seems reasonable right? 

I have been making my way through the book, A Grace Disguised.  The author Gerald Sittser experienced horrific loss when a car accident resulted in the loss of his mother, his wife, and his young daughter. This is from the chapter I am reading:

“The problem of choosing to love again is that the choice to love means living under the constant threat of further loss.  But the problem of choosing not to love is that the choice to turn from love means imperiling the life of the soul, for the soul thrives in an environment of love.  Soul-full people love, soul-less people do not.  If people want their soul to grow through loss, whatever the loss is, they must eventually decide to love even more deeply than they did before.  They must respond to the loss by embracing love with renewed energy and commitment.”

Did you catch that?  The soul thrives in an environment of love.  Is your soul downcast?  Choose love.  Are you experiencing grief so deep your heart aches?  Let love revive your heart.  Do the cares of this world blur your vision of your purpose? Your mission, if you choose, is love. What if the cure for a broken heart is to expose it to the possibility of more pain? It seems contradictory to our human nature.  We hurt, so our natural response would be to choose not to love again.  But I wonder if God’s remedy is to love even deeper, even wider. 

1 John 4:11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”    We have broken God’s heart over and over and over again, from the very beginning. No one’s heart can be more broken than His.  Yet He always chooses love.  And how deep the Father’s love for us! 

So with the full knowledge that my heart will break again, that there will be further loss, I am going to choose love.  I am going to stay in relationships with broken-hearted people, because God is near to the broken-hearted and I want to be near God.  I will keep imperfect relationships and choose forgiveness because God has forgiven imperfect me.  And on days that I want to run away and hide I will choose love, because He first loved me.  That little cabin in Montana probably has bats anyway.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Come to Me

A few months back we attended a fund raiser for some friends heading back to be full time missionaries in Niger. While Andy was sharing his story, he mentioned something that I have been thinking about ever since.

He said that often when missionaries share their stories they share how God has said "Go" (referring to the Great Commission).  For Andy though, he heard, "Come to Me". It was as if God was at work in Niger and was calling the Gray family back to be a part of what He was already doing.  I'm sure I probably totally reworded his message...but it is close.

Matthew 11:28 came to mind quickly, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."  I often have thought of this verse to apply only when we are exhausted from overworking. But what if it is a continual beckoning?  The longer I live this life, the more frequent the burdens and with increasing weight. There are more decisions that need to be made. More wisdom is needed.

At this moment I am sitting in a dark room listening to the beat of an  IV pump .  It is 2:30am and my dad is finally resting from an exhausting day of tests and xrays.  I don't think anyone told me this is what our lives would look like in this season. My mom should be calling to set a Starbucks date with my daughter.  My dad should be telling us stories of Ohana in Hawaii. Instead my mom is in heaven with her sister and my dad is saying night-night from the hospital bed.

This moment, this quiet night, is just one in a string of heavy-laden moments.  Yet I am at rest.  St. Augustine has this quote, "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee."

Through these trials, these sufferings, God has been my rest. I continue to come to Him, for without Him I am restless.  I have learned over the last several years that there is purpose in our struggles. God is waiting for us to come to Him.  Sometimes all the way to Niger and sometimes in a hospital room in the middle of the night. As we put our trust and hope in Him, He directs our paths straight into His arms and straight into His purposes for our lives. What better place to find true rest?

Monday, April 13, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - A Look Back

It has been 9 days since the last day of my 40 Day Journey. On Ash Wednesday, I committed to spending 1 hour every day listening to God. Not filling the hour with my voice, but listening for His. And He did not disappoint.

I also blogged about that hour each day (with the exception of day 18...). The process for blogging was that "working out" what He had said earlier in the day. It was more of a dialogue, a Q and A. He used those moments to allow those seeds to take root.  I reread a few of the posts and was reminded of the very personal way He revealed His heart to mine.

In order to accomplish this goal many things had to be given up, one of them being sleep. I love sleeping. I need sleep. I don't function fully without 8 hours of it daily. During those 40 days I think I averaged 5 hours a night.  Some of you would do anything for 5 hours, I know. But this girl needs more!

I was really looking forward to completing this journey and then getting some of those things back I missed. I finally started getting 8 hours of sleep at night, I watched 4 movies last week, I spent hours on Facebook, I did all our laundry in one day, I made muffins. And not one thing satisfied. The spot that had been fed by the Lord remained empty. I had "tasted and seen" that the Lord was good. Everything else that I tried to fill the emptiness inside was like a piece of plastic wrapped processed cheese. Completely not fulfilling. Disappointing. Leaving me hungry.

Now how to figure out how live beyond The Journey. My verse this year is Jeremiah 33:3,

"Call to Me and I will answer you, and tell you great and might things, which you do not know."

So I will continue to call to Him and wait for His answer. There is that word again that comes up often in my life. Wait. How can we hear His voice if we just call to Him but then quickly go to the work of trying to get the answer ourselves? Wait.

As my favorite Psalm says, "Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord." (Psalm 27:14)

So I guess this Journey is not over. This is not the end. Maybe it was the beginning...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 40 (Saturday)

Yesterday was my last day of this journey. It was a full day with little rest. I was able to sneak my hour in before midnight. It was definitely bitter sweet. I know I cannot keep this pace, many things had to be given up for these last 40 days. But I believe these may have been the most meaningful 40 days I have experienced.

I think I will blog next week about the lessons learned along they way. Today, I need to reflect on what God said to me on Day 40.

I couldn't separate that Day 40 ended on the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. What do I do with Day 40? And what do you do with the Saturday after Jesus was crucified? Just days before, the crowds were singing "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"

There was great anticipation and joy. There was great hope and singing. Salvation from the oppressive Roman government was finally here. Freedom was within reach. However, the end of the week brought something different. "Crucify Him!" the crowds now shouted. And that is what happened. Instead of getting their own way, instead of temporary happiness, the crowds were left with their hope dead on a cross.

Then Saturday came. The crowds had thinned. Jesus' body lay dead in the tomb. What do you do with this Saturday? If you were there, you did not know true freedom was a day away. You did not know hope was about to be born. You felt abandoned. You felt empty.

Today, we do know the end of the story. Today, we have freedom and hope in Christ. This is the good news of the Bible. All of the Old Testament, now fulfilled in Christ.

These 40 days have been dedicated to hearing God's voice, and He has been faithful, generous in fact. He has loved me the same every day. The days I had doubts, the days I had questions, the days I was almost too tired to hear His voice.

On this last day, He assured me that if I ever face a "Saturday", like the one 2000 years ago, if I don't hear His voice, when I can't see His face, when it seems hope is lost, when I feel abandoned. He will still be loving me. Death could not keep Him from me. I am never bad enough or good enough that He would forsake me.

The great news is there was a day after "Saturday". There was Resurrection Sunday. And for those that believe, when we place our hope in Him, we are made alive forever. No turning back. We have a constant companion. We are not ruled by our sin, we are not under the curse. We are free. We are in a forever relationship with our Father in heaven. I am by Beloveds and He is mine. His banner over me is love. Jesus, He loves me. He is for me. These things I know.

When I called to Him, He answered me and He told me great and mighty things which I did not know. Even on a Saturday.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 39 (How to Pray)

I am on staff at our church and one of the many things I love is the constant encouragement to pray. Our Pastor has led the way in living a life of prayer. With Easter weekend coming up we all were challenged to pray daily and specifically. Today is Good Friday and while my purpose in my hour each of these 40 days has been to hear God's voice, today I really wanted to spend this time praying.

I asked God how I should pray for our church services and the people that will be visiting as well as our church family. I had a busy day and it was a little difficult focusing as quickly as I would have liked. I was raised in a traditional church where we recited the Lord's Prayer often. I found myself reciting this...which I haven't done in years. It brought back fond memories.

After I finished saying it, I remembered hearing that the prayer I had just prayed wasn't actually the "Lord's" prayer, but the prayer for the disciples. The actual Lord's prayer for us is in John 17. I decided to use that as my prayer for this weekend. I really encourage you to read through it now. Some things of course quickly stood out (this is one way God speaks to us).

Verse 3 says, "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

I stopped there and prayed that this verse would be true for every person attending our church this weekend. This is all that matters, not if they fit in, or if they give money, or if they ever come back again. What matters is that they may know the only true God and His son Jesus.

Verse 20 says, "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word."

Jesus Himself prayed for future generations, for us! He wasn't asking these things just for His current disciples, but for those that would believe through their testimony. And that is one way eternal life is revealed, through our testimonies through the generations. It is God who draws men to Himself, but He uses our words. I prayed we would be bold and would not shy away from speaking truth.

The last one verse 21, "that they may all be one; even as You Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me."

I prayed that our oneness, our love for one another at our church would show the unity of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. The reason? That the ones visiting, that our community, that the world may believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

My hour quickly ended, but I was so grateful that God directed me to John 17, the Lord's prayer for us. The Lord's prayer for the church, The Lord's prayer for our community.

If you ever wonder how to pray, ask God and He will show you, and the best part? You can use His very own words to pray for others.

I couldn't help but notice, the very next scene. Judas' betrayal. Jesus knew what was about to happen. There are many things He could have done, many people that could have been healed, sermons that could have  been preached. But He chose to pray, for His followers and for us.  Life is messy, and difficult, and confusing. There will always be something on our to do list. Let us remember Christ's example and choose to spend time in prayer.

The first verse in John 17 said that Jesus lifted His eyes to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You." May we lift our eyes to heaven and behold His glory. Then may we pray as Jesus prayed, love as Jesus loved, and live as Jesus lived.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 38 (Show Up)

When I began this Journey over 5 weeks ago I really had no idea where God would lead. I really did think I would spend more time looking at the Easter Story. I am not complaining, it has been amazing. Today though, I really wanted to spend some time reading what took place around the time of the greatest of all miracles. I asked God to show me something I hadn't noticed before. And He did.

I read the gospel accounts, starting with Jesus' trial and going through to His resurrection. What I noticed this time, were all the unlikely heroes.

Peter - Oh how I love Peter! After Jesus is arrested, Peter denies Christ three times! This is the same guy that walked on water to Jesus! Oh passionate Peter.

Simon of Cyrene -  Traveled 900 miles to Jerusalem, taking weeks, most likely for the Passover. He had two sons, Alexander and Rufus. Matthew and Mark say he was "pressed into service, to bear the cross of Christ". This man just had come to Jerusalem from the country and these soldiers placed Christ's cross on his back to carry the rest of the way.

Joseph of Arimathea - John says he was a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews. He asked Pilate if he might take away the body of Jesus after His death. And that is what he did.
Nicodemus - Remember him? He is the one that came to Jesus by night (for fear). He was with Joseph. He had linen wrappings and spices as was the custom for burial.

Thomas - Poor Thomas was MIA when Jesus came and stood in the midst of His disciples. His buddies told him they saw Jesus (after His death), he said, "Unless I see it for myself, I will not believe". And he does end up seeing for himself and believing.

For some reason these men caught my attention. There is nothing special or outstanding about any of these men. Yet each one has an important role in this story. One denies Christ, one is tired, one is a secret follower, another has not been courageous, and the last one doubts. Not likely champions for Christ.

And that is probably why I love these guys so much. Just regular guys, they had jobs, they had families, they worried about their futures. Yet God brought them into His story. The greatest story ever.

What did they have in common? Why were they chosen? I really don't know, but I wonder if it is because they "showed up". I think we get these lofty ideas in our heads of how our lives should look, what grand thing we can do for Jesus. We must not be important in God's story if our names are not in lights. We aren't pastors or missionaries or worship leaders...you know not a lot of time in the spotlight.

Yet that is not how God works. He sees a prostitute like Rahab, or a murderer like Moses or a persecutor of the church like Paul. He sees you. He sees me. And He beckons us into His story. Into His family. Our job is to show up.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 37 (Anxiety)

The story of Mary and Martha used to really bother me. I always identified with Martha. In Luke 10 Martha welcomes Jesus and his disciples into her house. She quickly goes to the kitchen to prepare food for her many guests. Her sister Mary however, stays with Jesus in the other room. She was seated at His feet listening to His Word. Martha of course is totally frustrated with her sister. All of these people are in their home and Mary sits down?

Yesterday, I couldn't seem to focus on any one thing. I had been gone for three days and my to do list was rather long. I dashed about trying to accomplish a little of everything. A little house cleaning, a little grocery shopping, a little work, a little serving, a little playing. I could feel my heart becoming anxious. The day ended at 11pm and I had not had my hour with God yet. I almost gave in to the temptation to skip it, until I realized I did in fact have a whole hour before the day was over. I knew I needed to hear from the Lord, especially with the condition of my heart.

I asked God to show me what was going on in my heart today, what had I missed? The word anxious just settled in and I realized I had let anxiety rule my day, not the Lord. I had so many tasks today that I had let my mind focus (or try to focus) on those things.

The story of Mary and Martha quickly came to mind so I read that story once again. I could once again identify with Martha as I wanted to complain to God, "Lord, do You not care?" He was gentle in His reminder to me, "Nancy, Nancy, you are worried and bothered about so many things." I just wanted to say, "Um, yes, there are many things to be worried and bothered about!"

The point of this story though is not that Martha was wrong to be cooking. Later on in fact right before Jesus enters Jerusalem on the donkey, Martha is cooking dinner for Jesus while Mary anoints Jesus' feet. There is no complaining or rebuking.

What God reminded me was that Martha was "worried (anxious) and bothered by many things". Her attention was on herself, on her to do list, on what Mary wasn't doing. I am sure her thoughts were many as her mind raced.

Do your thoughts ever get the better of you? You've created a whole scenario in your head, mostly none of which is accurate? I can feel the anxiety rising in Martha as she becomes blinded to what was the good part of her day.

One reason this story bothered me was because I thought the message was serving and working hard are not important. And that should have bothered me because that is not true! The message is that Martha was worried and bothered. She had a choice. On that day, when Jesus was in her home, the better part would have been to sit at His feet.

Today I pushed aside the "good part" of my day. The many things that have been troubling me and my long to do list were like an eye chart I was straining to see. I lost focus on the one thing that was truly important, my hour with God. Now, I don't do this year round. This is a 40 day journey, I am asking God to speak to me as I commit to listening to Him for a focused hour each day these 40 days.

After these 40 days are over, my "one thing" that is necessary will change. What is your one thing that brings you into the Lord's presence, that is necessary today? If you are anxious and bothered, start with Jesus and listen to His Word. You may have a very busy day, and that is okay, as long as Jesus is your focus and your first love.

We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it; the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end but it is the road. Martin Luther

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 36 (the sparrow)

This was our last morning in Bellingham. I was able to sneak my hour with God in first thing. I grabbed my Bible, my blanket, and my coffee. I sat down and waited to hear from God.

After yesterday's post, I was ready for some encouragement today.

I sat waiting alone in front of these large windows in the front of the A frame cabin, with a view of the beach. On either side of the windows are two towering trees. It was almost like God's creation was the feature film of the day.

Loud seagulls, majestic eagles, and a freeway for blue herons was my entertainment for the morning. I was so enjoying the moment and my heart was filled with gratitude. My introvert personality was thriving in this moment. How did God know this is exactly what I needed? I find great refreshment in getting away from the "every dayness" and enjoying a different view on life.
This is the top of one of the two towering trees!

Sunday I was given a gift by a friend. She placed it in my hand as I was scurrying to check on a classroom. I looked down at the gift and then up to her. "Is this from you?" No. She was just the messenger. Since I was working, I dropped it off in my office, it would have to wait. After church I remembered it sitting in my drawer. I went up and opened it. How did God know?

I have no idea who gave it, but it was exactly what I needed. Jehovah Jireh, my Provider knew exactly what I needed and He supplied it. Generously. Just like the needed break I was enjoying this morning.

As I watched these large birds flying above the water, I was reminded of Matthew 10:29, "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father."

If God can keep His eye on a sparrow (it is not easy!), how much more would He keep His eye on us. And if He sees (El Roi), how much more would He want to care for us. For our every need. And even for our every "not" need.

On the way to Bellingham we were able to take the Express Lanes through downtown Seattle. The kids noticed several homeless people living in the bushes on either side of the freeway. I loved that they were not judgmental, just curious. I often wonder about the lives of those living on the street. How does God show His great love for them?

I thought about the contrast between these ones living literally with nothing but the shirts on their backs and the lifestyles of Seattle icons Bill Gates and Howard Schultz. It doesn't make sense to me that there would be such a chasm between these people that God has created. It made me think of the grand difference between the eagle and the small unnoticed bird.

The similarity is that God loves each one. The grand, the overlooked, the upright, the downtrodden, the rich, the poor, the healthy, and the sick. His eye is on each of us. Psalms 17:8 says,

"Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me in the shadow of Thy wings..."

We our precious to and protected by the Lord. No matter our circumstances. No matter our home. This will remain a mystery to me, His overwhelming goodness to each one of His children.

Today my heart is full. Jesus loves me this I know. He has shown me in small and big ways. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 35 (Burnt Offering)

We are up in Bellingham with my niece. Her family has a cabin on Lummi Bay. She invited us up for a few days of card games, exploring, and playing on the beach (or in the muck). I escaped first thing this morning for my hour with God, to hear His voice. I drove down to the ferry dock and sat by the water.

This is my last week of my 40 Day Journey and I had all kinds of ideas for this week. This is the week before we celebrate the greatest moment in all of history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Yet God reminded me again, He wants my heart, not my plans.

It didn't take me long to admit to God what was on my heart today. I recently heard from someone that I had known years ago. Hearing from this person brought up an old wound I had long forgotten. It started to occupy my thoughts. It wasn't earth shaking, but it was a resurrected hurt that needed my attention. I knew I had to work through this to be able to clearly hear God. Or maybe I needed to clearly hear God to work through this?

I asked what He wanted to say to my heart through this memory. I’m not sure the process that happened to get me to Genesis 8:20-21, but that is where I landed.

“Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled the soothing aroma…”

I have a Thompson Chain Reference Bible. One of the main features is the “links” in the column to other verses that are related to the one you are reading. I love the connections it makes, especially between the testaments. When I looked for the “link” to this soothing aroma it took me to Ephesians 5:1-2.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

We no longer need sacrifices or burnt offerings, because of Christ's complete work on the cross. He gave His perfect life as the only sacrifice necessary for us to be right with God. The next "link" in my Bible took me to 2 Corinthians 2:15, which says we are a fragrance of Christ to God.

(I so often feel like Billy from the Family Circus comic, going all over the map to get to his destination...I'm getting to the point!)

In Genesis 8, Noah's first thought when getting off the boat was to worship God with a burnt offering. It was not commanded by God, it was from a pure and thankful heart. And it was a soothing aroma to God! Then we see in the New Testament that Christ was the perfect and final sacrifice, that we may have forgiveness of our sins and access to God. And His offering was a fragrant aroma.

Today we are the fragrance of Christ to God. Ephesians 5 says we are to be imitators of God. What can we imitate? He forgave us of all of our sins, now we are able to forgive others.

So now what do I do with this offense from years past? Ignoring it does not make it go away (in case you are ever inclined to try.,.). God reminded me of the blog I posted on Day 7, Ashes and Oaks. In it God showed me why He makes beauty from ashes. What He showed me today is that I have an offering that is waiting to be consumed by fire, waiting to be made into ashes. An offense waiting to be forgiven. This hurt can not be made beautiful until it is offered to God with a heart of gratitude.

So this morning, I give this hurt...this offense to you Lord. I choose to forgive. Please take it from me as an offering, fully consumed by fire...made into ashes. Take it Lord, from a heart of praise and thanksgiving for who You are. May You take this offering, made to ashes, to make something beautiful for your glory. And may it be a soothing aroma to You. Amen

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 34 (El Olam)

Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.  Psalm 90:2

El Olam - The Everlasting God. We find this name first in Genesis 21. Isaac is finally born and now Abraham is looking forward to possessing the land God has promised. Some pretty crazy things have happened in the last few chapters of Genesis since God revealed Himself as El Shaddai - the Lord Almighty in chapter 17. It looks like now though, things are starting to look up.

Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech. Abraham would not deal harshly with Abimelech and Abimelech would give back Abraham's well.Then verse 33 says, "And Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God."

Things are good. Then in the very next chapter, Abraham is tested by God. He is to take his son, his only son Isaac, the son that will bring the many descendants, and offer him as a burnt offering. The very next verse says Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey and went to go just as the Lord said to do.

There is not one mention of Abraham talking back to God, arguing, whining, questioning. Abraham has made some pretty poor choices, he is not perfect. So why this time, when he is asked to sacrifice his son, does he submit so willingly?

I think it is because God just revealed to him that He is El Olam, the Everlasting God. He does not change. He was and is and is to come. If this is true, which it is, then when Abraham is to sacrifice his son, he can trust that God will act on his behalf.

In Genesis 22:8, when Isaac asked where the lamb was for the burnt offering, Abraham said "God will provide for Himself the lamb." Hebrews 11:19 says that Abraham believed God could bring someone back from the dead. Abraham knew that no matter what happened on that mountain, the Everlasting God would not fail him. God had made a promise and was going to keep it.

As Abraham trusted God as El Olam - The Everlasting God, he was able to walk by faith through probably one of the most difficult days of his life. As he walked by faith, God revealed more of His character to Abraham.  This is when God showed Himself as Jehovah Jireh, our Provider. (God provided the ram for the sacrifice in place of Isaac).

I believe God is asking us to walk by faith in the knowledge of who He is. As we walk by faith, He unveils more of His character and we are strengthened for this journey we travel. Step by step.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is Everlasting, you are safe.

Rich Mullins - Step by Step

The 40 Day Journey - Day 33 (El Shaddai)

Genesis 17:1
Now when Abram was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to him and said to him, "I am God Almighty walk before Me, and be blameless.

Psalm 91:1
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Sleep won over blogging last night. 32+ days of late nights has finally taken its toll! 8 hours of peaceful sleep sure was wonderful! Thankful for God's grace everyday. This 40 day journey is winding down and I have started reflecting on it a little bit. I keep pushing those thoughts aside as I don't want to miss what God has TODAY for me. It is so easy to worry about the future and look at regrets of yesterday, yet that is not God's plan for us.

Matthew 6:33-34 says,"But seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

And Philippians 3:13b-14, "...but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

That Philippians verse used to confuse me. The part about forgetting what lies behind especially. Aren't we supposed to remember what God has done? Earlier in Philippians Paul lists some of his resume. In verse 6 he lists "persecutor of the church". As you know Paul was an enemy of the church, his treatment would have been front page news today. It was heartbreaking. Then God revealed Himself to Paul and he did a 180, becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

When Paul says he will "press on" toward his new goal, that is the same word in Greek as "persecutor" he used in verse 6. What Paul is saying is he used to be a pursuer of the church (to destroy) and now he is a pursuer of Jesus (to bring life). He is choosing to forget that old life, that old man, because he has been made new. He came to the end of his old self. God Almighty stepped in and now he can look forward to God's purpose for him.

Let me bring this back around.  El Shaddai. The Lord Almighty. It has been 24 years since God told Abram to leave his home and God had said He would make him a great nation. And life hasn't gone exactly the way he thought. There is still no son and he is now 99 years old. It is too late. They tried in their humanness to make this plan work through Hagar and that was a disaster. Abram was at the end of himself. Finally.

When we are at the end ourselves, when we admit we cannot do this life in our own strength, God steps in as El Shaddai, God Almighty: God All Sufficient and God All Powerful. Is there a care from a yesterday that is consuming you? Give it to God Almighty, forgetting your old self. Remember what the Almighty has done (that is the remembering we are to do). Are you worried about tomorrow? He is already there. What is He asking of you, of me, today? Psalm 91 says to abide in the shadow of the Almighty, that sounds pretty wonderful to me.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is Almighty, you are safe.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 32 (Jehovah Shalom)

I've been thinking of my college years lately. So much silliness and laughter and late nights and coffee! 

We were starry eyed and confident. We were ready to take on the world, whether they were ready for us or not.

And now, life is filled with sorrow and tears and late nights of prayer and morning coffee. Another friend just told me of a miscarriage tonight and we are moments away from another friend leaving us to be present with the Lord. How we are desperate for peace. Good thing today we have Jehovah Shalom, The Lord is Peace.

This name is given to us in Judges 6:24.  Chapter 6 starts out with, "Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord gave them into the hands of Midian seven years." The Bible says the Midianites were like locusts and they came into the land to devastate it.

Verse 6 says Israel was brought very low because of Midian. They were struggling, trying to find food, trying to stay alive. Enter Gideon. The text tells us that an angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak (there is that tree again!). The angel appears to Gideon and says, "The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior." Gideon is like, what? Don't you know God has abandoned us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about?

*Side note: Today in Moms in Prayer, our attribute of God was God is the miracle worker. Psalm 77:11 says, "I will remember the deeds of the Lord, yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago." In contrast to Judges 2:10, after Joshua died, the new generation that rose up, did not know the Lord, "nor yet the work which He had done for Israel." This is yet another reminder to tell this generation of the work that God has done in our lives and in theirs!

So back to Gideon, this interaction continues with the angel of the Lord (Jesus). The angel tells Gideon to deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Gideon wants a sign , it is given. Then in verse 23, the Lord said to him, "Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die." And this is where we see Gideon building the altar to the Lord and naming it Jehovah Shalom.

I was trying to think about how Gideon would be feeling: scared, hungry, abandoned. An angel of the Lord appeared and burnt up his offering after being told He would deliver Israel as a valiant warrior. No wonder he needed peace!

For my hour with God today, I sat on my porch soaking in the sunshine. Bible in my lap and a cup of coffee in my hand. It was really peaceful. Is this the peace You are talking about Lord? 

His answer was "no". God gave Gideon peace, not on a sunny day and not with a cup of coffee for sure. God revealed Himself as Peace in the midst of a very "low" time. And not only were circumstances difficult, but Gideon was going to have to go fight the bad guys next. This does not resemble my moment on the porch.

In John 14:27 Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."

His peace isn't like the calm day I had today (not as the world gives, not based on circumstances). The angel of the Lord in Judges 6 and Jesus in John 14 offer peace and command us not to be fearful. So many scriptures that say "Do not fear" are followed by God acting on that person's behalf. We need not fear, but allow God to act on our behalf. In war, in grief, in life, in college, in our every moment. The Lord is peace. The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior. 

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is Peace, you are safe. And it is well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 31 (El Roi)

I was thinking about the verse of this week:

The name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous runs into is and is safe. Proverbs 18:10

I love that the subject of this verse (righteous) is singular. It is not a blanket statement for all believers.  It is specific. Each one of us can run into the name of the Lord and be safe.  These names of God are very personal to each of us.

Today's name is El Roi: You are the God Who Sees. This comes from Genesis 16.  When Hagar runs to the desert after conceiving a son with Abram.  Let's back up.

God has promised Abram that he will be a great nation, he will have as many descendants as there are stars. God made a covenant with Abram. His descendants would be given the Promised Land. Grand story, except Abram has no children, and he is old. Fast forward 10 years and his wife Sarai has just about had it, when would they have a child? She will fix this.

You know the story, Sarai figures if she can't have a baby her servant Hagar will do.  She'll give her to Abram as another wife, she'll conceive and then they can move on with their lives with this child. Well, her plan worked...or at least what she had planned happened.

I have always felt bad for Hagar. She was wronged, this was not exactly the love story she had desired. She understandable is mad at Sarai. So then Sarai treated her harshly. Hagar had to run away, head back home. This is only part of the story though I think. I looked a little closer and asked God what this all meant.

While Hagar is in the desert, an angel of the Lord found her.  In Genesis 16:8 he says, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from and where are you going?" He knows exactly where she had been and where she was going. He wanted her to see it for herself. I wonder if He wanted her to see that she was leaving the God of Abram to return to homeland of Egypt full of idols. He also addresses her as Sarai's maid. Surely she had other identities, but this is important.

Hagar had run away. But maybe not just out of grief and fear. Maybe also out of pride  She didn't think she needed to submit any longer to someone so horrible as Sarai. The angel gives her instructions, which reveal her heart. He says, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority". What I believe the angel was saying was, go back to where you belong. She was under the authority of Sarai. And she needed to humble herself and return.

Either way or both ways. She was alone in the wilderness, without hope, without a future, without family. And then the angel of the Lord found her. He saw her. The angel then gives her a promise about her future. After this encounter Hagar calls the name of the Lord, who spoke to her, "You are a God who sees", El Roi.

When Daniel was 6 days old we were sent to the emergency room from a routine well baby check up. We were told he had meningitis. It would take 3 days to find out if it was viral or bacterial. If he would live or possibly die. I didn't sleep much those three days. Pastor Jim came to the hospital and read Psalm 121 to us. One line in particular stood out, from verse 3, "...He who keeps you will not slumber." I remember being so tired that I couldn't keep my eyes open. While I slept in that fold out chair next to Daniel with all kinds of wires attached, God would not sleep. God would see him and care for him. I will always remember that comfort and hope I had knowing God was watching over him.

Are you running away? From a circumstance, a struggle. Maybe you are literally running away, you are avoiding an uncomfortable situation. God sees, you are important. He wants you to head in the right direction. Do you need comfort? He sees. Do you need peace? He sees. Do you need strength? He sees. Do you need forgiveness? He sees. Notice the theme here? Our God is a loving Father. If He sees, then we know He will respond.  Trust and obey.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is The God Who Sees, you are safe.

Song: "From the Day" by I am They

The 40 Day Journey - Day 30 (Jehovah Nissi)

***Another disclaimer - you will need your thinking caps today! I'm a little all over the place with this post. It is not even close to being exhaustive, just a glimpse of a cool truth God showed me today.

Jehovah Nissi - The Lord is my Banner, has always intrigued me. Mostly because I don't understand it and because I like pretty things, and banners are pretty right? I figured I'd go for it and hope God would speak. I knew this hour would be spent listening to God through His Word. I have a paper of scribbled notes that I will try to unravel here.

Exodus 17:15 says, "And Moses built an altar, and named it The LORD is My Banner,"

I like to look up words in their original language to see if that helps me understand a verse better. I looked up banner and in Hebrew it is the word "nec". This means: a thing lifted up, a token to be seen far off; a banner set up high in the mountains in case of an invasion, showing the people where to assemble.

I also try to look at the context of a passage. So, I backed up a few chapters to see what was happening with Moses. He had the less than pleasant job of trying to convince Pharaoh to let all of his free slave labor go. Then he lead over a million people through the Red Sea. He also had to deal with the grumblings of these hungry and thirsty Israelites.

In each of these instances, Moses used the staff of God. The Lord told Aaron and Moses to throw down the staff in front of Pharaoh and it would become a serpent. The Lord told Moses to lift up his staff and stretch out his hand over the sea and divide it so the Israelites could pass through. And in Exodus 17:5-6 Moses is to take his staff and strike the rock so water would come out of it.

In addition to looking at the original language and the context, I like to look up other verses with the same word I am studying. So I looked up where the word "nec" is  used. Almost all of them are in battles. Instead of banner, "standard" or "signal" or "pole" were used for "nec".

I started looking ahead to passages after Exodus and found something interesting in Numbers 21. The Israelites were grumbling once again. So God sent serpents that bit the people and many died. They of course apologized again. God had Moses fashion a bronze serpent and attach it to the top of his standard. When the people were bit, if they looked up to the standard (nec) they would live.

I then found Isaiah 11:10 that speaks of the root of Jesse (Jesus)..."who will stand as a signal (nec) for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious".

Are you seeing the connection yet? Here is one more.

Back to the Exodus 17 passage where God is named Jehovah Nissi, Amalek came and fought against Israel. Moses had Joshua and some men go fight in the battle.  Moses then went up to the top of the hill with the staff (not nec to my surprise, but matteh) of God in his hand. Basically, when Moses' hands, holding the staff, were lifted they prevailed. If Moses put his hands down Amalek prevailed. Aaron and Hur helped keep Moses' arms raised so that Joshua and his men overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

To keep this short and sweet, I think 'The Lord is my Banner' is not referring to some fabric flying in the wind as I imagined. I believe this Banner is a pole of some sort that was used as a signal for battle.

The staff Moses used with Pharaoh and the Israelites, was "matteh". The first time "nec" is used is when God's name, Jehovah Nissi is revealed. And this was right after this battle is won. And then it is used about 20 times after that to point to Jesus all in the Old Testament!

Moses had been using his staff (his matteh) to gain victory against Pharaoh, to gain victory in escaping Egypt, for victory over the thirst of the Israelites. But after that battle against an evil man, Moses is acknowledging that the battle is the Lords, that He is victorious, He is the banner (nec). No man made stick can save, only God.

And this all leads to Jesus, lifted up on that cross, showing us where to assemble to defeat our greatest enemy, sin. This is no man made fabric flowing in the wind, no this is God made flesh. This is Jesus. The One that is victorious over death (remember the staff with the serpent?). The Lord is My Banner. When we look to Jesus, we know the battle is won, He is victorious.

Now death, where is your sting? Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated. Forever, He is glorified. Forever, He is lifted high. (From Forever by Kari Jobe.)

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is My Banner, you are safe.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 29 (Jehovah Jireh)

I spent my hour in my favorite reading spot again.  It is finally spring and now it rains! One of these days I will jump in the puddles with God, but not today.

I sat down with my Bible and asked God what He had for today. Again, I felt as if He was asking me what was on my mind. I have quite a few friends going through some pretty big challenges right now. Another cancer diagnosis. A heart surgery. An uncertain future. Life can be overwhelming. As you get older it seems like the stakes get higher.

When you are little and you scrape your knee, a kiss from mom fixes everything. However, now as adults...the smurf band-aid doesn't quite take the pain away. So how can we receive comfort or hope or clarity?

Proverbs 18:10 came to mind, "The name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous runs into it and is safe." It doesn't say, the Lord is a strong tower, but the name of the Lord is a strong tower.

So this week, I will explore the names of God. Names don't quite mean as much today as they did in biblical times. A name expressed the character of a person. Just by knowing someones name, you would know about who they were. God has many names, each one revealing more of His character.

As we find out more of His character, who God is...we will find refuge. When the storms of this life come, we can run to this Strong Tower and be safe.

The first name I wanted to explore was Jehovah Jireh, The Lord Will Provide.

God told Abraham to go to the land of Moriah and offer Isaac as a burnt offering. When Isaac asked where the offering was, his dad replied, "God will provide." (Genesis 22:8)

This is truly a remarkable story and God did indeed provide. As Abraham lifted the knife to slay his son, an angel of the Lord called to him - in the nick of time. Isaac's life was spared. Abraham was told not to do anything to his son.

Verse 13 says, "Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold behind him a ram...", here was the sacrifice. God provided. The verse goes on to say, "...Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son."

This verse is packed with significance. In light of the name of God, Jehovah Jireh, something caught my eye. (no pun intended...wait for it)

Did you notice Abraham "raised his eyes and looked" and that is when he saw God's provision? I looked back at Abraham's journey so far and found these two verses:

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, "now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever." Genesis 13:14

And when he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth... Genesis 18:2

These men (angels) brought the good news that by next year, Sarah would have a son. The son that Abraham had desired, the one God had promised.

Did you see it? All these times, when Abraham lifted his eyes, he saw God's provision. He lifted his eyes and saw the land promised to him and his descendants. Sitting at his tent, he lifted his eyes and welcomed messengers of God. And as he was still gazing in his son's eyes, the son he was about to sacrifice, he raised his eyes and saw God's provision of a ram.

God not only showed me today that He will provide. But that as I raise my eyes, I will see His provision. Where is your gaze? Are you looking at your circumstances? Are you looking at your struggles? Will you instead, look up and see the Lord.  He will provide.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the name of the Lord is Provider, you are safe.

Song: Christ is Risen (we can look up, because our God has risen!)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 28 (Legacy)

**I am getting good at these disclaimers...I was too tired to finish putting into words what last night meant, so I put off posting this until today, the one year anniversary of my mom's home going. I still feel like this blog is a faded version of a truer version, but that is what this life is anyway, so here is another piece of my heart.

Today was a good day. Actually the day was very average, less than noteworthy.  Tonight however the heaven's sang, or maybe that was my heart.  Julia chose to be baptized.

Nothing prepares you for parenting...no amount of babysitting or research.  Children can completely break your heart and can completely inflate it beyond what you knew possible. As believers, our greatest hope and prayer is that our children would follow Jesus.  That they would love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Julia made that declaration today.

Thank you Pastor David!
Baptism is a picture of our new life in Christ.  Our old self is buried and now we have a new life. In the New Testament, we see men and women who believed and then were baptized.  We see Jesus being baptized, the One we follow. Tonight Pastor Jim shared about Paul's conversion. He believed and was baptized. He chose to be identified with a new group, a new people, the very ones he had been persecuting.

At least we are all looking forward!
It made me think of Julia and her decision. She is now identified with a new people, God's people. She has a forever family, literally.

I am feeling a heightened sense of nostalgia, as tonight is the one year anniversary of the last time I saw my mom. Tomorrow, March 22, will be one year since she left this temporary home for her eternal one.

I wrote a blog about the night before her death. In it I share a verse she had given to me on a 3x5 card when the kids were very young.  It was Isaiah 40:11

 He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; 
and carry them in His bosom; and gently lead those that are with young.

I was able to share that verse back with her the night before she died. I told her she was being carried by the Lord. Early the next morning, she was in the arms of Jesus, being ushered into God's.
My love for spaghetti began early!

Julia was asked to share a favorite verse tonight at her baptism. She chose Isaiah 46:4

I will be your God throughout your lifetime - until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.

It felt like the perfect ending to a fairy tale, but this was real. My mom's encouragement (or blessing) to me when Julia was a baby, spoke the truth that God would carry each of us, all of our days.  God led my mom when I was young. And He was her God throughout her lifetime, until her hair was white with age.

On the one year anniversary of when I told my mom she was in Jesus' arms, our firstborn stood up in front of the church and declared her trust in the same God. My mom gave the beginning of the story, from our early years God leads us.  And Julia gave the ending, until our hair is white with age, He will carry us and be our God. My mom left a legacy of faith that is being passed down for generations.

Coffee with Mama
These last two days I have blogged about how different God's plan looks for our lives than what we imagined. His plan goes through some difficult times we would not choose. His plan sends us, on what seems like, frustrating detours - when in fact He is protecting us. And today I learned that God's plan spans time. Our time on this earth is limited, but not our legacy. Our story is part of a grander, more beautiful love story. God's Story.

Flowers for the anniversary
Is it a coincidence that Julia was baptized on the eve of the anniversary of my mom's death? No.  Do I understand all that this means? No. I know God carried my mom all of her days. I know she spoke of His faithfulness all those years. I know my mom and my daughter both have new lives today. I know my mom left a legacy of trust in God, that will span the generations.

I want to leave that same legacy, not for my sake, but for the generations to come.  That they may know God and glorify Him. Oh, that I could be part of a grander story that points to Jesus!

My mom would be so proud of Julia and the amazing young woman she has become.  And they would have gone to Starbucks to celebrate!

Song: Not for a Moment, Meredith Andrews

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 27 (Detours and Delays)

**I went to the Northwest Ministry Conference in Redmond yesterday. I tried to blog when I got home, but knew it would be a garbled mess.  Here is an attempt at making that mess, make sense, the day after!

Today I went to the Northwest Ministry Conference in Redmond. The 2.5 hour commute home makes me forever grateful that I live a mile from my work.  I will be fine if I never have to do that again! Anyway, I asked God if we could have our time in the car since it was going to be a super long day.

I have a new app called Waze. It is like an interactive GPS. It gives you directions to your destination, but other users post all kinds of things so you have live updates.

I was cruising along pretty well for a Friday morning.  And then traffic stopped, emergency sirens were coming up behind me.  Waze did a little beep and recalculated my route for me. To make a super boring and very long commute story short, my route was recalculated.  I would have been totally lost on these roads I've never seen or heard of before.  I just followed directions.  I avoided the freeway-turned-parking lot and the accident ahead.

You see where this is going.  Yesterday I posted a picture of our plan for our lives, a straight smooth line.  And then God's plan.  Hills, valleys, struggles, obstacles, distance, etc.  He gives us strength to persevere through all of it.

What I didn't notice in that picture though, were the pitfalls that God helps us avoid.  By redirecting our paths from our own plans and destination, He in fact is protecting us. While we may see it as one more frustrating detour, He sees it as part of His plan for our good.

God confirmed this two more times for me.  My last workshop of the day was about Family Ministries.  At the end of the class the speaker apologized that the conference planners had made a mistake.  This workshop in fact was scheduled for a different time and place. I had "accidentally" attended this class.  Yet I knew I was there on purpose.

The other was on the way home on 167, Waze helped me avoid several traffic headaches.  All of this to say, we can trust God.  When it seems like we are either completely off track or at a stand still, He will lead, or sit with us while we wait. Our job is to abide, stay closely connected and listen for directions.

The reason I mentioned the workshop above is because it was extremely valuable. I hope to write a blog about it and I don't want to forget.  It was definitely a detour off the course I had planned, and I am so grateful.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 26 (Why Confess?)

Yesterday God showed me my need to confess my sins.  It's not like I never ask God to forgive me, I often will shoot up a quick, "Oh forgive me Lord" when I blow it.  At Moms in Prayer today, we had a silent time of confession (which I filled!). But to spend time and go through my day to find unconfessed sin is humbling and difficult.

I've been thinking about it most of the day.  I wondered, why do we need to confess our sins.  Didn't Jesus die once and for all...for all of our sins? As a believer, I am covered by His robe of righteousness. When God looks at me, He sees Jesus. (This is a great mystery!)  So why confess?  This is what I asked God today.

There are two passages that are getting me closer to understanding this concept.  The first is Hebrews 12:1:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us,
let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us,
 and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

I noticed two things in this verse.  First, it is necessary to lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us (hey, this reminds me of yesterday's blog!). A marathon runner does not weigh himself down with anything unnecessary. He stepped up to the starting blocks and got rid of his jacket, cell phone, keys, water bottle, and anything extra.  This is a call to rid ourselves of hindrances and sin. Proof that we need to confess and ask for forgiveness, often.

The second thing I noticed is more in answer to my "why" of confession.  Why does the runner rid himself of these things? To run with endurance the race set before him.  God has a course He has marked out for each of us.

Julia found this picture on the Internet.  It shows "Your Plan" for your life, a straight easy path. Then it shows "God's Plan" for this life.  As you notice, it is pretty difficult, valleys, danger, ups, downs, struggle. We can endure this course set before us because God will strengthen, equip, and lead us.  How much easier though without the weight of sin! When we confess our sins we are able to endure God's plan for our lives.

The other passage is Acts 3:19:
Repent, therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away,
in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;

Ahhh, did you notice the purpose of repentance in that verse?  That times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. That sounds pretty great. As we confess our sins, we are removing the weeds from our lives.  We are preparing the ground to be watered by the Living Water.  Can you just picture a freshly weeded garden, dirt tilled, plants thriving, a flower blooming, sun shining. And as we are refreshed, we will be ready for the planting of the Lord and we will bear fruit.

So why confess?  God's Word says, we rid ourselves of entanglements, freeing our lives up to live God's plan fully.  And as we repent, we will be refreshed. As we are refreshed by the Lord we are able to live out God's plan. Death to life. There it is. Bound and then set free. Confession brings life and freedom, how can it be?

Lauren Daigle - How Can It Be?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 25 (Confession)

I took my dad to an appointment today. About 30 minutes before picking him up I thought I better vacuum out the car.  Life with kids, carpooling, playground gravel, snacking, all evidence of a good portion of our days spent in the car. I wanted the car nice for my dad. Right then I knew how I'd spend my hour today.

It was a quick connection for me this time.  I wanted the car clean for my dad, not because he expected it or asked for it, but because I love him.  This led to the realization of my desire to be clean before my Heavenly Father.  1 John 1:9 quickly came to mind, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

I looked up some verses on confession and forgiveness and realized I was getting distracted from the task at hand.  Confess.  I tried to focus, but was having a hard time.  I finally found some piano worship music and then did a little bit of yoga breathing my friend Michelle taught me.  I was finally relaxed and focused.

I figured I would just start confessing any sin that came to mind.  But I stopped after a few and decided to go back to when I woke up and start from there, let's just do this right.

When I was cleaning the car I did a quick clean up and vacuum, but then I started looking under the seats (found a spoon that is not ours with food that has been dried on for a very long time!).  It is quite amazing what can be found when you start searching.

And so I searched deeper for any sin that needed to be confessed.  And that is how my time went, from confessing my laziness, getting up late, being impatient with the kids, speeding, assuming something unkind about another mom...I'm just going to stop.  You don't need to know all of my sins.

I remembered that after my dad got in the car this morning, the windows fogged up a bit. I quickly noticed Julia's foot prints on the window, directly in front of my dad (if you know Julia this makes perfect sense!). More was revealed that needed to be cleaned.

I asked God what sin was "hiding" that maybe I didn't see at first.  I realized that some of my sins are just little shoots off of a bigger vine.  Thinking poorly of that other mom was sin, yes.  But why was I quick to judge?  Pride.  I thought I was better than her.  Ouch.  I hate pride..is that sin?? So I spent some more time asking God to gently reveal any other root sins.   Fortunately my time ran out before I was completely leveled.  Or unfortunately.

Bindweed is pretty, but an awful weed! 
I think that is how I have approached confessing my sins.  Just pluck out those small weeds on the surface. In the mean time these long vines take deep root. Pretty soon you are not sure if they are flowers or weeds.  It takes much more to recognize them for what they are and to dig them out.  One way to prevent weeds from growing deep roots is to pull them quickly before they become a bigger problem.  The way to deal with these sins, is to confess them.  He is faithful and righteous and will cleanse us from all of our sin.

It is costly to allow these weeds to stay around too long. So, what do you think...time for some weeding?

Second Chance Rend Collective

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 24 (Decision Making)

"And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' 
when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left."  Isaiah 30:21

I wondered if this day would come.  No big revealing.  No struggle.  No questions.  I sat down with God this afternoon and I thought, "I'll just rest with Him today".  I was super tempted to open my Bible at "random" and let my finger fall on a verse.

Please tell me you've done this.  More times than I can count, mostly in my teen years, when I needed encouragement or an answer to a life question, I would find my Bible.  I would let it fall open, then close my eyes, and let fate find a verse.  I will admit if it fell on one that didn't work for me, I'd take my do-over.  Occasionally this worked.  I ended up being encouraged.  Most the time it didn't work and I'd go get a snack or watch TV.

I think we can fall into that trap of approaching God like a big Magic 8 Ball.  Oh, we wouldn't admit it, we'd call it something much more spiritual.  We ask God for something, don't like His answer, so give it another whirl.  Maybe ask a different way, or just go our own way.

I am going to a conference this Friday and I need to pick out which workshops I'll attend.  I thought maybe God could show me which ones He has for me, during our hour (yes, I was trying to multitask). It felt more like I was picking from a menu. This one sounds good, but that sounds better. I wonder which one someone else will pick.  I don't really need that one, and so on. Some sessions have several good choices, a couple sessions don't have anything that really stand out to me.

How do I know if it is God telling me which to choose, or is it my own desires taking over, or is the enemy distracting me?  Is this all just randomness?  Do the little things matter? Does He even care which workshop I attend?

So think of someone you know really well. You know how you can sometimes finish their sentences? You have inside jokes.  You know what they are going to say when you bring up a certain topic. I think as we draw near to God, as we spend more time with Him. We start to understand His character. We can anticipate what would please Him, what He would say.

Remember when you were in Junior High and you wanted to have a sleep over.  You knew exactly which parent to ask, because you knew what their answer would be.  You knew because you'd spent your whole life living under the same roof with them.

I think this may be a glimpse of what it is like when we want to know God's will for us or for a decision we need to make.  Oh, I think He will tell us specifically when we ask.  But I also think that since we know His character, since we know Him, sometimes we just know the right decisions.

So tomorrow I will look over the catalog for the conference again and prayerfully circle the ones that draw my attention. I will trust my relationship with Him.  I will ask Him to redirect my steps if I make the wrong choice.  And then I'll close the catalog and spend more time with Him and not a brochure.

John Piper said, "The quest for guidance is the quest for holiness! Not in ecstatic heights but in spiritual depth."

As you ask, seek and knock, may He answer, be found and open the next door for you. As you know Him more, may you know His heart for you. And if you need to let your Bible flop open because you are just too weary to do anything else, may you be encouraged.

The 40 Day Journey - Day 23 (Decisions)

Last week someone asked me about some plans of mine.  I replied with, "I haven't prayed about it yet." And then proceeded to go on my merry way.  Until today. This morning as I was thinking about what God would have for our hour, I remembered the statement I had made to my friend. Would I be brave enough to ask God for a decision?

I came home, set my timer for one hour, and sat with my Bible in my favorite reading spot. I asked God to clear my mind from distractions. Then I asked Him, out loud, what I should do about this decision.  It's not a huge one, not life or death.  It doesn't really affect anyone else.  I really want to do what He has decided for me.  He has made a way already and I desire to walk in it.

I sat quietly for awhile and then read some scriptures.  I had some reservations so I decided to write them down.  I'll have to change my work schedule for a few days.  There is a cost involved.  I paused. Then I just decided to be brutally honest and wrote, "I don't deserve this".  Ugh, where do those thoughts come from?  Not from God that is for sure.

I looked out at God's creation and asked Him again, yes or no?  What is your plan? I remembered a blog I wrote a few days ago on courage and decided to reread it.  It is kind of funny that God used a blog I wrote (by His grace) to speak to me!  In it I mentioned wanting to use the story of Abraham somehow sometime.  I also shared Matthew 14:27. Jesus walked on water in the middle of a storm to his disciples who were fretting in a battered boat. "Take courage, it is I: do not be afraid", He commanded.

All of a sudden the stove timer started beeping.  And I didn't have an answer yet!  So like I do every morning, I  hit the snooze.  I reset the timer for 15 more minutes.  I really wanted an answer today.

God reminded me of Abraham, one of my role models.  He lived by faith.  And I thought about Jesus' words to His fearful disciples, "take courage". I felt as if God was asking me, "Will it take any faith or courage to say no to this decision?"  No, it would take neither courage nor faith to say no. I wouldn't have to make any more decisions and I would continue on my merry way.

To say yes, however, will take both faith and courage.  And there was my answer.  What is faith unless we are stepping out of the boat, eyes fixed on Jesus, into a place of total trust in the One who calls us.  Faith without works is dead.  I can believe all I want, but unless I trust Him and put it to the test, how will I know if it is real? So I am trusting He is saying yes. And He already knows I need courage to continue in this path.  So here we go, one step at a time, one obstacle at a time. He will lead. Courage, dear heart.

Just to confirm this another time, God reminded me of The Path of Least Resistance blog I wrote last year...sure God, use my own words to convict me!!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 22 (Perseverance)

But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.  Luke 8:15

For my hour today, I was able to get away and go for a walk.  I debated where to go, the weather was not favorable of a leisurely walk, and I wanted to stay close.  I decided on Chambers Creek, because once you commit to it, you are stuck - no shortcuts.

Fortunately I had a rain coat and umbrella...both were needed.  I cleared my mind of the day's cares and asked God for some encouragement.  This is this week's focus after all.

I stopped by the water and watched two fly fisherman.  They had on their waders and were casting their lines.  The wind caught them most every time and pulled the lines quickly back toward shore and not out to their destination. 

The rain was really coming down now and I was almost to the hill filled with trees on the way up the trail.  I felt I should get going to get some cover from the wind and rain.  This is not a fun part of this path since it winds back and forth and back and forth and well, you get it. 

I was cold and tired and not particularly excited about this walk.  I hadn't really heard anything yet and I was wishing I had chosen a coffee shop to meet with God instead.

When I reached the top (finally), there was no one there.  Someone is always there.  It is a great look out over the water and golf course and has a nice long bench to rest.  

I kept walking, mostly because now I was about 1/2 way and I just wanted to reach the car.
I rounded the corner at the top to head down toward the car and noticed these golfers.  I thought it'd be fun to see how they did.  

This particular hole, they have to hit the ball over a field,  onto a small green with a grassy hill on one side and multiple sand traps on the other, not a lot of grace on this hole.  I watched the first guy and I lost the ball from sight almost immediately.  The next guy teed up and hit a bright yellow ball (thanks, that was much easier to see).  I watched it fly high and straight.  It landed on the green and stopped inches from the hole.  I almost yelled, it was actually exciting.

So why all these short stories.  About half way through my walk, I heard the word "persevere". Now, today I was supposed to hear something like God loves me, He gives good gifts, He is kind, something encouraging remember?.  Not perseverance.  

With almost every step that is all I heard. Then I remembered those fisherman in the rain, patiently casting their lines.  I remembered the hill I grudgingly climbed.  The golfers hitting their ball out of sand traps and finishing the course.  I gave in and asked God if he wanted me to learn perseverance.  He said yes.  What surprised me was that He showed me that it is a gift.

I am guessing those fisherman have caught something in the past, otherwise why would they continue to fish? There was a prize for faithfully waiting for a tug on their line.  When I reached the top of the hill, I was satisfied (and relieved) and I was able to enjoy the beautiful view.  The golfers. Well, that almost hole in one was pretty exciting.  

And from the verse above, through perseverance we bear fruit (since we abide in the Vine). There is good in perseverance.  Yes, I guess temporarily there may be pain or suffering to endure, but that is just for a moment right?

Talk about perseverance!
After all, "By perseverance the snail reached the ark." said Charles Spurgeon.  

I took this picture during our Moms in Prayer walk (the Middle School moms in prayer, not the Elementary one...) We did a few laps around the school.  We noticed this snail on the sidewalk. After we completed one loop around the school, this poor snail had barely made it a few inches.  But of course we know with perseverance, it will make it to its next meal.

So I learned today, that perseverance is good.  It bears fruit, it stays faithful, it has rewards, and it is worth it.  Just as different as those fishermen looked from the golfers, perseverance will look different for each of us.  We all have our own pace.  

I am also reminded from yesterday's lesson, perseverance leads to hope and hope does not disappoint. So persevere fellow journeyman. God promises it will be worth it.

The 40 Day Journey - Day 21 (Hope Finale)

I had one more hour with God today listening and asking Him to bring clarity to anything that I needed to understand about hope. (...for now)

I have been thinking about the ways I toss around words like mercy, hope, grace as if they are common words, trivial.  Last week when someone said to not lose hope to me, I really wanted to understand what that meant, it is not a cliche or shallow word. 

That was my motive in bringing this to the Lord and He has settled some truths in my heart about this. In the seeking is finding and this is what I found.

Hope is both a noun and a verb, it has a biblical definition and it has a Webster's Definition.  Hope has great depth of meaning in scripture.  It is connected with perseverance and joy.  Hope is eternal. ("But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." 1 Cor. 13:13) Hope is what we received when the veil was torn and is our passage to God. (*bonus side note: passage as defined in Webster's is "a long, narrow space that connects one place to another", does this remind you of other scriptures?)

To wrap these thoughts up, God directed me to Ezekiel 37 today. I read about the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones.  You can read it too, but the Nancy shortened version is, God showed Ezekiel a valley of dry bones. He then said to tell them in verses 5-6, 

"Thus says the Lord God to these bones, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life...and you will know that I am the Lord.'"

God explains that the dry bones are the House of Israel and they say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished...." and then God makes a promise in verse 14:

"And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,"...

Did you see that sequence?  Israel's hope had perished and God promises to put His Spirit within them so they will have life!  And why does He do this?  That they may know God.  If we back up a chapter, Ezekiel 36:22 says, "...It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name..."

I feel like I have had a bipolar experience on this journey of untangling my ideas of hope.  I've swung from one end of deciding to never use the word "hope" unless I am speaking of Jesus and looking up dozens of verses to support this idea to a very simple explanation: Hope is Jesus. And He is enough. 

And I need not fret. If I do "lose" my hope, God is at the ready to breath life into these dead bones of mine and restore what was lost. And this is not for my sake, but for His holy name.  

I mentioned yesterday that we heard Jon Guerra in concert, one line from his song is, "I don't know what I don't know, but what I know is You and Your love and that is enough for me."

So I don't know everything there is to know about hope. And that is okay. I know Jesus and He is hope, and that is enough for me.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The 40 Day Journey - Day 20 (Sharpening)

It has been a long day and it is way past my bedtime.  However, I don't want to miss what God had for me today (okay, yesterday - it is 1am!)

My day was full of interactions with fellow believers, who happen to be also good friends.  We of course had Moms in Prayer today (God is Pure was the attribute).  We laughed out of sheer weariness of our weeks.  This laughter was good medicine.

I had coffee with a dear friend and had a great discussion on hope - side note, hadn't planned on bringing up what we talked about right now, but I really am trying to still figure this out.  I asked if I can say "I hope your mom gets better."   Because in Romans 5 we know that hope does not disappoint and yesterday I learned that basically true hope = Christ.  So can I throw around the word hope as if there is not deep meaning to it?  I hope it doesn't rain.  I hope we have a nice summer.  I hope your adoption goes through.  I hope your mom gets better. These all have the potential of disappointing.  So if we use hope in regards to things of this earth, does it diminish the true meaning, can it lead to hopelessness....I may be beating a dead horse here, but I truly desire to understand this.

Anyway, I stopped by work and was able to appreciate the amazing office staff we have.  They put others interests above their own, they are hard working, and they love to laugh. Just by being who God created them to be and by using their gifts for God's Kingdom, I am challenged and encouraged.

Then it was off to the Roadshow in Kent with more dear friends.  We saw several Christian artists, including Jamie Grace, David Crowder, Matt Maher, and MercyMe. We heard a new guy that we really liked, Jon Guerra.  Julia really wanted his CD, as we were walking out at the end of the show, she saw him standing by his table talking with his fans.

I had her stand behind him for a quick photo op.  He turned around and laughed and immediately drew everyone in for group shot.  Great guy!

So how do these moments figure into my time with God today?  I still had been working through this idea of hope and asking God to reveal to me what I needed to learn.

However, He showed me something different.  God showed me that He has strategically placed people in my life to "sharpen" me - as the verse says above.  God uses other believers to help shape us.  The interactions I had today, encouraged me and made me think.

I love the two pictures above.  The first one, there is no interaction, not much good comes from admiring someone.  Your lives are completely independent and no good has come to either of you. The second picture represents relationship.  We truly need each other.

So tonight I say thank you for being a fellow sojourner and for sharpening me to be more like Christ. And thank you for the discussions on hope: in person and even on Facebook.  Thank you for unfolding scripture to me. You truly are a treasure!