Friday, December 15, 2017

Thoughts Like Smoke

It's like multiple channels all playing at once, these thoughts that go through my head. I'm thinking about what I need to do today, while worrying about what somebody thought of a comment I made yesterday, while noticing the beauty of the breeze blowing through the trees, while imagining a project I'd like to create, while remembering a podcast I listened to yesterday, while feeling the nostalgia of parenthood, while lamenting that my back always hurts, while interpreting a Scripture I recently read, while wondering if I should get a job.

As contemplation, deliberation, imagination all swirl together in a silent cacophony of thought, it occurs to me that this is like prayer. Like incense is infused with oils and powders which need to be lit to unleash their full potency, maybe my thoughts and concerns need only a little fire added to become embers that release their smoke to the Heavens.

After all, it's not the ingredients of incense that give it it's power, but the burning of those elements.


Then I remember Revelation 8:2-5:
I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

Here, the fire of Heaven and the prayers of the saints combine to create a smoke so powerful it not only rises before God, it gets hurled back to earth and penetrates the atmosphere.

And we wonder if there's power in prayer.

The next time I question whether my thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, and petitions are moving the heart of God, I will imagine myself lighting them on fire and watching the smoke rise to Heaven. There, angelic hosts wait, poised to capture my scattered offerings and turn them into something beautiful, meaningful, powerful enough to affect the senses and to shake the world.


May my prayer be set before you like incense; 
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. 
-Psalm 141:2, NIV

Monday, August 28, 2017

Early Rain, Latter Rain


Children of Zion, rejoice and be glad in the Lord your God, because He gives you the early rain for your vindication. He sends showers for you, both early and latter rain as before. -Joel 2:23

***
Rain. It's one of those things we need for life and yet no day seems like a convenient day for it. Somehow we're never quite prepared for it when it comes, even when we've been lamenting a lack of it.

When it rains on someone's wedding day, we say it's good luck; yet nobody wants it to "rain on their parade." And why is it that in one region the sky could be so stingy that a spark will ignite a forest, while in another it drowns the ground in its floods?

Rain is one of those things we would welcome... if we could just choose when, where, how, and how much it happens. So too life's lessons.

Recently I had a conversation with God about a tough decision I had to make. In my Bible reading that morning I decided to read the Psalm that corresponded to the date. It was storming outside and the passage happened, interestingly, to talk about God being in the midst of a storm:
He parted the heavens and came down, a dark cloud beneath His feet. He rode on a cherub and flew, soaring on the wings of the wind. He made darkness His hiding place, dark storm clouds His canopy around Him. From the radiance of His presence, His clouds swept onward with hail and blazing coals. The Lord thundered from heaven; the Most High projected His voice. He shot His arrows and scattered them; He hurled lightning bolts and routed them. ...He reached down from heaven and took hold of me; He pulled me out of deep waters. ...He brought me out to a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me (Psalm 18:9-14, 16, 19, HCSB).
While the thunder and lightening crashed around me as I read that morning, I knew God was assuring me that He was surrounding me with His power, that He would not leave me in the dark, that He would rescue me from confusion and show me the right path to take.

By that evening, the rain had subdued and the sun was pushing through the clouds. The world around me was peaceful, but I still wasn't at peace about the decision I had to make. I had talked over, prayed about, and collected as much information as I could, and it was time to lay all that aside and take a step of faith.

As I sat in silence in the same spot where I'd read the Psalm that morning, I looked out the window, breathed a heavy sigh, and made a very tough choice.

As soon as my decision was official, a gentle rain began to fall in a patch right outside the window where I was sitting. This time, however, instead of lightning and thunder piercing the sky, the rain fell silently through the tree branches, shimmering like snow as the sun sparkled off each drop.

This was the rain of peace. This was a nod from heaven. I sat awestruck at the kindness of my Father God.

He sends showers for you, both early and latter rain....

Confirmation. Vindication.

I could have sat there in that spot all evening, were it not for my husband eagerly calling to me from the front porch. I went out to join him, and there, stretching from one end of our culdesac to the other, splashing the gray sky with color, was a rainbow.

He brought me out to a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.



In the aftermath of that decision, I have needed to return to these verses and visuals to remind myself of how the Lord graciously spoke to my spirit. God truly reveals Himself through His Word, His creation, and prayer, if we'll just still ourselves enough to receive from Him.

Psalm 32, verses 8, 6, & 7 say:
I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel.
Therefore let everyone who is faithful pray to You at a time that You may be found. When great floodwaters come, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble. You surround me with joyful shouts of deliverance.
Sometimes the proverbial storms of life feel like they are going to drown us where we stand. Other times we'd take a torrential downpour over the deafening silence we perceive from heaven.

But it bears reminding that the God who promises to reveal Himself to us, hides in the darkness, clothes Himself in clouds, rides on the wind, and speaks through thunder.

It's really not about the storm; it's about the One who's inside it.

I needed deliverance that day. I needed clear counsel from above. More than that, though, I needed reassurance that the God I was determined to faithfully follow, was faithfully leading me.
--------------
Doesn't matter what I feel
Doesn't matter what I see
My hope will always be
In Your promises to me
Now I'm casting out all fear
For Your love has set me free
My hope will always be
In Your promises to me

Your Promises lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Essential Music Publishing

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Free, Indeed

Somewhere along the winding way
As I was following You day to day
And calling out Your precious name
You broke off all my shame

Somehow in the meandering flow
While I set my focus on what I know
To be true of who You were, are, and will be
You cut a cord that set me free

You released me

And though I don't know why it took
So long for me to finally look
Like the girl You created me to be
I'm just glad...

You released me

And now when I'm not sure of myself
I will believe that I'm enough
'Cause for freedom's sake, You set me free
For Your own glory...

You released me

I am one whom the Son set free
And I am free, indeed!


So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. -John 8:36, NIV
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. -Galatians 5:1

Friday, February 3, 2017

Be Confident in THIS...

​I've determined that 2017 is going to be the year I finally walk in confidence... not just in areas where I feel confident, but at the core of who I am. For too long, I have looked to the feedback of others to gauge my boldness-- assuming I was good at whatever I was praised for & not good at whatever I received negative or no feedback about. As a result, I have often avoided or stepped out very timidly in areas where I'm not totally sure of my abilities.

Problem is, our perceived lack of encouragement from others isn't necessarily an accurate reflection of our performance. It could be that those around us:

...are envious, critical, or struggle with expressing praise.
...assume we know we are doing well & that we don't need any encouragement.
...aren't even thinking about our performance.

That last one is interesting to me. I have been challenged that the idea that everyone ​is evaluating me is false & maybe a little narcissistic. Truth is, people can be so self-absorbed (& concerned about how they are being perceived), that how well I'm performing hasn't even crossed their minds.

And then there's this: the fact that people's opinions about me-- whether positive or negative-- are not my guide.

If I allow my self-confidence to rise & fall on the opinions of others, I will always be like the people Paul warns Christians not to be: "immature children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Eph. 4:14, ESV).​

Instead, Paul tells us to grow up into mature adulthood, "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (v. 13, 15-16).​

Did you catch that last part? "When each part is working properly, [it] makes the whole body grow up so that it builds itself up in love" (v. 16b).

According to Scripture, my need for encouragement is not only legitimate, it requires group effort. That means that the popular advice to disregard what others think about me is a fractured idea. The fact is that, although others are not my guide, my brothers & sisters in Christ do play an important role in my purpose & sense of who I am.

The passage indicates that building up occurs when each part of the body of Christ is united, equipped, & working properly. In such an environment, the truth is spoken in love​.

What that means to me:

  • Truth is spoken; love is not silent.​
  • My security is not found in my ability to muster up a strong self-esteem, but in the love of Christ.
  • Christ is the head of the body & the body is made up of believers, therefore my health & maturity in Christ require attachment to the body.
  • As part of the body, it is my duty to do the things I am equipped to do so that the body will work properly. 

I feel very empowered by this list!  It tells me that I don't have to go it alone. It tells me that I'm needed. It tells me that I have value. And it tells me that I have power to affect the environment around me with my words.

The Enemy of our souls would love nothing more than for us to respond to weak or non-existent support in our lives with self-centeredness, competitiveness, defensiveness, insecurity, or the unwillingness to praise others. What a sick & dysfunctional environment that creates! What a dampening of joy, creativity, & excellence those attitudes cause.

By contrast, Scripture tells us the body of Christ is to build itself up. We fight back at that evil spirit that would have us withhold affection & encouragement when we boldly offer those things to others, just as Christ has done for us. We don't have to falsely flatter people. And we don't have to be falsely humble either. We are to speak truth in love... & speak love in truth.

When we walk in confidence, it empowers others to the do the same. When we give to others the very things we need ourselves, everyone is stronger for it. "For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment" (2 Tim. 1:7, HCSB).​

My goal for 2017 is to walk in confidence-- by the spirit of power, love, & good sense-- & to bring others along with me!

Read Romans 12.



[Be] confident in this: that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. -Philippians 1:6, NIV

Monday, November 14, 2016

Witholden

"The Honey Flow" by Fatima

They say actions speak louder than words
So you ignore the words
And miss the point
You think sweetness is desperation
So you take it for granted
As it drips through your fingers like honey
You think hope is for the birds
So you nod but never change
You believe lies
You believe in yourself
And spin a web for your own feet
You speak of love
As if you know what it is
While you withhold what should be given
And give up what could have been held

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

To Those Who Wait

Patience is a tough subject. Nobody likes to wait. We want instant results. Immediate action. Yet we know that good things usually take time to develop. Sometimes we wait with patience and sometimes we find ourselves pushing or becoming frustrated.

Scripture lists patience as a fruit of the Spirit. When we exhibit patience, we are living out of the Holy Spirit's power at work in our hearts, trusting God to do His work in His timing. When we become impatient, however, we've begun to trust our own time-frame instead of God's, allowing our flesh and its demands to rule over our spirits. 

Romans 8:5-6 says, "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace." True peace can never occur when we push our own will over God's.

Isaiah 40:27-31 says, “Why do you say... 'My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God'? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths will faint and be weary, and young men will fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint.”

God tells us that no situation or need is hidden from Him. The everlasting creator of the universe sees all, and He gives power and strength as He sees fit. Notice it says, “...to [those] who wait.”

Are there areas in your life where you're struggling to wait for the Lord? Are you so anxious to see Him act in certain areas that you've begun to wonder if He remembers your concern? Are you in need of renewed strength and power to keep going?  

Get into God's Word, set your mind on the things of the Spirit, and hold on to hope.  Good things come to those who wait!



Friday, September 25, 2015

The Crash












Just as the vapors mingled high in the sky
To a screeching halt it all suddenly came
The crash 
                 heard on the other side
Sent out shivers and ripples of shame

The waves of confusion tripped the alarms
Which blared out over the spread
And armies began to take up arms
Clearing space for what was said

Linking together to navigate
Land mines old of age
Subtle direction for journeying forward
Beckoning from the page

Untangling of cords proved naught for the wisest
But for the persevering heart
Was oil and wine and tears of repentance
Communion
                      within the part

Intimacy in the quiet places
Secrets in the sacred spaces

Whispered words of unmade art
Breath spoken back into the heart

Passion burning in new locations
Frustration begetting new creations

Rearrangements
Unexpected engagements

At the altar of covenant
Is new life

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pleasures Forevermore

I woke up this morning in a gray place after a long night of difficult conversations and troubling dreams.  I stumbled into the kitchen and grabbed a red plum from out of the fruit basket and bit into it thoughtlessly.  Suddenly, tears welled up in my eyes out of nowhere as the sweet, juiciness of the plum caught me off guard with unexpected pleasure.  

Life!  God is all around me.  And here was this tangible reminder of His goodness and sweetness, right on my lips, shocking my taste buds, and calling my heart to come alive!  

God is a passionate lover.  He creates beauty and pleasure designed to knock our socks off and ravish our hearts.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the minutiae of life, that we forget that we are in a head-over-heels romance with the King.  

God doesn't just want a bride who is beautiful and loyal.  He wants to make an impression on her.  He wants to tear off her clothes and cover her with himself.  He wants to shock her senses and bring tears of delight to her weak and trembling flesh.

God is totally x-rated.  And so is His Word.  Consider these Scriptures:

Isaiah 62:5 (NIV)- As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

Isaiah 61:10- I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Psalm 36:8b- [Y]ou give them drink from your river of delights.

Psalm 16:11 (ESV)- [A]t your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

...Or how about the entire Song of Solomon, a dramatic allegory that represents the romance between God and His people.  

Vs. 9-12: “You have captured my heart, my treasure, my bride.  You hold it hostage with one glance of your eyes, with a single jewel of your necklace. Your love delights me, my treasure, my bride.  Your love is better than wine, your perfume more fragrant than spices. Your lips are as sweet as nectar, my bride. Honey and milk are under your tongue. Your clothes are scented like the cedars of Lebanon. You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride, a secluded spring, a hidden fountain.”

Trust me: the story just gets better from there.

So, what do we make of this intense invitation?  How do we respond to such hot pursuit?  I think the Psalmist says it well:

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me (63:1-8, NIV).

Just as a man wraps his right arm around his beloved and pulls her close to his chest, God's right hand upholds us and He shadows us beneath his wings.  Notice the Psalmist says, “I thirst for you, my WHOLE BEING longs for you?”  Just as the beloved responds to her lover, so are we, God's chosen, meant to respond to His ardent advances toward us with body, mind, and spirit: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:5, NLT).

Make no mistake: God is a passionate lover of your soul.  He created a world full of beauty and goodness, and He did it all for you.  Allow His glory to break in upon you unexpectedly and ravish you right there on the floor of your mundane.  

You won't be disappointed.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Anniversary Thoughts


Like birds
We build our nest:

Sometimes it gets torn down
And we have to start all over 

Sometimes it's full 
And sometimes it's empty

Sometimes we forage 
And sometimes we fly

And sometimes...
We are too engaged in animated conversation
To notice the rain falling around us
Washing away what was 
And nurturing new growth
In hidden places

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Fish For Whom the Bell Tolls: An Obituary

We are officially a pet-free home! Our one, low-maintenance (by no accident, I assure you) pet, Tie-Dye the beta fish, went to be with Jesus in the Heavenly streams of peace last night.

...Or today. I don't know when, exactly, cuz nobody really paid much attention to that fish, except to throw some food into his bowl & change the... hmm, when WAS the last time I changed that fish's water? Oops.


OK, so I might be responsible for the fish's demise on some level... but I think an autopsy would just be over-kill. Did I say "kill?" I did not mean to make a pun there.


I liked that fish! He allowed my children to be able to have a pet without costing me a dime beyond his initial adoption needs. OK, water & a little elbow grease to clean out his habitat once every few months... er, weeks. But, beyond that, you couldn't ask for a more pleasant pet.


And so, you can imagine my astonishment when Miranda informed me in a hushed tone at fish-feeding time this afternoon that Tie-Dye no longer was.


Before the tears of bewilderment & grief could stain my child's precious innocence, I whisked the fish bowl out to the back porch & began a ceremony.


As we dug a hole in the soil of my potted basil, I told Miranda that Tie-Dye's life would go on as he fertilized our food. As we covered him over with dirt, church bells tolled in the distance.  


I kid you not. Never heard bells from this house in the two years we've lived here, yet somehow at the precise moment that our beloved pet was interred, they rang from someplace nearby and we knew: somewhere on high our fish was known, that his purpose was met, that the circle of life would go on.


Miranda seemed content with our handling of the matter & I was reminded of the fact that the same God who numbers the hairs on our heads, who clothes the lilies in their fragrant petals, whose eye is on the sparrows... also knows our quiet, colorful, unbothersome beta fish for whom the bell tolled.